Digital Photography: All its Many Secrets

By: David Peters

Though digital photography has come a long way, beginning photographers must still maintain control of the shots they intend to take. For example, focusing and clarity can be sensed automatically by most digital cameras, but that doesn't necessarily make the picture a good one. Therefore, choosing the right camera, one which allows you to control intensity, contrast and lighting, is not a choice to make sparingly. Most often, people review cameras and pick their own personal favorite, and while the advice may be helpful to others, it is not necessarily for everyone. First, your needs must determine the type of camera you will buy. Do you prefer to have a smaller camera that can be carried around in your pocket, or would you rather a full-size camera which is carried in a bag? The choice is up to the buyer, and should be thought about carefully before making a decision.

In the past, photography was a costly and time-taking business. This meant photographs were taken cautiously so as not to waste film. Only the richest companies could afford to take hundreds of pictures knowing that only one would be chosen out of the bunch. Nowadays, because of technological advancements, amateur photographers do not need to worry about finances or the amount of time it will take them to produce one photograph. Experimentation is possible for anyone, and more relaxing and enjoyable. When it used to take hours to process a picture, it can now take under that to process several, and amateurs can benefit greatly.

Normally our eyes compensate for lighting conditions with different color temperatures. A digital camera needs to find a reference point which represents white. It will then calculate all the other colors based on this white point. For instance, if a halogen light illuminates a white wall, the wall will have a yellow cast, while in fact it should be white. So if the camera knows the wall is supposed to be white, it will then compensate all the other colors in the scene accordingly.

Most digital cameras feature automatic white balance whereby the camera looks at the overall color of the image and calculates the best-fit white balance. However these systems are often fooled especially if the scene is dominated by one color, say green, or if there is no natural white present in the scene. Most digital cameras also allow you to choose a white balance manually, typically sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent etc. Prosumer and SLR digital cameras allow you to define your own white balance reference. Before making the actual shot, you can focus at an area in the scene which should be white or neutral gray, or at a white or gray target card. The camera will then use this reference when making the actual shot.

Action photographs are quite popular, though they are difficult to take properly. Speed is essential to taking clear pictures for indoor sports and activities. The shutter speed is crucial, for if it is too slow you will lose the picture, as the movement will have continued past the shot you wanted. The results can be erratic, so the highest quality won't be assured. Make sure when taking pictures of indoor sports that your camera is on a setting with a fast shutter, such as rapid fire mode.

JPEG (pronounced "jay-peg") is a standardized image compression mechanism. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the original name of the committee that wrote the standard. JPEG is designed for compressing either full-color or gray-scale images of natural, real-world scenes. It works well on photographs, naturalistic artwork, and similar material; not so well on lettering, simple cartoons, or line drawings. JPEG is "lossy," meaning that the decompressed image isn't quite the same as the one you started with. (There are lossless image compression algorithms, but JPEG achieves much greater compression than is possible with lossless methods.) Making image files smaller is a win for transmitting files across networks and for archiving libraries of images. The real disadvantage of lossy compression is that if you repeatedly compress and decompress an image, you lose a little more quality each time. This is a serious objection for some applications but matters not at all for many others.

If you use a flash in a dark environment, you often get a red eye effect. This is because the light of the flash is reflecting from the retina, which is covered with tiny blood vessels. The more open the pupils are, the more red eye effect you get in your photos. Red eye is more pronounced in people with light eye color. It is also more pronounced in people with blond or light-red hair and in children. Many cameras have a built-in red-eye reduction pre-flash that helps reduce the incidence of red eye. Red-eye reduction works by having the flash shine a light into the eyes of the subject prior to taking the picture. This causes the pupil to contract. However, you have to make sure the subject is looking at the camera. If not, this technique won't work. Also be wary of using red-eye reduction feature when not necessary, because it may cause your subject to blink.

"Picture-perfect" is a term almost always associated with photography, which makes photographers think that every photograph must be absolutely perfect. This is simply not true. Most often some of the best pictures are not perfect, because perfect can be predictable. However, in order to get those perfect pictures, any photographer, whether experienced or a beginner, must be patient and persistent. Eventually, taking perfect pictures will simply become a habit.

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