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
For as long as there have been portraits, they've been used to present a somewhat idealized version of their subjects. It doesn't matter whether you're looking at a high-school yearbook photo or a royal portrait from the 1600s, pictures have always been an opportunity to accentuate the positive and subtly deflect attention from the negative. There are some general rules of thumb you can apply to put your subject in the best light for portraits, but this week let's focus on one area where we can easily improve on reality: the teeth. Not everyone is born with pearly whites, but it's easy to reduce the yellow and brighten imperfect teeth in your image editor.
Don't Indiscriminately Whiten
First, what you shouldn't do: just brighten teeth using editing tools like the histogram adjustment, levels, or brightness control. I've seen novice photographers use the lasso to select a mouthful of teeth and then apply a powerful whitening agent. The results can be frighteningly unrealistic. Instead, I'm going to show you a more subtle approach: a two-step process in which you start by scrubbing off the yellow, and then gently whiten the teeth. You'll mimic the effect of adding $10,000 worth of veneers at the dentist's office--for free, since it's only digital.
If you're like most folks, you rely on your camera's aperture priority mode and small f-numbers to take photos with a limited depth of field. This technique isolates the subject from the (fuzzy) background. But there are also times, particularly when shooting landscapes, when you want everything in a photo to be in sharp focus, from the foreground all the way to the background. You can do this by shooting at your lens's hyperfocal distance. I explained what hyperfocal shooting is all about last week, so if you missed that one, you might want to catch up now. This week, let's pick up where we left off, and explain how to determine--and use--the hyperfocal distance.
How Do I Know What the Hyperfocal Distance Is?
I assume you've read last week's newsletter, but in case you want the digest version, here it is: The hyperfocal distance is where you can focus the lens to get the greatest possible depth of field.
An important part of taking a great photo is deciding what you want to appear in (and out of) focus. Often, you'll want to emphasize your subject by keeping the rest of the scene out of focus, so I've explained how to be selective about focus using your camera's aperture setting.
There are also times when you want everything in a photo to be in sharp focus, however, from the very front of the foreground to the most distant part of the background. There's a way to do this, and it's called hyperfocal photography--or, more to the point, shooting at your lens's hyperfocal distance.
Photographers spend a lot of time eliminating blur from their photos. Auto-focus, vibration reduction, tripods... all of these things help us get sharper images. But blur can be good too--especially in the background, so we can lead the viewer's eye back to the subject in the foreground. Last week, in "Perfecting the Blur in Your Photos with Bokeh," I explained that blur itself comes in different flavors. This quality, known as bokeh, makes some blur more aesthetically pleasing than others. This week, let's wrap up the discussion of blur and bokeh with some tips on how to vary and improve the blur in your own photos.
As I explained last week, bokeh refers to the character of the blur itself, which generally means the shape and crispness of the blurry elements. The blur in your photos is affected by the lens--primarily, the design of the optics and the aperture.
Folks new to photography tend to think that taking a good photo is all about sharpness, but that's only part of the truth. The subject should be in sharp focus, of course, but often great photos balance that with an out-of-focus background. Blurry backgrounds bring attention to and emphasize the main subject. I've explained how to intentionally blur the background in "Blur the Background for Punchier Photos." This week, I'd like to talk about the blur itself.
Bokeh Is the Attractiveness of Your Blur
Not all blur is created equal. In fact, photographers spend a fair bit of time talking about the relative quality of the blur in their photographs, which is a property known as bokeh. (Bokeh is a made-up word that mimics the Japanese expression for haze.) Bokeh isn't the amount of blur. Instead it describes the appearance--even the "feel"--of the blur. If that sounds somewhat intangible and poetic, it is. Nonetheless, photographers tend to agree that there is both good (attractive) bokeh, and bad (unattractive) bokeh out there.
If you're in any sort of romantic relationship, you are surely aware that Valentine's Day is coming soon. No matter what you think of it--a sweet way to affirm your affection for a significant other or a cynical ploy to sell greeting cards--there's a way to celebrate the day without spending money on a cheesy card or impersonal gift. You can create a personal gift with some of your favorite digital photos. A few weeks ago, I rounded up some tricks and tips for improving your photo editing techniques in general; this week, let's take a look at some ideas designed especially to help you express your affection to loved ones.
Make Your Own Valentine's Day Card
That's right: Make your own card. Sure, you could go to the corner store and shop for a mass produced, homogenized greeting to convey your feelings--but you can do better. Just open up your favorite photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paintshop Pro, and design your own. I explain the process in "Make Your Own Christmas Cards and Photo Gifts."