How to take DSLR-like photos with a compact camera


A lot of newcomers to photography are not able to afford high end equipment, and often suffer from the delusion that good photographs can only come from expensive equipment. Is it possible for someone with a basic compact camera to take professional looking photographs? I believe it is, and have tried to put together some ways that you can maximize your compact camera experience.

The technological advances in digital photography equipment does indeed make it possible for you to take professional looking pictures with ease. By letting the on-board algorithms work out the best settings, you can free your mind to concentrate on subject and composition. However, if you take a walk down the creative photographers’ hall of fame, you will find that some of the most groundbreaking examples of photography have not depended on high end digital wizardry. As a matter of fact, most of the world’s most famous photos and photographers date back to the wet film era.

The man who taught me the basics of photography - my father (seen here holding a Kodak KB-10, one of the finest point-and-shoot wet-film cameras ever that sold for under 1000 rupees in the last days).

With the new generation of compacts putting their feet in the DSLR door both in terms of features and intelligence, it is not impossible to get professional looking photos with them. Most of these DSLR wannabes, though, are priced exorbitantly for a compact, and have just launched in the market in the last several months. Chances are that your compact is not as powerful or feature-packed as the new kids on the block. Here are some ways that you can use your point-and-shoot compact to get professional looking pics.


1. Get up, get down, jump!
Rethink the way you look through your camera lens. We live our daily lives at eye level. As a result, most of our thinking about composition is oriented to eye-level perspective. For landscape and nature photography, altering the perspective drastically can lead to some amazing pictures. Go down to the ground level and see how unnoticed aspects of your subject leap out from your frame. Find a tall tree or a building to allow you to capture a broader view of the foreground. Finding a higher point to shoot from is also useful at social occasions as it allows you to zoom in for candid close ups with an unique perspective. We tend to think in straight lines and right angles, subconsciously viewing the subject head on, or from the side. When you frame your shot, keep this conditioning in mind, and then move away from the right angle and see how you can bring in added creative tension to your photograph. Breaking your horizontal and vertical perspective conditioning can lead to very creative clicks. You will find more about getting up and getting down on my post on How to Photograph Children.


2. Compose like a pro
The two most common improvements that you can quickly make to your composition skills are to look out for straggler elements and to implement the rule of thirds. Stragglers are those little bits of someones head, a hand, electric lines, tree branches that are either left in or cut off at the edge of your photographs. While most people try and fix these by cropping their pictures in post production, keeping these in mind when framing and shooting will help you improve your photographs on the whole. Moreover, you can only remove things with cropping, if you have missed out half a brilliant smile, no post production is going to bring it back. The rule of thirds is a simple rule that lets you position elements and lines in your frame in the most effective way. This essentially asks you to visually divide your frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and use the lines and intersections thus created to position the elements of your picture, with the four intersection points recommended as the ideal position for the highpoint of your composition. Similarly, the theory explains that placing the lines in your composition along thirds of the frame result in more intense and aesthetically pleasing photographs. You can find more at the Digital Photography School tutorial on the rule of thirds and the one on breaking the rule of thirds.

3. Use your camera
Most people use their compacts on a perpetual auto mode or in one of the presets. Play around with your camera settings so that you can get the most out of it. Use the macro mode for getting extreme close ups or for getting bokehs while you frame your subject up close to the lens. Use the higher ISO settings for indoor shots and skip the flash. Use longer exposure times to get a blur in the background. Use the timer feature to compose unique self portraits. Most compacts come with a stitch assist type of program that lets you build a panoramic view. You can also use the presets of your camera to add a creative touch to your photographs. Use the beach or snow settings for your regular outdoor photography to get a mellower and warmer picture. Use the night mode without flash when shooting at more than 5 ft distance to get a softer fill lighting. Check your camera for all the things it can do and put those abilities to use in order to produce what your camera was meant to produce - amazing photos. You may want to see my review of Fujifilm X10 to get an idea of what some of the newer models pack in.


4. Free your imagination
One of the things that most amateur photographers do not try is to set up a photograph. What looks like a normal and spontaneous frame by the master is often the result of painstaking scene creation and setting up. You do not need a carload of props and accessories in order to set up a great shot. Start with an idea and then frame it, and start adding and/or subtracting elements from it. Simple props like old bedsheets (one white, one neutral, and one colored), a stool, and a couple of light sources are all that you need to start with. Keep in mind that removing elements from your frame is often as important as putting them in. The other aspect of setting a scene up is accessorizing. This can be anything from sprinkling some water on the subject or the foreground, or placing an incongruous object in the frame, from a fan to blow fabric, smoke or hair to a light source to add a reflection. Colors are also an useful way to add drama to a picture. The best part of this is that you can start doing this right away in your own home with what you have at hand. You may like what I wrote for Born Techie on 10 Popular Photography Hacks.

