Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: HOW TO FIX 14 COMMON PICTURE-TAKING MISTAKES.............................................4
Fix #1: Lighten deep shadows on faces in bright sunlight ................................................................................................ 4
Fix #2: Get rid of blurred off-center faces ....................................................................................................................... 5
Fix # 3: Prevent shaky shots ........................................................................................................................................... 7
Fix #4: Eliminate unwanted silhouettes ........................................................................................................................ 10
Fix #5: Do your photos have too much space overhead?............................................................................................... 12
Fix #6: Beware distracting backgrounds........................................................................................................................ 14
Fix #7: Fill the frame when shooting a portrait ............................................................................................................. 16
Fix #8: "Why is my nose so big?" .................................................................................................................................. 18
Fix #9: Did you shake your camera while in night portrait mode?.................................................................................. 19
Fix #10: Don't let far flash foible leave your subject in the dark .................................................................................... 21
Fix #11: Set your White Balance ................................................................................................................................... 22
Fix #12: Perfect beach exposures every time ................................................................................................................ 24
CHAPTER 2: SIX SCENE MODES YOU MAY ACTUALLY WANT TO USE ............................................ 25
CHAPTER 3: QUICK TIP: PREVENT SLOW-REACTING SHUTTERS.................................................. 29
CHAPTER 4: TEACHING CHILDREN TO TAKE PICTURES................................................................... 29
CHAPTER 5: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A COMPACT DIGITAL CAMERA........................................... 34
Just because you take pictures with a compact digital camera doesn’t mean your photos have to look
like snapshots. And, just because you have the latest high-resolution digital wonder-cam, that doesn’t
make you a great photographer.
The goal of this e-book is to help snapshooters avoid the most common pitfalls that ruin photographs of
family and friends. Whether you’re shooting with a compact digital camera, a DSLR, or even a cell
phone, you can use these tips to let you improve composition (chapter 1), operate your camera better
(chapters 2 and 3), and encourage your kids to get into photography (chapter 4). And if you’re looking
for a new compact camera, we can help in chapter 5.
Many years ago, I took a course in creative writing. We were given an assignment and when I asked
how long the paper should be, the teacher said, “say what you need to say, then stop!” The same
philosophy can be applied to taking photographs and each of the fixes of common photographic
problems spelled out in Chapter 1 are mere commentary: Photograph only what you want to include,
and nothing else.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
This is more than a simple snapshot of my dog: It tells a story! He wants whatever it is that is in that
frying pan. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of my dog, but this is my current favorite. I’ve shared this
photo on Facebook and gotten great comments. Why does it work? Because I chose an angle to
emphasize the relationship of the dog to the frying pan, and positioned the camera so I only included
what’s important to make this picture work—and nothing else. And the camera I shot it with? An
iPhone! Yes, the photo is a bit grainy, but the humor comes through anyway. So the lesson here is: No
matter what camera you use, if you use it thoughtfully, you can take great pictures with it.
Adorama Learning Center
This e-book was designed to be viewed on any e-reader. However, many of the illustrative photos may
look better in color. If you want to see the originals in their glorious original color, be sure to go online
and visit the Adorama Learning Center (http://www.adorama.com/alc) where you will not only get
access to many of these articles in their original form, but will find plenty of other useful photographic
And of course, be sure to visit Adorama Camera (http://www.adorama.com), the exclusive sponsor of
this free e-book. When you’re ready to order your next camera, consumer electronics, home office or
other products, we hope you’ll place your trust and business with us.
Chapter 1: How to Fix 14 Common Picture-Taking Mistakes
Fix #1: Lighten deep shadows on faces in bright sunlight
When part of a face is thrown into deep shadow by bright overhead sunlight, the results are not
flattering. Here's how to get better photos with your digital camera in the mid-day sun.
Fix me! It's high noon, there's not a cloud in the sky. You take pictures of your smiling loved ones. The
result is a semi-abstract portrait, with the eyes obscured by deep, shadowy pockets that we call
"raccoon eyes." The nose casts a dark mustache over the upper lip and mouth and...well, it’s not a
There are two ways to get rid of those dark shadows: Add more light, or move out of direct sunlight.
The easy fix: Add more light to blow away the shadows by turning on your camera's built-in flash, as I
did above. Most point-and-shoot digital cameras sense when there's enough light that you don't need
flash, but they're not smart enough to know when the lighting will cause deep shadows. In your
camera's flash mode, switch from Auto to the little lightning bolt that indicates the flash is always on,
and your flash will fire, even in bright sunlight!
The more advanced fix: Use a reflector such as the Flashpoint 22-Inch Circular Collapsible Disc
Reflector to bounce sunlight into your subjects' faces. The collapsible disc reflector is great because
when it is folded up it takes up very little room. Reflectors can provide a wider light surface, which
results in more flattering lighting than a tiny on-camera flash can provide. You'll probably need
someone to hold the reflector and aim the light while you're taking pictures.
The think-outside-the-box fix: Get out of the sun! Find an open shade area—under an awning, for
instance—and position your subject so the area behind is darker than (or the same level of brightness
as) your subject. I shot this about ten feet from where I took the first to shots, but what a difference
turning around and shooting into the shade made here! Make sure your flash is turned off and your
shake reduction is turned on.
