August 30, 2009

Daisies Galore

I uploaded some macro shots of daisies to my new business Facebook page. Take a look and while you're there, consider becoming a fan.

Organizing Your Pictures on Your Computer

While browsing in the bookstore last week, I discovered a new book called Digital Photography: The Missing Manual by David Pogue. It's divided into two parts, one about using your digital camera and one about managing your pictures on  your computer. 

The part I like best about it is Pogue's approach to the whole computer section, which is often intimidating for new digital camera owners. He talks about two photo organizing and editing programs that are free and simple to use: iPhoto for Apples and Picasa for Windows. The best thing about these programs is that they are FREE! iPhoto comes installed on every new Macintosh computer and Picasa is available for download from its internet web site.

Check out this book and these programs if you need help organizing your photos on your computer. By the way, both iPhoto and Picasa help you easily email your big digital camera pictures as well.

How Many Megapixels Are Enough?

Now that you know what a megapixel is, the next question is how many do you need? The answer depends on what you're going to do with your picture.

If you're going to share your photo by email, Facebook, Flickr, or other web page, then you need very few megapixels at all.
How many of you have received a message that took two days to download? And after it arrived, all you could see was an eye?!

When you display a digital photo on a computer screen, each image pixel becomes a screen pixel. Almost no one has a monitor with a million pixels on it. So if you send even a 1 megapixel photo, your recipient won't be able to see the whole thing without scrolling (the eye mentioned above).

Original 6 megapixel picture with too many pixels for screen display

In addition, the more pixels in your photo, the bigger the size of the file. If you have too large a file, then it takes a long time to upload from your computer and a long time to download on your recipient's computer, whether as an email message or a web page (the two-day download).

So email photos need very few pixels. I recommend a maximum size of 800 pixels on the longest side to ensure you have a small image that will be completely visible on the screen and transfer quickly from your computer to theirs.

Photo reduced to 800 pixels on the long side for screen display

If you are going to print your picture, either with your own inkjet printer or from a photo lab, then you need lots more pixels! When you print a digital photo, the pixels must be small enough and close together enough so they become invisible. Otherwise, you would see squares like a mosaic instead of a photo.

I recommend you have at least 200 pixels per inch of printed photo. So if you want a 4x6 inch print, you would need a digital photo that has at least 800 pixels x 1200 pixels (4 inches x 200 pixels per inch = 800 pixels; 6 inches x 200 pixels per inch = 1200 pixels). In fact, you almost cannot have too many pixels for printing. The more pixels in your digital photo, literally the larger you can print it and keep all the details sharp.

If you've been reading carefully, you may have noticed that the recommendations for an email photo are very different from those for a printed photo. To refresh your memory:

  • Email/Web Photo --- Maximum Size 800 pixels on longest side
  • Printed Photo --- Minimum Size 200 pixels per printed inch
    (800 pixels x 1200 pixels for a 4x6 inch print)
So what do you do? I recommend that you always use all the megapixels that your digital camera can make when you are shooting. After the pictures are on your computer, then you can make a COPY of your photo and change the number of pixels to suit your purpose.

This method works best for digital images because they retain their sharpness and color better when you shrink the size of the photo instead of enlarge it. In addition, if you have more megapixels than you need, even for a printed photo, then you can crop the picture (cut away some pixels on the outer edges) and still have enough pixels left over to make a print.

August 23, 2009

Time & Light

Western Montana Fair 2009

I spent some time photographing the carnival lights at the Western Montana Fair last weekend. You can see an album of some of my shots on Facebook.

August 22, 2009

What's a Megapixel?

A while back, I sent out a survey for people to contribute their top three burning questions about digital photography. Many people asked questions related to “megapixels,” so here goes.

Most of you know what a mosaic looks like: a picture created with lots of small tiles of different colors. If you stand very close to a mosaic, all you see are the individual tiles. But if you back away, your vision causes the tiles to blend together and you can see the image.

