First off, I’m not going to lie to you. Those photographs you love—those artsy ones with a small area in focus while everything else is a dreamy blur—are almost always but always the handiwork of DSLR cameras.
The effect, called bokeh, is created by using a shallow depth of field.
But you probably already know that, and maybe you’ve been trying for months on end to achieve it with your point-and-shoot by following the usual advice: use your lowest F-stop (that is, your widest aperture), a fast shutter speed, and some zoom.
A point-and-shoot camera simply does not have a large enough sensor to really do your bokeh bidding.
DSLR cameras have a larger sensor than even the highest of high-end point-and-shoots. And the bigger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field you can get with it. Basically, trying to create DSLR-quality bokeh with a point-and-shoot is like trying to paint a house with a watercolor brush. Well, sort of.
Don’t despair just yet. I only said you can’t get DSLR-quality bokeh out of your point-and-shoot. That doesn’t mean you can’t get any bokeh effects at all. In fact, you can get some great ones. And because a shallow depth-of-field is such a beautiful thing, I sure don’t’ want you to give up altogether! So, here are a few things to add to your bag of tricks:
1. Dial your camera settings to Aperture Priority (may be labeled with an A or AV), and set your aperture to the lowest possible number. The camera will automatically select what it thinks will be the proper ISO and shutter speed.
2. Take your photograph in well-lit conditions. Lower light will lead your camera to choose a higher ISO, resulting in grainier photos.
3. If possible, use a tripod. This will keep your shot focused should your camera choose a slow shutter speed.
4. Position your subject as far from the background as you can.
5. Stand a good distance from your subject and zoom in as close as you can, stopping just shy of your digital zoom. Digital zoom merely crops and magnifies your image within the camera, thus reducing image quality. It’s fake zoom.
6. Press the shutter button halfway down to lock in your camera’s focus on what you want in focus. Reposition yourself as you see fit, keeping the button halfway down until you’re ready to commit to the shot.
7. Take the picture!
Did it work for you? I hope it gave you better results than you’ve gotten in the past. Remember to enjoy the exploration, the learning, the process. That’s half the fun of photography. And if you ever decide your ambitions have outgrown your point-and-shoot, remember we’re always here to help you find your first DSLR!