Category Archives: Gear

How to Fool your Point and Shoot into Thinking it’s a DSLR

For the research into this article, my friend Pat Neale lent me her pocket Casio Exilim camera. Thanks Pat!

Humph, you say. How can a puny little point and shoot be like a DSLR?

Although compact cameras are cute and lightweight, they can be—believe it or not—quite powerful. If you’re into carrying your equipment in a pocket instead of a backpack, the machine fondly called a “point and shoot” might just be for you.

If you like photography but have no inclination or budget to pop a few thousand dollars into a toy machine, a point and shoot can still deliver some awesome sauce images for you.

Here are some ways you can fool your compact camera into thinking it’s a dSLR.

The key to making point and shoots think like dSLRs is to consider these two things: the shooting situation and the settings that give you a good shot in those situations.  Compact cameras have ready made settings that allow you to match the setting to the type of shooting situation you face.

Usually when you’re shooting with your dSLR, you’re going to adjust the following to get a good shot given any situation: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. But what if you don’t have that luxury?

The answer is in learning the camera adjustments for different settings in the point and shoot camera.

Still Subjects

Some subjects can keep still, such as most folks who ask you to take their portrait, still life, the great meal you’re about to eat, a sweating glass of lemonade. For these subjects in considerably ample light, you need a relatively low ISO, a way to blur the background with a shallow depth of field, and  a shutter speed that’s inversely proportional to your focal length.  For a normal shot that fills the frame when you are around 1-2 meters from the subject, you can use the Portrait setting.

But the Portrait mode of a compact camera usually softens the edges of what’s in your frame. If you are after details, you can try the Food or Flower settings, which generally switch the camera to macro mode.  That way, you can catch every sesame seed in the salad, or the beads of sweat in that ice cold glass of lemonade.

Moving Subjects

If you are shooting moving subjects, say the people at an outdoor fresh food market in Vietnam, you can no longer rely on Portrait setting.

Moving subjects need you to have a fast shutter speed to freeze their motion and keep them sharp. If you want to increase your shutter speed in a point and shoot, there are several ways you can compensate using a pre-programmed setting.

Sports setting bumps up the shutter speed automatically. So does the Children setting. Pet, Party, Splashing Water also increase shutter speed. You can use all these to make sure your focusing is faster and the camera responds quickly when you press the shutter.

If you are making portraits by zooming at people from a distance, you also need a higher shutter speed to compensate for the focal distance and keep  your subject sharp. Using the settings mentioned in the previous paragraph helps you to keep your shutter speed fast and keep your photo sharp.

Depth of field

If you want to increase the depth of field to make sure that the foreground, subject and background are sharp, there are settings that take care of this, too. Scenery and Portrait with Scenery help you to increase the overall sharpness of the elements you included in the photo.

Color bias

If you are looking for a certain hue that adds oomph to a photo, compacts can deliver those, too.  A scene that has lots of green in it might benefit from the setting called Natural Green; this setting enhances the green hues. If the scene has a lot of red, such as a display during Chinese New Year (coming up this weekend!), you might want to enhance red hues and use the Autumn Leaves setting. Other settings that add a color bias to your scene is Twilight, giving a magenta tint to a shot, and Sundown, which gives the photo a red filter effect to accentuate yellows, oranges, and reds.

Slow shutter

Yes, this little baby can play.

If you want to use a slow shutter for subjects like fireworks, moving water, night scapes, and portraits in diminishing light, your compact camera may have settings that help you do that. Pat’s Casio Exilim has settings like Soft Flowing Water, Night, Night Portrait, and Fireworks that can slow down the shutter and render similar effects to a dSLR shooting at low ISO, small aperture and slow shutter speed.

It is important, though, to use something to steady this type of shot. The exposure takes a while, so any small movement of a handheld compact can blur the resulting image.

 But does it have a timer?

Yes. There is a two-second timer on a compact camera. Set it on a surface or tripod, focus, set the timer, and you’ve got a remote-released slow shutter shot.

In conclusion, a point and shoot doesn’t really mean you just point and then shoot. All the decisions you make about how to create a good exposure still apply—by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get a sharp, appropriately lit image.

But the difference is, the camera can render the combination for you. All you have to do is to figure out what values you need for the trinity of photography, and you’re bound to produce a shot that works.


If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our new Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!

In case you missed last week’s module, check out this article here and here.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos


Edge of shadows copyright Aloha Lavina.

Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?

I was truly disappointed when Nikon posted this on their Facebook page “A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses, and a good lens is essential to taking good pictures! Do any of our facebook fans use any of the NIKKOR lenses? Which is your favorite and what types of situations do you use it for?”

Nikon later posted a sort of apology, “We know some of you took offense to the last post, and we apologize, as it was not our aim to insult any of our friends.”

But the question is out there now. It annoys photographers immensely when someone says, “That’s a great picture. What camera do you use?”

As if the years of practice didn’t count, only the camera. Sometimes, the size of the camera around the photographer’s neck is the thing that impresses people the most. Thus is propelled the commercial perpetuity of the camera companies.

And so the hobbyist who’s just starting out with that camera that isn’t so big and doesn’t have that fancy lens begins to doubt they have what it takes to improve their photography, and questions why they should continue with their hobby.

Although it is true that professional photographers need the flexibility and control a complicated dSLR affords, it is untrue that the most expensive gear makes you a better photographer.

When I first started with digital cameras, I came across a young man named Joey Lawrence in a forum called DP Challenge.

This young man was using a one-megapixel point and shoot.

And he was winning challenges left and right with his dramatically lit images. Joey L was using that little camera to capture some amazing images. Here’s a screen capture of one of his shots.

