Improve Black-and-White Photos, Obtain Ideal Scanner Settings, 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 email that I receive, 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 posts from April, May, and June.

Shooting Gray Instead of White, Part II

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5 Things You Need to Know About Cropping

When I was about 15 years old and a fledgling "serious" photographer, I wanted to enlarge and crop one of my photos in a particular way. Unfortunately, in 1979 it was all but impossible to edit a photo unless you had your own darkroom and printing equipment. Fast-forward about 30 years, though, and photo editing is child's play. Cropping is an essential photo skill--for example, most of the monthly Hot Pic photo contest winners are cropped, to improve on the original composition. But have you ever taken the time to learn the Crop tool's secrets? This week, I have five things you should know about this unassuming little tool.

1. Crop to a Specific Aspect Ratio

Here's a trick that people typically take a long time to figure out on their own, but is absolutely revolutionary once you know about it. No matter what photo-editing program you use, odds are really high that you can tell the Crop tool to cut a rectangle in some specific aspect ratio. If you tend to click the Crop tool and then just try to "eyeball" an 8-by-10-inch aspect ratio, use the aspect-ratio setting to work more effectively. In Photoshop Elements, for example, click the Crop tool (tenth item from the top of the toolbar) and then choose a specific entry from the Aspect Ratio menu in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen. To go back to a freeform crop box, select No Restriction.

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Create Beautiful Star-Trail Photos With Almost Any Camera

If you're a space geek like me, you know that this has been a great season. Not only did we get to witness the extraordinary transit of Venus across the sun in June, but we also enjoyed a spectacular annular solar eclipse in May. And more recently, NASA announced that one of the Voyager probes has finally left the solar system for interstellar space.

Such events turn my attention to astrophotography. Some time ago, I told you how to shoot the moon, and I've also explained the basics of shooting star trails by using very long exposures. This week, I'll focus on shooting star trails by taking lots of relatively short exposures and then combining the results.

Astrophotography for Beginners

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How to Edit Photos With Adobe's Camera Raw

For years, you've heard that shooting in RAW is better than shooting JPEGs. Your camera's RAW mode packs significantly more visual information, so it offers the potential to capture better photos. That comes at a cost, however, since you need to do extra work to coax better photos out of your camera. To help you do that, most photo editors come with some sort of mini photo editor that you can use to tweak RAW images. Photoshop Elements calls it Camera Raw; Corel PaintShop Pro calls it Camera RAW Lab. If you've always ignored such programs, give them a second look.

Why Use a RAW Editor?

In a word, convenience.

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How to Take Better Photos With Your Phone

How to Take Better Photos With Your Phone
Flickr users upload close to 100 million photos to the photo-sharing site each month--and according to Yahoo, the iPhone continues to be the most common "camera" they use to upload all those photos. As more people leave the digital SLR--and even the point-and-shoot--at home, it's worth taking a look at how to get better photos from a smartphone. A few weeks ago I shared my five favorite iPhone apps, so this week I'll run through four handy tips for taking better smartphone photos. (If you have an Android handset, check out top photo apps for Android.) Consider the following to be bonus tips that complement my 11 tips to ensure great smartphone photography.

1. Adjust Exposure With Your Finger

Your phone doesn't have any of the sophisticated exposure mode options that a full-featured digital camera does. But you might not realize that you can tweak the exposure anyway, even without a spot meter or an exposure compensation dial. All you have to do is tap the screen.

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Make White Backgrounds White, Shoot a Wedding, Photos in Court, Best Time to Sharpen, and More

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me [mailto:question@davejoh.com]. 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 March and April.

Gray Instead of White

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Use Clone and Healing Tools to Clean Up Photos

When Kevin Costner filmed Waterworld, reports said that one of the most difficult production issues was keeping mundane signs of civilization--such as boats and bits of land--out of the periphery of the giant seaborne set. Of course, that movie was made at the dawn of the revolution in digital processing, when digitally removing artifacts from a scene was almost unthinkable. Today it's child's play to digitally remove unwanted elements from photos and videos. Some time ago, I explained how to remove an unwanted date and time stamp from a photo using the Clone tool. This week, let's spend a little more quality time with this tool, and its cousin the Healing tool, to fix up our photos.

What the Clone Tool Does

The Clone tool is such a staple of photo editing these days that I assume you are familiar with the concept. But just in case you're new around here, I should point out that the Clone tool lets you "paint" over part of your photo with a section of a different photo. That might not sound practical at first, but imagine that you are Kevin Costner and you just noticed a yacht in the water in the background of one of your scenes in Waterworld. Rather than reshoot the scene, you realize that water looks pretty much the same everywhere. So you grab your Clone tool, tell it to use some water as its source material, and you paint right over the yacht. Now you can finish the movie for under $250 million.

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