LEARN: How To: Digital Camera Tips
In This Guide
1. Introduction
2. Exposure Lock & Flash
3. Action Photos
4.
Advanced Exposure
5. Conclusion


Other Resources
Photo Glossary
Exposure Guide
Histogram Guide
Discuss Digital Cameras
More Photo How-To's
Digital Camera Resources

Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera Tips

Part 2: Exposure Lock and Flash

Focus / Exposure Lock
Every point-and-shoot digital camera has focus lock and exposure lock. When you push the shutter-release button down halfway, the camera locks the auto focus and the exposure. Once the exposure and focus are locked, you can move the camera around and recompose your photo any way you want without the focus or exposure changing. When you see what you want in the LCD or viewfinder, press the button the rest of the way to take your picture.

Your exposure will be determined by how bright your subject is. Point the camera at something bright and the camera will

Shutter release button exposure lock
Press the shutter release button halfway to lock the exposure and focus.
compensate by making the image darker. Point it at something dark and the photo will brighten up. Your camera's light meter wants to average everything to a medium gray. Pay attention to how bright the stuff in the middle of your photo is. With most cameras, the middle part of the frame determines your exposure. Sometimes a very small change in direction will make a big difference in exposure. Experiment by locking the exposure on different parts of your subject to see what difference it makes. If you're taking a picture of a person and it comes out too dark, take another one and make it lighter by locking the exposure on a shadow on their face or clothes. Don't worry about taking too many pictures - it's digital!
Exposure lock sample images
Exposure lock sample:
The photo on the left had the exposure locked in the middle. The image on the right had the exposure locked on the upper third of the image, causing the camera to adjust the exposure darker.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Remember that the focus also locks when you press the shutter release button halfway. So make sure that if you recompose, the distance between you and your subject doesn't change too much. Locking the focus and exposure also make the camera faster. When you depress the button halfway, the camera's makes all of its exposure and focus calculations. If you pre-focus, most of the work is already done and the camera can take the picture almost immediately after you press the button.



Use The Flash
Check your camera manual to find out how to access the flash controls. Some cameras have a dedicated button with a little lighting bolt symbol. Other cameras have the flash control in a menu. Once you find the flash control, check the flash options. Most cameras have a default "auto-flash" setting (lightning bolt symbol with the letter "A" next to it). This means the camera decides when to use the flash. Don't use the auto-flash setting if you can help it! With a little practice and effort, you can get much better photos than the auto-flash mode will produce.

I prefer to keep the flash off most of the time. Most of the time natural light looks better. Use the flash when there isn't enough light or when shadows are very harsh - like outdoor photos at midday (see fill flash samples below). When you do decide to use the flash, don't use the auto-flash mode. Use the flash-on mode, instead - usually indicated by a lightning bolt. With almost all point-and-shoot cameras, "forcing" the flash on results in photos with brighter backgrounds and well-lit subjects. The tiny flash on most digital cameras doesn't put out much light. They only have enough power to light subjects within about ten feet. But if you force the flash on, the camera will expose for the background, allowing the existing light to fill, and then the flash will correctly light your subject.

Fill flash sample images
Fill flash sample:
These photos were shot in harsh, bright, midday sunlight. I used fill flash for the photo on the right to open up the shadows.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Make sure you hold the camera still! If it's really dark, the camera will take a "long exposure" and any Self-portrait - dragging the shutter all over the place movement will blur the background. The flash will be bright enough to make sure your subject is sharp, though. This can actually be a fun effect, in the right circumstances. You can smear and blur the background for fun, creative effects. This is called "dragging the shutter." I do it all the time, just for the fun of it.

Note that using the flash can sometimes slow your camera's response time. Do your best to plan accordingly.



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