Archive for the ‘Photography tips’ Category

Digital Camera Image Files: The Raw Truth!

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Low-Down on RAW Digital Photo Files – In Simple Terms!

My students are often confused by the file options (RAW or JPEG) in their cameras. Without going into huge detail, I generally suggest my students opt for a medium to high JPEG file because the majority of my students have no interest in adjusting their digital images at a later time. 


But if you want more control over your images, you might want to opt for RAW files…read on…


RAW or JPEG — what’s the difference?   

RAW photo files, like a raw carrot, await a brilliant cook/artist to do something to them.  But, unlike a raw carrot which can be perfect as is, pictures printed from RAW photo files can be much better after manipulation—RAW files are meant to be adjusted before being saved as JPEG prints.


Years ago, before the advent of digital cameras, a film photographer had to visit the processing bath in his darkroom before being able to show off his photographs; that’s where he’d turn his negatives into prints.  In this sense, RAW files are similar to old-fashioned film negatives–that’s “similar” because unlike old film negatives, a RAW file can be printed without manipulation.

Jim McGee, with, writes, “It’s important to understand that a print of the raw file without any changes will look identical to a high resolution JPEG file captured at the same time. What you’re getting with a RAW file is the ability to make changes later on.”

In fact, when shooting in RAW, your camera will totally ignore any previous settings you might have opted for like a particular white balance, color saturation level, or decreased resolution.

So, what’s a JPEG file?   

JPEG (Joint Photo Experts Group) is a computer formula that digital cameras use to compress RAW information into smaller more manageable files.  But as this data compression or processing takes place, some digital information must be sacrificed (lossy compression).  Setting a camera’s “picture quality” setting and/or “resolution” will determine how drastically information is cut from each image.

In addition, every single time a JPEG file is manipulated, or saved, information is lost leading to a lack of sharpness.  This doesn’t happen to a RAW image file because it remains in it original state.  And remember, too, unlike a RAW image, once a JPEG image is created, the information lost—can never be regained. 

The good news, however, is that JPEG files, while reducing file size, have the uncanny ability to maintain the visual quality of an image, in spite of dumping excess information.

What can a photographer do with RAW images?  

RAW digital image files allow the photographer to later tweak his images in his digital darkroom, using the largely unprocessed information (a little processing does take place in the camera) saved to the memory card during shooting.  A photographer can set a different white balance, he can adjust his exposure compensation by a couple of stops, and he can adjust the image’s finer points like sharpness, contrast, and color saturation.  In short, he can alter his photograph’s “original” data to an adjusted JPEG image, ready for printing.

Why would a photographer choose RAW over JPEG? 

In a word, or two—it’s creative control.  When shooting in RAW, a photographer reserves the right to “fix” his images long after the fact (post-processing), something that can’t be done as efficiently on a compressed and processed JPEG image.

And no matter what, a photographer will always have the option to return to his RAW digital images, months or even years later, and adjust them to his heart’s delight.

What are the drawbacks of choosing RAW over JPEG? 

The biggest drawback is a loss of speed as the camera processes digital images to its memory card.  Fast action shots will be impeded by opting for RAW files.

Also, you’ll need to invest in larger memory cards; uncompressed RAW files use massive amounts of memory per image.

In addition, depending upon your computer’s processor speed, the huge RAW files can cause your computer to freeze up.  I did this once on a photo shoot in New York City.  I was breaking in a new Olympus eVolt 300, and had shot in both JPEG and RAW.  My older laptop couldn’t bear the processing burden and resorted to the blue screen of death.  I was barely able to recover my files upon returning home.  But the lesson was learned–I bought a new laptop with a bigger and faster dual processor.

Note:  You may see RAW files referred to as NEF by Nikon, as CRW by Canon.  Also, you simply cannot fix a poorly-taken photograph.  An out-of-focus image will remain out-of-focus since camera shake is recorded regardless of whether the camera is saving in RAW or JPEG.  So, in low light situations, use a tripod.


And another note:  “RAW” isn’t short for anything.  It should actually be written, “raw.”  But I’ve capitalized it throughout this blog, just because I like it capitalized–looks better that way.  IMHO


Sheree Zielke

Christmas Spirit in Short Supply? Visit This City for a Fast Fill-Up!

