How To Get Better Photos With Point and Shoot Cameras

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Not everyone has enough spare change sitting around to purchase an expensive Digital SLR camera, and some of those that own them continue to have issues taking decent photographs of their paper projects. Why? It's all Flash's fault. Yes, we're talking about you Mr. Flat Light.

Your camera's built-in flash helps you capture properly exposed photos when light conditions aren't optimal, but you shouldn't rely on flash. Unlike taking photos of an indoor event  (where you have no control of light, i.e. wedding reception, your child's spring play etc), you have much more control when it comes to taking photos of your paper projects, simply because you can control your environment. The first thing you'll need to get your hands on is the best free source of light available... the sun! Next you'll need to let that source of light in through a window. I'm willing to bet everyone has one of those! ;)

Preparing The Shoot

Place a table in front of a window. If you don't have an extra table, use a tray table! (the kind you use to eat dinner on when you don't want to miss your favorite show i.e. Pawn Stars, American Pickers, etc).

point-and-shoot-photo-tips-1

I like to place the table at an angle so that the light is not hitting my project straight on. If your project contains many layers and embellishments, you'll want to light them from the side in order to give your photo life and dimension. If you only have one light hitting your project straight on, you'll get very flat results! (doesn't that remind you of something?....oh yeah...a flash!)

point-and-shoot-photo-tips-7

Do not place your project in direct sunlight! It's WAY too harsh! Indirect light is plenty and is much softer!

direct-sunlight

I highly recommend getting yourself a piece of white (foam core) poster board to use as a fill light. In this photo, the poster board is bouncing the available light back into the scene. This helps soften any shadows from your main light (the window).

posterboard

Setting Up Your Camera

  1. Pull out your camera's manual and find out how to turn off the flash. There are so many different point and shoot cameras on the market, so we can't tell you exactly how to turns yours off, but your manual should include this information. If you don't have your manual, visit the camera manufacturer's website! They should have a copy that you can download in PDF format!
  2. Get yourself a simple tripod. Because we're not using the camera's built-in flash, we may need to stabilize the camera so that you don't get blurry images. You can try it without, but you'll get better (and more consistent) results with a tripod.

Ready? Set! Shoot!

In this example, we shot everything on a large white piece of paper that we purchased at Hobby Lobby for a dollar or two. They come in all sorts of colors and make a great seamless background!

  1. When framing your photo, get as close as you can without chopping anything off, but make sure to leave a little bit of space around your object (headroom). You want to capture your project and leave out other distractions. You want people to focus on your item, not your scissors, stacks of paper or the cat in the background that's taking a bath. (well, we'd actually be checking out the cat)
  2. I like to photograph cards and scrapbook pages at eye level so that they don't get distorted. If you have a 3D project, try shooting it at eye level and then take another shot looking down at it from above. Pick the best one!

Before

Notice the lack of dimension in the ribbon and the iris folds, not to mention that harsh shadow in the background. The photos below were shot with a Kodak EasyShare M341 using some basic supplies that would cost you less than $5.00 at an office supply store. None of the photos contain any post editing (Photoshop).

before-hero

After

The ribbon looks alive and the shadows between the layers are enough to create separation, but aren't too harsh! The background isn't completely white, but it's bright enough to where it doesn't compete with your project! This photograph was also shot using the automatic settings.

after-shot

Leo Kowal

I hope this tutorial gives you a bit of insight into what you can do to improve your photography. Keep in mind that results will vary depending on time of day, size of your window, distance from your window as well as your camera model. If there's one thing I want you to learn from this tutorial, it's that flash is not very flattering and that natural light is amazing! Remember that shadows can be your best friend or your worst enemy and it's just a matter of shaping your light to achieve that perfect photo! After-all, the word "photography" in Latin translates to "painting with light"!


34 Responses to “How To Get Better Photos With Point and Shoot Cameras”

  1. Tammy March 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Awesome. I can see I really do need a tripod with my camera. Working on that now. Thanks Leo you are awesome as ever.

