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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Mastering Your Camera's Many Exposure Modes

I have friends who seek out my advice when buying a new camera. They want to know which ones "take the best photos." But after they get their new camera, they never take it out of Auto mode, and are ultimately disappointed with the results. In reality, cameras don't take great photos--but they come with controls that allow people to do so. Unfortunately, it isn't always obvious how to use those settings. In recent weeks, I've explained how to use shutter speed to take action photos and how to dial in great depth of field with the aperture. This week, let's look at the most common exposure modes in popular cameras and talk about why you would use each one.

Auto

I probably don't need to say a lot about your camera's Auto mode. If you're new to photography, or just a snapshooter who doesn't want to spend a lot of time thinking about options, then you probably leave your camera in this mode most of the time--after all, this setting is great for snapshots. In Auto, your camera chooses the shutter speed and aperture, and it probably automatically increases the ISO in low-light situations. This mode is easy to find--look for "Auto" or a green icon of a camera.

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Use the Aperture to Control the Background in a Photo

Are you a manual transmission or an automatic transmission kind of person? If you enjoy shifting gears rather than letting the car do it for you, you probably also appreciate taking control of other gadgets, like your camera. But even if you drive your car by moving the stick from P to D, I am sure you'll enjoy mastering your camera's various exposure controls--it just makes for better photography. Recently, I explained how you can improve your photos by understanding when and how to change the shutter speed. That's only half the story, though. This week, let's see how your camera's aperture control can give you a range of different effects.

What Is Aperture and F-Stop?

It helps to understand what, exactly, the aperture is--and what it does. Simply put, your camera's aperture varies the size of the opening in the lens that exposes the sensor to light. A larger opening lets in more light, while a smaller aperture admits less light. Consequently, this setting is usually paired with the shutter speed. To take a properly exposed photo, you can use a small aperture with a slow shutter speed, or a larger aperture with a relatively faster shutter speed.

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