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Lesson 1: Camera Basics

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Lesson 1: Camera Basics

Unread postby clever dog » Tue Aug 16, 2005 4:00 am

This might be VERY basic and old school for some of us, but for those of you new to the world of photography I will share some of the things I learned during my photography classes.

Basically there will be a lesson 1 to lesson 8 going through some of the general functions of taking better photos.

Here's lesson 1 - CAMERA BASICS:

Each camera on the market today is somewhat unique, but all are designed with similar concepts and controls. Some allow the user a lot of manual control, others very little. Unless you pick your camera up the first time with a wealth of previous experience, the best way to learn its controls is to sit down with both the camera and the user manual and go through it page by page. I know this sounds mundane and boring, but doing this will save you a lot of time and headache (and possibly missed shots!) in the future.

Exposure Modes
There are many different pre-set exposure (picture) modes available on cameras today. In parenthesis next to the mode name, I have included what the image or letters used to represent it on your camera may be. These are Basic (green square or small camera), Portrait (head), Sports (man running), Landscape (mountain), Night Scene (man with star), Macro (flower), Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority (TV), and Manual (M) Mode. Basic mode is often identified on your camera as with a small picture of a camera, the word "auto", a "P" or a green square. This mode is auto everything (other than focus) and the easiest choice. Unless you already have an understanding of the other modes, this is where you should start.

Drive Modes
In addition to exposure modes you may also have control of the camera's drive modes. Drive mode refers to what will happen after you take a picture. A long time ago photographers had to manually advance the film for the next exposure. Today nearly all cameras do this for you (if you are using film at all!). Usually the default is single frame advance, which means that when you press the shutter button, one photograph is exposed and the film is advanced for the next.

Continuous Drive Mode will take several photos in a row, so long as you keep the shutter button depressed (good for sports and fast action). Some cameras also have a timer setting that will allow a lapse of time to pass after the shutter button has been pressed before taking the photograph. This is particularly nice if you would like to include yourself in the picture you are taking.

Example With Timer Setting:

Focus Targets or Autofocus (AF) Points
Focus targets are small hollow points or brackets that you see through your viewfinder (but are not on your printed picture). These targets are used to select what you want focused in your photograph. Mis-use or non-use can result in the wrong parts of your image being clear or blurry. You wouldn't want to take a photo of your first LIT only to discover that you have it completely blurry and the background in crisp focus. Some cameras give you several focus targets and the ability to select which one you would like to use. While not necessary, this can help make composing your photos easier. Other cameras focus only on the center portion of what you see in the viewfinder. If this is the case with your camera, it is important to remember when taking your pictures because while focusing, your subject will need to be centered.

At minimum you should know this:
1. How to turn your camera on and off.
2. How to load the film or memory card.
3. Where the shutter button is.
4. How to choose a focus target if you have multiple targets available.
5. How to zoom in and out.
6. If your camera is digital, how to review and delete your pictures.
7. How to set the picture (exposure) modes.
8. How to change the drive mode.
9. How to turn the flash on and off.

More later...
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Unread postby clever dog » Thu Nov 30, 2006 4:33 am

Can see there are still many "hits" for this subject. Good!
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Photography - The FAQ

Unread postby DuQues » Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:01 pm

Photography - The FAQ
This of course has been written with the Parks in mind, but it should tell you a lot.
It's supposed to answer a lot, if not all of your questions. If after careful reading you still have questions, just post them.
Technology changes faster and faster, so I'm not going to really name types of cameras. All manufacturers come out with at least 1 model a year, often more. That would make updating this FAQ a nightmare, while the basics stay the same. So on we go!

Choice 1: DSLR or compact

Of course that's up to your needs, are you going to go on a once off holiday to South Africa, and do you just want a few photos? (yeah right, I'll see you back! :lol: ) Not going to use it at home at all except for parties and birthdays?
Then a compact will probably do you fine, and it's way cheaper than a DSLR.
Just make sure you buy a "superzoom", in other words a 20x zoom one, capable of going to at least 400 mm in 35 mm equivalent. (It'll say that in the advert and reviews, don't worry about the lingo.)
Before you buy, be sure to read up on the camera," onclick=";return false; is a very good site for that. It will also let you compare different models/makes.
This FAQ is however geared more towards DSLR's as the majority of the people going to the parks use them. Especially if this is your once in a lifetime visit, make sure you have good equipment, and that you know how to use it!


