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Top Digital Photography Tips

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2007

Whether you're making the transition from a 35mm camera to digital for the first time, are already a digital photo pro, or even just thinking about getting a digital camera, this set of tips is for you. Digital photography is inherently different than film in many respects, and those pesky manuals usually only tell you how to press the buttons, not when and where to use them intelligently. Take these tips to heart, and we guarantee you better pics!

1) Prepare Your Equipment

The old boy scout motto is triply important when using a digital camera. With a film camera, all you really have to worry about is if you have enough film on hand. And more is usually available at the nearest 7-11, even on Christmas day. The same is not true of digital, for several reasons.

First, since digital cameras use electricity-hogging LCD screens and memory cards, battery life is likely to be measured in minutes, rather than years, and most digicams use special rechargeable batteries, rather than AAA throwaways. Treat your digicam like a cell phone. Always have a spare battery on hand, and charge up at every possible opportunity. Missing shots because the battery is dead is painful. Keep an eye on the battery-life indicator also. If your battery is getting low, turn off that LCD and resist the temptation to preview your pics. Use the viewfinder instead, just like a regular camera.

Second, get as large a memory card (or cards) as you can afford. Digital pics are space gobblers, and the typical 32MB card that ships with your camera will only hold a few high-res images. Get at least a 256MB card for a typical outing's worth of shots. Get a 1GB or even 4GB card if you will be going on vacation without a way to download your pics from the camera.

Finally, get a good camera bag to hold extra battery, charger, cards, filters, extra lenses (if your camera accepts them) and flash attachment (if you have one). It's easy to lose all the bits and pieces, and difficult to replace them. See "Roxio's Complete Guide to Buying a Digital Camera" for more on equipment choices.

2) Prepare Your Camera

After a dead battery, probably the most frustrating thing about a digital camera is having to wade your way through baffling LCD screen menus while the shot you want is rapidly disappearing. Read the manual and learn your camera's functions BEFORE you start to shoot seriously. Set it up the way you want it. Set the time/date function, resolution and compression (we recommend the highest resolution and lowest compression, other than uncompressed-you never know when you might have taken the best picture of your life!), white balance (more on this below), flash mode, and any other fixed settings.

White balance is crucial to getting correct colors under different lighting conditions, such as daylight, tungsten, and flourescent. Most digicams have an "auto" mode that senses lighting and sets white balance accordingly, but many also have a manual mode that lets you set the white balance by putting a piece of white paper in front of the camera, and setting that as "white." If your pictures have color casts, it's likely that an incorrect white balance is at fault.

3) Zoom In

Most digicams use a combination of "optical" and "digital" zoom. Simply put, optical zoom is the same as what you are used to on a 35mm camera, where the lens changes focal length. Digital zoom is really smoke and mirrors-the camera blows up a portion of a larger image by guesstimating pixels. Only optical zoom maintains sharpness and image quality. Since digital zoom turns on automatically as you go past the limits of the optical zoom in most cameras, we recommend simply turning this feature off. If you want to blow up part of an image, you can do that later in any good photo-editing software, such as Roxio's PhotoSuite.

Whether you use digital zoom or not, as you increase the focal length of your shot, camera movement becomes magnified during exposure, and can cause blurry images. This problem is exacerbated by the longer exposures usually required when zooming, unless you have a very fast lens. And digital camera lenses are typically not as fast as 35mm cameras. Some high-end cameras include image-stabilization, which can help with this problem, but it's best to fix the problem at the source, and learn to stabilize your images with a tripod, or simply by leaning against a fixed object. Small and light table-top tripods are available for less than $20, and easily fit in your camera bag.

4) Take the Picture

Okay, you've prepared your best by following the tips above. Now it's time to take the picture. You're not done yet! Here are a few more tips to cure common problems:

  • Use the right picture settings, if your camera has them. Settings like landscape, portrait, close-up (macro mode), cloudy day and night shots will help you get much better pictures than the generic auto mode. Use them.
  • Avoid red-eye. While you can correct red-eye after the fact with PhotoSuite, it's better to avoid it in the first place. Use the red-eye flash setting on your digicam when shooting people, and try not to have them look directly into the lens. If your camera has a flash shoe, get a separate bounce flash attachment, which not only increases flash power dramatically, it bounces it off the ceiling, eliminating red-eye entirely.
  • Use a polarizing filter outside on sunny days. Polarizing is what sunglasses do, reducing glare and reflections, and yielding more pleasing tones. Skies will look bluer, and subjects will be more saturated. If your camera does not accept filters, just put your sunglasses in front of the lens, taking care to keep the rims out of the picture!

5) Make the Most of Your Pictures

Now that you've taken the best possible pictures with your digicam, it's time to download them and share them with others. Here's where Roxio's best-selling PhotoSuite software comes in. You can retouch, crop, and composite pictures; create albums, slideshows and Web pages; email your pics to others; create perfect prints, including greeting cards and calendars; and much more. Check out our tutorials on making photo slideshows and creating greeting cards and calendars for the complete scoop.