How I Learned to Love the Compact Camera

Winter's Grasp

Winter’s Grasp

I had never heard the term “polar vortex” until the winter of 2014 and that was just one of the things that will make this winter something to remember. In central Illinois, we experienced record a snowfall covering the ground with snow for days on end. Fortunately, snow and monochrome photography are soul mates. However, with my regular working schedule, I did not get as much time shooting in the snow as I would have liked. I could have thrown my gear into the car for any impromptu opportunities, but with below zero temperatures, that really was not an option.

On one of the miserable winter days, while returning to work from lunch, I caught a glimpse of a tree beside a frozen pond. The wind-blown snow covered the tree on one side with the dark bark of the tree showing through on the other. My eye locked in on the beautiful contrast between the dark bark and the glistening white snow.

In my pocket I carried my new compact camera, a Sony RX100 that was literally only one day old after being removed from the box. I purchased the camera to augment my black and white film gear that I planned on taking to Yosemite later in the year. I wanted a small camera that would capture a good image, shoot RAW images, and would fit easily in my camera bag without adding a lot of weight. A quick review of the user’s manual the night before gave me enough information to turn on the camera and find the menu screen and not a lot more.

I climbed over a neck-high pile of snow left by a snow plow and walked out into the knee-deep snow looking for the right composition. Once I found my composition, I fiddled with the menu options to find the manual setting since I needed to overexpose the image (against what the camera light meter was telling me) to make sure the snow was white and not gray. I fired off a set of three bracketed images, climbed back over the snow plow hill and returned to work.

The resulting image shown here would have never been captured if not for the compact camera I carried in my pocket. This kind of “opportunistic” photography is something I am not necessarily used to doing, but with my little compact camera it is quickly becoming part of my portfolio. While I do not foresee giving up my TLR or my DSLR anytime soon, I am learning to love my compact for those shots that would have never been captured.

P.S. Yes, I own a phone with a camera and could have taken a crappy photograph of the tree complete with gray snow and hardly any contrast. My phone makes calls, my camera captures photographs, and my tablet downloads email. No need to mix them together.

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Sometimes Less is More

Sometimes it’s more important what you leave out of the image than what you include. When you’re making an image always look around the viewfinder for anything that might be a distraction. If you are making a photograph of a wildflower, is the telephone pole in the background adding to the photo? Just changing the camera position relative to the subject can remove many distractions.

So what do you do if you cannot work around the distraction? This is where you have to get creative. In the photo below, I considered the trees a distraction but there was no way to remove them from the composition and still keep the reflection in the water. Since I was making a photograph of the sunrise, I simply underexposed the trees turning them into silhouettes and removing them as a distraction. Without detail, the eye ignores the silhouettes and goes straight to the colors in the sky, which is exactly what I wanted.

Red Sunrise

Make Them See It Your Way


When you look at the accompanying photograph of a basket of oranges, where does your eye go? Is it to the orange in the front? If your eye landed on that area, it went exactly where I wanted it to go. One of the greatest tools you have available as a photographer is the ability to direct the viewer around and through the image.

How did I know that you would look at the orange up front first? Actually, I didn’t—that was an assumption on my part. I gave your brain a number of visual clues in the image to entice it to think about the image as I do. Let’s look at one of those visual clues. We will look at others in later blog articles.

One of the visual clues I used in this image is selective focusing to create a well-defined focal point. Notice how the orange up front and a little of the table surface underneath is the only part of the image that is in sharp focus? Your eye will instinctively seek the parts of an image that are in focus and your brain places more importance on those areas. If all the oranges were in focus, the viewer’s eye would hop from orange to orange looking for details and most likely confusing them in the process.