Some Golden Rules......
1 Read your camera manual. If
have it anymore, you can probably find it online. Learn every feature
of your camera - you'll be take amazing pictures if you know how to use
2 Take your camera with you everywhere
and take lots of photos. Take photos of everything. Find something
uninteresting and find a way to make it interesting. That is the
essence of art.
3 Practice in manual mode.
have a manual mode take a photo and change a single setting. Then
change that one setting and take another photo. It's the best way to
understand the manipulation of light.
4 Make each photo count. One
biggest downfalls of digital photography is the ability to take so many
photos so easily for so little monetary investment. So we buy a camera
and snap away, hardly taking a thought to what is in the view finder.
STOP! Think about your next photo, then take the time to make it
amazing. You’ll start thinking like a photographer and your photos will
improve ten fol the other hand, don't be afraid to experiment! This is
where the digital camera has a great advantage - instant feedback and
the possibility of trying out many things until you are happy with the
5 Keep your best photos in a special
the rest. Professional photographers take thousands of
pictures and show only their best to the client. Take photos for you,
you are your own client. One day you’ll look back and be amazed at your
Now for something completely different..... I'm
to recommend a book.
Remember those? Paper, words, pictures?
can read at the cottage, in the garden, in the bath even. This one is
about the best book about composition you'll find - "The
Photographer's Eye" by Michael Freeman. I'm sure you can find
it online and it's certainly in all the best bookshops. It's around $20
online, a bit more in a shop. The author has also written many other
books, among which "The Photographer's Mind" and "Understanding
Exposure" are outstanding. Highly recommended.
Resizing Pictures for the Web and eMail
We often ask for pictures to be sent, for
slideshows or illust. However, just how 'big' is a 'big file'? Well, it
should be borne in mind that No normal computer
monitor can display at more than 100ppi (but usually 72ppi - any more
So, adjust the ppi of your picture(s) to a maximum
of 100ppi, and preferably 72ppi.) (This is usually
done in the Image/Size control of your graphics
software). Have a look at the table of Resources above..... there are
videos for resizing and saving for the web and email.
Attaching pictures to email.... Every email
the ability to add 'Attachments'. When you click on 'Attachments' you
will have a dialog box asking for the lo
cation of the file you wish to attach. (So you'll have to know where
you saved the file). You just find the file and click 'Attach' or OK.
Another method uses what is known as "Rich Text", and you can place a
picture within your text (technically, it's still an Attachment).
On the subject of re-sizing images......
- Wrong ppi or resolution. No
can be shown at more than 72ppi (except with a few top-end monitors)
and certainly not on the club laptop which is used with the projector
to display images for presentations and competitions. Saving an image
at 300ppi and 3 inches wide will not work - it won't show at better
than 72ppi and will be tiny.
- In conjunction with the above, wrong
dimensions This is usually the result of not reducing the
resolution of the image, or rather the ppi of the image, to 72ppi. But
think about it - an image width of just 4 inches?
- Wrong Colour Space (or no
at all)..... Colour Space (the range of colours in an image) can be
selected for a digital image by changing it in your editor.... and the
projector we use (and the normal colour space used online) is sRGB.
You actually need a special web browser to be able to view anything in
AdobeRGB or PhotoPro spaces. The AdobeRGB has a wider 'gamut' of
colours and is great for home printing but can look quite washed out on
any other device. The projector that we use can either be set to sRGB
or to a custom colour setting - but that would mean changing the
setting for each and every image that's not using the same colour
'standard' - if everybody saved in sRGB, we could keep the projector to
sRGB and then all images would show at their best and nobody would be
at a disadvantage.
- Wrong bit-depth This is
result of processing your Raw image and choosing to open it in an
editor at 16-bit depth. You cannot save an image in 16-bit as a Jpeg,
so the image was saved as a TIFF.
- One recent image I received had the 'Grand
choices.... A 16-bit file, 4 inches wide, saved at 300ppi as a TIFF,
and in the wrong Colour Space. Another one was 420 inches wide @ 8ppi.
Think about it.
So remember.... Competition Standard.....
Not just in the club but for nearly all
digital competitions - unless otherwise directed - you need to get
- Saved in the Jpeg format
- Dimensions around 10" (or up to
longer sides. BUT SEE NOTE BELOW.
- Colour Space sRGB
NOTE: For images entered in the main
competitions (not the online competition), and therefore to be shown on
the projector, note that you need the vertical sides to be no more than
780 pixels..... otherwise parts of the image could be chopped off
and/or your image will appear small.
