I recently sold my DSLR system to fund a new camera (but ended up putting that money toward a new car — long story). In its place I picked up a cheap little point and shoot from Canon, and I’ve been discovering it’s versatility ever since. Here’s a few tips to keep you from feeling hindered by your point and shoot:
Select Macro Mode
This is a fairly obvious first step but I’m always surprised by how many digital camera owners haven’t explored the shooting modes that their camera has. Macro mode is generally symbolized with a little flower and when selected it will tell your camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal (the minimum distance allowed will vary from camera to camera – consult your instruction manual to find yours). Macro mode will also usually tell your camera to choose a large aperture so that your subject is in focus but the background is not.
Learn To Prefocus
The best-composed photographs don’t usually have their subject dead center. However, that’s where the focusing sensor on a P&S camera is. Since the best photographs usually do have their subject in sharp focus, what you want to do is point the center sensor at your main subject, hold the shutter release halfway down, then move the camera until you like the composition. Virtually all P&S cameras work this way but not everyone knows it because not everyone is willing to read the owner’s manual.
Turn The Lights Off
Not the tank light, but the ambient light in the room. A source of light coming from behind the camera will often reflect in the front pane of the tank, basically turning it into a mirror. The object is to photograph your tank, not to photograph a reflection of yourself. Also, if there is a window directly opposite the tank, try shooting at night to avoid reflections. The darker the room the tank is in, the better off you are.
Avoid Digital Zoom
If you are using a digital point and shoot camera you probably have something called “digital zoom”. In order to preserve maximum image quality you should avoid digital zoom whenever possible. If it is your only option, use it — some manufacturers have modes that will only allow digital zoom, like Canon’s Super Macro Mode. If you have the option of optical zoom, use that instead. If you feel you need to get closer, you can always crop the image later on your computer.
Turn Off The Flash
Your eye needs shadows to make out shapes. When the light source comes from the same spot as the lens, your tank will look flat and dimensionless — not to mention on-camera flashes tend to throw an ugly yellow cast over everything. Virtually all point and shoot cameras allow you to control the on-camera flash. What you want to do most of the time is press the tiny lightning bolt button until the “no flash” symbol is displayed. The “no flash” symbol is usually a lightning bolt with a circle around it and line through it. Now the camera will never strobe the flash and will leave the shutter open long enough to capture enough ambient light to make an exposure.
Support The Camera
Generally the easiest way to do this is with a tripod, although lately I’ve taken to resting the lens of my little camera directly against the glass. This accomplishes two things: it steadies the camera, and it ensures the lens is parallel to the tank glass, which minimizes distortions.
If a memory card is lasting for months without filling up, something is wrong. You aren’t experimenting enough. An ideal memory card has 50 pictures of the same subject, all of them bad. These prove that you’re not afraid to experiment. And then one good picture. This proves that you’re not completely incompetent. No one ever gets it right on the first shot, so keep shooting till it’s perfect.
Follow those simple steps and your photos are guaranteed to improve!