Instant Upgrade for Point-and-Shoot Closeups

Monday, January 17th, ©2011 Marcus Brooks

Digital point-and-shoot cameras are great! In particular, my aging Olympus Stylus 410 Digital has close-up capabilities that I use all the time for web photos.

My camera has two close-up modes: macro (with flash) and super-macro (no flash). The flash macro mode is extremely handy for documenting tools, gadgets, and the like in dim-to-normal room lighting, but the on-camera flash tends to produce harsh, contrasty shot-in-a-cave lighting. This isn’t the camera or flash’s fault; any forward-pointing, in-camera flash will do this in low light.

When I can, I try to use bounce lighting to mellow out this kind of picture. It’s a common trick for professionals, but “bounce-lit” closeups should be cheap and easy with any zoom camera that will flash in macro mode. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Select the camera’s “macro with flash” mode.
  2. Back up well beyond your lens’s closest focus, so you can zoom in somewhat (“Telephoto” mode, not “Wide angle”).
  3. Place or hold a white card (or similar “bounce” reflector) just outside the frame, near what you’re shooting.
Macro bounce lighting for point-and-shoot flash cameras.

Macro bounce lighting for point-and-shoot flash cameras.

The card reflects excess flash light that normally spills outside the frame on a zoom shot. This provides a second light source to fill shadows, reduce glare, and just make the picture look better. Professional often use an extra “slave” umbrella flash to do the same thing, but a bounce reflector can get similar results without special equipment.

I usually hold the bounce reflector above the shot. The picture (above right) shows what this might look like from the (frightened) object’s point of view. (The paper plate was handy; a big flat rectangle should fill more evenly.) The pictures below show objects shot without and with this same paper pla… er, reflector. (The background is just my MacBook’s lid.)

Left: Image with camera flash only. Right: Image with bounce fill light (paper plate).

Left: Image with camera flash only. Right: Image with bounce fill light (paper plate).

For the record, I didn’t use any post processing on either photo, except to resize them (equally) and place them side by side. Your mileage may vary, of course. The flash strength depends on the amount of ambient lighting, and probably the camera’s sensitivity. The bounce effect is less noticeable in a brighter room, but in that case you may not need it. I usually try a few different reflector positions and angles, and sometimes I’ve tried multiple reflectors. Digicam shots are cheap, so it’s easy to experiment.

I hope some of you find this trick as handy as I do. Enjoy!

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