Q: I just can’t seem to take a decent picture with my digital camera. Pictures are always blurry, too bright or too dark. What am I doing wrong? — Gina

A: It’s the holiday season once again and taking lots of pictures with a digital camera that’s been sitting in a drawer is a common scenario for a lot of people.

Digital cameras are quite different from their film cousins and understanding some basic elements will greatly improve the quality of your pictures.

First and foremost, unlike film cameras, most digital cameras don’t actually take the picture as you press the button, but slightly after. Holding the camera still for a few extra seconds after you press the button will do wonders for all of those blurred images.

If you can use a tripod, do so, as that will provide even better stability. If you don’t own a tripod, you can create a ‘poor man’s tripod’ with a large piece of string.

Measure out a piece of string about twice your height and tie the ends together. Next, you’ll need a screw that fits into the tripod mount on the bottom of your camera (take your camera to a hardware store for best results).

Tie one end of the loop to the screw and insert it into the bottom of your camera. To use the tripod, simply step into the loop (standing on top of the string) then pull your camera up to your viewing area.

With your feet at about shoulder length, you should see a triangle between them and the bottom of the camera. To adjust the height, simply change the distance between your feet. The best part is that it’s cheap and easy to carry around!

Light is the biggest factor in taking any picture, especially with digital cameras. Understanding the characteristics of your specific camera in various settings ahead of time will help you make good decisions while shooting.

The obvious tip is to read through your owner’s manual, but I think I might have met two people in my entire life that have actually taken that advice to heart. If you hate reading tech manuals, here’s another way to figure out what the settings on your camera will do.

Most cameras have a dial with lots of little icons that most users generally ignore. Start in the fully auto setting taking any kind of a picture indoors. Now change to the next setting on the dial and take the same picture again. Repeat this process until you get all the way around the wheel.

Do the same thing outdoors in natural light then download all the pictures to your computer. Look at each picture and make mental notes on what the differences are in each setting so you can understand which icons become your alternative ‘go-to’ selections for indoor and outdoor picture taking.

The other big issue with lighting is the flash. Most folks let the camera decide or more accurately, ‘guess’ when the flash should be used. If your indoor pictures are creating unnatural skin tones or lots of harsh glare, take another picture without the flash.

Also, don’t assume that because you are outside, you don’t need the flash. Instead of torturing your subjects by putting them in the sun, find a shaded area and turn on the flash. Your subjects won’t be squinting and the skin tones will likely be more natural (the best distance for the flash on most point and shoot cameras is 4 to 6 feet).

The biggest thing to remember is that since you won’t be ‘wasting film’ by taking lots of the same picture, get into the habit of taking multiple instances of the same picture at various settings.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show