Wish you had an expensive SLR camera to capture those important moments like a pro? With a few simple tips and a bit of practice you can get the most out of your point & shoot camera without the hassle of carrying around a large bulky piece of equipment. Try putting an SLR in your pocket.
Sounds simple enough? Most blokes don't like to hear this, but read the manual! Even the most basic point and shoot cameras have several different shooting modes which you can learn to make the most of. Get familiar with where the various settings are. Where do I turn off the flash? What if I want to take a close-up (macro) photo of a flower?
You won't start improving until you start taking lots of photos. Don't wait until Aunt Edith's 90th birthday to bring out the camera. It doesn't cost you anything to fill up your memory card and the lessons you'll learn will be invaluable. Take your camera everywhere you go and get snapping. Experiment and have fun!
Photos with your subjects perfectly framed in the centre are boring. Experiment with different angels and shoot from different heights to break away from the typical 'head high' perspective we are used to. Don't be afraid to climb up on something (check it's safe first, of coarse) or get down at pet level for a completely different view of the world.
Rule of Thirds
A good place to start is by using the 'Rule of Thirds'. By splitting the picture in your viewfinder into a 3 x 3 grid and then placing the points of interest where the imaginary grid intersects you can make sure your photos will look well balanced. This is a great method to keep in mind if you are starting out, but don't be afraid to experiment as this is just a general guide.
Usually we are so focused on getting our subject framed and smiling we don't notice the branch in the back ground growing out of their ear. Get in the habit of scanning what's in the background, behind your subjects, as well as what you are trying to capture. Use bright colours to bring your subject out of the picture and make them the focal point.
One of the unavoidable short comings of point and shoot cameras is the flash. Because of the compact size, you can't avoid having the flash close to the lens. This can cause a few problems. Using the onboard flash usually causes the forground to be very over-exposed and a very dark background. Experiment taking the shot with-out the flash using longer exposures. You will need to steady your camera in some way - if you don't have a tripod, brace your camera against a wall or fixed object. Making use of the self timer can also mean you can fire the camera without holding it - maybe even get in the photo yourself.
Having your flash close to the lens is also the cause of the dreaded 'red-eye'. This is because the flash on your camera bounces off the retina of the subject's eye. If there's not enough available light and you have to resort to your cameras flash you can do a couple of things to reduce this effect. Most cameras have a red-eye reduction mode which fires a series of flashes before the photo is taken to reduce the size of the subjects pupil and then fires the main flash to take the actual photo. The other option is using your photo-editing software's 'red-eye' removal tool which replaces the red with black to reduce the visible effect of red-eye.
There are times when it is good to use your cameras on-board flash. The best use for flash on a compact camera is for 'fill flash'. If you are shooting your subject in front of a window or sunset you can use the flash to avoid the silhouette effect you will get from shooting into the light. Fill flash is also very effective outside on bright sunny days to minimise the dark shadows you get when the light is at such high contrast.