Create Customized Gifts With Your Digital Photos

Over the last month, I've shared some gift ideas to help you get some digital photography goodies for yourself or others on your holiday shopping list. I've recommended some cameras and flash accessories, for example, as well as photo editing software and photo-oriented iPhone apps. This week I'll finish off our look at holiday gifts with five ways to incorporate your photos into cool, interesting gifts for friends and family.

1. Photo Gifts at Shutterfly or Snapfish

You've probably seen custom-made calendars, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads emblazoned with personal photos. What you might not realize is that they're both easy to do and quite affordable. There are several photo printing sites that offer these kinds of services; if you're new to photo gifts, though, I suggest starting at my favorite sites: Shutterfly and Snapfish. These sites sell all the typical stuff--but you can also print photos on unexpected goodies such as blankets, neckties, kitchen cutting boards, canvas wall art, jigsaw puzzles, hardwood boxes, and playing cards.

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Photography Gift Guide: Photo Editors, Mobile Apps, Tripods, and Memory Cards

When I was about 10 years old, I begged my parents for a pocket-sized transistor radio. I didn't really want the radio very much; instead, I secretly wanted to pretend it was a number of other things, including a walkie-talkie and a camera. That's right: Cameras were too expensive for 10 year olds, so I asked for something more affordable as a prop for my photographic imagination. Since then, I've learned to ask for what I really want. To help you do the same, I rounded up a bunch of cool photo gadgets in the first part of my annual holiday gift guide. Here's part two, filled with more software and camera peripherals. Happy holiday shopping!

Shiny New Photo Editing Software

I recently discovered that a friend of mine is still using Corel Paint Shop Pro 8. I was aghast: Digital photography has grown up twice over since that program was new. I know what I'll be giving him for Christmas: a shiny new image editor.

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Five Quick Tips for Better Holiday Photos

By now, you've either gotten your first snowfall of the season, or local shops have at least sprayed some fake snow in their windows to simulate the effect. Either way, there's no doubt that the holiday season is here, and you should be readying your camera for action. If it's chilly where you live, be sure to read about how to winterize your camera--and read on for five tips on how to get the best holiday photos this year.

1. Take Control of Tricky Lighting With White Balance

Photo courtesy Flickr user Julie.
As you're taking pictures of guests dressed in their festive Christmas sweaters, don't forget about the lighting, which might be tricky--especially if you're shooting a late-afternoon dinner with sunlight streaming through the window, various room lights, and perhaps even some candles all competing for your camera sensor's attention.

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Three Ways to Take Photos at Twilight

Whenever photographers talk about the best time of day to take photos, they invariably bring up the "magic hour"--a brief window in time when the sun is low in the sky and positioned perfectly for dramatic lighting effects, while casting a warm glow on your subject. I've mentioned this before in "Take Good Photos in Bad Lighting" and "Use the Best Light for Awesome Photos." This week, let's look at a few ways to take advantage of the magic hour.

Pick the Right Time of Day

Ready to give this a shot? Start by setting your alarm so you don't miss the right time. In general, we're talking about the first and last hour of sunlight each day, so you don't have a huge margin for error when planning your photo exploits. Depending upon where you live and the time of year, you'll have somewhat more or less time.

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Blur Photos Artistically With Your Camera's Zoom

Photography has changed quite a bit in the last few decades. Back in the days of film, it was hard to add special effects to your photos because that generally required a darkroom. These days, of course, there's no darkroom required. For example, it's easy to experiment with exposure just using your camera's LCD. And that's not all. You probably already know about some photo tricks you can do using photo editing software. Equipped with even an inexpensive digital SLR, though, you can perform some tricks "in the lens," when you take the photo.Consider zoom blur, for example.

What Is Zoom Blur?

While zoom blur can be done with an image editor, it doesn't need to be. You can get awesome results by doing it with your camera when you take the photo. Consider this photo of my daughter's prized limited-edition Stupid Fox plushie, for example, which I took using the technique.

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Frequently Asked Photo Questions for October

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 FAQs, read my July, August, and September issues.

High ISO Photos Without the Noise

I have heard about photographers taking pictures with extremely high ISOs and the results are not grainy. How do they do this? If I shoot anything much over 100 on my Olympus C-8080 it begins to look quite grainy.
--Jo Smith, Crescent City, California

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Holiday Gifts for Photography Buffs: Digital Cameras, Flash Attachments, and Books

The arrival of pumpkin pancakes at my favorite local restaurant means it's the start of the long autumnal march into the holidays. This morning I treated myself to my first plate of them for the season, which put me in just the right spirit to plan my holiday shopping. It's no surprise that I'm already thinking about gifts for the photographers on my list. Last year I came up with some pretty cool ideas--see "Digital Photography Gift Guide: Image Editors, Eye-Fi, and More" and "Great Photography Gifts: Tripods, Camera Bags, Stocking Stuffers"--so you might want to take a look at those, too.

This week, I've rounded up a slew of interesting digital cameras, flash add-ons, and books. In a few weeks I'll have even more recommendations, including photo storage, tripods, software, and even Apple iPhone and iPad apps.

Cool and Unusual Cameras

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