Your Digital Darkroom
Give yourself the best chance of producing top
by building a powerful but affordable digital darkroom.
Your digital darkroom is where the magic happens
transform the image captured by your camera into the dynamic
masterpiece you envisioned behind the lens. You may only need to make a
few tweaks to achieve the desired results, but you'll still need the
right hardware and software setup. You will also need to consider your
photographic 'workflow', your software, some basics of editing, and
showing off your work (printing or putting online). This will be an
on-going series, starting with.....
Part 1 - Hardware
How much power?
There are few things more agonising than watching
computer struggle to open image files because its processing chip,
operating system and/or memory isn't up to the job. It's important,
therefore, to verify the system requirements of your chosen software
before buying any new computer. Get the most powerful one you can
afford, ,bearing in mind that it will give you about five years of life
before you have to start thinking of a new one. Whether it's a PC or a
Mac, get a minimum of 4Gb of RAM.
Which Screen's Best?
Most computer screens today are LCD flat-screens
choice of matt or glossy finish. Matt screens produce less glare, but
care with placement is still needed to avoid images appearing flat.
Whatever you opt for, it's crucial to calibrate it to ensure accurate
colour assessment. What size? I suggest a minimum of 19", but now you
can get 22" or 24" for not a lot more when it's bought as part of the
How much storage do I need?
You can work out the average gigabytes of storage
per year based on your shooting format and the volume of images that
you shoot each month. Remember, Raw files require around four times
more storage than Jpegs and don't forget to factor in the number of
back-ups that you'll want to make. I'd recommend 160Gb, though in five
years that could seem quite cramped so, again, get what you can afford.
Laptop or Desktop?
Laptops are more fragile
and can be less powerful than desktops. The screen will make it more
difficult for you to assess colour and tones, while repairs and
upgrades cost more. It's probably going to have 'mobile' features.....
but if you like the idea of being able to take your digital storage on
location with you, the much smaller Notebooks are
now incredibly cheap and will allow you to move images from your
camera's memory cards into a safer place (huge memory cards are
available but if one gets corrupted that's a LOT of pictures lost!)
They will also let you at least discard those pictures which don't come
up to scratch, but they are usually too under-powered for heavy image
editing. Notebooks now have built-in wireless connection so you could
find a wi-fi 'hotspot' on your travels or, more expensively (about $300
annually), take an 'internet stick' with you to connect online from
almost anywhere. Both Laptops and Notebooks have deficiencies in their
power or capacity to store and edit images, so many people would
benefit from a small Desktop outfit - not
incredibly expensive nowadays, with huge amounts of storage, more
accurate screens - they're like the 'tractor' of the desk.... many
different tools and different software etc. can be added. A couple of
recommended extra items for using with Laptops and Desktops... a larger
back-up disk, a Multi-Card Reader (you're bound to be given a card by
somebody and asked to edit their pictures) and a drawing/graphics
Part 2 - Software
Whether you want to just tidy up your images
printing or posting online, or you plan to do some serious image
manipulation, an image-editing program is essential. If you're working
with lots of files you may wish to consider buying dedicated library
Free Software with your Camera
The software that came with your camera (if you
usually consists of a very basic image editor and browser that will
allow you to look through your files, perform simple exposure and
colour adjustment, correct red-eye, crop, sharpen and save. This is
ideal for the beginner who just wants something accessible to get
started with but more advanced users will find the limited options a
serious hindrance. If you don't own any other editing software, it's
worth checking what else is in the box, because camera manufacturers
often bundle new cameras with trials of more advanced programs. Canon's
software, "Digital Photo Pro", is excellent. It can convert Raws for
you to edit and do several other things and it's free. Other
manufacturers also have free programs to do the same but note that
Nikon's software, "Nikon Capture NX", costs quite a bit of money.
Will get you started, handy in emergencies or 'on the road'.
and basic set of editing tools.
Adobe Photoshop is the 'big
image editing software, offering unrivalled power and flexibili7y plus
advanced Raw conversion tools. It is, howe7er, very expensive and few
amateurs could justify the expense. It's also a tough learning curve to
get anything like the best out of it. The Photoshop discussion groups
on Flickr are full of questions from people who have obviously jumped
in at the deep end and find themselves totally confused (many people
seem to get a digital camera, buy a computer and then choose Photoshop
because they've been told "it's the best". It probably is, but it has
many rivals, mostly a lot cheaper (or free) and many of them are far
more usable by the beginner.