Fix #2: Get rid of blurred off-center faces
Most modern compact digital cameras have a feature called “Face Detection” that automatically senses
where the faces are in your photograph, and focuses on them even if they're off-center (more about that
later). But if are using an older autofocus camera, there may be times when focus "misses" your
subject's face. Result? The background is in sharp focus while the person or people you're
photographing are blurred.
Fix me! Older low-cost digital point-and-shoot camera focus systems will only focus on the exact
center of the picture. If your subject is even slightly off-center, it won't be in focus. If you’re shooting
two people, as in the shot above, your camera may focus on the wall behind them if that’s what’s in the
center of the picture, where the focus target is located. But that is one of the most easily-fixed snapshot
The fix: First, center your subject in the frame. Press the shutter release halfway down. This locks
focus. Now, with the release still pressed halfway, re-compose the picture the way you want it. Press
the shutter release the rest of the way down.
Buy any modern digital point-and-shoot camera and it probably has Face Recognition. Face
Recognition (also called Face Detection), introduced in 2006, is one of those features that many
photographers don't know how they ever survived without. If you bought a camera recently, you
probably already have this feature at your fingertips! The example image above demonstrates what
your screen would look like with face recognition activated.
Face Detection locks onto faces (from a single face to between 8 and 19, depending on the camera) and
automatically adjusts focus and exposure so they come out sharp and well exposed, no matter where
they are in the shot. It works!
Shake, shake, shake: Shot at dusk, handheld, no tripod to keep the camera steady or shake reduction,
and the flash is off. The camera compensates for the low light by increasing exposure time, during
which the camera moved.
Here are several ways to stabilize a camera:
Hold the camera against a wall, with the closest arm holding the camera and pressing against it. This
is almost as steady as a tripod. This will work with eye-level finder cameras as well as with cameras
that only have LCD monitors.
Rest it on your arm: Raise your left arm, and grab your right shoulder with your left hand. Rest your
camera on the bent elbow, push up a bit with your elbow as you push down with your camera. This will
work with DSLRs as well as with compact cameras that lack an eye-level finder.
Find a chair back or table and lean your elbows against it while holding your camera. Much of the
steadiness from the surface you're leaning on will transfer to the camera.
Turn on your flash: Many cameras in auto mode will simply turn on the flash if the light's too low. In
this case, I forced the flash on and got a sharp shot.
But there's another option: Anti-Shake Technology! All but the lowest low-end snapshot cameras
now have some form of remediation for blur caused by the photographer moving the camera during the
exposure, and unlike the direct flash, this provides for a more natural look (see image above). Look for
vibration reduction, anti-shake, or some similar variation, on your camera's specs. Optical anti-shake
will produce better image quality than digital anti-shake, which boosts ISO and causes graininess. Use
this feature when shooting hand-held images and you will increase your chances of getting sharp shots.
Shake reduction on: I turned on my camera's Shake Reduction, which eliminated hand shake and
produced a sharp shot with more natural lighting (note the lighter background). Most new compact
digital cameras have anti-shake technology built-in. It works!
Fix #4: Eliminate unwanted silhouettes
Your subject is sitting by the window and you can see her face perfectly, but your digital camera can't.
Here's why: Cameras don't like uneven light. So, when you point a camera at someone standing in
shadow—indoors against a window, under an awning with a bright, sun-drenched scene behind them,
and so on, you are likely to get a dark, featureless outline of them while the background is perfectly
Perfect exposure of the outside scene—but I want to see my daughter’s face, and she’s sitting inside a
bus, where it’s much darker. Something’s got to give.
There are several ways to fix this:
Turn on your flash: Use your camera's flash as a fill-in light to balance out the brightness. Switch the
flash setting from the default (auto flash) to flash always on (a lightening bolt). The downside? If you're
shooting someone near a window, the flash will bounce right back at you, creating an unwanted bright
Flash on: Now the foreground and background are balanced, but the reflection of the flash in the
window is a distraction. You can reposition yourself so you are facing the window at a 45-degree
angle. That should eliminate the reflection. But what if you can’t move?
Use exposure compensation: A more advanced way to mitigate strong backlighting is to adjust the
camera's exposure compensation. Increase it by two stops and the entire scene will be lightened. The
downside is that the background will most likely be too bright, and there may be some flare, which
means even though your subject might be better exposed, the contrast might be too low and details
might be obscured.
Exposure compensation: I get a perfect exposure by boosting my camera’s EV +1.5 stops. Now she’s
exposed perfectly, but the scenery is blown out. I’ll take that compromise.
Use spot metering: Some cameras will let you selectively meter just the center area of the picture,
giving you the best exposure for the target area only while the rest of the picture will be over or
underexposed, depending on the scene. Result is similar to what you'd get using exposure
Good news: Many modern compact cameras now offer Intelligent Autoexposure (or some variation of
that term). The camera compares the scene you are shooting to a database of image types and adjusts
exposure based on a close match. So when a camera with Intelligent Autoexposure detects a backlit
scene, it knows what to do in most cases. If you don't want the flash to go off, you simply hit the
“flash” button until the flash icon has a line through it.
