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.
Despite what your camera might have told you, there's no such thing as the "perfect exposure." Unless you're taking a picture of a completely uniform scene (like a wall that's been painted a single color), every combination of shutter speed and aperture is invariably going to favor one part of the photo over another. So even if you learn the basics of exposure using an online camera simulator and go on to master the hidden potential of your camera's Program mode, odds are good that everything won't be properly exposed.
One of the most vexing problems you'll run into is deep shadows in otherwise well-exposed photos. Consider, for example, the photo linked to the left. What you see here is one of the Coast Guard escorts who protected the Staten Island Ferry I rode to Manhattan on the 9-11 anniversary several weeks ago. The overall exposure is fine, but you can't see any detail in the sailor's uniform. Believe it or not, the uniform isn't black--and he has all sorts of fascinating gear strapped to his torso. It would be a shame if we couldn't see some of that stuff.
You kids today have it so easy. Back in the old days, using technology like digital cameras and photo editing programs was difficult. My first book on digital photography came out around 1998 and was filled with page after page of arcane troubleshooting tips, like how to get your camera connected to a PC's serial port (this was before USB) and how to get your software to read TIFF files. But whether you're just starting out and looking for tips or you're a veteran who has been reading this column for years, I bet there are still some things about photo files you don't know.
This week, I've put together a primer on everything you ever wanted to know about photo files--megapixels, megabytes, dpi, and more. This is sure to help you better understand digital photography.