So you have bought yourself a shiny new camera, unpacked it, chucked the manual back in the box, and are now probably wondering what on earth all the buttons and settings are for. Digital cameras really are quite complex pieces of kit these days, but the good news is, like most modern gadgets, there is a whole ton of stuff that you will probably never need, so the important thing is to work out the bits that you do need!
Now go and dig out the manual book and read at least the first few pages so you know how to turn the thing on, how to attach a lens, fit the memory card, and fit a battery. Most of the rest that you need to know we will cover over the next couple of pages.
You are now ready to take a few pictures! All compact cameras and SLR’s will have an automated setting, normally indicated on the top dial by a green box (Canon) or green camera (Nikon). With the camera in this mode all you have to do is point and shoot without having to worry about the settings. To be honest, many people I know never feel the need to progress past the ‘green box’, but this does have its limitations. If you are new to photography then leave it here for now and get used to the way the camera feels, what you can do with it and basically take loads of pictures. Once you are comfortable with how to take a picture, we can start looking at a few of the more creative things that you can do.
Most modern cameras come with a zoom function. For fishing, zoom lenses that go from around 17mm to 70mm are the most useful and ideally you should make sure your first lens is in this range. Confusingly, the smaller the number, the wider the angle of view, so 17mm is great for wide shots, whilst 70mm will get a narrower range. The human eye has a field of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on most digital cameras (50mm on pro full-frame models), so if it is less than 35mm the camera will exaggerate the field of view.
On a compact this can either be a physical zoom, where the lens elements move in and out, or just the camera digitally magnifying the image. On an SLR you have a chunky ring on the lens that you turn to zoom in and out. At its simplest, a zoom lens allows you to get closer or further away from the subject of your picture, which you might argue you could easily do just by moving closer or further away, but you can also get some more subtle effects by zooming than that. Have you ever noticed shots where the fish look absolutely huge? This is achieved by using the wide angle (10-20mm) end of
your zoom lens and getting up close to the subject, so you are exaggerating the field of view compared to what the eye can normally see.
The other thing that you will find located on the side of your lens is the autofocus switch. Whilst most cameras still have a manual focussing (MF) mode, there are not many times when you would want to use it. The autofocus (AF) systems on most cameras is so good now that it performs better than most eyes and is a lot faster too, so leave it in AF mode.
Right, let us now have a look at the back of your camera and some of the settings that you will have there. Most cameras will have a menu button that opens up a huge array of different options. Don’t panic! We only need to worry about a few of them right now.
A setting that you must check before doing anything else is the image quality. Normally, cameras will come with this set to the highest quality as their default, and this is where you want to leave it. Because if you want to print your pictures or send them to magazines then they will generally be looking for a minimum of a 5 megabyte size image. Most cameras also offer a choice of file format that is used to store the images. Camera buffs will recommend using the Raw mode to save your pictures, but although this gives the finest detail, the pictures need a lot of messing about on the computer to get them looking right. Much better is to save the images as jpeg files, which are easy to share and look good straight from the camera.
Time for a ‘P’
Whilst full auto lets the camera do all the work, the next setting on dial, normally indicated by a ‘P’ (Programmed automatic) starts to give
you a lot more control. But, in the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi, “with power comes responsibility”, and there is a lot more to think about once you turn that dial. The P setting though will open up a world of possibilities for you, and I would almost say that it is essential to learn how to use it if you want regularly take great shots. Here is a run-down on some of the key settings that P-mode allows you to control:
ISO: Also known as ‘film speed’, this is basically the sensitivity of the cameras image sensor to light, and ranges from about 100 to upwards of 3200. The lower the number the less light is collected, but the sharper and less grainy the image will be. Generally, for outdoor photography, we want the ISO to be below 800, and ideally 200 or below. I normally set this manually to 200 and only change it in exceptional circumstances.
White balance: Light sources come in all different types, from sunlight, to street lamps, and this can give your pictures a strange tint,
anything from too much blue to red. The white balance setting allows you to choose the correction that the camera applies to remove this colour tint. For fishing shots 3 settings are normally useful, sunlight, cloud and flash, all of which are pretty self-explanatory.
Focal Point: Now this is one of the biggies that will really improve your images. When set to auto it is up to the camera to decide what part of the image it focuses on. Some cameras have fancy gizmos that recognise faces an automatically focus to these, but is that really what you want? As a good rule of thumb, the best catch shots should have the fish absolutely pin-sharp, and normally I will focus on the eye of the fish to achieve this. When set to auto the chances are this won’t happen. In ‘P’ mode I set the camera so that it always uses just one of the many focal points that you can see as little crosses or boxes as you look through the viewfinder. Normally this will be the centre point, although this depends how you hold the fish. Basically, I want the camera to always focus on the fish and not try and second-guess what is important.
Metering mode: The last of the four major settings that you can adjust in P mode is how the camera judges the amount of light in the shot. On full automatic the camera averages the amount of light across the whole picture, so if the background is very dark then you and the fish might be over-exposed, whilst if the background is very light then the reverse is true. Whilst each shot is different, often switching to spot metering, where the camera measures the amount of light at the same point as you are focussing can provide better results.
So that is a very quick run-down of some of the reasons why you should turn the dial to P. In P mode there are literally dozens of other settings that you can adjust, and over time have a play with each one to see what happens, make sure though that you know how to reset the camera back to its default settings, just in case you get some weird results! Next time I will look at the other settings that can dramatically alter your pictures; shutter speed and depth of field.