Fix #5: Do your photos have too much space overhead?
Deciding a subject's position within a photograph can make the difference between the "oops, my
camera went off" look and a well-composed photo. But many times, snapshooters fill more than half
the frame with sky, while their helpless loved ones are stuck in the lower half of the image.
Look out above! If you can fold a picture in half and not miss anything important in the upper half, you
need to tilt your camera down more when you take pictures of people. In this shot, the top of the
subject’s head is at the middle of the frame.
What you can do:
1. If you find you leave a lot of sky in your people pix, tilt the camera down a bit. Be conscious of
the distance between the tops of peoples' heads and the top edge of the photo. There shouldn't be much
2. Move in: Maybe you're too far away. Zoom with your feet: Move a step or two or three closer. As
long as you're not cutting anyone off at either side of a group shot, get as close as you want!
3. Get even closer: Get dramatically close and fill the frame with your loved one's face.
No more overhead: I used all three of the above ideas to fix this shot: I zoomed in with my feet and lens
a bit, and tilted the lens down. (By zooming in, I also got rid of that distracting chair on the right.)
An exception: If there is something interesting in the background that you want to include in order to
tell a story, such as landmark in a travel photo, then by all means, leave enough room to include it.
Otherwise, tilt down, and leave out all that wasted space!
Fix #6: Beware distracting backgrounds
When taking photos of your friends and loved ones with your digital camera, pay attention to what’s
going on behind them. Otherwise, unintentional hilarity might ensue.
The human eye and brain have the amazing ability to see only what it wants to see. You look at a scene
and subconsciously your brain and eyes work together to focus attention on whatever you feel is
important and ignore what isn’t. Cameras have no such ability, and they faithfully record everything
they capture—whether you want them to or not.
Here’s what could happen if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the background:
Next time you're photographing people—either individually or in groups—watch your background. If
there's a tree behind someone's head, it will look like it's growing out of their head because the two
dimensional print (or image on screen) flattens space, and plays tricks on your eyes.
The easy way: Move a bit. If you see a tree or similarly distracting element in the background, shift
your position. That’s what I did to fix the background in the image above. Moving a few inches or a
couple of feet can help to reorganize the background so it's not fighting the foreground.
The more advanced way: Move a lot. If you see a hopelessly distracting background, and no amount
of lateral movement on your part is helping, move both you and your subject to another location
entirely and avoid the distracting background.
Not sure if the background is distracting? After you've taken the shot, look at the image in preview
mode. See a tree sticking out of Aunt Gussie's head? Change positions, and re-shoot!
Fix #7: Fill the frame when shooting a portrait
The trouble with people pictures is that most photographers don't get close enough. Look at the
difference a more intimate approach can make!
"Far out!" is not the exclamation of hippy-dippy joy when it comes to portrait photos of your loved
ones. Instead, it's a complaint: I can't see Aunt Sadie because you were too "far out" when you
photographed her. How can you avoid too much space around a face?
It’s really great that so many new compact digital cameras are available these days with zoom lenses
that start at 28 or 24mm. This is really helpful when shooting scenic vistas or photographing large
groups of people in tight spaces. It’s not so helpful when you want to get a nice close portrait of
Deceptive distance: I shot this with a 24mm wide-angle lens. We were standing about 8 feet from each
other, but my daughter seems so much farther away!
Better: I zoomed in to the equivalent of a 70mm view. Better, but the red tail light of the car in the
background and the bright steps on the right draw my eye away from the subject.
1. Move closer. Zoom with your feet. When photographing someone, stand within ten feet of them.
2. Use a moderate telephoto setting. Around 70mm should do it. If you have a 3x zoom lens, zoom it
almost all the way out. Shooting at close range with a telephoto setting, the background will be more
out of focus and less distracting. To avoid camera shake, make sure shake reduction is turned on.
Fill the Frame: Don't be afraid to fill the frame, and even to cut off the top of your subject's head. For
this shot, I took a couple of steps towards my daughter, and composed vertically. By zooming in on your
subject, you can get a more dramatic portrait. Bonus: The closer you get, the less chance that you'll
have a distracting background.
A fun twist: If you're gtting up super-close, try tilting the camera slightly. The off-kilter diagonal
approach is more dynamic.
Fix #8: "Why is my nose so big?"
You've followed the above advice, and now are shooting frame-filling portraits with your compact
digital camera. Great! But did you remember to zoom, or did you leave your lens at its widest setting?
Here's the one time you should not zoom with your feet!
If you shoot at your camera's widest-angle setting, you may be getting moderate to extreme facial
distortion. This is especially true if your camera has a zoom lens that starts at 24-28mm. Optical
distortion at this focal range will exaggerate objects that are very close to the lens. So, if you're
photographing someone from two feet away with a 28mm lens, their nose and forehead may appear
Fix this! This is probably more distortion than you’ll get. After all, I shot my daughter from about 8
inches away, with the lens set to 24mm, which is pretty extreme. But even from a few feet away, the
facial distortion will make the facial features appear slightly out of whack. (This is not a good way to
photograph a young teen, by the way. I hope her friends don’t see this shot, or I’ll never hear the end of
Instead, back up a few feet and zoom out to a moderate telephoto length. At around 70-85mm, the
optical compression created by the focal length will present all of your subject's facial features at the
Fixed! This more flattering portrait shows facial features in proper proportion. It was shot at
approximately 70mm, and around 5 feet away. She liked this one so much, she made it her Facebook
Fix #9: Did you shake your camera while in night portrait mode?
