Geeky Stuff Photography

Learn How to Use Ur Camera

A lot of people ask me how I take such fantastic pictures. I usually tell them I’m just really talented and obviously have an innate gift for “The Arts”. But because I don’t want to come off as vain, I put this emoticon “:p” at the end. :p

To be honest, I still consider myself quite new to photography and always feel humbled whenever I log into flickr and see the incredible photos people are taking. It seems that order to be a good photographer, you have to constantly learn things, some of them difficult, and be, like, creative all the time. Harsh, I know.

So here I am to help push you to be a better photographer with a super helpful photo tip every week until your photos are awesome, or I get bored of teaching you :p

Here Photo Tip #1: Learn How to Use Your Camera!

1. Read your camera manual!

read your camera manual

I know it’s boring. I didn’t want to read it either, but knowing how to move around your camera insides and outsides is really important. Nothing is more frustrating than fumbling around on your camera in the field. Where is that darn exposure button? How do I delete all pictures? Crud. How do I display the histogram? What are all these numbers and letters on the screen. Ack!

So get a good cuppa tea or coffee (if you prefer that vile stuff) and sit down with your camera and its manual. Go through all the menus and buttons with your camera. Don’t just read it passively, but actively go through every menu setting and button, camera in hand, taking test shots as you go.

I also recommend carrying it in your camera bag if you are a beginner. If you get stuck on something, look it up. Warning: This process may actually lead to learning how to use your camera as more than just an expensive and weighty electronic necklace.

This brings me to my next point…

2. Never use auto settings. Ever.

Auto Robot

I know this is a drastic statement, but trust me on this one, your photos will always look kinda crappy if you use auto settings. That includes the “face” one, the “running man” one, the “mountain” one, the “flower” one, even the “nighttime” or “fireworks” one! Any setting represented by a little cute picture is off limits!

I know that this is a difficult habit to break if you are new to photography. Like most people, I started taking photos on auto settings. After a while, I realized that I had no creative control and I noticed that basic things like focus, exposure, and white balance were all out of wack. Basically, my photos looked subpar and amateur. So I committed a lot of time and effort, and actually learnt stuff about aperture, shutter speed, etc. I know. Crazy.

So repeat after me, “I promise to not use my camera’s default auto setting as a crutch and take control of my photos!”

3. Always set your White Balance

super bad WB! correct WB-1

Nothing looks crappier than photos with incorrect white balance (WB). Your best friend will not appreciate looking like a member of the blue man group on her wedding day. Trust me.

The first thing i do before i take a picture is set the WB. I look around, take a few shots and figure out what the kind of colour temperature I’m dealing with ie. overhead tungsten lights, blinding fluorescents, daylight through a window, etc. and then set the white balance to best match what I see.

If you don’t know what to set the WB to when you are out in the field, then test it using that big screen on the back of your camera that lets you preview photos! Take a few snaps using different WB settings, and decide which best matches the colour of light you see. This may seem tricky, but dicerning between cloudy and sunny isn’t really that tough. And with some practice, you’ll quickly be able to identify trickier things tungsten bulbs and candlelight and mixed light… oh boy.

When you are dealing with a mixed light situation ie., florecent overhead lights, daylight coming in through a big window, use your judgement. What looks the best? Get into the habit of analyzing colour and light and experiment with different WB settings in camera. It’s a really easy thing to do, and will save you a lot of hassle colour correcting in post especially if you haven’t mastered Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, or “computers” in general.

To learn more, read this article.

That concludes my lecture for today. Give your camera some extra love this week and take a stack of awesome photos celebrating this last week of summer. If you live in Vancouver or England, remember to bring your umbrella!

Thoughts and comments?

Come say Hi on Flickr & stay tuned for next week’s awesome tip!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Kenny Hyder
    August 27, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    Nice, you mean “P” doesn’t stand for “Professional”? ;)

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    RTFM: Read the f*ing manual. Words to live by.

    I disagree about the white balance. Shoot RAW and let auto white balance do it’s job. That gives the camera a chance to do a better, quicker job that you could on your own. And if you shoot RAW, it’s simple to adjust later. And RAW is better. No need to shoot JPEG anymore with our super fast computers and great RAW conversion / workflow software like Lightroom and Aperture available.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:14 PM

    Thanks Lisa.

    I’m a noob to photography, and recently bought a DSLR to help compensate for my lack of photo-taking abilities. I’ve read through the manual (after many painful hours of photo retouches) and am starting to grasp things a bit. A long way to go still.

    The white balance tidbit helped. I will make a point of setting my WB before I start taking any shots.

    Keep up the great work. I’ll check in more often!


