Photography, it's often said, is "painting with light." In fact, understanding how to use ambient light and your camera's flash is generally the best way to improve your photos, since you can do everything else right, but if the light is wrong, you won't like your photos. I've written about using your flash before--such as "Two Ways to Freeze Action With Your Flash." This week, let's focus on five critical tips for getting better photos with light and flash.
1. The More Diffused Your Light Source, the More Pleasing the Light
I'll call this the First Law of Lighting--in fact, I'd say that it's the fundamental principle behind most of the advice you hear about lighting a photo.
Ask any photographer who owns more than one lens for their digital SLR, and they'll probably admit that they've long dreamed of someday getting their own photography exhibition. Well, no matter what kind of camera you own, and even if you never get your own show in real life, making it look like you've got one on your PC is a snap. In the past, I've told you how to incorporate your photos into fun projects like lifestrips and photo booth photo film strips. This week, let's treat ourselves to a photo exhibition by compositing photos into a museum scene. Or a billboard. Or on a giant screen in Times Square.
One-Click Exhibitions on the Web
Recently, I discovered a cool little site called PhotoFunia, where you can paste a photo into any one of hundreds of settings--museums, photo galleries, billboards, and many, many more.
We all have our favorite websites for those subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. There are sites I visit for tips on playing drums, for example, as well as improving my fiction writing. But what of digital photography? Obviously, you already read Digital Focus. And while you're here at PCWorld, you might also check out the monthly Hot Pic photo contest slideshow and check in on the latest camera reviews. But what's going on elsewhere on the Internet, you ask? Great question. Follow along while I take you on a tour of some of my favorite online resources.
Digital Photography Review
If you're shopping for a digital camera, there is no question that Digital Photography Review, known more commonly just as dpreview.com should be on the list of sites you visit. No other site is quite as thorough in its analysis of cameras, and it has just about the most complete library of reviews you'll find anywhere--for both cameras and lenses.
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.
Most of us use a photo editor for touch-up work--fixing red eye, straightening a crooked photo, perhaps even some color correction. Last week, for example, I explained some simple ways to clean up a portrait by removing red eye, whitening teeth, and erasing skin blemishes. But programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and GIMP can do so much more. What if you wanted to add a reflection to a photo, for example, as if your scene were surrounded by water? Today I'll show you how to do it using Photoshop Elements, and it'll take about five minutes.
Expand Your Canvas
Suppose you have a photo like this one: A shot of the New York skyline that I recently took from atop Rockefeller Center.
For many years, professional portrait photographers had a monopoly on delivering photos of you and your family that generally improved on reality. That's my wife has always insisted on hiring a photographer to take my kids' yearbook photos; only they could eliminate red eye, whiten teeth, and erase zits from their cheeks. Well, these days, you can do those sorts of things yourself. Last week, I talked about how to improve your photos by adopting a digital workflow and I mentioned that you should save your "local improvements" for the end of the workflow, after the photo is straightened, cropped, and color corrected. Well, this week I describe how to handle some of the most common local corrections you'll want to make: removing red eye, whitening teeth, and making blemishes disappear.
Remove Red Eye
Removing red eye from your photos is not only one of the most common things you might want to do, it's also among the easiest. As you probably know, red eye strikes in low light, when your subject's eyes naturally dilate to let in as much light as possible. When you fire your camera flash, the light passes through the open pupils and bounces off the back of the eye, looking red.
Digital workflow is a fancy term that describes the sequence of things you do between the time you take a photo and when you file it away for some future project. The right workflow can be important, because you'll get better results by using certain tools and filters in the right order. Take your program's automatic color adjustment, for example: If you run it before you crop your photo, the program will try to autocorrect unwanted parts of the photo that might be under- or over-exposed. Crop the photo first, and the software can concentrate just on the parts of the photo that are important to you. Last week we started a discussion of the ideal digital workflow; this week, let's pick up where we left off.
5. Adjust the Brightness, Contrast, and Color
Now that the photo is scoped down to the composition that you intended, let's fix the brightness and contrast. The best way to do this is generally by using Levels and Curves, or the Histogram Adjustment tool, depending upon what photo editor you use. If you have Adobe Photoshop Elements, for example, you can use the Curves tool. In Corel Paint Shop Pro, the Histogram gives you an easy way to do the same sort of thing.