The First 10 Things You Should Do With That New Camera You Received for the Holidays

The First 10 Things You Should Do With That New Camera You Received for the Holidays

So, you just opened your presents, and you received that amazing camera you've been staying up late reading reviews about for the last six months. Rad! Now what? Here are the first 10 things you should do with that new camera.

1. Migrate Those Old Settings

If you've upgraded from another camera, you likely customized it in a bunch of ways, ranging from crucial shooting behavior such as autofocus settings and auto ISO limitations to stuff like not beeping every single time it acquires focus. The first thing you should do is sit the two cameras side by side and go through the menus of the old one to duplicate any custom settings in the new one. It'll feel more like your camera instantly.

2. Check All the Settings

Photography is very much a game of parameters, the improper setting of any of which can destroy your shots. For example, many cameras come set to shoot small JPEGs, likely a setting that was designed to save space when memory cards were smaller in capacity and more expensive. There's no reason for that nowadays, so make sure you change it to raw or at the very least, full-size JPEGs (though you should really be shooting in raw unless you have a specific reason not to). Be sure to check all the other settings too; the last thing you want is the camera surprising you in the middle of a shoot. Check out the autofocus, the metering, the white balance — anything and everything. Personally, I take a half-hour to go through every single menu item to ensure I understand both what they do and where they're located as well as making sure they're all set the way I desire. For example, I never let my camera take a shot without a memory card in it, because as soon as I do, I will take some (several hundred) shots without a memory card in it.

3. Check Your Diopter 

Do you see a little geared wheel on the side of the viewfinder? If you wear glasses or the viewfinder just doesn't seem sharp to you, look at the numbers or focus points in the viewfinder (or pull up a menu if you're on a mirrorless camera) and turn it until the image in the viewfinder looks sharpest, then leave it set there. You likely won't have to change it again.

4. Warranty and Insurance

Do you have gear insurance? Don't forget to add your new camera to your policy before you drop it, because the one time you forget will be the one time your camera dive-bombs an entire staircase at the Cavs game (ask me about that one time with my new iPhone). 

5. Read the Manual

A fairly accurate representation of how I feel reading my camera manual. (Image by ThePixelman, used under Creative Commons.)

I know, I know. That's not really the most exciting thing you've heard. Don't worry, I'm not saying to sit down with a glass of wine and labor over all 400 pages like the latest bestseller. However, you should definitely at least skim the manual. Most new cameras are like little photographic treasure troves of capabilities with unexpected entries in each menu, and you might be surprised by a few features you didn't know your camera had or some customizations that make your shooting way easier. Just as importantly, you'll want to be aware of any quirks or behaviors that could affect your work, particularly if you shoot in a high-pressure genre such as wedding photography. 

6. Get Yourself a Bag That Fits and Protects

Never forget that no matter how weather/dust/locust/molten lava-resistant your new camera is, it's still basically a box with a bunch of fragile and expensive electronics that you attach a bunch of fragile and expensive glass to. Why risk breaking your brand new photography box thing (that's the technical term)? Get a proper bag that fits the camera snugly and has enough padding and weather-sealing to protect it both from the elements and your own clumsiness. There are literally thousands of options.

7. Battery and Memory Card

If you got a camera that shoots 20 fps, first of all, I'd like to be your new friend. Second of all, make sure your memory cards are rated to keep up with that performance so you can take advantage of your camera's capabilities. On a similar note, redundancy is key to security in photography, so if your camera has dual slots, make sure there's a memory card in both slots and you've set it to write to both of them. Similarly, make sure you're backing up your files with at least one backup off-site. 

In a similar vein, one battery is never enough. Always carry a spare just in case. I personally could never go back to shooting without a battery grip. On top of the doubled battery life, it make such a difference ergonomically when you're shooting in portrait position and helps you to hold the camera more steadily by keeping your elbows into your body, plus it makes you faster overall if you're working in a genre that requires good reflexes.

8. Keep It Clean

First of all, always remember that when you're cleaning photography gear, the goal is to use the minimal amount of physical contact to effectively clean it. So, get yourself a blowerbrushmicrofiber clothscleaning solution, and wipes, the check out this article for the full rundown on how to properly clean your gear.

9. Study Up

New cameras often have lots of new features, but they won't bestow you with new skills. Stay committed to continuing to learn and grow. While there's a lot of great free content out there, consider getting a professional tutorial that can give you a comprehensive course on all facets of a given genre with a rigid structure that will guide you to your goals.

10. Get Out and Shoot!

You should read up on your new photography box thing and study up on techniques, but there's absolutely no substitute for having your camera in hand and clicking the shutter. You'll gain an instinctual feel for it and of course, your photography will improve.

Do you have any habits for when you get a new camera? Share them in the comments!

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Ryan Mense's picture

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t take a photo of their pet as the first frame with any new piece of photography gear.

Chris Ramsey Jr.'s picture

It's funny you say that because I was reorganizing all my photos into new catalogs in Lightroom and realized my dog was always the first thing I shot with a new lenses or camera. LOL

Mark Guinn's picture

Ha! Very true! My daughter got her first camera yesterday, so of course we spent the rest of the night stalking the dogs.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I'm truly surprised that "register your gear online with the company" didn't make the list.

#5 should be #1.

#1 Yeah, we all know everything . . . "I've been shooting for x years" that doesn't mean you aren't an a**hole. There are usually surprising bits of info hidden in the (unfortunately) excessively loooooooong manual. Nonetheless, RTFM!!!

#2 I agree with another comment, your first shot, probably screwed up, should be your friend, canine or feline, then you can shoot your extended family (wife, kids, etc).

#3 RTFM again . . . this is Xmas day, you are in your pajamas and probably not going anywhere until the 27th, so read it again, this time a beer is allowed along for the ride. Don't forget to finish BOTH.

. . . the rest is up to you.

Read headline. Expectations soared.
Didn't read past the headline before re-checking the tree to see if I missed something. Newfound hope cruelly dashed.
Still didn't read past the headline because I'm too heartbroken and can't bear to do more than post a mournful comment.

Michael Dougherty's picture

1) Check the box to make sure you didn't leave something important in the box.
2) Add the camera and serial number to your inventory list for future reference (if you keep one).
3) Place battery in battery charger.
4) Insert memory card in body.
5) Replace branded strap with plain black strip.
6) Place gaffer tape over the brand on the prism. People don't need to know aht camera I'm using.
7) Attach quick mount to the bottom of camera body.
8) Attach appropriate lens.
9) After battery charged, format memory card and clean sensor using built in camera sensor cleaning function.
10) Now you can start doing all the other stuff mentioned above.