Whether you are a novice picture-taker who shoots everything with your smartphone, or an SLR photographer looking to downsize your gear, there will be moments when you wish you just had a lightweight multi-functioning point & shoot camera. Especially when you are traveling and want to take the best possible photos with the least amount of gear and effort. These tips will help you make the most of your point & shoot camera, whether or not you have any real understanding of the technical aspects of photography.
When I was assigned to write this article, I panicked. Not only do I rarely use a point & shoot (P&S) camera, but the only one I had was almost 10 years old! Before the big kids (Canon & Nikon SLRs) came out with video capabilities, I carried around a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 simply for the purpose of capturing sound and movement, and to tell more of the “story” behind the photos. Plus, I could take it underwater because back then, it was still worthwhile to design (affordable) water housing even for a P&S camera model. And lastly, the SLRs I used did not have built-in flash, so the P&S was good for times when I wanted to take candid “snapshots” of friends at parties. Well, along came the iPhone, which was handy, easy to use, and had the ability to upload images and video directly to the web. So my old Panasonic point & shoot was passed on to my kid, and I honestly hadn’t missed it much.
Why Update my Point & Shoot?
Point & shoot cameras have come a long way in 10 years. It seems every few months a new model with new functions appears on the shelf by every brand under the sun. I still swear by my old Panasonic Lumix – it is simple, functional, and keeps right on working. But I still have to upload images from a memory card to computer. Many manufacturers have developed wi-fi enabled cameras and apps that allow you playback, edit, and share to social media using your phone. Well, no sooner did I dust off my old Lumix when Panasonic provided me with a brand spanking new version – the Lumix DMC-ZS60. Suddenly I had 10 years of improvements and even a fastpass to the future with this forward-thinking point & shoot camera! I’m still play around all the functionality – 4K video, wi-fi remote control, 30x zoom, post-focus, etc., so this article is not to review the ZS60. But having both new and old models in hand, along with a couple of other borrowed and tested P&S models, I aim to provide tips that will help you get the most from ANY point & shoot camera.
What is the Best Camera for Travel?
The best camera is the one you have with you. Period. Having the most expensive camera won’t make you a better photographer. The camera is simply the tool with which the photographer composes and records a moment in time.
It just so happened that when I saw the solo traveler in the mist overlooking Machu Picchu, I had been shooting video with my Panasonic Lumix P&S. So I snapped a quick still with the Lumix, before switching the lens on my SLR to get the same shot. Well, by the time I had done so, the person moved on, or was joined by a crowd, or the mist moved in, I forget exactly what changed, but the “moment” was gone. Had I not grabbed the shot with the point & shoot camera I had in hand, the cover would not be mine. So before you advanced/pro photographers dismiss ever using a point & shoot, remember, the camera is just the tool.
Gearing It Down
Speaking of tools, as a travel photographer, lugging around various camera bodies, lenses, flashes, and accessories gets to be a burden. I tire of my carry-on bag being heavier than my checked bag. So really, a lightweight point & shoot camera is much more ideal for traveling. Look for a Point & Shoot that has a good zoom range, at least 10x, and you’ll never want to carry a telephoto lens again. Case and point:
As I crossed a bridge in Hidden Lake Forest Preserve (Illinois), I could hear the “peeping” frogs, but it took a while to spot one with the naked eye. Once I did, I was able to use my point & shoot zoom to get a real close up look, even though I was a good 20 feet away. That’s a perfect example of why your iPhone just isn’t as good as a real camera!
The Basics – Mandatory!
- MEMORY: Be sure you have sufficient space on your memory card, and always carry a spare. How many times have you grabbed your camera heading out the door to that once in a lifetime event, only to turn it on blinking “card full”, or “no card”? Usually, only once. Because once you’ve blown it, this never happens again.
- POWER: Make sure your battery is fully charged, and always carry a spare fully charged battery, and a charger. How many times have you grabbed your camera heading out the door to your precious child’s recital, only to turn it on blinking “low battery,” or perhaps not turning on at all? Once. Warning: the mom-guilt (or dad-guilt) outlasts the memory of the actual event.
Pssst! Here’s a great deal you can get right now exclusively from TravelingMom! Link here to purchase a Panasonic Lumix ZS60 and receive a free travel kit (spare battery and charger). Visit your local Panasonic dealer to get your hands on it now!
- PROTECTION: No matter how lightweight and pocket sized your camera, please, for the love of all things photo-worthy, don’t just stash it in your pocket or purse. Invest in a soft-sided case to keep the dust out and prevent major damage should you drop it. Even if you have a wrist strap, don’t ever rely on it alone; always make sure you are holding the actual camera body with your hand. I have seen a brand new point & shoot camera break into pieces when it simply swung out from the user’s wrist and hit a wall.
Right. Now that we’re clear on the critical basics….
Point & shoot cameras are really, REALLY smart, and they make taking pictures really easy. That’s why they’re called “point & shoot,” because essentially, that’s all you need to do. It’s easy to just set the camera to auto-everything (dummy mode) and shoot away. For the most part, the camera does a good job of measuring light, focal distance, and action. But a few simple adjustments on your part can make a big difference in the results. So following are tips designed to give you optimal results while you let the camera do all the technical decision-making.
Be Your Own Tripod
Hold the camera with both hands as close to your body as possible. This will better stabilize it for handheld shooting. Somewhere along the way, the viewfinder was eliminated in favor of an LCD display screen on the back of point & shoots. Ideally, you want a camera that has both. Looking through the viewfinder keeps the camera close to your face, and thus more stable. Without a viewfinder, holding your elbows close to your frame is a good habit to develop.
Adjust your LCD Display Screen
While the display screens are great, they can be hard to view in bright sunny conditions, so you don’t always get the picture you think you’re taking. But if the screen is all you have on your camera, then get familiar with settings to brighten or dim the screen. The brighter the light, the brighter you want your screen. For darker shooting conditions, dim your screen down.
Turn the Flash Off
Go into your menu and turn the flash off. These days, Point & Shoot cameras just get better and better for shooting in low light, with a higher ISO range. This means it is more sensitive to ambient light, and capable of drawing in more available light. Only ever resort to using flash when absolutely necessary.
Auto-Focus Tip: Pre-Focus, then Compose
Aim the camera with your subject centered and press the shutter button half way. Keeping your finger lightly on the button, re-compose so that your subject is to one side of the frame and press the button completely. As long as you’ve pressed halfway to focus on your subject, and don’t release your finger, the focus will stay on your subject. If your auto-focus box is in the center of the frame, but your subject is to the side, the camera will focus on the center and your subject may not be in focus. If you are taking a shot of two people standing side by side together, be sure to focus on one face, rather than between the two faces, so that both faces are sharp. Also, watch that the focus doesn’t change as you zoom in or out from your subject.
Freeze the Action
If you want to shoot a subject that is moving, for example, a soccer player or a flying bird, then you’re going to want the camera to take multiple rapid-fire shots to freeze the action. If you want to experiment yourself, then adjust to shoot multiple consecutive frames at a wider aperture (lower number) with a faster shutter speed (higher number). Too technical? Just use the aptly named “sports mode” on your dial, or “freeze motion” menu option.
Just Go Shoot
You don’t have to be traveling to work on your photography skills. With a point & shoot, you have a small and lightweight camera that you can carry as easily as you do a smartphone. So next time you’re out and you start to take a picture with your phone, stop, and take it instead with a point & shoot camera. Love flowers? Check out my Tips for Taking Better Flower Photos. Happy snapping!