Many questions are asked about which brand to buy. In short, all are good, some are better. Some are cheaper, some are more expensive (Hasselblat anyone?). Your wallet will be part of the decisionteam, a major part. Photography is an expensive hobby.
The better DSLR's come from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony, and more importantly, they all have a real arsenal of lenses available.
It's your decision which to buy, but a few pointers can be given:
- look if it comfortably fits your hand. If the body is too large or small for your hands you will be cramped while taking photos, and will loose either interest or image quality.
- check the prices of the lenses. Nikon lenses, especially the longer ones, are more expensive than the other brands. But cheaper but good lenses can often be bought from other manufacturers like Tokina and Sigma.
- check if your lens will have autofocus on that body. Nikon has some lenses that require the motor in the body to focus the lens.


Different parks, different lenses, but in general you will need a wide(-ish) lens for landscapes, the photos of the braai and accomodation and such. And you will need a telephoto lens, which should reach at least 400 mm. If you are a birder even 400 mm will not be enough, but the cost goes way up then.
So what to look for? Let's first talk about the wider lens.

You want to show a lot, as in wider than you can see with your eyes, or near that. Your eyes give you a view of around the equivalent of a 50 mm lens, which is why that's called a standard lens. That means you want less than 50 mm.
Most DSLR's have a sensor smaller than the 36x24 mm analogue film, which introduces a socalled Crop factor. Read up in that link, but in short, the cropfactor makes your lens longer. This is very useful for your telelens, but a little awkward to say the least for your wide-angle lens. It's often a factor of around 1.5, so for standard lens you should have 50/1.5=33 mm lens.
So have a look for a lens starting in the low 20's, maybe a zoomlens like a 24-105 (36-158 in this example). That is a perfect walk-around lens, also for situations at home and parties.

The long lens.
Here is where the real money will go. As said, you're going to need a lens of 400 mm or more.
There are no cheap and good lenses, do not think a R1000 lens will satisfy you. You are going to be very unhappy with your photos as they are not sharp, and will throw away the lens. Money down the drain.
You have a choice, zoom or fixed. Zoom is extremely handy in parks like Kruger and Addo where animals can be closer than you counted on, but fixed lenses are sharper. And more expensive!
If you are opting for a zoomlens don't go for a 10x zoom (like 50-500), but try to keep that number under 5. Those extreme zoomlenses are mediocre at best at the wide and far ends, which are the two ends you're most likely to use. Better options are 100-400, 150-500 and such, and just change lens to the 24-105 I mentioned above when needed.


Well, there they are, the dreaded f-stops. They are mentioned on that lens you are thinking of buying, like the 400 mm f/4. And what do they mean?
In easy words, the amount of light the lens lets through. It's all explained here with nice little diagrams to help you.
When buying you need to make sure the number is the smallest possible, so not f/11 but f/2.8. A very easy way to check that is by reading the pricetag, there the numbers shoot up! For most parks it's fine if the largest number says f/5.6. That means the lens will give you reasonable fast shuttertimes, which in turn means the photos should be sharp.
Okay, that's camera and lenses in a nutshell, what else?


Another one of those puzzlers, but not a difficult one. It's a measure of lightsensitivity of the sensor (previously film). If you want to read up on it have a look here. It's a bit technical though, so lets just say that the higher the ISO, the quicker your shutterspeed. Not without a penalty though, your photos will get a little grainy above a value, and very grainy (unusable for normal photography) above another value. Those values are going higher and higher now in a rather fast way, at the moment of writing many cameras will shoot perfect photos at ISO 800.
When do you use it?
When you're on a nightdrive you up the ISO to the highest your camera will give while still giving at least acceptable photos. Try for a shuttertime of 1/125 seconds. If you can not get that or faster, with or without flash, just sit back, enjoy the ride and relax.


This is easy, if you know what it means. JPEG is is a commonly used method of lossy compression for photographic images. It's the result of the processing the camera did on "what it saw", and a more or less final product. If you take snapshots or do not want to do any post processing use this, but set to the largest size your camera offers.
RAW is the unedited data the sensor of your camera received, and will need post processing. If you want fine control over your photos it's a must. It will allow you to adjust exposure, colours and many other things in a flash, which is very hard to do with jpeg. The files are a lot larger though.