One budget alternative is Adobe Photoshop Elements
- it follows the same editing principles originated by its big brother
(so if you want to eventually have 'full' Photoshop, getting used to
Elements makes the transition easier) but tries to simplify the tasks
(sometimes, rather annoyingly, even to the point of hiding various
tools). It also has an excellent catalogue program ('Organizer') and as
well as being a much easier program to learn it's perfectly good for
many professionals..... though it can only work properly with 8-bit
files. It has the advantage of a lot of support from magazines, books,
online resources etc.
Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo, easy
as PS Elements in many ways (and handles 16-bit files), similar price.
Follows its own editing techniques which don't transfer to other
Serif Photo Plus... a clone of
cheap, good documentation - good place to learn.
Gimp It's Free! But it can be difficult
you've become used to the way that Photoshop works. It does everything
that Elements can do, probably more, apart from catalogue.
virtually every image-editing tool you could ever need.
Photoshop is very expensive and the accompanying 'Bridge' catalog
software is limited.
The primary function of a Raw converter is to
convert the non-standard, otherwise unreadable Raw files that your
camera generates into universally recognised, standard image files such
as Jpegs and Tiffs. On of the most well-known converter is Adobe Camera
Raw, which comes as part of Photoshop, PS Elements and Lightroom (see
later). Apple's Aperture also features a powerful Raw converter. Camera
manufacturers produce their own bespoke Raw conversion software and
there are also third-part options, such as 'Bibble'. Some people prefer
the camera maker's own software5 but Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is
regularly updated.... although there is a trap - Camera Raw is updated
every two or three months, to include the ability to process the
(slightly different) forms of Raw files that each camera comes along
with. So you could buy a new camera and get the latest version of ACR.
However, you may then find that the latest version of ACR is not
compatible with the version of PS or PS Elements or Lightroom that you
are using. You still have some options, though...... you could upgrade
your (expensive) editing program, or use the camera maker's own
software, if available (like Canon's Digital Photo Pro, or Nikon's
Capture NX) or your camera may be able to take 'DNG' files - a raw
format (often called "Digital Negative") developed by Adobe in an
effort to standardise the whole Raw situation. You could also use
Adobe's free 'DNG Converter', which will convert your Camera's Raw
files (the CR2s, NEFs, PEFs etc) to the DNG format and then you can
process it further in any version of ACR.
dedicated Raw file conversion and enhancement
image-editing options such as selection are usually unavailable, can be
slow or just a plain hassle.
It's easy to get into a kerfuffle when you're
hundreds of photo files. A specialist library software package such as
Microsoft's iView MediaPro or Extensis Portfolio will help you to
streamline your workflow. Solutions on offer typically include
keywording, cataloguing, backing-up and easy file-sharing solutions,
such as slideshows and web galleries. You don't get any image editing
tools but, with the exception of all-in-one imaging solutions, (see
below) the library options offered by image editors such as Photoshop
can't match the power and flexibility of a dedicated library program.
wealth of powerful asset management tools.
tools are not included.
'Do-it-All' solutions aim to provide everything
photographer needs to download, organise, edit and showcase their
photographs. They provide a complete workflow solution, so that ideally
no additional software is required. Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop
Lightroom are two such programs, both catering specifically for
photographers who shoot in Raw. Because of the advanced nature of many
of the tools on offer and their extremely powerful system requirements,
these solutions are usually only favoured by professionals, but more
and more people who 'don't really want to get into editing' are finding
them very useful and easy to use.
tools needed to manage, edit and share photos in one program
powerful computers to run successfully.
Part 3 - Working with RAW Files
RAW files hold the key to unrivalled photographic
you understand how to process them correctly.
The great thing about RAW files is that they
image information and offer greater scope for recovery than any other
format. Because no settings are applied in-camera, they put you in
complete control of the image-editing process.
I'll describe the use of Adobe Camera Raw, which
part of Photoshop, PS Elements and Lightroom. The version that works
with Photoshop is a lot more advanced than the version that works with
Elements, as only Photoshop can exploit the more detailed areas. If you
can master 'ACR' then you may find that the software that your camera
manufacturer bundled with the camera can do an even better job. (See
above concerning versions of ACR and PS/PSE). ACR can also be
supplemented by a free download from the Adobe website called "Camera
Profiles". See also DNG files, above. As above, ACR will, if
it is up to date and later than the release of your camera model, not
only open Raw files from your camera but also, in conjunction with
another free download "Camera Profiles", recognise your camera - it
will show up in the 'Camera Calibration' tab to give the best result,
even before you start making any corrections.
