Shoot smart

This guide will help you take better photos by providing you with tips on how you can choose the right digital camera, how to shoot better photos and how to use photo editing software to touch up your photos.
Shoot smart
Screens are becoming increasingly important camera features.
By Gareth Van Zyl
Tue 01 Dec 2009 04:00 AM

This guide will help you take better photos by providing you with tips on how you can choose the right digital camera, how to shoot better photos and how to use photo editing software to touch up your photos.Choose the right gear

Before setting off to buy your camera, whether it is a point and shoot or digital SLR, there are a number of things to take into consideration. Jason Rego, of Canon Middle East, provides the following tips when considering purchasing a new camera.

1. Resolution: This is measured in mega-pixels and obviously determines the size and sharpness of the image. The higher the resolution of your camera (such as around 12.1 mega pixels or so), the more precise and crisp your pictures will be.

2. LCD Screen: A standard size is 1.6 inches. Some LCD screens swivel and later models may also offer improved display in bright sunlight. You can use the LCD screen to compose your pictures, scroll through the camera's menu and to display pictures that you have already taken.

3. Zoom: The important thing to know about the zoom is that there are two types, optical and digital. Optical zoom is controlled by a zoom lens in the same way that a traditional camera does, whereas digital zoom is controlled by software within the camera. Optical zoom gives a sharper final image; so, when buying a digital camera look for a brand that has a history of lens manufacturing to ensure the best quality of image when using the zoom feature.

4. Intelligent Technologies: Taking good pictures with a digital camera has never been easier thanks to the latest cutting edge features such as a Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology that some cameras have. With the help of these features the days of blurry pictures and red eyes are long gone. A setting such as Smart Auto mode is a must have feature for beginners as it chooses all shooting settings automatically and helps even novices take quality images and eliminates the possibility of poor setting selection.

5. Record movie clips: You are not only limited to taking still images with the latest cameras, but also able to record HD movie clips. Anyone can shoot movie clips in stunning HD format and then get direct playback on any HDTV with an optional HDMI cable.

6. Wide Angle: A wide-angle 24mm lens captures more in the frame, making it ideal for scenery or group family shots.

7. Freedom to print pictures anytime, anyplace, anywhere: Another great advantage of a digital camera is the fact that you can print your pictures in the comfort of your own home. Some camera manufactures now also offer photo printers which can be connected directly to your camera.

These are some of the features to look out for when purchasing a digital camera. Once you have bought that new digital camera of yours, whether digital SLR or point and shoot, it's time to get out there and start snapping away. Shooting better photosThe likes of Kodak offer great tips in terms of taking better photos. Here’s some of them:

Look your subject in the eye

When taking a picture of someone, hold the camera at the person's eye level to unleash the power of those gazes and smiles. (For children, this means stooping to their level.) And your subject need not always stare at the camera; all by itself that eye level angle will create a personal and inviting feeling that pulls you into the picture.

Use a plain background

A plain background shows off the subject you are photographing., and when you look through the camera viewfinder, force yourself to study the area surrounding your subject. Make sure that objects such as poles do not grow from the head of your subject and that objects such as cars do not seem to dangle from your subject's ears.

Use flash outdoors

Bright sun can create unattractive deep facial shadows. So, eliminate the shadows by using your flash to lighten the face. You may have a choice of fill-flash mode or full-flash mode, and if the person is within five feet, use the fill-flash mode. Beyond five feet, the full-power mode may be required. Once done taking the photos, use the picture display panel to review the results. On cloudy days, use the camera's fill-flash mode if it has one - the flash will brighten up people's faces and make them stand out.

