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In The Lab
Camera Tips
by chris

HP Photo Center
Check out your camera vendor's web site for photography tips, tutorials, or examples of how to use your camera for the best results.
The month of May is our digital imaging month, so I decided to put together a few tips for all you digital photographers out there. When working with a digital camera instead of a film camera, many of the same operational concepts still apply. Even with basic digital cameras, you usually have the ability to adjust when and how to use the flash, and you may be able to select different distance modes for close-up, normal, or landscape settings. Some cameras allow you to manually adjust focus, exposure, or select special filter modes. Every camera I am familiar with has at least the ability to adjust image quality settings, control the picture resolution and select the image format the image is saved in. One big advantage of digital photography over film is expense. Since memory cards are reusable and most cameras can use rechargeable batteries, you can always take a quantity over quality approach, and delete the less-than-satisfactory results.

Check the manual or CD that came with your camera; if you don't know where it is, use the Internet to check the manufacturer's site for a downloadable version. The user manual not only will help explain which features are available on your camera, but almost always include examples or suggestions for using a particular feature.

Framing the image
Knowing the basic functions of the camera is important to achieve the best results in the pictures you take. Going beyond the operational features of the camera, don't lose sight of simple photographic principles. Many issues can be corrected in a graphics editing program, but procedures like image cropping reduce the amount of data in the image, losing detail as a result. Taking a few extra moments to minimize or eliminate issues will result in better images and less work.

Poor Composition Better Composition

Taking time to frame your subject can avoid having to remove unwanted portions later. Aiming the camera slightly lower removes the background clutter, keeping the focus on the spring flowers - without losing detail or changing the aspect ratio of the image.

Southern Coast

Including objects in the frame that create natural borders can direct the viewer's focus and make the picture more interesting.

Malaga Magala Thirds

Other approaches to framing include balancing the points of interest in the picture by "thirds".

Flash photography
Adjusting the operation of the camera's strobe can also make a difference in many of your pictures. If left in automatic mode, the strobe will flash in any low-light conditions. By forcing the camera to use the strobe, you can sometimes improve the lighting of nearby objects or subjects showing deep shadows. By disabling the strobe, you force the camera to adjust exposure settings to the existing light conditions, including the high-contrast dark shadows that may result.

Auto Flash Most digital cameras with a built-in flash are set to automatically use it as a fill-flash. In moderate light, the strobe may flash to increase the lighting level of foreground objects and reduce shadows. In low-light conditions, a strobe is required to prevent motion blurring from holding the camera at slower exposure speeds. In automatic mode, the strobe may not flash at all in full sunlight or under bright lighting.
Red Eye Special flash modes like red-eye flash can minimize the chance of having your subject's eyes reflecting the flash back to the camera. These modes give a short pre-flash, causing your subject's pupils to contract before the real flash goes off.
Flash Off By turning off the flash, you will force your camera to adjust the "shutter speed" to as long as it needs for the sensor to reach a range of values it considers correct. In low light conditions, this could easily mean that your image will be out of focus or blurred because of very slight camera motion. The easy work-around is to use a tripod.
Full Flash By turning on full flash, your strobe will fire every time, even in bright sunlight. When taking outdoor pictures, the result is a fill-flash that reduces deep shadows on your close-range subjects. Without the flash, you will have bright highlights and very dark shadows, with very little mid-range values.

Dogwoods at Dusk

Choosing when to take pictures and deliberately using a flash can result in high-contrast compositions. For example, by waiting until dusk or full dark a snapshot of spring flowers becomes a high-contrast composition.

Focus and depth of field
One aspect of digital photography that is often overlooked is the depth of field. This is the term applied to the distance range that is in focus of the camera at the time the photo is taken. As with the flash, the default focus setting on most digital cameras is also automatic. Typically, there will be a set of brackets near the center of your LCD screen or viewfinder that identifies the portion of the image that the camera will attempt to focus on when you press the shutter button part way down.

You can usually use the focus feature to lock on a subject that is not positioned in the brackets when you take the picture. Position the subject in the brackets and press the shutter button part way to have the camera set the focus distance; while still holding the shutter button down, reposition the camera the way you wish and press the button the rest of the way to take the picture. Holding the button part way down should "lock" the focus at the distance to the subject, keeping them sharp, even if close and distant objects blur.

A few cameras will automatically adjust into close-up mode (sometimes called "macro"), although some require the user to change the capture mode to enable this feature. Close up or macro mode usually allows the camera to focus on objects only within a very close distance to the camera lens. Strobes may be disabled when working in macro mode on some cameras. If this is the case, you may need alternative lighting or a tripod to steady the camera.

