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Digital Photography

Digital Cameras – What’s the problem? To understand digital photography, we have to go back to years gone by, and see just what photography is all about. Photography, the means of recording an image onto medium using variations in Film speed aperture and shutter speed has been around for a long time. People have also been able to trick the viewing public for much longer as well. If someone was in a photograph and you didn’t want them there, then you needed to get rid of him or her somehow. That is where darkroom skills come in. Stalin famously removed people from photographs, and arguably the most famous is the removal of Commissar Yezhov, head of Stalin’s secret police. He was removed when Stalin and he fell out. This happened much before photo editing equipment was available to the mass markets it is today – and way before everyone had a camera. Maybe that is an extreme example. People have been dodging and burning images for years.

Up or Down rating film speeds is common, also the use of filters, such as neutral density graduated filters to preserve detail, and even out the exposure, or colour ones for black and white images. These are still used today. However, the common misconception is that digital photography is “playing with computers”. This is not true. Digital photography works just the same as traditional film photography. You look through the viewfinder on a Digital SLR, or the rear screen on a compact, and you focus on the subject. You can focus manually or automatically (although automatic focusing was not brought in with digital photography; it started before). You read the light using either the built in meter or an external one, and you set the exposure. The great advantage is you can have an ISO choice up to 102,400 or more on some of the new cameras - impossible to do with film. This means, if you have an image to take and you need to boost the light sensitivity, there is no need to compromise on aperture or shutter speed – the ISO will do it all for you.

Below, is an informative beginners guide to digital photography.

And here is a great Depth of Field Simulator

So you have taken your image. You can review it on the LCD screen at the back, or through the viewfinder on a Bridge camera. This will tell you all the important details, such as when and how you took it. Also, the histogram will show if you selected it through your camera menu. This shows how many light and dark areas are being recorded. If it is bunched up to the left, then it is too dark. If it is too the right, then it is too light and you have burnt out a lot of the highlights. If it is making a bell shaped curve, then it is correctly exposed. Now, if that was a once in a moment shot you have just taken, and its not correct, then don’t despair. We’ll fix it in a bit. If you have taken it in a JPEG format, then you can print straight off most cameras, or you can ‘touch it up’ in Adobe Photoshop or other imaging editing programmes. You can print it at home, or you can take it to a store such as Boots, or a supermarket, where you can get prints. You can send the images to an online photo lab and order many different sizes and types of image, and have it put on coasters, calendars, in a book, on a cushion……… the list is endless. Or now, you can buy a digital photo frame where the only limit to the amount of images you can put in it is the size of the memory card in the back.

However, RAW format offers much the same flexibility as film negatives. You can open these with an image editing programme which is compatible with your camera. The CD your camera came with should contain some image editing software, or you can use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom or Corel Paint Shop Pro. There are also many free programs available to use on Windows PCs or Apple Macs. If you are using a Mac, Aperture and iPhoto are also available. Now for that bad image – you can expose it correctly now, as long as it is not too far out. If you have lost highlights or shadows, no amount of editing will save them. However, you can open the image in your programme of choice, and you will see choices to edit the saturation, the exposure level, the contrast, etc. With these, you can edit your image to near perfection – of course, you cannot make a bad image good, but you can make a good image superb. You can edit the sharpness of the image, and reduce the noise levels if you had to use a high ISO, or you simply forgot to change it.

Another great way of using digital photography is the HDR images. Now, what is HDR? Much like ISO, it’s an acronym not many people are familiar with. HDR means ‘High Dynamic Range’. This is basically taking an image a few times on a tripod, with the same focus and of the same subject, from the same place, with different exposures. You can take three exposures – one for the highlights, one for the mid tones of the image, and one for the shadows. This means all the detail is recorded. You then open an image editing programme that allows you to merge HDR images, such as Photomatix, or Photoshop. You can merge the images until it looks good – but beware, some HDRs look fake and overdone, and these are terrible. They will be thrown out straightaway by judges. You can create three images exposed differently from a single RAW file, but this doesn’t work as well as you don’t have the detail – it’s much better to get three separate images taken at the same time.

Here is an Exposure Simulator for you to play with!