Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shoot em up!

You know, a funny thing happened at the last convention that I went to: I was gonna take a picture of two cosplayers, when this one fine gentleman offered to take a picture of me with them (even without me showing the intent to).

What happened afterward was that he gave me some advices on how to properly use my camera - I would've said, "uhh, and you're telling me all this because...?", but since he suddenly offered to take a picture of me out of the blue, I guess I'll let it slide.

And because he had given me some free unwanted advices, I thought I'd do the same and offer some advices on how to optimize the usage of (compact) digital cameras (sorry, I ain't got any DSLRs ahaha). Because knowledge is half of the battle innit?

This is not so much as a tutorial. Treat it as a rambling of some sort. After all, don't everyone love stories?

Aya getting ready for some shootout alongside my trusty S700

I'm currently using a Nikon COOPLIX S700, which originally belong to my brother (he's using my dad's DSLR now). If you wanna know the full background story, three of my family member - my dad, my brother, and my sister - are good at handling DSLRs, each with their respective specialties: my dad has been going into photography for a long time, starting with the traditional SLRs; my brother has a knack for taking good scenery pictures, and usually ends up manning my dad DSLR at events; my sister is a camera-trigger-happy that like to take pictures of the people around her.

I'm comfortable sticking around with my compact, seeing as... it'd be a waste handing over a DSLR to me (remember the few times I mentioned on how I don't take as many pictures of people? you could say it's partly reclusive-shyness - yes, I'll admit so - and partly because I only take pictures that really interest me - which can sometimes be quite little). I have a basic on the know-hows, but I guess I don't have the right 'mindset' for a photographer.

Anyway, enough of that. While I'm pretty blurry at the subject of photography, I could share a few things I learned when handling my compact:

1) A correct pressing of the capture button

This might sound silly - I figured it out even when I first try out the compact - but a few people have advised me on the correct way to capture a picture. How does it go? Well, you first lightly press the button (that is the right word, isn't it?), until you could hear/see the camera trying to keep in focus with what you're trying to capture.

If the focus is out, release the button and do so until it is in focus. When so, you press the button all the way, and wala!, there's your picture!

I actually made it more complex than what it is. I think most people already figured it out, but repetitions are worth repeating...

I didn't take this picture, but this may result from pressing the button too fast. Everything becomes blurry and out of focus.

2) Them bright flashes

Personally, I dislike using flashes. They make the picture - especially when it comes to faces - look quite unnatural. And gods saves us if the person have a lot of extra 'accessories' on his/her face...

I try to stay away from flashes if I could help it. I learned from my Family-Member-cum-Photographers (FMP) that sometimes, it's better to use flash even if the surrounding has enough lighting. A good example is when the background lighting is so bright (backlit, I think that's what it is called), that taking a picture of the subject without flash would result in a dark outline with bright background. If so, it's flash time for ya~

A reverse case, where the foreground is brighter than the background. Perhaps I should have used a flash for this one?

3) Exposure compensation

I started to play with this feature after I notice how some indoor pictures that I took are a bit too bright (I suspect that my camera is acting up - I've been using it for about 3 years now) but someone commented that it's the way for indoor pictures, what's with all the bright light and everything.

I usually set it at -0.3 or -0.7, although for outdoor (when the sun produces some pretty nasty glare) the numbers can be lower. I don't think the camera's exposure setting has been set back to 0.0, and I wonder if the pictures are going to be change so much if I revert to the value. Probably not much, I suspect.

This picture look like it could use some lower exposure compensation...

4) A balancing of the whiteness

This is something I found out, as bizarre as it may sound, when I was capturing a picture of a mushroom inside my bathroom. I thought the lighting was a bit too bright, so I fiddled around the setting until I found the white balance option:

Ever notice how some pictures turns out rather orange-ish when you view them later? Well, if the area is lighted by incandescent light, then the result would be as such:

To fix this, just adjust the camera's white balance to the respective light source (I haven't experimented with cloudy and flash setting, so I don't know how those works). Here's the result of applying a white balance for incandescent light. Not so orange now are we?

