You may have seen the first five of David Pogue's "Top Ten Tips of All Time" in last week's post--here are the remaining five tips from him. And remember, if you can think of any other tips to add, leave a comment and I'll send you a copy of his new book, David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual.
Without further ado... tips #6-10:
6. Turn off the flash whenever you can.
Unfortunately, the typical compact camera tries to use its flash way too often. "If in doubt, flash," seems to be its motto. But flash photography is usually harsh, bright, and unsubtle. The flash makes your subjects look bleached-out and nuclear, and simultaneously creates the "cave effect" behind them (the room turns pitch dark). You can get much more beautiful, realistic, nuanced photos by turning of the flash. On a pocket camera, you generally press the lightning-bolt button and then scroll to Flash Off.
The problem now is that you'll get blur if the camera isn't perfectly steady. So hold your breath and keep your elbows tight against your rib cage. Better yet, prop your arms or the camera on a table, door frame, tree, car roof, fence post, whatever's nearby and not moving. Boost the ISO, too.
Above all, turn the darned thing off when you're in the audience--for a play, a
concert, a sports match, whatever. A typical digital camera's flash has a range
of about eight feet. In other words, using it at the school play does nothing but
fluster the performers.
7. Turn on the flash for sunny outdoor portraits.
It might not occur to you to use the flash when you're taking pictures of people on a bright, sunny day. It certainly doesn't occur to the camera. Problem is, the camera "reads" the scene and concludes that there's tons of sunlight. But it's not smart enough to recognize that the face you're photographing is in shadow. You wind up with a dark, silhouetted face. The solution is to force the flash on--a common photographer's trick. The flash can provide just enough fill light to brighten your subject's face. It eliminates the silhouette effect. Better yet, it provides very flattering front light. It softens smile lines and wrinkles, and puts a nice twinkle in the subject's eyes.
8. No tripod? Improvise.
Another chronic problem with pocket cams is getting blur when you don't want it--which is just about anytime you're indoors without the flash. Yeah, yeah, we know: "Use a tripod." But come on: For the average person on vacation or at a school event, buying, hauling around, and setting up a tripod is a preposterous burden. So look around for something solid. Often, there's a wall, parked car, bureau, tree, pillar, door frame, or some other big, stationary object you can use to prop up either the camera or your arms.
But here's the best part: It turns out that the threads at the top of just about any lamp--the place where the lampshade screws on--are precisely the same diameter as a tripod mount! In a pinch, you can whip off the lampshade, screw on the camera (just a couple of turns--don't force it), and presto: You've got a rock-steady indoor tripod. It looks nutty, but it works.
9. Use the self-timer when sharpness counts.
Most people think of the self-timer as a feature for group photos. But using the self-timer has another huge advantage: It lets you fire the shutter without touching the camera. In low light, at slow shutter speeds, even the act of pushing the shutter button is enough to jiggle the camera--and that guarantees you'll get a blurry shot.
10. Exploit the magic hour.
The hour after sunrise, and the hour before sunset, are the magic hour or the golden hour. You get what photographers call "sweet light"--a golden glow that makes everybody and everything look peaceful and beautiful, with no harsh shadows or severe highlights. Very sweet indeed.
That concludes David's Top Ten Tips of All Time, but to read more about how to take better pictures, check out David's book.