  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:14 PM

    Um, I haven’t been rained on since Sunday. ;p

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 27, 2008 at 3:14 PM

    @photo-john — agreed. i always shoot in RAW, but that comment was aimed at beginners who don’t know anything about post-processing or haven’t got to that stage yet.

    I do think it’s important to at least know what colour temp you are dealing with and try to achieve it in-camera, instead of relying on post correction. even if just for an exercise.

    I’ll work up to talking about RAW in upcoming weeks.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:16 PM

    Whoops, :P. The hotel desk I’m using argues with my wrists.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:16 PM

    Again, :p.

  • Reply
    Tyler Ingram
    August 27, 2008 at 3:32 PM

    Lisa is your camera a 400D or a 450D? My 450D says XSi in the bottom whereas the image above has a 450D in it.

    I agree with the Don’t Shoot In Auto mode. Once I showed a friend how to use the M mode on her XSi and told her how Shutter and Aperture work in relationship to each other and how to use the light meter, her photos turned out better.

    I used to to shoot JPEG, I don’t know why but I am shooting more in RAW because at a 4GB card I can still shoot like 300 photos and if I fill that up I just drop in another one of my 4GB cards! Besides with Adobe CS3 and better RAW support as well as programs like Lightroom it is easier to post-process your photos!

    Though if you have a compact digi-cam and want to take macros I do recommend using the ‘flower’ mode (macro mode) and read the manual as to what the maximum closeness you can get with your camera (1.5″, 2″ etc) The macros on compact digi-cams aren’t that bad and I do enjoy using my SD750 to do macros. My 450D doesn’t have a macro lens yet.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:35 PM

    I agree with you on most points. But sometimes I still cheat and use the Automatic settings :(

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:36 PM

    Good tips, but I’m going to have to say that I normally leave my WB set to Auto. My D300 does a great job at setting WB plus I always shoot RAW, so you can always come back to adjust it afterwards if the camera got it wrong (1 out of 40 times).

    As for shooting setting: Aperture Priority FTW!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:37 PM

    Great tips Lisa and @photo-john. RAW rocks! I also recommend carrying your camera everywhere, because it is a great way to start conversations and meet other photographers.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 3:59 PM

    this is slightly off topic in that it has nothing to do with photography, but hell, you have a picture of it in here…. I love twinings tea. but then i am British and its kinda the law here to like tea and twinings. in fact ive got a cup of 1706 with me right here mmmmm.

    By the way, love the blog, been following for a while, but commenting for the first time.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 4:02 PM

    I agree with your point about reading the manual. Even though some of these are larger then a novel! Haha. But I disagree on your comments on white balance. I find it easier to adjust in post. It’s not particularly hard to adjust and a lot of times in those mixed light situations it’s easier to make those look better in post. I find it’s easiest to leave my camera’s WB on auto and fine tune in post.

    Great post BTW.

  • Reply
    JC Bonassin
    August 27, 2008 at 4:04 PM

    Great Tutorial Lisa :D… Thanks … I’ve been trying really hard to read my manual ha! It’s so so so so so so difficult ’cause I’m really lazy :(

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 4:14 PM

    Good tips, Lisa. A great starting out point for people new to the DSLR. I’d also include manual focus.

    Tyler Ingram, the American names are Rebels but overseas (and I guess, North of the border) they use the 400 numbering system. So the Manual Lisa shot is from a Rebel XTi (400D) but the camera she shot is a Rebel XSi (450D)

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 4:20 PM

    While I’ve learned a lot from the “Stop Shooting Auto!” blog

    I appreciate learning more from those who are ahead of the curve from where I sit. I look forward to your RAW (article).

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 4:46 PM

    I’ve never used the cartoon modes. My 5D doesn’t even have them. I normally shoot in Av because that was the only auto exposure mode on my first SLR (a Minolta XG-7, my high school graduation present) and I still feel most comfortable there. And I normally don’t fret over white balance in-camera, figuring that I’ll end up changing it in Lightroom later anyway. The downside is that when I do use a setting other than AWB I tend to forget it the next time I shoot and wind up with some wretched looking outdoor shots in fluorescent WB mode or some such.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 5:47 PM

    Sweet post Lisa. I’ll be passing this on to a bunch of newbies who will benefit from a gentle, conversational introduction like this. ;)

  • Reply
    Michael Zahora
    August 27, 2008 at 6:45 PM

    Good post Lisa.

