Frequently Asked Photo Questions for April

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 January, February, and March.

What's the Best Photo File Format?

I recently had some prints made from photos I took with my digital SLR. I am not impressed with the quality--they are very grainy and some have a slight blur. Is this because of the picture format? I can shoot JPEG, RAW, and others. Which file type should I use, and for what occasion would I use others?
--Dennis Burdick, The Villages, Florida

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The Rules of Photographic Composition

Here at Digital Focus, I often write about the science and technology of photography. But while the software, gadgets, and photo editing techniques are fun, some of the most important lessons in photography aren't about the technology at all. This week, let's set aside high-tech photo editing like high dynamic range and hyperfocal photography, and instead talk about a few of the most basic--and common--rules of composition. Mastering these rules can help you turn what could be a simple snapshot into something more--into a story about the moment in time in which the photo was taken.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is utterly ubiquitous: Every movie and TV show makes almost constant use of it, and professional photographers avoid putting the subject in the center of the frame almost without exception. To understand it, draw two lines through a photo, dividing it into thirds. This turns it into something like a tic-tac-toe board, as you see here.

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Use a Ring Flash for Better Close-Up Photography

Flash photography can be very challenging: Flash photos can look artificially bright and have ugly shadows, and they are easily overexposed. Unfortunately, you might have noticed that the problem tends to get worse the closer you get to your subject. A while back I wrote about how to take better flash photos, but I didn't cover close-ups.

Portraits that you take in close quarters can be ruined by the uneven lighting that comes from your flash, and really close-up photos--also known as macro photography--suffer from terrible overexposure and ugly shadows. There's a solution, though, a different sort of flash known as a ring flash. Before you shrug off this solution as too expensive or only for pros, let me point out that there are a lot of ways to get the benefits of a ring flash, and some of them are cheap or very nearly free.

Ring Flash Basics

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Photographing Spring Flowers

Despite lingering snow in some parts of the U.S., springtime is almost upon us. With the season comes flowers, and this week I have some tips you apply to capturing the beauty in your backyard garden, public park, or hiking trail. Of course, if you're still digging out from the latest snow storm, you might be more interested in how to shoot in snow and cold weather. But if the daffodils are starting to bloom in your neighborhood, here are some tips for you.

Keeping Your Flower in Focus

There's no single right way to shoot flowers, but the most common approach is to use a macro lens or your camera's close-up mode. Macro photography allows you to fill the frame with the most interesting parts of the flower while "weeding out" the background.

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Frequently Asked Photo Questions for March

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 November, January, and February.

When to Charge Your Batteries

Before leaving on a trip, should you charge all of your camera batteries or wait until they are mostly discharged?
--Bob Berger, New Jersey

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Add a Fake Magnifying Glass to a Photo

Enlarge a detail in your photo by peering through a fake magnifying glass Once you take a photo with a digital camera, you can do pretty much anything you want with it. You can tweak the exposure, colors, and cropping. If you're feeling more creative, you can insert a UFO or shake hands with Elvis. A few readers have asked me how to add a magnification effect, as if there's a magnifying glass lying on top of the photo. It's pretty easy to do.

The Photoshop Caveat

I'll show you how to add a basic magnifying glass effect to a photo. We'll lay an image of a magnifying glass on a photo, and then enlarge the image in the lens. Unfortunately, to do some of the fancier stuff, like adding lens distortion and reflections to truly make it look real, require tools that you won't typically find in a photo editor like Adobe Photoshop Elements--for that, you need to step up to the Photoshop CS series. But that's okay; we can get a good result with Photoshop Elements--here's how.

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Frequently Asked Photo Questions for February

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 October, November, and January.

Backing Up Your Photos

In your recent article on backing up photos, why do you recommend an external drive or Home Server when they both rely upon using a magnetic hard drive as the storage medium? This was the device you panned in the beginning of the article.
--Jordan Freedman, West Perth, Washington

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