Digital Photography 101: The care and feeding of your digital camera

Keeping your camera clean and well-maintained can ensure years of beautiful pictures

Digital Photography 101: The care and feeding of your digital cameraWe here at Digital Photography 101 hope everyone had a great Fourth of July holiday, that you didn't eat too many hot dogs, and that you got some great pictures of the fireworks! Today, we're going to take a bit of a break from talking about technique and spend some time focused on caring for the often expensive equipment that takes these gorgeous photos. 

Chances are you've invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in your camera, lenses, and accessories, and yet many people treat these delicate instruments with surprising roughness. While cameras are certainly a lot tougher than they used to be, it's still well worth taking the time to maintain them properly. There's nothing worse than taking the perfect once-in-a-lifetime photo only to realize later that it's ruined by a scratch on your lens!

kmg 300 rtfm flickr jeremykeithRead the manual
Digital cameras generally work the same way -- they all have a shutter button and various modes and settings -- but it's always a good idea to actually read the manual. Even if you're confident you know everything there is to know about your camera, take the time to go through it again anyway. Keep your camera at hand and try out the techniques as you read about them to make sure you actually know what you're doing. You might be surprised what you learn!

The manual will also give you tips on properly cleaning, changing, and adjusting your camera's various moving parts. Never force anything that doesn't move freely; that includes buttons and dials as well as lenses. If something's stuck and you simply can't get it to move the way it should, take the camera into a shop and get professional help.

kmg 300 lens cleaning flickr alyssatomfohdreCare for your lenses
The lens is the most important part of any camera and also one of the most delicate. Of course, if you have a DSLR, it's also the part that gets manhandled the most, as you juggle one lens while taking off another and replacing it. The single most important thing you can do to care for your lenses is to keep the cap on whenever you're not actively taking a picture. A simple lens cap leash is an inexpensive way to make sure you don't lose your cap by setting it down somewhere and forgetting about it. If you have multiple lenses, be sure to keep caps on both ends of the lens you're not using, and keep them securely stowed in your camera bag.

lens cleaning kit is also a very good (and cheap) investment, so you can deal with smudges and dust on your lenses. Never use compressed air, as the force of the air can actually scratch your lens and you risk squirting propellant on your lens. Using canned air can also force dust into non-airtight parts of the camera, which can also cause damage.

Tidy up the camera body
It's a good idea to give your camera a thorough cleaning every so often, especially after you've brought it out somewhere dusty. Using the brush in your cleaning kit, gently and carefully sweep dust and grit out from around the dials, buttons, and connectors. Use a microfiber cloth to clean the LCD screen. Be very careful not to get fingerprints on any of the internal parts, and remember not to use compressed air! 

Keep it charged
There's nothing worse than getting halfway through an important event and finding your camera battery dead! What's more, the lithium ion battery most cameras come with doesn't like to be fully discharged, so make sure you pop it in the charger even if it's not completely dry. This will prolong the battery life and help make sure you never miss a shot. (It's also a good idea to keep a spare battery on hand, just in case!)

Don't forget to take the battery out of the camera if you'll be storing it for any significant length of time. There's a slight chance the battery could leak and damage the camera over time.

kmg 300 camera bag flickr marclacosteProtect your investment
Find a good camera bag that's designed to fit your particular type of camera and lenses. They should fit snugly and be well protected against bumps and jostling but not be difficult to get to easily so you can capture those unexpected shots. If you're going to be storing your camera in an environment that can get damp, keep an eye out for silica gel packets and toss a few in your bag to absorb moisture.

It's also a good idea to avoid extremes of temperature. Both very hot and very cold conditions can damage your camera's internal components, and taking your device from one extreme to the other (for example, from a chilly, air-conditioned house to a hot summer day outside) can cause condensation on both your lens and inside the camera itself. To avoid this, try to transition gradually from hot to cold and vice versa.

Digital cameras are delicate instruments, but they will last for years if cared for properly. A little bit of regular TLC keeps your favorite tool going strong and giving you beautiful photographs for years to come!

[Written by Katherine Gray.  Image credits: Dave MorrisJeremy KeithAlyssa TomfohrdeMarc Lacoste