What You Can Do with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

Beginning digital photographers are likely to start with “point and shoot” cameras which do everything for you: focus automatically, expose automatically. Some of these cameras have rather low resolution capabilities. My first was a 2 megapixel Fuji. Nevertheless, even with simple and inexpensive cameras like that you can take some terrific photos if you are at the right place at the right time.  And I’m not just talking about capturing interesting moments, but also planning your shooting to take advantage of good outdoor light (which happens around sunrise and sunset). In this thread I’d like to share with you some of point-and-shoot shots of which I’m proud, and a few SLR shots to illustrate what can’t be done with a point-and-shoot camera.

O.K., here’s a point-and-shoot photo, taken with my first digital camera, a 2 megapixel Fuji:

chipmunk
Notice how clear the chipmunk is. He was about five feet away. But notice also how clear the distant mountains are. Everything’s in focus from about two feet to infinity. Point-and-shoot cameras are good at that. Their lenses are designed to give ample “depth of field”, that is, the region in which all subjects are in focus. You don’t have to set a special aperture to achieve a wide DOF with them. This is a wonderful advantage in taking landscapes, where you want an object in the foreground, in clear focus, to lead the viewer’s eye to something in the background, which also must be in clear focus, as here:

Getty Center, red and red
Sometimes, of course, you would rather not have the background in focus, because the detail there distracts from the subject of interest in the foreground, as in portraits. Take the portrait below, for instance, taken with my 9 megapixel Fuji point-and-shoot camera:

braids
Here the background distracts from the sparkling eyes of the child. The background tells you a bit about the street on which she lives, but you’d rather concentrate on her, and you have too much going on in the background to do that. No matter how hard you try with a point-and-shoot camera, you can’t blur the background with the camera. You can blur it in processing the photo, but the lens has too good a depth of field to permit what photographers call “good bokeh”, that gentle, blurred background which may give the bare suggestion of context, but doesn’t detract from the subject in the foreground; as in the shot below, taken with my Nikon D200 SLR, with 420mm of focal length (a 300 telephoto lens, plus 1.4x booster, called a teleconverter):

sassy lady

Of course, there are ways to solve the busy background problem if you’re using  a point-and-shoot. The most obvious solution is to pose your subject in front of something blank, a blank wall, for instance. Or, if the background is dark enough, your subject will be nicely shown against it. In this flash portrait of my granddaughter, I captured her eating an apple in front of an open window at night. There was some bounced light off the glass, but I was able to remove that later with the patch tool in Photoshop:

second_eve.jpg

And speaking of Photoshop, or its free second cousin, GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program), you can use the “lens blur” filter in either of these programs to blur the background of your photo when you process it.  Below is an example, taken with my Leica D-Lux4 point-and-shoot, ant then treated afterwards with Photoshop’s lens blur filter:

singing_small_shepherds

So you see, point-and-shoots’ inability to blur backgrounds isn’t such a problem after all, provided that you are willing to spend time afterwards  “doctoring” your portraits with a good photo editor.  I’ll show you in an upcoming post how to do this.

One clear advantage that point-and-shoot cameras have over SLRs is their portability. On a hike you can whip one out of your pocket and get an action shot in an instant’s inspiration:

magic_wood_2

Try that with a bulky SLR! Also, small point-and-shoot cameras are easy to hide. When your grandchildren get self-conscious, it’s much easier to catch them unaware with a small camera than a larger one:

dandelion
So much of taking good pictures is learning about good light, which happens around sunset and sunrise. You can take fabulous pictures with a point-and-shoot camera if you rise early or put off supper. Here’s one taken just before sunrise, taken with my point-and-shoot Fuji held tightly against a bridge railing:

morningmoon.jpg

And here’s another, taken just before sunset one evening when the sun was behind a tree and the light was coming around the tree trunk and glistening on the snow:

icehilltree.JPG
If you happen to notice stark contrasts between dark and light, and have a way to steady your point-and-shoot, you can make very dramatic shots, as here, where there were lights playing on the bronze statue of the soldiers and the bare branches of the trees behind, but otherwise, nothing but blackness. And the tiny moon, which when I moved the camera a wee bit, ended up leaving a heart light above the dead soldier lying in his buddy’s arms (sometimes you just get lucky):

night_soldiers
Sometimes you have to plan ahead to be in the right place at the right time. When touring the Caribbean town of Curacao I noted how wonderfully colorful the main street was. But in the noonday glare it would not have made a good picture. So, I waited several hours and returned in the gentle 5:30 evening glow:

curacao_bridge

Another thing that you can do with a point-and-shoot camera almost as well as with a more expensive one is capture a strong design. When touring Longwood Gardens (again, near sunset), I spied the lotus blossom below, among lilly pads. The color and the shapes and the contrast of dark water against brilliant blossom caught my eye. The fact that this closeup isn’t quite as tack sharp as it would have been had I had my SLR doesn’t detract, I think, from the striking composition of the shot:

pink_lotus
Many point-and-shoot cameras have a macro setting for taking pictures at very close range. Sometimes you can take very clear pictures this way:

fly_on_mum
The problem is, there is no way to tell with many point-and-shoots when you’re getting too close for the macro setting to work properly. It’s hit or miss. That’s why, if you want to do really crisp closeups, you’ll need to invest in a point-and-shoot with a really good lens and macro focusing capability. The picture above was taken with my Leica D-Lux4, just such a camera.

10 thoughts on “What You Can Do with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

  1. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your thoughts on point and shoot cameras. I’m just getting started in photography and thought that this type of camera was my best option to start. Good pictures are possible! You’ve confirmed that I don’t need to get hung up on the fact that I don’t have a lot of a fancy equipment.

    Keep on sharing…

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