Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Photography advices

(***) Too Yellow
The church was predominately yellow; there were yellowish brown pews with light yellow walls, there were stained glass windows, and both fluorescent and incandescent lighting, recessed in the ceiling. A lot of my pictures turned out very yellow! What can I do?
It sounds like setting the camera's white balance might have rescued some of your photos. When you're in a tricky lighting situation, such as when there's mixed florescent, incandescent, and natural lighting, for example, it's a good idea to set the white balance manually using a white or gray card. (Check your camera manual for instructions on how to do that.)
But even now, all is not lost. You can open your yellowish photos in a photo editing program like Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements and use the white-balance adjustment to tweak the images until the color looks more natural. Another option: Try the automatic fix feature in your photo editor, like Photoshop Elements' Auto Adjust or Paint Shop Pro's One Step Photo Fix.
(***) Where Can I Find HDR-High Dynamic Range photography lesson. My favorite subjects are landscapes, and I'd like to try my hand at HDR photography too. I have been looking into upgrading to Paint Shop Pro 11, but it appears that the program doesn't include HDR. Is that true?
I'm afraid it is true. Corel Paint Shop Pro 11 doesn't include an HDR feature. There are a limited number of programs that have HDR capabilities. The ones I know about are Ulead PhotoImpact, Adobe Photoshop CS3, and HDRSoft Photomatix Pro, the program I used for my newsletters.
(***) Photographing a Photo
I have a photograph that was printed on glossy paper. I am trying to take a picture of this picture, using my digital camera. No matter what I do, I can't get a good picture. I get the glare from the flash. I have tried to change the lighting in the room, I have covered the flash part of my camera with a stocking diffuser, my finger, paper and other things yet I just can't get a good, clear picture. This picture is going to be used on the cover of a book. Any suggestions?
To be honest, what you're trying to do is extremely difficult, and even if you do it well, the results will be only mediocre-certainly it'll never be of sufficient quality for publication on a book cover. It sounds like what you really want to do is scan the photo using a flatbed scanner. Even a $99 scanner would do a much better job than any camera. Worst case, you could simply take the photo to a copy shop and have it scanned there.
(***) Concert Photos
Could you share some tips for taking pictures at an indoor concert? Mine typically come out too dark or too blurry.
Indoor concerts are tricky because there's so little light available. Your camera struggles to properly expose the photo, and ends up using a long shutter speed, which results in blur. If you tell the camera to use a faster shutter speed, the photos will probably come out too dark. The fix is to increase the camera's ISO, which is the setting that controls its sensitivity to light. Maximize the ISO at a concert and you'll get grainy, "noisy" photos, but they should be sharper and better exposed.
(***) Check Your Monitor Resolution
My problem surfaced when I moved from my old monitor to a new flat, wide-screen display. Both monitors run at 1024 by 768, but the people in the photos look fatter or stretched on the new monitor. I tried several different programs to view the pictures, but they all look the same. Any suggestions? I am thinking about hooking my old monitor just for viewing pictures.
The problem is the fact that you have the new wide-screen monitor configured to run at the same old resolution (1024 by 768) as the old monitor. That's roughly square (actually a 4:3 aspect ratio) but your new wide-screen monitor needs a resolution that matches its aspect ratio, which is 16:9. Check your monitor's manual; I think you'll find it should be running at a resolution closer to 1900 by 1200. After you fix that, everything will look much better on your new display.
(***) Digital Focus: Use ISO to Take Low-Light Photos
Light can be a photographer's best friend and worst enemy. Which will it be for you?
Light is both a photographer's best friend and worst enemy. Consider what recently happened to me, for instance. I visited a wild animal park with the hope of taking some pictures of wolves, cougars, and bears. Unfortunately, it had rained all morning, and the sky was dark and overcast when I arrived at noon. As I prepared to take my first photo, I found that the camera was so starved for light that it wanted to set the exposure at about 1/10 second--far too slow to get a sharp image of active animals, especially since I was hand-holding the camera.
So what did I do? I increased the ISO. This week, let's discuss ISO and how you can use it to take pictures in situations when normal camera settings just won't do.
(***) What Is ISO?