A floor mosaic

Your digital camera contains a sensor (computer chip) with a grid of photo cells which collect the light coming in through the camera’s lens. The computer inside your camera processes this light and turns it into a grid of tiny colored squares called pixels (short for “picture elements”). So a digital image is really a grid made up of lots of little squares of color. If you greatly enlarge a digital photo on your computer screen, you can see the pixels themselves (like the tiles in a mosaic). But usually you just see the picture.

Individual pixels visible at high magnification in sunflower image

Every digital camera has a maximum number of pixels it can create, based on the grid of photo cells on the sensor. For example, a camera sensor might contain 3000 pixels across and 2000 pixels up and down. We can describe the size of the digital picture this sensor makes by saying the image is 3000 pixels x 2000 pixels. (Here “pixel” is a unit of measure like an inch or a foot.)

If we actually multiply the two numbers, we end up with the total number of pixels in the image (like the total area of a rectangle): 3000 pixels X 2000 pixels = 6,000,000 pixels. Six million pixels is the maximum number of pixels the camera can create. Another way to say the same thing is 6 megapixels. “Mega” means “million”.

(not to scale)
3000 pixels x 2000 pixels = 6,000,000 pixels
6,000,000 pixels = 6 megapixels

You can find out the maximum number of megapixels your camera creates in one of two ways. If you have a compact (point & shoot) digital camera, sometimes the number of megapixels is printed right on the camera body. The other way is to look in your camera's manual in the section usually called "Specifications". (Check the table of contents or index for the exact page.) In the Specifications section you are looking for an entry called "effective pixels". This number tells you the maximum number of megapixels the camera can create.

Compact camera displaying 7.1 megapixels

Now you can impress all your friends at your next cocktail party with what a megapixel is!

August 16, 2009

Day & Night

It's time for fairs around the country and Montana is no exception. I spent some time at the Western Montana Fair held in Missoula and made pictures both during the day and at night. You can see that the time of day makes a big difference in what the carnival looks like!

If you're photographing people during the day, be sure to turn on your flash. It brightens the shadows on a sunny day and lightens your subject if the sky is gray. At night, do the opposite. Put your camera on a tripod and turn off the flash to record the lights of booths and rides. If you can, shoot from a high vantage point for a different perspective. I was on stairs leading up to (of all things) the Photography display.

Try visiting the fair more than once. The light and weather may change and you'll become more familiar with the best angles and subjects for pictures during the day or night.

August 1, 2009

Free Photography Articles

One of my favorite sites for photography is They have a whole list of free articles about techniques to improve your pictures. Just click on the Learn Photography link at the top of the home page for a plethora (that's a lot) of choices. And if you're feeling particularly ambitious, try one of their online courses. I learned a lot about flash from taking a 4-week class from Rob Sheppard.

Another resource is the New York Institute of Photography. You can subscribe to their monthly newsletter or just visit their home page for a list of current topics. The newsletter always contains lots of helpful information pertinent to the season. This month highlights how to photograph your toddler. And there is a large archive of articles on their web site, easily accessed at the bottom of the opening page (scroll down).

So even if you live in the boonies, you can still get help learning to use your camera for better photos!

Improve Your Pictures with This Book

I teach night photography classes here in Missoula and the fall catalog will soon be in people's mailboxes. (Watch my web site for updates to classes and times in the next week.) When I'm preparing for a new round of courses, I'm always looking for better textbooks to support what I teach in the classroom. This time I've found a brand new book that I'm sure will help my students and might help you, too.

It's called The Shot Doctor: The amateur's guide to taking great digital photos by Mark Edward Soper (June 2009, Que Publishing). It has lots of practical suggestions for better images, and lots of before and after pictures showing how adjusting your digital camera's controls can improve the results. My favorite suggestion? For indoor pictures of all kinds, set the camera ISO (sensitivity) to 400. This both improves flash pictures and even allows you to make some photos without flash. Enjoy!