How to Get Started with a Camera

I would love for everyone who reads my blog to be able to use their camera on full auto mode (or as auto as it allows).  It takes time but with a little step forward each time you use your camera it is possible.  

Each of my camera basics blog posts will provide a short and easy step to get closer to using your camera off auto.  I want them to be quick reads that you can go away and try and then show everyone what you have managed.


old camera from behind

To get started, here is a little list of things you really need to do!

  • Download your camera manual
  • Find your battery charger and make sure the battery is charged
  • Work out how to put a memory card into the camera (check the manual if you aren’t sure)
  • Learn how to format your memory card (the manual will tell you all)
  • Turn the on-camera flash off (check the manual)
  • Work out how to focus the camera
  • Set the camera so it will shoot in large JPEG or RAW

Download your camera manual

Every camera is different. Use the links below to find the manual for your camera.

old camera dial
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Formatting memory cards

Formatting a memory card can help prevent damage and the loss of images.  It is like a deep clean for your memory card.  It is a better way to treat your card than just deleting images that you don’t want.  It is also an essential step when you first use a memory card in a new camera or switch the card between cameras.

  1. Download all the images on the card to your computer. Make sure they are backed up in at least two places. Mine are usually on my hard drive, an external hard drive, drop box and my favourites are stored on flickr as well.
  2. Instead of deleting your images one by one from the memory card or using the computer, put the memory card back into the camera. Find the “Format card” function on the camera menu. This function will delete all the images and format the card ready for use. Follow the instructions that the camera gives you. Don’t be scared of doing this if you know you have copies of the images saved.

Turn off the on-camera flash

By moving away from auto you will not need your camera flash.  This gives harsh shadows and boring flat images.  All of my photographs are taken by altering the camera setting and very rarely is a flash needed.  When it is, I choose where it goes and how it is used.  

If the flash keeps on popping up, make sure you are on “program” P mode and not “auto” A mode.  P mode lets you override the automatic flash whereas A mode tries to keep you using the flash.

Focussing your camera

When you look through the viewfinder or on the rear screen of your camera you will see a series of squares or rectangles.  These show you where your camera is focussing. 

If you are using auto focus, these will light up to show where the camera is focussing.  In most cameras, half-pressing the shutter button will allow the camera to focus without a photograph being taken so you can check that the right area is in focus.


Everyone worries about which lens to use. 

The honest answer is the one you have. 

Most cameras have the choice to purchase the camera body with a “kit lens”.  This is a good starting point. 

While you get started you really don’t need lots of lenses.  It is much better to get really comfortable with what you have and then slowly add to your collection.


Large JPEG or RAW

This is something that I will talk about in more detail later.  However,  you need to set up your camera to shoot the best quality images possible.  Large JPEG and RAW both record lots of information for each photograph.  You want the camera to record the largest file possible so you can edit the image without loosing quality and print larger size files.

A RAW image is exactly what it says – the data the camera records without anything being done to it by the camera software.  You will need to do all the processing after download.  These files are huge so you will need a larger memory card and more time to upload them onto your computer.  However these file types have the most flexibility when it comes to processing.

A large JPEG is smaller than a RAW file and the camera will make a number of edits to the contrast, brightness, sharpness and colour as well as compressing the files before deleting any information it doesn’t require.  The photograph that is left will be good, but will be what the camera thinks is “good”.  This may not be the photograph you were wanting to achieve!

Getting started

Don’t be afraid of your camera. 

Find the manual, get it set up and have a play. 

Take some photographs and save them.   

In a year you will come back to them and see where you started from.

And if it all gets in a muddle you have the option to restore your camera to the factory settings and start all over again!

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