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Beginners' guide to photography Part 1 - choosing and using a camera

Beginners' guide to photography Part 1 - choosing and using a camera - In part one of our series for beginners Michael Jenkins gives advice on choosing and using cameras.

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General Photography

Words and Pictures Michael Jenkins

At a friend's wedding about twenty-five years ago, I mentioned to the professional photographer that I wanted to buy a new camera so that I could take better photos.

'Cameras don't take photos,' he replied. 'People do. Learn to use your Kodak Instamatic first. Then, when you can take good pictures with that camera, go out and buy the best you can afford.' It took me some time to figure out what he meant. The camera only records the picture that the photographer makes. It's up to the photographer to create the best picture possible.

Choosing a Camera
So if you already have a working camera, don't rush out and buy a new one. When you are ready, consider the possibility of part-exchanging your old camera. Some camera shops offer this service and they have the knowledge and experience to help you choose. As a young person, you probably have only a limited amount of money to spend. By part-exchanging, or buying a used camera, you can get a better camera at a lower cost.

If you do not already own a camera, I would suggest that you look for at least a 35 mm SLR camera. It might cost a little more, but the advantages are worth it. Having said that, if you can only afford a compact camera, that will be fine, although for the price of a new compact you might be able to pick up a reasonable second-hand SLR, such as a Praktica or a Zenit. Both of these have good features for a beginner or for a young photographer.

My thirteen-year-old son has just 'inherited' my old Zenit EM. My wife bought it for me twenty-five years ago to replace the Kodak. It has a very basic light meter that measures the light reflected from the scene. All the settings have to be made manually. Although you can now buy fully automatic cameras, it is good to learn how things work manually first.

SLR means Single Lens Reflex. It comes from the fact that the camera has a view of the subject through a single lens and this view is reflected to the viewfinder. Before the SLR was invented, there had to be two lenses, one for the photograph and one for the viewfinder. The reflex refers to the mirror that does the reflecting. It flicks back, or reflexes, out of the way as you take the picture. If you've ever cut off someone's head in a photo, you will understand the advantage of seeing the same picture in the viewfinder as that recorded on the film.

Get to Know Your Camera
First, then, look at your camera. What type of camera is it? If you have really generous parents, you may have a nice new digital camera or a reasonably good SLR film camera. You might have a range of lenses to go with it. Or you might have a basic compact camera.

It doesn't matter what camera you have. The camera doesn't take pictures. You make the picture what it is. So, what does your camera offer? I would like to try making suggestions that can improve your photography whatever camera you are using.

Therefore, read the instruction manual for your camera. Learn what each button and dial does, what adjustments you can make and what effects these will have on your photographs. I cannot do this for you. There is such a wide range of cameras available that it would be impossible to give details on each of them.

Improving Your Photographs
The idea of this column is to help you improve your photographs without spending too much money, so let's look at increasing the number of good photos you get from each film.

One of the most common reasons for being disappointed with a photo is that it is blurred. We call this 'camera shake' so that we can blame the camera. What we mean is that we moved as we pressed the shutter button. We must learn to keep the camera steady for the fraction of a second needed to take the picture. Setting a faster shutter speed may help, but that's not always possible.

The best method is to learn to handle the camera properly.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your camera steady

  • Don't jab the shutter button. Squeeze it gently until it releases.
  • Standing with your feet together reduces your stability. Don't make yourself look foolish, but if you stand with your feet apart, you are less likely to sway from side to side.
  • Support the camera with your left hand and get your right hand ready to press the shutter release. Tuck your elbows in to your body. This might take some getting used to, but it will increase your stability.
  • If you turn the camera sideways to take a portrait or upright shot, turn it clockwise so that your right hand supports the camera and your left hand supports the lens. This makes it easier to reach the shutter release.


Find something to lean on; a wall, a lamppost, a fence post.

  • Use a tripod. If you do not have a tripod, use any firm surface, but make sure your camera will not fall. If you are going to press the shutter yourself, make it a solid surface.
  • Use a remote shutter release. This will absorb the movement from pressing the button.
  • If your camera has a self-timer, use that. Fold up your coat or rucksack and rest it on a firm surface. Then, position your camera on top. This has an advantage over putting your camera directly on a solid surface in that you can adjust the camera's position before activating the self-timer.

Try some of these suggestions. They should help you to almost instantly improve your photography by cutting down on the number of blurred pictures you get. Also, by stopping to think about the stability of your camera, you will have more time to think about the image you are creating.

Remember, cameras don't take pictures. People do.

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I didn't already have an account before I read this. I just wanted to make one to say Thankyou Michael, everything written above is exactly what I was hoping to find. This helped me out so much! Thankyou! xo!

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