    I agree with your RTFM and white balance tips. I would add RTFM… Shoot/experiment… RTFM… Shoot/experiment… Repeat until you get the desired results. Half my camera gear is the manuals :p

    The auto modes (running man, mountains, flower and giant squirrel) are definitely bad. Aperture priority and shutter priority are helpful in some situations, but learning how to shoot in manual is key to getting good images. BTW, your auto camera robot image is brilliant!

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 27, 2008 at 7:56 PM

    @kenny — you bet :p

    @jason — keep on truckin’! take lots of shots, experiment, and go on photo walks to inspire your creativity! good luck.

    @chris — google translate strikes again :D

    @tyler — i have the Canon Xti (400D). shooting in RAW is the only way to go. and with memory cards being so cheap now, you can afford to take lots of huge picts. I use a 8GB card and keep a bunch of 2GB cards in my bag in case i fill the 8GB up.

    The Canon 100mm Macro is ace. check that lens out.

    @Lyndon — make a clean break! you can DO it!

    @Nik — agreed. but it’s my policy to try and get the best shot in camera. FYI Av mode is still technically an auto mode :p i often use that modes as a sort of light meter to set my shutter speed in M. if you know the aperture you want to use, but you are stuck on the shutter speed you can just set it to Av, get a reading, and then set up M.

    ok dinner time. brb.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 8:22 PM

    Good stuff Lisa! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 9:25 PM

    Tip #4:
    Fix EVERYTHING you screw-up by using Photo$hop filters.


  • Reply
    Tony Wang
    August 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM

    Great how to tips for beginners :)
    I have to say most of the time I’m too lazy to do the WB but yea Lisa’s right, best to do as much as you can before you download the pictures to your computer. If you’re gonna edit heavily in post production, always shoot in RAW~

  • Reply
    Fred Hill
    August 27, 2008 at 10:49 PM

    Great tips Lisa. I have to admit I do set my WB when I am doing different photo shoots. I like to get the picture as close to perfect as I can in camera so I don’t have to do a lot of post-processing. I would much rather be shooting then sitting in from of my MacBook Pro (even though that is not that bad really). The nice this is though I can change the whole look and feel of a picture with RAW, and anything that needs to be fixed.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 27, 2008 at 10:58 PM

    @tyfn — you jumped the gun on my next post! yes, bring your camera everywhere or you will regret it! i always do even though my SLR weighs a freakin’ tonne.

    @Browny182 — that comment made me totally lol. i actually nicked that tea from a very posh hotel in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, so it’s super special. mm need more M&S biscuits. ate my last pack yesterday. so buttery and good.

    @fotowes — gosh another AWB person. mixed light situations are tricky, but i still think it’s better to at least try to set the WB in camera. and seriously, AWB looks like crapolla a lot of the time. if you really want to be accurate you should really hand calibrate it and not even use tint settings. but that’s gonna slow you down a looot.

    finding some twizzlers. brb.

  • Reply
    Adam Nollmeyer
    August 27, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    These are the few simple tips I share with others when people ask for tips.

    Camera settings:

    P: P is for Professional. If you want good photos use this one.
    A: A is for Amateur, if you want one bump over OK, use this.
    S: S is a stupid setting, never use it.
    M: M is for Master and is confusing, so you probably don’t want this.

    Raw: If you like a lot of pink in the middle, or if you like your carrots or broccoli to crunch then by all means use Raw.


  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 11:35 PM

    Thank’s for this good lessons and I promise to not use my camera’s default auto setting, never !

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 11:48 PM

    Great list. It’s also a good idea to understand how aperture and shutter settings could affect the quality of your pics. I’ve actually never shot in AUTO mode since I got my Xsi. Still haven’t ventured into shooting RAW though… need to get myself a faster computer first.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 11:49 PM

    You got a lot of action on this, Lisa!

    For those of you who are wondering about RAW, here’s an article on my site about why you should be shooting RAW:

    Why Shoot RAW?

    It may seem scary and you may not understand exactly why – yet. But get started now and you won’t regret all your JPEGs later.

  • Reply
    Duane Storey
    August 28, 2008 at 12:20 AM

    If you are going to give up auto settings, I’d recommend messing around with P for a while. It’s a lot like auto, except you generally get to choose ISO and the stupid flash won’t pop up. Once you get P down pat, most people head on over to aperture priority (Av). I do almost all my shooting in Av nowadays, since I generally want to control depth of field.

    And while auto sucks, I recommend you move back to it every six months or so and make sure you can take better shots than it :) Embarrassingly enough, last year I slipped into auto one shoot and came home only to find that the shots turned out better than normal. Turns out I had developed a few nasty habits by doing things on my own, and had an interesting sanity check that day. Thankfully I’ve corrected them all.

