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 September, October, and November.
Improving Camera Phone Photos
I have a camera phone, and I find that many pictures are too dark, even blurry. I want to try a photo editing program. Do you have any suggestions or tricks that I should try? --Diane King, Orlando, Florida
Did you get a new camera over the holidays? I did. I am quite excited about my new Nikon D7000, which was my "big present" on Christmas morning. If, like me, you have a shiny new camera to play with, here are some things you can do to get the most out of it. And while you're preparing to get the most out of digital photography this new year, be sure to read about five photo editing techniques you should definitely explore this year.
Read the Manual
This one should be obvious--so why do so few people read the user guide that comes with their camera? There's nothing wrong with experimenting with your camera and figuring stuff out on our own, but at some point in your first month with the camera, I highly encourage you to read the manual. There's a right way and a wrong way to do that, though, and I daresay most people don't get as much out of the manual as they should. Here's my recommended approach.
New Year's resolutions are a dime a dozen. In the past I've vowed to lose weight, earn more belts in kickboxing class, start another master's degree, and walk my dog more often. Most resolutions get forgotten long before Valentine's Day. This week, though, I'm offering you something different: The opportunity to resolve to learn some nifty photo editing tricks. I collected a handful of the most interesting and useful photo editing techniques from the past few years of Digital Focus. If you need more basic information on photo editing, you might want to start by reading "Getting Started in Digital Photography." After that, though, dig in to these juicy tricks and tips.
Erase People From a Photo
Few things are as frustrating as trying to capture a beautiful photo and being stymied by the presence of other people in the scene. Thankfully, the classic "there's a tourist in my Zen Garden!" problem is one that you can fix afterwards in a photo editor.
There are a handful of photographers whom I've admired and tried to emulate over the years. Michael Orton is one of them. His soft, glowing, almost ethereal photos have always been special to me. Even if you don't know Orton's name, there's little doubt you've seen his photos, or ones based on his technique. Simply put, he combines two photos of the same subject, one in sharp focus and the other blurry. In the past, I've explained how to make your own Orton-effect photos using Corel's Paint Shop Pro. Today I'd like to update that technique to show you how it's done with Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Duplicate Your Photo
To get started, choose a photo. It can be anything, but I've gotten especially good results using people and nature photos--just pick something and see how well it works. After you try a few, you should develop a sense of what kinds of images look best with this effect.
We all take more photos than usual at this time of year. You might be taking pictures in the snow, photos of Christmas decorations, or just capturing holiday get-togethers. No matter what the subject, I'm reminded about just how important your photo collection actually is. These are treasured memories, and you don't want to trust decades of images to a finicky magnetized platter that spins at 7000 rpm and, as it ages, could fail catastrophically. I don't mean to scare you, but it's a fact of life: All computer gear breaks eventually, and it's important to have a backup of your photos when that inevitable day comes. So with that in mind, I've rounded up some easy ways to back up your photos to guard against calamity.
Floppies--Thousands of Floppies
Actually, I'm kidding. Back in the day, floppy disks were the most common way to back up your files, but they've been mercifully obsolete for many years now. I hope that bringing these relics up doesn't date me too badly--but in my defense, last year my dad asked me if using floppies was a practical backup strategy for his photos. That's when I pointed out to him that my last few computers didn't even come with floppy drive bays (which makes it all the stranger that I have a stack of floppies still stacked neatly on a shelf, "just in case").
Just in time for the holidays, my neighborhood has been dusted with several inches of snow. And since getting snow in the Seattle area is never a sure thing--I've experienced a few winters with nary a flake--I didn't want to squander the opportunity to take some photos. After all, snow makes a great backdrop for wintertime photo shoots, such as Christmas light displays. Taking great pictures in the show can be challenging, though, so I offer you five tips for taking pictures in snow and chilly winter weather.
1. Plan for the Cold
This might seem obvious, but it's cold out there. Dress warm and in layers. I've found fingerless gloves very handy for manipulating camera controls. Recently, I've come across a new style of fingerless glove, mittens with fingertip covers that flip off, so you can keep warm most of the time and then expose your fingertips when you need to access small camera controls. Of course, these things might have been in stores for years and I've just never noticed before--as my wife is quick to point out, I'm oblivious to fashion trends.
Most products these days appear to be named by--and for--robots. My television is a Sony KDL46EX600, for example, and I recently found myself shopping for a refrigerator that goes by the sexy name of GSCS3PGXSS. Jennifer Blue, from Australia, recently asked a great question about decoding lens names. The answer simply wouldn't fit in November's frequently asked questions, so I decided to unravel this mystery here.
The Mystery of Two Similar Lenses
Jennifer wrote with a quandary: Why are two seemingly similar lenses priced so differently? She had the opportunity to try them both, and they gave strikingly different results. What gives?