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2012 January 23 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Old Photography Techniques Still Apply to Today’s Digital Cameras

Stand-alone digital cameras and the cameras built into today’s smart phones and portable media players are the most convenient way ever to take and share images with others. But cameras have been on the market since 1839, and many of the same techniques for creating quality photos developed since then are still relevant today.

This doesn’t prevent many people from taking, and displaying, really bad photos. Taking really good photos isn’t difficult but does require a little understanding of lighting, color, and composition.

Ultimately, photos are made of massless particles of light called photons, which emanate from the sun, from indoor lighting, and from a flash on your camera or held independently.

When it comes to lighting, many snapshooters are in the dark. Common mistakes include photos that are washed out with too much light or muddy with too little, that feature a subject that’s washed out or too muddy, or that are out of focus.

Outside, try to shoot with the sun behind you or to the side. When photographing people, the shade is ideal. Avoid positioning people so they have to squint.

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.

Inside or outside, try to keep the camera steady to avoid out-of-focus shots. Squeeze your elbows to your sides and hold your breath when shooting.

If your subject isn’t in the center of the shot, first point to your subject, press the shutter halfway to lock the focus, point the camera back, then press the shutter down completely. If you want a lighter photo, focus on a darker area, and vice versa.

If possible, with close-up portraits and still lifes such as flowers, use a tripod, or place the camera on a table or bureau.

Photos taken inside of subjects illuminated with most light bulbs can have an off-color orange cast because cameras are preconfigured for the “color temperature” of the sun.

You can prevent this by changing your camera’s “white balance” setting, if your camera permits, using special “daylight-balanced” light bulbs, or placing your subject by a window.

Using a flash can also prevent orange photos taken inside, though it can make your subject unnaturally bright and the background unnaturally dark and cause red eye. You can try holding a small mirror in front of the flash at a 45-degree angle or taping a small piece of tracing paper over the flash.

How you position your subjects and yourself and what you choose to include in the photo, called composition, is another crucial aspect of good photography that’s often overlooked.

A frequent mistake is to shoot too far away from your subject. Try to fill the camera’s screen or viewfinder with your subject and minimize the foreground and background. You’ll get sharper results by moving in closer than by using your camera’s zoom mode.

Crouch to take photos of children and pets at their eye level to avoid unflattering angles, shadows, and distortion.

Pay attention to the background. Avoid situations where telephone poles, trees and signs seem to be growing out of your subject’s head as well as other background that’s cluttered or distracting.

Even if you’ve paid attention to lighting, color, and composition, sometimes a photo will turn out to be less than ideal. Image editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro can often quickly correct problems, making the small time invested in using one worth it before putting photos up on Facebook or a photo sharing site such as Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) or Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com).

You can correct mistakes in exposure by lightening or darkening all or parts of an image or by increasing contrast. Sometimes fuzzy photos can be improved enough to use with a sharpening tool. You can correct mistakes in color through the color balance or saturation tools.

The red-eye feature can greatly improve the quality of photos of people. You can correct mistakes in composition by cropping out excessive space in the front, back, or sides of your subject or by eliminating distracting elements.

Image editing programs also let you add fun and creative special effects, from combining photos into a montage to making a photo look like an oil painting.

But to make your subjects look their best, and to make you look your best, it’s always better to start with good images in the first place.

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