Tips & Tricks
How to avoid making subjects look fat, possessed or otherwise awful
By Brenna Jennings
Most of the time all you'll have to do is turn on that fancy new digital camera of yours, and just like your old point-and-shoot, start clicking away. There are definitely occasions, however, when some of those hidden camera modes and a little general photography knowledge will come in handy.
Your camera has a built-in light meter. It checks around for the amount of light near the subject it's focused on and adjusts the shutter speed and aperture accordingly. But let's say you're taking a photo of your bowling trophy collection which happens to be on a windowsill in the den. If it's a bright day, your camera will register all the light coming in the window and not fire its built-in flash. The resulting photo will be a lovely abstract of your window, the yard, and silhouettes of miniature bowlers mid-swing. In situations like these where subjects are backlit, you should override your camera's settings and force the flash to fire.
Lenses on small cameras are curved to allow the lens to capture more of what you see. This works well in landscapes and in tight spaces, but it's something you should compensate for in portraiture. If you were to shoot a subject too close-up with your point-and-shoot, the result would be slightly distorted - not quite a funhouse mirror, but the nose would appear more prominent and wider and the natural shape of the subject's face will be altered just enough to keep them from letting you capture their image ever again. Step back from your subject, even for a neck-up portrait, and if you can, zoom in until just what you want to shoot fills the viewfinder. This will help maintain a natural look about the face and nose and prevent a rash of unnecessary rhinoplasty.
Natural-looking light is the best for taking photos with any camera, but there are situations where you'll absolutely need your flash to get the image. Some of these circumstances might not be obvious. If you're out in broad daylight, say, apple picking or taking your grandmother on a duck tour, you could use flash whenever you notice shadows on your subject's face to light her more evenly. Using flash on a subject against an overcast sky pulls the subject out of the image and creates cool, if unnatural, effects. And remember those 70s greeting cards with a couple silhouetted against a fiery horizon? If anyone in the 70s had used flash, we'd know who that couple was. I hope they collected royalties.
Use zoom as liberally as you like in well-lit, outdoor situations. But don't think that you're actually going to get that photo of your little-leaguer way in the outfield at a night game by zooming as far as your lens allows and flipping on your flash. What you'll end up with is fuzz and someone's shoulder. As the zoom extends, it has the effect of darkening the image. If you're far enough away and it's not bright, your tiny flash will be rendered useless. Your camera's instruction manual will tell you how far the light from its little flash can reach.
You've surely read plenty on eliminating red-eye in people. There are photo editing suites to fix images after the fact and built-in red-eye flash settings to prevent it in the first place. But what about the dreaded pet blue-eye? The strangely enormous pupil of your little critters can also be minimized with that pulsing, seizure-inducing red-eye flash. Try it out next time you catch Spot wearing a hat or walking on his hind legs.
New equipment like a digital camera always has a label on the box to 'read instruction manual before using', which of course, no one ever does. But once you've had some fun shooting and think you have the hang of the thing, go through that manual and make sure you're using your camera to its capacity. Often we overlook little features that will come in handy or help us take better pictures. If you're really good or looking to kill some time, you can read the French version too.
Brenna Jennings can be reached via her website at www.notbrenda.com