DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - Point and Shoot Cameras

Pro Tips For Amateur Photographers

halifax waterfront night time photo
Shot With Canon A4000 now discontinued - replaced with Canon Elph Models 180, 190

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How To Tweek Them For Great Shots

Shutter and aperture, are two components of the exposure triangle, and probably the most important ones to understand if you want to shoot creatively and make some unique shots. On pro type cameras like a DSLR, the shutter and aperture modes are manual, meaning you can adjust them as you like for each shot. However, on the lesser priced point and shoot cameras, these two components cannot be adjusted manually.

However, with a little know-how, you can tweek your automatic aperture and shutter speed settings and create some interesting shots by doing so. White Balance, and ISO, are also important for creative compositions, and they can be adjusted manually on most point and shoots.

This tutorial article will detail these commonly used features; how to manually adjust them; and explain the methods used to allow you to get creative with your shots, similar to what the professional photographers use. First, we will discuss the technical aspects of shutter and aperture as they pertain to shooting photos. And, example photo scenarios are a great way to learn and we have included several along with photos.

Cameras Used For Photos

The cameras used for the shots shown on this page are a Nikon L32, a point and shoot camera, which sells for about $125-135 canadian. Some of its features include; Scene Modes- landscape, night landscape, ( beach, fireworks, portrait, night portrait, dusk and dawn, food, sports, closeup. It has a Sports mode which can shoot at minimum of 1/250 of a second(daytime outdoors) at aperture f3.2(not zoomed) .

May 2018- Other newer Nikon cameras in the same price range are the Nikon A10 and Nikon A300 models. Both feature 2.7 inch display screens, and both can shoot videos. The A300 has a 8 optical zoom, 20 Mega Pixel, and Wifi, and has a rechargeable lithium battery included; while the A10 has a 5 optical zoom with 16 Mega Pixels, and uses batteries - regular or lithium.

Features are similar to the Nikon L32 with SCENE modes, image stabilization, and both come with a 2 year Nikon warranty. The A10 sells for about $100 Canadian, while the A300 at about $140-150 Canadian.

Night Time Shots

The camera I used for for some of the night time shots in these tutorials is a Canon a4000 point and shoot, sell price was about $150, now discontinued. Its' features: a Long Shutter of 1-15 seconds which was ideal for night time shooting; an adjustable ISO of 100-1600. Similar to the Canon a4000, newer models are the Canon Elph series, prices start about $139 canadian. Nikon L32 Point and Shoot Camera - Features

Shutter Speeds

The speed at which the photo shoots is determined by its' shutter speed. On a Pro Camera it is known as Shutter Priority - TV, meaning time value.

Some common shutter speeds on a typical Point and Shoot with a 5 optical zoom, daytime-outdoor shooting, are;

Not Zooming;
1/30, 1/60, 1/80, 1/90, 1/125,

and, if using the Sports mode shutter speeds can be: 1/250, and if Zooming out(zooming out to a distance) using Sports mode shutter speeds can be:
1/250, 1/300, 1/400, 1/500

The larger the denominator, the faster the shutter speed. So, 1/30 means 1 30th of a second, and 1/60 means 1 60th of a second. 1/60 would be faster than 1/30. 1/125 means 1 and 125 of a second, 1/250 is faster than 1/125.

Pro cameras can shoot much faster, typical DSLR camera shutter speeds:

1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/1250, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/4000, 1/8000 On pro cameras, dslr, these fast shutter speeds allow the photograher to shoot and freeze really fast moving subjects like race cars, speeding trains, and really fast flying birds.

scene modes nikonL32 Point and Shoot Camera

For those of use using a point and shoot camera, our fastest shutter speed for shooting action subjects can be found by using the SPORTS mode, usually found within your SCENEs selection. Although unlikely we would be able to compose or shoot a really fast moving subject; we can shoot subjects moving at moderate speeds using a point and shoot camera.

