Sunday, April 5, 2009

Get to Know Your Camera - Guest Post by Ebony @ LoveBug Studios

Hi All!

I promised to get this done today, and from where I sit, it is still technically Sunday! :)

This little tutorial is not meant to rehash other stuff that you can find by doing a simple Google search. If you simply typed in “digital camera basics” in Google, you would get literally millions of results. Heck, there’s even a site called

My intent here is to share what I have learned about taking pictures. As a quilter. With my 6-year old (gasp!) 3.1 megapixel, 10x zoom digital camera. If that sentence made your eyes cross, then you have come to the right place.

My goal through this series is to help you improve the pictures you take, with the equipment you have today, in the shortest time possible. I’m not a 100% expert on photography, but I’ve learned a couple of things, and invite you to learn with me!

The very first step is to get more comfortable with your camera. If the only thing you’ve ever done is turn the camera on, push a button, then turn it off… you might learn a thing or two.

Do you know where your owner’s manual is? If not, find it! If it’s not in the house, look on-line – a lot of camera manufacturers now put their manuals on-line for you to download. It’s important for you to learn a few additional settings beyond the on/off switch in order to get better pictures out of your camera.

Here are the things I want you to find out & learn to do on your own camera:

1. Can you turn off the flash? Flash photography is great for taking pictures of people, but it is death to getting accurate colors & capturing those fabulous quilty details. Learn how to turn the flash OFF.

2. Can you turn off the time/date stamp from printing on the photo? This is a great feature to store with the file, but it is quite distracting on otherwise fabulous photos. Learn how to turn this OFF.

3. Can you increase the quality of your photos in the camera? I have to get a little technical here, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Pixels are tiny, tiny “dots” of information, which make up screens like monitors, tvs, and projected images. The more pixels you can fit in the smallest space, the clearer & sharper the image becomes. Depending on how the image is to be used will determine how many pixels are necessary to get the job done. This is often interpreted as “resolution”. A megapixel is basically 1 millon pixels, so a 3.1MP camera is capable of producing an image of over 3 million pixels. That is good enough for most everything! If you have more, that’s great! If you have less, you’ll be ok, but you might want to start saving your pennies for a new camera.
  • I recommend you set your camera at the best possible quality (meaning higher resolution, more megapixels – the max you camera can take, unless you’ve got one of those 10MP doohickeys. Beautiful detail – HUGE files!) Your camera probably just says “Good, Better, Best” or something to that effect. Pick the best one.
  • Keep in mind also – the more pixels you have, the larger your image can be, and thus the larger your files are when you upload them to your computer. We will learn how to resize them appropriately, but if you don’t have a lot of room on your hard drive, I recommend stocking up on rewritable CDs, flash drives, or even an external HD if you can swing it. (I have tons of blank writable CDs, which means you can only burn something to it once; if you don’t have any & you need a few I’m happy to share if you cover the postage & help defray the packaging at $0.25 each.)
4. Can you take close-up pictures? I’m not talking about the zoom lens; I’m talking about the “macro” setting.
  • Your camera is a fabulous piece of equipment, but it has no brains. Your brain is a fabulous piece of equipment, far exceeding the capabilities of any technology known to man. Your camera can do many things, but it has its limits! Taking close-up pictures is one of them. Don’t let the viewfinder screen fool you; all of our pictures look great on that tiny screen!
  • Here is a little experiment. Grab a business card – any one will do. Hold that card in your hand at arm’s length. Put on your glasses if you have to. Can you read it? Yes/no? Bring it in about halfway. Can you read it? Give your eyes a second to adjust. Now, set the business card on the end of your nose. Can you read it? I’ll bet it’s pretty fuzzy! Well, that’s exactly what you are doing to your camera when you turn it on “auto” and shove it at the quilt to take a close up! That little experiment is your lesson in a thing called “focal length.” Without going into the gory details, the simple explanation is the distance your camera needs to be from an object in order for it to focus. The macro setting on your camera (it may just be referred to as “close up” or have an image of a tulip or other flower) is how you can change the focal length of the camera lens so it can get closer. (My camera recommends it for use within 2 feet of an object.) Learn how to find this setting, and how to turn it ON and OFF.
5. Does your camera have a white balance feature? “White balance” is simply a term used to refer to the type of lighting and how it impacts the color white. Sunlight is by far the best type of lighting for interpreting colors, but when you’re driven inside, you need to be able to compensate for the lighting inside your house. This is used typically in conjunction with the flash OFF. You may have to experiment too with the settings - there’s usually a daylight setting, an incandescent/halogen setting, and one for fluorescent lights. Learn how to adjust this between the different settings. In my camera, it stays set unless I change the dial or turn the camera off, so it’s something you might have to adjust frequently!

6. Does your camera have a self timer? The digital cameras can detect the very slightest vibration… even when you think you are holding perfectly still! Using the self timer can substitute for the lack of a tripod or flat surface (more about that later.) Incidentally, it can also help you when you need to model something and there is no one around (remember my blue & green belt? YUP!) Learn how to use the self timer and turn it ON and OFF.

That’s it! Those are my top 6 camera settings, and I use each of them almost every time I set up to take a picture. So take a half hour or so, sit down with your camera, and learn about how to use each feature on your camera!

Please let me know if you found this useful. If you have any trouble, feel free to convo me on Etsy or leave a comment on this post. The next post in the series will be about setting up a mini photo studio of your very own!


FabricFascination said...

Nice article Lovebug. I am going to dig out my manual and see if I can set my camera on a higher resolution. My pictures are grainy. Thanks!

DownHomeDesigns said...

Great info, Ebony! I'll be making better pics in no time! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this series. : )

Ashlawnfarms Rag Quilt Creations said...

Thanks for posting this. I need lots of help taking pictures. I will study this information for sure!!

Cathie said...

WOW - again - very very helpful information. Now that I've made my light box, I will play with my camera settings. Thank you soooo much.

alisaquilts said...

Ebony, Great info. I can't wait to try some of your tricks. Thanks for putting it in layman's terms for us.