Small black ants seeking water at the base of flower pots in our balcony during the harsh Hyderabad summers. Used a macro setting with flash on a compact and cropped it close. The colors are natural and burn from the close flash.

5. Post production
The days of the untouched photo are behind us. Even purists would be uncomfortable without the protection that post production offers. You do not need advanced or expensive software or professional training to do post production work on your pictures. Even the most basic of photo applications, including the ones with online storage and sharing, come with the basic capabilities of post production. The most simple editing tweak that you can use for your photos is the crop. The basic principles behind cropping an image are to eliminate anything that is not essential to the picture like the stragglers mentioned above and to increase the dramatic tension by getting closer to the subject of the photo. You can also rotate and fix tilted photos, and get a more pleasing-to-the-eye frame. Other ways that you can use basic editing tweaks are to increase or decrease contrast and brightness. You can also turn your photo into a black and white or a sepia image, giving it a classic or vintage look. As you play around with image editing, you will want to advance to exercising greater control, and the field is wide open as far as what you can do. I use Irfanview for most of my work, and CS3 (I am old fashioned) for my professional work.

While the camera and its capabilities are important factors in producing high quality pictures, it is ultimately the photographer and his or her application of imagination that determine how the photographs will turn out. Use your creative mind to capitalize on whatever features your compact camera offers you to produce some stunning photos by trying out these tips here.

What are some of your favorite photography tips and tricks? Do share your thoughts and feedback in the comments thread below.

24 comments:

  1. Wow! You have indeed done a lot of exploration and discovery with the camera! I'm quiet in the very phase! :)

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  2. thanks for this information
    this will help me in my photography

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  3. hmmm , dont say thatttttttt :) I just spent so much money in getting a dslr camera .. you should have taught this earlier .. saved me some money :)


    Bikram's

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  4. I don't even consider myself an amateur photographer but these tips can be useful even for a guy like me. :)

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  5. hmm.. so I guess this post needs to be promoted to my fraands who are still dreaming for an SLR or those pricey cameraS!

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  6. Very very useful post. I'm sharing this.

    I'm going to be coming to you for my doubts on photography :)

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  7. @Jen - Enjoy the journey. The joy of discovering new ways to take pictures and new things to do with your photography is like watching a child grow up, it is meant to be savored fully.

    @Chirag - Honored to be of help, honored to have your comment.

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  8. Good tips. There is also another book called Trick Photography and Special effects by Evan Sharboneau. The book shows how to take almost pro type of snaps using point & shoot.

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  9. Very informative post....thanks for sharing.

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  10. @Bikram - Trust me, a DSLR is a DSLR, and other than composition, framing,and creativity, they offer you control and features that no compact really can.

    @D.Nambiar - I am just a student, and since I believe that teaching is the best way to learn, I share what I learn and discover for selfish reasons only. It will be an absolute honor to help you out in any way I possibly can.

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  11. @Akshay - if this post makes you pick up the nearest camera, be it a wet film point and shoot, a cellphone or iphone camera or a digital one, then it would have served its purpose.

    @JKHoNa - Promote. Promote. Nice to have you here at SJD. Do keep coming back.

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  12. @PhenoMenon - Thanks for the pointer, I will surely look out for that book.

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  13. @geet - Thanks for your comment. glad you found this post useful.

    @Seema - Thanks, Seema, as always. It is really a great feeling when you leave a comment on my posts.

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  14. "A photo is best if left unexplained and if you have to then it is nothing but a boring essay." So they say.

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  15. Simple and effective. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. Great tips to try next time. I was always using the Auto button on the camera. Recently started using the micro to take small closer objects. Tried the zoom for taking close-ups of distant things.
    will try the night mode and beach settings next time.
    thanks for the valuable tips.

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  17. Very informative.Sometimes photography is sharing your vision with the world.One doesn't need an SLR for that.

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  18. Good one...great tips...Know what me also use some of the skills u have mentioned in this post...these are very helpful....thanks for sharing!

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  19. Hi, I would like to nominate you for the Sunshine Award. Please do the needful and link to the blog mentioned below if you wish to collect the image for the award.
    Thanks and Regards,
    Nidhi!

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  20. Very interesting and useful. I was planning to buy a DSLR. But looks like I should try this first. You saved me a lot of bucks :)

    Here is something for you http://mymindtales.blogspot.com/2012/05/big-thank-you.html

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  22. Good tips. Btw the first photo is awesome, lovely composition. We need to get together and work again.

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