Digital Focus: Take Great Holiday PhotosTips for using the flash, ISO settings, and tripods, plus capturing candles and lights.
Feature: The Great Holiday Photo Tip Guide
I'm getting excited about this holiday season. Soon my kids will gleefully tear open Christmas presents, while my best friend's baby shares his very first Chanukah with his family. It's a time of fun, joy, and excitement--and as digital photographers, we inevitably try to capture it in pixels for all eternity.
A little planning and preparation can help you take better holiday photos that you'll enjoy sharing with friends and family. Read on for some tricks and tips.
Bump Up the ISO
Your digital camera probably lets you choose from among several "film speeds," also called ISO settings. This control tells the camera how sensitive the imaging sensor should be. Ordinarily the CCD is set to its lowest sensitivity, which minimizes digital noise in the photos you take. But you'll be taking pictures indoors, probably in the early morning. If you push the ISO to its highest level, you can capture sharp photos of loved ones tearing into wrapped boxes--perhaps even without resorting to the flash.
Avoid the Flash
Speaking of the flash, turn it off if you can. You'll get more-natural skin color, less harsh glare, and more consistent lighting throughout the photo. Flash effects can be particularly bad in gift-opening situations because lots of random bits of paper, tinsel, and boxes in the scene can reflect light back into the lens, creating ugly glare and hotspots. Keep in mind that you may have to use the flash, though, especially if you can't increase the ISO level of your camera.
Use a Tripod
I often set my camera on a tripod and put it in a corner of the room. I leave all the locks on the tripod's pan head loose, though, so I don't have to waste time loosening or tightening the camera when I want to take a quick picture. I just run behind the camera, point it where I want to shoot, and click the shutter release. The tripod gives me enough support to prevent the jitters even without cranking down the tripod head.
Leave It On
Don't turn the camera on and off throughout the morning. If you know you'll be taking a lot of pictures over a two-hour period, just leave it turned on. You'll want to start the day with freshly charged batteries, but those batteries should last all day. If you turn the camera on and off all day, you'll wear down the batteries faster than if you just let the camera's own power management system handle things, and you might waste time fiddling with the controls as well.
Capturing Candles and Lights
There's nothing quite as beautiful as holiday lights. Be adventurous and try to capture your own decorations on digital film. You'll need to wait until dark and mount your camera on a tripod. Set your camera to its manual mode and dial in a fairly long exposure--like a half second or so. Experiment by shooting the same scene several times, with different aperture settings or different shutter speeds.
Dave's Favorites: Send Pictures by Phone
Okay, so this isn't really my "favorite"--but it's simply too interesting to pass up. I've recently been playing with Sprint's new PCS Vision service, and I'm quite impressed.
By now you've no doubt seen the TV commercials for PCS Vision--they're almost unavoidable. Essentially, it's Sprint's new nationwide high-speed cellular network that lets you talk, access the Internet at about four times the speed of ordinary wireless systems, play games, and experience multimedia--all on your new Sprint mobile phone.
Samsung's A500 is a PCS Vision phone that's compatible with a simple digital camera that shoots 474-by-357-pixel images. After you take the pictures, you can connect the camera to the phone and use the phone to upload the image files to Sprint's picture server. Once they're there, you can e-mail them or send them directly to other Sprint PCS Vision handsets. That, of course, assumes you know someone else that has also upgraded to PCS Vision.
It's all very cool, and will no doubt get better with time. After my test period with the A500 was up, Sprint announced a phone with an integrated digital camera: Sanyo's 5300 shoots 480-by-480-pixel images without any connection cables or funky attachments. I'm disappointed that Sprint hasn't embraced Multimedia Messaging, an up-and-coming standard for exchanging pictures via phone across networks. But PCS Vision is a cool first step, and I've been having fun phoning-in pictures from the road.
For more information, read "Cell Phones Wed Digital Cameras."
Q&A: Pixels, CCDs, and Megabytes, Oh My!
In a recent issue, you said that "advertised" pixels are not necessarily all usable. I took a picture at my Nikon CoolPix880's full resolution (3.4 megapixels). The result was a 9-megabyte picture. The file was so large I had to put it on a CD to be able to take it to a digital print processor to get it printed at 11 by 14 inches. It came out very nicely, and the guy at the store said I could print it as large as 20 inches without blurring. What is the relationship between the 3.4-megapixel spec for my camera and the 9-megabyte picture?
If I had taken the picture in brighter sunlight, would the result be more than 9 megabytes, or is that the largest file my camera can create? Will a 3.4-megapixel camera and a 6-megapixel camera both take the same picture or would one be larger?
--Susan Jackelman, Omaha, Nebraska
Well, Susan, that's a whole lot of questions for a single e-mail. Let's try to break this down piece by piece.
First of all, the comment you're referring to was related to a very specific kind of camera--a Fuji model with a "SuperCCD." Fuji uses its SuperCCD technology to create images that have more pixels than the camera's imaging system is physically capable of capturing. Most cameras, on the other hand, create images that have roughly the same number of pixels as the sensor that captured the picture. If you don't have a Fuji SuperCCD camera, those comments don't apply to you or your camera.
Now on to camera specs: What should be important to you is the number of pixels your camera is capturing. A 3-megapixel camera, for instance, can shoot a picture with around 1500 by 2000 pixels--the pixels in the "X" direction times the pixels in the "Y" direction equals about 3 million. It's the number of pixels in your image that determines how large you can print the photo: As a rule of thumb, divide each of the dimensions of your picture (in pixels) by 200 to get the maximum print size. For example, a 1500-by-2000-pixel photo looks best when printed at 8 by 10 inches or smaller. You can always try to push it, as the guy at your photo store suggested. But you'll probably find that the quality will begin to noticeably degrade.
Finally, there's the question of file size. You mentioned that your 3.4-megapixel image clocked in at 9MB. It sounds to me like you saved it as a TIFF file. TIFFs don't compress very much and consequently take a large amount of disk space. For that reason, I suggest you avoid them--just use your digital camera's JPEG mode, which creates extremely compact files without sacrificing much visual quality, if any. The bottom line is that there's little correlation between file size and pixel size, since the file size can vary depending upon which file format you save the image in.
Hot Pic of the Week
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.
Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This week's Hot Pic: "The Mask," by Mark Wolfson, Novato, California
Mark writes: "I took the photo of this mask through the window of a toy store in Rome's Piazza Navona earlier in the year with my Sony DSC-F707 digital camera. When I got back to my hotel and looked at the image, I was intrigued by the mask and its strong colors but felt that something was lacking--the empty eyes bothered me."
Mark's solution? He took a photo of his daughter striking an expression that she thought might be appropriate for such a mask, then copied her eyes. He used Photoshop to insert the eyes into the image of the mask.
Hot Pic of the Month
Each month we choose one of our weekly winners to be the Hot Pic of the Month. Our choice for November was Thai N. Strom's "Field of Flags."
About the photo, Thai says: "It was taken in Lodi, California, on August 2, at the closing ceremony of the display of the Moving Wall, a replica of the D.C.-based Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After a very emotional event, I came upon this touching scene of a little girl happily playing on the Field of Flags."
As always, congratulations to each of the weekly winners, and keep those great photos coming in!
We want your feedback! Send your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question that you'd like to see answered in the weekly Q&A, send it to email@example.com.