Congratulations! A loved one loves you back enough that they bought you a brand new fancy camera. Now what?
1. Pimp your camera
Unless they really love you, whoever dropped dime on your shooter probably didn't load up on the accessories. First priority! More lenses. (If you got a DSLR, anyway.) And this list is a good place to start. Go for the 35mm glass (or 50mm, if you got a full-frame camera).
Upgrade your Strap
The camera strap that came in the box sucks, whether it's a pro-point-and-shoot like Nikon's P7000, or a DSLR. Make it better, like with this pad from Domke, or buy a new one altogether, like from Black Rapid or Luma's new Loop.
2. Fiddle with the dial
Your new camera comes with a buttload of modes. I count at least 23 different "scenes" on the Panasonic LX5 I'm currently messing around with—food, pet, fireworks, even two different ones for baby! They are fun. But if you really wanna learn to shoot, there are 4 notches on the dial you should pay attention to: P, S (Tv on Canon), A (Av on Canon) and M: Program, Shutter priority, Aperture Priority, Manual.
• Program mode is essentially an automatic mode that lets you have some control over some settings—like ISO sensitivity or whether to use flash. (Typically, in full auto, the camera locks all settings.) Start here, and play around.
• Shutter priority is semi-automatic. You pick the exposure time you want—short or long—and the camera will do the rest, like set the aperture.
• Aperture priority is also semi-automatic. And guess what? You set the aperture, which dictates how much light comes into the camera—do you want a nice, shallow depth-of-the-field, or everything in focus?—and the camera figures out the other stuff, like shutter speed.
• Manual. Well, you figure it out.
3. Step away from the flash
Your camera's built-in flash? Don't touch it. Ever. Okay, well, there are a few circumstances where you have little choice, like when it's blacker than the black heart of Socialist Nazi Terrorist, or in daylight when you need a little fill.
If you MUST use the built-in flash, at least follow these tips:
• Bounce or diffuse it: It'll make the light look more natural and keep things like this from happening. You can make one for cheap.
• Try slow-sync flash: On some point-and-shoot cameras, like the S95, this is what exactly what the "night portrait" scene mode does: Uses a longer shutter speed while firing the flash, so you get the benefits of a longer exposure and flash—you can see the foreground and the background, and maybe turn out one of those hipster-y, rave-y photos with wavy lights in the background.
4. Shoot like a ninja
How do you avoid using flash in low light, you ask? You could use a tripod and a long exposure time. Or, you could shoot your camera like a sniper. Hold that thing steady. Tuck your elbows. Use your camera strap (or whatever) as a brace. Exhale. Squeeze the shutter button.
Also, fortunately for camera buyers, the megapixel war between camera makers is largely over. Now, their focus is all about ISO and low-light performance. So situations where you used to need flash might be a bit more flexible with a newer camera, compared to one from a couple years ago. So, step one. Boost your ISO settings. On newer basic DSLRs, like the T2i, you can usually get away with up to ISO 1600 before things start getting really wonky. On good point-and-shoots, like the LX5 and S95, you'll want to keep to around ISO 800.
5. Embrace RAW, like the steak
If your new camera is truly fancy, it can shoot in RAW. RAW images aren't compressed, like run-of-the-mill JPEGs, meaning you're better able to manipulate them and in post-production on your computer. Maybe fix something, like the screwy white balance. And with storage being as cheap it is, there's barely a reason not to.
Anything you guys wanna add in the comments?