Just Got a New Camera What do I do now?

You just got a shiny new digital camera. Of course, you can just pop the battery and a memory card in and start shooting, but there are some things you may want to consider before you head out into the world to make art.
  • Read the instruction manual. Yep, I said it. If your camera doesn’t have a paper manual, there is likely a .PDF available online.
  • Charge your battery. It is likely that the rechargeable battery that shipped with your camera is not fully charged.
  • Get a memory card.Format the memory card. Using knowledge you just gained from the manual, format the card inside your camera before you start shooting. A) You want to have a full memory card to play with, B) sometimes a camera will not read or write to a memory card that has been formatted in another type of camera, and C) formatting resets the file structure and helps prevent data errors.
Update the camera’s firmware. There is a chance that your camera, right out of the box, is not running the latest programming from the manufacturer. Use that instruction manual and the Internet to determine if your firmware can be updated and, if it is not up to date, follow the procedures to update it. These updates usually give the camera more features and performance than you think would be possible with lines of code.
Keep it clean. See how pristine the camera and lens are when they come out of the box? Take a good look and remember it, because your gear will likely never look that good again. Dust, smudges, and fingerprints are as excited about your newly acquired gear as you are. You’ll want to keep your stuff clean, so invest in a cleaning cloth for your lens and/or camera.

Set your diopter. Most viewfinders have an optical adjustment, called a diopter, which allows people with different visual acuity to see the viewfinder image clearly. If your viewfinder looks blurry, it is likely because you need to set your diopter to suit your eye, or have your vision checked. Every day, at camera stores around the world, people come in complaining about “broken” cameras due to blurry viewfinders.

Image quality. If you are planning on post-processing your images, you might want to set your camera to capture images in the RAW format. If you aren’t into post processing, or prefer smaller files, I recommend you set your camera to the highest-resolution JPEG that your camera can capture. One thing you do not want to do is go out on your first outing and take the greatest picture in the history of photography with your camera set to less-than-full resolution.

Familiarize yourself with your camera’s metering modes. This is how the camera measures the light coming into the frame.

Learn your camera’s shooting/exposure modes. This tells you how much automation the camera is going to apply to your image taking.

Your camera will likely default your white balance setting to “AUTO.” This is usually fine, but you should be familiar with white balance and how to adjust for different light sources if needed.

Autofocus makes things easy. However, it can be fooled, and you might want to learn how to control and select focus points it to better achieve your goals by using different autofocus modes.

Many cameras have different “drive” modes. You will be surprised how many photos you can take and how fast your memory card fills up when shooting 14 frames per second! Unless your first outing with your new camera is a sports event, you might want to set your drive mode to single-shot.

Learn your Picture Modes, such as Landscape Mode, Portrait Mode, Toy Mode, Macro Mode, and dozens more. Your camera likely does not default to these modes, but you’ll want to make sure you don’t accidently select one while you’re out shooting.

An often-overlooked setting on digital cameras is Color Space. This discussion could devolve into a graduate-level thesis but, in general, if you are going to be post-processing your images, you might want to use “Adobe RGB” color space. If you are skipping the post-processing, you might leave your camera at “sRGB.”

To beep or not to beep? Many of today’s digital cameras (and other electronics) sound like robots from your favorite sci-fi movie series; beeping when they are turned on, take a photo, or simply feel like beeping. If you want to be stealthy when shooting, find the needed menu option and silence your camera.

Set Date and Time. When you turn your camera on for the first time, you’ll likely see a prompt that tells you to set the time and date on the camera, and an option to skip it. In the digital world, files are date/time stamped, including your photos.

Start saving. One of the great things about (and curses of) cameras is what is called “Gear Acquisition Syndrome,” or GAS. If you are one of those lucky souls who is content carrying a fixed focal length point-and-shoot camera around for all of your artistic needs, I am jealous! For the rest of us, we like to accessorize our cameras with some needed and not-so-needed gear. In my opinion, the following items lean toward the “required” category of GAS.

Post-processing software. The scourge of digital photography is that, to get the best image from your photographs, you’ll likely need to make digital adjustments to the file. Some cameras come with the company’s software or other commercial software bundled with the camera, so don’t ignore that CD/DVD or associated literature that was in the box.

Tripod. Depending on how and what you photograph, a tripod may be the quickest way for you to sharpen your images in-camera. Remote release. If you are working on a tripod, or have your camera resting on a surface to steady it, you’ll want to trigger the camera with a wired or wireless remote trigger.

UV Filter. Like straps, there are several schools of thought about using clear filters on your lens. I personally recommend them. They will not always save your lens if dropped, but they will protect your optics from fingerprints and dust.
Insurance. Even if you didn’t spend your hard-earned cash on your new camera, you should consider getting personal property insurance for your gear. If you have insurance, you might never need it. If you don’t have it, you will probably get to hear me say, “I told you so.”
Save the box. Folks used to hold onto film cameras for decades. With the fast turnover of today’s digital cameras, you might get a camera every few years. If you think you will eventually sell the one you just unpacked, having the box and original instructions and accessories can help with the resale value of the camera. Also, if there is any possibility at all of returning the camera to the store, you’ll be glad you saved the box.
Last, but not least, get out and shoot! Battery charged? Card formatted? Time to get off the Internet and away from your computer and go out and make photographs! Oh, and don’t forget to have fun doing that!

The information and images in this presentation have been adapted from Todd Vorenkamp's articles found on the B&H Blog and Learning Portal. Todd is the Senior Creative Writer & Content Creator at B&H Photo Video Pro Audio and Owner at TRVphoto.com (Click the button below to go there now). This presentation was complied into Adobe Spark by Gene Strickland, Associate Professor and Digital Photography Coordinator at Columbus State, in Columbus, Ohio.

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Text/Images by Todd Vorenkamp & Spark Presentation byGene Strickland
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