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I'm a complete novice at photography, but I want to learn to take pictures of "bottle lights". I have included an image which I took with my Samsung ST60, but as you can see, it looks terrible and doesn't do the light justice at all. If purchasing something will help, I'm willing to spend a max of £250. Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated!

enter image description here

  • Maybe an example of what you are trying to achieve would help us. What do you mean "bottle lights"? – dpollitt Feb 15 '15 at 23:59
  • @dpollitt I assume given the example attempt, Adam is looking to replicate the classic backlit-bottle Absolut vodka ads. – mattdm Feb 16 '15 at 1:53
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The obvious problem with your sample photo is that it's blurry. There are several factors that can contribute to the problem, including:

  • camera movement
  • subject movement
  • out of focus
  • poor optics
  • sensor noise
  • shallow depth of field

When you're taking a photo with low light, you'll generally be working with a large aperture, which means shallow depth of field, and a relatively long exposure, which increases the likelihood that either the camera or the subject will move. If you try to combat these by increasing the ISO (sensitivity), you'll increase the noise in the photo. Also, the camera's autofocus system may not work as well if you don't give it enough light.

Things you can do to improve your images with your current camera:

  • Stabilize the camera. A tripod is one way to do this, but it's not the only option. Simply placing the camera on a tabletop rather than hand holding it would be a good start. You could use some zip ties to attach it to a brick or other heavy object.

  • Smaller aperture. If your camera lets you set the aperture manually, set it a higher f-number (higher f-number means the light passes through a smaller hole). This will increase the depth of field, meaning that the range in which the subject is in focus increases. The camera will have to use a longer exposure to compensate, which could lead to motion blur, but if you've stabilized the camera as suggested above this doesn't have to be a problem.

  • Lower ISO. If you can set the ISO manually, choose a value between 100 and 1000. The small sensors in most point and shoot cameras generally don't handle low light very well. Again, this will lead to a longer exposure, but that's okay if nothing moves.

A different camera will help a lot. You don't necessarily need a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, although that will go a long way toward solving your problem. Look for something that at least lets you focus manually and has a significantly larger lens. The lens on a DSLR collects a lot more light than a typical point and shoot, and also has a larger sensor for recording that light. You'll get manual focus, generally better low light sensitivity, and better optics. You don't necessarily need the latest and greatest to realize these benefits -- a used camera in decent shape will give you all these benefits at a price that's more likely to fall in your budget.

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As has been mentioned in the comments to the question, this question isn't really appropriate for Stack Exchange, however I will still provide an answer, but to the question: How do I improve the quality of lowlight photographs with a point and shoot camera?

Tripod

The first and probably most obvious solution for your situation is to use a tripod. Looking at you photo it seems as if the main problem is that there is motion blur, so the texture of the subject isn't as clear as it could be. By using a tripod (and a self timer if you camera has one) the camera remains stable when the photo is taken and so motion blur is eliminated, which also allows a longer shutter time, meaning that less noise is produced due to high ISO, which will also mean the colours look better. This is best for static subjects and will not work for moving subjects (unless you wish to have them blurred).

Flash

Another obvious solution is to use flash. However, using a flash will reduce the vibrancy of the colours and so won't look as good. In some situations using a less powerful burst of light to make a subject visible amongst a brighter background (called fill-flash) can help to reduce the time that the shutter must be open and allow better photographs. This is probably the most effective for moving subjects

Other solutions include constant lighting or stacking photos (requires a tripod or a stable surface).

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Thanks for your answers. I managed to get a hold of a tripod today, and it seems to have worked great. I'm getting a much clearer picture now on all my photos. I have included another picture to show the difference.enter image description here

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