Digital Photography Tips for Parents
Find the Right Camera
My utter lack of photographic prowess has become legendary in my family. It started with my son’s first birthday party. I remembered to bring the digital camera to Chuck-E-Cheese, but I forgot to put batteries in it. “That’s OK. I’ll just videotape,” I declared. Only to find that I had remembered to charge the battery on my digital camcorder the night before, but I had forgotten to pack a new tape.
Then there was the time when I emailed an almost-life-sized print of my three-year-old to a relative, who—not being digitally savvy herself—waited patiently for approximately 13 hours while the image downloaded and then painstakingly taped together dozens of 8½ x 11 inch pieces of paper to compose the giant masterpiece.
All too often, in my frenzy to capture the moment, I forget about things like red-eye delay settings, automatic lens retractor buttons, or pre-flashes. A good percentage of my digital images are of the back of my son’s head a second or two after I pushed the button, or of shadowy figures on playground equipment backlit by blinding sun.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from the same sort of digital dyslexia that I have experienced. The cure for this bewilderment is to understand when less is more, says master photographer David Ratcliff of La Jolla, California. When it comes to purchasing digital camera equipment this photographer, who specializes in digital location portraits of families and children, sticks to the motto: “Buy cheap and keep it simple!”
Find the Right Camera
“You don’t have to shell out big bucks if you’re going to print snapshot quality, which is what most people do,” Ratcliff says. “In the digital world, there’s hardly an equivalent to the old point-and-shoot film camera, so it’s easy to buy too much camera. Even an inexpensive digital camera has dozens of adjustments and features on it.”
Ratcliff recommends that people who don’t have a lot of experience with computers or 35 mm cameras buy a digital camera with as few adjustable settings as possible, since learning to operate some of the more complex cameras can seem overwhelming to the novice shooter. “Photography can be very fun and easy, but it is also deceivingly complex,” he says. “The more controls a camera has on it, the more experience it takes to work it properly.”
He suggests going online to compare prices and features before you purchase a digital camera. The amount of information that a camera card can store is measured in mega pixels, and though the high-end professional cameras can have up to 11 mega pixels and cost thousands of dollars, Ratcliff says the average low-end camera with two to three mega pixels can still cost under $100 and produce high-quality, medium-format images.
“Here’s the funny thing,” he says. “Even an image from the most expensive camera looks the same on a computer screen as an image from a throw-away camera, since screen resolution is only 72 dpi (dots per inch). If you’re not going to be making a lot of prints, you shouldn’t spend more than $100 for a camera.”
Shoot Like a Pro
One of the benefits of using digital media instead of film, says Ratcliff, is the photographer’s ability to shoot and preview hundreds of photographs before deciding which ones to print—an advantage that can make it possible for even a novice photographer to capture images like a professional.
Though it’s easy to delete unwanted shots and inexpensive home computer software programs offer correction for things like red-eye, incorrect exposure, and even blurriness, Ratcliff says that the trick to capturing artful, fun family photos is to read your camera’s user manual and become familiarized with the symbols and settings before trying to capture spontaneous magic moments.
“Digital cameras have little symbols on them, and it’s not readily apparent what they mean,” he says. “The symbols are not universal, and they differ from one brand to another as to their meanings, so learn them. Learn the knobs. Learn the screen settings.”
Ratcliff says many digital cameras are equipped with auto-focus sensors, selective focusing grids or infrared pre-flash settings that will eliminate red-eye, but the technology, although helpful in certain situations, may not be conducive to getting the best shots of your family.
“In the sense that your subject could react to it, a red-eye, pre-flash could ruin your photograph, especially if you’re photographing a young child,” he says. “Some of the red-eye flashes go on too long, and some are much quicker, so it’s important to research the various modes on your camera before shooting.”
Ratcliff recommends against running out and purchasing a color printer, since many drugstores and wholesale chains offer inexpensive direct printing from digital memory cards or CDs. For the digitally challenged, he says, any sort of mentoring can be helpful.
“Talk to the people who make your prints, and ask them why things are too light or too dark. Maybe they can give you some ideas,” he says.
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