Film speed is measured using a numbering system called ISO, for the International Standards Organization; it's sometimes also referred to by its older name, ASA, for the American Standards Organization. Films with lower ISO numbers are known as slow, or less sensitive to light; films with higher ISO numbers are faster, or more light-sensitive.
When using a film camera, it's pretty typical to shoot with ISO 100 or 200 film in normal daylight, and use ISO 400 film for lower-light photography. Super-fast films like ISO 800 and even ISO 1600 are available for photography in near darkness, but they're rarely used because of their inherent limitations.
Here's the secret that governs film speed: Doubling the ISO number of the film doubles its sensitivity to light. So ISO 200 film needs half the light to take the same picture as ISO 100 film. ISO 400 film needs a quarter of the light that ISO 100 needs. In other words, you could capture a low-light scene with a shutter speed of 1/15 second with ISO 100 film, or 1/60 second with ISO 400. That's an incredibly powerful capability that means the difference between getting a blurry mess and a sharp photo.
(***) What ISO Means for Digital Photography
Big deal, right? We're dealing with the digital world: We don't buy memory cards with ISO numbers marked on them.
As you probably know, you can control the sensitivity of your digital camera's light sensor in a way that mimics the experience of loading different-speed films into your 35mm camera.
By default, most digital cameras use an ISO rating somewhere between 64 and 200, with the most common default being about ISO 100. Getting more sensitivity out of your digital camera is as simple as selecting a higher ISO from the camera's menu. Most digital cameras offer a range of ISO values, such as 100, 200, and 400. Some go much higher--all the way to 3200. Just dial in the ISO you need.
By increasing the ISO, I was able to get great pictures of a wolf and a cougar at the animal park.
(***) The Dark Side of ISO
That sounds great, right? So if higher-ISO film is more light-sensitive, why bother using low-ISO film at all? And in digital photography, why not always use a high ISO number? Unfortunately, light sensitivity brings its own baggage. High-speed film is notoriously grainy. As you increase film's sensitivity to light, the light-sensitive grains of silver halide in the film emulsion get bigger and more noticeable. In the final print, that manifests itself as grain--irregular elements that mar the photo's smooth, high-resolution look. That's why 1600-speed film is so rare; the grain on that film is monstrously large, making the overall image look like something shot by a bank security camera.
In digital photography, we get almost exactly the same effect with higher ISO values. Increasing the sensitivity of the camera's light sensor introduces noise into the photo--random pixels of color.
You may not notice noise from a distance, but if you zoom in on a digital photo on a display or look closely at a print, it's hard to miss. All digital images have some amount of noise, and it gets worse as the ISO goes up. Take a look at this picture. You may not notice the noise in a casual viewing, but check out this detail I've zoomed in on; the noise is quite apparent, appearing as colored speckles that are most evident in the wall at the back of the scene.
ISO Advice
So what should you do about ISO?
I suggest shooting at the lowest possible ISO all the time.
In ordinary conditions, stick with the camera's lowest ISO level, since that'll give you the least digital noise.
But, when you notice that the camera is recommending a really slow shutter speed (less than about 1/30 second for handheld shots with a point-and-shoot), crank up the ISO.
Another thing to keep in mind: Most digital cameras don't allow you to adjust the ISO, or any other setting for that matter, when you're in Automatic Exposure mode. To tweak the ISO, you'll want to be in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or a Scene mode.
High-Quality Scanners Offer Easy Image Fixes
(***) Flatbed Scanners
$180 Canon CanoScan 8600F
$149 Epson Perfection V350 Photo
The Canon's faster performance and greater versatility (including more software and larger-capacity film holders) give it an edge over the Epson model.
Both units scan photos and film at a maximum optical resolution of 4800 dpi, feature easy-to-use push buttons, and come with assorted software for image editing, optical character recognition (OCR), and other scanning tasks.
The 8600F costs a bit more than the V350, it's also bundled with more software, including two image editors (Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 and ArcSoft PhotoStudio 5) instead of only one (the V350 has ArcSoft PhotoImpression 5), plus a useful document manager (Presto PageManager 7), something the V350 lacks.
