- Read the camera’s manual, and learn what each control, switch, button, and menu item does. At the very least you should know how to turn the flash on, off, and auto, how to zoom in and out, and how to use the shutter button.
- Set the camera’s resolution to take high quality photos at the highest resolution possible. Low-resolution images are more difficult to digitally alter later on; it also means that you can’t crop as enthusiastically as you could with a higher-resolution version (and still end up with something printable). If you have a small memory card, get a bigger one; if you don’t want to or can’t afford to buy a new one, then use the “fine” quality setting, if your camera has one, with a smaller resolution.
- Start off with setting your camera to one of its automatic modes, if you have a choice. Most useful is “Program” or “P” mode on digital SLRs. Ignore advice to the contrary which suggests that you operate your camera fully manually; the advances in the last fifty years in automatic focusing and metering have not happened for nothing. If your photos come out poorly focused or poorly exposed, then start operating certain functions manually.
- Take your camera everywhere. When you have your camera with you all the time, you will start to see the world differently; you will look for and find opportunities to take great photographs. And, of course, you will end up taking more photographs; and the more you take, the better a photographer you will become. Furthermore, if you’re taking photographs of your friends and family, they will get used to you having your camera with you all the time. Thus, they will feel less awkward or intimidated when you get your camera out; this will lead to more natural-looking, less “posed” photographs. Also, remember to bring batteries or charge it if you are using a digital camera.
- Get outside. Motivate yourself to get out and take photographs in natural light. Take several normal ‘point and shoot’ pictures to get a feel for the lighting at different times of the day and night. Go outside at all times of day, especially those times when anybody with any sense is sleeping, eating, or watching television; lighting at these times is often dramatic and unusual to many people precisely because they never get to see it!
Keep the lens clear of caps, thumbs, straps and other obstructions. It’s basic, yes, but it can ruin a photograph completely. This is less of a problem with modern live-preview digital cameras, and even less of a problem with an SLR camera. But people still make these mistakes from time to tim
- Set your white balance. Put simply, the human eye automatically compensates for different kinds of lighting; white looks white to us in almost any kind of lighting. A digital camera compensates for this by shifting the colors certain ways. For example, under tungsten (incandescent) lighting, it will shift the colours towards blue to compensate for the redness of this kind of lighting. The white balance is one of the most critical, and most underused, settings on modern cameras. Learn how to set it, and what the various settings mean. If you’re not under artificial light, the “Shade” (or “Cloudy”) setting is a good bet in most circumstances; it makes for very warm-looking colors. If it comes out too red, it’s very easy to correct it in software later on. “Auto”, the default for most cameras, sometimes does a good job, but also sometimes results in colours which are a little too cold.