Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp

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.

Basic Settings

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.

Advanced Tips

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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Bakari Chavanu
    October 27, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Arun, could you send me a one or two of your problem pictures? If possible, send ones that have not been processed and are pretty much straight from the camera. You can send to photoblue [at]

    • Arun
      October 28, 2009 at 12:40 am

      I have these pictures at home and I saw your comment after coming to office today.
      I will get them tomorrow and send you.

      Thanks for your diligence.

  2. Arun
    October 27, 2009 at 4:33 am

    Excellent post. I didn't knew many of the features like "exposure compensation" etc.

    I have "LUMIX DMC-LS80", very recently brought it, but not able to take very good photographs from it.

    Tried intelligent mode, manual and misc settings but couldn't get great looking pics.

    I mainly have (lighting & darkness problems) - i.e most of the photos will not have proper light and also they doesn't come in true colors.

    Any help ??

  3. Bakari
    October 25, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    “I’d add one more tip: the macro function (usually shown as a tulip icon), to take pictures really close to objects.”
    Exactly, very good tip. I've used the G9's macro feature to shoot wedding cakes and other close-up shots. It really works well. Seems like I could do an article just on that topic with the G9. The Canon Powershot G9 is pricey, but it packs a lot into a compact camera, one that should last several years.

  4. Joao Brito
    October 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Tks, I also have a G9 (which I looooove) and it has so many features I'm still learning to use. I'll follow you 9th tip to improve my photos.

    I'd add one more tip: the macro function (usually shown as a tulip icon), to take pictures really close to objects. This function allows you to make interesting and funny shots.

  5. Reggie Noble
    October 25, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Nice thanks

  6. Steve Mould
    October 25, 2009 at 4:56 am

    Great post Bakari! I just got a G10 and I'm finding my way round. This is a very handy post.

    I'd love to read an explanation of what exposure compensation and ISO80, ISO800, etc are. I understand aperture and shutter speed but these two are a bit of a mystery.

    • Bakari
      October 25, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks Steve, Reggie, for your feedback. Steve, exposure compensation is explained in tip 9. Try it out and let me know if it works for you. If not, write me and let me know what's not clear. It's really useful for beginning photographers.

      As for ISO, the smaller the number, the more light that comes into the camera. However, the smaller the number, the noise or grain that you might get in your photo. I typically start out with ISO 400 for both indoors and outdoors. If you can shoot with a smaller number in a well lit setting, your photos may come out sharper, but sometimes you need the higher number so that you shutter speed won't be so low. I'll write an article on ISO very soon.

      • Steve Mould
        November 1, 2009 at 11:12 am

        Yes of course, there's tip 9! Silly me. I now also understand what it's doing physically. It's adjusting (above or below what it wants to do automatically) how much light is coming in. It does this by adjusting the aperture size or shutter speed or both depending on what mode you're in.

        And I think now I understand ISO as a measure of how sensitive the sensor is. More sensitive is great because you don't have to have the shutter open so long which will reduce motion blur. The downside is that a more sensitive sensor suffers more from noise.