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

NYC Debeers dripping Are You a Baby Boomer Yearning for the Christmas Spirit?  Try the Big Apple!

Are you ready for a different way to spend your Christmas vacation? Perhaps you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you don’t spend time with family during the holidays, or perhaps you are looking for a way to rekindle a remembered spirit of Christmas in your heart.  Then book a December trip to the Big Apple.

Horse and carriage rides in NYC Central Park.

As a Baby Boomer, I love New York City nearly as much as I adore my grandchildren.  Okay, I lied.  Sometimes, I love this quirky bustling city even more.  New York City can become an addiction, a craving so intense, that like some desperate junkie, I search the Internet for cheap airfares just to get back there; three weeks away can cause serious withdrawal. 

Since falling in love with the Big Apple, I determined to re-visit her in every month of the year.  So far, I have been there in October, December, January, March, August and September.  And my conclusion, having seen this wondrous eclectic city under so many seasonal skies, there is no “best” time of year to visit New York City; any time is good.  But Christmastime is not to be missed.  Especially if you are a Baby Boomer. 

Christmas in New York City will touch the child within you, sparking a joy akin to the anticipation of Christmas mornings way back in the 50s, when everything was shiny and new and oh–so exciting.

Macy's crowds on Christmas Eve day.

Treats abound for all the senses:  Giant dancing snowflakes set to classical music displayed on the Saks’ department store wall; jaw-dropping line-ups of jostling Christmas shoppers outside Macy’s store; the huge farmers market in Union Square with its crafts, local wines and fragrant spruce boughs; the tacky tinsel decorations of crowded Little Italy; the sharp scent of roasted chestnuts, sold by street vendors, in little paper cones; the ice skaters and creamy sweet hot chocolate in Bryant Park; the spectacular light display in the Bronx Zoo; the clop-clopping of horses drawing their hansom carriages, bedecked with faded plastic flowers and tinsel garland, around Central Park; the magical display of twinkled trees in the Winter Garden Room near the World Trade Center site (don’t call this place Ground Zero; this is taboo among resident New Yorkers); Grand Central Station’s laser light show; De Beers mantle of dripping diamonds; the peal of church bells on Christmas morning. 


New York City is much more thanTimes Square and Broadway theatres, especially at Christmastime.  Go at other times of the year, certainly, but visit at Christmastime, at least once.  A visit to the Big Apple during the Yuletide season will sate the yearning of the long-forgotten 5-year old in your soul, that secret part of you just aching for one more Christmas morning of innocence and wide-eyed delight.


Travel Tip:  Fly back on Boxing Day — flights are really cheap!


Filing Your Vacation Photos for Easy Recovery

Digital cameras have made the capturing of thousands of vacation images, well, a snap!  The hard part is dealing with those images once we return home. 

Have you found it nearly impossible to locate that special shot, weeks—or even just a few days–after your vacation?  No matter how hard you look, you can’t find that regal shot of Lady Liberty silhouetted against a summer sunset?  That magnificent shot of the Grand Canyon?  That romantic honeymoon beach shot?  Or that picture of Grandma Mary in her rose garden?  If so, you should try using a photo management program like PicaJet.

Misplaced vacation photos can be very annoying, but if you file and categorize your precious photos using Picajet software, you will be able to access your photos via a simple search, right there on your computer.  Then you can easily print your pictures or share them with friends and family members around the globe.



Sheree Zielke

Digital Camera AUTO Settings Versus Scene Modes

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Digital Camera AUTO Setting and Scene Modes:
Aren’t they sort of the same things? 

No, no, and no.

New digital camera users make the very wrong assumption that scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, Macro, or Sports are similar to the AUTO setting on their cameras. 

I’ll explain.

The AUTO setting on your camera means you have turned over ALL decision-making to your camera.  Your camera will then be able to run like a willful teenager, making decisions (some good, some bad) on the following:


  1. Shutter speed
  2. Aperture width (F-stop)
  3. ISO (“film” speed)
  4. WB (white balance)
  5. Intensity of light


Most average point-and-shoot digital camera users don’t know anything about shutter-aperture relationships, F-stops, ISO settings, or white balance color temperatures.  The good news is that you don’t need to know these things so long as you are able to find your camera’s little scene mode icons.  When you select a scene mode, you are exercising more creative control over your photos, without ever knowing anything about an F-stop.


