Mon - April 10, 2006

No Viewfinder? 10 Tips on Shooting Pictures without Viewfinder

Many small point and shoot digital cameras have no viewfinder, just a LCD monitor which may be hard to read in bright sunlight. The lack of a viewfinder is perhaps the main reason preventing some photographers from buying waterproof Pentax Optio cameras. The new shock and waterproof Olympus Stylus SW 720 also features the LCD monitor but no viewfinder. I think that this a reasonable compromise in a camera of this size. It shouldn't stop you from buying these cameras, photographing and having fun.

After paddling with Pentax Optio WP for more than a year, I have gathered some tips and comments on shooting pictures using these tiny cameras without a viewfinder.

1. LCD monitors are getting bigger, better and easier to read. My original Pentax Optio WP has a 2" LCD monitor while the newest Optio W10 is equipped with 2.5" low reflection LCD monitor. The LCD cover is finished with a non-glare coating, making the screen easier to see even outside on a sunny day. The new Olympus Stylus WS 720 also features 2.5" LCD display. Do not use sunglasses when shooting. It's easier to see the digital display without them.

2. Shooting pictures with a digital camera is cheap. You do not need to worry about film cost. You can always erase the picture and shoot again unless you are after some action shots. So, do not be afraid to experiment and shoot even if you do not see the image in your LCD monitor. Shoot some extra frames. It is helpful to have an adequate memory card.

3. Practice! You will get a feeling what's in your frame even if you have troubles to see the image on the LCD display.

4. I wouldn't shoot pictures with the viewfinder from a tippy racing kayak or surfski. I prefer to shoot with extended arms using the LCD monitor. In my Sisson Nucleus kayak I do not like to drop a paddle from my hands unless the water is really calm. Since my Pentax Optio is tiny I use the paddle to stabilize the camera for shooting. In the case of my kayak, this approach helps me to stabilize both the camera and the kayak, and the paddle is ready for bracing. You need to keep your camera on a leash.

5.Be creative! Shoot from different angles wherever you can reach with your arm. If you have a waterproof camera, experiment with shooting close to water surface, underwater or with a partially submerged camera (see my picture of Sea Wind with a sail above and the picture by Timo Ripatti).

6. Shoot self portraits! You cannot use the viewfinder in these shots anyway.

7.Mount your camera on a mini tripod and shoot with a self timer when paddling. For this purpose I used to use the Slik mini tripod held by bungees on the deck of my kayak. Since self timers provide typically 10 and 2 second delay only it is convenient to mount the camera close to the cockpit where you can reach it and press the shutter button.

8. If you mount your camera on a bow or stern deck away from a cockpit it may be more convenient to shoot movies instead of still pictures. My recent winter movies (Sea Wind - the Icebreaker, Sea Wind on Inline Skates) were shot that way. For the camera mounting I am using the sticky pod with cushion cups. Here is the video clip Upwind on Seda Glider shot with Dave Bartell with the camera mounted on a kayak bow.

9. Learn what adjustment you like to use in different light conditions so you can apply them even you do not see the LCD display. I have assigned exposure compensation and white balance adjustments to a "green button" in my Pentax Optio WP and use them quite frequently.

10. We are talking about tiny point and shoot cameras which are easy to use during paddling. if you really want to have a full control on your composition use SLR or large format view camera mounted on a tripod ... I own several cameras including 4x5" Super Graphic and 8x10" view camera under construction. However, almost all my recent paddling pictures are shot with Pentax Optio WP (previously with Canon PowerShot S40). Sometimes, I am taking my Canon EOS with a tripod for paddling trips but with intention to photograph from the land like in my Solo paddler, solo photographer series shot with a programmable self timer.

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