Digital Photography: 16 Common Questions

NOTE: These are the show notes & resources presented in episode #9 of Your Technology Tutor. This program is available in the iTunes Store and can also be heard via the player at the bottom of this page.

Your Technology Tutor Program
Show Notes – Episode #9
Topic: 16 Common Questions Asked by New and Novice Digital Photographers

In this episode Chet discusses answers to 16 common questions asked by folks who are new to Digital Photography. This program is ideal for those who are new to digital photography, or who have had a digital camera but wish to learn more about some of the fundamentals, settings, etc.

  • Best speed SD card? Class 6, class 10 is shooting HD video or continuous shooting/burst mode
  • How Much can I fit on an SD Card. A 4GB card will get you more than 1500 images from a camera with a 10 Megapixel sensor.
    I have a full lesson where I delve into these questions and more.. in Episode 4 of the Your Technology Tutor podcast. You will find episode 4 of this program both in the iTunes Store as well as on my website: Your Technology Tutor program – Episode 4
  • Should I choose to save in RAW, JPEG or TIFF?
    There are three common file formats found in today’s digital cameras: Raw, TIFF and JPEG.
    The higher end cameras allow you to shoot or more accurately save in RAW mode… this means the camera device is saving the raw data from your camera sensor — the electronics that convert light energy coming into your camera into digital information. This RAW mode provides a lot more data, information providing greater resolution and more color information. This is advantageous for professional photographers – for those who will be editing their images and who wish to print their photos as larger, framed or mounted photographs.                 The trade-off is size… usually, the RAW mode will require more space on your digital media (your camera card) and does also require special computer software to be able to read the files.                                                 TIFF and JPEG are file formats generally read-able on most computers using included utility software. JPEG (pronounced J-PEG) is a lossy format which means that some of the image quality is sacrificed or thrown out when the images is saved to save space, giving smaller files that are most easily store and shared.     TIFF generally is a loss-less compression format – meaning it does not diminish the resolution when saving each time, but is compressed where the RAW Mode is not.
    It’s said that many would not be able to tell a substantial difference between a TIFF and a JPEG version of most photos… but you can tell if you have a trained eye, perhaps a more critical eye and it is more discernible if you view it on larger prints and in certain regions of the photo (for example, areas of high contrast, detail, etc).    Also – be advised that each time you open a JPEG file on your computer and perform even little edits.. the photo (or file) is re-compressed, losing a little bit more data each time. Now – honestly, most folks would not be able to discern the loss but over multiple edits and if you intend to print an enlarged copy this might be an issue. The take-away is this — if you plan on or need to edit the photos and desire to end up with the highest quality image for reproduction in a quality book or large wall prints, use RAW mode. For smaller prints or sharing on computers – a qualtiy JPEG setting may be more than sufficient.
  • What Aspect Ratio Should I use?
    Aspect ratio – this is the ratio of a given object in this case the photograph produced by your camera. It is a relative measurement of the width by the height.  Traditional SLR (Single Lens Reflex cameras produce photographs that are in the 3×2 aspect ratio , while many of the digital compact cameras produce images that are 4:3. What’s important to note here is your final destination for your photos… for example a 4×6 print (common print and frame size) is a 3:2 aspect ratio. While wide screen video is in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Recent digital cameras allow you to adjust the aspect ratio in the camera settings menu… it’s a good idea to be aware of your plans for your images…. and also to remember you can always crop your images before printing or using… but you should take this into account as you frame and capture your images.
  • What is ISO
    ISO is an acronym that stands for International Standards Organization. . Another term used here on some camera gear and discussions is
    ASA is the older version used on film (yes, that stuff that we used to have to develop before viewing the negative and then the print – ASA which stands for American Standardization Association). Both terms refer to the setting that tells you or allows you to set how sensitive your camera is to light. A higher ISO rating or number is more sensitive to light.
    That means you can adjust your aperture and shutter speed to reduce the amount of light. It should also be noted that Higher ISO numbers produce photographs with noticeable grain. So they allow you to capture images in darker situations but then you have to be aware of the possibility of introducing grainy look in your photos, which is also sometimes termed noise. Photographers will sometimes set their ISO to a higher number if they do not have a tripod to provide a solid, steady camera that can keep the shutter open longer. A long shutter allows you to capture clear images without the grainy look at lower ISO settings (think of the night time star shots )
  • What is Depth of Field?  Simplified – this is the area of acceptable focus… greater depth of field equals more of your scene in focus… narrower depth of field (also referred to as DOF) provides less of the scene in focus.
  • What Shutter Speed should I use?
    The Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open, allowing light into or onto the camera sensor to capture your image. A slow shutter speed is used for things like a waterfall or streams of cars on a busy city street. While a fast shutter speed can capture a clear moment of action, like a runner bolting out of the starting block at the Olympics or a little leaguer making contact with the ball while up at bat. Shutter speeds are measured as a fraction in terms of seconds and most cameras will see a range between 1/2000th of a second up to 1/30th of a second. Digital cameras have typically abbreviated this setting to only display the bottom # in the equation. So, a Shutter Speed of 30 is actually 1/30th of a second.                                    To give you some ideas of speed relative to your subject –



