Digizooming... any tips for good pics...
I have a Zeiss Diascope and will be using a Sony Cybershot 8 mp camera on an upcoming float trip on the Goodnews in SW Alaska. Anyone have any tips to offer on getting good pictures of bears as I travel down river. I am new to photography and would appreciate any insights. Mainly, should I use the automatic mode or manual. Honestly, I dont know much about the manual settings and feel that I am not getting the best pics at times due to always using the auto mode. I would appreciate any tips on that. Is slowing the shutter speed good for capturing landscapes and such. I took some pics on the last trip (Kugururok about 90 miles north of Kotz) but the pics in the evening clouds were darker that I would have liked. Also the pics I took of the nearby mountains in the day time were too bright. How hard is it to adjust this to get brighter pics in the evening and such. I would appreciate any info offered. Thanks.
I do a lot of float trips and usually see at least one bear on most multi-day trips. The problem is they are usually too far away to make much of it with most cameras. The typical camera has a 3x optical zoom, and the digital zoom is a joke - less than worthless, as you are tempted to use it. You are better off shooting without digital zoom and cropping the image later in an image editing program. The quality will be (marginally) better.
What works better, at least sometimes, are the superzoom cameras with optical image stabilization (IS), like Canon's S5 IS, or Panasonic's FZ8. They have a very long lens (optically, not physically) so they can get a better view of distant animals. They also have IS which will allow you to hand hold that very long lens. Never buy a superzoom camera without optical IS - you can't hold it steady. Also never buy a camera with digital IS, or digital steady shot, or whatever else they call it. It's even more worthless than digital zoom. You don't need IS if you always shoot long shots with a tripod, but if you're normal you won't have one when you need it. Besides, tripods don't work in small boats. The boats wobble too much.
As far as images that are too dark or too light, it's sometimes hard to tell just looking at the LCD screen what's going on. In the day time you can hardly see the screen at all, and at night they look too bright so a dim image looks better than a properly exposed one. You're fooled either way. If your camera has a histogram feature, turn it on and read up on what it means. Basically, for an average scene, you want to keep most of the histogram data in the middle area. If everything gets scrunched up on the left, the image is too dark. If it's on the right, it's too bright. If either happens you need to make some adjustments to the exposure and shoot again.
Almost all digital camera have an exposure bias adjustment. Sometimes it's buried in the menus, but on better cameras it's accessed via some button and then you turn a dial or push another button until it darkens or lightens the exposure for the next shot. Read your camera manual to find it. Take a test shot, look at the histogram, and adjust the exposure as necessary. Repeat until you get it right, then take your final picture. Usually you want to do all this before approaching an action scene. You can erase the test shots later.
If there is a lot of sun setting sky in your image you can count on the exposure being messed up. The best advice is to take some that look over exposed and some that look underexposed and see what you like later. If your camera is on a very steady tripod you can take both and meld them together later for some amazing results.
On a digital point & shoot you want to use as low an ISO setting as possible and still have enough shutter speed to hand hold it steady. IS really helps with this, but as the zoom lens gets longer your shutter speed will need to go up. Experiment to see what shutter speed you need to reliably hand hold at each zoom position. Also, as it gets darker shutter speeds drop dramatically, so at some point you will need to raise the ISO. Just be prepared that as you do image quality will decrease. Digital noise will worsen and so will sharpness. So as soon as you can, bring the ISO back to 100 or so. At some level of darkness you will have to mount the camera on a tripod or some other device to steady it. A bean bag works great for this. If the camera is steady you can safely lower your shutter and restore image quality. Shutter speeds will be very long, but that's usually ok as long as nothing moves.
You can also use full manual exposure control, and there are times you might want to do that to control depth of focus, or speed up the shutter for action shots, or slow it down to record some blurred motion like with waterfalls. Keep in mind that adjusting the shutter will require a commensurate adjustment with aperture or ISO to keep the exposure correct. You can experiment as much as you want with a digital camera and not spend anything but time. But if you are serious about getting good images you should probably start by picking up a book on basic photography, or even take a photography class. Anchorage Parks & Rec puts on some, and so do the community schools programs around the state.
Have fun with your camera.