For this duck flying over the water shot(moderate speed), I used my Nikon L32 point and shoot which has a 5 optical zoom capability. I used Sports mode and the zoom was at 5 optical. I did not use a tripod. I shot from the shoreline which was some distance from the ducks, probably at least 75 feet. I captured the duck in flight, however, a longer zoom, (probably a 10 or 12 optical zoom) would have gotten a closer shot of the duck.
a duck flying over the water

Shooting at 1/250 using Sports Mode, you can shoot cars on streets, people walking jogging-on bikes, moderate speed birds flying, slow to moderate speed trains, boats, and vehicles. By zooming in on a subject you can gain even more shutter speed to 1/300, 1/400, and 1/500 range.

In general, the longer your optical zoom the faster overall shutter speed you can use, especially when you zoom out.

Your SCENE mode has many selections; like Night portrait, portrait, landscape, night landscape, closeup, dusk dawn, party. Each of these scenes can have a different shutter speed which you can use for a particular shot scenario, and not necessarily the shot indicated by the SCENE description, so it is good to know at what Shutter Speed each Scene can shoot at.

ISO for Shutter Speed

ISO settings are typically 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400.
On a point and shoot 100-1600 is most common. If you have an adjustable ISO setting you can also increase that number to get some additional shutter speed.
ISO settings(numbers) are equivalent to shutter speeds as this: 100={1/8 of a second) 200=(1/15 of a second) 400=(1/30 of a second) 800=(1/60) 1600=(1/125 of a second) 3200(1/250). What that means is, for example; lets assume you now have your shutter speed at 1/250 seconds using your Sports Mode. If you adjusted your ISO from 100 to 200, your shutter speed would then be 1/15 of a second faster than it is now at the 1/250 of a second.

Understanding Aperture Numbers

Daytime Shooting-Outdoors

Aperture is a camera setting that defines the focal distance of your shot. On pro camera types like the DSLR, it can be adjusted manually like shutter speed. For point and shoot cameras you cannot adjust it manually, however you can view the aperture setting for each shot you shoot. To do so, compose your shot, press the shutter halfway to focus your shot, then look at your screen view; look for a f number. If you haven't zoomed out, typical aperture f numbers are f3 f3.2 f3.6 f4.5, and so on. If you have zoomed out typical aperture numbers are f6 f7 f9 f11 f13 f20. Like shutter speed numbers they are simply stops that are defined by the distance of your zoom lens.(focal distance)

On a point and shoot camera the aperture and shutter speed offset each other. For example; assuming your don't use zoom for your shot, So, compose your shot, press halfway, then look at your screen view; look for f number, lets say its f3.2, and shutter speed number let's say it's 1/30 of a second. Now, zoom out your lens about halfway of its available zoom length. Again, compose your shot, press shutter halfway to focus; and look at the screen view for f number and shutter speed. Now, you will see that your f number has increased somewhat; say its f11, and your shutter speed number has changed also; probably now a 1/60, 1/80, 1/125.

On a point and shoot camera, the aperture and shutter speed are automated for you. Here's what happens - When the aperture f number is at say f3.2, it lets a certain amount of light into the camera lense, however, when you zoom out, the light that gets into the camera becomes less. So to compensate for that 'less light', the shutter speed has to increase its speed - by a number of stops to compensate for the light that was there or the light that is now not there. This is necessary to properly compose your shot.

That is why small f numbers like f3.2, can have a shutter speed of say, 1/30; but a large aperture number say f20(a larger/greater distance) would require a faster shutter speed say like 1/125 or 1/250 or 1/350. Smaller aperture numbers let the most light into the camera lense. Larger aperture numbers let the least amount of light into the camera lense. Slower shutter speeds are used with smaller apertures(f number)(1/30, f3.2), and faster shutter speeds are used with the larger apertures(f number)(1/125, f6.5).

Because aperture and shutter speeds are mostly automated on low to mid priced point and shoots; it isn't really something you must know; however, understanding how aperture and shutter speed together create light for your shot is good to know.
On dslr pro type cameras, these settings - shutter and aperture are used extensively for creative shoots. The photographer can either use them automatically like on the point and shoot cameras; or they can adjust each one manually, which can make for interesting photo compositions.

Typical Aperture, Optical Zoom Lengths

For point and shoot cameras, there are a few choices for zoom length, defined as optical zoom. For Canon and Nikon models; the smallest zoom is usually 5 optical, and can increase to 12 optical or more; for the more expensive point and shoot camera types.

