Getting better snapshots!
by Charlie Leck
Today's blog is about digital photography
in answer to questions from my readers.
If you're not interested in the subject,
come back on Monday for my next blog
about true political conservatism. On
Wednesday, the 5th, I'll post a blog reviewing
Richard Russo's novel, The Bridge of Sighs.
Several comments came in about my blog on 7 November – 4 tips for digital photographers. Several of you asked questions that show you're still confused about how to process your own photographs. Most of the problems appear to revolve around proper sizing and cropping. It's true that most camera manuals don't give adequate information about this subject. However, you should be able to find tips and instructions in your image processing software (PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements or the software included by your camera manufacturer). Nevertheless, let me give you a few bits of information and a few quick tips on digital image size.
I'm a member of the National Association of PhotoShop Users. Though I've given you a link to the association's web site here, it is a membership organization and it is difficult to find answers to specific questions without being a member. Naturally, however, you can shop on their web site! If you want to hone your skills with your camera, the founder of this association has a marvelous book on the market that can be very helpful: The Digital Photograph Book by Scott Kelby. It will take you through everything you need to know, in simple steps and simple language, about improving your digital photography. However, it is not going to explain a lot of the gobbly-gook a lot of you get confused about. For that, Photo.Net has an excellent beginner's guide to digital photography. It's sitting there on the web and it's totally free. I recommend it. They take you through all the basics about pixel sizes and pixel counts. They cover a lot more, too: colors, file naming, memory and processing.
To get you started, however, and to answer the questions sent by a few reads, I'll outline some basics for you right here.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
If you are using just a simple digital camera and your goal is to obtain quality snapshots, keep it very simple. Shoot in the JPEG mode. Your camera will give you several choices. If you take your memory card or stick from the camera to your local drug store, the little machine sitting there will do all the processing and spit out your photos on the spot. You will probably be happy with the results; however, the machine has made a number of decisions about the photo and processed it according to its own will and not yours. For instance, if you've asked for 4x6 prints, the machine probably has to do some cropping because your photo format is really 4.5x6. Therefore it lops off a half inch and usually evenly divides that between the top and bottom of the photo or from each of its two sides. That may end up giving you something you did not want.
This is why it's best to get to know your image processing software – whichever one you received with your camera or go out and buy PhotoShop's inexpensive ELEMENTS program. When you take a photograph and then put it up on your computer, that's when the fun starts.
Here's a lovely snapshot a friend recently took on a trip to France, out at Monet's Garden in Giverny. It shows how the photo might have been process in a drugstore machine and how it should have been correctly cropped.
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This friend had over 250 remarkable snapshots. I went through all of them in just a couple of hours and set up the proper cropping and sizing boundaries. Then printing became very automated and easy.
As taken by the camera, the photos were approximately 17 inches by 13 inches at a very low 180 pixels per inch resolution; however, when we reduced the size to 6x4 or 5x7 the resolution rose considerably into very acceptable ranges. A resolution of 300 pixels per inch is very good for printing snapshots. For more artistic and professional results you will want to get resolution up to 400 or even 500. We printed my friend's snapshots in 4x6 size and 500 resolution. The results were remarkably good.
WATCHING THE MARGINS OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPH
If you camera ends up producing images at 4.5x6 instead of 4x6, which most non-professional cameras do, you have to watch out how you shoot. Leave a little room on the long sides of your photographs so there is room for cropping. If you camera can be set for actually 4x6 or 5x7 shooting, by all means, set it that way. Most cameras cannot be set in such a manner. If you do that, then you won't have to worry about just sticking your card in the machine at the drug store because it won't be cropping away anything important.
TAKE THE TIME TO SET UP YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHS
It will take much less time than you think to learn how to use an image processing program. It will even turn out to be fun for you. You'll be able to quickly get your photographs to look just the way you want. You'll also be able quickly correct problems like red-eye and other little problems that sometimes pop up. PhotoShop's program for home users, ELEMENTS, is a spectacular program and you should have it on your computer if you take a large amount of digital photographs.
DIGITAL OPENS A WHOLE NEW WORLD, BUT DON'T OVER-DO IT
One of the wonderful things about digital photography is that the cards that record the photos can come in very large sizes, allowing you to take hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Therefore, you can snap many shots of a single subject in an attempt to get one really excellent one. You'll need to be disciplined, however, and willingly delete those that don't match up to what you really want. With a digital camera, you can delete as you go along. Do it! If you put the card in your computer's card reader with all those photographs still on it, you're creating an organizational work-flow nightmare for yourself.
GET OUT AND EXPERIMENT
If you have a digital camera and you're still afraid of it, get out and experiment. Take photographs of everything around your house. Get shots of the dog and the wood pile out back. Then put your card in the computer and play with your software. It certainly beats watching the blow-hard, Lou Dobbs. As a matter of fact, it beats virtually everything on TV.
SOME HELPFUL LINKS
Here are some helpful places to go on the Internet:
•Short Courses, an on-line library about digital photography, presents this on-line book about Displaying and Sharing Your Digital Photographs and another about Using Your Digital Camera. Both of these are worth reading.
•Internet Brothers also has a very brief and simple page on
•How Stuff Works has a wonderful section on Digital Cameras and Photography, which explains in detail a lot of what I laid out above.
•Derrick Story presents the Top Ten Digital Photography Tips and I found these very helpful. You may want to take a look.
•Good, old Wikipedia has two thorough entries that you may find very helpful. One is on Digital Photography and the other is on the Digital Camera.
Though I use the massive Photoshop Suite (CS3) by Adobe, that company's inexpensive program, Photoshop Elements, is as powerful as almost anyone would want or need. Here's a review of Elements by MacWorld that will probably convince you to get it.
Don't be afraid of your digital camera. Get to know it better. Email me samples of your best stuff. I'd love to see what you're doing. The Short Course I recommended above (Displaying and Sharing Your Digital Photographs) will explain the most efficient way to email photos.