  2. Jan March 26, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Leo, this is a super tutorial! Thanks for sharing your expertise. Love the difference this and other tutorials will make in future opportunities for projects.

    Thanks again for all the you share in nurturing our creativity! <3

  3. Beth March 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Fabulous article, Leo! I never realized the “flatness” of flash photography until seeing your comparisons and WOW! There is a huge difference! Thanks for all of your tips.

  4. Ruth Evens March 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Thanks Leo!
    I will try using natural light next time I want to photograph one of my projects. Most of the information that I get makes me think that you can only get a decent pic with a DSLR camera. Now if spring would only come so we had some decent natural light!

  5. Steven Franco March 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Thanks Leo, for taking the time to actually explain more photography skills. I know I’m a pretty crafty guy. But I would never have guessed how to get that seamless background. Yet it’s so simple. Just bend (no creases obviously) a piece of white poster board. Awesome!!

    Also, I always try to use natural light when taking pictures(I take tons of my cats lol). But I’m not always available during the day. I replaced all my lights with led light bulbs that are labeled “daylight”. And i do notice a huge difference in my work area, much more vivid and clean light. Not yellow at all. Can that be a substitute for when I can’t always use the sun?

    • SVGCuts March 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

      Hey Steven! You CAN use light bulbs, but unless you diffuse them, they are going to give you harsh shadows. Think about the sun as a lightbulb (a REALLY big and bright one) and remember that its usually hiding behind clouds (diffuser), so if you want to use bulbs, they’ll need to be pretty bright (200+ watts) and you’ll need to soften them with a diffuser of some sort.

  6. Elizabeth March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Great info, Leo! Thanks for sharing it!

  7. Beatrice Lawson March 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Thank you! I have been struggling with my pics and my Panasonic DMC-TZ5. It is a fairly decent camera but I never use the flash if I can help it… I was actually wondering whether I should buy one of the mini studio set-ups from Amazon (they range from $50 to $150) to help. I even have a tripod but because I don’t have a table by the window I was not using it!

    • SVGCuts March 27, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Beatrice, I’m not a big fan of the mini studios. You’re better off using natural light and playing with the available light.

  8. Gina Lindsey March 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Thanksssss so much Leo!

  9. Brandy March 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Boy did I need this tutorial! I have been struggling lately with getting decent pics of my craft projects. I will give this a shot next time, thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  10. dianne March 27, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    This is great information. The problem I have is holding the fill card and backdrop in place in the middle of my room when my husband isn’t there to help. Is this a two person method or are you using special stands? Is there a home made item you could suggest to do the “assisting?”
    Thanks for the helpful post.

    • SVGCuts March 27, 2013 at 8:38 am #

      Dianne, I used a binder to hold up the backdrop and I used a little bit of tape to make sure it held. The fill can be propped up against something (a book, mason jar, whatever!)

  11. Lisa March 27, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Amazing! Thank you Leo!!

    If hugs COULD be given online you’d be getting the crap squeezed outta you right now!

    You could not have explained it better and I can’t wait to try this! I always HATE how my pictures turn out of my projects. You are a God send!!

  12. Sheri March 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks Leo for the simple explanation. When I bought my SLR camera, they didn’t say you had to take a college course in how to use it! The F-stop and apparture settings, film speed and the like gave me a headache. I got rid of that puppy real quick! I love my little point and shoot (about all I can comprehend)! Thanks for helping me take better photos.

  13. Joanna March 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Great tutorial and thanks for taking the time to post it. However, what I would like to know desperately is the next few steps on how to further improve the quality of the photo in photoshop. Do we use levels, brightness….it’s all a mystery to me and is really frustrating!

    • SVGCuts March 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Joanna, I would focus on trying to get everything right while taking the photo and not relying on Photoshop at all if possible. I’m not sure if I’m going to do a tutorial in Photoshop as I don’t use it all that much to correct my images.