OK, so you followed my advice and switched to Night Portrait mode, but the picture came out screwy.
Sure, you can see the subject's face nice and sharp, but why are there streaks and lines all over the
place—with some even blocking that nice, sharp face? This is a case where the camera moved during
exposure. The result, effectively, is a double-exposure. One exposure is of the subject lit by the flash,
the other, of the background exposed during a long exposure as the camera accidentally moved.
Sharp but blurred: I shot my daughter’s 8th grade graduation processional in night portrait mode,
shake reduction off, at ISO 80. Low light and low ISO setting meant a really long exposure, causing a
ghostly blur behind her.
Keep your camera's shake reduction mode on, since the longer exposure could lead to camera shake.
Also, consider boosting your ISO to up to 400 (with a compact camera, you may lose image quality if
you shoot higher than that). Increasing the ISO is especially important if your subject is in motion, as
with our example here. If you don't have shake reduction, use a tripod or lean the camera against a
table, post or doorway to give it support and reduce shake.
Fixed: By the recessional, I’d solved the problem. Shake reduction plus a modest ISO boost to 400
eliminated shake while keeping the background relatively light and the quality of the light more natural
even though subject was moving.
Just for fun: I photographed my daughter’s cool new sneakers with the camera in Night Portrait mode
while deliberately moving the camera in an arc motion, knowing the shutter would be open for around
half a second under that light, and the results would be interesting.
Fix #10: Don't let far flash foible leave your subject in the dark
Have you ever shot pictures of a ballgame or a concert at a stadium or arena—or just across a room—
and were disappointed to see...not much of anything? Blame it on your flash. It has a limited range, and
the farther you are from the subject, the less effective your flash will be. How limited? On a typical
point-and-shoot camera, your flash will only illuminate subjects within 10 feet or so. Zoom out and the
range is even less, since your lens lets in less light when in its telephoto setting than when in its widest
Hello? Anybody there? I shot this picture in subdued light similar to the kind of light you might find in
a sports arena or a restaurant with "mood lighting" from 15 feet away. That’s around 5 feet farther than
my flash is capable of reaching at ISO 100. Imagine how dark a subject would be if it was 150 feet
away on a stage or on a basketball court, for instance!
What to do? First, turn off your flash. Increase your ISO, turn on your camera's anti-shake, and do the
best you can with the existing light. If it's still too dark and you're getting shaky shots, then you
probably won't be able to take pictures in that situation.
I increased ISO to 800, turned on Image Stabilization, and shot away. The image is somewhat grainy,
but at least my subject's properly exposed. Sometimes, you have to compromise.
Fix #11: Set your White Balance
You've taken a shot indoors without flash, following my advice to take advantage of ambient light
whenever you can, and there's a problem: All the pictures have an orange cast. Or, you shot a portrait in
open shade, following my advice to avoid harsh shadow-producing sunlight, but everything looks
sickly blue. In both cases, you can greatly improve the color by adjusting your camera's White Balance
Oops, forgot to change the White Balance! I shot this portrait of my daughter at Rutgers Gardens in
New Brunswick, NJ, right after taking some pictures indoors with the white balance on the
incandescent bulb setting. I forgot to switch it to daylight, and the resulting shot has an overall blue
Cameras are balanced for daylight. Auto WB, which is the default setting, is designed to recognize
when the light is something other than daylight and make the necessary adjustments, but this doesn't
always work out. If you check your results on your LCD monitor and see that the color is wrong, you
can manually override the automation and choose the most appropriate WB setting.
A simple switch to auto white balance gave this shot accurate color. In most cases, auto white balance
will work fine for snapshots.
Indoors, when an image is too orange or yellow, the camera hasn't compensated for the warmer light
projected by incandescent light bulbs. (A greenish cast is caused by cooler light projected by
fluorescent bulbs.) Most digital cameras have clearly-marked WB settings: Incandescent is indicated by
a standard light bulb icon, while fluorescent WB is indicated by a long, rectangular shape.
Outdoors in open shade, the wide canopy of blue sky causes a blue cast that the naked eye may not see,
but the camera sensor picks up. An open shade WB setting will easily fix this. But if, as I did, you
accidentally shot outdoors in open shade while your camera is set to indoor/bulb, the blue will be
Well, what about Photoshop?
“Oh, that’s OK,” you might say when you discover you messed up the white balance. “I’ll just fix it
later with Auto Color Correction in Photoshop.” Really? Let’s see how good a job that does…
I went to Photoshop Elements > Enhance > Auto Color Correction and got this "corrected" version.
Compare this to the before-and-after shots above. Yes, you can probably eventually get the color more
or less correct, but this will require more work and waste your valuable time. Still think Photoshop is a
good idea here?