Using your camera’s scene mode options is akin to calling upon a tiny little genius hidden deep within your camera.  Your tiny camera guru, using pre-programmed formulas, will set your shutter speed, your aperture, your ISO, and white balance in accordance with the icon you have selected, resulting in a much better photograph.


For example, in a portrait shot, unless you are an experienced photographer, you won’t know to widen your aperture to obtain a shallow depth of field.  This shallow field makes for flatter, more appealing features on a human face, and it throws distracting backgrounds out of focus.  And because photography is a science, operating on scientific formulas, the camera will also adjust the camera’s shutter speed to account for the wider aperture.


The most popular scene mode icons can usually be found somewhere on your digital camera’s body, on a major dial, or on a rocker switch with arrows.  These tend to be the portrait, landscape, night and sports icons.  Further scene modes can be found deeper in your camera’s files, usually accessed by moving your camera’s main dial to, “Scene” or “SCN,” or by pressing your “Function” button.


If you don’t use your scene modes, or at least experiment with your scene modes, you are wasting your camera’s advanced technology.  Just memorize where the scene modes are situated in or on your camera.  Select the mode pertinent to your picture-taking needs.  Then let the tiny genius inside your digital camera do the rest.  Nothing could be easier.


Sometimes, the scene mode programs don’t always seem to work but that’s usually an issue with camera shake, in low light conditions.  Be sure to “jam” your camera on a bean bag, rest it on a ledge, or screw it to a tripod.

Be sure to discipline yourself right from the beginning and always remove your photos from your camera’s memory card.  Save your photos in a file management system like PicaJet for easy indexing and accessing at a later time.

And remember, to keep your camera’s memory cards in top form, you must “format” your empty cards (inside your camera) when you return them to your camera.  It’s similar to de-fragmenting your computer’s hard drive – it cleans up the bits and bytes, or in this case all the little light-sensitive pixels.


Sheree Zielke

2007 Digital Cameras: Face Detection Technology — Huh?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

You’ve barely mastered digital camera terms like “exposure compensation,” and now the genius designers have thrown a new term into the mix: Face Detection. Face detection? Are today’s digital cameras now smart enough to tell a human face from a pumpkin, or a balloon? Really? Yes, really.

Taking people photos with your digital camera can be very challenging because your digital camera likes to guesstimate what you want in focus, and then “average” ambient light readings, resulting in poorly focused and incorrectly exposed images. You probably have many shots sitting in your computer files, where the red tulips in the background are in focus, but your pretty blonde niece is all blurry. Or you’ve taken a picture of three children; one is perfectly in focus, while the camera has blurred the other two kids. It happens all the time. And it’s frustrating.

So, the digital camera industry has come up with a smart way for the 2007 digital cameras to fix this problem. Newer cameras can now determine, in a potential photo, not just a single face but up to several faces (some cameras can identify as many as 10 faces). This new face detection technology is also called, “Face Recognition,” or “Face Priority Mode.”

It’s a simple matter of turning on the face detection function in your camera, and then letting the camera use its own complicated mathematical formula to figure out the rest. According to 40–year veteran camera reviewer, Jason Schneider, the technology is so sophisticated the new cameras can tell the difference between human and animal faces. “They will not focus on dog, cat, and cow faces,” he writes. For an in-depth overview of the 2007 digital camera face detection technology, visit Jason Schneider’s review.

Now that you can improve your people shots, you’ll probably have a lot more images worth storing on your computer drive. Be sure to have a cataloguing system like the PicaJet FX photo organizer to ensure a quick and easy search when you want to show off those great photos.

The new face detection technology is currently limited to point-and-shoot digital camera models, so don’t look for it on the SLR digital cameras. At least not yet.


Mystified By Your New Digital Camera? It’s Easier to Understand Than You Think!

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Are you a fairly new digital camera owner?
Do all the new-fangled, highly-technical terms make you yearn for the days when all you had to do was pick up your little compact camera, point, and shoot? Digital photography can be that simple, too, but it is so much better if you employ at least a few of the on-board features provided by most of today’s digital cameras.