Here we have the typical aperture numbers for various optical zoom lense distances, using Canon Elph models as examples.
Optical zoom is different from digital zoom, and using only your optical zoom creates a better quality photo.

Canon Elph Model 180 Average Price $150 CA
8 optical zoom lens -
35mm equivalent - 28-224mm
Min: f/3.2 (W) - f/6.9 (T); Max: f/9.0 (W) - f/20
Features: Long Shutter, ISO 100-1600

Canon Elph Model 190 Average Price $200 CA
10 optical zoom lens -
35mm equivalent - 24-240mm
Min: f/3.0 (W) - f/6.9 (T); Max: f/9.0 (W) - f/20
Features: Long Shutter, ISO 100-1600

Canon Elph Model 360 Average Price $250 CA
12 optical zoom lens
35mm equivalent - 25 - 300mm
Min: f/3.6 (W) - f/7.0 (T); Max: f/10 (W) - f/20
Features: Long Shutter, ISO 100-3200

So, by looking at these numbers for aperture, you get a good idea of the aperture range and of the zoom capability for each optical zoom lens length.

The Canon Elph Model 180 has a 8 optical zoom lens; and its closet aperture is f3.2. This is the closet this lens can shoot at. For this price range of camera, typical apertures are f3.4, f3.6, f3.0, f3.2. And its 35mm equivalent is 28-224. The 224mm is the furthest distance at which you can shoot a subject, and the 28 is the distance for shooting wide angle shots, basically how much area is going to be included in your wide shot. To get the optical zoom distance for any camera, divide the numbers, like 28-224mm, 224 divided by 28 = 8; 8 is this cameras optical zoom length.

Distance To Subject

The distance between you and your subject is important because it can determine certain things about your photo such as: the amount of motion blur, and background blur.
It can also determine how closeup you can get on your subject. If your too far away from your subject and your zoom doesn't allow you to zoom in close, then your not getting the best photo you can. This is important in wildlife photos.
For this reason, it is a good idea to experiment to find a suitable distance that gives you the creative result you want for each of your photo shoot scenarios.

Select Your Shutter Speed, Aperture

Your Shutter Speed is either slow like 1", 2", 1.4" seconds, or faster like 1/30 , 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/300, 1/400 of a second. Your Aperture numbers are either f3.2, f3.3. f3.6(no zooming) or like f11, f13, f16, f20, when zoomed in on a subject(distance). The aperture number changes when you zoom out or when you zoom in(on point and shoot cameras).
When we change our shutter speed(when we change to a different SCENE mode or zooming in or out) the aperture number changes automatically for us. And, when we change our aperture setting,(zooming in or out on the subject), the shutter speed changes automatically for us. This is the simplest explanation for shutter and aperture, on point and shoot cameras. .

Knowing the common aperture numbers(for the different distances) and the shutter speed numbers (for the different distances and from each SCENE mode on your camera), will allow you to create unique compositions. Specific shutter/aperture settings are used for this purpose.
You can follow these general shooting guidelines to learn the various shot scenarios. Most are rather easy to compose, while others may require some practising to get the perfect shot.

Here is the commonly used shutter speed and aperture settings for creative compositions.
We've also included a few that are shot with pro dslr cameras, just to give you an idea of the shutter speeds required.

Creative Compositions

A hummingbird hovering above a flower, and you don't want it's wings to be blurry(freeze the action)usually zooming in, 1/2000 to 1/4000(pro camera) ,
Surfer on the waves and capture the water spray - usually zooming in, shutter speed 1/4000 to 1/8000 seconds,(pro camera)
Soccer game, and you want the images to be sharp and clear, freeze the action, usually zomming,shutter speed 1/500 to 1/1000,(pro or point and shoot)
Portrait of your favorite pet, some zoom, aperture f4.5-f5.4,shutter speed 1/125 to 1/500,
A spinning carousel and you want to create a blur on the horses - some zoom or none, aperture f3.0 - f5.4, slow shutter speed 8" to 60" seconds, use tripod,
You want to shoot your favorite lighted building at night - little or no zoom,aperture f3.0-f3.6, slow shutter 2", 4", 8" to 30", use tripod,
You want to shoot car lights at night -.little or no zoom, aperture f3.0-f3.6, slow shutter 1- 15 seconds, use tripod, or put camera on flat surface and use self timer,
You want to shoot the seashore at ocean and skyline with clouds - little or no zoom, aperture f3.0-f3.6, slow shutter speed 1/4 seconds to 4 seconds, use tripod,

