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Sat 23 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Snap savvy

It's all very well having a high-performance compact digicam, powerzoom or SLR snapper, but you'll never reap the benefits unless you understand and use its features. We detail what its settings and icons mean, and how best to employ them.

It's all very well having a high-performance compact digicam, powerzoom or SLR snapper, but you'll never reap the benefits unless you understand and use its features. We detail what its settings and icons mean, and how best to employ them.

Image stabilisation

Blurry images are an annoyance for many snappers and often it can be a mystery as to why an image came out so undefined. According to photography experts, the most common cause is ‘camera shake'. This simply means that while the exposure was being set, the camera moved.

To counter this, we recommend turning on your cam's Image Stabilisation (IS) feature, which is symbolised by a hand with two waves on either side.

Now while IS mode does a good job, you should also learn how to hold your digital camera correctly.

Here's how:

• Hold the snapper close to your body

• Place your elbows in against the side of your body

• Keep a firm grip

• Stand with your legs apart so that you don't lose balance

• Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD when composing shots, as bracing the camera against your face helps steady it

• Another useful technique to steady a camera is to rest it on a flat surface such as a table to both frame and take the shot

• An alternative is to use a tripod.

Pressing your cam's shutter button incorrectly can lead to out-of-focus and therefore blurry images.

Many happy snappers are not aware of this fact, but pressing a digicam's shutter release button is actually a two-stage process. Here's what you need to do:

• First, depress the button half-way and keep it there. This helps you lock in focus and exposure. A light near the viewfinder will now glow to confirm the lock.

• Next, you need to press the button all the way down to capture the picture.
Macro mode

The best part of owning a digital camera is being able to take pretty close-up shots of flowers, coins, insects and more. The key to taking a classic close-up is your cam's Macro mode. These days almost all cameras on the market feature this, however very few happy snappers use it.
Macro mode switches your cam into a special close-focus mode.

While you can use this to take pictures of the subjects just mentioned, you can also use it for making a photographic record of your jewelery for insurance reasons. So how do you use Macro mode correctly? Here's how:

1. To turn on Macro mode, look for a button or dial that features a picture of a flower on it. If your camera's Macro mode is programmed into a multi-purpose button, you'll have to press this multiple times until you see a flower icon displayed on the LCD panel.

2. Next, navigate to the image quality settings on your cam and select the finest quality offered (e.g. ‘Fine JPEG' in ‘Full' size or RAW format). This will ensure that your shots will be as crisp as possible.

3. Set your ISO and Exposure mode to Automatic.

4. Now get cozy with your subject.

5. Frame your target using your LCD panel. Note: you shouldn't use a viewfinder when framing close-ups as most digicams are essentially range-finder devices, which means what you see in the viewfinder will differ from what you see in the LCD.

6. Now remain steady (refer to tip number one) and press the shutter-release button halfway and ensure that you have a clear focus. Then press the button all the way down to capture your close-up. That's it!
Landscape mode

Most cams available today boast a Landscape mode - a long distant mode that offers maximum sharpness and detail for wide scenes such as a city skylines, forests and deserts. To switch on Landscape mode, move your snapper's dial to the mountain range icon (or the 8 symbol, which stands for infinity).

When using your camera in this mode, it's important to pay special attention to holding the camera absolutely steady. Enlisting the help of a tripod would be ideal, but if that's not possible, rest the camera on a table or other stationary object, or brace yourself against a tree or something immovable.

That's because in landscape mode - especially when the light is low - your camera will keep its shutter open longer, which in turn will make the camera more susceptible to recording any movement - or camera shake - that occurs. Serious landscape photographers almost always use tripods.

Some digital cameras have a complementary ‘panorama' feature that landscape shooters will find useful. Normal camera lenses can only take in so much of a scene, from side to side. A panorama feature lets you move the camera gradually from side to side, taking multiple pictures, and later stitch those photos together using software to create one large panorama.

As with normal shots in panorama mode stability is of the utmost important. Use a tripod. Shoot the pictures to be stitched together from left to right. Finally, make sure that each picture you take overlaps the previous one by a third or more. If you're cam doesn't come with the necessary software, you opt for Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw.
White Balance

If you take a lot of pics indoors then you need to familiarise yourself with your device's White Balance (WB) settings. WB adjustments help to remove unrealistic colour casts, so that objects that appear white in reality appear white in your snaps.

