Getting Your Point-and-Shoot to Capture Better Pictures

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Maybe you're a technophobe and want your point-and-shoot camera to take great pictures with the least amount of work. Neither do you understand technical lingo, but you want your camera to capture better photos. Here are some simple tips to improve your images.


To start, it won't hurt to be familiar with a few common symbols.

Portrait Mode: You may see this symbol on a dial, or within the menus of your entry-level digital camera. This mode optimizes the settings of your camera for shooting a portrait. If you've heard the term Face Detection, then you should know that it is enabled when using this mode. Face Detection is when the camera will recognize the structure of a person's face, and focus on it. The technology has come a long way with being able to recognize faces in paintings, statues, other photos, etc.

Remember that this mode is best for taking pictures of people. You can readily remember that this is portrait mode because the symbol is a person's face.
 

Macro Mode: The Macro mode is represented by a flower symbol, as seen on the left. Why a flower? Usually when one wants to take a picture of a flower, one tends to get very close to it. Because of this, the universal symbol for Macro mode became the flower.

Use this mode when you want to get very close to a subject—we're talking about a couple of inches or even centimeters! Besides just flowers, use this mode when taking a picture of minatures.
 

Sports: The sports mode optimizes your camera to capture fast moving objects. This is apparent, because the symbol is of a person running.

This mode is best used when your German Shepherd is running around, or even at your kids' sports game. Soccer moms and dads will soon become best friends with this mode.
 

Nighttime: Digital cameras tend to have different nighttime modes. In plain English, what your camera does is one of the following:

1. Shoots without flash by telling you to stay very still while taking a photo.

2. Fires the flash and tries to mix it in with the dark scenery, to mimic what the human eye sees.

It is best to experiment and have fun with the camera to achieve your desired results.

Lightning Bolt Symbol: This symbol signifies the flash settings. Sometimes the flash symbol is displayed with other information

If there is an A, it means automatic flash.

If there is a circle with a line going through it, that shows that the flash is off.

An eye next to it means Red Eye reduction flash.
 

That Circle Thingie with a Line Inside: This symbol means that the camera is set to self-timer mode. Usually, this symbol has a number next to it (such as in the image on the left). If you see the number two, that means that when you press the shutter button (the one pressed to take a picture) the camera will wait two seconds and then shoot. Ten, of course, means that you get ten seconds. During this period you will either see a light on the front of the camera flashing or hear a countdown timer.

Use this when you're setting up a family photo and you want to be included. During that time delay, run back into position and say cheese.
 

The triangle pointing to the right: Maybe you've seen this on a Blu-Ray player, your iPod, etc. It is the universal symbol for playback mode. When you press this button or switch the dial on your camera to playback mode, your images or video will be displayed for you to review.
 

Stacked Rectangles: Stacked rectangles symbolize the continuous-shooting mode for your camera, meaning that it will take pictures for as long as you're holding down the shutter. So how do you remember this? Think of this symbol as one photo being shot after another.

Use this in combination with the sports mode.

Remember: The More You Zoom in, The Darker Your Image Will Be

The more you zoom your lens in, the more light your camera will need. Your camera will then take measures to compensate for the darkness, but it can tarnish image quality a bit. To get the best photos, try to get right up close and personal to your subject.

Of course this isn't always logical or appropriate, but it's good to keep in mind.

Also, know the difference between digital and optical zoom. When you're zooming in, a little meter comes up on your camera's LCD screen. When it hits a certain line, you'll hear that the lens isn't zooming anymore. At this point, your camera is just magnifying a certain portion of the image. Digital zoom can have its uses, but in general it isn't recommended.

Your Camera Has Scene Settings

Some of these scenes were discussed above, but others may include beach, pets, parties, food, landscape, etc. They optimize the camera for different situations, such as sports shooting or the low-light situations during nighttime shooting. Before you take a picture, you may want to quickly change your camera's setting to one of these, to ensure that it optimizes itself for better pictures.

Manufacturers include these settings to make photography as simple as possible for you.

You Should Make Sure that the Focus is Spot On

The intended focusing point for these photos was on the camera. The photo on the left demonstrates perfect focusing, while the photo on the right demonstrates an out-of-focus photo.

Many blurry photos flood Facebook and other social networks. Oftentimes, it is due to a lack of achieving focus on the correct subject. If you're trying to take a picture of your friend would you want:

A blurry photo that looks like the person is underwater (and you're not wearing goggles)?

or

A photo that is as crisp and clear as daylight?

Most point and shoots have three different types of focusing modes: face detection, center spot, and continuous focusing.

You can tell where your camera has achieved focus when the little square displayed on the LCD changes color to green. Additionally, it can deliver a confirmation beep.

Keep as Still as Possible when Taking Photos

When shooting, it is important to stay still, to prevent what is called motion-blur.

Think of it like this: Taking a photo is a bit like painstakingly writing by hand as neatly as possible. If someone were to come along and bump into you, you'd obviously not form a letter correctly, and the work will be sloppy. Taking a picture is a lot like that: Your camera tries to write an image, and if you're shaking the camera up and down then it won't be able to write that image as neatly as possible.

If you're jittery from twelve cups of coffee, try to place the camera down on a stable surface, or hold it close to your body. Holding the camera with an outstretched arm will make focusing difficult.

Know When You Should Use the Flash

There are many people that believe that their camera isn't working correctly unless the flash goes off. This is extremely far from the truth. Great photos can be taken without flash. In fact, it is best to only use the flash in certain situations. 

Here's a helpful beginner's tip when shooting images of people outside:

If the sun is behind you, then the people in your photos will be squinting, because the sun will most likely be in their eyes. No one ever looks great squinting. Keep the sun behind the subject and make the flash go off. It will fill in all the shadows on their face (such as under their eyes).

Be sure to enable your Red Eye Reduction flash, since you're photograping people.

Print this list out and keep it with you as a handy reference guide when you're out with the family taking photos, or even just using the camera. Happy shooting!

If you have other tips that you can add to help out beginners, we'd like to hear them. Let us know in the comments below.