(photo credit: Tom Langford)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
I started out as a professional photographer in London I used to hire
equipment for each job. Like many aspiring pros I had more talent than
money and it took me a few years to build up my professional kit.
I first hired a Mamiya RZ, the largest, heaviest and most beautiful
roll-film camera, I had never used one before. The man at the hire desk
showed me how to use it – it took him all of two minutes before I
thoroughly understood all of its features. Many years later, when I
bought my first dSLR, it took me hours of study before I felt sure that I
could handle any problems it might spring on me during a shoot.
camera is the least important component in the process called taking a
Good Picture. It is important to have a good, practical understanding of
how to use it so that it does not get in the way of shooting, but
ideally it should be invisible, just a tool that you use without
thinking about it. With modern digital cameras this takes some knowledge
and lots of practice.Essentials tips for compact cameras
like a TV remote control, a digital camera has lots of buttons and
innumerable features, most of which you will never use. Here are a few
essentials that it’s sensible to understand. Refer to your manual for
precise instructions if necessary.Formatting the Memory Card:
camera has a sophisticated miniature computer that records images to
the memory card. Cards have to be “formatted” to accept data and this is
done during manufacture. Occasionally pre-formatted cards can be
unreliable – one of my students lost 600 pictures from one of his.
the card in your own camera is the best way to keep it in a digitally
healthy condition. It only takes a few seconds and is best done when you
first use the card, or when you have downloaded all the images off your
card, because formatting wipes the card clean. Professionals always
format cards themselves and so should you. File Size and Type:
If you are a
keen amateur then I suggest setting the largest picture size (the most
pixels) and fine quality Jpegs. The memory card will fill up sooner, but
when you have taken a Good Picture you have the satisfaction of knowing
it is recorded at the best quality. You might have an option to record
Raw files too, but this is useful mainly to professionals.Switching Off the Flash:
On-camera flash is excellent for low-light snaps but ruins ambient,
atmospheric lighting and creative photography. Can you switch it off
quickly without fiddling about and loosing the shot? Practice makes
perfect.Auto Mode, P mode:
camera set to one of these two modes for general photography and snaps.
Use Auto, but if this does not allow you to switch off the flash use P
(Program) which gives you more control over the flash. Balanced Fill-flash:
cameras have the very useful ability to fire a reduced amount of flash
and this can soften harsh shadows as well as brighten under-lit faces.
Can you access this feature easily and adjust it if necessary?Face Recognition:
I never use
this, but if you do it can be annoying if there are no faces in the shot
and the camera focuses incorrectly. Practice how to switch it off
chooses the area it thinks you want in focus, but for creative shots you
will often need to choose a different area. The quickest and simplest
way to do this is to move the camera so that your subject is central and
the camera focuses on it. Then gently press the shutter button to lock
the focus, recompose the picture, and press fully to take the shot.
If this doesn’t work, simply focus on anything that is a similar
distance away to your subject, gently press the shutter button to lock
the focus, recompose the picture, and press fully to take the shot. I
used this trick for the shot below: I quickly focused on something about
the same distance away as the top of the stairs, recomposed and shot.
This took about one second – much faster than anything else I could have
These two tricks use the Focus Lock feature which is also useful for taking shots of moving children. See below.Av and Tv modes:
cameras I wouldn’t bother using either of these. The Av mode (Aperture
priority) is useless since compacts often have only three apertures to
choose from. The Tv mode (Shutter speed priority) could be useful if
setting the fastest speed possible for shots of children running about.
However, Sports mode is probably easier to use if you are taking lots of
action shots.Focus Lock:
For taking the occasional shot of moving children, Focus Lock is much more effective than Sports or TV modes.
Focus on an area the children will be running through before they get
there. Keep gentle pressure on the shutter button to lock the focus, and
press harder to take the shot just before they appear on the screen.
This eliminates the slight lag between pressing the shutter button and
taking the shot.
Compact cameras can’t focus on movement easily and although they are
often bought for family snaps are the worst choice for capturing action
shots of children. Their focusing and shutter responses are way too
slow. Digital SLRs use a totally different focusing technology that is
virtually instant and can track movement too, but are bulkier and
heavier than the handy compact.The invisible camera
I hope you find these few tips useful – they might help you to
concentrate on taking a Good Picture and forget about how many complex
features you have at your fingertips if only you had the time to find
I used my beloved Mamiya RZ roll-film camera for many years and never
had to think about how to use it. It was truly an invisible camera that
didn’t get in the way of taking a good shot. Digital cameras are
certainly convenient but they require lots of practice before you can
forget about them and concentrate on what’s important.Send me your
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a
picture and I will publish one at the end of my next article with some
constructive feedback. Send one picture only, at a reduced size to
Don’t know how to send a photo by email at a
reduced size? See my Brief Guide to Picasa here:
photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field
trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses/