Cameras love light. Unless you're standing outdoors at midday, the easiest way to take a good photo is generally to simply add light to the scene. That's the idea behind your camera's flash, as we've discussed before. This week, let's see how to combine the flash and slower shutter speeds for some less common photo situations.
Balance the Exposure With a Slow Shutter Speed
Ordinarily, your camera is programmed to fire the flash and then leave the shutter open for about 1/60 second. That's a formula that camera makers have stuck with for many decades. Sometimes, though, using the default setting results in an oasis of light in the foreground, set against a completely dark background, as if your subject is standing at the very entrance of Hades. It's times like this when a longer shutter speed can really hit the spot.
A few weeks ago, I discussed five reasons why you should consider using Windows Live Photo Gallery. It's my favorite free photo editor and organizer; I really like the overall design of the program, which makes it easy to organize and find photos quickly. And Photo Gallery's extras--like Photo Fuse and panoramic stitching--are superb. But several readers asked me how Photo Gallery stacks up against another popular free photo organizer/editor: Google's Picasa. So this week, let's take a look at the latest version of that program.
A Window Into Your Photo Folders
Like Windows Live Photo Gallery, Picasa doesn't actually move or copy your photos; it simply provides a convenient way to see the photos that you have on your PC. If you tend to think about organizing your photos in terms of folders, you'll like Picasa, because while the program does support tags, it feels like a folder-centric program. You'll see all the photo folders on the left side of the program window, arranged by year.
While I'm not a huge fan of camping or long, multi-day hiking trips, I do love visiting waterfalls. There's something about the rush of water that's both exciting and beautiful. It's one of my favorite photographic subjects. Taken with a slow shutter speed, water blurs into a deceptively tranquil image that effectively conveys the impression of motion in a still photograph--not entirely unlike shooting fireworks.
Since we're in the middle of vacation season, let's take a look at how to capture some exciting and attractive photos of water in motion, so you're all set to go when the time comes to grab your camera and hiking shoes.
We're in the middle of a dry heat wave in Seattle, a city usually known for mild weather and lots of precipitation. My cats and dogs (all six of them) are responding by lying about lethargically, which is a great opportunity for me to catch some of my ordinarily bouncy critters on digital film. I last wrote about shooting animals several years ago, in "Photographing Your Pets." That advice still holds, but I thought this was a good time to take a fresh look at the art of pet photography, with five tips you can use to get sharper, cuter, more memorable pictures of the four-legged members of your family.
1. Photograph Them Doing What They Do Naturally
Sure, you can spend a lot of time staging the scene and coaxing your dog to sit just so... but I've found you'll get better photos with a fraction of the effort just by keeping your camera handy and waiting for your pet to express its unique personality. My dog, for example, loves to stand on top of her igloo dog house, sort of like a real-life Snoopy. Why stage something when I can just keep a camera near the window and snap something like this?
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 April, May, and June.
Using Old Lenses on a Digital SLR
I have a wide range of lenses that fit my old film SLR, many of which are 35 to 40 years old. Can I use these lenses on a new digital SLR? --Michael A. Stewart, Houston
Whether you're repairing a leaky faucet or editing your photos, everything is easier if you use the right tools for the task. I use a variety of programs on my own photos, for example. When I'm editing a photo I plan to print or publish, for example, I use Adobe Lightroom. For projects that require compositing--such as combining multiple images in layers, replacing a sky, or moving a person from one photo to another--I'll use a more traditional photo editor like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro.
But for panoramic stitching, quick and simple touch-up work, and photo sharing, nothing beats Windows Live Photo Gallery. It's free, and the public beta of the latest version just hit the streets. Allow me to give you a tour. (You can also read PCWorld's complete review of Windows Live Essentials Wave 4).
I routinely use high-powered photo editing programs like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Corel Paint Shop Pro. But you can get away with spending a lot less on photo editing software. You can spend nothing at all, in fact. In the past I've mentioned GIMP--a popular free, open source program. This week, I'll show you how to get started with Paint.NET as well.
Paint.NET got its start as a senior design project at Washington State University, where it was envisioned as a replacement for the Paint program in Windows. It has evolved significantly since then, though. It remains free, and today has all the basic rudiments of photo editing programs, like layers, effects, and even support for Photoshop-like plug-ins. You can download the latest version of Paint.NET from PCWorld, but you'll want to bookmark the official Paint.NET Web site as well, since there are forums, tutorials, and plug-ins available there. (You can also get to the Web site from Paint.NET's help menu.)