Whether your camera is a DSLR, Compact, or Smartphone when you get a new camera you want to take pictures right away. You take lots and lots of photographs, and it’s so exciting. Then, when you look at the photos, you feel disappointed they don’t look better. What did you do wrong?
Let me help with an easy and useful collection of tips on getting a better start with your photography. Let’s make sure you are prepared before you start taking trying for those lovely close-ups or exciting cat action shots.
These tips for beginners work with most major devices.
- Compact ‘point and shoots’, and
- DSLR cameras
I will begin with a list of useful tips for each device. A quick refresher if you already unpacked your camera. Then add important hints that help you make better use of your own device when you start using it in the real world.
There is a short glossary of unfamiliar words at the end of the post for some of the unfamiliar words.
Tips for All New Camera Users
Before you use your camera, read your manual
Yes, I am serious. Pick up the book, or open the pdf that you downloaded and read it from cover to cover, even the bits you don’t understand yet. Sit down with a coffee, and your cat, and read.
This first reading will make a difference in how you start to use your camera when you photograph a cat.
- Look at the location of buttons and switches – on/off, focus, zoom.
- Use your manual to navigate through your camera’s screen options. [TIP: You will not know what everything is immediately. Give yourself permission to play with features, filters and options].
- Know how to hold your camera. DSLRs need more ‘holding’ but a firm grip increases your chance of success. See the photo below.
- Decide on your picture resolution. Do you need high res for printing, or will you share on social media? Adjust the quality of the images to reflect this use. Social media does not need large print sized files.
- Remember to take the lens cap off or open your camera’s shutter. (Yes, I have forgotten to do this.)
- Find out how many pictures you can take with your camera. This will depend on the resolution. It helps to know roughly how many you can take especially if you take a lot of photographs.
- Take a moment to compose your shot so it looks pleasing. Imagine showing it to a friend – what do you want them to see?
- Do you need a spare battery? If this sounds a silly question let me explain. My DSLR lasted me a week on one battery charge until I started taking lots of pictures. I used more power exploring different settings and using it a lot more. Now I know I will need a spare battery. Just be aware if you amp up your picture taking you may need a spare.
Do you have a favourite subject you photograph?
Do you love taking pictures of cats, cat products, or live-action events?
Look for print magazines and ebooks. Watch tutorial videos on YouTube for advice on helpful settings. This works well especially if you have a particular interest. There are lots of experts ready with great advice in your niche. I have done my own basic help posts and advice for social media movie tips. All this knowledge is there and it’s free for you to use.
A Compact Camera for Cat Photos
How do you hold your camera when you take a cat photo? A compact camera can seem much harder to hold than a DSLR. Because it is very light.
The lightness and portability makes a ‘point and shoot’ great for popping in your bag, or a pocket. But, the lack of weight makes it prone to camera shake. Your finger pressing on the shutter risks moving the camera a tiny bit.
The best way to keep yourself stable is to hold your compact is to brace yourself. Press your elbows gently but firmly against your body and hold your camera in front of you. You can also brace against a door jamb, window frame or the floor. Simple and it all works.
- Compact cameras are lightweight and fit in a pocket or a bag.
- Zoom with your feet rather than use a digital zoom which magnifies wobble. You can approach a cat more quietly this way too.
- Find your shutter button by feel. It’s usually on the right-hand side. It may be on the front of the camera, or on the top. Practice squeezing the shutter. Don’t press hard as you might tilt your camera.
- Hold your camera and see if you can find the shutter with your eyes closed. This is the same as finding the shutter when you are also trying to wrangle a playful cat into a fun pose.
Don’t always use the ‘auto’ setting. Experiment with changing your ‘mode‘ e.g. landscape, close up, or sport. (The manual can help with this). Sport is ideal to capture a fast-moving or running cat. You may need to practice or your picture may turn out like this, my first-ever action shot.
Not so hot, but I am improving, just as you will.
Compact Mode Tips
- Distance or Landscape mode is great for pictures of a cat
showor capturing the countryside on a trip.
- Self-timer for the selfies with YOU in.
- Portrait mode, for close-ups of a cat face.
- Macro mode for exciting super close focus images
- Panorama mode. Great for shooting a very wide image. This could be a large interior like a cat show.
How Big is Your Compact Camera Memory Card??
Find out where your camera saves your pictures (usually on a memory card) and now many pictures you can take. The higher your resolution*, the fewer pictures
Beginner DSLR Camera Tips
Buy the best camera for photography beginners that your budget allows. I chose the Canon 1300D known as the ‘Rebel’ in the USA and it’s working out well.
If you are thinking about buying a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera [DSLR]. You should get advice from someone you trust so that you make an informed choice. Ask a specialist at your local camera shop or a camera club.
TIP: My Canon 1300D came with an 18mm – 55mm ‘kit’ zoom lens**, which is at the budget end of the range. I am learning a lot with it and do not feel at a disadvantage to more expensive cameras. Buy what you can afford not what everyone seems to have that looks’ flashy’ and complicated.