Auto Focus Automatic Focus: The camera will attempt to bring the image into focus using the bracketed area of the viewfinder. Newer cameras may be able to adjust over the entire range of distance from a couple of inches all the way out to "infinity" (or at least "way-over-there").
Close Up Mode Close Up or Macro Mode: The camera has a very restricted range that it can focus on. For example, the HP Photosmart M437 has a close-up range that operates from about 2 inches to a maximum of about 12 inches. Anything that is in the frame outside of this focal range will appear out of focus.
Portrait Mode Portrait Mode: When a camera is configured to use this setting, it will not attempt to focus close-up. The typical focus range would typically be from several feet to no more than 20-30 feet. Both extremely close and distant objects may be slightly out of focus at this setting.
Landscape Mode Landscape Mode: When configured in landscape, objects that are far away will always be in focus. Depending on the lens and optics of your camera, objects as close as 15 to 20 feet will probably be in focus, while objects will become blurry the closer they are to the camera.

Dogwoods Up Close

In close-up mode, only objects very close to the camera will be in focus. Objects will get more and more out of focus the further away they are from the camera.

To bring objects into focus that are further apart than the close-up mode range, try backing away and use the optical zoom of your camera. The depth of field in zoom mode can easily be 3-4 times deeper than the close-up range.

A common trick with zoom is to back off far enough that your "close objects" are in focus as well as very distant objects. Remember this when you want to take a picture of something or someone silhouetted against the setting sun or a full moon. Usually, you should be able to get everything from 20 feet out or more to be in sharp focus at the same time. To get the sun or moon to fill the view, you are going to need more than the typical 3x to 5x zoom found on most cameras. After-market Zoom and telephoto lenses that attach to the front of your camera may help, but will rarely equal the quality of a quality lens designed for the purpose. High-end cameras with interchangeable lenses can support high-magnification telephoto or the zoom lenses as desired. You may even be able to find telescope adapters for some models.

Exposure settings and special modes
Many cameras will have ISO modes that allow the user to adjust the exposure time required, which can be useful, especially under low light conditions. As the ISO number increases, so does the "shutter speed" of the camera at a given light level. This can reduce blurring due to camera motion or to movement by your subject.

Action Exposure If you don't find ISO (film speed) settings in the camera menus, you may have a shutter mode for "action" or something similar. These modes usually will decrease the exposure time required to capture an image, to reduce blurring of the subject.
Steady Exposure Your camera may also have some sort of electronic stabilization feature that can compensate for minor vibration or shaking of the camera as you snap a picture. If you do not have such a feature, you may need to use a tripod or brace your camera against something solid.

Many cameras have one or more special modes for use in certain situations or for particular types of photography. These may act like color lens filters that would enhance certain colors, disable the flash, but reduce the exposure time, or set some other combination of features. Check your manual to find out how to activate these settings, and what the features are.

Burst Exposure Burst mode - rapidly take three pictures in a row. This is useful for capturing action or fast moving subjects that move in and out of frame quickly. Some cameras may have a similar "bracketed mode" option that adjusts the exposure slightly over three images. This results in three pictures with slightly different lighting levels, equivalent to one f-stop either way from the optimal setting. This is useful for capturing high-contrast images, where the optimal image may be too bright or too dark to distinguish details.
Night Portrait Exposure Night portrait mode - Enables the flash for close up, but takes a long exposure to capture detail in low-light conditions. A tripod is required.
Theater Exposure Theater mode - Disable the strobe and keep exposure times short to minimize blurring in low-light conditions.
Sunset Exposure Sunset mode - Enhances warm colors like yellow, orange and red, similar to a "warming" lens filter.

Sunset mode enhances the warm colors, and may boost the saturation level; this mode is ideal to capture stunning sunrise or sunset photos.

Sunrise

Quality Settings
Don't forget your quality settings. These limit the resolution of your images and the amount of detail that will be visible. If you are planning to print out the captured images, the larger the file, the more detail and sharpness in the print. Choosing a lower resolution or quality setting will allow you to pack more images on the memory card, but always by sacrificing detail. Cropping and digital zoom also reduce the level of detail available in your final image, but starting with the highest possible quality setting may offset these operations somewhat. The highest setting for your camera may also be a non-standard one. If your choices of quality settings were "low," "medium," "high" or "raw," the camera may compress the image using a JPEG image format on all settings except "raw". The "raw" setting may save the image as an uncompressed TIFF image or as some sort of proprietary uncompressed format that will require you to use software that came with the camera, or other image editing software, to convert it to some other format before printing or editing.

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