“I have been meaning to write for some time to say thank you for sharing your skills and knowledge via the blog. I have been reading it avidly since you drew my attention to it in an email and I have learned an awful lot from it (as I also did from your DVD). Thanks once again.”
Gordon went on to say he thought it might be useful if I gave some tips on using compact cameras like the Ixus 960IS. I think this is a good idea and will post one or two ideas over the coming weeks.
The biggest problem with compacts – no matter how many megapixels they boasts, or how good their lens – is the limitations of exposure control. However, while you cannot choose your exact shutter speed or the precise aperture you want, there are ways of manipulating things to get somewhere near the results you want to achieve.
Frankly, the first thing I do with any of these compacts is to disable most of the unnecessary automatic function such as Face Recognition, and Auto ISO. Above all disable the AiAF and set the focus area to Centre. Then you will always know exactly where to focus by half-pressing the shutter. If someone could explain to me why I would want a camera to focus on what it wants to focus on and not what I want it to focus on, I will try to understand. I also set the exposure area to Centre Weighted.
The M (Manual) setting on the Ixus is not really manual at all, but is does give you a greater degree of control than the fully Auto or the Scene settings. In M you can, for instance use the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) function. In other words, you can select an area of the scene from which to take your light reading – lock the exposure setting, then reframe and apply that exposure setting to your chosen composition. On the Ixus this is simple – just half-press the shutter and at the same time press the top of the multi-function ring on the back of the camera. AEL appears on the right hand side of the screen. The exposure is locked. To return to normal, just press the top of the multi-function ring again. AEL disappears.
The picture above is a good example of taking control of exposure and focus with a tricky subject.
The flower heads are in bright sunlight. The camera was set on M at ISO80. The background is very dark and a long way away. I first locked the exposure on a bright patch of light on the ground in front of the flowers. I then pointed the camera at an area at the base of the stems, half-pressed the shutter button and held it down to lock the focusing. I now had the exposure set and the focus locked.
Had I not done this, the camera’s auto focusing may have locked onto the distant background and the flower heads would have been out of focus. If I had not locked the exposure on a bright area, the camera’s auto exposure would have taken a light reading that included a lot of dark background – the flower heads would have been over exposed.
Once I certified it as dead I immediately set about finding a replacement. It had to be just about the same size and weight as the old Ixus 700, but higher on pixels. Eventually I chose another Ixus – the 960IS.
It has been on my belt now for just over a couple of weeks and I am, so far delighted with the camera.
I really got chance to try it out the other day when I visited a Bloody Island in Mahon Harbour, on Menorca. I was there to explore new locations for my photography holidays in Menorca.
The camera behaved beautifully and did everything I could have wished. Even interior shots in very difficult light conditions proved no problem with judicious adjustment of the exposure compensation control in the ‘M’ Manual mode. This ‘M’ is not a true manual mode as it does not enable you to change the aperture or shutter speeds – it’s a sort of half-way house. But if you can work within the limitations, it is perfectly adequate for many situations.
One of the secrets of getting outstanding quality with these small cameras is to keep the ISO as low as possible. When the ISO is raised to the maximum 1600 on this Ixus 960IS, the results are, to be kind – noisy. However, there are some situations when in order to get a picture with any sort of atmosphere (avoiding flash), that noise just might be a price worth paying.
So far I’m pleased with the Ixus 960IS and its 12 Mega pixels are providing me with some excellent quality images.
There was a gale of wind and rain blowing outside, so the balloon was inflated inside a huge hangar on a remote airfield in Shropshire. All the other national daily newspapers where there to photograph the event. I saw these occasions as a challenge – they brought out the seriously competitive spirit in me. I simply ALWAYS had to try to beat the pack and get the best picture.
It was very nearly dark inside that hangar and powerful floodlights had been set up. There was a general groan of despair from all the other photographers at what appeared to be the lack of opportunities for exiting pictures.
The great advantage of working for a newspaper like the Independent – at least in the days soon after it was launched – was that we photographers were totally free to photograph an assignment in any way we chose. We were never restricted by having to take the most literal pictures. In fact we were encouraged to look beyond the obvious.
The obvious photograph on this assignment, for instance, was a shot of the pilot suspended in his harness beneath the inflated balloon. But that looked totally boring when it was done inside a darkened hangar.
I have said it before – and I will stress it again – that with an understanding of light, a photographer can create interesting images out of very little.
It was obvious to me as soon as the flood lights were lit and the balloon was beginning to inflate that there would have to be an interesting picture if I could shoot against one of these lights from almost inside the balloon as it inflated. Remember that mantra – BACKLIGHT FOR OUTLINE SHAPES!!
However, that picture would need a sense of scale and a human element if it was to be interesting enough to get published.
I quietly asked one of the technicians to stand outside the balloon between me and the floodlight and open his arms to smooth out any wrinkles in the balloon as it inflated. I worked very quickly in order not to give the other photographers any chance to copy what I was doing. The timing was spot on. No sooner had I taken this picture than the balloon lifted off the floor of the hangar as it inflated – making any similar pictures impossible.
The reason for our river trip was something very special – indeed it is a First for Scotland. Here in Kirkcudbright it has been known for some months that a pair of spoonbills have been feeding on the mud banks of the river. Well, it is now confirmed that the birds have successfully raised three chicks nearby. All five birds are now seen regularly feeding in the shallows.
This is an extremely rare and important event for wildlife in Britain. Although there is one instance of spoonbills having bred successfully in England, it is the first time in over 300 years that they have bred as far north as SW Scotland. Twitchers are now flocking to Kirkcudbright to see the spoonbills and, happily, the birds seem quite oblivious to their new fame.
Keith was shooting with his Nikon D300 and a 500mm Sigma lens. Due to the shallow water over the mud banks we were unable to get the boat very close, and Keith’s biggest difficulty was in keeping the camera still with the slow shutter speeds needed in the very low light. Although he pushed the ISO right up to 1600, and opened the aperture as wide as possible, he was still using a shutter speed of just 125sec. The motion of the boat and the movement of the birds did not help.
But just look at the picture Keith achieved – you can even see the rain spot bouncing off the wet mud.
…and here’s one of the adult spoonbills striding past a resident heron. Under the conditions, that’s a great shot, Keith.