Fix #12: Perfect beach exposures every time
The problem with beaches (or snowy landscapes, or any scene where there’s a lot of white or light
colors) is that they mislead camera meters.
An automatically-exposed beach shot will be too dark. But you easily can trick your camera into
getting the right exposure when the sun is bright and the sky is blue.
What you need: An SLR or any compact camera, as long as it has an exposure lock option.
If your camera has manual exposure mode:
1. Choose manual exposure.
2. Aim at the sky, with your back to the sun. Make sure no land is showing and no clouds are visible in
3. Take a reading off the sky. If your camera has an exposure lock option, aim at the sky as above, press
the exposure lock. Otherwise, take note of the exposure settings and adjust manually.
4. Compose, focus, and shoot.
I do this whenever I shoot at the beach, and I get perfect exposures every time. Now you can, too!
Step 1. Meter the sky
Step 2: Recompose and shoot!
Chapter 2: Six scene modes you may actually want to use
Some scene modes seem unnecessary, but I've used these, and find them very useful!
1. Night Scene Portrait
This mode was designed for taking pictures of people at night using the camera's built-in flash to
illuminate them while a slow shutter speed pulls detail and color in the background. When making a
portrait in front of a cityscape or sunset in normal exposure modes, the foreground or the background
will typically be exposed correctly but it's unlikely you'll achieve a balanced exposure between
foreground and background that looks dead black. Night scene mode automatically selects a long
exposure time so the background will have sufficient exposure and the aperture will be chosen so that
when the flash is fired it will accurately illuminate the main foreground subject.
Tip: Since you can end up with a slow shutter speed and fairly wide aperture with the flash turned on—
that's the whole point of trying to balance flash and background—be careful where you focus. It's also
a good idea to use the camera's focus lock to ensure sharp focus on your subject. You may also need a
camera support—a tripod, monopod, or a wall—to steady your camera and avoid shaky backgrounds.
By no means are these the only Scene modes available and each new camera models seems to invent
new ones so that every possible photographic situation may be tuned over to the camera to make
exposure decisions. While purists may deride the concept that these creative decisions are being turned
over to hardware instead of the human being holding that hardware, well they said the same thing about
autofocus and we all agree that going back to manual focus seems sort of archaic. My guess is that
Scene modes are here to stay, and the only decision is to learn when to use them and when to turn over
creative control to the computer inside your noggin.
Chapter 3: Quick Tip: Prevent Slow-Reacting Shutters
One of the most common questions I get from point-and-shoot camera owners is: “Why, when I press
my camera's shutter release to take a picture, does it take so long for the camera to actually take
the picture?” The cause is something called “shutter lag” and it is a phenomenon that, unfortunately,
can be found on many compact digital cameras (and Smart Phones). If you're shooting a fast-moving
subject (such as sports), shutter lag can ruin your timing and mess up your shot.
Why do cameras hesitate for a fraction of a second (that could seem like an eternity)? The autofocus
system is focusing the lens, while the metering system is calculating and setting the exposure. Some
cameras do this more efficiently than others, and that's what can cause the delay.
The good news? A simple maneuver by you can often reduce lag time to the point where you may not
even notice it. Pointing the camera at your subject, press your camera's shutter release halfway, until
you feel an increase in resistance against your pressure. Don't take your finger off the shutter release!
At this setting, the camera focuses and sets the shutter speed, and locks it in. Now, when you're ready
to take the picture, press the shutter release the rest of the way down.
Follow this simple procedure and the camera will have done all of its time-consuming focusing and
exposure calculations, and when you press the shutter release the camera should take the picture
Chapter 4: Teaching Children To Take Pictures
“First, I took picures. Then I learned to walk so I could get a higher point of view.” That's what I say
when someone asks how long I've been into photography. When would be an appropriate time to teach
your child photography? No matter the age, my answer is: NOW!
Early grades (K-4): Younger children may still need something durable; by 7-9 years old they'll be
ready for a camera with more control.
Middle school (grades 5-8): These kids are ready for low-end point-and-shoots that may offer a
modest zoom range and a variety of shooting modes. At this age, however, your camera might be in
competition with the built-in camera on their cell phones. Choose a model that offers ease of use plus
more features than a cell (such as an optical zoom lens, close focus and creative modes) to get their
interest. For guidance, read The Best Budget-Priced Cameras Right Now! For girls: This may sound
sexist, but girls at this age are more conscious of appearances; let them have a say in which color body
to get. Look at The Best Fashion Compact Digital Cameras Right Now! for a colorful selection; many
of these cameras may fit into a middle-school- and even high-school-friendly budget.
Take Time for Training
Don't just hand a child a camera—show how to use it, even if it's as simple as “look in this viewfinder
and when you see what you like, press this button.” Go on a photographic safari around the
neighborhood and demonstrate how to frame and compose. Let your child take a picture, then find
something to praise about the photo. Then use your skills as a photographer to show them how to make
it even better.
Keep it simple
My instructions to my then 6-year-old daughter were “find something you're interested in and fill the
frame with it. Then take its picture. If there's too much other stuff around it, get closer.” The results
You can teach older children the camera's features if they express interest but if they are early in the
process stick to basic things and don't let a camera's cool and useful (to you) controls get in the way of
their picture-taking joy.