In addition, the 8600F has Canon's FARE Level 3 (Film Automatic Retouching and Enhancement) technology, which helps to correct the effects of dust, scratches, and fading. I was especially impressed with the 8600F's ability to reduce dust and scratches from old 35mm slides. The unit performed admirably in scanning photo prints, too, and it accurately reproduced colors with fine details in shadows and highlights.
The V350 earned good scores for its image quality, producing colorful scans that contained sharp and accurate details. The V350, however, was not as good as the 8600F at cleaning up dirty film.
Choosing the right scanner will depend on your priorities.
If you have stacks of 35mm filmstrips that you want to digitize with a minimum amount of effort, the V350 is the better choice due to its easy-to-use built-in Auto Film Loader, which can scan 35mm filmstrips from two to six frames in length.
For scanning 35mm slides, though, the 8600F is more productive because it can scan up to four slides at a time, while the V350 can handle only two.
Both scanners performed well at digitizing paper documents and turning pages into PDF files or editable text files.
In overall performance, the 8600F was also the faster of the two scanners. It scanned a 2-by-2-inch color photo (at 1200 dpi) in 23 seconds, while the V350 took 36 seconds to complete the same task.
All told, the Canon 8600F's greater versatility, faster performance, and larger software bundle justify its higher rating over the Epson V350. But the V350's lower price and automatic film loader make it a worthwhile alternative.
(***) Digital Focus: Fix Your White Balance
Color can be a tricky thing. While we rarely think about it, color is not absolute. Your eyes perceive color differently in the daytime and at night, for example.
Digital cameras contend with this problem every time you take a picture. All digital cameras have something called a white balance filter.
Here's what it does: When you press the shutter release, the camera measures the quality of the light hitting the sensor, and automatically adjusts the image so the colors in the final picture are consistent, no matter what the lighting conditions might be. In essence, the camera makes sure that white is always white and blue is always blue.
Let's see how you can solve color balance problems using the newest version of Corel Paint Shop Pro, version X
First Stop: One Step Photo Fix
I'm a big fan of Paint Shop Pro's One Step Photo Fix. Click the Enhance Photo button, then click One Step Photo Fix. One of the half-dozen corrections that the program makes to your photo is a white balance adjustment. If you don't like the effect, just go to the Edit menu and click Undo.
Paint Shop Pro X consolidates a slew of white balance settings into a single place, making it easier than ever to tweak the color cast of your photos. Choose Color Balance from the Adjust menu, and you'll see a dialog box. Your first stop should be the color temperature adjustment marked Presets. You can use the default setting, or pick a setting that reflects the lighting conditions when you took the picture. Choose an option (like Daylight or Cloudy, for example) and watch the preview image on the right change. It's like dialing in a color setting from a list of common light sources. If the colors snap into place the way you want, click OK--you're done.
Before you click OK, though, consider fine-tuning your colors using the slider at the bottom of the window. If you slide it to the right, you can make your photo warmer (which means you're adding red). Slide it to the left, and you make it cooler (adding more blue).
(***) More Control Over White Balance
You might want to dive a little deeper, though, and exert even more control over the photo's colors. If that's the case, click the check box for Advanced Options. When you do, the dialog box will expand with a slew of additional controls.
My favorite setting here is the Smart Select button, which lets you pick a neutral color from the image on the left, and Paint Shop Pro automatically calculates the color balance from that one point. After you click Smart Select, just click on any white, black, or gray point in the scene-just be careful to look for a neutral point, devoid of color. Watch for the change in the preview on the right. You might have to experiment by clicking in several places until you find a spot that works well. Clicking in the snowy background removed the bluish hue from the picture and turned the dog's coat a creamy, light brown.
(***) Stunning Photos With High Dynamic Range, Part 1
Create images with a greater range of colors, brightness, and contrast.
If you measure a camera's exposure latitude in terms of f-stops then you can say that digital cameras have a total latitude of about six stops. (Each f-stop setting on your camera double or halves the amount of light reaching the sensor compared to the subsequent f-stop.)
(***) The HDR Alternative
But you've got a better option these days: High Dynamic Range photography gives you pictures with a much deeper exposure latitude.
With HDR, photos can accurately depict the full range of colors, brightness, and contrast in a scene.