    I generally never cared about white balance during the shoot, and always corrected it after. It’s easy in RAW, and not that hard in most programs for JPEG either. Canon auto white balance really sucks, and it gets it wrong about 50% of the time for me in low-light. Nikon is better I think. Most DLSRs allow you to shoot a white card easily enough, so if I didn’t want to mess with it in software, I’d probably carry a white card around and take a shot of that.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 28, 2008 at 1:25 AM

    @JC Bonassin — get on it!!!!!!!

    @AnthonyD — i’ll talk about M focus in other posts. i didn’t want to cram too much into one post. didn’t want to scare the n00bs.

    @fotoeins — great resource! RAW article is coming up really soon.

    @Spike — haha that’s happened to me sooo many times. in fact, this photo i took in mexico of some construction workers i accidentally shot on florescent balance: so i desaturated in post and tried to make it super artsy. i still think it’s kinda lame.

    @Masey — i don’t like to scare the n00bs. it’s tough on them. gosh!

    @doug — hi-5!

    @djh — so witty aren’t you. ooh with your swanky clothes and your british accent!!! :p

    @Tony — i sweeeeeear it makes life easier when you set the WB. just trust meee.

    @Pas — i wonder if he also goes by the name of e-manuel?

    @Fred Hill — yeahhhhhh! someone who gets me. i love shooting, but spending hours post-processing not so much. don’t you agree that getting great shots in camera is waaaaaay better than taking loads of pictures that need post???

    toast. brb.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 28, 2008 at 1:53 AM

    @Adam Nollmeyer — i do like my veggies crunchy! wow. i guess i should shoot in RAW, since jpeg compression makes them soggy.

    @Pas — thanks for that super smart WB tip. you are even smarter than Manuel. it doesn’t help that he has such a small brain.

    you are right. metering the white is the only way to get awesome results, and that whole RAW thing.

    @Dennis — good for you!

    @photo-john — thanks for linking that article. i think everyone should give it a read n00bs and photographers who aren’t currently shooting in RAW. I just made the switch about a month ago. ssssoooooo much better.

    @duane — good point. the best way to work your way up to manual is through P, AV, and Tv settings. i’m a wee bit of a control freak so i like to control everything so i always shoot on M. i’ll try going back to auto for a day, see if i learn anything :p and yes, the Canon AWB is the sucks. not worth it in my opinion.

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 3:24 AM

    The white balance advice is 100% spot on. My D3 on auto gets it right most of the time but actually figuring it out yourself using the the presets or manually often gives far better results. Flash photography – set to flash white balance, it gets it wildly wrong on auto. Now if only I could remember to get things in focus I could actually take a reasonable picture :)

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 3:26 AM

    I use a Whi-bal card when I want accurate color tones. Otherwise, WB is just a creative tool. I always shoot raw, even with the Canon G9. BTW, IMO it has one of the worst manuals I have ever read. What a mess!

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 4:07 AM

    I need to heed your white balance advice.

  • Reply
    Aron T
    August 28, 2008 at 4:50 AM

    I think it goes without saying that you should just pull your camera out and shoot as often as you can. Everytime you shoot is an opportunity to learn something or take a fantastic photo that could make you famous*! Also, knowing where the buttons/knobs are goes a long way when it’s somebody’s birthday and they started doing something cute/entertaining/whatever without first notifying the photographer (perish the thought)!


    *DISCLAIMER – Taking photos of your cat may not actually make you famous.

  • Reply
    use frameworks « Cyberer’s Weblog
    August 28, 2008 at 6:56 AM

    […] Lisa hat eine wöchentliche Fotostunde eingerichtet und verbietet gleich in der ersten Stunde, die Default-Einstellungen zu benutzen. […]

  • Reply
    Fred Hill
    August 28, 2008 at 7:52 AM

    @Mostly Lisa – Yeah I totally agree with you. I would much rather spend my time behind the lens and working with my camera to get a good shot then sitting in front of the monitor tweaking the picture. I gotcha.

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 9:26 AM

    You say Shooting RAW is the only way to go but to be honest, a lot of the time it’s just not worth it. The file sizes are huge and unless you use a LARGE memory card and don’t forget yourself you have the possibility of corupting the lot by overshooting because cameras can only estimate the available space when shooting RAW and the margin of error can be quite big. I’d only ever shoot RAW if I knew 100% it was a super-important shot and I knew I would need the maximum amount of flexibility in post.

    All other scenarios, JPEG is fine… without auto settings of course. :)

  • Reply
    Metal Cracker dot com
    August 28, 2008 at 9:32 AM

    Oh yes White Balance!!!