Man in Black by Joey L from DP Challenge

One of Joey L's winning shots taken with a point and shoot. Copyright Joey L.

Joey L now uses professional camera bodies for his commercial work, but when he used a little point and shoot, you could already see his “signature” on his images. It’s this signature that makes him the photographer he is. It’s called vision.

It’s the skill of knowing how to light. The camera has a great computer which meters on the light in a scene and calculates what to do to render a good exposure. But it is easily fooled, flooding the sensor with light when the scene is too dark, or making a subject too dark when against a brightly lit background. It’s the photographer who controls the camera to see what he or she sees, making the image.

Edge of shadows copyright Aloha Lavina.

The shadows fool the camera's meter. The photographer makes it right. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

It’s the skill of knowing what makes a good composition. Cameras do not think about balance, about tension, about color palettes in an image. The photographer does, and the photographer decides how to create these elements.

It’s the skills of artistry. What to include in the frame, what to exclude, to make a message. It’s how shallow to make the depth of field, or how sharp everything needs to be. It’s how the values need to be, to create contrast.

flanked by shadow Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina

The camera is merely a tool to render what you see in the mind's eye. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rob and Lauren Lim over at Photography Concentrate wrote about how studies point to the value of the photographer behind the lens. The studies found that “One of the biggest differences was in how [artistic people] think. Experts tend to notice more details, and have more understanding of their thought processes.”

So it’s not your camera.

It’s you.

It’s the hours you spend getting to know the gear you have, practicing the skills you learn, learning some more, and being persistent. It’s being reflective and imaginative, and always reaching for that next level in your creative approach.

geometric shadows copyright Aloha Lavina

It's not the gear, but the gears working in your head that makes a shot. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

No camera or gear upgrade will give you good images automatically. Conversely, no matter what gear you have, if your vision is strong and your skills are strong, your pictures will come out strong.

Hold that camera in your hands–the one you have now–as what it is, the tool that you can use to capture your vision.

Unleash yourself on a learning spree, take lots and lots of pictures, and again, learn from what you do. Ultimately, you are the author of that signature.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Are You Paying Attention?
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

low angle desert bloom copyright Aloha Lavina

Three Things to Love about the Canon 60D

That the 5DMkII’s mirror came loose is a blessing.

The 60D this week proved to me that it is a great tool for travel photography. I had traveled with the 60D before, to Bhutan in the wintertime, and I noticed that it suffered a bit from condensation that happened when it was very cold outside—the viewfinder fogged up, and the photos came out with their very own involuntary blurring, which made focusing a challenge. The camera also feels very light in the hands. For someone used to the hefty Nikon D3 combined with the weight of a 24-70mm f/2.8 Nano lens, I didn’t feel that the 60D was a solid machine in my hands.

But for the past two weeks in California, I’ve been using the 60D every day, and it has proven to be a great camera. Three things I have come to love about the 60D are its weight (yes!), the vari-angle LCD screen, and its compatibility with Canon’s EF lenses.

Since this assignment requires me to bring three lenses, I’ve come to appreciate the lighter weight of the 60D. Roaming the countryside from sunup to sundown, the camera sits well in my favorite Crumpler 6 Billion Dollar Home with the 50mm f/1.2, the 16-35mm f/2.8, and the 70-200mm f/2.8. Also always in my bag are an Epson P-7000, extra camera batteries, a notebook, passport, iPod, a polarizing filter in its case, a screw-on ND filter in its case. Usually, the bag would bulge because with the rest of the inventory, I had to pack in the D3, and the bulk of its grip would hit into my hip constantly; the weight of course made my shoulder ache. With the 60D, the bag felt slim, kept its shape, and didn’t have the bulging it usually experienced. I’ve been walking with this sling bag every day for at least 12 hours, I rarely put it down even when making long exposure sunset shots, and my shoulders are fine. The weight of the 60D is definitely a plus for an itinerant photographer.

slow shutter in June Lakes California copyright Aloha Lavina

June Lake area, California. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The vari-angle LCD screen is something I dismissed the first time I used the 60D, but it has become the best part of the camera for me. You can flip the LCD screen so that the LCD is tucked into the camera back to protect it when traveling. When you need to use it to compose, it swivels out and flips 180 degrees. It really makes those low, low angles possible to compose in without putting out your back! I enjoyed this feature a lot since I didn’t have to lie down on the cold ground in Yosemite to make low angle shots.

low angle desert bloom copyright Aloha Lavina

Low angle shots will always be fun with the 60D. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I also found the screen useful for an efficient composition workflow. I composed with the screen and looked at it while adjusting the tripod head, angle, and making decisions about orientation in the image. A great feature is the horizon helper—the horizon bar on the screen shows up green when it’s straight, so you don’t have to guess, especially if you’ve got horizon tilt bias, which I seem to have. After the adjustments, I just switch the camera back to the ‘info’ mode which displays all my settings on one screen, focus through the viewfinder, and then trigger the camera with the remote.

Bodie, California copyright Aloha Lavina

Low angle shot in Bodie, California. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The third advantage of using a 60D is its compatibility with the lenses I use with the 5DMkII. The EF lenses I brought on this trip were bought because of their exemplary quality. These lenses are superb products, and if used well, focus accurately and produce sharp images with vibrant color. They are versatile and fast, useful for small-aperture landscapes as well as low-light portraiture. I don’t own a lot of Canon lenses, and these lenses do a wide range of work. So for the lenses to fit the 60D is definitely a plus for the camera.

Honestly, I think the 60D is going to be a mainstay in my bag. And it won’t just be a backup camera. It will be a valued tool that will not only help me make images, but help me travel well.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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You Need to Get that Backup Camera
So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…Can You Handle It?
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Keep Your Camera in Motion
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