Must-See Digital Photography Websites

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.

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Organizing Photos, Fixing Dark Prints, Solving File Format Problems, 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 September, October, and December.

Printer Prints Are Too Dark

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Use Your Photo Editor to Add Water Reflections

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.

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Touch Up Your Portraits Without Makeup

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.

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Establish a Digital Photo Editing Process That Works

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.

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Establish a Digital Workflow for Better Photos

I've noticed that photographers love to talk about their workflow. Why is a workflow important? In part, because imposing a specific sequence when editing your photos helps you remember to do various things--like color adjustments and noise reduction--that you might otherwise forget. More importantly, the right digital workflow helps you to preserve the best overall quality and really make your photos pop. If you know the basics, like how to read a histogram and how to adjust your image with Curves, then start the new year off right by brushing up on your digital workflow.

1. Start With the Right File Format

Your digital photography workflow actually begins way back at the camera, when you get ready to take your picture. The key question: What image format should you use? If you are striving for the best possible image quality and you have the time and patience to tweak all (or at least most) of your photos on the PC afterwards, then I recommend using a RAW format if your camera supports it. RAW images represent the best quality photo your camera is capable of capturing. Not only does a RAW file have no image compression, noise reduction, or automatic color adjustments, it preserves the full range of colors and brightness that the camera captures--much of which is discarded if you shoot in JPEG format. RAW gives the best results, but only if you are willing to spend the time afterwards teasing it out of the photos in an image editor.

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The Top 10 Photo Techniques of 2011

Being a photographer is sort of like being in school--in a good way. There's always something new to learn. (Or if you prefer, you could just let your photo editor do most of the hard work for you.) As I write my very last Digital Focus of 2011, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and round up the ten most essential articles. If you're looking to brush up on some photography techniques over the holiday break, here are my recommendations.

1. Learn and Apply the Rules of Composition

It's true that rules are made to be broken, but you should really understand the basics before you start flouting convention. There are a few simple rules of photo composition that, when you can consistently apply them, will elevate your photos above "snapshot" status. Spend some time mastering tricks like the rule of thirds and the rule of diagonals by reading "The Rules of Photographic Composition."

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