Move it from the middle

The middle of your picture is not the best place for your subject. By simply moving your subject away from the middle of your picture, this improves composition. A good way to achieve this is to start by playing 'tick-tack-toe' with the subject position. Imagine a tick-tack-toe grid in your viewfinder; now place your important subject at one of the intersections of lines (this concept is commonly referred to as the rule-of-thirds or golden mean). You'll need to lock the focus if you have an auto-focus camera because most of them focus on whatever is in the centre of the viewfinder. Lock the focus

If your subject is not in the center of the picture, you need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Most auto-focus cameras focus on whatever is in the center of the picture. But to improve pictures, you will often want to move the subject away from the center of the picture. If you don't want a blurred picture, you'll need to first lock the focus with the subject in the middle and then recompose the picture so the subject is away from the middle. Usually you can lock the focus in three steps. First, center the subject and press and hold the shutter button halfway down. Second, reposition your camera (while still holding the shutter button) so the subject is away from the center. And third, finish by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the picture. Know your flash's range

The number one flash mistake is taking pictures beyond the flash's range. Because of the fact that pictures taken beyond the maximum flash range will be too dark. For many cameras, the maximum flash range is less than fifteen feet — about five steps away.

Editing those photos

HP has quite a few good suggestions in terms of editing your photos once done with them. Here’s some of those tips summarised here:

Choosing photo editing software

Going beyond the basics of resizing, cropping and removing red-eye from your photographs; you might want to take things a step further when considering purchasing photo editing software. Techniques that allow you to go beyond the basics include adding layers to your photographs, whereby you cut out your subject and place it against a completely different background or stacking several images over one another. Then there’s burning and dodging as well (terms leftover from the darkroom days), which allow you to brighten or darken your photos for specific affect. There are filters as well, which give you the opportunity to add certain affects such as charcoal and so on. A good product to consider then would include something such Adobe Photoshop Elements. If you’re a more basic user then something such as GIMP or just Photoshop will do you fine.

Considering the file format

Within the JPEG format, you often have even more options for controlling the quality of your photo. Consult your camera's manual to learn how to set JPEG quality. The lowest quality setting (or the most compressed) is best for e-mail and sharing over the Internet. The highest (the least compressed) is ideal for printing and archiving. Higher end DSLR and other professional-grade cameras often offer TIFF and RAW (uncompressed) file formats along with JPEG. Each has its strengths and weaknesses depending on how photos are handled:

RAW

This file format is best for archiving because no compression has been applied. It is the purest format available, and every bit of information collected from a camera's sensor has been preserved. The drawback to saving images in RAW format is that the file size can be extremely large, easily upwards of 30MB to 40MB per photo with today's high megapixel cameras! Professional photographers are often the only ones with enough space to dedicate to such oversized files. Furthermore, once a RAW image has been manipulated, a copy has to be saved in another form, such as a TIFF or JPEG. TIFF

This file format is ideal for editing because it still retains a large amount of image information (almost as much as RAW). TIFF is especially good for retaining color information. TIFF gives you a lot to work with, while being much smaller than a RAW file. That isn't to say TIFF files are small. Depending on the resolution of your camera, you could easily end up with TIFF files in the 4MB to 10MB range. Apart from file format there’s other basics to consider as well, and one can gauge what these basics are by asking yourself the following questions:

Is the photo tilted

Check to see if your photo is crooked or level. Are people or structures tilted at an odd angle? Nearly all editing software includes tools that allow you to rotate and straighten your pictures.

Does the photo need cropping?

Is the main subject of your photo overshadowed by objects in the background or by other details within the images If so, you may want to crop out the distracting elements of your photo to focus on the portion you like.

Is the photo blurry?

Look to see if your photo is blurry, and if the main subject is clear. Most photo editing software, such as Windows Live Photo Gallery or Adobe Photoshop, offers tools for decreasing the amount of blur within your photo.

Does the photo seem faded or discolored?

If your photo appears underexposed (not enough light) or overexposed (too much light), use your software to adjust the lighting. Use the color correction tools in your photo editing software to boost or downplay the colors in your photo.

Does anyone in the photo have red-eye?

Red-eye can be one of the easiest photo flaws to fix. Your editing software should have a tool specifically designed to remove red-eye.

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