I have a point and shoot and need to know what are the best settings to shoot circus acts. I tried to shoot everything in AUTO or SCN mode on the OLYMPUS SPZ 800, but the results are not clean.

Here is my shot.

Circus Act


3 Answers 3


You are trying to shoot a difficult situation with a very limited camera which you cannot control, so there really not much you can except get a better camera. For one off events, you can even rent a DSLR and lens but you off-course would have to know how to use one!

Your example, the camera chose a high shutter-speed to freeze the motion of the performers. That is reasonable option but to do that it had to raise the ISO to 800 which is why the image is so noisy and low contrast.

Had the camera chosen a lower ISO, the image would be clearer but the performers may have been blurry because of their motion. There was probably a slightly better setting it could have chosen but you have no way to enforce that.

The bottom line is that moving subjects in low-light is the most stressful for cameras and even high-end DSLRs can struggle.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I used to own a DSLR, but after fathering a baby, I found it tough to carry the diaper bag and the camera kit. So I traded it in for a point and shoot. I plan to get a DSLR one day, but till then I need to learn how to shoot this kind of scene. \$\endgroup\$
    – abhi
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is more to learn but you have to manage expectations. Plus, a point-and-shoot is, well, point-and-shoot. It does not let you much control. There are cameras in the same form-factor that have manual controls, even much smaller ones than your SP-800UZ. You also have to manage with what you can carry. I have three kids but more cameras than family members, so I often have to decide which cameras to bring along with which kids :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even if you have a DSLR, many entertainment venues and promoters limit your option to attend their events with one. In that case the best you can do is a compact that has manual controls or at the very least exposure compensation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ We have that diaper bag issue covered. See Is there a camera bag that could serve as a diaper bag, or vice versa? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 12:04

The main problem for shooting a scene like that, is that the main attraction is lit, and most of the surrounding is very dark. Generally this will fool the camera into trying to expose to include something from the surroundings also.

The auto mode will frequently fail you, to get a consistent result you would need a manual mode. Note also that although the circus artists seem to be very well lit, that's because the surroundings are so dark. The light levels are still way below daylight level.

You could also try something like a portrait mode, which should try to get the closest item well expoised and mostly ignore the surroundings, but that also relies on the ability of the camera to automatically determine what's actually important in the image.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll try portrait mode next. \$\endgroup\$
    – abhi
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 18:47

just follow these simple steps on your camera if it supports

1) get the auto-ISO turned off and make sure you set it to the highest

2) in the scene selector - select "sports mode" or "night portrait mode"

3) keep your camera as steady as possible and make sure you are as close to the subject as possible

4) also make sure you do not zoom much.

these conditions and settings tend to change as per the ambiance , so consider this an experiment and try it out. photography is all about experiment and learning :)

happy clicking


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