You can get a dozen stops of exposure information rather than just six.
(***) Taking Your Own HDR Photos
So how do you get started with HDR?
Since HDR requires a series of photos, I highly recommend using a tripod.
Yes, it's possible to hold your camera by hand, but the results may not be as good.
You'll also need to rely on your image editing software to line up each photo perfectly-something I've never known to happen quite to my satisfaction.
Begin by setting your camera on the tripod and lining up your scene in the viewfinder.
You'll want to minimize the camera shake at the moment of exposure, so I recommend using a remote control or the camera's self-timer.
I also recommend using the manual focus mode if your camera has one.
Since you're going to take anywhere between three and nine exposures of the same scene, you need the focus to be identical in each shot.
Here's what I do: I press half-way down on the camera's shutter release, which allows the camera's automatic focus mode to lock in. Then I change the camera from auto-focus to manual focus, locking in that focus for all my subsequent photos.
If you can't do this with camera, you'll need to be extra careful about making sure the focus doesn't change between shots.
Finally, you need to control the exposure so that each shot has a slightly different setting.
The easiest way to do this is to use your camera's bracket exposure control. Bracketing tells the camera to take a series of photos with a range of exposure-such as one stop underexposed, the correct exposure, and one stop overexposed.
My camera lets me adjust the amount of exposure change (such as a half-stop or a full stop between shots) and the number of exposures in the series (three, five, seven, and even nine).
If your camera has a bracket mode, this is definitely the way to go: Just set it up, hold down the shutter release, and the camera will run through the entire series, one shot after the next, stopping when it's done.
If your camera doesn't have a bracket mode, then you'll have to get a little more creative.
You can bracket the photo yourself by taking the first picture at normal exposure, then using the exposure compensation dial (usually marked with a +/- symbol) to underexpose and overexpose subsequent images.
Take a series of shots with the exposure control set to -1, -2, -3, +1, +2, and +3, for example. Throughout the process, remember to not move the camera or each shot won't be aligned properly.
(***) Combining the Images
Shooting the series was half the battle; now it's time to combine the photos into a single image that takes all the best parts of each.
You've got a wide choice of programs to create HDR photos. Adobe Photoshop CS2, for example, has an HDR feature. So does Ulead PhotoImpact. There are also some stand-alone HDR utilities out there, like Photogenics HDR and Photomatix Pro.
I downloaded the free trial version of Photomatix Pro. There's no time limit on how long you can use the trial version, but it inscribes a watermark across each of your photos unless you pay $99 for the license.
(***) Using Photomatix Pro
To use the program, drag your set of bracketed photos into the program window and wait for them to display.
Choose HDR, Generate from the menu and click OK when the program asks if you want to use the open images.
In the next dialog box, select the check box to align the source images-this lines up your photos in case you were handholding the camera or the tripod moved a bit between shots-and choose the default "standard tone curve." Click OK.
After some processing time, you'll get a result. It probably won't look very good, but don't worry: The composite image holds more contrast information than a typical computer display is capable of showing. The final step is to optimize the image for the screen. Choose HDR, Tone Mapping from the menu.
On this final screen, you can tweak many aspects of the photo, such as the white and black levels, the color saturation, and contrast levels. Feel free to experiment with the settings.
You'll probably find that often you can just click OK to accept the defaults; the results will look impressive without much tweaking.
HDR isn't perfect. Because it relies on a series of photos, it's not appropriate for action photography-or, in fact, photos in which pretty much anything moves at all. It requires meticulous setup, a tripod, enough patience to configure a series of bracketed images-and, of course, the software to glue it all together at the end. But if you can deal with those shortcomings, you can make some photos that are nothing short of stunning.
(***) Give Your Photos a Healthy Glow
Try this trick for making your photos gorgeous.
Here's his process, in a nutshell: Take two photos of the same scene (one in focus and the other out of focus, both somewhat overexposed) and combine them. The result is a photograph with a beautiful, almost eerie glow.
Here's the rub: I only had a single shot to make that image, so I used a digital shortcut. It took me about a minute to do it, using Corel's Paint Shop Pro-though you can use almost any image editing program.
