Photography tips: How to take great pictures on your crappy camera

great pictures old camera


Coax art magic out of your crappy little camera with a few handy photography tips. From force-flash to ‘vintage’ lomography, you’ll be amazed at what your crappy little camera can do!

It’s a perfect day. Gorgeous light, great people around, perhaps a monument or building of note in the background. And there you are, loaded down, not with a sturdy DSLR with light meters and lenses that make getting beautiful snaps a foregone conclusion, but rather with a cheap digital point and shoot you found on sale for less then the cost of a really good hair cut.

I have myself longed for a really smart camera outfit with all the trimmings and accessories, but it’s just not an expense many people can afford, unless they are making photography at the very least a serious hobby. But dammit, we dilettantes deserve to have nicely preserved memories as well!

The good news is that taking decent pictures with even a crappy point and shoot digital camera is pretty easy with a few photography tips for taking great photos.

1. Get a decent digital camera

The obvious thing here, as with anything, is to pick the best camera you can afford. It is worth a little extra for the extra pixels or a few more bells and whistles; if nothing else, it gives you flexibilty on the run when you are “in the field” so to speak. That said…

2. Don’t spend money on camera features you won’t use.

Whether buying that sweet DSLR or the most basic of pocket point and shoots, if you know for SURE you aren’t going to use a particular feature, lens, or extra, don’t get it. Unless this is becoming a serious hobby or career, it’s worth it to become proficient with the basic functions first rather than showing off an impressive kit.

3. Get to know your camera.

Yeah, I know, duh. But you would be surprised how many of your camera’s more exciting little functions are a complete mystery when you first open that baby up. So take time to fiddle with it and actually read the instruction manual.

Case in point: I had my camera for months, nigh on a year even, when I showed admiration for a friend’s lovely snaps of her handmade jewelry and she showed me her very simple digital, saying she would be lost without the macro function. “Uh, the who-what?” I intelligently replied.

Turns out most every camera has a button, usually marked with a small flower, that allows you to take photos closer in, resulting in stunning shots of flowers, jewelry, craft items, close-ups of faces, any number of wonderful detail that is lost from far away. This may seem obvious, but honestly, I am a pretty smart lass and I didn’t realise this was a going concern on my little camera.

4. Experiment with your camera

Go out to a nice spot and take the same picture many times while using different settings. Nearly all cameras will allow you to recall the settings and functions you used on a particular shot, so if you want to duplicate the effect later, you can.

Be weird. Take pictures of fireworks with not only the fireworks settings, but the night and DNS (Do Not Shake) settings as well.

Do a long exposure and move your camera about, pointed at a full moon to make “moon graffiti” in the finished shot.

great pictures old camera light graffiti

Here’s me trying my hand at a little light graffiti.

Take pictures of warm sunny places with a snow setting to give it an eerily cold light. Anything odd you want to try, do it. There’s no film to waste.

5. Use the Force Flash function.

If you want to freeze action in front of you, but want the background to remain blurry – and you don’t want to have to set a bunch of manual options – then just force the flash. Simply press halfway down on the shutter button while covering the front of the camera with your hand. This makes the camera think the environment is dark in the auto setting and engages the flash.

Still lightly depressing the shutter, frame your picture and take the shot. The flash will illuminate the subject and give the background a blurred, dreamy quality.

6. Fart around with the camera focus.

I love taking off-centre pictures. The simplest way to do this in a auto mode (which most of these tips are for; you can set a camera manually to do all of these things, but who wants to take the time and miss that perfect moment?) is to frame what you want to be crisp and in focus in the centre.

great pictures old camera

Once more, lightly depress the shutter button about halfway (you’ll find this “fixes” all your auto settings…flash, focus, etc) and then move the camera where you want to get that lovely off centre, but subject still in focus look. Do the same if you want the background in focus but the foreground blurry and soft.

7. Think like a toy camera photographer to achieve old-fashioned film photography

There is an entire community of amateur and professional photographers who love the look of old-fashioned film photography, especially as seen through the lens of any number of “toy cameras”. Toy cameras? Simple, plastic cameras, often vintage, or copied from vintage cameras given as advertising premiums by marketers. Many of these wonderful little beasts can be found under “lomography” and it is a whole other world of photography that is fun to explore.

basic photography tips - tips for taking great photos


Even with your little digital, you can still subscribe to the toy camera adage of “shooting from the hip”, in other words, take the picture and don’t worry about what you get. Digital offers the added assurance of being able to do it all over again if you missed what you were looking for.

Other than the basics of making sure there is nothing weird seeming to come out of someone’s head and other photography dos and don’ts, you don’t have to do much more than make sure something interesting is somewhere in front of your lens. Sometimes there will be a happy accident in there…

8. Mistakes are GOOD. Love your boo-boos.

That little screen on the back will show you approximately what you have got, sure. But until you get out of strong light, or lack of light and get that snap up on the larger screen of your computer, you may not be seeing what was truly captured. I have seen some pictures that looked initially looked so-so come to breathtaking life when I got them full-sized on my computer screen. Little digital point and shoots give you the immediate assurance of getting the shot with a little of the unknown thrown in that we miss from our film developing days.

great pictures old camera

My monochrome shot.

I am not a photographer by any means, but all of my pictures were taken with my crappy little point and shoot. Most have been taken in auto mode with me “forcing” the lens on the spot. Between these photography tips and a decent knowledge of Photoshop to clean up your finished product (if you wish, I don’t use it myself) you will have your friends thinking you’ve taken a course in photography in no time.

More photography tips on Mookychick:

How to turn your amateur photos into art