Congratulations, you just scored an awesome new camera. Welcome to our annual guide to getting started with your new tool.
Whether you're shooting on a DSLR, a mirrorless compact, or even just a top-notch point-and-shoot, these tips will get you on your way. The rest is up to you.
If you just got a snazzy point-and-shoot that basically only points and shoots, you probably want to check this guide instead.
1. What do I need to buy?
All but the most expensive cameras usually ship in packaged kits with some variation on an 18-35mm zoom lens. For the most part, these kit lenses are versatile and functional, if not exceptionally sharp. But lenses are really important—frequently they're more important than the camera's image sensor. In other words, you're not crazy if you're already considering some lenses. Just be forewarned that any lens worth buying will cost you.
If you're using a tiny mirrorless camera, your first lens acquisition should definitely be a thin, wide-angle prime lens that will help you make the most out of the camera body's compact size. Who needs a shrunken camera if you need a bag to carry it around all the time? If you've got a new DSLR, go for a 35mm or 50mm prime with a maximum aperture of f/2.0 or faster should be your priority.
Upgrade your Strap
The camera strap that came in the box sucks compared to what you'll get for a small investment. You could start by making the bundled strap better with this pad from Domke. Or you could buy a new strap altogether. A few good options are this sling from Black Rapid or Joby's hot Ultrafit Slingstrap.
2. Learn your shooting modes and take control
Your new camera comes with a buttload of modes. I count at least six million different "scenes" under that setting on the mode dial on this Sony I'm currently fooling around with—foilage, kids & pets, fireworks, snow, miniature, hookers in unflattering light, etc. They are fun. But if you really wanna learn to shoot, there are 4 notches on the dial you should pay attention to for photography: 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. Stop destroying your photos with 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:
• Try slow-synchro flash: On some point-and-shoot cameras, like the S110, 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. Brace yourself to beat the dark
How do you avoid using flash in low light, you ask? You could use a tripod and along 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 newerish basic DSLRs, like the T4i, you can usually get away with up to ISO 1600 or 3200 before things start getting really wonky. On good point-and-shoots, like the Sony RX100 and S110, you'll want to keep to keep things below ISO 1600. Otherwise the image turns into crud.
5. Shoot RAW and tinker with your photos on your computer
If your new camera has lenses, it definitely shoots RAW—before you shoot anything, go down the camera menu and select that you'd like to 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. RAW files are huge, but external drives and online backup storage are so cheap these days, that there's really no reason to skimp on image quality.
You don't need to splurge for Photoshop to work with RAW files. Both Adobe Lightroom and Apple's Aperture cost $80, and they'll let you turn bad photos good with an army of potential adjustments. Both editors make it easy to fix common problems like screwy white balance or blown-out highlights.