∞ Photography for Beginners: An introduction

Buying a digital camera is one of the most important decisions in your life.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Oh come on, no it’s not! But for such a relatively insignificant purchase, it is unnecessarily fraught with stress and aggravation. After all, it’s just a camera, how hard can it be?

Well, if my recent conversation with Jim Dalrymple, publisher of The Loop, is any indication, plenty hard.

While Jim is atypical in many ways (have you seen his beard!?), he is also very typical in many others. As a doting father, he wanted to help his daughter buy a new digital camera. He went to his local big box retailer looking for a moderately priced point and shoot camera that she can use for taking typical teenager photos and to help out with her high school year book. Sounds simple, right?

There’s an axiom that too much choice can be a bad thing. And, when it comes to digital cameras, there can be way too many choices. From a variety of well known manufacturers like Canon, Sony, Nikon and Olympus to lesser known (but not necessarily lesser cameras) from the likes of Pentax, Casio, Kodak and Panasonic, there are over 500 different point and shoot cameras alone.

Start tossing in details like zoom, megapixels, LCD size and even the color of the outside case and the choices quickly become overwhelming to the average consumer. Often times, people like Jim just buy whatever is in their price range and hope for the best.

I did my best in helping Jim out but there is only so much a friend can do on the phone from across a continent. Jim seemed to like what I said and the way I said it and then suggested this column.

So, here it is. We hope the column will be a seed and grow into a place where beginners can get non-technical advice and assistance from each other on cameras, features, what to look for, how to take better pictures, what services are available and a whole gamut of other ideas, tips, concepts and information.

To be clear, this will be a beginner digital photography column. While I won’t dumb it down, I won’t be covering much in the way of technical photography or software. There are plenty of other places for that.

By way of introduction to me, my name is Shawn King and I have been an Mac focused Internet broadcaster for over 14 years. I am not a professional photographer. However, I am a (moderately) talented amateur photographer who not only loves taking photographs, but also loves helping others take better pictures.

I have taught Beginner Digital Photography Seminars at Macworld Expo (among other places) and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the very complicated nature of taking pictures in order to then explain it to an audience who isn’t particularly interested in the technical aspects — they just want to take good photographs. These columns will not only include my opinion and advice but will also talk about web sites, software, iPhone photography apps, books and whatever else comes to mind but with a big dose of questions and comments from the readership of The Loop.

These columns will not be “The Truth from on High.” I don’t have all the answers, but, with the help of other photographers, and would-be photographers, we can get there together.

Shawn King is the Host of Your Mac Life and is teaching the Beginning Digital Photography Seminar at the upcoming Macworld Expo. Shawn has been told he “has a good eye”. He thinks it’s the left one.

  • Thomas

    Regarding the complexity i couldn’t agree more. I have just recently dumped my otherwise fine point&shoot camera (a Panasoinc Lumix LX3) and now just carry the iPhone around as my “walk around” camera.

    Having a very limited toolset often can help you see the image first, and worry about the technology later.

    For “serious” photography i will still haul out the big guns ..


  • As we said on Your Mac Life, the iPhone is a serious threat to the low to middle end of the P&S market. I’ve heard from a lot of people like you who have stopped carrying their P&S and just use their iPhone.

  • Christobel

    Hey Shawn and Jim,

    Great idea for a column! Will it be a regular feature? I’ll look forward to the next installment. Remember, iPod touch now has a camera too. Not great, but a camera nonetheless.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Yes, it will be a regular weekly feature.

    • It will be a regular Feature as long as the checks keep clearing…. 🙂

      If you have any questions or thoughts/ideas/suggestions for future columns, I’m all ears!

  • Great to see Mr. King contributing to this site. Looking forward to more.

  • Eric

    Hey, for me it is one of the most important things in my life. Like, do I get a D3s now, or a D4 when it comes out?

    Tough decisions. (I decided to get a D7000 and will wait for the D4.)

    I’ll be watching this column. I might even learn something! 🙂

    • LOL Eric – if you’re trying to decide between a Nikon D3s (a $5K+ camera) and a D4, this column will probably be too basic for you! But we’d still love to hear your ideas/suggestions and comments.

