Whether it takes photos or videos, and whether it fits in the palm of your hand or has interchangeable lenses, you've got a brand new camera to play with. Here's how to get the most out of your great new gift.
Before you dive right in, here are a few things you should do with your camera first:
- Format Your Flash Media - We're going to take a chance and assume that the camera you're using is Flash-based. Another prediction? It's probably an SD card, if not the more rare case of CompactFlash. Whatever media you're using, be sure to format the card in the camera instead of on your computer. If you're repurposing a card from an old camera, reformat it in the new one. While this might not be necessary to make it work, it'll help you avoid little problems down the road. As we've found, formatting SD cards in your camera is really a best practice regardless of the use.
- Set the Date and Time (and Other Important Settings) - Your new camera will probably prompt you to set the date and time as soon as you turn it on, but if you've already bypassed this request then go into your camera's settings and set it right now. This may seem trivial, but when you're organising your pictures on your computer you're going to want them to have the right date and time stamp. When you upload them online, the date and time is often included on sharing sites. While it may be fun to post a few photos from the future, ultimately it'll mean that your memories will be mislabeled and that's never good. While you're in your camera's settings, you might as well take a look around. This is one of the first things I always do with a new camera because there tend to be some hidden features I had no idea existed. Playing around can be a little like a treasure hunt, and it's a very good way to learn the ins and outs of your camera's functionality.
- Attach the Neck or Wrist Strap - Yes, it might make you look dumb or like a tourist, but nothing looks dumber than a person staring down at a broken camera because they didn't take the necessary precautions. Your hands are prone to drop things. Play it safe and put the strap on. (Keep the jokes to yourselves, please.)
Get to Know Your New Camera and Taking Great Photos
First things first, you're going to want to learn how to use your new camera as best you can. Once you've got the operation down, we've also got some great how-tos for taking better photos.
- Get the Most from Your Point-and-Shoot Camera - Just because you've got a relatively inexpensive point-and-shoot camera and not a $US1500+ DSLR rig doesn't mean you can't take awesome photos. Here's a look at how you can elevate your regular old point-and-shoot shots to greatness.
- Master Your DSLR Camera, Part 1: Program Mode - You ponied up for a digital SLR camera because you hated the shutter lag on your little point-and-shoot. The good news: Your photos have improved! The bad news? You know they could be even better-if only you dared to let go of the camera's "auto" mode. It's as if you've been creeping around the neighbourhood in a new Mustang using only first gear. No more! It's time to take control, hit the highway, and learn what you can do in program mode.
- Master Your DSLR Camera, Part 2: Manual Mode and More - In part two we're going straight to manual mode to learn about aperture sizes and shutter speeds. So let's do this thing. Put your camera in manual mode by turning the mode dial to the "M" setting as pictured above.
- How to Record Great Video with Your HD DSLR Camera - HD DSLRs are incredible-they give you a video camera with interchangeable lenses, depth of field control and stellar low-light performance-but they're not without drawbacks. Here's how to work around them.
- Choose the Right Lens for Your First DSLR - If you've taken the plunge into the wonderful world of DSLR photography, you probably quickly learned that your choice of lens is nearly as important as the camera you buy. Tech blog Tested offers a few tips for picking the perfect lens.
- How to Take Great Portrait Photos - 2010's coming to a close and everyone's in a rush to get their picture taken for holiday cards, albums, or even their brand new Facebook profiles. Here's how to use any camera you've got and some DIY tricks to take awesome portraits.
- Create Realistic HDR Photos - High Dynamic Range photography is a revolutionary tool in the photographer's toolkit, but it can be over done and done poorly. Take more realistic photos with these tips.
- Compose with Fibonacci's Ratio for Phenomenal Photos - If you're looking for a way to draw more attention to the crucial elements in your photographic composition, the Fibonacci Ratio offers a way to direct your viewers eye to the critical parts of your photo.
- Use White Balance to Avoid Noisy, Grainy Photos Without the Flatness of a Flash - Taking pictures in low light requires a lot more care than does taking pictures with a bright sun behind you-low-light pictures tend to be quite noisy. Here's how to use your flash and white balance to make up for it.
- Vimeo Video School Offers Free Tutorials to Help Improve Your Video Skills - If you're looking to get started with your new video camera or just refine your skills, Vimeo's just launched their Video School with some excellent tutorials from Vimeo users and pros alike.
Tricks, Hacks, and Fun Things
Once you've gotten the hang of your new camera, there's plenty more you can do with it. Check out these awesome hacks for improving your camera's functionality, DIY projects to create helpful photography tools, and fun things you can do with your new camera:
- Turn Your Point-and-Shoot into a Super-Camera - If you're using a consumer grade point-and-shoot Canon digital camera, you've got hardware in hand that can support advanced features way beyond what shipped in the box. With the help of a free, open source project called CHDK, you can get features like RAW shooting mode, live RGB histograms, motion-detection, time-lapse, and even games on your existing camera. Let's transform your point-and-shoot into a super camera just by adding a little special sauce to its firmware.
