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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Holiday Picture Tips

Tis the season also for photography - from the professional capturing portraits for families to the amateur who takes photographs for online albums, I will be focusing more on the amateur or hobby photographer for this entry since I'm sure the professional knows the ins and outs (professionals, feel free to comment me! I love hearing even more tips!).

Digital Point and Shoot

Most hobbyists would most like have a digital point and shoot rather than a DSLR. What's the difference? A DSLR has a lens you can change, but it also has manual modes where you can control your camera. A point and shoot is just that - an automatic camera that has pre-selected modes. Most of the modes you don't have much control over.

Lighting is big during the holidays, especially when it comes to Christmas trees, Menora candles, candles, lights, etc. I know most have experienced blurring while taking pictures of really dark scenes such as:

Too dark and motion blur.

To prevent this blurring or underexposed look or anything that makes the picture look off, check your camera's ISO. The ISO is the camera's sensitivity to light: the lower an ISO setting would make it less sensitive and a higher setting would make it more sensitive. ISO can range anywhere from 100 - 64,000 depending on the camera. For really dark scenes, I like to go as far as 3200, but there are times where I have to use "high." Fortunately, with digital, you can see instantaneously if you have to retake a photo unlike with film - this will require playing around and reading your camera's instruction manual.

For digital P & S camera, you can also select scene modes. I really like the night scene on my camera. It brings up the flash, but I think it takes decent photos. For example, I brought my bridge camera (combination DSLR and P & S) to the Twiztid concert and used night mode:

During the holidays, I'm sure most of us see kids or take pictures with a lot of movement in them. Movement, especially if it involves children running around or tearing paper off of gifts, can cause blurring and picture distortion. With the scene modes of a P & S camera, you can select a children mode (again, check your camera's manual because each camera might have a different name for that setting) that is specifically created to capture children and fidgeting. I like those mode not only for children, but movement in general. Sports mode could be good for rapid movement, but at least with my Nikon bridge camera, it takes pictures in rapid succession and to turn it off, you have to turn off the camera. I prefer the children mode.

Example of motion blur.

I used children mode and high ISO for this picture. As you can see, it made the difference.

DSLR Cameras

DSLR camera users will have the same issues as point and shoot digital cameras, but since these can be manual... you have more control of how the pictures turn out. With lighting, ISO will play a huge part, but also the aperture of the lens. The higher the aperture or the opening of the lens, more light can get through... the smaller the opening on the lens and the less light will get through. With manual, aperture and shutter modes on these cameras, ISO and these combinations will make a big difference with picture taking. Again, play around with different settings and be sure to consult your reference manual. I personally love higher apertures because it blurs the background, but sometimes at night it's not the best. I use a lower number at night with a higher ISO. In the viewfinder, exposure numbers will be shown and you can choose whether or not it's optimal. At least with my camera, if the exposure isn't optimal, the camera won't shoot the picture. It is also recommended that you use a tripod for night/dark pictures.

Lens at 18 mm. See how you can really see the background.

Lens at 55 mm. See how the background isn't as crisp. I love this.

Night time captured in manual mode is a really high ISO setting and 18 mm for the lens.

For movement, aperture and shutter speeds will also come into play. You will have to play around with different speeds. I am still learning this about my camera, but I love National Geographic's tutorial about this subject: DSLR Video Tips: Movement. Tripod is also recommended for this mode as well.

DSLR cameras are a lot of fun, but they are a lot of practice. I've had my camera for two years and I'm still learning the manual modes! I personally love the manual mode, but at night time it's a bit of a pain. Sometimes I have to use the flash, but with practice, I'm hoping to one day capture night scenes without flash. I would suggest playing with your DSLR camera and getting comfortable with being in charge of the photographs.


Film SLR cameras have the same issues as DSLR cameras, except you have to choose the right ISO film and then set your camera accordingly. I would suggest doing what you would do for a DSLR with a film SLR, but you can't see right away if it's right or not. Some examples I took with my dad's Olympus camera from 1976:

Lighting was off here. The film was 100 ISO; it probably should have been set to 400 ISO. 400 ISO is usually good for indoor photographs... at least I have found that to be true.

Perfect! 100 ISO is great for sunny days outside.

Film point and shoot is the same as digital, but you can't see the results right away either. I don't think non-disposable cameras have the scene modes like digital, they're just automatic. I bought a black and white film disposable for the concert and Halloween and that was just point and shoot with a flash. I'm excited to get them developed (there are still stores around, but Google to find out where in your area).

For the holidays, Urban Outfitters has trick disposable film cameras. They have ones with cats, elves, Santa clause and other themes. I'm tempted to buy an elf camera. They're $12-$14.


  1. I took photography in high school and totally loved it. Back then it was called
    ASA rather than ISO. I think I took photography in college as well, but I'm not sure...that's a little scary. :-\

    1. Ah, yes,the college class I took went between ISO and ASA. I know the film I bought in July for dad's SLR camera used ASA rather than ISO terminology. I want to take another class since the teacher in college wasn't that great. :\

  2. It's amazing how much photography I now conduct with my phone rather than with a proper camera. I can't even remember the last time I used my main camera!

    1. I mean I use my phone camera from time to time, but I prefer my actual camera - better quality!