Set-ups, shopping and makin’ it pretty

Portrait by Dean CameronNow, I wasn’t planning on adding any more to the point-and-shoot photography series, but after a few enquiries from readers, I’ve decided to do a summary post covering a number of things

What’s your gear?

I’ve had a few questions regarding the equipment that I use, even one email accusing me of shooting with an SLR! Now, the difference in quality between point-and-shoot cameras and SLRs is extremely clear, and trust me when I say that if I were shooting with that kind of high-end equipment, I’d be laughing at the shots that I’m currently putting up on this blog.

So, to clear the air, I’ll take you through my gear and set-up.

My equipment? Just a point-and-shoot camera, no additional lights, flashes or lenses. The camera currently in my hand is the Canon G7. When I dropped and destroyed my previous camera, I spent a few months having a long, hard think about how I’d replace my equipment.

I had been lusting after a dSLR for awhile, but the costs involved with those cameras are huge, particularly when I took into account the 3 different lenses that I’d need to get to have the same range as a high-end point-and-shoot, and the possibility of having to get a compact camera on top of that for taking out for casual shots…well, I just couldn’t justify spending almost AU$3000 on photo equipment in my current situation. So, swallowing my desire, I decided that I’d remain in the world of point-and-shoot cameras for now…but which camera to get?

With so many different cameras on the market, its easy to be swayed by salespeople and prices, and neither of these should be the determining factor to buying a camera. Sure, of course price is going to be a factor, but don’t let a catalogue sale price sway your judgement…after all, the reason that a model has gone on sale might be because its a crap performer, and that’s not what you want!

So, here’s my step-by-step guide to buying a point-and-shoot camera:

1. Set a price range

Think hard about your budget. Sure, you’re not a professional and essentially this will just be for your food blog and the occasional happy snaps with friends and family, so you really don’t want to spend a fortune. But also consider this – despite how quickly technology updates and goes out of date, investing a little more into a quality piece of equipment will serve you far better in the long run!

So, set a realistic price range, then go into a camera store to check out all the cameras in your range. Take a pen and paper and write down as many camera models that fit into that price range as possible, then bring it home to start your research!

2. The internet is a great resource – use it!

When researching what camera I should buy, there were two websites in particular that many people recommended that I look at:

Digital Photography Review

Steve’s Digicams

Both these sites have extremely detailed reviews of camera models, covering everything from focus and colour to usability. Use both sites to whittle down your list to a shortlist of cameras that look particularly promising, then stay logged on for the next part…

3. Flickr is your friend

Like most social networking sites, there is a multitude of photo-sharing communities on the internet, but Flickr is by far the best for this particular part of this exercise.

Most digital cameras will save something known as EXIF data as part of the photo files – this saves a great deal of information about the settings a camera was using when a photo was taken, but most important for you right now is that it saves what camera was used to take this shot. By looking through the Flickr Camera Finder, you can browse photos that people have taken using a variety of different camera models, as well as seeing how popular that particular model of camera is with Flickr users.

Bear in mind though, the stats aren’t 100% correct as the exif data can easily be stripped from an image (e.g. using Photoshops ‘save for web’ function), but it will still give you an idea of the kinds of images people are producing using particular makes and models:

Flickr Camera Finder

Spend a bit of time browsing the images here, and look at the overall image quality of photos produced – not by those who know the equipment, but of people who are just using it to take happy snaps. This will give you a fairly good indication of actual user results.

4. Speak to people in the know

Salespeople in stores are ultimately there to make money. Sure, some of them may know quite a bit about cameras and be able to give you good, unbiased information, but are you willing to take that chance? Instead, track down people who aren’t going to make any money from your purchase. You’d be surprised at the number of photography/camera fiends there are out there, so try asking around your friends or work colleagues. If you come up bare there, then try any of the various photography forums on the internet to ask the opinions of others.

Digital Photography Review has quite a good forum with quite a few avid participants, so that could be a good starting point. Just be aware that there IS likely to be some disagreement between participants, so view everyone’s advice with balance and try to remain unbiased.

5. Buying the camera

By this stage, you should have your list of ideal cameras down to no more than about 2-3 models at most, so this is where price comes into play. Visit the store websites and write down prices, then make sure to call or visit as many of the stores as possible, the more sure and knowledgeable that you sound, the more seriously the salesperson will probably take you. Get quotes on prices, and write them down, along with the date/time you visited the store and the name of the salesperson that you spoke to.

Some camera stores in Melbourne (I am not endorsing any of them, its just a list to start you off):

Hint – if at all possible, pay in cold hard cash. Vendors get charged bank fees when dealing with credit or eftpos, so if you can pay cash, they’ll be more inclined to offer a discount or bonuses to get your sale. Do not let the salesperson sway you – you’ve done your research and know what you want, let all the persuasion be done in the numbers.

As you go about collecting prices, do not be afraid to play one vendor against another – have all your information there and make sure they can see it – and if the price is similiar or equal to a quote from another store, tell them so, and ask them if they can offer anything to sweeten the deal so you’d be more inclined to spend your money there. If they say there is no possible discount, ask about accessories such as tripods, hard cases or memory cards – after all, you’ll most likely need to buy these things anyway, so if they can give you one for free, then its a discount of sorts.

This is where my advice ends – at this point you’ll be able to decide on a camera that you should buy, and will be able to make a purchase that you won’t regret. Whatever you do, do not rush the purchase, the time taken to do your research could ultimately be the difference between an okay camera and a fantastic one! And if it makes you feel any better…I took 2 months of research to decide on a camera, so I doubt you’ll do any worse than me 😉

My shooting set-upWhat’s your set-up?My shooting set-up is probably about as low-tech as you can get. Since the house is extremely dark and doesn’t receive direct natural light, it means that I do all of my shooting outside.

