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2008 April 22 - 12:00 am

Technology Today: Photographic Skills Still Matter in the Digital Age

By Reid Goldsborough

One of the real digital success stories is the marriage of photography with personal computers. Digital technology is used for taking photos, correcting mistakes and adding special effects, and printing, sharing, and displaying.

All of this makes it easier and more enjoyable to take pictures, whether for business or pleasure. But what hasn’t changed in the transition from analog to digital are the photographic skills needed to start with a compelling image. There are also rules of the road worth following in transforming raw images into eye-popping photographs.

Lighting is one of the common stumbling blocks, with many casual shooters and even professional photographers in the dark about it.

When shooting outside, the best photographic light is in the early morning or late afternoon. If you have to shoot midday, keep yourself and your subject in the shade, if possible, to avoid harsh highlights, dark shadows, and squinting subjects.

If you need to be in the sun, try to shoot with the sun to the side of you rather than behind your or your subject. If you need to shoot with the sun behind your subject, turn on your camera’s flash to avoid creating an overdark subject and overbright background.

Photos taken inside can present tricky lighting challenges as well. Subjects illuminated with conventional incandescent lightbulbs can have a slightly orange cast because cameras are preconfigured for the “color temperature” of the sun.

You can correct for this in any of three ways. You can change your camera’s “white balance” setting, if your camera permits. You can use special “daylight-balanced” lightbulbs. Or you can place your subject by a window to be illuminated in part by the sun.

Using a flash can also prevent this, but flashes have problems of their own. The inexpensive built-in flashes of a typical digital camera can make your subject unnaturally bright and the background unnaturally dark.

Instead, if possible, turn off the flash and use additional lighting by moving a lamp or two close to your subject. If you must use a flash, you can experiment with diffusing its light by bouncing it off a light-colored ceiling or nearby wall. One way to do this is to hold a small mirror in front of the flash at a 45-degree angle.

Flashes can also cause the devilish “red eye” problem in subjects. To try to prevent this, you can use your camera’s red-eye setting, if it has one. Another option is to tape a small piece of tracing paper over the flash to diffuse its light.

Composition — how you position your subjects and yourself and what you choose to include in the photo — is another crucial aspect of good photography that’s often overlooked.

A frequent mistake is to shoot too far away from your subject. It’s generally best to fill the camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder with your subject and minimize the foreground and background. You’ll get sharper results by moving in closer, if possible, rather than using your camera’s zoom mode or a telephoto lens.

You can crop any given photo later using an image editing program, but you risk losing sharpness here as well. A high megapixel camera will lessen the chances of visibly losing sharpness when cropping.

Pay attention to the background. Avoid positioning subjects so that objects such as telephone poles aren’t directly behind them, which can it seem that they’re growing out of their heads. Avoid backgrounds that are overly cluttered, which can distract attention away from your subjects.

You can correct many mistakes and impart amazing special effects using an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro. But avoid the temptation to do too much. An overedited photo can look as amateurish as an overdesigned desktop-publishing document or Web site.

What size you make the final photos depends on whether you intend to print them out on your ink-jet printer, send them via e-mail, post them to your Web site, or make them available to whomever you choose through a photo-sharing site such as Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) or Snapfish (www.snapfish.com). Photos meant for viewing on a computer screen should be smaller than those that will be printed out, with one rule of thumb that the width should be no more than 800 pixels.

The longevity of the ink used by ink jet printers is improving all the time. But to minimize the chances of fading, mount prints behind plastic or glass, or for optimal protection use special UV glass available from picture frame shops.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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