So you got a new digital camera ... now what?



Holiday photos can stretch beyond the tried-and-true snapshots of the family.


A tripod is essential for shooting food indoors.


Indoor shooting calls for specific camera settings.

With the cold weather we have been having in Walla Walla it's the perfect time to snuggle up to a warm fireplace with a good book and stay warm. However the odds of that good book you snuggle up with will not be the manual for your digital camera.

Based on the feedback I have received in the last few weeks from e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, and vineyard photography students, it appears Santa bestowed many new digital cameras under the Christmas trees this year.

In a recent vineyard photography class one of my students asked, "So now that I have this new digital camera what do I do to get started?"

Today I have asked the students to follow along as we quickly get our cameras set up by reviewing a couple of key sections of the camera manual. (For those who may have lost the manuals just go online and download one for your camera).

The first item to look for in the glossary is the "battery." Digital cameras can wear down batteries quickly so having a spare one fully charged in the camera bag is essential.

The second item in the manual to look for is the memory card information, which is usually found at the back of the manual. Note the approved cards listed for the camera. I use primarily name brands like SanDisk or Lexar, and with cameras now requiring more memory due to video features I would recommend at least 4 to 8 gigabytes per card.

The memory cards should match the speed of your camera so when purchasing one remember to look for a number like 80x speed marked on the card.

Next be sure and have a lens cleaning tissue handy to clean the camera LCD and viewfinder eyepiece. Most important: Do not use any alcohol or lens cleaning solutions.

Then I asked the students to turn to the very back of the camera manual to the Troubleshooting Section. In this chapter are all the symbols that will start flashing on the cameras control panels when there is problem, and the solutions to fix the problem will also be listed.

I once had an experience on a safari in Africa where suddenly my camera started flashing "Err" in all the control panels, and I had no idea what had happened. This was not were I wanted to be as a large herd of elephants were chasing a pride of nine lions running straight towards us, and my camera was not working. Fortunately I had my camera manual in my camera bag and quickly went to the troubleshooting chapter.

Since I had been changing lenses in the Range Rover I had failed to securely lock the new lens onto my camera. Having a lens fall off of your camera with lions only 20 feet away is not a good idea. More importantly thanks to the technology in the camera I was quickly able to diagnose the problem and lock the lens securely in place to get the picture.

I reminded the class that before they started taking pictures there were a couple of other items to check out in the manual: Set the controls for the correct image quality size, either JPEG or RAW. Set the White balance and try the various settings, and format the flash cards prior to each photo shoot.

The holidays are a great time to start getting some closeups of the family members (besides the traditional family standup or group shots). At this point several class members reminisced about their own classic family pictures with mom and dad standing at opposite ends of the picture as if fearing to be digitally cropped out.

I told the students to not be afraid to take their cameras and venture in close to the holiday table and try to capture the marshmallows on top of the yams, or the butter melting on the baby peas and onions, or even the turkey or ham coming out of the oven. (To capture the vivid colors for most indoor photographs a tripod is needed and the camera white balance set at fluorescent or tungsten with an ISO setting of 400.

There is no question that digital cameras can be overwhelming at first, but for now with the above settings in place I encouraged the students to start taking pictures and capture the best of the holiday moments.

Don Fleming can be reached at


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