Photo Cropping, Camera Resolution, Depth of Field, 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 July and August.

Cropping Photos to Fit a Frame

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More Image Editing Tricks for Brightening Shadows

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.

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Brighten Unwanted Shadows in Your Photos

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.

Lots of Methods to Choose From

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Everything You Want to Know About Megapixels, Megabytes, and DPI

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.

It All Starts With a Question

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Turn Any Photo Into a Pencil Sketch

I've often wished I could draw. My drawing abilities stopped evolving in kindergarten, so my drawings of people remain the stick figure variety. That's why I like the fact that I can capture portraits with my digital camera--no drawing skills are required. And for those occasions when I want something that looks like a drawing, I can easily take a full-color portrait and turn it into something that looks like a pencil sketch with just a few clicks.

Making a pencil-sketch version of a photo is quite easy, and you can do it in almost any photo editing program. In fact, if you have Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can do it more or less automatically. In the Edit pane on the right side of the screen, open the Effects section and drag one of the tiles (say, Charcoal) into your photo. From there, you can explore all of the various styles, like Chalk & Charcoal, Water Paper, and Crayon (there are about 50 options in all).

If your photo editor doesn't have this sort of one-step drawing effect, or if you'd rather try your hand at making the effect yourself, I've got all the details right here. I'll show you how to do it in Photoshop Elements, but the process is easy to replicate with other programs as well--you just need to have a photo editor that supports layers.

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Taking Dreamy, Misty Ocean Photos at the Beach

The beach is one of those idyllic, picturesque settings that begs to have its photo taken. No matter what kind of camera you have or how you take pictures at the beach, you almost can't go wrong when you're standing on the sand and shooting the ocean. But while most people tend to take pictures midday to capture a gorgeous blue sky with fluffy white clouds above the sand and sea, I'd like to suggest another way to shoot the ocean: Use a slow shutter speed to turn the water into a moody, foggy blur. This isn't the first time I've explained how to capture the essence of water motion with a slow shutter speed (check out "How to Photograph Waterfalls and Moving Water"), but this week let's look at how to apply this technique at the beach.

Cheating With Shutter Speed

People often see a photo like this one and try to guess how it was done. "Was it really misty there?" people ask. "Was there a fog rising off the ocean in the early morning?" And the answer, of course, is no and no. There's no fog, and the scene didn't look like this in real life. Instead, what you see is the effect you get when you slow down the shutter speed and capture a lot of wave movement in the same exposure.

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