  • Reply
    Seth Webster
    August 28, 2008 at 11:56 AM

    @Dan… shooting jpeg with any intention of publishing photos is just *not* a good idea. You can get good shots with a cell phone camera, but you will never have the latitude to post-process if necessary. Additionally, I have never had a problem with my camera (Nikon D80) storing RAW images even at the capacity of the card.

    @Lisa — love your photos.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 28, 2008 at 1:57 PM

    @Brian — yes, for sure. not setting flash WB will not make your picts look good. also auto flash is neverrrrrr good. i should have mentioned that, but over-abuse of auto flash cranked on full…uhhhhh… every time i go on facebook i get bombarded with horrible, blown-out photos of drunk college kids. next week i’ll talk focus.

    @Gary — really? i’ll take a peek at it when i get back. i haven’t read it yet… i know. i’m horrible, but if you know how to use one canon you can use em all.

    @pas — watch out! it’s MAGIC HOUR!

    @Ryan — heed it! heed it now!

    @Aron — you should really check out my series on cats sleeping in large teacups. it was called “T-Cats?” i won many awards and became the hit of photographic community.

    @Fred — i’m glad we understand each other now. phew.

    @Dan — i don’t think i said RAW was the ONLY way. I only just switched to RAW a few weeks ago, so everything in my current portfolio was shot in JPEG. I agree with you that RAW eats up a lot of memory and if you are confident shooting in JPEG then do it. it’s just that you never know when you are going to capture that awesome spontaneous shot… i’m just not willing to leave that up to chance.

    @metal — yes!

    @Seth — agreed! compression is teh sucks! & thanks for the compliment!

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    Quick question for you Lisa… did you ever take any photography courses? If so where? Thanks.

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 8:15 PM

    As great as a post this is, the comments are really usefully as well. I love it, when we can all get all and share information without all the attitude. Leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy ;)

    Lisa I promise before the end of this year, I’m going to kick my auto habit to the curb. Wonder if you can get a patch for this kind of thing?

  • Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 9:03 PM

    Amen to RTFM! Also, read it again after you’ve been using the camera for a while. I re-read the manual for my camera (light bed time reading!) after I’d been using the camera for two years. Suddenly a whole lot of things came together for me. Including changing the WB, using the AE-L/AF-L (exposure, focus lock) button, discovering that you can change the aperture/shutter combination in P mode by scrolling the wheel (on my Nikon, that is). Pretty sweet. Also a good reason not to get too carried away buying the latest and greatest thing. You can still get a lot of mileage in terms of learning and growing with the camera you have – if you buy a good one to start with I guess. My Nikon D50 is on the lower end of the dSLRs, but it’s still a good piece of kit (for my level of expertise).

    Look forward to what you have to say about RAW. I’m starting to doubt whether I want to use it all the time because it’s slowed me down heaps (finding time to process doesn’t seem to happen lately). Maybe that’s more to do with not having a good workflow in place.

  • Reply
    August 29, 2008 at 2:48 PM

    Get a 50D!! I think they come out in October sometime…I didn’t read any other posts so I may be redundant.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    August 29, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    @Tawcan — thanks! no i haven’t taken any photography classes. i would love to, but i don’t have the time or $$ at the moment. I learn a lot from other great photographers, and great photoblogs like Strobist, Twip, Photojojo

    @Lyndon — agreed. i really want my posts and comments to be about sharing knowledge and inspiring others. most amazing photographers i know are more that willing to share their tips and secrets. we need more of that on the web!

    @kristarella — i have a low end dSLR and it works like cracker jacks. i totally agree with you on making the most of the camera you’ve got. a lot of people blame their camera for their crappy pictures. Then they spend heaps of money on a professional camera but don’t actually learn anything about photography and low and behold, their photos are still crappy.

    @Nate — read above comment. :p

  • Reply
    Captain Sweatpants
    August 30, 2008 at 3:39 AM

    Hi Mostly Lisa,

    Can you please write a tutorial that will help me cut someone out of a picture? I have a nice picture that my friend took when I was the usher at his wedding, but the girl in the photo with me is really ugly and was my girlfriend at the time but now is not my girlfriend because she’s such a cow. I would like to use the photo for Facebook so I just need to cut out her ugly lying face.

    P.S. I love your photos!

  • Reply
    August 30, 2008 at 5:32 AM

    I think someone needs You Suck At Photoshop :P

  • Reply
    Derek K. Miller
    August 30, 2008 at 5:04 PM

    If I may put in a shameless plug for my Camera Works series, which explains why focal lengths work the way they do, why f-stops have those numbers, and such things:

  • 1 2

    Leave a Reply