Digital Photography: Avoid the Snapshot Modes

by Peter K. Burian

With the right camera settings plus creative control, it's easy to make pleasing images.
With the right camera settings plus creative control, it's easy to make pleasing images.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Issue of Camera Features

Digital cameras with built-in lenses were designed for convenience and simplicity. That's great in many respects, but it's not always ideal.

• The LCD monitor makes for a convenient alternative to the viewfinder. As a result, we sometimes hold the camera with one hand, twelve inches away from our eyes. The monitor does provide the most accurate framing but this one-handed technique can lead to blurry pictures caused by camera shake.

• The Menu includes a vast range of options that can be tedious and complicated. Consequently, it’s tempting to “keep it simple: to shoot in a fully automatic Program or Scene mode with all the default settings.

We may ignore useful features such as specific White Balance and ISO options, exposure compensation, flash intensity reduction, specific apertures (f/stops for depth of field control) and the many JPEG size/quality levels.

• The wide-area (multi-point) autofocus sensor is very convenient. We may be tempted to use that feature instead of selecting a single focus detection option - and using autofocus lock when recomposing - for more precise control. The wide-area AF mode is fine for snapshots. But the camera may focus on a person’s stomach instead of the eyes: the essential subject area in people pictures.

Are We Shooting Too Quickly?

Because there's no need to pay for film and processing, we all take far more pictures. That's great when we really “work” a subject, exploring it from various viewpoints and perspectives. But it can also produce a shotgun approach where we simply blast away whenever something vaguely interesting appears. Shooting too quickly - without taking the time to make a serious creative effort - leads to snapshots without attention to composition and other details.


Software is most useful for making a good photo better.
Software is most useful for making a good photo better.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The "Photoshop Trap"

Using image enhancing software, we can fix some technical problems. That’s certainly useful for making a good image even better, but it’s not an alternative to "making" a photograph, in-camera.

Certain problems can be difficult to correct without degrading image quality, especially in pictures taken with a JPEG capture mode. And no software program on the market can turn a quick snapshot into an award winning photograph.


Many digicams include a wealth of user-selectable features often in the Menu.
Many digicams include a wealth of user-selectable features often in the Menu.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Preventative Techniques

If you have found yourself falling into the snap shooting trap, the the solution is simple. Take the extra time and effort to study the instruction manual. Learn to appreciate all of your digicam’s features and how each is accessed. When you’re out shooting, plan to use the pertinent controls instead of taking many (fully automatic) snapshots.

Take a serious approach to digital photography. Review each image on the LCD monitor for exposure, composition and framing. If any of these factors is less than ideal, make necessary changes. Re-shoot the scene until the image appears to be completely successful.


A bit of extra effort pays off when you find a great subject.
A bit of extra effort pays off when you find a great subject.
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Bottom Line

Many digital cameras offer great versatility, useful for technical excellence. With the right settings -- plus serious shooting techniques -- they can also enable us to make aesthetically pleasing images. After a slight enhancement in a computer, these photos should be suitable for framing or as entries in the BetterPhoto.com Photo Contest.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Peter K. Burian
Photography Instructor: Peter K. BurianPeter K. Burian, Photo Journal Syndicate (www.peterkburian.com), is a freelance photographer based in Toronto, Canada. His outdoor, travel, nature and active lifestyle photographs are available as stock for editorial and advertising use. He markets his work direct to photo buyers via www.peterkburian.com and is also represented by three stock agencies: Corbis, Alamy and The Stock Connection.

Peter Burian also writes illustrated books about photography and camera equipment, including:

  • Co-author of the National Geographic Photography Field Guide.
  • Author of 15 Magic Lantern Guides to SLR camera systems.
  • Author of Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging (Sybex), covering the technology, equipment and techniques, with 270 pages of practical advice
In his spare time, he is a Contributing Editor with Photo Life, Photo News and Australian photography magazine. Finally, Peter Burian is a BetterPhoto.com course instructor who teaches two online photography courses: Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels. Sign up today to learn how to make great photos with your digital camera!