New Camera? Now What?

Montana Winter 2008
Did you get a new digital camera for Christmas? If so, you might be wondering where to start. Here are a couple suggestions to get you taking pictures in no time!

The first thing you need is power for the camera. It may come with some alkaline AA batteries in the box. If so, open the battery compartment (usually on the bottom of the camera) and insert them in the correct orientation.

If your camera came with a rechargeable battery, you need to charge the battery first before putting it in the camera. There's probably an included battery charger for you to plug into the wall. This will take a couple hours and then you'll be ready to go.

Note that alkaline batteries don't let you take many photos before they run out. You might want to experiment with the new lithium AA batteries made for hand-held devices of all kinds, or try some rechargeable AA batteries called Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). The rechargeables will be "dead" when you buy them so plan on some charging time before use.

While you're waiting for the battery to charge, locate the memory card. A memory card saves your photos as you take them. Your camera may have come with a small capacity card (16MB or 32MB). Or Santa may have included a higher capacity card (2GB or 4GB) for you.

In either case, insert the memory card in the camera. In a compact camera, the slot  is often in the same compartment as the batteries. In an SLR camera, the memory card slot may be behind a door on the side. In both cases, the card only fits in the slot in one direction. If the card doesn't go in smoothly, try turning it over.

CAUTION: If you already have pictures on your memory card, skip this next step! Otherwise, you will erase all your photos!

Once the memory card is in the camera, it's a good idea to format the card. This prepares it to work optimally with your camera (though it will work without this step). Get out the instruction book that came with the camera and look up Format in the index. Follow the directions listed there.

Instruction Manual

The batteries may still be charging, so while you wait, take the time to read through the manual's introduction to using your camera. This section, sometimes called "Getting Started" or "Basic Operation", includes directions on loading batteries and memory cards and attaching the camera strap. Then it explains basic picture taking and picture reviewing techniques as well as how to delete any photo you don't like.

Note: Some camera manufacturers supply only a very small, incomplete printed manual. The complete manual is on the CD that is also in the camera box. If you take the CD to any copy shop, they can print and bind it for you. I highly recommend you do this.

By now the batteries should be charged, so you can install them in the camera. Find the power switch and turn on the camera. Set the camera to automatic picture taking, usually a red camera or green square icon or even the word AUTO. Following the guidelines given in the manual, frame a photo using either the screen on the back or the viewfinder. Try moving closer or zooming in on your subject to eliminate unnecessary information. Focus by pressing the shutter button halfway. Then take the photo by pressing the shutter button all the way.

Automatic Picture Taking Icon

The photo you just made should instantly appear on the back of the camera. If it doesn't stay visible long enough for you to check the results, you can call up the picture manually. Press the playback or Review button. The playback button looks like a right-pointing triangle inside a rectangle, much like the play button on your DVD player.

Playback Icon

If the picture isn't framed exactly the way you wanted or the exposure doesn't seem right, adjust your camera angle and try again. Check the results of the second photo and see if you like it better. This instant feedback on whether or not you got the shot is a great teaching tool. Make use of it!

If you take a bad picture by accident (maybe you photographed your toes and the carpet), you can delete it. First, press the Playback button and use the arrow keys to display the photo you want to erase.

Then look for a trash can or Delete button on the back of the camera. When you press it, the camera asks you if you're sure you want to erase the photo. You need to press the OK or Delete button again to confirm this action.

Delete Icon

IMPORTANT: When you send a photo to the trashcan on your camera, it is not the same as the trashcan on your computer or under the kitchen sink. You can retrieve something from your computer or kitchen trash if you haven't emptied it yet. But the trash can on your camera is more like the landfill. If you put a picture in the landfill, it's going to be pretty hard to get it back again! So be sure you really don't want the photo before you hit the delete button.

That's it! You've just taken your first photos with your new camera. Repeat the shooting, reviewing and erasing steps as much as you want! Enjoy your new digital camera!

Montana Winter 2008