Take Your Best Shot

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Disappointed with your digital pictures? These seven settings will help you get professional-quality photos from your point-and-shoot.

What it does Creates a panorama of a landscape out of a series of pictures.
How After you take a photo of a scene, the image remains on your camera's LCD screen, enabling you to line up the next picture perfectly. Then, when you've taken all your shots and downloaded them to your computer, you can use an editing program like Photoshop Elements to "stitch" them all together.
Tips Place your camera on a tripod to ensure that your photos are uniform. And avoid shooting scenes with moving objects. You don't want to see the same jogger running through different segments.

What it does Improves how subjects are lit in daytime photos.
How A flash fills in the shadows that are created by bright, directional sunlight to give people and things a more natural, even appearance. The extra burst of light also makes colors look more vibrant.
Tips There's a chance the flash could cause your pictures to come out overexposed. To counter that, some higher-end cameras have a soft-flash setting. Otherwise, hold a white tissue over the flash to lessen the light.

What it does Makes everything in a scenic photograph—from nearby trees to mountains in the distance—look equally sharp.
How The size of the opening in the lens, known as the aperture, is reduced to let light into the camera from different distances. This creates an even focus across the entire image.
Tips The setting is useful for more than just landscapes—you can also use it when photographing a large crowd of people.

What it does Focuses on smaller objects at an extremely close range.
How In this mode, you can bring the camera to within inches of a flower, an insect, or a seashell and completely fill the frame with it. The camera then adjusts the focus to allow you to capture the fine details you can't normally get in automatic mode.
Tips Make sure you set your camera on a pocket tripod or a flat surface—even slight hand movements will lead to blurry images. If you're shooting a flower or a leaf outside, do it on a day with little or no wind.

What it does Makes it possible to take well-focused pictures of fast-moving objects in dim lighting without using a flash.
How Your camera selects the appropriate ISO setting in automatic mode. If you want to set it yourself, switch to manual mode and choose from an ISO range that usually runs from 100 to 1600. Higher ISO settings enable the camera to have a quicker shutter speed in low light, which increases the odds of getting a sharp image.
Tips High ISO settings may cause your photographs to appear slightly grainy. It's best to start at an ISO of 400 and work your way up from there.

What it does Enables you to take photos at night without a flash.
How A long exposure keeps the shutter open for an extended period of time to let enough light into the camera to capture the image. If you can manually set the shutter speed, start with a speed of 1?30 of a second or slower, and then adjust the setting depending on how light or dark your shot comes out.
Tips Leaving the shutter open allows for other cool effects. For example, if you're shooting moving objects, such as cars, you'll get light streaks across your picture. Whatever you photograph, you should also use a tripod, or your image is bound to be out of focus.

What it does Illuminates both foreground and background elements in low-light photos.
How By combining a flash with a long exposure, this setting creates a fuller picture than when you use a flash alone. If you take a photo in dim light using just a flash, only your subject in the foreground is lit up—the background usually remains dark. But when you set your camera on slow-sync flash, the shutter stays open long enough to brighten the background, making everything behind your subject visible.
Tips Again, using a tripod will help ensure that the background is as sharply focused as whatever is in the foreground. Slow sync is found in most cameras' flash menu options, indicated with a lightning bolt next to the word slow or the letter s.

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