5 Top Point and Shoot Photography tips

Not all of us want, need or can afford a fancy Digital SLR camera, yet it seems many of the photography tips and sites on the internet concentrate on having such equipment. Personally, I like to take photographs but glaze over whenever someone starts talking about the technical bits. With that in mind, I’ve put together these five tips to help you get the most out of your point and shoot camera.

  1. Know your basics – There are some fundamental rules you can follow (and break) in photography to improve the pictures you take. Probably the easiest one to use is the rule of thirds. The theory goes like this, you separate your image into nine segments and put the object of your image on one of the intersecting lines. Basically, this prevents you taking pictures where the subject, be it a person or something else, is just sitting in the centre of the image. There are some other rules, like knowing where to position your horizon. Landscape pictureEssentially, if the sky is the point of interest, align your horizon so it falls in the bottom third of the frame. If the ground is the point of interest, align your horizon in the top third. Placing your point of interest off centre can cause havoc with the autofocus feature on some point and shoot cameras. The way to get around this is to focus (the shutter button on most point and shoots is a two stage affair) on your point of interest, and with the shutter button still partly held down, create your composition. Some cameras even come with a grid overlay on the display to help with composition.
  2. Avoid Flash – This is really a bit of a catch 22. Typically, point and shoot cameras aren’t great at taking photos in low light conditions. To make matters worse, they mostly all have terrible flashes. In fact, avoid on-camera flashes altogether. There are numerous problems with these flashes, not least the harsh unflattering light they emit and the fact they are positioned so close to the lens. If you take to avoiding the flash, you’ll be left with a very long exposure time. Long exposure times mean photos can get blurry if the camera isn’t incredibly still. So, get the tripod out or sit it somewhere flat and stable.  A quick tip, if you are shooting in low light use the timer on your camera instead of taking the picture when you press the shutter button.  This will help as it prevents the camera shake caused by the act of pressing the shutter button.  It actually makes a significant difference when either zooming in or shooting in low light conditions.  Overall though, you’re going to get a much better picture by turning the flash off and using whatever other light source is available. There are some times when a flash is absolutely necessary. In these cases, there are some tricks you can employ to improve the quality of the image. My favourite is diffusing (i.e. make softer and more natural) the light that comes out of the flash by holding a thin piece of tissue over the bulb or by directing the light off a nearby surface using a piece of foil or card. They may sound a bit silly, but once you’ve tried it once, you will be amazed at the difference it makes.
  3. Know your Modes – Even point and shoot cameras come with a bewildering array of modes these days. Knowing when, and more importantly when not, to use them is vital. Have a look through the user manual of the camera and check out what each mode means. Generally, you’ll find outdoor, nightime, indoor, potrait and sport. Many cameras have slightly different names and some have many more modes. Generally though, they tend to do the same sort of things. For example, nighttime will set a longer exposure time and probably engage the flash. Portrait will set a shallow depth of field and probably engage the flash (used to soften the harsh shadows on the face). For those interested, a shallow depth of field will put your subject in sharp focus while blurring the background, exactly what you want for a portrait. Sport mode will quicken up the exposure, meaning that fast moving action won’t come out all blurry. Experiment with these modes, I’m sure they do far more complicated things than my descriptions, but these are what you’re most likely to notice. You’re also likely to find a Macro mode which allows for objects closer to the lens to be focused on.
  4. Fake Depth of Field – Faked Depth of FieldWith a fancy camera (technical term), you can control how much of each image is in focus. With a point and shoot camera, you have to fake it. Using a shallow depth of field, i.e. having the subject in sharp focus while the background is very blurry, is particularly effective for portrait and macro photography. You’ll see this effect used alot on pictures of flowers, for example. A simple way to achieve the same effect on your point and shoot is to zoom in as far as you can. If your camera allows for digital zoom, make sure it’s not turned on. With your zoom fully utilised, there will be a sharp contrast in focus between the foreground and background of your photos. Of course, you’re going to have to move yourself a bit to get this to work.  In the example to the right, I’ve turned on Macro Mode and zoomed in as far as possible.  I’ve then offset the flower/leaves after focusing and used the timed shot to reduce camera shake.
  5. Get a Different Perspective – The truly great photographers somehow see things that normal people don’t. You can put this down to some talent they have or simply a practiced skill. The real trick is that they look at things in a different way to the rest of us. While a normal person will stand there, point their camera and take a picture, the best photographers will be lying on the floor, or scaling a tree to get a different perspective on the scene.

Out of all those tips, I think 1 and 5 are both the easiest and most effective. And really, you don’t even need a digital camera to follow them. A new perspective combined with a well composed scene is a winner. I think it’s also worth pointing out that just because you’re not using the latest and most complicated camera doesn’t limit what you can do in your image editor after the fact. Even a fairly straight forward application, such as iPhoto, allows for retouching and adjustments, and this can turn an OK photo into a very good photo. I’d go out on a limb and say that if you are using a point and shoot, the facilities found in iPhoto, Adobe Photoshop Elements and GIMP are probably enough to get you by. The big behemoth, Photoshop will probably just confuse and divert you from the real task at hand.

I hope those tips help. I use them whenever I take photos using my point and shoot camera (A FujiFilm Finepix in case your wondering). I’m no expert and I wouldn’t claim to be. With that in mind, I’d whole heartedly recommend the Digital Photography School for some helpfull tips and sites like flickr, strobist, boudist and photocritic for more resources and some great photography.