I Have A Compact Camera… Help!


Compact cameras usually show best results when you underexpose by half a stop, as this enhances midtone colours like red and blue. Camera: Samsung ST50 Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Compact cameras usually show best results when you underexpose by half a stop, as this enhances midtone colours like red and blue. Camera: Samsung ST50 Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Raj Lalwani tells you how to solve the problems that are commonly associated with compact cameras, and use them in every possible shooting situation.

How often has it happened that you have looked at your compact camera and felt that it is not good enough? If you are frustrated by your compact camera’s abilities or feel that its features and performance are not up to the mark, you have probably not explored the true potential of your camera. Compact cameras do have some typical problems. But a few simple tricks and the right camera settings will help you overcome these problems and shoot fantastic images.

I am Not Able to Shoot in Low Light
When the light is good, compact cameras seem to work fine, but the moment the light levels dip, your images start to suffer. To shoot in low light without a flash, you will need to take the support of a flat surface or push yourself against a wall to minimise camera shake. Image Stabilisation is useful if your camera has the feature. If all this fails, the best option is to increase the ISO, or to use a scene mode like the High Sensitivity mode. This may increase the amount of noise, but a grainy photograph is obviously better than none at all.

How do I Focus in the Dark?
Use the camera’s AF-assist lamp, and if it that does not help, simply innovate. Shine a torch at your subject, or ask the person to hold their cell phone close to their face. Once you have half-depressed the shutter-release button and achieved focus, you can switch off the light and shoot.

People in My Frame are Not Sharp
The Face Detection mode will ensure that all the faces in your frame are in sharp focus, and will also optimise exposure and other camera settings accordingly. Some modern-day compact cameras also have interesting features like Smile Detection and Blink Detection, which are easy and to use for shooting perfect portraits.

My Flash Does Not Light the Subject Properly
Most compact cameras have a limited flash range of only 4–5 metres. If your subject is further away, the flash will not make any difference and your overall image will be underexposed. So, either get close to the subject or do not use the flash at all. While using the flash, do not obstruct the flash with your finger as that may result in a picture that is too dark or unevenly lit.

The Flash Kills the Mood of the Picture
When flash is used in the Auto mode, every night photograph looks the same, whether it is shot in fluorescent light, bulb light, or on a well-lit street. The ambient of the particular scene is completely overpowered by the flash, and the mood of the image is lost. Also, if a person is too close to the camera, harsh shadows get formed and the subject gets overexposed.

Do more with your flash. Cover it with butter paper if you wish to diffuse it, or coloured gelatin paper if you want to add a creative coloured tone to your photograph. Also, explore the Night Portrait mode—it uses a slower shutterspeed to capture ambient light and also fires a flash to ensure that the main subject is sharp.

I Have No Control Over Depth
The large DOF that compact cameras give can be used to your advantage. Everything is in focus, which is great for landscapes or street photography. For a shallow DOF look, zoom in completely and get as close to the subject as possible, while using the Portrait scene mode. Even the Macro mode that allows you to get really close to your subject helps you capture DOF.

Can I Shoot Tiny Subjects?
The Macro mode of your compact camera allows you to get as close as 5cm from tiny subjects. In some cameras, you can get even closer. Keep in mind the minimum focusing distance of your particular camera and shoot accordingly. While using this mode, be careful that the shadow of your camera must not fall on the subject. To explore close-up photography further, try using a magnifying glass in front of your compact camera for some great results!

How Do I Deal With Shutter Lag?
To minimise shutter lag and capture the perfect moment, lock focus and then wait for the action to happen. Most compact cameras have shutter lag due to the amount of time it takes to focus. Also, use the Continuous Shooting mode and start shooting a little before the action takes place.

Images Look Different on the Computer
Often, you may review a picture on the computer and realise that it is not as bright as it seemed on the LCD. Use the histogram to review your images if your camera allows you to. Alternatively, adjust the brightness of your LCD to match that of your computer monitor. This will help you gauge exposure accurately while you are out on the field.

My Images Look Quite Dull
Most compact cameras have a variety of scene and image adjustment modes that allow you to increase contrast and saturation. However, for finer control, switch off all adjustments within the camera and keep contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction to a minimum. Then you can edit the images in a software like Photoshop. This will also give the best possible image quality.

And Sometimes, They Are Too Contrasty
The low dynamic range of compact cameras often leads to blown-out highlights in contrasty light. To avoid this, underexpose by half a stop by using the Exposure Compensation function. This will not only capture good detail in the highlights, but will also enhance the colours of your photograph.

Equipment is only a means to an end. The point is to know your camera well so that you can work around its drawbacks. These simple tips will ensure that a compact camera is not only useful, but also a lot of fun.

A Basic Guide to Controlling Your Compact Camera Settings

Override the Camera’s Meter
Some compact cameras have a fully-functional Manual mode, while others may have Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes. If your camera does not have these manual and semi-manual modes, you can use the Program mode where the exposure will be determined on its own. But you can override these settings by using the Exposure Compensation function.

Use the Right Scene Mode
In cameras that do not offer any of these modes, you can use the basic Scene modes of the camera to control the final look of your picture. If you need a long exposure, use the Night Landscape mode. On the other hand, the Sports mode will choose the fastest shutterspeed possible so that your subject is frozen in motion. If you want sharpness throughout your frame, the Landscape mode works well. The Portrait mode, on the other hand, is useful if you want a shallow depth-of-field.

Why a Compact Camera is Useful

Light and convenient, a compact camera can be carried everywhere you go.

Because of their size and the advantage of framing through the LCD, you can shoot from innovative vantage points.

It is great for shooting on the sly, because of their unassuming nature and lack of shutter sound.

Tags: Shooting Technique, Raj Lalwani, February 2010