Inspiration Photography

How to fool your point-and- shoot camera into thinking it’s a DSLR

These little babies can play.


For the research into this article, my friend Pat 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, 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.

Portrait mode softens the edges. Food, Flower and Macro modes allow for small details to be in focus.

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.

Sports mode.

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.

Scenery Mode takes care of sharpening details from foreground to background.

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 in three weeks!), 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.

Slow shutter at the Orange County Fair.

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.

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