(Come to think of it, there are some adult photographers I know who could benefit from this advice as
Learn by Chimping
If your camera has an LCD finder (the cheapest ones may not) take a look at the photo your child just
shot. As him what he likes best about the picture, and what he might do differently next time. Use
praise, don't discourage but do point out how he can improve the picture.
Let them “waste” pixels...after all, they're cheap...but then show how to get better shots
After you've spent a few minutes (not hours!) showing your child how to use his or her camera, let her
loose so she can explore without feeling her parent or responsible adult is looking over her shoulder.
Remember your first pictures? A more experienced photographer might look down on such shots as a
waste, but you were learning to be a photographer. Give your child the space to explore, make
mistakes, learn...but most of all, to have fun and to develop their enthusiasm for photography!
So...which camera should I buy for my child?
The below list of cameras for kids represents the modern-day equivalents to my old Ansco Cadet
(which I still have hanging in my office. It stopped working long ago, but I can't let it go). They are
limited, but they're also very affordable and are a good way to gauge your child's interest in
photography. With the simple pointers above and the right camera below, you never know if the seed
you plant will grow into a lifetime interest in photography! (Note: Prices and availability accurate as of
Cobra Digital C150 Squeezable Soft Camera
Let's face it: While you are never too young to start shooting, little tykes tend tto not have a firm grip
on things. The Cobra C150 is a VGA-quality camera (it can capture computer monitor resolution
images; don't expect to make prints) that can be used for outdoor daylight photography and will take
plenty of typical childhood abuse. A squishy exterior protects the camera's sensitive electronics, while
an optical viewfinder teaches Junior to compose.
Crayola 2.1MP Digtial Camera
Designed specifically for preschoolers, the 2.1MP Crayola camera has a cool form factor that is well-
suited for those tiny hands that have not quite gotten their motor coordination together. This may be the
only camera in existance with built-in handles. Your little one can take as many pictures as he or she
wants since the camera stores images on removable SD cards. A 1MP card offers ample space. Images
are screen quality but you may also be able to make 4x6-inch prints. Available in Purple or Green.
Bell & Howell Splash WP5
The Splash is a good low-cost camera for “middle-aged” children—those in lower elementary grades
but past pre-school age. At 12MP, resolution is more than enough for ANY photographer, but this is a
great camera for shooting in any weather (I've never seen a kid who didn't like jumping in and
splashing a puddle) and can even be used when swimming. The Splash has a plethora of scene modes
so if your young lad or lass wants to emulate Mommy or Daddy's photographic talents, this camera has
enough features to get a variety of well-exposed and focused shots while keeping up with your big rig.
Available in Purple, Black, and Blue.
Digital Blue LEGO Digital Camera
A fully-functioning 3MP digital camera, this imaginative image-capture device looks like a lego toy.
And in fact, its external shell is made up completely of Legos, and you can add additional legos to it.
So is it a camera, or a toy? Well, it's both, and if you're a playful sort, it will do double duty. You could
even create a Lego tripod to give it tabletop support. Features are minimal: built-in flash, a 1.5-inch
LCD, 128MB of internal memory (holds up to 80 photos at a time, downloadable via USB) and a fixed-
Vivitar ViviCam 8018
At only $50 the ViviCam is a minimal investment to get your photographically-interested grade-school-
aged child started in photography. Its 8MP sensor will produce more than sufficient image quality for
even 8x10-inch prints while its fixed focal length f/2.8 lens is fast enough to shoot even in subdued
light without flash. The 1.8-inch LCD monitor is small compared to the 2.5-inch-or-larger ones we
adults are used to, but it still provides enough info to help with composition. This camera is a good way
to gauge your child's interest in photography; as he or she learns, you can step up to a more advanced
camera. Available in Red and Black.
Chapter 5: What To Look For In A Compact Digital Camera
By Jon Sienkiewicz
Compact digital cameras at a glance
Best suited for:
• Travel and vacation snapshots
• Informal group portraits
• Party pictures
Not ideal for:
• Sports/action photography
• Formal portraits
• Studio photography
• Wildlife and bird photography
Compact digital camera advantages:
• Immediate feedback (back of camera LCD screen)
• Live image preview
• Easy to share images
• Light and small
• Easy to use (but many have options for photographers who want exposure control)
• Some record HD Video
Compact digital camera disadvantages:
• Lack of optical viewfinder
• May be hard for large-handed users to hold
• Poor low-light performance without flash
• Delays taking picture when you press shutter release
• Can't zoom while shooting a video
Whether you're buying your first digital camera or replacing an older model, there are a few things to
keep in mind. Here are ten points you should consider. These are not in order of importance. Your
personal needs, experience and the type of pictures you like to take will determine the priority.
