Picture the Perfect Photo
By Reid Goldsborough
Technological progress with desktop computers and office software has plateaued in recent years, with little eye-opening innovation. That can’t be said of some peripheral computing areas, including digital photography, where progress continues to soar.
The quality of digital cameras has reached parity with conventional film-based cameras. You can now create pictures that to most eyes in most situations are just as rich and sharp as you can with 35mm single-lens reflex cameras. The near-instant gratification and savings of not needing to have film developed is compelling. Though digital cameras are still more expensive, their prices continue to drop.
On the other hand, there’s nothing stopping you from taking really lousy pictures. Whether you use a digital camera for business or personal purposes, here are some tips on getting the most out of it, no matter which model you have.
Ultimately, photos are made of light, but when it comes to lighting, many amateur photographers are in the dark. Photos taken inside of subjects illuminated with conventional incandescent lightbulbs can have a slightly off-color cast because cameras are preconfigured for the “color temperature” of natural lighting.
You can correct for this in one of three ways: 1) Change your camera’s “white balance” setting, if your camera permits. 2) Use special “daylight-balanced” lightbulbs. 3) Place your subject by a window.
Your pictures will usually come out better if you avoid using a flash. The inexpensive built-in flash of a typical digital camera can make your subject unnaturally bright and the background unnaturally dark.
Instead, if possible, turn up the lights. If you must use a flash, you can experiment with diffusing its light by bouncing it off a light-colored ceiling or nearby wall. Just hold a small mirror in front of the flash at a 45-degree angle.
Shooting in dim light can also cause the devilish “red eye” problem in subjects. You can use your camera’s red-eye setting, if it has one. Other options include turning up the lights or taping a small piece of tracing paper over the flash to diffuse its light.
Outside, try to shoot with the sun behind you. If the sun is behind your subject, turn on the camera’s flash to avoid creating an overdark subject and an overbright background. The best photographic light is in the early morning and late afternoon or in the shade.
Although you can crop a picture later using your computer, you’ll get sharper results by cropping using the camera. Hone in on just what you want to appear in your picture, filling the camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder with it, by moving closer to your subject or using the camera’s zoom.
Unless you have a high-end digital camera, avoid subjects such as trees that consist of intricate details. Film cameras still work best here. People and other subjects that clearly stand out from their backgrounds work best with digital cameras.
Pay attention to the background. Avoid situations where objects such as telephone poles seem to be growing out of your subject’s head and other background that is overly cluttered or distracting.
Using a software program to edit your pictures is where the magic of digital photography really begins. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro let you do anything a professional can do in a darkroom and then some, without the noxious chemicals.
You can correct mistakes in exposure by lightening or darkening all or parts of an image or increasing contrast. You can correct mistakes in composition by cropping or otherwise eliminating distracting elements.
You can get creative by combining elements of different pictures to construct a montage. You can even impart jazzy special effects, including those that make a photo look like a watercolor or oil painting.
But avoid the temptation to do too much. An overedited photo can look as amateurish as an overdesigned desktop-publishing document or Web site.
Use the right paper to get the best results when printing. Glossy paper is best but also most expensive. Nonglossy photo-quality paper works well with photo greeting cards. Use plain ink jet or high-resolution ink jet paper for test prints.
Make sure you print on the right side of the paper. With glossy paper, the printing side is usually shinier, while the nonprinting side may have a watermark. Let glossy and nonglossy photo-quality paper dry for 10 minutes before handling it.
For optimal longevity, use papers and inks recommended by your printer’s manufacturer, and mount prints behind plastic, glass or special UV glass.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
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