      • Kathi Townzen October 9, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

        I LOVE photoshop, being an old digi girl, but there are some things you just CAN’T repair with a bad photo…BELIEVE ME!!! You can do a lot, but certainly not everything!
        Kathi

  14. Leila March 30, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I currently turn off the flash when taking pictures of my cards (per the advice of my husband). The table I use, covered with a white towel, is pushed into a corner with two white walls, lots of light. But I still have to watch where I place the card so I don’t include the area where the wall meets the tabletop…I can’t wait to try your tip about using a large piece of white paper (with the gentle bend) as a background.

  15. Carmen Lucero April 2, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    Thanks Leo for those awesome tips!! Now I know why my cards are coming out flat!!

    Hugs,

    Carmen L

  16. Teesa April 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    thanks Leo I love how you explained it . Now it makes better sense.

  17. Gloria Plunkett April 12, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Excellent advice, never knew my flash was the biggest problem on my camera. Your the best, keep on advising any time you want!

    Blessings to you and Mary.

  18. Carline June 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Thank you Leo…I am in the process of creating an area so i can shoot my accomplishments. I thought of using a large box and line the inside with white cardboard but that will diminish the amount of light my project will get. Any suggestion on how to get some light into the box without making my project look ghoolish?….lol
    Thanks in advance

  19. Kris October 7, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Thanks SO much, Leo! This is very helpful!

  20. Mary W October 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    Thanks so much for the great lesson. I learned to turn off my flash and use natural light, but I still had problems with shadows. I’m going to try your other suggestions!

  21. Leanne Bourassa October 8, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    Fantastic tutorial Leo!!! I need all the help I can get. LOL

  22. Gail Richard October 8, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Wow, what an awesome tutorial. I have it saved for future reference. Everything you said and pointed out makes sooo much sense. I can’t wait to take photos of my layouts. Thank you so very much.

  23. Marcy Bennett October 8, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Is there no end to the valuable information you share! This was a one week photography class condensed in understandable examples! Indoor has always been a problem for so many! Thank goodness for the depth of color, natural light and beauty of autumn! It is natures day of taking all these great lighting tips you provided and just doing it for us!

  24. Debra Vineyard October 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Wonderful, Leo! The difference is phenomenal using the simple hints you gave us. Something as simple as turning off the flash and using natural lighting! Thank you for another fabulous tutorial! Looking forward to the next one!

  25. Kathy Salazar October 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Thanks for the very helpful tut! I will have to try this next time-

  26. Liz Swenson October 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Such a simple fix to a problem that pretty much everyone has. Thanks Leo!

  27. Kathi Townzen October 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Wow, Leo! THANK YOU!!! I am the ABSOLUTE pits with a camera!!! I’ll try it!
    Now, wish me luck! :)

    • Nanci December 8, 2013 at 7:51 am #

      I’ve been trying to get a good shot now for 4 months…doing this and then trying that. I had come to realize that setting up the ‘table’ under the window gave me exactly the light I needed. Just 2 weeks ago I figured out ‘off set’ the item being photoed; but was struggled with the shadows. I am so excited to try adding the side panel. Thank you so very much.

  28. Paula Gale April 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Leo

    This is great advice, thank you. I always find myself at the point I need to take a picture in the evening when I’ve finished my project. I ALWAYS wait until the next day to take, so the natural light is present. My craft room is actually a conservatory (which in the UK is 60+% windows with the roof completely constructed from polycarbonate – so plenty of light penetrating through. I have a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot – but actually prefer either my sony Xperia phone or my Samsung tablet to take pics. Also – they get shot straight to my cloud account where, if I need to, I can edit them with decent software without the gimics.

    So far, I’ve been using a folded large piece of white card. But folded to the side. Also, the position of my desk has been with my back to the largest window, so even with all that light, i’ve stil been creating my own shadow!!! From now on, I’m going to look at taking my pictures somewhere other than my desk – and low and behold – I have some of that picture board you mention… so your explanation has showed me what I have been doing wrong and your two photographs show that off really well.

    Thanks Leo – you’re seriously a man of many talents lol!!!

    Paula.