Layer Your Photos
Open photo in Paint Shop Pro and duplicate it in a second layer by choosing Layers, Duplicate from the menu bar. You won't see a difference in the photo itself, but you should see a second layer appear in the Layer Palette on the right side of the screen. (If the Layer Palette isn't visible, toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Layers.)
Next, make a second duplicate layer in the same way. You should now see three layers in the palette. To keep them all straight, right-click the first layer (the one called "Copy of Background") and choose Rename, then type in Sharp and press Enter. Then rename "Copy (2) of Background" to "Blurry."
Overexpose Your Shot
Next, we'll simulate overexposing the photo.
Click on Sharp in the Layers Palette and change the blending mode from the default of Normal to Screen. You can find the blending mode in the Layers Palette menu, right above the three layers. Again, you won't see a difference, because you just screened the middle layer. Then right-click Sharp and choose Merge, Merge Down. The Sharp layer will disappear, having just been merged into the original background layer.
Add the Blur
Now it's time to make the top layer blurry. Click the layer you named Blurry to select it, then choose Adjust, Blur, Gaussian Blur. The amount of blur is controlled by the Radius setting and will depend upon the size of the photo. For the fairly small sample I provided, try a setting around 9. If you're working with a larger image, say 6 megapixels, I'd start around 14 or 15. The key is to add a significant amount of blur without completely obscuring the detail.
The final step?
With Blurry still selected, change the blend mode from Normal to Multiply.
Feel free to experiment with alternative blur levels and blending modes. You might also want to vary the opacity of the top layer to fine-tune the effect.
(***) Protect DC
Prevent lens scratches
Scratch or scuff your lens, and your photos will suffer-regardless of how well you care for the rest of your camera. Skylight filters are available at any photography store for as little as $10.
Protect the LCD
Your camera's other prime danger zone is its display.
If you can't find Camera Armor try a Snug-It camera skin ($15). Snug-It coverings protect the camera body and the lens.
Keep the water away
Digital cameras and water don't get along.
Safeguard your photos
For extended journeys where lots of photos are at risk, consider using a pocket-size external hard drive to back up your shots. One of my favorites is Digital Foci's Photo Safe ($149 with 40GB; also in 80GB and 120GB capacities). The device's multiformat USB 2.0 memory-card reader supports all common formats. And you can carry fewer memory cards, because you can transfer each day's images from a single card.
When Is It Too Hot or Too Cold for Your Camera?
Digital cameras don't like temperature extremes-especially those on the toasty side of the spectrum. Cold weather is less likely to hurt your camera, but taking it indoors too rapidly can result in moisture damage when condensation forms. To avoid having that happen, seal your camera in a zip-lock bag before going indoors and don't open the bag until the camera has warmed up to near room temperature.
(***) Digital Photo Goodies
Add Captions to Your Photos

Bubblesnaps - Visit the Web site and upload a digital photo, then use Bubblesnaps' tools to add speech and thought balloons to spice up your image.
Make MTV-Style Videos
I have dozens of hours of video and thousands of photos stored on my computer, but I rarely have the ambition to actually sit down and edit all that footage down to an interesting DVD I can send to my parents. Thanks to Muvee AutoProducer, I no longer have to.
Muvee uses some sort of space-age technology to look for interesting parts of your videos and synchronize cuts to whatever music you choose. The results are great, and it takes very little effort to create short videos that are sure to satisfy the grandparents. Muvee AutoProducer has a free trial, and you can purchase it for $130.
Make Videos for Free
Try FlipTrack. This alternative to Muvee works more or less the same-you combine images and music to create synchronized videos-but there are some important differences. While Muvee lets you combine videos and photos, FlipTrack works with still photos only. In addition, FlipTrack limits you to its own catalog of popular music. Nonetheless, it's fun to experiment with.
Make a Photo Rubik's Cube
Finally, I recently ran across this goodie, which looks like it might make a great little gift for someone you love. For $30, you can create a customized Rubik's Cube, complete with one of your favorite photos on each side. Just upload your photos to PersonalizationMall.com and place the order.
PC World's Digital Focus Photo Contest
One digital photograph in JPEG format at a resolution no larger than 640 by 480 pixels.

1 comment:

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