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MAKING DIGITAL CLICK.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

If you're one of the 53 million people who acquired a new digital camera last year, chances are good you've had to confront some technology issues.

"I can see where it would be daunting," says Chris Pietsch, a photographer at The Register-Guard, who hears one question more often than any other these days:

"Do you know anything about digital photography?"

Today's photo-making machines are more like computers and less like cameras, so don't feel bad if you've owned your digital camera for six months and have yet to hold a single photograph in your hands.

Shooting, editing, printing and archiving digital images takes some getting used to. Once you get the hang of it though, you might wonder what you've been waiting for.

To help you in your digital evolution, we checked in with some local experts and came up with the following guide to your new digital camera.

For simplicity's sake, we've divided most of the tasks into three different skill levels. If you just want to make a picture and be done with it, follow the beginner route, but if you want to get a little pickier with your prints, also follow our intermediate and advanced instructions.

And even though we use the term intermediate and advanced, our guide is meant for inexperienced digital shooters, so if you're a techno geek or a camera snob, take your talk of Wi-Fi digi-cams and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor sensors elsewhere.

Buying

We'll assume that you already have your digital camera, but if not, here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping.

Hold it: "The best suggestion I have for people is to try and use the camera before you buy it, so you know what it feels like," says Ian Doremus, a former newspaper photographer and current news systems editor at The Register-Guard. "You can read 100 reviews, but if it doesn't feel right or function the way you expect it to ...'

Megapixels: Megapixel ratings have become the primary specification that most consumers rely upon when choosing a digital camera, but it shouldn't be your only consideration.

"There is an overemphasis on megapixels," says Elias Gayles, a sales associate at the Digital Duck in Eugene. "People come in saying I need five megapixels, I need eight megapixels. The real factor that determines the necessary number of megapixels is how big the prints are that you want to make. If you really anticipate only doing 4-by-6's, a three-megapixel camera will be fine."

Megapixel ratings are derived by multiplying the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels. More pixels means more wiggle room for cropping and enlarging photos, but it doesn't necessarily mean better image quality.

Compare: You can compare the raw images shot by different cameras at the Imaging Resource Web site (www.imaging-resource.com) and study up on different digital cameras at the Digital Photography Review site (www.dpreview.com).

Memory cards: Most digital cameras come with a wimpy memory card that will allow you to shoot only a few images before the card fills up. Plan on spending an extra $40 to $80 to buy a bigger 256 or 512 megabyte card.

Size matters, but: Thin is in when it comes to digital cameras, but the smallest cameras often don't shoot the best pictures. Decide whether size truly is more important than image quality before buying a candy-bar sized camera.

Consider 35 mm: If you hate computers, don't use e-mail and don't plan on posting any photos on the Internet, you may be better off sticking with your old 35 millimeter camera, says David Hazen, a customer service representative at Evergreen Film Service in Eugene.

"Thirty-five millimeter has evolved to such a point that the automated cameras and automated printing produces pretty reliable, expectable results," Hazen says.

"The digital camera is so new and has so many variables involved in the process that there's too many things that can go wrong."

Shooting

The array of different settings on your new digital camera is enough to make most people's heads spin. But keep in mind that even if you don't set anything, you're still likely to walk away with a usable image.

The same basic shooting techniques that apply to 35 millimeter cameras apply to digital cameras. Holding the camera steady and making sure your light source is behind you, not in front of you, will help ensure you get the best image possible.

Beginner: For the no-hassle photographer, most point-and-shoot digital cameras will take fine photos right out of the box.

Most digital cameras will default to automatic settings for resolution, light metering, flash setting, aperture and shutter speed, and unless you're shooting in difficult lighting, you're likely to walk away with a usable image without setting anything.

"Basically, they're like computers: they had to reduce the complexity and make them relatively easy to use," Gayles says.

Intermediate: Read your instruction manual front to back. It may be the driest thing you've ingested since that bowl of shredded Mini Wheats you had for breakfast, but it will save you time down the road.

Also, make sure your camera is set to capture the maximum resolution image possible. To ensure your resolution is set properly, multiply the dimensions of the print size by 300, Hazen says. For example, a 4-by-6-inch print requires a 1,600-by-1,200 pixel setting.

Another setting to watch is compression setting. Make sure your camera is set on the highest quality JPEG setting.

Advanced: Pickier shooters may want to use the exposure compensation setting on their cameras to adjust for extreme lighting conditions. For example, when shooting photos in snow, you might want to set the camera to overexpose by one or two stops.

Other fine tuning adjustments include experimenting with different flash settings. A fill flash may be useful during daylight and red-eye reducing flashes may come in handy at night. More advanced shooters may want to manually set the film speed or ISO rating on their cameras to determine when a flash comes on and off.

Also, some cameras allow photographers to manually adjust shutter speed and aperture settings to get the effects they're looking for.