A word of caution: if you set the white balance for incandescent, do take note that taking a picture under sunlight might result in blue-ish flavour in the picture instead:

5) Cameras are focusing...

I guess I mentioned this point in #1, but I'll show you how sometimes the focus can go wrong even when you didn't rush on pressing the button:

See the cat? Instead of him/her, the picture is focused on the slippers instead. Why does the camera decide to focus on them instead of the cat, you ask? Well, I don't know, but I suspect it has something to do with how far the subject is distanced from the camera.

You can actually set the focus mode of the camera: either automatic, manual, face priority, or center (I guess this apply to other camera models as well, since I've seen some people using the face priority focus mode). I usually settle for auto, and when I want to be a bit more precise, center.

6) Balancing it up

Quite obvious: holding the camera with both hand will produce a less blurry picture than one taken single-handedly. Unless perhaps if you are in a crowd (ah yes, those conventions) and you have no other choice but to take a bird's eye view with one free hand...

I tried to steady my hand as much as I could, but it's hard when you get people brushing against you every now and then. I had to use flash in the end (see the figure in #2)

You also have to consider when it is the subject that is moving here and there, which would also result in blurry picture. For the latter, it might be a good idea to set your camera to continous mode, taking many frames of the subject in one burst (I myself haven't tried this method much, but I can see the merit of it).

7) Watch out for intrusions

Sometimes you never realise that out-of-place head or hand in your picture, until you view the pictures later. In some cases, cropping is the way to go.

But in some cases, there might not be much that you could do with the unwanted item, and you just have to take it like a man (or woman - I ain't gonna be sexist ok) and go take some other pictures.

And that's what little I've learned while playing around with my compact digital cameras. For extras, here are some photography techniques/tips that I've learned from my FMP. They might be elementary to some, but everyone's gotta start from somewhere right?

1) Bokeh

Perhaps a vert basic technique in photography, I once joked with my FMP that you might want to ask this to the DSLR-bearing people and see if they have any idea what the heck it means. And if they didn't pass this acid test... well, I pity the DSLRs, man.

This is my little attempt at bokeh, featuring a small pineapple, 2 cars in the background, and a strange person behind the camera who has nothing better to do than to take a picture of a small pineapple with 2 cars in the background:

2) Putting the right thing in the frame

My dad is especially particular about this. The point is this: if you want to capture a person in motion (let us say... a martial art session). Now, you wouldn't make the mistake of suddenly 'cutting off' his appendages from the frame, would you? Since it is those which are of interest to us. In other words, the right thing in the right frame (you could think of it as mentally cropping a subject).

One of my dad's favourite critique on this is 'kepala dia kena potong' (his head got cut off), which is funny if you look at it one way, but quite serious on the other hand. Well. Unless if you're aiming for the body-only look.

Here's a good bad example of various parts that got 'potong':

3) Lighting

Someone once told me that photography is all about capturing the light, and I can see what he meant by that: lighting can make all the difference in the outcome of the pictures.

I'm by no mean too knowledgeable (or particular) about lighting: my rule of thumb is that as long as the lighting is in such a way that the photos does not have too much noise in them (low lighting), or that the photos doesn't get too bright (too much lighting), then I'm all right with it.

Here's an example of a picture with sufficient lighting (the window was open, so there was abundant lighting for the subject):

This is actually a still from a video recording, but I liked how it turns out.

4) View the pictures afterwards (and take lots of 'em)

Since it is almost impossible to know whether the camera setting is right for the surrounding or not, it is a good idea to occasionally view those photos that you just take - in case you need to change the ISO, white balance, shutter speed etc. In fact, one thing I learned about photographers is that they should be able to react in the right way to a change in the settings - something which need a lot of trial and error, I'm sure.

'A good photographer takes many, many bad photos, and only select the best out of them' is what I've learned.

5) 'Even a baka could take acceptable pictures on DSLRs'

Or so says my dad (though I word it differently here). I'm sure some photographers would disagree with that statement (hey! you gotta know the right setting to get good pictures! you think using DSLR is an easy job, huh?), but from my own observations of the abundance of people carrying around DSLRs... I think that statement is not far from truth.

