As much as I love my DSLR, I know that DSLRs are not for everyone. They’re expensive, have a steep learning curve, and can be a burden to carry around. I’m sure other DSLR owners out there can sympathize with me when I say that I don’t always want to carry it with me. Sometimes I just want to use my compact camera or phone!
Not to mention, people often worry too much about gear, and they forget that there’s more to photography. Yes, DSLRs can take high quality photos, but they don’t guarantee a good photo. A lot of it still comes down to the skill of the photographer, and you can definitely take good photos without them. This is why I dedicate this entry to tips on getting good photos with a compact camera!
(All photos in this entry were taken with a compact camera!)
I actually love flash photography on my DSLR, but that’s because the flash is separate and flexible. I can place it away from the camera and use different techniques to diffuse it. This isn’t the case with most compact cameras. The flash is stuck in one place without many options to diffuse the light. You end up with a harsh light pointed directly at your subject. Of course, you should use your flash if you can’t get a clean shot without it, but if you have a choice, I’d avoid it.
Natural light isn’t a complete solution either. You can get harsh lighting with natural light, especially if it’s clear and sunny in the middle of the day. In these cases, shade is your best friend! Cloudy days are also great because the clouds act as a natural diffuser for the sun.
Example: these two photos are actually taken 2 minutes apart. The first was with clouds overhead, and the second was when the sun briefly shone through. You can see how much softer and even the lighting is in the first photo.
In cases where you have low light, it might be hard to take a non-blurry photo. Even the slightest movement of pushing down the shutter button can shake the photo. I do my best to act as my own tripod. I use a flat surface (like a table) to rest both of my elbows. Then I set a 2 second timer. This lets me push down the button first, and then the photo takes 2 seconds later when my hands are still.
I should mention that there may be times where you actually want a harsh light, like for a more dramatic look. In these cases, some sort of external light will still give you more control than the on-camera flash. For example, even a simple desk lamp can work.
Depth of Field
Depth of field is the range of distance of when things in the photo are sharp. There’s a lot of misconceptions about it, especially with the term “bokeh” just tossed all over. I’ve shown in a past entry how aperture can affect this, which gives an advantage to DSLRs.
However, there are more factors to getting a shallow depth of field (where the subject is in focus and the rest is blurred) than just the aperture, such as camera-to-subject distance. Just by getting closer to your subject, you can cause a more shallow depth of field.
In these two photos, I did not move the figure or background at all. On the left, I stood farther back and cropped the photo. You can see that the photo looks more “flat”. On the right, I actually got up closer to the figure. It’s subtle, but you can see more dimension in the photo because both the foreground and background are slightly more blurred.
(Note: all lenses have a minimum focus distance. If you get so close that your camera can’t focus on your subject anymore, you need to back up a bit.)
And of course, if you’re close to your subject, the distance between the subject and background matters too.
If you think about it, the things I mentioned above are general photography tips. Gear can make a difference, but gear is also not everything. If you want a DSLR, then great! I absolutely love mine! If you don’t want one, that’s also great! I take plenty of photos without it too!
By honing your skills, you can still get good photos, no matter what you use. Plus, there are so many high end compacts and mirrorless cameras on the market now, so be sure to fully explore your options. Use what works for you, improve your skills, and the results will show.