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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Best Bets for Photo Sharing Sites

How do you share your photos? When I was a kid, "photo sharing" often meant sitting in a photo booth and then giving away the picture strip that it produced. (See how to make a modern, digital version by reading "Turn Your Digital Pictures into a Photo Strip.") Of course, these days, the easiest way to share photos is by posting them online at a photo sharing site.

And there is no shortage of such sites, either; I've lost track of how many photo sharing sites let you post your snapshots online. So this week, I've rounded up my five favorites. Any one of these sites can host your photo collection and help you share them with friends and family. They're not all equal, though; some are free, some aren't, and a couple offer premium features that make it worth paying a little cash.

Flickr

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Free Photo Editing, White Balance Settings, Photographing Stars, and More Q&A

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 August, September, and October.

How Do You Fix Blurry Photos?

Steve Cox of Lawrenceville, Georgia, recently asked how he can fix blurry photos in an image editor.

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Holiday Gift Guide for Portrait and Outdoor Photographers

As a kid, I asked for a really fancy Erector set several years in a row but never got it (it came with three motors and some sort of remote control); apparently Santa didn't love me enough. These days, I have my mind set on a ContourRoam, a $200 hands-free HD camera that I can use to document my outdoor adventures. You never stop wanting toys, apparently. Over the last few weeks, I've recommended photo gifts for all manner of photographers on your holiday list, including new photographers and casual and action photographers.

This week, I'll wrap up my annual shopping suggestions with a look at cameras and accessories for people who like taking portraits as well as outdoorsy types who shoot landscapes and wildlife.

Photo Gifts for Portrait Takers

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Photography Gift Guide for Casual and Action Photographers

The holidays are a special time of year--not just for the food, family, and togetherness, but because it's when photographers can look forward to getting goodies like new cameras, gadgets, and software. Last week I kicked off my annual holiday gift guide by suggesting some goodies for photographers who are trying to stretch their skills.

This week, let's look at some cameras and other gift ideas for two kinds of photographers: fans of action photography, and what I sometimes call the "accidental photographer,” folks who like to carry an ultracompact point-and-shoot camera and take casual photos while on the go.

Come back next week for the final entry in this year's gift guide, which will focus on landscape, wildlife, and portrait photography goodies.

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Holiday Gifts for New and Growing Photographers

When I was a kid, this time of year I'd comb through the pages of the Sears Wish Book and make a list filled with GI Joe sets, Lego blocks, and Erector sets. These days, I put grown-up toys on my wish list--even though it's scientifically proven that you can never outgrow Legos. Over the next few weeks, I'll take a page from my own wish book and give you recommendations for digital photo gadgets and goodies. I'll start with some gift suggestions for new and growing photographers. Come back for suggestions aimed at casual snapshot takers, action photographers, and people who love to shoot portraits and outdoor photos.

Photo Gifts for Everyone

Let's start with some photography-related goodies that are great for just about anyone.

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