BOOT CAMP 263 (18/02/03)




In part three of this short series on digital photography we’re looking at some simple techniques to help you get the most out of a digital still camera. For the most part a compact digital still camera (DSCs) works just like a normal film camera; you frame the shot, press the shutter button and hope the electronic minions inside the camera get the focus and exposure settings just right.


The big difference with a DSC is that you don’t have to wait for the film to be processed to find out if the picture was okay, you can check it right away using the built-in LCD screen on the back. Usually you don’t have to do anything on most models a preview automatically appears on the screen for a few seconds after each shot. The LCD screens fitted to most cameras are too small to make accurate judgements about colour balance and exposure but it will show if you cut everyone’s head’s off or you need to use the flash.


Newcomers to digital photography often take a while to get used to the fact that there’s no need to worry about wasting film. It’s a natural enough instinct, every time you press the shutter button on a film camera there’s the thought in the back of your mind that you’re going to have to pay to have this picture developed, no matter how it turns out and it’s one less frame on the film, that you might need later for something really worthwhile.


With a digital camera if you don’t like the look of a picture take it again, in fact take several from different angles and experiment with the exposure settings or presets. The more you take the better the chance of ending up with that once in a lifetime picture. Why not try a few unusual angles? Hold the camera overhead, or down low, maybe tilt it a few degrees or pan the camera to follow a moving object, to blur the background and give an impression of speed. The point is it costs nothing but your time and a little effort, so go nuts! You can always erase the duff shots to free up space on your memory card. The only time you need to practice economy with a DSC is when you are running low on memory, or power and you don’t have a spare memory card or battery to hand, so don’t get caught short.


Many DSCs have impressive sounding ‘digital’ zooms. These are quite different from the optical zoom lens on the front of the camera, which has no significant impact on picture quality. Digital zooms on the other hand work by electronically enlarging the image and have a big effect on quality so avoid using them whenever possible. If you want people or objects to appear larger in the frame use the optical zoom, or get closer!


The optical viewfinders on some compact DSCs can be quite basic, on cheaper models they may not be linked to the zoom lens, so you’re never quite sure what’s in the frame, especially on close-ups. It’s not a problem. Simply use the LCD screen to compose the shot. This effectively turns it into a SLR type camera, where what you see on the viewing screen is the actual image coming through the lens. The only point to watch out for is that the LCD screen and backlight consume a lot of power and will drain the battery in double-quick time, so use it sparingly.


Virtually all compact digital still cameras have resolution and compression settings that let you trade off picture quality against the number of images you can store on a memory card. It’s not worth compromising; set your camera to the highest possible quality, even if you’re only taking pictures for an undemanding application, like illustrating a web page. You can always reduce the resolution when the image file is transferred to a PC but you can’t retrospectively put back lost detail. If memory capacity is a problem get a bigger card. Remember, you paid for a camera with a multi-megapixel image sensor so it makes sense to use it!


This tip we’ve covered before built it’s worth repeating. On most digital cameras there’s a delay, sometimes up to a second, between pressing the shutter button and the picture being taken and that is enough to spoil a shot. This is almost always caused by a time lag in the camera’s auto focus system. You can eliminate this delay by switching the AF system off or pre-focusing, which brings us to our last tip.


RTFM or read the flipping manual (or words to that effect…). Don’t just assume that you will intuitively know how to use all of the features on your new digital still camera. Whilst it is true that on most models you can take pictures in full auto mode without consulting the instructions, there are bound to be lots of additional facilities -- buried away on menu screens -- that to help you to take even better photographs when conditions are less than ideal. Get to know your camera’s manual focus and exposure controls even if they’re just simple presets for indoors or outdoors or natural and artificial light. The flash facility is also likely to have several options, such as ‘Fill-In’ or ‘Red-Eye’ reduction and become familiar with secondary functions, like the self-timer. Don’t wait until you’ve assembled a group of friends to try and figure out how to use it!


Next week – Part 4, printing and paper





Using flash to lighten shadows or highlight details when the ambient lighting comes from the side or behind, making the overall image look overly dark



Devilish-looking red eyes, caused by the small distance separating the flashgun and the lens on most compact cameras; the blood rich retinas in the subjects eyes reflect the light straight back to the camera lens



Single Lens Reflex, type of camera where the image on the viewfinder comes through the main lens via a mirror and prism so you see the exact image that will be recorded



One of the best ways to improve the quality of your pictures is to use a tripod. Camera shake is difficult to avoid but it can be a particular problem on digital cameras. In general they are not as good as film cameras when it comes to shooting in low light, resulting in longer exposure times, which means the camera has to be held still for longer. Lugging a full size tripod around with you can be a pain but there are plenty of alternatives, including mini tabletop tripods that fit in your pocket and compact folding monopods.

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