Manipulation

Editing software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Digital Image Suite and Ulead Photoimpact allow digital photographers to adjust color, sharpness and contrast and even add cool effects to their photos.

Some of these programs come packaged with cameras and some must be purchased separately. Most cameras come with basic editing software, but there have been glitches with these no-frills programs, so editor beware.

For photographers who want to minimize the hassle of connecting their cameras to their computers, Chris Sloan, a manager at the Shutterbug in Eugene, recommends buying a card reader that allows you to plug your card into your computer. This $30- to $50-device allows you to save battery power and avoid having to use extra software to connect your camera to your computer.

Beginner: For many digital shooters, unedited digital photos will turn out just fine. You may have to take more photos to make sure you've got a usable image, but who cares when you're shooting digital.

Intermediate: Many of the problems with your digital images can be remedied using the one-touch fix option offered with many software packages, which may be called "enhance" or "auto-fix." These programs adjust everything from poor contrast to dull colors.

Advanced: Perfectionists may want to make many of their corrections manually, and some may even want to invest in the professional version of Photoshop.

Adjusting brightness and contrast are a good place to start. Some programs offer a "fill flash" that lightens faces of people in the foreground. Red eyes can be eliminated using a program's red-eye removal tool.

Adjusting saturation will make colors more or less vivid and adjusting hue also can help correct color problems. Problems with exposure can be corrected using a program's level-adjustment feature. Some programs allow users to manipulate levels on a graph called a "histogram" that makes it easy to see the changes as they happen.

Finally, cropping allows you to remove unwanted clutter (and relatives) from your pictures and can size your photos to fit your printer.

Printing

Printing digital images used to be harder than it needed to be, but the process continues to get easier as film and camera manufacturers scramble to capture the digital market.

That said, there are some distinct differences between various methods of printing, says Hazen of Evergreen Film Service. While you can print photos at home on a jet printer, he says, the results aren't likely to be the same as traditional photos.

"A jet printer will spray the pixels into a fuzz pattern that, to your eye, will look pretty good," he says. "We're printing with a laser and it prints the exact edge of every pixel on the paper where it belongs, so then you (may) start to see pixels."

Beginners: Despite what Hazen says, many photographers will be happy with the photos they print at home. A program called PictBridge allows most new cameras to interface directly with some of the newer photography printers, eliminating the need for a computer.

In general, the cost of paper and ink for printers makes printing at home slightly more expensive than getting your prints done by a professional, but for some, the convenience is worth paying a premium, says Sloan at Shutterbug.

"If you're taking pictures of somebody at your house, it's fun to be able to (print it) right then and there," she says.

Intermediate: Digital photographers also can insert their camera chips directly into self-serve kiosks or hand them over to full-service counters at pharmacies and camera stores. The process is quick and easy and you can choose to print some or all of the images stored in your camera's memory. Some kiosks even allow some minor editing such as cropping. Most outlets print 4-by-6-inch digital images for 20 to 30 cents per print.

Sloan recommends shopping around and printing the same images at multiple kiosks to compare quality.

Advanced: Although most printers do a fine job of printing images, Hazen says there's no substitute for having a real person overseeing the printing of your digital images.

At high-end photography shops such as Evergreen, human eyeballs scan the photographs for problems with color and make corrections to skin tones and perform other quick fixes. The shop also prints its photos on 70-year archival paper that will last longer than most prints made at home and at self-serve kiosks.

Keep in mind that you will pay a premium for the service, which starts at 44 cents a print at Evergreen.

Archiving

You might expect that digital images would be easier to archive than old-fashioned photographs from film cameras, but the fact that hard drives fail, CDs decay and prints made at home fade quickly, makes archiving a difficult task.

"The photos are the first thing people miss when the house burns down and yet they keep digital photos on a hard drive that's guaranteed to crash," says Tom Boyd, a Register-Guard photographer with more than 2,700 digital photos in his digital family photo album.

Beginner: For most casual photographers, making a CD copy of digital images should be sufficient. Most digital photo printers will make a CD copy of the images on your photo card for $5 to $10.

Intermediate: For an extra layer of protection, some photographers may want to keep an extra copy of images on a computer hard drive in addition to a CD backup.

Advanced: For photographers in search of extra security, multiple backups are a necessity. Boyd keeps copies of his images on two separate hard drives, and on two sets of DVDs. He uses DVDs because they hold more images, and he stores them in two separate places. Also, he keeps an extra set of hard copy prints.

Other suggestions include handing out extra copies of photo CDs or DVDs to relatives or keeping them in safe-deposit boxes. With technological issues such as "CD rot" and format changes to contend with, some say hard copy prints may be the best way to ensure you'll have pictures to show the grandchildren.

"As far as them being around 100 years from now," says Gayles at the Digital Duck, "one archival method would be to do the old shoe-box routine."

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Title Annotation:General News; Taking pictures using the latest technology isn't always a snap
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 23, 2005
Words:2077
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