Moving vs. Zooming with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

I was surprised a number of years ago when I found out that using the zoom feature on a point-and-shoot camera isn’t the same as a telephoto lens on an SLR camera. I was a bit skeptical when I read my first article on the topic of moving closer to the subject versus zooming in on it. It stated that the results were different because of the change in relationship between the subject and the background. I read and reread on the topic and still couldn’t get my head wrapped around it. Finally, I did what I force my students to do. I took my camera outside and tried it for myself.

I had a student stand in front of the playground equipment. A “busy” background helps show the difference better.

First, I stood back a ways and zoomed in to get the composition I wanted.

Then, I put the camera back in its wide angle mode and walked closer until she was about the same size in the viewfinder.

I was shocked at the difference in the background! But also notice the difference in photo quality. The reason the first photo is grainier is because all the “zoom” is doing is cropping the photo and thus stretching the pixels so the photos are the same size.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo I took the other day with my point-and-shoot camera.

Now, for comparison, here is the same photo cropped.

And now, using the zoom feature.

Even though I didn’t manage to get them to match up perfectly, see how both of them are grainy and blurry? Personally, I think the cropped original actually is better quality than the zoomed version.

Now, here is what it looks like if I use the camera without the zoom and walk closer.

The relationship between the tulips and background have changed, plus the tulips are more in focus. (Please understand, this is a fairly inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t anything like my good SLR camera’s photos.)

So, the next time you are in a situation and are tempted to zoom in on something, resist the urge!! Move closer, if possible. If moving isn’t an option, remember that cropping the photo later on the computer actually gives better results than having the camera crop the image for you.

But, also remember that if you are trying to get rid of a busy background, zooming might actually have an advantage.

On a size note, actually telephoto lenses don’t have this issue because they are really magnifying the scene and pulling it closer, so to speak. I’m assuming the same is true for the zoom feature on camera phones, even thought I haven’t tested it personally.



Using Reflectors and Diffusers in your Photography

I’ve been doing food photography as a hobby for about 15 years. I try to use nature light as much as possible. However, I’ve found that using just one light source, like a window, causes some of its own problems. If the light is really strong, one side of the dish will be well light and the other rather dark. One of the other photographers who hung out in the Food Photo Forum introduced me to the idea of using reflectors. Before my daughter bought me a portable 5-in-1 reflector for Christmas one year, I used everything from white sheets of paper, to white plates to poster board to try and fill in the shadows. Trust me, having a REAL reflector makes a huge difference! I especially like the versatility of the 5-in-1 with its white, black, translucent, gold and silver sides, which meet the needs of various lighting conditions. Here is a simple shoot of my afternoon coffee to show you the differences. (None of the photos have been edited in anyway.)

Back-lit mug, no reflectors

Same conditions, white reflectors (My setup can be seen in the photo at the beginning of the post)

Gold reflector – creating warmth

Silver reflector – stronger light

The black reflector comes in handy when needing to block light. Usually, that’s because of reflections in glass. It can also be used to create more dramatic lighting effects, especially in portraits.

Window reflections on glass.

(Yes, I know the wine is crooked! The chair and tray I set it on weren’t straight apparently! LOL!)

Same conditions – black reflectors

My other go-to white reflectors are pieces of white Masonite board from Lowe’s. (The board you see on the left in the photo of my photography setup.) We bought one large sheet and my husband cut it into several different sizes for me. I use the larger pieces as a portable white surface to set food and other objects on. But, I also can quickly prop pieces up to help reflect light when needed.

I did a series of pictures the other day featuring various danishes. Here’s an example of the difference reflectors can make in a real photo shoot.

And because the 5-in-1 is so portable, (they all zip together and fold up into a cover that is about 10-inches across) it is easy to take on location as well.

Natural conditions

Gold reflector

I use the translucent center of the 5-in-1 reflector as a diffuser too.  That comes in really handy when what I’m trying to take photos of are in direct sunlight with a harsh shadow. Diffusing the light cuts down on the contrast without changing any camera settings.

