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Cheat Sheet

Photography For Dummies

Photography is a fun and gratifying hobby that can make you very popular with the people in your pictures — or very unpopular. To get the most of a point-and-shoot camera, digital or not, the first skill to master is locking the focus. You can fine-tune your photography skills so that your photos come out sharp, colorful, and more interesting. Occasionally, your camera may not let you take a photo, and knowing what to do when that happens can save time and frustration.

How to Lock the Focus on a Point-and-Shoot Camera

If you’re taking up photography using a point-and-shoot camera, the first skill you need to master is getting the camera to focus on the image you want. The only way to make sure that an autofocus point-and-shoot focuses correctly — especially if the main subject isn’t centered in the frame — is to lock the focus before you take a picture.

  1. Look through the viewfinder — or at the viewing screen on a digital point-and-shoot — and place its focus point (the marks in the middle) on the main subject.

    Doing this centers the subject in the frame.

  2. Press the shutter button halfway down to lock the focus.

  3. Holding the shutter button halfway down, compose the shot the way you want.

  4. Press the shutter button all the way to take the picture.

What to Do If Your Point-and Shoot Won’t Let You Take a Picture

You’re out being a photographer, snapping pictures right and left, when all of a sudden the camera won’t let you take a picture no matter how hard you press on the shutter button. When that happens, try these suggestions:

  • *Reload the film. The camera tells you it’s having trouble engaging the film by flashing an E (for empty) or 0 on its display panel after you close the camera back.

  • Insert a memory card. If you’re using a digital point-and-shoot, it won’t let you take a picture unless it has a place to save it! Your camera may also lock up if the memory card is full, in which case you need to replace it with an empty one or erase pictures you’ve already taken to make room for more.

  • Reinstall, replace, or recharge the battery or batteries. You may have put the batteries in backward; refer to diagrams or symbols inside the battery compartment for correct installation. If the battery is too weak to power the camera, it alerts you to this problem with a “low battery” symbol.

  • Wait until the red or orange flash-ready lamp stops blinking and glows steadily. The flash takes several seconds to charge (when you turn the camera on) or recharge (after you take a flash picture) — and it won’t let you shoot while it’s charging.

  • Step back from the subject. An autofocus lens can’t focus if you’re too close — and if the lens can’t focus, the camera won’t let you take a picture. The camera tells you that you’re too close by rapidly blinking the viewfinder’s focus-OK lamp, which is usually green.

  • Wait for your digital point-and-shoot camera to finish “saving” the picture to its memory. This process can take as long as ten seconds, during which the camera won’t let you shoot.

How to Prevent Dull, Washed-out Point-and-Shoot Photographs

Photography involves making adjustments to get the perfect picture. Even if you’re a point-and-shoot photographer, you can fine-tune things to get more colors in your photos. The following list contains two of the most common causes of dull color, lack of detail, and flat gray or brown tones and what to do about them:

  • Symptom: Can barely make out the main subject in a flash picture taken at night or by artificial light (such as in a sports stadium).

    • Cause: Subject was too far away for the flash to reach.

    • Solution: Get closer to the subject (within 15 or 20 feet), if possible. If not, turn off the flash and use a faster film (ISO 800) or set a higher ISO (if your digital point-and-shoot allows this).

  • Symptom: Colors are washed out, tones weak in a nonflash shot taken in dim light.

    • Cause: Film did not receive enough exposure to light.

    • Solution: Use a faster film (ISO 800 or 1600). Or, if the subject is close enough, set fill-flash or slow-sync flash mode.

Other problems may be due to photofinishing errors; you may have to ask the developer to reprint the photo.

Tips for Taking Good Point-and-Shoot Photographs

Photography is about capturing and preserving images, and as a photographer, you want to take the best pictures you can. If you’re using a point-and-shoot camera, use these simple tricks to help improve your photographs:

  • Always lock the focus before taking a picture.

  • Frame, don’t aim. Use the whole viewfinder or viewing screen to compose your shot. With people pictures, place heads near the top rather than dead-center.

  • Get closer. In most photographs, the main subject is too small — and getting closer when you shoot is the best way to make the subject bigger.

  • Use flash outdoors. Set your point-and-shoot’s fill-flash mode whenever possible. It softens the unflattering facial shadows created by direct sunlight and brightens a subject lit from behind without washing out the background.

  • Use a fast film. ISO 400 print film should be your standard film. If you like to zoom your lens way in to make the subject bigger, use ISO 800 film instead. These super-quality films lessen picture-wrecking blur and improve background detail in flash shots.

  • Shoot from a different angle. Eye level is often not the best height from which to take pictures. Try squatting for a low angle, or standing on a chair for a high one.

  • Place the subject off-center. This is an easy way to make your pictures more interesting. But off-center composition makes locking the focus all the more imperative!

How to Take Sharp, Focused Point-and-Shoot Photographs

If you’re an artiste and a photographer, you may occasionally want a picture to be out of focus, but in everyday photography, a fuzzy photo is a no-no. Symptoms of this common photographic affliction and how to diagnose and cure it appear in the following list:

  • Symptom: Something other than the main subject is sharp — usually the background.

    • Cause: Camera focused on the wrong thing.

    • Solution: Lock the focus on the main subject before shooting.

  • Symptom: Overall unsharpness, often with a glowing quality or a slight halo around light areas of the subject.

    • Cause: Smudge on the lens.

    • Solution: Clean the lens with lens cleaning tissue and solution.

  • Symptom: Overall unsharpness in nonflash pictures, sometimes with visible blur or streakiness.

    • Cause: Involuntary camera shake.

    • Solution: Use a faster film (ISO 400 or 800) or set fill-flash mode to force the flash to fire.

  • *Symptom: The main subject is unsharp, but things right behind it are sharp.

    • Cause: Subject too close.

    • Solution: With autofocus models, make sure that the viewfinder’s focus-OK lamp glows steadily before shooting — and back up a little if it’s blinking. With non-autofocus (focus-free) models, stay at least four feet from the subject.

If none of these solutions helps, the problem may be with your lens or focusing system — and may require repair.

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