Well, perhaps I should rephrase the words: DSLRs are now cheap and easily available, than even people who have no inclination in photography - and also not bothering to learn more about them - could use them to take pictures, which will turn out to be better had the same person uses a compact digital camera.

EX) Why I can't call myself a 'photographer'

Someone once commented to my question on 'what makes a good photography?' that it is all about 'common sense'.

Well, too bad I'm lousy with common sense; my lousiness with common sense probably rival even that of ol' Sanae herself.

But that might be my part that is being too critical, heh.

So, um. Conclusions? I'm just a compact digital camera owner that occasionally take pictures of my surrounding (see, one of the reason why handing me a DSLR at this moment would be in vain). 'course, I won't mind handling them one of these days (the concept of fiddling and playing around with the settings, to see what works and what doesn't, is something quite... exciting to me - I guess I'm the type of person who's more interested in the steps rather than the outcomes). Until then, I'm slowly levelling up on my trusty S700, before moving up to the big guns.

Keep on shooting you crazy photographers!

OK, that was a bad pun. Have something that is more relevant:



  1. Well if you're not satisfied with your pictures, you could always open Photoshop and adjust the brightess, contrast, colour balance and such.

    but never, never use photo filters and effects. i've seen many good pictures got ruined with too much photoshopping your eyes could even bleed from that

  2. I've always liked photography but never felt like forking out any cash on a decent camera, after reading these tips and seeing how simple it can be to take good photographs I may look into a decent camera now.

  3. @N30: Photoshop can do wonders, although I'm pretty much clueless on the necessary adjustments to 'repair' the photos. Sounds like it's time for some trials and errors.

    I don't know about the filters, but I'm aware of the effects all right. I guess those are more for getting the 'artistic feel' rather than having a good photograph. But what do I know?

    @Claude: Well, it's all more of trial and error for my part. It'd be better if you know someone who's into photography too; at least you could get the hang of the camera before you get one for your own.

  4. I also only have a shitty point and shit, and I don't even use it much nowadays. My brother uses it more than I do. Photography seems like a fun hobby, though, so I take pictures of random crap from time to time.

    Also, this is some helpful advice here. I know some of this stuff, but I still manage to take horrible photos. I sometimes wonder whether it's my fault or the camera's. Something else about small cameras is that they're really shitty for someone as ham-handed as I. I think I'd care more for how the camera feels in my hands than the picture quality.

    >A good photographer takes many, many bad photos, and only select the best out of them

    Probably the most important thing to keep in mind. A single picture is rarely ever enough.

  5. That's some useful sounding advice, I think I need to try out some of that stuff about white balance and exposure levels. I don't know much at all about the science behind photography. It seems interesting though, and I'd like to be better at it.

    Maybe I should just keep taking a lot more photos.

  6. Thanks for this, I'm actually planning on buying a camera soon. If it's still on sale when I have the money, that is. It's just a regular compact digital camera, but that'll do since I'm not even good at taking pictures.

    But great guide, didn't know some of this stuff.

  7. @HHH: Yeah, sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the wrong thing, or if the camera indeed has some certain limitation, whenever the pictures turn out to be horrible. I think it's a mix of both - there's so much a compact could do compared to the DSLRs...

    @serenity: Yeap, I would say you go and take more photos. I learn some of the stuff I mentioned above that way (although, having someone with some knowledge in photography also helps)

    @Link: Glad to hear you find the post useful. Regular compact digital camera are quite good for starting things off. At least they're better than, say, camera-phones.

    Tho there's an exception to that... which I might post very soon.

  8. I follow the majority of the advice that you posted. The only reason I knew of it beforehand was because I goggled for tips on taking pictures so I could take decent pictures for my figure reviews.

    >I wonder if I'm doing the wrong thing, or if the camera indeed has some certain limitation, whenever the pictures turn out to be horrible.

    I have the same thoughts from time to time.

  9. @Cpt: I never actually looked for those tips before, seeing as I wasn't really too bothered about photography then. If it wasn't for my family, I'd probably still be content with just being able to take pictures on my camera without messing around with the settings.