Best Time to Shoot, Understanding Lens Crop, 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 June, July, and August.

Time of Day

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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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Photograph Star Trails With Your Digital Camera

You probably know that Polaris--the North Star--remains stationary in the night sky, and all of the heavens rotate around it. If you could lie under a cloudless sky at night for several hours, you would see the stars spin around the sky like they were tracks on an old vinyl record. Perhaps it has occurred to you that this would also make a great photograph. In the past, I've told you about how to take other sorts of night photos, so this week let's see what it takes to shoot star trails.

The Beauty of Stars

Photo courtesy Flickr user Oliver Winter
I have to admit that I find star trail photography to be intoxicatingly beautiful. Not only do these photos capture the essence of motion in a still frame, but they also hint at the enormity of the galaxy we live in, and the mathematical precision of the universe.

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Android Photo Apps, Backing Up Photos on a Trip, Shooting Rainbows, 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 May, June, and July.

Some Love for Android Smartphone Camera Apps

I liked your recent article about apps for the iPhone, but like many folks, I have an Android phone. Do you have a similar article for people who like me take photos with our Android smartphones?
--Jeff Kurtz, Eugene, Oregon

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Make a Better Black-and-White Photo

There are a lot of things you can do to your photos with a single click in your photo editing program. Last week, for example, I showed you how you can use the Color Replacement tool in Adobe Photoshop Elements to change specific colors in an image. And in the past, I've explained how easy it is to convert any photo to a stylish black-and-white composition by setting the saturation to zero in any image editor.

In Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can use the Remove Color command (found in the Enhance, Adjust Color, Remove Color menu) to convert a photo to black-and-white in one step. This week, let's combine that with a little Layers action to give you more control over what your black-and-white photo looks like.

Start With Duplication

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Use Your Image Editor to Replace a Color in a Photo

Sometimes reality just isn't good enough. In fact, that's the basis for most photo editing. Whether you're applying the Orton Effect to make your subject glow or accenting your subject by removing color from the rest of the photo, there are a lot of ways to make dramatic changes to a photo after it has been taken. But sometimes the change you're looking for is a lot more subtle. What if you only want to change a single color, like the shade of someone's clothing or your subject's eye color? This week, let's see how that's done.

Introducing the Color Replacer

I'll show you how to change a color in your photo using Adobe Photoshop Elements, but if you use a different photo editing program, don't sweat it: The process is almost exactly the same in any modern program. That's because most photo editors feature a useful little gadget called the Color Replacement tool (though the name will vary from program to program).

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