Although professional cameras offer an array of options that assist in mastering a photo or video shoot, your own skills can contribute significantly to making the most of point-and-shoot cameras. And let’s face it, sometimes these are the most appropriate equipment, like when you’re relaxing on holiday. On a recent ski trip to Livigno in Italy, we had the pleasure of capturing a fantastic time on the slopes and in the picturesque little town, using our Nikon Coolpix P7000 and AW100, as well as GoPro and iPhone cameras. Relatively much smaller, lighter and less valuable than pro cameras, these were perfect to carry in a pocket and whip out on a whim, like in the middle of a magical snowfall. You’re welcome to view our Facebook albums here and here.
However casual your shoot, you might as well master it as best you can, for yourself and others to enjoy. Here are some pointers to help with that:
1. Composition is crucial. With point-and-shoot cameras, you don’t have lots of megapixels to play with, meaning that there isn’t the luxury of cropping a little afterwards to refine a spontaneous pic. This is all the more reason to move around and visually test different angles and zoom settings on your shot.
2. Point-and-shoot cameras are not very sophisticated in terms of exposure compensation, so pay particular attention to ambient lighting conditions. Optimise these by avoiding dark, shadowy areas, especially if these are juxtaposed against bright backgrounds. Try to compose for similar brightness throughout your image and keep the sun behind your back whenever possible if you’re shooting in daylight.
3. If you can’t avoid high contrast between bright and dark areas in your shot, then expose correctly for the brighter bits, so that you can lift the shadows afterwards during digital processing. That way you won’t have sections of your images that are blown out.
4. Explore your camera settings, whether conveniently located on the body or within the menu. It’s worth the time required to figure out the basics at least, such as image quality (go for JPEG fine as a guideline) and exposure compensation (generally underexpose by a third of a stop in bright sunlight).
5. More advanced point-and-shoot cameras provide extra options, such as aperture priority (A, which doesn’t stand for automatic) or shutter priority (S), but the program setting (P) should work well if you have a minimal grasp of technical details. Similarly, automatic white balance is pretty reliable. If applicable, select the lowest ISO setting possible for the available light.
6. Make friends with your flash, not just after dark but as fill-in for photos where you are shooting an unlit subject against a brighter background. Point-and-shoot cameras typically allow you to set the flash to auto, on or off. The auto setting often fails to engage the flash in backlit scenarios, so become familiar with switching it on for fill-in and off for other occasions when you want to capture ambience, like in a restaurant for example.
Minimal processing such as tweaking levels on your images can improve your results too, but don’t forget the importance of the capture quality. The only thing more important is to have fun and play around, and the beauty of digital is that you do have this luxury. Enjoy!