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.
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.
A long time ago, there were these things called photo booths. Here's how it worked: You'd go to the mall and sit in a small booth obscured by a curtain, where you would get your picture taken a half dozen times by a built-in camera. Then results would emerge moments later as a series of snapshots on a long strip. Of course, I'm exaggerating--photo booths are alive and well in places like arcades, carnivals, and shopping malls. And even if (like me) you've never stepped foot inside one, you certainly know what I'm talking about--the concept is deeply embedded in our culture. Some time ago, I described how to make something called a Life Strip, which looked sort of like the photo strip that comes out of a photo booth, but this week, let's do the real deal. It is crazy simple to make an authentic-looking photo booth strip, and the effect is instantly recognizable.
Make a Blank Photo Strip
As you know, the photo strip that emerges from a photo booth is long and narrow, with a series of pictures printed on it, like the example linked on the left.
It's that time of year again--the local pancake house has put pumpkin pancakes back on the menu, and my family is gearing up for the day when we'll have a turkey feast, a panoply of pies, and, yes, give thanks for another year. If Thanksgiving is a special day to get together with friends and family and share those things as well, then you probably want to capture moments throughout the day with your digital camera. In the past, I've given you some advice on how to get the best Thanksgiving photos--check out my past holiday photo shooting tips, for example. This year, I have a few additional suggestions to help you take some photos you can treasure for years to come.
1. Make a List
First and foremost, it's a great idea to write down a list of the photos you'd like to capture. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday activities, there's a good chance you'll simply forget to take some pictures until it's too late. Take the food, for example: You probably want to shoot the turkey and the pies before they're cut into. Make a list of the important scenes. I like to shoot the fully dressed table, laid out with the turkey and fixings, before the guests invade. I also like to get a few different perspectives of the pumpkin pie, such as from directly overhead and from the side. If there are any groups or combinations of guests you want to shoot, make a list of those as well. Tack the list somewhere you'll see it--like on the fridge--and cross the shots off as you go.
Not everyone uses the same photo editing software. There are many programs to choose from, ranging from the industry standard Adobe Photoshop CS to more accessible and affordable programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro. Which program you use may be a matter of budget, need, and ability. Even if you could afford Photoshop CS, for example, you might not need all of its features. And the program is complicated and difficult to master. Likewise, there are a slew of free photo editors out there--you can read about some of the more popular ones in my free photo editor roundup.
I know from reader email that a lot of folks love one free program in particular: GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It's a powerful photo editing program, but the sparse interface is somewhat unforgiving and difficult for new users--and some typically simple tasks are involved, multistep processes in GIMP. Once you find your way around, though, there's a good chance you'll really like the program.
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 July and August.
You already know that life is full of compromises--like the way you have to eat your broccoli before you get dessert, or promise to walk the dog in order to get your spouse to agree to let you, you know, get a dog. So too with photography: A "good exposure" sometimes means that while most of the photo looks fine, there are some deep shadows lacking in detail, like in my photo of a Coast Guard sailor protecting the Staten Island Ferry enroute to Manhattan. Last week I talked about a few techniques for brightening shadows to reveal hidden details This week, let's wrap it up with a couple more ways to selectively improve the quality of your photographs.
Powerful Shadow Controls in Lightroom
As I mentioned last week, there are some simple ways to globally brighten a photo, such as using your photo editor's brightness and contrast controls. I prefer to improve shadows more tactically adjusting the shadow itself, leaving the rest of the photo alone.