Camera Techniques - Using your New Camera for the First Time

(If you haven't yet purchased that new camera, you may want to check out my previous blog "How to Choose your First Camera" or watch my video).

Right out of the box, you’ll want to attach a lens, charge and insert the battery, and insert a memory card. You will also want to familiarize yourself with the camera’s main menu. The main menu button opens the menu on the camera’s back panel and from it, you can access every camera function, set your camera preferences and so on. Learn how to scroll through it and access the function menus.

You may have noticed that your new camera came with information on software. Nikon, Sony and Canon each have at least one software program that you can download for free (you may have to register your camera) onto your desktop computer and your smartphone. I recommend you do this right away. If you don't have the software information, I have links and info at the end of this blog.

I have six simple tasks for you to do so you can use your camera for the first time without getting bogged down with all the details. You’ll be able to shoot with ease.

From the Main Menu

Format the memory card

Format the files to JPEG or JPEG and RAW

Format the JPEG to Fine and largest size

Set the Drive mode to single or continuous shooting

Set up network connectivity if you want to transfer camera files to the smartphone or computer via wifi

Set the command dial to AUTO

STEP 1 Format the memory card

Open the main menu and scroll to the submenu titled “Setup” which may have an icon that looks like a toolbox. Scroll through the setup menu until you find ‘Format”.

Click on “Format” to open another window that will look something like this:

When the memory card is formatted, all images stored on it will be deleted. Assuming you have not taken any shots yet, you have nothing to lose. Click on ‘Enter” and allow the formatting process to be completed. Now your memory card is ready to go! Get use to doing this because once you start transferring your images to a computer and/or smartphone, you will want to delete them from the camera eventually. Formatting the memory card is a fast and easy way to do this, and it helps maintain the life of the memory card.

STEP 2 Set up your file format

Every shot you take is stored on the memory card as a file. Your camera offers at least two options for file format, JPEG and RAW. To begin, you’ll want to capture your images in JPEG format, but you may also want to capture them in RAW format. JPEG is the format used in social media and on your smartphone. Go to the main menu and find “File Format”.

The options will likely be what you see below. I recommend you choose JPEG and RAW. However, this means two files will be stored for each shot taken and the number of images that can be stored will be limited by the size of the memory card.

Look at the screenshot below showing you information provided on the backpanel of the camera. On the left and right panel, notice the icons that indicate memory cards 1 and 2 (there are two cards in this camera, so two icons). The number indicates the total number of files that can be stored. The screen on the left indicates that the files are being stored as JPEG (fine) whereas the right screen indicates RAW files are being stored. Notice the big difference between the two. RAW files are much larger than JPEG. They are uncompressed and contain all the data the camera collected for an image. It is RAW files that you will eventually work with as you grow into your photography.

For now, you can choose to shoot only JPEG especially if the memory card size is very limited (e.g., 8 GB). But if you have enough space to do so, I recommend you also save RAW files. You can store the RAW files on your computer for future editing.

STEP 3 Format the JPEG files

There are a couple more options for JPEG formatting, as you see below. I recommend that you choose a high quality (fine) and largest size format.

STEP 4 Set the Drive Mode

Go back to the main menu and find a function titled ‘Drive Mode”.

Click on it and open a window that will look something like this:

Drive mode is how the shutter or release button behaves once engaged and there are lots of options. The first two are the primary drive modes, single shot and continuous. All the others (self timer, bracketing) are more advanced and some of these will eventually come into your photography. But for now, you only need to be concerned with single and continuous shooting.

If you think you may want to photograph fast moving subjects, such as a bird taking off and you want to capture a series of shots of the movement, then continuous shooting is the drive mode you want to use. Continuous shooting allows you to take several shots while holding down the shutter button (that’s where the term ‘frames per second’ comes in). In contrast, single shot is what you use when your subjects are mostly not moving and all you want is one photo. You can use single shot on a moving subject, but you will only get one shot when engaging the shutter button. If you want a second shot, you must release the shutter button and press it again. Most likely for now, you will set Drive Mode to single shot.

TIP – your camera may have a dedicated button for the drive mode (check the manual’s diagram of your camera). If so, this is a convenient way to quickly access the drive mode to alternate between single and continuous shooting. If there is not a dedicated button, your camera most likely comes with a ‘Fn” or Function button. Press this button and a small menu appears on the backpanel. This is a way to access certain functions quickly instead of having to scroll through the cumbersome main menu. You can customize the Function menu, but for now, Drive Mode should be one of the functions appearing in the Function menu.

STEP 5 Setup network connectivity

In Main Menu, search for “Network” or similar. There you should see options for Wifi or Bluetooth connectivity between your camera and smartphone or computer.

If connecting to a smartphone is not an option for you, you can physically connect your camera to a desktop computer using the USB cable that came with it and download from there. You can also insert the memory card into a memory card reader and insert it to a USB port on the computer. Be sure to download the camera’s software editing program, especially if you will download RAW files. One day, you may invest in a more powerful editing program such as Photoshop, but for now you have all you need.

One last word about file transferring, if you choose to store RAW files in your camera, know that RAW files transferred from the camera to your smartphone will be converted to JPEG. If is best that you also download RAW files to a desktop computer if you chose to edit them right away or not. Keeping them for future editing is good practice because it is those RAW files that will yield the highest quality image compared to a JPEG out of the camera.

STEP 6 Prepare to shoot

On the top side of the camera is the command dial. It is here where you can decide how much control the camera will have over things like exposure and focusing. Eventually, you want to take full control (manual); but for now you’re going to shoot in AUTO, which is automatic – meaning the camera will take control over exposure and focusing.

You will have plenty of time to learn how to take control over your camera, including auto focus, exposure settings, white balance, Live View, etc. For now, I want you to get out there with your camera and simply shoot. All that other stuff will come soon enough.

With that, you are ready to go. Have fun, experiment, use the zoom lens, play with various compositions, subjects and lighting conditions. And after you finish shooting, transfer those images to your phone or computer and experiment with editing.

Here is some information on camera brand software:

Nikon for Android or iphone

  • Wireless Mobile Utility
  • SnapBridge 

Nikon for desktop computer

          NX Studio

Sony for Android or iphone

  • Imaging Edge

Sony for desktop computer

          Imaging Edge 

Canon for Android or iphone

  • Canon Camera Connect

Canon for desktop computer

         Digital Photo Professional 


Thanks for looking on and if you are in the south Florida area, please consider taking a workshop, individualized, and scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time. Check out my website and feel free to contact me at

While enjoying your camera without all the technical details getting in the way, you can practice your creativity. Here are a few previous blogs to help you do that:

Leading Lines

Rule of Thirds

Focal Point


Negative Space

Vertical Compositions

Working the Scene