How to easily improve your photographs even with pocket cameras
With the prices of entry-level digital SLRs dropping to insane levels, it is easy for a beginner to think that a professional-looking DSLR will create better pictures outright, which is totally untrue.
This photo was taken by a 2002 Canon PowerShot S40 with 4 megapixels. Lighting came from an opaque fiberglass roof from above. Model is my son.
While I do use a digital SLR most of the time, I’m a big, big fan of using portable fixed-lens camera point-and-shoots, digital or film. The simpler the camera, the easier it is for me to operate, the more creative you have to be – not to mention you always have the excuse of “hey! I was using a cheap, automated camera!” (partial joke here).
Seriously, though, a DSLR will surely make your photography better, no doubt. From the higher resolution of the sensors, much faster response times, better auto-focus, considerably better lens, and all the accessories you can add on to create higher quality output, there isn’t a doubt that a DSLR is better suited than a fixed-lens digital camera.
Let’s point out some limitations with digital FLCs first, and there are a few that you have to consider.
- Smaller sensors – A sensor is like a film surface, that’s where all the captured light gets transferred onto a chip that collates all the info to form a photograph image file. The larger the sensor, the more efficient the sensor can capture light. A small FLC will have a much smaller sensor compared to even the smallest of DSLRs. That physical difference compromises image quality, noise handling, response times, among others. Fuji cameras are well known to have larger-than-average sensors, but recently, their superior sensors can’t compete with the marketing prowess of megapixel count. Quite unfortunate. With the upcoming Canon PowerShot G10 digital camera, however, there seem to be a new direction on sensor development for FLCs, so it’s a good sign that we’re moving away from the megapixel hype.
- Response times – From shutter lag (time difference between the moment you press the shutter to the actual moment a photo is captured) to auto-focus response, FLCs suffer a more sluggish performance than their SLR counterparts. Part of the reason would be the amount of features that engineers need to cram into a tiny housing, the smaller the camera, the smaller the sensors and chips that process the information needed to create a picture. In high stress environments, a bigger camera usually can do things much faster than a smaller camera.
- Lens quality – Again, with size being the main issue, the smaller the lens, the harder it is to capture great amount of detail in photographs. This is especially true with lenses that can cover a wide range of focal length. Even with dedicated SLR lenses, the greater the focal length coverage, the lower the inherent image quality, this problem is multiplied on smaller cameras.
- Accessories limitation – Most FLCs are sized differently from each other, that aspect alone will force manufacturers to design proprietary accessories like batteries specific only to a particular model. The cost of buying proprietary batteries are higher and less convenient than using standard AA batteries. While there are still a few AA-ready FLCs around, the smaller sized are more marketable and this trend will probably continue in the near future.
There are a lot of benefits from an FLC compared to its larger cousins, though:
- FLCs are compact. There are countless of scenarios when it is impossible, illogical, unsafe, impractical to whip out a full-sized SLR for image capture.
- Features that are standard to FLCs for quite sometime are just starting to migrate into DSLR bodies. Impromptu videos, tiltable LCDs, instant macro, live-view framing, face detection auto focus, to name a few.
- Less conspicuous. A lot of times, when photographing strangers or public places, using a small camera attracts a lot less attention and is less intimidating for your subjects compared to wielding a large camera.
You might want to read my friend’s blog about the advantages of a pocket point-and-shoot camera as well.
So let’s get started – how to take better photos with a FLC.
I have one tip to get you started, and this tip applies to whatever camera you choose to have. If you don’t heed this advice, the rest of the article will not work for you.
TIP #1 – KNOW YOUR CAMERA BY HEART
It seems obvious, but I can assure you that majority of camera owners (SLR or FLC) are not familiar with what their camera is capable of achieving.
There can be many reasons for this. From changing cameras too often (often blaming the camera for not being able to capture something), not reading and understanding the manual, not asking the right person, to not practicing at all. Reasons that inevitably point to one source, the user’s decision to not know his camera.