Read Your DSLR Manual
Most DSLR cameras come with a printed manual. This is your best friend and a great place to start learning. Everything you need to operate the camera and navigate the menus is in the manual.
How do you hold a DSLR Camera?
This is the first important thing you need to learn.
A DSLR camera is heavy. Professionals hold their camera is a specific way to support the camera body and lens. Learn this because it keeps you stable and helps you get a sharper image.
I know it’s not easy when you might be trying to wave a wand toy or cat treat, so you may need to call on help. You do whatever works to get your cat picture.
- Remember to take the lens cap off.
- Learn how to clean your lens properly.
- Explore your camera menus. You don’t need to know what they do right now, just get an idea of what your camera has. Your manual is a big help here.
- Learn how to adjust basic settings. Here is a ‘Dummies’ blog post that may help.
- Exploring Auto which is where most people start. Then branch out into using the different ‘modes’ e.g. Sport, Landscape.
- Read about ISO, Shutter and Aperture – the exposure triangle. Don’t panic, this will become clearer as you practice but the phrase comes up often so it’s worth knowing.
- Get advice on what kind of memory cards you can use. The higher the resolution of your photographs the fewer you will be able to store, so you may need more than one card.
Ignore anyone advising you to use Manual immediately
As you learn more about your DSLR you will realise that it is not immediately ‘easy’. Shooting in manual mode comes with time and practice. It is a real skill that grows from an intimate knowledge of your camera and the situations you find yourself in.
Unconvinced that Auto is the place to start? Check out Simon Ringsmuth on the positives of using this basic mode. He advises you to start where you will be able to achieve something positive. Automatic mode or ‘sport’ or ‘macro’ (close-up) modes.
Respect for the finely engineered equipment that is your DSLR will allow you to shoot with manual settings in the future. Take it easy and enjoy learning about your camera.
Keep Your Lens Clean
A dirty lens can affect every picture you take. This short video takes you through the best way to clean a lens. A smudgy lens means your camera will struggle to focus and your results will disappoint you.
Smartphone Cameras for B
Your smartphone will be with you more than a camera. Even a small compact, so learn how to hold your device to take good photographs.
With the rapid development of technology, your smartphone is can be as good as a compact camera. Up-to-date smartphones even have an option to add a ‘depth of field’ effect. Depth of field is the soft romantic fuzzy background behind a cat model. Be proud and happy to use yours for
Smartphones are light, like a compact, so keep your device stable. You don’t need to keep your phone at eye level but it’s easier to take a good picture if you brace your arms against your body.
Smartphone Camera Tips
- See if your camera has a three by three grid overlay (see above). This lets you position your subject according to the rule of thirds. This can help you compose pictures better. The mind finds images with the subject slightly off centre more pleasing.
- Check if you have an autofocus option, it can help when you style a cat or product. Often this is as simple as gentle pressing your screen. Check your camera model and manual.
- Be conscious of the amount of light around you when taking your first smartphone photographs. Natural light is great for beginners.
- You need square images for Instagram, landscape rectangles for Facebook and Twitter.
- Know how to use your apps for social media sharing and make sure your photograph format fits, or edit to fit before uploading.
- Top SM Tip. Don’t stress about the exact image size in pixels. Most major social media channels are able to resize photographs. Especially if your basic format is correct i.e. a rectangle or square.
- Check the resolution setting on your smartphone. Some have a ‘standard’ setting and an option HDR setting.
TIP: HDR lets you help your camera balance the highlights and shadows of your picture and allows it to create images that better resemble how the human eye sees a picture.Digital Trends
Finally, a few tips to help you push the boundaries of your smartphone and its camera. Explore the exciting world of movie-making. It’s not as hard as you think.
If you are going to explore smartphone videography check your smartphone’s movie settings. Explore some of the great apps for editing ‘in camera’
Smartphone videos do not take a lot of time or effort after you learn how your app works. Yes, there is a learning curve but the end result is worth the investment of your time.
Video can showcase magic cat moments or spotlight a special blog promotion for a blogger. They add an extra level of engagement wherever you post. Facebook loves video, and if your cat has the talent it could go viral.
Invest time in practising with a new app. You can share the immediacy of a book launch or an ‘on the spot’ mini-movie from a cat show with confidence and assurance.
Camera Tips Summary
There are lots of fun things to discover as you explore your camera. I hope my tips will help you focus on the things you can use to transform your cat photos into images you are proud of.
Any problems, I am glad to help. Let me know your problem in the comments.
This post has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence in the 2019 CWA Communications Contest
Glossary of Camera and Tech. Terms
- Resolution* Photo resolution is best thought of as image quality. Higher-resolution photographs mean higher image quality. The sharpness, definition, and detail go up as the photo resolution does. 72dpi is great for online but you want to aim for anything between 300 and 1,800 dpi when printing off for wall art or posters.
- Kit Lens** A is a “starter” lens which can be sold with a DSLR Camera. It is generally an inexpensive lens priced at the lowest end of the manufacturer’s range so as to not add much to a camera kit’s price. Wikipedia
- Image file formats are standardized means of organizing and storing digital images. – Wikipedia