Take Better Pictures – Lesson 1


Hello! This is the first of ten digital photography lessons. I'm starting off by detailing the most important menus on your digital camera. Some of it will be review if you have been in any of my classes, or if you have been taking digital photos for awhile. 

Whether you are using a point-and-shoot digital camera, mirrorless or a dSLR you are probably a bit overwhelmed by all the menu items and settings you need to choose.

Even if you have read the camera manual, it is hard to know what is important. 

This first set of lessons will explain the most important camera settings:

  • Image size, or Picture size
  • Image quality, or Picture quality
  • ISO
  • White balance (WB)

After that you will learn about seeing light, and basic composition.

Have a look at this video demonstration I made about holding your digital camera properly. Yes, I know it sounds simple enough, but many people do not know how to hold their digital camera so that they can easily operate the zoom, focus and other controls. Now I have to warn you, this video is super old. In fact it's on of my first videos ever. I'm much better at video making now.

Lesson 1– Image Size

camera menu

Canon G9

Lumix G9

The graphics above are typical menus on your digital camera. These particular menus come from the Canon G9 compact camera and the Lumix G9 micro 4:3 mirrorless cameras. dSLR cameras have similar menus.

Image size refers to the pixel dimensions of your file, described as the width times the height.

It is also sometimes called file resolution.

All cameras allow you to set different image sizes of the photos you are going to capture. For example, a 12 mega pixel camera. Mega means million, so that camera has a sensor with 12 million pixels.

Let's do the math: 4000 x 3000 = 12 million, or 12 mega pixels

You don't always have to shoot using the largest image size. It's best to choose the one that's most appropriate. The image size menu of my Canon G9 camera shows several choices of resolutions to choose from:

  • Large: 4000 x 3000 = 12MP
  • Medium 1: 3264 x 2448= 8MP
  • Medium 2: 2592 x 1944 = 5MP
  • Medium 3: 1600 x 1200 = 2MP
  • Small: 640 x 480 = 0.3MP

On my Lumix G9 camera, I have three choices:

  • Large: 5184 x 3888 = 20MP
  • Medium: 3712 x 2784 = 10MP
  • Small: 2624 x 1968 = 5MP

So which one should you use?

Well that depends on the specific usage of your final image. 

Yes, size does matter. If you're on a holiday in some exotic locale, you will probably set your camera to the highest resolution so that you can make large prints for your walls from the best images.

On the other hand, if you're at a staff party taking photos for the company website or a screen presentation, you could use the medium or small size.

Memory cards are less expensive than they were a few years ago, and we tend to just shoot everything in the largest file size. But if I'm testing out my camera or if file space is an issue on my memory card, I'll choose the medium size, on my Lumix cameras.

Anything over 8 MP is large enough to work with for most situations, as long as the file is of good quality, and has good exposure (brightness). More about those topics in upcoming lessons.

So why the push for more and more resolution on digital camera sensors?

Well some of it is just part of the ongoing improvements being made to the sensors, and that is all a part of marketing.

You've probably realized by now that digital photography is a never-ending spending spree. There is always going to be something bigger and better on the market. I am happy if I can upgrade my camera, computer and imaging software every 18-24 months. This is enough for me to keep up with the latest technology.

Here's a video which goes over some things covered

Printing your photos

It's ironic that we buy these huge mega pixel cameras with expensive lenses and end up just sharing our photos online at such a small size. 

But if you do wish to make prints of your images, or send them out to a photo lab for prints, here are some common print sizes as they relate to the pixel dimensions of the images. Sizes are approximate:

  • 12 MP: 11"x17" print
  • 6 MP: 8"x10" print
  • 4 MP: 5"x7" print
  • 2 MP: 4"x6" print
  • 0.5 MP: screen show, email

If you're not sure what your final use will be, and you capture your image larger than you need, you can re-size the file in an image editing program like Photoshop, Apple Photos,  or Luminar

Here's a video about print size

Extra Tips for this lesson

Nikon mode dial

Nikon Mode Dial

Lumix Mode Dial

Canon Mode Dial

Using the Green Auto mode (on Nikon), the iA menu on Lumix cameras, and green square on Canon cameras, means that some of your camera controls are limited. 

Using these fully automatic settings locks out your ability to set ISO, WB and whether you use flash or not. When this is set, the camera makes those decisions for you.

If you need to change ISO, WB, RAW files, and more, use Program mode (P), Shutter priority (S, Tv), or Aperture priority (A, Av). The camera is still using automatic exposure, but you will be able access all the menu items, giving you more control over the camera set up.

Next lesson

The next lesson is about Image Quality.

​View it here.