Category Archives: Point & Shoot

A “Better” Way to Begin

Amateur Photog Hkbk001I started dabbling in photography in the summer of 1969 when I inherited my grandfather’s 8mm Kodak movie camera.  Later that year I worked at a summer camp where I shot and later edited what I considered to be an entertaining eighteen minute movie of my seven weeks as a camp counselor.  At the end of summer I showed the movie to the camp director, his family and the other counselors.  They liked it too.  That night I loaned the film to a counselor so he could show his family.  He passed it on to still another counselor.  I think the movie then went to the camp director’s family and probably after that to another counselor.   With time I forgot who had it.  I never saw the movie again and that was pretty much the end of my cinematographic endeavors.

In the Fall when I returned college, I took with me the Fujica Compact Deluxe 35mm camera I had also inherited.  I enrolled in my first photography class and learned how to hold a camera, make a decent exposure, develop Tri-X film and make a print.  I was hooked… And since then I have never been far from a 35mm camera or the digital equivalent.

Browsing my local library in the early 70’s, I discovered The Amateur Photographer’s Handbook by Aaron Sussman.  There weren’t many books available for beginning photographers back then, so I checked it out and started reading.  The book offered detailed answers on film types, metering, filters, when to use flash, how to take candid people pictures, developing film, dodging and burning prints and much more.  Two months and several library renewals later I finished it.  At 562 pages, the book was not an easy read, but in its day an important book for any young photographer.  First printed in 1941, The Amateur Photographer’s Handbook was in continuous publication for over forty years.  In 1976 I was given a copy and since then have reread and browsed many time through my tabbed, yellow-highlighted and dog-eared copy.

I have an eighteen year old grand-daughter who shows a lot of interest in digital photography, but I’m not giving her a copy of the old book.  Now out of print for around twenty-five years, it is still a classic, but too long, too detailed and has too few photographs for a beginner.  I don’t want to scare Elizabeth away while she’s still in the early stage of her photo development (No pun intended.)

Instead, I gave her a copy of BetterPhoto Basics – The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like a Pro by Jim Miotke (published by Amphoto Books).

Over the years, I have read dozens and dozens of photography books.  BetterPhoto Basics tops my list of books for beginners eager to learn camera and photography basics.  Each topic (such as capturing a sunset, preventing red-eye, how to crop for impBetterPhoto Basics 002act and much more) is covered in one or two pages.  Explanations are well-written and there are colorful example photos on almost every page.  Author, Jim Miotke, also points out if a technique works best with point & shoot cameras, digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras or both.

If there were a required text-book for the digital photography classes I teach, this would be the one.  It is a terrific learning tool, good for beginners and for old-dog photographers who need to be reminded every so often why the basics are so important.

That’s why I bought two copies; one for my grand-daughter and one for me.

January 28, 2013


RAW vs. JPEG… That is the Question

Over the past ten years or so in the short life of digital photography, the most nagging question in any group of professional or amateur photographers has to have been, “What format should I use, RAW or JPEG?”  The question for professional photographers has been answered.  In almost every instance RAW won.  RAW format saves all the digital information for each image in a raw, unedited form that provides the photographer with the photo data needed for professional photo work.

In the world of amateur photographers, many use RAW, many are happy with JPEG and a lot are wondering what to do.  So how does a photographer make up their mind?  Here is some basic information.

RAW (The name stands for “raw” file.) Almost every camera manufacturer has their own RAW software that comes with the camera.  Nikon’s proprietary software does not work with Canon or Sony.  Canon’s doesn’t work with Nikon and Sony and so on.  RAW files are the unaltered data captured by the camera and can be thought of as digital film before processing.  All RAW files need post-production.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) format processes and compresses image data, in camera, to a smaller file size.  A smaller file size means it takes up less space on your memory card and hard drive, but also stores less data of each image.  How much less depends on the compression and quality settings that are determined in camera by the photographer.  File compression is nice, but file quality is sacrificed in the process.

Here is a list of RAW and JPEG pros and cons.

RAW format

  • RAW files are called “lossless” files.  All image information is held without sacrificing image quality.
  • Lossless is good if you want or need all that information to work with in post-production.
  • Because RAW files do not compress, each image file takes more space on the camera memory and computer hard drive.
  • RAW software saves the original image file and is never altered, so that even after the file is processed, the original file is preserved and available for additional processing.
  • Processing RAW files takes some additional time in post-processing.  However, new software such as Lightroom 3 that uses non-proprietary Adobe Camera RAW makes the conversion almost automatic.
  • Whether using your camera’s proprietary RAW software or if you use the Adobe Camera RAW converter software (that works with almost all cameras),you will need a relatively new, high-speed computer with at least 2 gigabytes (4 is better, 8 or more is best) of RAM to process you images smoothly as well as a large (500 – 1500 gigabyte) hard drive for image storage.

JPEG format

  • JPEGs are “lossy” files.  Each time the file opened and saved again, data is additionally compressed and lost.  The result of many opening and resaving files leads to loss of image quality (saturation, resolution, sharpness).
  • JPEG compressed files take less space on your camera memory card and computer hard drive.
  • The JPEG file format has been adopted as an industry standard.  It is pre-loaded in almost all digital cameras and easy to use.
  • JPEGs are compatible with all image editing programs (Picasa, Lightroom, Aperture, GIMP…).
  • No additional post production is required, but you always can.
  • JPEG files are based on the camera settings (white balance, exposure, and others) at the time you press the shutter.  (New post-production programs provide some leeway to adjust an image, but not as much as a RAW file.)
  • JPEGs can be saved at several sizes to save space on memory cards and hard drives.  Because large capacity memory cards that fit most cameras are now available and at prices that drop almost monthly, saving JPEGs at a less than large size less of a concern.
  • Images can be resized smaller if needed.
  • Upsizing a JPEG image often results in a degraded photo.  Third party software is available, but can be expensive.
  • Image “noise” (a grainy look) is more likely in prints made from a JPEG file.  (Software like Lightroom 3 and Picasa 3 do a much improved job of reducing noise in post-production.)
  • Cameras that support RAW can be set to save a JPEG image at the same time so that you have both files.