Direct Sunlight

Using the diffuser

So, if you are looking for an item to add to your own photography wish list, or need to buy something for another shutter bug, I don’t think  you can go wrong with this $10 purchase!


Photography Composition – Utilizing the 5 Kinds of Lines

Just as placing your subject on the ‘invisible’ thirds lines in your frame, the placement of the actual lines and curves in your photo can have a tremendous influence on how pleasing your picture is to look at. There are basically 5 kinds of lines, which you can emphasize individually or combine. Lines can be used to lead the eye to the point of interest and prevent the eye from wandering. They can put emphasis on distance or illustrate a relationship between foreground and background elements. Also, realize that using lines incorrectly can inadvertently lead the eye away from the point of interest.

The Five Kinds of Lines:

1. Vertical Lines can suggest dominance, strength and growth. Some examples include tall structures and trees.
It is best to try and keep vertical lines parallel with the sides of your photograph as much as possible. Vertical lines can cut an image in half if they are too close to the center of the frame.  Keep the Rule of Thirds in mind, especially when dealing with one dominate vertical line.

2. Horizontal Lines can convey peace, calm and a sense of rest. Some prime examples include fallen trees, the ocean, beaches and horizons. Just like vertical lines, horizontal lines should be kept as horizontal as possible. Also like vertical lines, the Rule of Thirds should be taken into consideration when dealing with one prominent line. Layering horizontal lines can strengthen the composition and generate patterns and rhythm.

3. Diagonal Lines can indicate action, stimulation and depth. Diagonal lines can especially help draw the eye through a photo. To prevent the photo from looking split, try positioning your diagonal lines so they begin slightly above or below the corner of the photo on at least one side. Square plates, utensils and straws come in very handy for creating diagonal lines in food photography.

4. Curved Lines or S Curves provoke a sense of gracefulness, elegance and balanced serenity. S curves don’t necessarily need to be S-shaped; any form of a winding line can be used. Some excellent examples include winding rivers, paths, the curve of musical instruments, shapely glassware and even the human body.

5. Converging or Crossing Lines will add a certain depth and flow to your photographs. They also help add a sense of distance. Some prime examples of converging lines are power lines, stairways and the infamous railroad tracks or road disappearing into the distance. Our eyes are naturally drawn to where intersecting lines meet. For an even stronger impact, position your subject close to the converging lines. Unless the converging lines are the point of interest in and of itself. Then there is no need for additional subjects.

Grab those cameras and go take photos of some lines!

Photography Composition – The Rule of Thirds

Have you ever seen two photos of the same scene or object and thought one looked a lot better than the other one? Have you ever wondered why? Most of the time it is due to the composition of the photo rather than the subject matter. Once you know how to manipulate your composition, you will be able to consistently turn out superior photos.

Almost every book on photography you’ll ever read includes a blurb describing the infamous “Rule of Thirds.” Basically, the human eye is naturally drawn to a point about two-thirds away from the edge of the photo, either horizontally or diagonally.

Compose your photos so that the main subjects are located around one of the intersection points rather than in the center of the image. But why can’t we use the rule of fourths or fifths or some other number?? Thirds wasn’t just an arbitrary pick. The Greeks studied the most pleasing works of nature and discovered that most of them adhered to a specific proportion that could be described in a specific mathematical formula. (I’ll spare you the details!)

The thing we care about most is – does it make a difference? Well, get out your camera and let’s find out!

My first assignment in the Photography classes I taught always was:

1. Take a photo with the horizon placed in the middle of the frame.
2. Take a photo of the same scene with the horizon on one of the horizontal “thirds” lines (top or bottom) and then again using the other horizontal line.
3. Take a photo of an object (flower, cat, bottle, ball, whatever) in the center of the frame.
4. Take a photo of the same object on the right vertical “thirds” lines  and then again on the left one.

Okay, go do it! Seriously!! I did my assignments along with my students. I was shocked at how actually taking the photos “wrong” and then “correctly” on the assignments teaching composition really helped me grasp the concept more than just reading or talking about it. So, for comparison, here are my examples.