Before we go to the list, however, you should ask yourself whether photography is likely to become an
important hobby for you, or remain just an occasional activity. If you think there's a good chance you'll
want to pursue picture-taking a bit more seriously, consider buying a digital SLR. DSLRs offer much
greater versatility, are not hard to use and are more affordable than most people think. They are more
expensive than point-and-shoot cameras, but when you spread that cost out over five years or so, it's
insignificant compared to the fun you'll have and the satisfaction you'll get creating the best photos you
Resolution is expressed in megapixels. The number indicates how many millions of picture elements
(pixels, or dots) will be used to form the image. A camera that captures images as 3,246 horizontal
pixels by 2,448 vertical pixels would be called an 8-megapixel (MP) camera (3,264 x 2,448 =
8,000,000 pixels). The higher the number or pixels, the bigger the image (and print) can be.
Consumer-level compact digital cameras now range from 10 to 16 megapixels or more, which is, in a
way, a shame: if you're making an 8x10 print, 6MP is all you need, and as manufacturers add more
pixels into the same sized sensors, overall image quality deteriorates. Even modest resolution digital
cameras will produce fine prints these days up to 8x10 or even larger. Don't let boasts of "16MP
resolution!" sway you. Instead, look at other features.
One thing many folks overlook when they argue about how many pixels are necessary is the "crop
factor." A 10-megapixel digital camera, for instance, allows you to enlarge a small portion of the image
and still maintain good quality. With a compact camera's tiny sensor, however, enlarging the same
portion of the image might result in a grainy, fuzzy mess compared to what you can get with a similar
Image quality: It's not just about resolution
Not all 12-megapixel images are equal. Here are three factors that could affect how your image looks
* Noise: Typically found at higher light sensitivity settings (ISO). In order to make compact cameras
so small, they are equipped with tiny sensors, around the size of a thumb nail. Each sensor is packed
with microscopic-sized pixels, which record light. Without getting into an optical dissertation, suffice
to say that larger pixels will produce better quality images. When you squeeze 10, 12, or 14 million
pixels on a tiny sensor, the pixels will be really small, and this can cause digital artifacts commonly
referred to as noise or digital grain, especially in low light. When you boost the sensitivity to light, this
can make the visual distortion worse. Some cameras claim built-in noise reduction, and that's worth
paying a bit more for. The best way to reduce grain is to shoot at your camera's lowest ISO setting.
* Color accuracy: Most digital cameras have this problem more or less solved, but if skin tones
appear too blue, you may need to manually adjust the white balance.
* Contrast: Again, this can be adjustable, but some cameras may come out of the factory set for too
much contrast, or too little. Most compact cameras have contrast control, as well as a way to make
colors stronger or weaker, called saturation adjustment, and shadow detail boosters.
If you want to get closer to your subject without moving, you need a zoom lens. Look for a camera that
offers a 3X or 4X optical zoom. Many cameras offer digital zoom in addition to optical, but beware:
digital zoom merely "crops" a reduced-size portion of the image and presents it at lower resolution.
A popular trend today is the mega-zoom-type camera in the 8X to 12X optical zoom range. They are
becoming more affordable, even the models that offer some version of Image Stabilization--also known
as Anti-Shake or Vibration Reduction. Superzoom cameras, with zoom ranges of 20X or higher, are
also available, but the cameras tend to be somewhat larger and not pocketable.
Be aware of the zoom range in addition to the zoom amount--all 4X zooms are not created equal. A
camera with a zoom equivalent to 28-115mm is more versatile (but less common) than one with a lens
that goes from 35-140mm--even though both are 4X--because the one that starts at 28mm gives you a
very useful wideangle.
Size and Weight
A compact, lightweight camera is very convenient--and less likely to be left at home. If you have your
camera with you more often, you'll take more pictures. Nearly every manufacturer has at least one
model that is about the size of a fat deck of cards. A standard deck of playing cards is about 2 1/4x3
3/4x3/4 inches. Keep these dimensions in mind when you read camera specifications and you'll be able
to make an easy comparison.
Conventional logic would suggest that portability comes at a price, but that's not necessarily true. Ultra
compact cameras may shave a few features off the menu but for the most part you'll find everything
you could ask for. The only drawback (and this is a drawback only for some people) is that the small
size can make the camera difficult to hold, especially if you have large hands.
A growing number of compact digital cameras, besides size and weight, are now to a greater or lesser
extent, ruggedized and protected against heat, cold, water and shock from accidental drops. If you are
klutzy or adventurous (or both!) you may want to seriously consider buying a Rugged compact camera.
LCD Monitor and Viewfinder
Most digital cameras today have 2.5- to 3-inch LCD displays. The bigger monitors are bright and easy
to see at all times. Menus are easier to read, too. They also make it easier to review images in playback
mode. Smaller LCD monitors can be difficult to see, especially in bright sunlight. If you have this
problem, make sure the camera you buy has an optical viewfinder as well. Check the specs: The more
dots per inch (dpi) in a monitor, the sharper and more detailed the displayed image will be. 230,000
dots is typical but will look a bit rough. Many models have 400,000 dots or higher. The best models
have around 920,000 dots.
Big LCDs make to more fun to share images with others. Call it "shoot and show." Some cameras
include a charging cradle that positions the camera so that the LCD can be used to view images--it's
like having a miniature digital picture frame on your desk.
Where did the optical viewfinder go?
