Just because some cameras are called point-and-shoot doesn’t mean that they’re literally supposed to be used that way. With the advent of digital photography, point-and-shoot and compact cameras include basic and advance features designed to help make the cameras easier to use, while also helping you improve the quality of images taken.
The following tips may be best understood if you take out your camera and its manual and try out the suggestions as you read this article. If you don’t have or can’t find your camera’s manual, you can go online and download a PDF copy of it from the manufacture’s site.
The illustrations used in this article are based on the Canon Powershot G9, but I will point out features that are typically found in most point-and-shoot and compact cameras.
1. Setup Menu: First off, know how to find the setup menu on your camera. Most cameras come with default settings that you can customize for your particular needs or the way you shoot. Look in your manual to find out how to access your camera’s setup menu. Notice what kind of menu changes can be made with the control dials on your camera and the menu settings that you can bring up and select through your camera’s LCD screen. Some cameras, for example, will allow you to change the exposure mode of the camera with a dial on the top or on the back of the camera, while smaller pocket-size cameras will require you to open a menu setting to make those changes.
2. Date and Time Stamp: Most cameras come with quick instructions for how to set the date and time stamp in your camera. If you haven’t already done so, be sure your camera is stamping the correct date and time on your image files. This bit of information (or what is called metadata in the digital photography world) can be very useful for archiving and managing your photos.
3. Review Time: One of the best features about digital photography is the ability to review photos after they are taken. The default time for reviewing an image may be only a couple of seconds, but you typically can change that time, making it longer or shorter. Look up the word “review” or “play menu” in your manual to find out how to change the review time. I have my photos display for 6-8 seconds. This gives me enough time to consider if I need to retake the shot.
4. Picture Count: If you never want to miss a good shot, you should know where to find the picture count for your camera. Typically it can be seen on your camera”˜s LCD screen when you review the images stored on your image card. Based the size of your card and the resolution settings you’re shooting in, the camera will display the number of photos you have shot. When you set the camera to take a photo, the number of captures you have remaining that your media card can hold should be displayed on the LCD screen.
5. Format Your Media Card: When you fill up a media card, it’s best to reformat it instead of erasing the image files. Avoid filling up your card completely. Change the card when you only have 5-10 captures remaining that you can put on the card. Also, don’t allow your computer or software application to erase images for you. Reformat your card on the camera itself after you have securely imported and backed up your photos to your computer. Look up the word “format” in the index of your manual for specific instructions.
6. Turn the Flash On/Off: Most with cameras come with a built-in flash. Your camera”˜s automatic features may cause your flash to fire when you don’t want it to; for example when you’re shooting in a shaded area. So learn how to manually shut off and turn on your camera built-in flash. If you’re shooting in Automatic mode, you most likely will not have the option to turn off the flash, and in that case you’ll need to choose another shooting mode (like Program, discussed later) in order to shut off the flash.
Likewise, if your photos are coming out a little blurred, it means that you may need the use the flash or increase the shutter speed on your camera. If you can’t do the latter, it’s best the turn on the flash for that will automatically increase your shutter speed to 1/60th of a second, which is a better speed for holding a camera than at say 1/10th of a second. (I will discuss flash later in a longer article in this series.)
7. Shooting Beyond A: Most beginning photographers shoot in automatic mode. There’s typically a dial on your camera with a green Auto icon indicating that mode of shooting. When you shoot in automatic mode you’re telling your camera to make all the decisions about exposure settings when you take pictures. Your camera will read the amount and type of light coming into the lens and hitting the sensor and it will make the best guess for setting the exposure.
But if you learn how to shoot beyond the automatic made, you can have more control about those settings. Even you don’t understand what aperture and shutter speed means, you can more easily learn how to use Program mode, which is discussed in the next step. But in order to do this, you need to know how to change the shooting modes of your camera.
8. Program Mode: The first step to getting beyond Automatic mode is to use Program or P mode. This mode is similar to automatic in that it sets the exposure settings for the picture you’re taking; however, in this mode, you can control better how much light is allowed to enter the camera. If you shoot a photo in Automatic and then shoot the same subject in the same lighting condition in Program mode at their default settings, they should look pretty much alike. But in Program mode, you can use what is called Exposure Compensation to adjust for lighting. Look up in your camera’s manual how to change the shooting mode to P or program.
9. Exposure Compensation: Okay, here’s the hardest feature you’ll learn in this series of tips, but it can make a big difference in the quality of photos you take. If you noticed that some of your photos come out too dark or too light, or that they just seem flat, you can use exposure compensation to adjust for lighting. To adjust for lighting, you can use what is called Exposure Compensation. You can only use this feature in Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual Mode. It is typically deactivated in Automatic mode because, remember, you’re telling the camera to make all the decisions for you.
Look up the term, exposure compensation, in your manual and find out how to use it on your particular camera. It is typically a meter with a plus/minus scale for increasing and decreasing the amount of light coming into your camera.
In these two photos (both un-edited), the top one is shot in Automatic mode, and the bottom one in Program mode. In the first one, the image is slightly under exposed. With the second photo, using exposure compensation, I was able to allow more light in thus getting more detail on the subject (my daughter.)
Even if you don’t understand aperture and shutter speed, if you learn how to use exposure compensation then you can have more control over the lighting exposure of your camera. So right after you read this article, find a subject and practice with the exposure compensation feature. With digital photography, you’re not wasting film, so you can practice, practice, practice, and not have to spend a penny extra.
10. Self-Timer: Often times if you’re the main photographer in your family, you most likely don’t get yourself included in many of the photos you take. So learn to use the self-timer and a tripod so that you can take photos that include you, the photographer.
Also, the self-timer is a good way to shoot close-up shots of say, a flower or Ebay product shots. By using the self-timer and a tripod, you will get less camera shake in your macro shots and thus, less blurry photos.
In the next few articles on digital photography, I will share some advanced tips for taking pictures. But it will useful to hear back from readers what questions you have about using your camera and the art of taking photos. What problems do you encounter when taking photos?