- Most Popular Photography Tips, Tricks, and Hacks of 2010 - Whether it's before, during, or after you shoot, we've posted some awesome photography tips, tricks, and hacks this year. Here are the most popular for 2010.
- Use an 18% Grey Card for Better Colour Balance in Your Photos - If you've ever relied on your camera's white balancing algorithms you know how imperfect they can be, but you're not out of luck. Getting accurate colour balance with just about any camera is pretty easy with an 18% grey card.
- Enhance Your Camera and Photos - If you're looking for a project this weekend, grab your camera. Here are a bunch of tips, tricks, hacks, and techniques to try out when shooting and editing your photos.
- How to Create Your Own Photosynths - Photosynths are a 3D-like space from (tons) of your photos. They're free to create and here's how to do it.
- Magic Lantern Boosts Your Canon DSLR's Video Capabilities - If you love your video-capable Canon DSLR but wish it had more video options, Magic Lantern can help you out. Offering a number of additional features for your camera, it can aid in your ability to shoot some amazing video.
- Modify an Old Telephoto Lens to Fit Your DSLR Camera - Telephoto lenses aren't cheap, and there's no reason to waste money on a new one if you have an older one lying around. With a few modifications, you can fit an old telephoto lens on a new DSLR camera.
- DIY Shoulder Camera Stabilizer - We've featured a few ways to stabilize your DSLR or camcorder, but those might not be ideal for certain kinds of shooting. This cheap, compact shoulder rig will keep your camera stable anywhere you need to go.
- Build a One-Camera 3D Photography Rig - We've mentioned ways to build a 3D photography rig with two cameras, but DIYer countervideo realised that with just a few mirrors, you can do it with one.
- Turn a Candy Tin into a Cheap DSLR Pinhole Lens - Pinhole photography is fun, but what if you want to avoid the hassle of building a pinhole camera and using film that you have to carefully load and get developed? You can make a pinhole lens for a DSLR camera.
- Make a DIY Ring Light for Better Macro Shots - If you've been experimenting with macro and closeup photography and been hesitant to shell out for an expensive ring flash, this cheap and simple ring light setup is worth checking out.
Photo Editing Tips and Tricks
You've taken tons of great photos, but you know you can make them even better. Bring them into Photoshop (or your favourite image editor) and make some truly beautiful images with these tips and tricks:
- Top 10 Photo Fixing and Image Editing Tricks - You probably know what Photoshop disasters look like, but your photos can benefit from more subtle and elegant touch-ups. With these tools and techniques, you can sharpen, texturize, re-contextualize, and remove tourists, among other problems, from your shots worth saving.
- How to Get the Best Colour Out of Your Photos - Black and white has long been the default "artistic" style for photographs, so it can be easy to forget how compelling a colour photograph can be. Here's an in-depth guide to help you get amazing colour in your photos.
- How to Change a Specific Colour in a Photo - We've talked a lot about getting great colour our of your photos, but if you don't like the colour you have you're not necessarily stuck with it. Here are two ways to change the colour of anything in your photo.
- How to Give Any Photo the Analogue Camera Treatment - Whether you like it or not, hipsters are taking over your smartphone's camera and bringing analogue effects to your digital photography. But what about your regular photos? Here's how to take a regular photo and give it that analogue look.
- Use Levels to Fix Poorly Exposed Photos - Among the many tools in the Photoshop arsenal, a levels adjuster is perhaps the most effective for the widest range of not-so-hot photos. The Digital Photography School blog offers a gentle introduction to levels, graphs, sliders, and what they all do.
- Isolate an Object from a Complex Background in Photoshop - If you need to pull a person or thing out of an image with a busy background and you'd like to do it with a minimal amount of fuss, this simple tutorial can help.
- Change Two Settings to Speed Up Photoshop - Just because a setting is tucked away doesn't mean it can't make a big difference. Many Photoshop veterans, for instance, are discovering that cutting out Cache Levels and Image Previews can make the photo editing beast a bit more agile.
- Fix Uneven Skin Tones in Photoshop Elements - Adjusting skin tones in photos can often be harder than adjusting for other colours, but Photoshop guru Helen Bradley has some quick tips for smoothing skin tones as effectively as possible.
- Spiff Up Flat Images with Textures - Even if you master the focus and composition of a photograph, it might come off as a bit too calm for certain uses. The Digital Photography School site explains how to apply interesting image textures to any photograph.
- Punch Up a Photo in Under 60 Seconds - Using a couple of basic tools in Photoshop and other image editing programs, you can take a flat image and make it pop with just a little bit of effort and no experience in the finer arts of exposure and colour correction.
- Stitch Pictures Together with Photoshop's Photomerge Tool - Funny Photoshopper Donnie Hoyle demonstrates how to use the Photoshop's Photomerge tool to quickly and easily stitch several related photographs into one. In the example, Hoyle merges related screenshots of a map together, but Photomerge is probably most often used for is creating panoramas from multiple photographs.
We hope we've helped you find a bunch of new ways to learn and enjoy your great new camera. For those of you photo and video pros out there, if you've got any great advice for new camera owners let's hear it in the comments!