Make White Backgrounds White, Shoot a Wedding, Photos in Court, Best Time to Sharpen, and More

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me []. I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can’t promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus.

For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from March and April.

Gray Instead of White

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Use Clone and Healing Tools to Clean Up Photos

When Kevin Costner filmed Waterworld, reports said that one of the most difficult production issues was keeping mundane signs of civilization--such as boats and bits of land--out of the periphery of the giant seaborne set. Of course, that movie was made at the dawn of the revolution in digital processing, when digitally removing artifacts from a scene was almost unthinkable. Today it's child's play to digitally remove unwanted elements from photos and videos. Some time ago, I explained how to remove an unwanted date and time stamp from a photo using the Clone tool. This week, let's spend a little more quality time with this tool, and its cousin the Healing tool, to fix up our photos.

What the Clone Tool Does

The Clone tool is such a staple of photo editing these days that I assume you are familiar with the concept. But just in case you're new around here, I should point out that the Clone tool lets you "paint" over part of your photo with a section of a different photo. That might not sound practical at first, but imagine that you are Kevin Costner and you just noticed a yacht in the water in the background of one of your scenes in Waterworld. Rather than reshoot the scene, you realize that water looks pretty much the same everywhere. So you grab your Clone tool, tell it to use some water as its source material, and you paint right over the yacht. Now you can finish the movie for under $250 million.

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Mastering Your Camera's Many Exposure Modes

I have friends who seek out my advice when buying a new camera. They want to know which ones "take the best photos." But after they get their new camera, they never take it out of Auto mode, and are ultimately disappointed with the results. In reality, cameras don't take great photos--but they come with controls that allow people to do so. Unfortunately, it isn't always obvious how to use those settings. In recent weeks, I've explained how to use shutter speed to take action photos and how to dial in great depth of field with the aperture. This week, let's look at the most common exposure modes in popular cameras and talk about why you would use each one.


I probably don't need to say a lot about your camera's Auto mode. If you're new to photography, or just a snapshooter who doesn't want to spend a lot of time thinking about options, then you probably leave your camera in this mode most of the time--after all, this setting is great for snapshots. In Auto, your camera chooses the shutter speed and aperture, and it probably automatically increases the ISO in low-light situations. This mode is easy to find--look for "Auto" or a green icon of a camera.

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Use the Aperture to Control the Background in a Photo

Are you a manual transmission or an automatic transmission kind of person? If you enjoy shifting gears rather than letting the car do it for you, you probably also appreciate taking control of other gadgets, like your camera. But even if you drive your car by moving the stick from P to D, I am sure you'll enjoy mastering your camera's various exposure controls--it just makes for better photography. Recently, I explained how you can improve your photos by understanding when and how to change the shutter speed. That's only half the story, though. This week, let's see how your camera's aperture control can give you a range of different effects.

What Is Aperture and F-Stop?

It helps to understand what, exactly, the aperture is--and what it does. Simply put, your camera's aperture varies the size of the opening in the lens that exposes the sensor to light. A larger opening lets in more light, while a smaller aperture admits less light. Consequently, this setting is usually paired with the shutter speed. To take a properly exposed photo, you can use a small aperture with a slow shutter speed, or a larger aperture with a relatively faster shutter speed.

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Scanning Negatives, Shooting the Moon, Fixing the Colors in a Photo

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can’t promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus.

For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from February, March, and April.

Scanning Negatives

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5 Steps for Great Action Photos

Photo courtesy Flickr user Mariano Kamp.
Summer is upon us, and that means we'll be spending a lot more time outdoors, capturing photos of stuff--kids, friends, cars, planes, dogs--in action. Perhaps you've applied some of the ideas in "Digital Photography Tips: Capture Summer Action," and discovered that some of your action photos lacked the excitement you saw in the viewfinder. That's the problem with freezing the action. Sometimes, it's just too frozen. The antidote? A classic photo technique known as panning. This week, let's review five things you need to know to pan the action to get some exciting, vibrant action photos.

Before we begin, what is panning? In a nutshell, it's a technique that lets you convey a strong sense of motion in your photo by freezing a fast-moving subject, but allowing the background to blur. When done well, panning shots virtually scream action and excitement. Here's what you need to know to take your own.

1. Review Your Stance

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Tricks for Photographing Flowers

I love this time of year. The days are getting longer, the temperature is on the rise, and all around me, flowers are starting to bloom. This is a great opportunity to grab a camera and capture some of the natural beauty around us, whether it's in your backyard, at the local park, or along a hiking trail just out of town. Recently, I've explained some general-purpose photo tricks like "A Fast Trick to Salvage an Underexposed Photo" and "Four Easy Tricks for Better Photos." This week, let's focus on tips for capturing some great flower photos--they are a great addition to the advice I gave last year on photographing spring flowers.

Know When to Get in Close

More often than not, flowers look their best when you get in close, which often calls for using a macro lens or dialing in the macro setting on your camera. Macro mode lets you get very close to your subject, filling the frame with small details. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, the macro setting is generally marked with a tulip. Digital SLR owners have the option of adding a macro lens to their camera.

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