While larger LCD viewfinders are great for previewing and sharing images already shot, they are
coming at the expense of optical finders on smaller cameras. This can prevent you from getting the
sharpest picture possible with your camera. Here's why:
The ideal way to handhold a camera is with your elbows braced against your torso, and the camera
against your face, as you can see here. Before LCDs, this was how most photos were taken, and it was
a natural shooting position. The two elbows and face acted as an effective support and reduced
likelihood of camera shake.
There's one problem with the above scenario: You need an eye-level viewfinder to do this, and most
compact digital cameras don't have eye-level viewfinders. But they do have anti-shake, and I highly
recommend keeping this feature on at all times to minimize shake from hand-holding the camera.
Exposure and settings
All point-and-shoot cameras make exposure settings automatically. Some allow you to make them
manually as well. If the manual option is important to you, check the specifications carefully. Many
cameras include an assortment of preset "scenes" that the shooter can dial in to match the
circumstances. These are given different names on different cameras, but usually they include standards
like Landscape, Portrait, and Close-up and Sports. By selecting the appropriate scene you can get
results like a pro.
Some models also now have "Smart Auto" or "Intelligent Auto" or some variation, in which the camera
anylizes the scene before it and chooses the most appropriate scene mode and sets everything itself.
That's pretty cool, and scarily accurate.
The Sports setting, for example, will make the camera shoot at the fastest permissible shutter speed so
as to freeze action. Portrait will blur the background to make your subject stand out more. It's like
having a professional photographer inside your camera, calling the shots.
There was a time when short battery life was the number one complaint against digital cameras. This
problem is rapidly disappearing. Three types of batteries predominate: Lithium Ion, nickel metal
hydride, and alkaline. Lithium Ion batteries seem to last forever, and recharge quickly, too. If you buy a
camera that uses Lithium Ion you should never have a problem.
Most cameras that use AA-size cells are supplied with NiMH (nickel metal hydride). If your new
camera comes with non-rechargeable AA-size (penlight) alkaline flashlight batteries, buy a set of
NiMH right away. And above all else, regardless what kind of battery technology is employed, buy a
spare battery and keep it charged--that way you'll never miss a photo opportunity.
How do you know what kind of batter life to expect from a camera? Look for its CIPA rating. CIPA
(Camera & Imaging Products Association) has established an industry standard for battery life based on
number of shots one could expect to shoot per battery or per charge. A camera with a CIPA rating of
400 shots is, obviously, better than one with a CIPA rating of 250 shots.
A new generation of compact digital cameras has arrived that is capable of shooting high-definition
videos, which means 1080x720 pixels, or 720p. These videos will look nice and sharp on a high-
definition TV monitor, although you should check your camera's specs to make sure it captures frames
at 30 frames per second. Any slower may look jumpy, especially when shooting fast-moving subjects.
HD Videos eat up a lot of memory card space, so get the highest capacity memory card you can afford,
and make sure the SDHC card is rated at least Class 4 (Class 6 is better) for best performance.
Digital cameras use light to focus. When it's too dark, they can run into trouble. As a countermeasure,
camera manufacturers incorporate a small, built-in lamp that automatically illuminates the subject for
focusing when the light's too low. If you think you'll be doing much shooting in dim light, be certain
that the camera you buy has a Focus Assist system. Parties in subdued light, for instance, are a classic
example of where a Focus Assist light is needed.
All consumer-grade compact digital cameras have built-in flash units, and sometimes these double as
the focus assist lamp. Either way, you'll get sharper pictures, even when the lights go down. Be warned,
however, that if it's dark enough to warrant use of a Focus Assist lamp then it's too dark to shoot
without flash. Unless your camera has Image Stabilization, use the flash or a tripod.
You want your pictures to look good but you want your camera to look good, too, right? There are
some ugly or plain-looking cameras that can take great pictures, but they're just not as much fun to take
out in public. Remember that the perfect style for Dad may not be ideal for Mom--everyone has his or
her own taste. Just make sure the camera has the features you want. Most fashion cameras have a full
range of features, so you don't have to sacrifice substance for style.
Everyone has a different budget. Decide what price range agrees with your pocketbook before you start
studying the specifications. One piece of advice: always try to buy your last camera; that is, a camera
that has enough features to keep you happy for a long, long time.
How much should I spend?
Good news for consumers is that compact digital camera prices have plummeted in the past couple of
years. A bare-bones basic camera now costs around $100 or even less, although these models typically
have smaller LCD screens, longer "lag times" ("lag time" is a delay from the moment you press the
shutter until it actually takes the picture) and may be less sturdy than pricier versions. Most compacts
fall in the $150-350 range, with a few posh models costing $500 or higher.
Why Not A Smart Phone?
There are compelling reasons to shoot with a stand-alone compact camera over a smart phone. Smart
phones may have built-in cameras but they generally produce poor-quality images. They may look
great on screen, but not so much if you want to print them out. Most Smart Phones do not have optical
zoom lenses. They may have digital zooms, but those don't really count: They simply crop to show
only part of an already-substandard quality image.
And finally...put all of this information to good use! When you're ready to buy a camera, be sure to get
it at Adorama's Compact Digital Camera department.