  • If photographing a hummingbird and wanting to freeze the motion of it’s wings you would use a shutter speed between around 3000.
  • If you are capturing a photo of your family gathering and folks are mostly still you could capture a good photo at a shutter speed between 500 to 1,000.
  • What Shooting Mode is best?
    On most contemporary cameras you have a dial or touch screen menu where you can choose from several shooting modes. These settings range from Manual (where you can set every available function) to assisted (where you set some options) to programmed modes for specific scenarios to fully auto… where the cameras just has to guess which is going to be the best settings to give you a decent photo.  Most seasoned photographers lament the Auto button – in fact there are photography courses who tout the ability to ‘wean amateurs and new camera owners away from the Auto setting’  Auto settings on today’s cameras are WAY better and deliver much better quality results than similar settings from cameras produced even a decade ago. But still when you go fully auto – you are expecting the camera to juggle everything from the amount of available light to the color temperature and quality of that light…to the distance to subject to how much motion is in the shot.
    You will likely be more satisfied with your photos if you work at understanding at least the programmed modes to capture better photos in different circumstances. For example on my Sony compact camera I have 12 different programmed modes from sports to fireworks, snow to night-time. Each setting with adjustments designed to provide better photos in specific situations. Check your camera manual for suggested modes given your photo events.
  • What is Aperture Priority and what is Shutter Priority?
    These are the two assisted modes – with mostly automatic but some manual adjustment:
    Aperture priority mode is close to Auto with the only manual choice being that you select the aperture setting. For example this might be used to create a larger or smaller depth of field
    While Shutter Priority is also close to Auto but the manual choice is that you select the Shutter speed. One time for this is to select a higher frame rate (to freeze action) .
  • How to produce sharp photos. There may be lots of reasons you are not getting clear, crisply focused photos on your digital camera. One way to ensure you are using the proper shutter speed – especially if your subject is moving at all. Another common issue is the Focus Lock.  Now – if you have one of the newer cameras that have facial recognition, it is designed to find the faces to ensure they are in focus… there’s even some compact cameras that when set, will snap the image when the faces are smiling (how 21st century is that?) How to ensure my subjects are in focus? Apart from getting familiar with your cameras settings – many digital cameras have what is called focal lock.   To make this work, aim the center of your camera at your primary subject, then press down the shutter button half-way. This locks the focus on that person, then you can move and frame the image artistically – with the subject to left or right of center and maintain focus (as long as you or they do not move dramatically). Then click the shutter – pressing all the way down. Even our camera phones have this… for example on the iPhone and iPad you can click on the subject (face for example) to select that point for focus.
  • What is Burst mode? Burst mode (called Continuous Shooting Mode) is common on today’s digital cameras and allows us to capture several images instead of just one each time you depress the shutter button. This can be very useful not only in capturing sports or other action sequences, but also nature photography as well as Children. Capturing 6 or 8 images of a child often results in a couple of really precious images, beyond that cheesy posed face.
  • Should I use my camera’s built in flash – (2 to 3 meters)… diffuse it
  • Can I attach a bigger zoom lens to my camera?
    That depends on the camera – for many compact cameras, the answer is no. It is a fixed lens. DSLR or HDSLR cameras (High Definition or Digital Single Lens Reflect Cameras) do have the option of replacing the lens on the camera. in fact you can even purchase just the camera body – without the lens if you have you own preferred lens. I should mention that there are lenses that can be added to some compact cameras to provide wide-angle, telephoto or macro capabilities. For optimum results – I would carefully research to ensure you are getting a lens that will really provide you with the quality and results you desire… walking into a local photo shop may be the best option. And – let me add that you can purchase attachments that even allow you to add a longer lens on your iPhone. I have one set called the Ollo-clip that provides Wide Angle, a 2x lens and a macro setting.
  • How to keep camera clean?
    See the camera manufacturer recommendations for cleaning your specific model, but as a rule – it is safe to use a clean, micro-fibre cloth for your camera. Keep this in a bag to keep it free from other liquids, oil, or other contaminants. When cleaning the lens, first use a clean lens brush to remove any loose particles that might otherwise scratch the glass surface. Then with your clean microfibre cloth or lens tissue, If needed – dampen your clean cloth with either clean water or lens cleaning fluid. NEVER spray or drop liquid directly onto or into the lens – only on the cloth. To clean the LCD screen, use either a clean micro-fiber cloth and avoid pressing too firmly which could damage the surface. There are special cleaning kits available for this purpose. You camera will stay cleaner, longer (and have less opportunity for both the lens and LCD viewscreen to become scratched or damaged by keeping it stowed safely in it’s own case.
  • How Can I use the feature I see in my photo software or on web galleries like Picasa or SmugMug which shows the location of where the photo was taken? This is enabled by a function in newer cameras called GPS – this is a built-in feature that identifies the location of each image, including the geo-tag in what is often called Meta-data. This information, which includes date, time and often camera settings like shutter speed, etc. Can be read and displayed. You must engage the GPS feature in your camera prior to use for this function to be used later when viewing the photos. Check your camera owners manual for specifics.
  • Can I take my digital camera thru airport security without worry?
    Yes – the current technologies used in airport security screening pose little to no danger to damage digital photography gear. In fact the sensor in your camera is not unlike the sensor in the screening equipment that receives X-rays to capture and display to the airport screening security staff.