The 'Basic' tab offers several tools for refining
shadows, highlights and overall exposure of your image. You can fix
minor problems and make subtle enhancements using these, but there are
limits, e.g large exposure increases can increase noise in the shadow
areas, whereas large exposure reductions can block up shadow details
and make highlights appear posterised.
You can correct colour casts via the white
Tint') sliders or eyedropper, plus fine tune the hue of colour ranges.
This is the same as altering White Balance in-camera. There is powerful
colour enhancement in the form of Saturation, Vibrance and Clarity
tools, plus saturation of individual colour ranges. Just standing back
a moment, these subtle colour alterations are all well and good, but
completely useless unless you have a monitor that is calibrated to
reflect the true colours you are altering (and, if printing, you will
need to make sure you are set up properly there too, with print
profiles). At this point, we are beginning to wander into 'colour
management' territory.... a subject that is beyond the scope of this
website. See the Links page for detailed technical matters,
particularly 'Cambridge in Colour'. However, if anybody is having
problems with their home printing, using PS or PS Elements, feel free
to ask me - I've been there, got the T-shirt.
ACR offers sharpening and noise reduction, but
are more limited than those offered by dedicated plug-ins, like
'NoiseNinja', or 'NixSharpen'. Frankly, I don't bother touching this
tab in ACR.
ACR with (full) Photoshop
This version also has tools for Tone Curve,
Hue/Saturation/Luminance, Split-Toning, Lens Corrections and Presets
Other ACR notes...
You can open a Jpeg and run all the controls on
go to "Open As" inside PS/PSE and choose your jpeg, choosing "Camera
Raw" as the File Type.
You can adjust several Raw files at a time by
all together and using 'Select All' in ACR (however, you can only open
one jpeg file in ACR at any one time).
ACR has no multiple layers or selection tools -
adjustments are applied 'globally'.
You can choose to open your file (which is
file) as either an 8-bit or 16-bit file in PS/PSE. However, bear in
mind that PSE (and even PS) is severely limited in how much it can edit
in 16-bit and cannot use layers and/or several of the filters.
Just hit 'Open' when finished with the file(s) in
file will open up in PS/PSE. (Using the 'Save Image' button will save
the file directly but I find that it's best to see it in the editor and
save from there.) Note that, though it 'says' that you're still working
with the Raw file, you are, in fact, working with the Raw file plus
a 'sidecar' file (.xmp) which contains all the information about what
you've just done to the Raw in ACR. When you've finished editing, you
won't be able to Save the file as a Raw - only your camera can do that
- so, to keep all the details, quality and editing (and even the layers
and selections), at this stage it's best to save as a PSD or TIFF file
(though they can be very large).
Part 4 - Editing your Pictures
For consistent results get in the habit of asking
the following questions when editing each shot:
Is it well composed?
The first step is to ask yourself whether your
perfectly framed as it is. If the answer is no, you may well be able to
improve matters using the Crop and Rotate tools in most software
(including Adobe Camera Raw). Cropping out excess sky or a distracting
element on the edge of the frame, for example, could turn an average
shot into a great one.
Are the Levels OK?
'Levels' is the way to find out if any parts of
are 'clipped'.... the highlights are 'blown' or the shadows completely
void of detail. A Levels adjustment will usually bring an image to its
best range of tones, by use of a Histogram. So, assess the exposure in
Levels. If the highlight/shadow ends of the tone curve don't reach the
corresponding end of the horizontal Levels axis, pull the white/black
point slider across until it does. The Midtones slider can alter the
appearance like a change of exposure. Note, you should check the Levels
even if you've edited your image in Camera Raw, because you may find
the exposure is slightly off and need re-editing. The Curves
adjustment, if you have one, will also affect the contrast and is worth
learning to use properly. Curves adjustments are often best left to
quite late in your editing process.
What about colour?
Is there a colour cast on your image? If so, and
Camera Raw, adjust the White Balance using the Temperature and Tint
sliders. In your main editor, you can alter the saturation of the three
channels by use of the Hue/Saturation controls, or you can add a Photo
Filter adjustment layer.
Is it sharp?
The last step is to assess
of your image. Leave software sharpening to the very minimum
- if at all. If you need to sharpen then
the best option in Photoshop is Smart Sharpen,
while in Elements and most other programs you need to learn how to use
the Unsharp Mask well. Another method is to use a High
Pass Filter - make a duplicate layer, set in Overlay or Soft
Light Blend Mode and go to Filter>Other>High Pass, set to
about 5px. Unlike the other methods, this will not leave artefacts or
increase chromatic aberration.