Monday, July 8, 2013

How to take great pictures with a point and shoot, chapter 1

All pictures in the post, except this one of course, were taken with this well lived Nikon S8100

Yes it is possible to take great pictures with a point and shoot and I will show you how to in this series. You have decided to take your photography seriously but all you have right now is a point and shoot and no budget for a DSLR? No problem, shooting the crap out of a point and shoot will make you  a better photographer anyway.

Point and shoot cameras are often under estimated but they can pull off some great work when used properly. A brand new one will set you back $150 or you can go with a used one for even less. 3.2 mp and up is fine for 8X10 and try to stick with Canon or Nikon. You can also use whatever you have at hand right now but this article is not about phone "cameras".

To prove my point, I'll be using my very worn Nikon S8100 in this article. I've had this camera for 3 years now and even though it's beaten up with dust behind the lens, it still pumps out some great pictures. It's always in my camera bag and I use a lot for street photography, the point and shoot's best use in my opinion.

This chapter will concentrate on what you need to have and to know, so let's get started:

1- Get a tripod. The only piece of gear you absolutely need to have. Don't need to get a big or expensive one. Remember, you have a small and light camera, basically anything will do.

2- Put it in "P" mode. Program mode is found on most cameras of this type and it will be the setting used throughout this series. Forget the pre-set scenes modes, you won't learn anything.

3- Find the flash control and turn it off. A flash is no good beyond 10 feet and we won't be using it for now anyway.

4- Find the white balance setting, put it on AWB or Auto mode. We'll play with that a lot later.

5- Find the timer and figure out how to make it work.

6-  Find the exposure control. Usually represented by a + and - sign side by side, play with it so you are sure it moves.

7-  Find the ISO setting control. ISO can go from 80 to 1600 or more depending on the camera, make sure it works.

Now that you have all this figured out, let me explain to you the basics of photography. Light is basically captured by a sensor in the camera and the amount of light that hits it determines in great part what your image will look like. 3 factors come in to play and this is the only hard part of photography you need to wrap your brain around, shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Shutter speed: the speed at which the shutter opens and closes to let the light in. Fast shutter speed = you can freeze movement, slow shutter speed = blurry movement.

Aperture: Like the iris in your eyes, how big the opening is in the lens. The bigger the opening the more light comes in. However, the part of the picture that will be in focus is limited in distance. The smaller the opening, the more things you have in focus but you need a lot of light to do that.

ISO: The sensitivity to light of your sensor. The higher the number, the more sensitive is is to light. However, a higher ISO leaves more "noise" or grain in your image.

The combination of these 3 elements will determine the outcome of your image and this is the basic knowledge of all photography digital or from 150 years ago.

Thankfully, your point and shoot takes care of the first 2 for you, which leaves us with the ISO to figure out and the exposure setting to do some fine tuning with.

Here are some examples of ideal ISO settings:
Bright sunny day, lots of available light: 100 ISO
Sunny day but subject in the shadows, less light: 200 ISO
Cloudy rainy day or evening, light is present but not as intense: 400 ISO
Late evening ambient light with no sun: 800 ISO
City streets at night: 1600 ISO

Now go outside and shoot some pics and play with the ISO setting. Also, use the exposure setting and go from + to - to see the difference. This setting is very practical on very sunny days when the camera has a tendency to overexpose, making your images too bright. Bring it down to -0.7 and see what happens.

That's it for now, the next chapter will be about composition.

Remember, it's not the camera that makes the photographer, the same as a pen and paper doesn't make a writer.

Gerry :)

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