Better photos with a point-and-shoot

By Rebecca Long Pyper

Cameras have become indispensible tools for documenting and celebrating life and lifestyle, and the good news is that you don’t have to buy a fancy and bulky DSLR to score great images.

 “Some of the point-and-shoot (cameras) equally shoot just as good as a full-size camera,” said Herman Garcia, president of Portneuf Valley Photographic Society. “It’s a matter of learning the capabilities of your camera.”

 Garcia offers these tips for shooting photos you’ll want to hang on the walls:

 >> Glance through your owner’s manual and see what your came does. Don’t feel pressured to analyze all 100 pages — a quick read can identify a few things you’d like to try or learn, and concentrating on those is better than committing the manual to memory.

>> Get out of your comfort zone. “We have the tendency sometimes to put everything on auto and think that’s good enough,” Garcia said, who suggests reserving the automatic mode for split-second shots in a hurry — like UFOs or cars crashing into your yard or your child doing something you want to preserve for memory without concern for the shot’s artistic merits.

>> Learn the program modes. If you’re going to get out of auto, you’ll need to get into program modes. From there you’ll be able to adjust your camera so the subject is in focus with the background fuzzy or boost shutter speed for action shots, for instance. Most program modes are pretty easy to figure out with a little practice, Garcia said. “Go to program mode and do that a few times, so when you’re there at the fireworks or (see) a beautiful sunset, you can shoot that pretty easy,” he said.

>> Learn about composition. Avoid the tendency to center your subject. Instead, use what photographers call the rule of thirds; that means imagining a tic-tac-toe board and situating subjects in a spot where lines intersect. Most digital cameras come with a setting that produces a grid on the screen or in the viewfinder. When the grid comes up, move your camera so the subject shows up at an intersection. “Think ‘outside the box’ and play with where you want your main subject,” Garcia said.

This is a good habit to adopt too for situations where you don’t want your subject to block the background — in front of a waterfall or sunset, for example. Position yourself so the subject is to the side, leaving the background fully visible.

>> Beware of bright sunlight. When taking photos of people, “it’s really important if it’s outside that you try not to shoot them in direct sunlight,” which leads to squinty eyes and bad photos, Garcia said. So ask your subject to move into the shade when necessary, and don’t be afraid to use your flash; new cameras have smart flashes that fire just enough light to illuminate the subject, not the background.

>> Change your perspective. If you’re shooting children, try to get down on their level, rather than shooting down at them.

>> Minimize blur by steadying your camera. Garcia recommends bracing your camera against a wall or tree when shooting; this stability can be especially important indoors where lighting might not be abundant.

>> Make it fun. Try different angles, different times of day, or if you’re interested in developing a photographer’s eye, look online at other people’s techniques, paying attention to framing and positioning of subjects, then imitating what you see. “It’s going to take practice, but sometimes it’s as simple as mimicking someone else’s photographs,” Garcia said.

Another way to improve skills is to join a photo club like Portneuf Valley Photographic Society. The group meets the fourth Thursday each month at Pocatello Art Center, 444 N. Main in Pocatello. Members can help set up cameras and offer practical suggestions. Annual dues are $25 and are used to support the art center.

By spending a little time in the owner's manual and practicing different camera modes, you can shoot photos like these, taken with a point-and-shoot camera. Photos by Herman Garcia.

By spending a little time in the owner’s manual and practicing different camera modes, you can shoot photos like these, taken with a point-and-shoot camera. Photos by Herman Garcia.

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