Most Digital Cameras above the entry-level (and even some at an entry-level price point) have features that will help you take better pictures – particularly important at once-in-a-lifetime events. Perhaps an upcoming event this is just what it takes to prompt you to get out that users’ manual you haven’t looked at recently and brush up on some of these features.
From a composition standpoint in photography, the most important of these features is a zoom lens. If you’ve got it, use it! And don’t just use it from a way up in the bleachers unless you’ve got at least 8X zoom. A zoom lens will give you a lot more flexibility in framing and composing that once-in-a-lifetime shot.
With your zoom lens, you may be able to get nicely framed shots from 15-30 feet away. But don’t be fooled just because the zoom lens makes it seem like you’re standing a lot closer. The maximum range of the built-in flash on most cameras is only about 10-12 feet. If you take flash pictures from farther away than that, your images will come out underexposed. There is a solution, however, if your camera has a feature known as white balance control. Check your users’ manual to see if it does.
If so, you can turn off the flash and take your pictures using ambient light. To take pictures under ambient light conditions, especially indoors, you’ll want to make two adjustments. First, you’ll want to compensate for the colour of the ambient light. Taking non-flash pictures indoors without doing this will result in images with a yellowish cast. Some cameras have an automatic white balance; on others, you need to adjust it manually. Following the instructions for your particular camera, look for an icon showing an incandescent light bulb or a fluorescent light, depending on the type of light conditions under which you’ll be shooting.
The second adjustment you’ll have to make to your normal picture-taking habits is to use a tripod or a camera stick to steady the camera. Under low-light conditions, your camera will use slow shutter speed to get the proper exposure – perhaps as slow as 1/8th of a second to 1/4 of a second. Unless you have very steady hands, camera shake can be a problem at shutter speeds slower than about 1/30th to 1/60th of a second.
If your pictures are coming out a bit light or dark, your camera may have a feature that enables you to easily increase or decrease the exposure value (EV) in 1/3 or 1/2 step increments so that your pictures are perfectly exposed. But even if your camera doesn’t have this feature, one of the great things about digital photography is that common problem like this are easy to correct in your “digital darkroom”, using the software that came with your camera. One other common feature you have to become familiar with is fill flash. This flash mode is generally used outdoors during the daytime. It will help in two situations.
The first is where your subject has a shadow falling across his or her face (perhaps from that mortarboard you insisted they wear so you could take their picture in all of their graduation regalias!). The second situation is where you are taking a portrait against a backdrop (perhaps some great scenery) that is better lit than your subject’s face. Without fill flash, if you properly expose the face, the background will be washed out. But if you expose for the background, his or her face comes out too dark. With fill-flash, you can get both foreground and background properly exposed.