Since it can be difficult to compare them with the 3rds grid on them, here they are again.

What do you think? I personally like the horizon on the bottom 3rds line the best. However, sometimes that can depend on if you are trying to include more sky or more foreground. Notice how having the horizon right in the middle has a tendency to make the photo look more like an amateur snapshot that is in millions of family photo albums. That’s definitely not the look I’m going for!

Okay, let’s try the experiment using the vertical 3rds lines.

And without the lines…

See the difference?? Again, the middle placement makes it look more like a amateur snapshot. Shifting the birdhouse to the right or left definitely creates a more ‘artistic’ look. Also notice how which side you use also affects the image. I prefer the “negative space” created on the left side of the photo when placing the birdhouse on the right 3rds line. There may be times when including the branches better suits the overall composition though. Try to get in the habit of trying both sides. Occasionally, I can be surprised with an extra random shot becoming my favorite one of the day!

Are there times when you should break the rules? Of course!! The composition of an image can convey certain characteristics based on the placement of the main subject and the resulting amount of the space around it.
The subject in the very center resulting in an image divided into two equal halves suggests stability and strength, especially when photographing architecture or a taking a portrait.
The main object placed on one of the thirds can suggest dynamic equilibrium, balance or elegance.
The focal point being placed very close to the edge or cut into by the frame may suggest instability, movement, or an imminent sudden change.

Some other things to know: First, not everyone agrees that the 3 sections should be exactly equal. Again, more math. But using the basic 3rds rule is a good place to start. If you want to know more, look up “Golden Ratio.” Second, some cameras have “grids” in the viewfinder.  A lot of times they are NOT in the proper place for composition. I recommend doing the above exercise using the grid lines and then ignoring them, or turning them off if possible, and comparing your results.

Coming soon: Including the 5 kinds of lines in your composition to create even more exciting images.

Happy Snapping!


My Photography Habit

“A camera” has been on my Christmas list numerous times over the years. I’ve snapped away with 110, 126 and 35mm film point-and-shoot cameras at various points in my life. Taking a photography class in high school introduced me to the world of SLR cameras and learning to actually capture something halfway close to “art.” My interest was further enhanced by working for several years in a camera store where I ran the photo printing lab.

After I was married, I discovered a website that not only let you post reviews of recipes you tried but also photos. My passion for food photography was ignited! Thankfully, by now, we were entering the digital photography era which meant it didn’t cost anything to take a dozen photos of a plate of muffins. My family quickly got used to me spending the first few minutes of dinner taking pictures of my plate if I tried a new recipe.

I later volunteered to teach a photography class in my kids’ home schooling co-op. I found you really learn a subject by having to teach it, especially when you force yourself to do the assignments along with the students.

In 2015, I accepted a friend’s challenge to take part in Project 365. It requires you to take at least one creative photo a day. It was a lot of fun and pretty easy…at first. Then as the days piled up, it became a little harder to find things to take photos of in a new, interesting way around the house or in the yard. However, it pushed me to learn how to use more features and settings on my camera, to look at ordinary objects from a different angle and even become more sensitive to how the changing light can affect the outcome of a photo.


As 2015 came to a close, I stumbled across a website that lets you sell your photos on commission. A lot of site require you to purchase a membership to join, which means you could pay a couple hundred dollars and never make any money selling. I decided to give Twenty20 a shot. The commission is small, but it is fun to make some spending money off of a hobby. I submit a mixture of photos that I take because I want to and ones the website suggest as being popular right now. I have shocked at what sells sometimes. This photo below has sold probably more copies than any other I’ve submitted! But, I guess shopping is one of America’s greatest past times.

Images with some type of human element in them sell the best. Unfortunately, since I’m home alone most days, it isn’t always easy to include a person in my pictures. One of the skills I’m working on improving is using my self timer and tripod to take shots of myself. It can be challenging, frustrating and very rewarding. That is one topic I hope to cover more in a future post.

Until then, Happy Snapping!!