Rests & remotes

You will need some sort of rest for your camera to get the best possible sharpness in your photo. The easiest and cheapest is a beanbag. This is simply a cloth bag which you fill with a fairly heavy filling, like rice or birdseed. (Obviously in the park you don't use birdseed as you don't want to introduce foreign invasive plants!) They are for sale in many shops, but very easy to make yourself. Make sure the cloth is strong, and that it will take about 3 kilos of rice.
The beanbag is to be slung over the windowsill of the car, and you just rest the camera on it. Just make a little valley into which your lens fits. Attach a remote and as good as no movement is transferred to the camera, as long as everyone sits still...
For landscapes and panorama photography a tripod is needed. This should be rated for at least the weight of camera, lens and flash. Don't go for the cheapest ones available, it should be rocksteady when the camera is on it. Use with a remote shutter release.

Rule of thirds and such

The what? This thing.
It's not really a rule, or you can break it, but it definitely is a guideline. What it means is that you don't put your subject slambang in the middle of the photo, but on socalled power points. Try it, the photo in the linked article is a good example.
There are more things to look at when composing a photo:
If a lion is looking to your right it looks very odd if almost next to his nose the photo ends doesn't it? Or even worse, a kingfisher diving into the bottom of a photo! So you give him room to look into, and the poor birdy room to dive into.
Horizons can be put into the middle of a photo, if you want to show the mirror image reflected in that lake. But the horizon almost at the top or bottom ofthen works way better. Make sure it's always level though...


When you are finally buying your covetted equipment you'll hear the words "And an UV-filter to protect the lens." The only proper answer is "Doesn't it come with a lenshood?".
An UV-filter is designed to filter out UV light, but your digital camera has absolutely no trouble with that. The addition of such a filter does lower the quality of your photos, and it introduces lens flare, which in 99.99% of the cases is unwanted.
So make sure the lens has a lenshood, and do not buy the UV filter!
There are other filters that can indeed be used in the parks, like polarisation or neutral density filters, but they are out of the scope of this FAQ.


You will need storage, and plenty of it. Now you could buy yourself a heap of cards, but that's a rather expensive way to go at it. Instead go for a portable harddisk like this one. Don't go for the ones with a big screen on which you can see your photos and videos, that only eats battery. It's impossible to say if a photo is sharp, so sorting your photos on it is not needed either. Just put a good size harddisk into it, they are cheap anyway, and shoot away.
In the field all you need to do when your card is full is insert the spare so you can continue shooting. In the mean time stick the full one into the harddisk, and press copy. Done in a jiffy, and your photos are safe.


You are going to do your trip twice, did you know that? 8) And this second time is going to take you longer.
Even if you have decided to shoot JPEG you will need to straighten horizons, resize photos, crop photos etc. There is no escape, but it is nice work. You'll be reminded of things you almost forgot, perfect for rainy days.
If you had been shooting in RAW the real finishing begins. You are transforming your digital negative to a photo. The same as with JPEG, but you can adjust colours and exposure way better, tag the photos with keywords, etc.
But you need software. Most cameras come with some program in the box, but there are better or handier ones around.
For simple little things with JPEG you can use Irfanview, a tiny free program, or the larger and with more options Paint .Net, a sort of free Photoshop.
RAW users will want to use Adobe's Lightroom (Mac and PC) or Aperture (Mac only). These programs are far from free, but are worth every penny. For Linux there are some free programs around, but I haven't found one which I really like.


If you want to publish your photos on the great big evil internet, or even want to just mail them around it is recommended to place a copyright notice over your photo. Place it in such a way that it will be difficult to remove (over the eyes) as people will try to edit it out.
Your good photos will be stolen, so make sure you don't place them larger than 800 pixels on the longest side!


This is just a very short little post, read up on what you intend to buy and do. There are amazingly good websites around, like or Rob Galbraith.
Our "partner site" has a very good forum, and a classifieds section.
And in the Recommended Reading forum here you'll find good books.
Not posting much here anymore, but the photo's you can follow here There is plenty there.

Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c

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Re: Photography - The FAQ

Unread postby Shutterbug » Wed Jul 28, 2010 3:27 am

Thanks DuQues, great info... some might be wondering about lossy/lossless meanings

Lossy file compression (jpeg) results in lost data and quality from the original version.
Lossless compression (RAW) increases a file's size with no loss of quality.

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