So, what works best for you?  If you aren’t sure start by asking yourself these three questions:

1)       How will I use the images?  (Large prints think RAW.  Small prints, images viewed on your computer or website, then JPEG will do.)

2)      How much time do I want to spend working on the computer? (RAW requires some additional time, but is getting easier with each generation images processing software.)

3)      Will my computer handle a lot of post-production processing?  (If you don’t have a fast processor with at least 2 GB of RAM and a large hard drive, then stick with JPEG until you can upgrade your computer.)

The secret here is to experiment.  If you are like a lot of photographers there will be times when you shoot RAW and others when JPEG works just fine.  The best thing is you can switch from JPEG to RAW in camera with every image you shoot.  So give them both a try.

February 7, 2012

Digital Photo Tips & Tricks

Digital Photo Tips & Tricks

Start your day or photo shoot with freshly batteries.  Check cameras, flash units and anything else in your camera bag that needs batteries.  Recharge the rechargeable batteries.  Pack the charger?  Replace and/or have a fresh set of batteries for the disposables.

Check camera settings – Before you walk out the door, set the ISO, WB for JPEG shooters and exposure mode (shutter or aperture priority, AUTO, whatever).  Load memory cards into camera.  Extra reformatted memory cards are stored where you can find them quickly.  DSLR owners have the lens you want to use first attached to the camera.  When you are prepared before you step out the door, you are ready for that great shot that pops up when you least expect it.

Always use the camera neck or wrist strap.  Using a neck or wrist strap is one of the best habits you can get yourself into.  You are going to drop a camera some day, generally at the worst possible time.  Require your family and friends who use your gear to do it too.

Learn what the camera icons do.  All digital cameras have icons that adjust camera settings.  Point and shoot cameras more than most folk may ever need.  It is best to know what they do and how they affect you image.  Practice before you need it.

Check the date and time on your camera settings.  The date and time doesn’t have to show on your photo, but you do want the correct date and time embedded in you metadata.  Correct date and time helps you organize, locate, and identify your images later.  It will also help you twenty years later when you are trying to remember when the photo was taken.  Check after daylight savings time springs forward or falls back to see if the time changed automatically.  Some cameras do, some don’t.

Keep camera steady – Hold the camera in your right hand, support the camera or lens with your left hand. Don’t block the flash, autofocus port or lens.  Lean against something solid, hold your breath, and shoot between heartbeats (This last one takes a bit of practice.).

Shutter buttons have two stages.  Press the button halfway down and the camera sets focus and exposure. Press the shutter all the way down to take the picture.

Viewfinder – If your camera has a viewfinder and the image appears blurry, adjust diopter.  Viewfinder focus does not focus the camera.  Viewfinder image size is often different than what the sensor on the camera records.  Lenses zoom in and out, the viewfinder does not.

Images are first stored in the camera’s internal memory (“buffer”).  If you are shooting fast and the buffer fills, the camera stops shooting until one or more of the images are transferred to the memory card.

Don’t remove the battery or memory card from the camera while saving an image. You could scramble some of the images being saved and/or damage the card.

If the camera is turned off while an image is being stored, the image will be completely stored before the camera powers down and does not harm your images.

Images can be displayed on the LCD monitor after each shot.  Take a look and assess composition and exposure.  It is called “chimping,” but a good way to learn how your camera settings work.  Turn the LCD viewer off to save battery life.

Shoot a lot of shots of a subject, especially when learning new equipment.  The change of position, distance and angle gives you a whole new perspective.  You may be surprised by what works. (And what doesn’t)

White Balance (WB) – Be sure to set the white balance when shooting JPEG images.   RAW shooter set the WB in post-processing.  Of course experimenting with the “wrong” WB will give you some unique looks that might be fun.   Auto (the default) works in a wide variety of lighting conditions.   Daylight is best when photographing outdoors in bright sunlight.   Cloudy is best when photographing outdoors in cloudy or overcast conditions.  The setting will also warm images taken anytime indoors or out.   Incandescent or tungsten is best when photographing indoors under incandescent lights.   Fluorescent is best when photographing indoors under fluorescent tube lights.   Fluorescent H is best when photographing indoors under the new fluorescent light bulbs.    Flash best when photographing with flash. It is daylight balanced works to remove color casts in some situations.

 Trick your point and shoot camera to do what you want – Point and shoot cameras work well in Auto mode much of the time.  P&S cameras also have preset modes for portraits, scenery and fast-moving kids.  When you know what the modes do, you can use the presets for different types of photos.  Here is what you need to know.   Need shallow depth of field shoot in Portrait mode.  The mode sets a wider aperture.   Need a more depth of field shoot in Landscape mode.  Landscape mode sets the camera to a small aperture.   Need a fast shutter speed choose ‘Sports’ mode.  This mode will freeze most fast-moving subjects.   Need a slow shutter speed  Try night mode (if your camera has it) but this mode generally fires the flash.

 When done shooting, turn camera off.  Every effort saves little battery life.

Check to see if batteries need replacing or charging.  At the end of the day or before you pack your gear away, check to see if you need to recharge or purchase more batteries.  Don’t leave this important task until to the last-minute and you are less likely to miss the first shot tomorrow.

January 19, 2012

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