As a digital camera teacher, at our local arts college, I find many students tend to ignore their digital camera’s special features, opting to leave their camera on AUTO, and thus avoiding the frustration of not understanding the purpose of unfamiliar terms like “scene mode” or “exposure compensation.” But that’s a shame because today’s high tech digital cameras offer the average shutterbug so much more than did our old compact film cameras.

Here’s a list of 5 of the most basic things worth knowing and basic features worth exploring on your digital camera.

  1. Scene modes: Many new digital camera users think “AUTO” and “Scene Mode” are the same things; of course, they are not. Represented by tiny icons like a woman’s face (portrait) or a mountain (landscape) or a palm tree (beach), a scene mode is a brilliant and complex formula contained within your camera; it’s a formula designed to help you take your best picture possible (under the conditions), with no prior knowledge of F-stops or shutter speeds, ISO or white balance. If you don’t use these modes, you are ignoring your camera’s brain.Examine your camera carefully. Usually, the most popular scene modes like portrait or night shooting (moon and star) are available as an icon on the body of your camera. If not, move your dial to “scene” or “scn” or tap your “function” button to bring up your camera’s scene mode options. You may have a very limited group or you may have up to a dozen options including “museum,” “candlelight,” “fireworks,” and “night portrait.”Scene modes don’t always work perfectly, but they work better than just leaving your camera setting on AUTO.
  2. Exposure compensation: This feature is usually represented on digital cameras as a square divided by a diagonal line, one half is white with a plus sign, and the other half is black with a minus sign. This option allows the photographer to overexpose or underexpose their picture (allow in more light or less light) depending upon lighting conditions. This affects the intensity of shadows, highlights, and mid-tones. If you have time to learn only one feature on your camera, learn to use your exposure compensation; it is so effective at improving your images.For example, while on vacation at a beach during a beautiful sunset, set your EC to the plus side to ensure humans are properly exposed instead of becoming black silhouettes against the strongly lit sky. Against a dark background, like a dense forest, set your EC to the minus side to ensure your foreground subjects aren’t overexposed on an AUTO setting. The rule of thumb is to “add light to light” (adjust to the positive) and “dark to dark” (adjust to the minus).Every camera is different, so experiment with this feature to get an idea of your camera’s sensitivity to your EC settings.
  3. Flash controls: About 85% of the students, in my Digital Camera Basics class, do not know how to use their flash other than on an ‘A’ or auto setting. But it is imperative digital camera users learn how to “force” their flash or how to cancel their flash entirely. Believe it or not, one of the most necessary times for your flash to fire is in full bright sunlight. And you can only make this happen by selecting the “lightning bolt” symbol. This “fill” or “forced” flash will help to eliminate dark shadows on human faces caused by the bright overhead sun.In addition, when taking pictures indoors of humans, or especially of animals, you don’t want to flash your subject as this discolors skin and in the case of animals, turns eyes glassy. In this case, you want to shoot in the best available natural light (near a window), and disable your flash. This is done by selecting the lightning bolt in the circle with the slash through its center. Even with your camera on its AUTO setting, it cannot flash with the flash disabled.
  4. Memory cards: Memory cards are for TEMPORARY storage only; photos must be removed and the cards formatted to keep them working properly. There are many ways to move your photos from a memory card into print or into a file on your computer including: USB cable direct from camera to computer or printer, docking station, memory card reader attached to your computer, an on-board computer card reading slot, memory card direct to printer, or memory card to drugstore kiosk printing machine. The point is that memory cards should be cleared. And then they must be re-formatted once they are cleared of any important images.Avoid larger size memory cards (2GB and larger); opt for several smaller sizes instead. The cards are so tiny and can be easily lost or damaged. In other words, “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”
  5. Begin your new digital photography venture with a plan to file your photographs right from the start. As you download your images, scrap the garbage ones, and sort the good ones into keeper files. Use a program like PicaJet which allows you to tag your images with keywords, give them a star rating, and sort them into themed categories. Later, when you need that shot of your spouse riding on a donkey’s back down the Santorini cliff, all you have to do is search the words: donkey, or Santorini, or foolish things we did while in Greece. You get the picture.

It’s really that simple. Don’t worry about all the other bells and whistles; you can concentrate on the other options later. For now, just follow the above 5 points, and you will be well on your way to a warm and rewarding friendship with your digital camera.

—Sheree Zielke—