Therefore, changing the White Balance settings according to the main source of light can help you produce snaps with accurate colour representation.

Here's an explaination of your camera's likely white balance pre-sets:

• Daylight - for use in direct sunlight

• Fluorescent - to be used in fluorescently-lit environments such as shopping malls and offices buildings

• Incandescent/Tungsten - for use under standard light bulbs

• Cloudy - for shady and overcast skies.
Red-eye reduction

Red-eye can really ruin an otherwise perfect snap. There are two ways to effectively eliminate red-eye in your pics. First up, switch on your snapper's red-eye reduction feature.

This is essentially a small strobe that fires flashes right before the main flash. As you can not increase the distance between the lens and the flash, the strobe is necessary to cause your subject's eyes to contract and so reduce the reflection of light. (If you plan on using this, warn your subjects first as the initial flashes may surprise them).

If you don't have this feature on your cam, don't despair. If you're using a built-in camera flash, tell your subjects not to look directly into the lens, because the light from the flash hits the eye and reflects back into the lens. Have them look just to the side instead.
Night mode

If you use your snapper's Automatic mode to capture a night time scene, the camera's flash will be the primary factor used to determine its exposure. Your foreground subjects will likely be exposed properly, but the flash can only travel so far, resulting in a noticeably shadowy background.

Night mode (depicted by the silhouette of a person with a moon or star) combines an exposure that is suitable for the ambient illumination in the background, while the flash properly lights the foreground subjects.

It's key to keep the camera steady when using Night mode or you'll get a blurry image. We recommend using this mode when taking snaps at restaurants, parties and concerts. You can also use Night mode when shooting at dawn or dusk.
Portrait Mode

Portrait mode (denoted by an icon of a head) is best for taking a shot of a single person. Your digital camera will select an appropriate shutter speed and aperture combination to capture your subject and slightly blur the background. The aim of this is to make the background less distracting and keep the person's face in focus.

As mentioned, this mode works best when you're photographing a single subject so get in close enough to it (either by zooming in or actually walking closer) so that you're photographing their head and shoulders).

Also, if you're shooting into the sun you might want to trigger your flash to add a little light to their face.
Sports mode

If you want to capture fast action, then you'll need the fast shutter speed offered by your cam's Sports mode (also dubbed Action or Burst mode). This setting (usually symbolised by a runner) is perfect when snapping moving objects such as someone running or a car racing by. When using this mode, follow your subject with the camera or pre-focus on an area where your subject will be when you click the snap. (This takes some practice so don't fret if you don't get it on your first try.)

So how exactly does this function freeze the action? Sports mode puts your camera in Continuous shooting mode (hold the button down and shoot three to four pictures in a row) and forces the flash off.

You should get as close as you can for great sports and action pictures. First get physically close, right on the sidelines if possible. Then use your zoom lens to get the shot you want. Take some wide shots to show all the action, along with tight shots of one or two players. This will help you to tell a much more entertaining story.
Beach and Snow mode

This bright scene mode is ideal for taking pictures of subjects in strong sunlight. The Beach and Snow Modes (denote by a palm tree and snowman icon respectively) serve to compensate for the abundant ambient and reflected light by slightly overexposing an image based on the camera's meter reading.

Without these modes, such bright scenes would look dingy because the auto exposure system, made for scenes of average brightness, dims brilliant environments. Specifically, Beach mode is designed to perk up the blue sky and water, while Snow mode is designed to reduce blue tones to avoid an overly bleak, wintry look.

Top four mistakes made by digicam newbies:• Using digital zoom. Many digicam users think that digital zoom is superior to optical zoom, however the opposite is true. When you use digital zoom, you're essentially capturing a section of a photo with a lower resolution than the full image would boast. On the other hand, when you use optical zoom, magnification is created by the lens moving physically closer to the subject, meaning the quality of your image is not adversely affected.

• Not reading the manual. If you want to get the most from your camera, read its user guide. Apart from explaining what each control does, this document contains lots of useful advice on how to use the camera correctly.

• Stabbing the shutter release button. Since pressing a shutter-release button is a two-step process, simply stabbing it will lead to blurry snaps.

• Setting the camera to take low-res, compressed pictures. Although doing this will help you store more pics on your memory card, your print outs or will be of a low quality. To fix this, buy an extra SD card and reset your cam's image settings.

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