A Picture is the Expression of an Impression: Beginner Photography

“A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?
– Ernst Haas

Learning Lessons

Being prepared to take good photos on vacation is serious business. When we took our big cross country trip in 2000, my dad went out and purchased a top of the line digital camera (back when digital cameras were still pretty far and few between). The best part about this camera? It used FLOPPY DISKS! Yes, it actually used 3 1/2 inch floppy disks to store photos – each disk only held about 10-15 photos!

Does anyone else remember just flicking the little metal tab on the floppy disk back and forth? I couldn’t get enough of that spring-loaded action! Kind of like obsessively  clicking a retractable pen.

My strongest memory of this camera and the disks, however, was actually a failure. I was only 12 or 13 years old at the time, and didn’t know much about computers. So when I saw an option on the camera’s screen to “format” the disk, I thought that would be a good thing!

It wasn’t.

I accidentally deleted about 15 of the 17 photos that were taken while we were visiting the Continental Divide. Everyone was upset, because we were miles away by the time I did that, and we wouldn’t be able to go back. Eventually it just became a big joke – every time I had to handle floppy disks, CDs, or memory cards, my dad would remind me not to format it! That was a harsh lesson about knowing how to use your camera.


I only have a point-and-shoot camera right now, and that’s sufficient for my needs (and my skill level). Since I hadn’t used my camera in months, I figured I should take it out and look at it to see if it still worked.

Good thing I did! Apparently my camera battery is shot. After I put it on the charger for a little while, I realized it was getting really hot (as in can’t-hold-it-in-my-hand hot) and the formerly flat sides of the battery were bulging. I took it to Batteries Plus and asked why that might have happened. Apparently over charging can cause those effects – I guess it is incredibly easy to overcharge your batteries!

I was going to get a battery while I was there, but they were sold out. Good thing too – I checked online when I got home and I could get the same battery plus a charger for $7 (Batteries Plus wanted $25 for just the battery). At that price, I’ll order two batteries – one to use and one as a backup.

The other things I needed to prepare are memory cards. I currently have an 8GB and a 4GB memory card. That’s fine for day trips or trips where I have my laptop with me to clear the card, but I need my memory cards to last all week. So when I order the batteries, I’ll also throw in a 32GB memory card for $22. This is also much cheaper than the $30 16GB card I saw in the bookstore today. No wonder people do so much of their shopping online! Update: I didn’t order from Overstock – I found the battery for $3.26 on Amazon.com, and a 16GB memory card for $11. I ordered two of each and got free shipping!

Research for Beginner Photography

Whenever I hear people give out camera and photography advice, they always say “Read your camera’s manual”. I’ve always ignored that advice – until now!

I wanted to take better pictures, since I probably won’t be going back to St. Kitts any time soon. Like the quote at the top of this post states, I want to be able to capture the mood and the feeling of my surroundings, rather than simply documenting what exists.

So I decided I would at least see what my camera is capable of (for those who are wondering, it is a Nikon Coolpix S210 – not exactly a ‘fancy’ camera). But I didn’t have a clue where to start. I typically cycle through the standard camera ‘scene modes’, but sometimes I’m just lazy and I don’t change it off of the previous setting. I decided to have a look at the manual to see what Nikon has to say.

Super basics

  1. Apparently each scene mode has a different method for focusing the shots. Some focus at ‘infinity’, some focus on faces, some focus in the center of the shot. This will be helpful to make sure my pictures don’t turn out blurry.
  2. Each mode also has different white balance / lighting settings. This means that some modes are used to compensate for bright conditions, while others try to produce a clear shot in poorly lit conditions.

two of many ‘scene modes’ in the manual

It is fairly intuitive – “Portrait” or “Night portrait” will focus on faces, and will compensate for regular or darker ambient lighting, respectively. “Landscape” will focus at infinity and assumes normal sunlight conditions. “Beach/snow” mode focuses on faces or in the center of the screen, and compensates for bright light reflections off the water. “Sunset” captures the vibrant colors of the sky. I will probably still use these settings for capturing most of the photos since they are simple and easy to access.

taken using “sunset” mode

Slightly more advanced, but running out of steam

The camera also allows you to adjust white balance and exposure time, create panoramic photos, and use macro mode to focus on up-close items. Of these, I’ve only ever used the macro mode before. Apparently the white balance menu has preset options based on different kinds of lighting (florescent, incandescent, cloudy skies, etc). That sounds pretty useful!

These are all options that I want to mess around with while I’m there, but only when I have time to practice without missing critical shots. I’d hate to be attempting fancy settings with my camera and then completely miss a great photo opportunity.


In short, I’m glad I looked at my camera with 2 weeks to spare so that I could order the replacement battery. Here’s what I plan on taking, in total, for my camera:

  • the camera itself (duh!)
  • the battery charger
  • one battery plus one backup battery
  • all three memory cards I own (4GB, 8GB, 32GB). Also, that way if I lose my camera with a memory card in it, I don’t lose all of my pictures from the trip.

According to the user manual, if I set the image quality at the highest level, I can take over 10,000 pictures on my trip! If I hadn’t ordered the new memory card, I’d only be able to take around 2,800 pictures – less than 300 per day. Since I might want to take some videos, I’ll be glad to have the extra space.

It’s a good thing I took a look at this ahead of time, so I can be prepared for the trip instead of blindsided by battery problems and full memory cards!

Categories: Photography, Planning, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Excellent post, I’m a struggling photographer because I didn’t read my manual (Nikon Coolpix P90) thanks for sharing good info!

    • I’m actually surprised at how user-friendly the manual is. I thought it was going to be full of really technical details, but they really make it helpful for the beginner photographer. I did have to do a little side research about different camera terms, like shutter speed (faster for quick moving objects) and aperture (adjusts the depth of field, but it doesn’t matter because I can’t manually adjust it on my camera). But like I wrote in my post – I’ll probably just use the default shooting modes that come with the camera, since they have so thoughtfully adjusted everything for me!

  2. Best of luck getting to know your camera. I bought myself a “fancy” one before our trip to Europe, and I’m still learning and enjoying it as well. One tip: don’t forget to look out from behind the camera once in awhile just to appreciate where you are and what you’re doing without feeling obligated to document every second of the trip. Have fun!

    • I actually have the opposite problem most of the time! I’m so busy enjoying my surroundings that I forget to take out my camera! That’s why I’m trying to brush up on techniques etc. now, so that when the time comes to use my camera I’m not hindered by my complete ineptitude.


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