To shoot different types of motion blur; shutter speeds can vary; it depends on how close your are to subject and at what speed they are moving; some zoom usually, typically shutter speeds 1/15, 1/30, 1/40, 1/60, 1/80, .

To shoot car tail lights motion blur trails; no or little zoom, aperture f3.0-f3.6, slow shutter mode or long shutter: 1-15 secs, typically 1" second, 2 second, 3 seconds, 4 seconds- use tripod. Can also use ISO to add additional light to skyline, clouds- use ISO at 200, 400, or 800.

To get background blur on flower photo, no zooming,aperture f3.0.f3.2, use Close Up mode or Macro Mode, within centimeters of subject- 1/15, 1/30, 1/60,

To get background blur on flower on a breezy day, flower is moving, can also use action mode Sports mode, zoom in some, aperture f4.5- f5.4, shutter speed 1/125, 1/250,

To get background blur on action shot, use Sports mode, zoom in close on subject, aperture can vary depending on distance zoomed, shutter speeds - 1/250, 1/300, 1/400, 1/500

If you don't have a tripod (recommended) make sure to enable your Image Stabilization mode in your camera settings.

To View your Shutter Speed, compose your shot; Press shutter halfway to focus shot; (look at the view screen for the shutter speed), like 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/90, 1/125, 1/250. If you don't have the shutter speed you want, try zooming out or try zooming in until you get the desired shutter speed for your shot. Different SCENE selections can render different shutter speeds for the same zooming length.

Long Shutter Mode Shots and Shutter Speeds

If your camera has ISO settings that you can adjust manually, you can use this along with a slow shutter speed. A slow shutter speed is a shutter speed that is usually found in certain SCENE selection modes.(they vary by manufacturer) Common ones are: Night Landscape, Sunset, Long Shutter, Dusk Dawn. These modes usually have as a minimum long shutter(slow shutter) in seconds of 1/4", 1", 1.3", 1.6", 2" seconds. The double quotation after the number means seconds. On some of the modes, if you zoom out the time of seconds can change, however on some when you zoom out the time of seconds does not change. Each camera model tends to be a tad different.

Also, each SCENE selection mode, usually gives a different light color background. Just try to shoot in each mode if your camera has more than one; example the Nikon L32, has both Night Landscape and Dusk Dawn. Both allow for slow shutter of 1,2,3 seconds, and the background sky color in each is different also. This makes for interesting and unique photo shots.

Long Shutter Example:

Let's assume this example scenario:

Your camera has SCENE selection for Night Landscapes, for 1 second. And, it has an adjustable ISO setting from 100-1600. You want to take a photo of the ocean, and skyline with the looming clouds. However, when you compose your shot and take a test shot your Night Landscape mode of 1" second is not allowing enough light into the shot to light up your sky and clouds the way you want. And, the Night Landscape mode only allows for a 1" second time. What can you do. Use your ISO setting; it can be adjusted manually to 200, 400, 800, so adjust it to 400 or 800 and take your shot again. If there's too much light decrease it to 200 and see how it looks. Tweak it until you get the lighting you want for your clouds in the shot.

Having a camera with Default SCENE modes are good for easy photo taking; however this example shows that there are times when certain shots at night need more light, and having a manually addjustable ISO setting is very useful for this.

Car Light Trails - Car Lights At Night

Light Blur trails - this trail blur from car lights is usually created from car lights at night on roads or highways. To create this effect, use a slow shutter speed of at least 1 or more seconds. Use a tripod. Looking at these 2 photos you see the motion blur trail from the car tail lights on the highway.