      (BTW, I love the D3s – I borrow one for Macworld Expo each year. love the shots it gets)

      • Jim Dalrymple

        I was deciding between the D3 and D4 too.

        (Actually, I have no idea what you guys are talking about).

        • To put it in terms you’d understand…

          “It would be like trying to decide between one insanely expensive guitar and another insanely expensive guitar…”

          Better? 🙂

          • Jim Dalrymple

            That works!

        • Or to be more specific:

          It’s like deciding between the Gibson Custom Limited Run Zakk Wylde Bullseye Aged Les Paul Electric Guitar and the Gibson Custom Slash Appetite for Destruction model.

          • Jim Dalrymple

            Okay, that’s not even funny! I couldn’t choose.

  • ganyard

    Hey Shawn..

    I would love to see a piece on speed. Soooo many cameras, sooo many review sites out there and I still can’t find any info on which P&S is the fastest from shot to shot or even more importantly from powered off to first shot.

    I seem to always miss the moment and get shots of kids leaving the frame after the occurred. The original Casio Exilim was very very fast (fixed focal length sure helps!) but it’s so old now I can’t even find any batteries with any life left.

    I don’t need a lot of bells.. fast power up, fast focus (do they make and fixed focus these days?), fast flash recharge, fast second and third shots. It’s P&S, just let me capture the moment!

    • Some review sites do give that info (I’ll find and link to them) but slow is an issue with most P&S by their nature.

      But the short version is, if you want fast, get a DSLR. 🙂

      • ganyard

        Yeah, and I still have the OM-1 and OM-2 with a powerwinder that I used to carry. Amazingly, those had no lag from powerup to first shot – none, zero, zip.

        And they won’t fit in a pocket either!

        • “I still have the OM-1 and OM-2 with a powerwinder…” You’re another guy, like Eric who, if you know what the above even means (I don’t), may find this column not at your level. 🙂

          But I hope you’ll stick around to help us newbies out!

          • ganyard

            They were SLRs from a bygone time..

            The Olympus OM-1 was about as manual as manual could be. The OM-2 had a wee bit of automation.

            But what I know from my years as a freelance photographer from 20 years ago doesn’t really help much in finding the right equipment now.

            I’ll hang around. 😉

    • Thomas

      For the most comprehensive reviews go to


      They list, among many other things, various timing metrics, on->Shot, time between shots, how fast the buffer fills up etc.

      • ganyard

        Of course I’ve been there but the reviews and data aren’t structured in a way to just look for the fastest P&S…

      • That’s one of the sites I always refer folks to. Great reviews. Thanks Thomas!

  • Perry Clease

    Interestingly there was an ad on this page for a Canon EOS T1i, the model I bought for my wife and I last Christmas. We had both outgrown our point-and-shot digital cameras and wanted something like our old Minoltas. Now that being said I only take the Canon out when I am going somewhere to specifically take photographs, However, I am taking a lot of photos with my iPhone, which is always with me when out and about. I am not talking snapshots, but artistic stuff wher I take the time to compose and such. In short I am looking forward to Shawn’s articles.

    I still have my 35mm film cameras and lenses, but I have sold my darkroom equipment.

  • jr

    “Buying a digital camera is one of the most important decisions in your life.”

    P&S cams are for ‘No Brainers’ so it should not be a problem at all. 😉

    • Agreed – it shouldn’t be but for a lot of people, it really is. Way too many confusing choices, terms, price points, features, etc….

      • MikeP

        “Way too many confusing choices, terms, price points, features, etc….”

        I bought an Olympus P&S camera a couple of years ago; can’t remember the model name. It’s a good camera, but I didn’t realise it came with an xD memory card rather than an SD memory card. It’s no problem, until you want to put the card into an SD slot.

        There are many traps to fall into, even with simple P&S cameras.

        • And those traps will be something we’ll get into in this column. Digital zoom is one a lot of new buyers get caught by, for example.

  • The Klondike Kids

    I’m looking forward to this column too.