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Take Better Photos of Smiling Faces
by rob

Faces are the number one subject for casual photographers.

Let's face it: casual photographers take more pictures of people than anything else. Now that cameras have at least 7 megapixel resolutions (more than enough for flawless 11" x 14" portraits), camera manufacturers are packing all sorts of technology into their cameras, big and small, that can help you take better pictures of family and friends.

A Face in the Crowd
Conventional auto focus systems in today's digital cameras do a good job of focusing on things at the center of the frame. But if you place your favorite person off-center (creating a more interesting composition) and you still want them in focus, you will have to push down the shutter button half-way to lock focus on their face then recompose the picture before taking the shot.

Many current digital cameras include a face detection mode that helps when you take portraits of friends and family. A camera with face detection scans what you point it at and looks for a face: two eyes, nose, ears and a chin. Then the camera automatically adjusts focus and lighting settings for an optimal shot. This feature is commonly called either face detection or face priority.

The Sony Cyber-shot® DSC-W120/L I tested found faces quickly and followed them as they moved through the frame. The only thing that threw it off was large sunglasses.

Face Detection
Face detection finds and focuses on faces. Smile detection takes photos only when your subject is smiling.

Smile Recognition
Hitting the shutter button at the right time to capture a smile can be tricky, especially when shooting unpredictable subjects, such as a bunch of children at a party. Sony cameras build upon face recognition with their smile detection, called Smile Shutter technology. These cameras will wait until your subject is smiling before taking a picture.

The model I tested was a Sony Cyber-shot® DSC-W120/L. You enter Smile Shutter mode by turning the mode dial to the smiling face. Then, you press the shutter button all the way down to start. Once in this mode, the camera will take up to 6 photos in a row of any smiling faces it finds. I found this mode pretty enjoyable because you just point the camera at people and you capture smiles. Since Smile Shutter mode takes up to 6 photos, you'll sometimes catch unexpected (still smiling) moments that happen after the normal point-and-shoot method. Also, these smiles are more natural because you're not counting 1-2-3-smile and getting them into a posed or stiff look. In group shots, the Sony Cyber-shot® DSC-W120/L will take the photo even if not everyone is smiling. All it takes is one smile.

Face Detection
All it takes is one smile.

A few caveats about Smile Shutter mode: The thing that makes it great, its automation, also keeps you from being able to change anything while in this mode, including zoom. Also, make sure Smile Shutter mode is not selected when you take non-smiling pictures. If it is, pressing the shutter button will enter or exit the mode instead of taking the desired photo.

While smile recognition won't coax a smile out of an uncooperative subject (like a fussy baby), it may allow you to take shots you might miss or hadn't expected.

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Sony Cyber-shot® DSC-W120/L Digital Camera

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