You have to be familiar with what all the settings and buttons of your camera. I’m not just saying knowing what the button does, but to know HOW each setting affects your photograph or technique. There’s no point bragging about “I know this button is for exposure compensation!” but have no idea how an exposure is calculated in the first place.
You also have to know how to operate your camera with little fuss. Know how to turn on, adjust exposure, lock focus, change white balance, etc. like it’s second nature. If you spend your time fiddling on menus and buttons, you’ll miss whatever chance you have to capture what’s in front of you.
In addition, by knowing your camera’s strengths, you’ll also know its limitations. You’ll instinctively know how to pre-focus to get an action shot, what settings to use to keep noise to your acceptable limit, how near is your lens’ minimum focusing distance, how far your flash can reach, and so forth.
So know your camera well. Sit at home, reset your camera to its factory default, follow the user’s manual and test every setting to see how it affects your images. That’s the only way for you to know what your camera can do. If you “try” settings out during the time of the shoot, not only are you playing a game of roulette, you also won’t learn anything.
TIP # 2 – STICK TO THE FOUNDATIONS
Photography is about how light is captured on a subject or scene. It’s not about what camera you used or what brand of lens you prefer. If you have decent foundations in photography, the camera you hold has less importance the your photographic vision. The limitations or potential of the camera your holding will become creative inspiration instead of a hindrance to your final photograph.
- Composition – Learn basics such as where to place subject, watching out for distracting backgrounds, making use of strong leading lines, looking for a different angle are basic things to keep in mind that can become second nature as your photographic skills grow.
- See the light – Learn how and why a certain light is falling on a subject or scene a certain way. Always keep an eye on shadows and how you can manipulate light to create shapes, definition, and depth in your photographs. Experiment by simply asking your subjects (move them if they can’t, in case of still life) slightly and see how the light is changing the shape of the shadows.
Those simple tips will get you ahead of most other casual photo snappers in the real world. Yes, there are a lot of other things that you can and must learn, but as a starting point, those simple, non-technical pointers will let you take better pictures to instantly look more presentable than casual snap shots.
TIP # 3 – DON’T BE LAZY!
Photography requires effort.
You need to think creatively, you need to move around and find good angles before you press the shutter button. You can’t get good angles by standing straight up and shooting at eye level 99% of the time. That’ll never happen.
Interesting photographs are a result of captured images you don’t often see with your own eyes. Most people are between 5 to 6 feet in height. The 1 to 2 feet vantage point difference isn’t a lot and if you keep shooting at those positions, people will not see anything special even if you captured a pig flying.
You have access to three dimensions when you’re shooting, use it!
Aim your camera upwards, downwards, kneel down, lie prone, lie on your back, do anything BUT shoot from eye level as much as possible.
Walk up to your subject and fill the frame. Climb up a flight of stairs or stand on a stool. Just be different.
How many times have you joined a group tour and as soon as you arrive on site, every single tourist will stand on the same spot and shoot EXACTLY the same image. What’s the point? Just buy a postcard!
Put some effort into it and your photo will stand out from the rest of the pack.
TIP # 4 -DON’T BE A PART OF A HERD
Like my last point, if everyone is shooting the same scene, it’ll be difficult to get anything special. Try shooting when everyone else is too wimpy to take their cameras out.
Shoot in the rain, shoot when you’re just walking around town, shoot when you’re inside a bus, photograph your neighborhood grouch – whatever other people are too LAZY to shoot! Your experience will be very personal and enlightening, to say the least.
TIP # 5 – GET OUT AND SHOOT!
You can read all the books, articles, blogs, forums you want, even attend workshops, but until you actually go out and try out what you’ve learned again and again, you’ll never improve beyond a single instance as your newfound skills are not ingrained in your mind.
Always keep in mind that a camera cannot take a photo by itself, unless you keep shooting, appreciate what you’ve done, and learn from what went right or what went wrong with your photos, your photos will never improve beyond the amount of effort you’ve put in. Armed with the right foundation of skill sets, you too can take wonderful photos regardless of what camera you use.
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