For the first photo, I wanted to get the tail lights, and emphasize the skyline and the clouds; so to get more light into the shot I used the Long Shutter mode at 15 seconds, and I changed the White Balance to Tungsten to create bluish clouds. I did not use any flash, and no zooming. Photo taken on the Canon A4000, using the Long Shutter mode. I waited until there were at least 3,4, or more cars(in each lane coming and going) before taking the shot.

The second photo is taken with the same composition, however, instead of using 'tungsten' white balance, i used 'daylight' white balance. This illustrates how changing just the white balance can change the photo; and give it a completely different color look.
The first photo has an overall blueish tinge,(tungsten - white balance setting), while the second photo has a daylight - white balance setting. The photos were taken by standing on an overpass(with a pedesterian walkway) over the highway.
motion blur trails, car lights, white balance tungsten motion blur trails, car lights, white balance daylight

Creating Background Blur

Adding background blur to photos is very common in photography and for a good reason - photos that have a blurred background look nicer and more professional. The technique to make a background blur is easy to do.
Just zoom in close on your subject: within centimeters for flowers and use your cameras Close Up or Macro mode; and for action shots - wildlife, sports, people; use your Sports mode, get close as you can, by zooming in to your subject.

These two photos are taken with different compositions, but they each have a background blur.
For the first photo, I stood very close within centimeters of the flowers and used Close Up mode, my aperture was f.3.2. You can see the center is in focus but the background and edges are not.

For the second photo, i used Sports mode; because it was a breezy day and the flower was moving somewhat; i was about 3, to 4 feet away from the flower itself, so i zoomed in on the yellow flower, and took the shot. My shutter speed was at 1/250 of a second. The other wild flowers in the shot, and the water(a small inlet bay), have the background blur. Because I was using Sports mode, with a shutter speed of 1/250, I was able to Freeze the Action - the yellow flower is focused in the shot.
creating background blur,wild flower creating background blur, wild flower, bay

Light Metering Mode

Light metering mode is a camera feature on most point and shoot cameras. Basically it tells the camera where to position its most focus for any given shot for Light - making sure your subject is properly lit.

Typically, this can be at Center weighted, Evaluate or Matrix weighted, or Spot weighted. Evaluate and matrix are the same thing, just different camera makers use either of these.
If your taking shots of landscapes, seascapes, and the like; you can leave it on center weighted or evaluate/matrix mode. If your shooting small wildlife animals like birds; then you can use Spot mode.

What happens is: when on center weighted, the camera gives more weight to whatever is in the middle portion of the camera frame, and makes sure it is properly lit. When its evaluate or matrix weighted, it gives a weight to almost the entire frame. And, when you use Spot weighted; then it gives the focus of your shot; like the bird you zoomed in on, the most weight. Doing so, ensures your subject(the bird) is properly lit.

Tips For Taking Creative Shots

Light Metering Mode - use Evaluate/Matrix for landscape shots; and Spot mode for closeup wildlife shots like small birds.

If you’re using a slow shutter speed (anything slower than 1/60), it is recommended to use a tripod.

The latest digital camera models offer an anti-shake feature - enable this, especially if your not using your tripod.

Fast shutter speed freezes the action, slower shutter speeds can add motion blur to background or blur the subject.

For action shots, like sports and wildlife, (use sports mode), and zoom in close on subject.

For getting blurred background, still shots, with crisp sharp subject; use Closeup Macro mode and shoot close (like flowers).
For getting blurred background, action shots, with crisp sharp subject, use Sports mode, and shoot by zooming in on subject.

For motion blur shots; cars and moderate speed subjects; shoot by zooming in on your subject; use shutter speeds of 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60;
For motion blur shots; slow walking people; shoot by zooming in on your subject; use shutter speeds of 1/10, 1/15, 1/20.
For motion blur trails; cars highway; shoot at large sperture if possible like f3.0-f4; and slow shutter speeds, 1,2,3, to 15 seconds.

Experiment with each of your camera's SCENE modes; so you know what shutter speeds they can shoot at; for zooming, not zooming; indoor shots and outdoor shots.

Buy a Neutral Density filter also known as ND filter; this filter is available as a dial(many stops)(recommended), or single filters(buy each stop separately). You can buy them on or for about $35-40. for a dial filter. Individual filters are about $10 - 15 each.