I Got a Camera for Christmas – Now What?

With the major holiday of the year behind us, many are proudly wielding new cameras…but many are also asking questions.  The most popular question I am getting via emails is something along the lines of:

“I got a new ______ for Christmas.  Now What?”  (Insert your own camera make/model in the blank)

The answer to this really depends on what, if anything, you had before the new item made its way into your hands.  For simplicity sake, I’ll break the response down to 3 different categories:

1.  This is your first “serious” camera, and you are making the foray into digital photography.  Right off the bat, let me say Congratulations! Joining the digital revolution of photography and imaging is definitely exciting, and the onslaught of information can be intimidating.  A couple resources are better in this case over a huge amount of information overload.  In this case, I would recommend doing three things:

  • Read the Manual!  Seriously – it may not be the most well-written thing, but it can give you insights as to what all the buttons, dials, and knobs do.
  • Learn the basics of exposure – The Digital Photography School offers a great page that goes over the nuts and bolts of how exposure works in cameras – very helpful!
  • Learn the basics of composition – There are so many resources on this, but I like Wikipedia because it links to many others and thus I would deem it very reliable and unbiased.  The one linked here is the article on the Rule of Thirds.  Many other sites cover this too (including mine), but this is just a superb starting point.
  • Make an inventory – if this is an SLR, it means you should now be including it on an inventory of “high ticket” items in your house, and a home inventory is always a good thing to have in case of disaster!
  • Get out and shoot, practice, then shoot some more!  Trial and error is an important part of the learning process, and by learning what doesn’t work, you will be one step closer to learning what does work.  So, don’t be afraid of getting out and shooting!

2.  This is an “upgrade” from a previous digital camera, and you are simply adding more features.  In this scenario, you are probably already armed with the basics, and are looking to expand your creative efforts with the increased features of faster shutter speeds, larger MP counts, etc.  Here, there’s only three things instead of the five above:

  • Read the manual – there are many more options, custom functions, features, buttons, dials, knobs, and menu options.  Reading this will help get all this sundry stuff down quicker so you can…
  • Get out and shoot – the tried and true rule of practice, practice, and more practice is what will gain the most in terms of comfort and ease of use for you whether it’s a new camera or an upgrade!  It also will give you an opportunity to see and note the differences between your previous body and test for things like sharpness, functionality, and all that sort of stuff while you are still in the important warranty period.
  • If you already have an inventory of gear, be sure to add it here, making note of the serial, registration, purchase date and (if available) location of purchase.  If you don’t have an inventory of gear – the new addition should be motivation enough to ensure that you do get one together.  You may also want to consider your insurance situation: Do you have coverage? Do you have enough?  Call your agent to find out.

3.  Here, you are an established photographer, and this is simply adding another item to your tool belt.  In this scenario, you are likely adding another body for redundancy purposes, or to relegate your other one to a backup role.  Nevertheless, there are some important things to consider doing as you move forward:

  • Use it!  Check for compatibility with all your current lenses – that everything works as expected, that there are no cracks, chinks, nicks, or other things that you should be concerned about.
  • Add the gear to the list of inventory that you likely already have – make note of the serial numbers, the date of purchase, and if your gifter doesn’t mind, the place where purchased.  All this can be very helpful in keeping records current and up to date.  Check with your insurance agent and make sure you still have enough coverage for your gear – see that they get all this information too.

There you have it, some key points to keep in mind for you and your new camera.  Congratulations on the new gear, and don’t forget to get creative, because while the gear is fun – it’s really just a tool in your creative tool belt!  Did I miss anything?  Are these categories sufficient enough for most?  Do you fit into one of these categories or is another one needed for your situation?  Any other ideas for what to do with a new camera purchase?  Got any specific questions?  What kind of camera did you get?  Share your own questions, feedback, and stories below, by sounding off in the comments!

Last, but not least, don’t forget about the December Giveaway over on FLickr. Over $400 in prizes including books, prints, papers, and software that are great for any photographer!  Thursday the 31st is the last day to enter, so make sure you get your best “Giving” themed photo in before the deadline!

Happy shooting all, and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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2 comments for “I Got a Camera for Christmas – Now What?

  1. December 29, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Good list Jason! I like the consistent pattern of “Read the Manual” to start with. For the past few days I keep saying that to a friend of mine who just got a 7D. About 6-10 phone calls per day to me since he’s gotten his new toy, and rather than reading the manual I get a phone call. Why? I’m like a manual but faster! That’s his explanation.

    Right now my friend is in the “Get out there and shoot” phase. Oh, and I didn’t have one answer off the top of my head. Video mode on the 7D is different than the mode on my 5D. See, you do need the manual, don’t call me a bunch! 🙂

    I got excited when I saw your post title. Thought you’d gotten a new toy!
    .-= Rich C´s last blog ..Dear Twitter…..What the heck is going on? =-.

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