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’ve also discovered that I have a penchant for shooting against white. Yes, this makes for an extremely boring scene…however, it makes my job easier in the end. If you’ve done any art, you’ll know that white reflects the most light out of all the colours, therefore it means that even when I’m shooting in dull conditions, the white will bounce the light back up and create a lighter scene.

See the two photos to the left as an example – I took these shots at 6pm tonight, and to say that it was quite dim outside would be a bit of an understatement. However, as dull as the ret of the scene is, the paper and the rose are well lit. Of course, to achieve this, I’ve also set my white balance, aperture and exposure/shutter speed…as well as given the photos a bit of a touch in post processing to bring them to life 😉

So I’ll take you through my set-up step by step.

1. A large sheet of metal from a dead computer, slotted into the table.

2. A heavy clay bowl behind it to provide stability.

3. A large A2 sheet of white cardboard

4. Two clothespegs to keep the cardboard against the metal sheet

Aaaaand, that’s it! Of course, it can get even simpler than this – take a large cardboard box and cut away two opposite sides so you’re left with an “L” shape. And that’s it 😀

And what happens if you want to use a coloured backdrop? Well, just buy some wrapping paper or fabric, and peg it down on top of the white cardboard, and you’re done!

How easy can it get, hey?

My shooting set-upPost-production, or making those photos prettyWe all wish that our shots were perfect straight off the camera, but the truth of the matter is that they’re rarely so. Even the best photographers usually drag their files into any one of the various photograph editing suites available to help correct white balance, bring colours to life and add just a little sharpness or clarity that is missing in the originals.

The most commonly used programs are fairly high end ones that must be purchased, and the cost can run into a couple of hundred dollars. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find something to suit your needs…

Personally, I use both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom for my photo maniupulations – Lightroom for the extensive all-over changes, and Photoshop for the finer tweaking…say, removal of a shadow here, or brightening of a colour there. However, since I’ve had a bit of experience with these programs, I find this fairly easy to do, whilst a beginner may find them confusing. I’ve compiled a list of programs below that you might be interested in looking into to start tweaking your photos to help bring them alive!

1. Adobe Photoshop (Win/Mac)_-US$649.00
This is one of the market leaders when it comes to image manipulation, and whilst it provides a vast array of functions, its easy for the everyday photographer and computer user to get lost. One of the down sides of this program is that it is a form of destructive editing, in that all changes are made directly to the image file, and the history tool allows you to backtrack the last 20 steps. Unless you’re happy to spend quite a few hours learning the ins and outs of this program, I’d probably steer clear and leave this to those who have some use for an in-depth editor such as this.

2. Adobe Photoshop Elements (Win/Mac) – US$99.00
This is an extremely paired down version of photoshop, designed to be used almost exclusively for image editing. Though it is far more user friendly to the beginner, te trade-off is that you also lose a lot of manual control for touching-up finer details. However, this is a great program for people who just want to be able to press a few buttons without too much fiddling around.

3. Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 (Win/Mac) – US$99.00
Photoshop Element’s direct competitor, this program is very similar to the above. Personally, having started using Photoshop when I was taking digital art in yr10, I find Photoshop to be the easier program, but you may need to give this a try to see if you prefer it.

4. Adobe Lightroom (Win/Mac) – US$299.00
This program takes all of Photoshop’s photo editing elements and compiles them into a simple, easy-to-use, non-destructive editor. You still need some knowledge of the various aspects of photography to make full use of it, but it doesn’t require as in-depth knowledge as Photoshop and is extremely intuitive to use. So long as you know a little about photography and image manipulation, its a program that won’t be too difficult to learn to use.

5. Apple’s Aperture (Mac) – US$299.00
This was the first image editing program released for professionals, and is in fact the product that sparked the creation of Lightroom in order to compete. Like Lightroom, it is a program aimed at serious photographers rather than general designers, and makes great use of the intuitive, non-destructive editing process that it pioneered. The only flaw here is that, being an Apple software, it is only available to Mac users, which means the rest of us Windows bums have to do without.

6. Google’s Picasa (Win/Mac) – FREE
An extremely limited photo editor, this is a program designed to be used by the hobby/casual photographer who really doesn’t want to bother with learning much about the process, but wants to be able to just click a few buttons and have instant results. As is to be expected, it is extremely limited in function and does a far from perfect job compared to all the programs listed above, but it is a lightweight program which is ideal for anyone with very little image manipulation and computer experience to use.

7. GIMP (Win/Mac/Linux/Unix) – FREE
Want the finer control of the expensive programs, but don’t want to pay a dime? Then this program is the way to go – it is a free program developed by a community of volunteers who contribute their time towards its development, and from what I’ve seen, it is quite a good program! Like photoshop, you can get down into the nitty gritty of layers and masks, or keep the editing simple with easy-to-find menus for fiddling with brightness and sharpness. However, as this is a destructive editor, you will have to be careful when editing and make sure that any changes are saved as a copy file, as saving down onto the original means that you will lose the original image and not be able to go backwards.

I’ll write a basic introduction to photo editing/manipulation later this week, as I think that this is probably more than enough information to digest in one sitting

Questions? Complaints? Found it useful? Leave a comment and let me know :) And if you think that any of your own readers or friends could benefit from my little guide here, help spread the word :)

[tags]basic photography tips, image editing, image editors, photoshop, point and shoot, cameras, guides[/tags]


  1. Better than a basic photography course at TAFE!Because you are focusing on food instead of generalities this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Thanks for so generously sharing your experience.

  2. Thanks so much, Sandra :)

  3. Theresa says:

    this is a great post! thanx so much for posting something for point and shoot only dummies like me :)

  4. Theresa – My pleasure :)

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