10 Tips for Better Digital Photographs

Discussion in 'Photos & Videos' started by jon-monon, Mar 16, 2004.

  1. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Much of this comes mostly from the current issue of Shutterbug, which has an article with a similar title (March 2004, pg 124, Steve Bedell). But I have modified and added to it according to my own experiances with macro film photography, digital photography, and digital imaging. So here it goes:

    Many of these tips, viewed alone, will make little or no difference in the end result. They make itsy bitsy and teeny weeny differences. So, why bother? Well, when you add up all the itsy bitsies, and all the teeny weenies, in the end they do make a difference. Some of these tips may make all the difference in the world. Following as many of the tips as practical should help contribute to a fantastic digital photograph. Most of these tips will require reference to your camera's manual.

    ~A. Buy More Memory ~ Some of the following tips will eat away at the memory in your camera. Buying the biggest chip your camera will hold and/or a spare will keep you from short cutting yourself out a of a winning photo. Bare minimum? Depends on you resolution (MegaPixels), filetypes and usage. You need more for on location like vacation and proto shots. Less for shooting your own layout and trains and running back and forth to the PC. My gut says you should have 128 MB per 2 or 3 MegaPix before leaving the home! I use a 256 MB in my 3.3 and get a couple a hundred shots following these tips. I will need to double that capacity for a 10 day overseas excursion!

    ~1 File Format ~ If you have a newer high end camera, it may have a "raw" file format available. It is the best way to save the image in the camera as far as image quality, but it's the worst as far as user friendlyness and memory usage. This is one tip you may opt to skip most of the time, but keep in mind it can be best for very high quality photo's and certain high contrast situations. You have to convert the raw image to another format before using it on your PC or printing. If you don't have a "raw" option, and many very good cameras don't, always use the largest, lowest compression jpeg. This may be called quality instead of compression, in which case you should choose "high" or "fine." If you have other options, the manual should explain,and you should choose the best quality, preferably non-lossy format.

    ~2 Watch Exposure Rule of thumb for color negative film was to over expose a little, or a lot, depending who you ask. I routinely left my exposure compensation dial on +1 for normal shooting. Overexposure in digital land is evil. Much like color slides, proper exposure or slight underexposure is best. Over exposure washes out the highlights and they are gone forever! However, with underexposure, you canusually bring the details out of the shadows with software later, although it's best to avoid doing so.

    ~2a. Know Thy Meter~ If you have a built in spot meter, it's usually best. If not, a grey card works wonders (A few dollars at the photo shop) and has it's own instructions. Either way, just knowing what your meter is looking at will help you get the exposure you expect. The LCD display is not a good indication of exposure. If you attempt to "calibrate" it, and are sucessful in doing so, it will only be calibrated for the lighting you calibrated it in. It gets really dark in sunlight!

    ~3 Don't Digital Zoom!~ They should re-lable the digital zoom button as the Megapixel Reducer! If your camera allows, disable digital zoom and forget you have it! Instead, get closer to the subject and use the optical zoom if needed. Try to fill the frame close to what you want the final photo to look like, as cropping it later has the same effect of digital zoom.

    ~4 Adjust White Balance ~ The auto setting will work fine for many settings, but if the colors are off, set it manually for the lighting you are using. If your camera allows and the presets don't seem to work, calibrate it to white paper. I dug out my kodak grey cards for this purpose.

    ~5 Use the Lowest ISO Setting~ Just like film. Higher iso = more noise, much like the grain on film.

    ~6 Watch You Apature~ Stop down for depth of field in macro and model photography. overed in Shamus's how-to's, but in a nutshell, set to the highest number it will go to for a deeper focus area and better overall focus.

    ~7 Use Your Tripod~ for all model photography. Stopping down calls for slower shutter speeds. I use a "quick shoe" tripod, so I am not forever screwing it on/off, I just flip a lever.

    ~8 Shoot Like You Can't Fix it Later!~ Don't let photoshop or the GIMP or whatever software turn you into a bad photographer. You will eat up more itsy bitsies and teeny weenies after the shoot than before if you have to do a lot of corrections and cropping. Try to stick to minor cropping and color/exposure compensation.

    ~~~After the Photoshoot~~~

    ~9 Look Sharp!~ Do sharpen your photo's for posting or printing. Check with your photolab or experiment if you use a self serve machine for prints. Sharpening sharpened images is not good.

    ~10 Don't Repeatedly Save jpegs~ jpegs are "lossy" and there is deterioration with each save, even if uncompressed. Avoid "Open, Save, Close, Open, Save, Close" sequences. Save, save, save only deteriorates once, as the image is saved from "the screen" (memory) and you are not recompressing/converting. But once you close the image and open it again, a new save is a repeat. Best is to either keep a copy of the original (that's what I do) and work on a renamed copy. Or rename it and convert to a tiff or other nonlossy format. Once you have it how you like it, convert to jpg for web use or to save space. The tiffs can be opened and saved as often as you like. If your camera has a tiff option (I think a lot of Kodaks and Canons might), start with a tiff right away, as implied in step 1.

    ~Finally~ As with film, clean your stuff. You can safely keep one end of the lense clean with a proper cleaning kit, but you probably should have an authorized shop clean the inside. The inside? Yup, even new it may be dirty in there (that should be a warranty issue). Internal cleanliness can be tested by shooting a photo of a clear blue or solid overcast sky at highest size, quality and F stop (stop it down), then view it on a quality high res monitor at 100% or better. You look for spots. I'm scared to try it!

    ~Conclusion~ Some of the benifits of these tips, and the tips posted by others, may not outweigh the effort. I think for normal photography, saving the raw images, for example, will not be worth the conversion effort. On the other hand, if your intent is to publish them, enlarge them, or it's your daughter's wedding, by all means use raw mode. Questions, comments, opinions and additions are most welcome! Happy shooting!
  2. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    Excellent info. I didn't know about JPEG's losing quality on each save.

    Guess I'll start taking pictues in the TIFF format. RAW is too much trouble.
  3. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Jon if you just remember these 3 rules digital photography is a breeze.

    1- Buy only the best equipment
    2- Hire a professional to use it
    3- Stay out of the pro's way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    :D :p :D :rolleyes: :D

    Next best bet is what you posted! :) :D
  4. Goattee

    Goattee Member

    I have been digital since 1999, when I got my first digital camera. I had scanned a lot of photos got pretty good at repairing and adjusting old prints in the computer, so I was not plum green.

    I have a few hints and some laws.

    1. Make a back-up of everything you shoot. I use a CD, but you could use a special directory on the hard drive. I make two sets of everything I shoot. One for archive and one for use. That way if you screw-up one you always have the archived one to fallback on.

    2. NEVER work on originals NEVER.

    3. Keep a diary. Someday you will look at a photo and say “What the Hell is That”. Trust me on this.

    4. If you can not use a tripod rest your elbows tightly against your body and take a deep breath – let it out - and then shoot. Better yet rest your camera against some object like a post or wall.

    Hope this helps.
  5. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Very nice Jon.

    On my Digital when taking photos I always tend to take them in “Tiff” format for this reason.
    JPEG or .JPG file formats are highly compressed and unlike other image compression formats does not store RGB values for each individual pixels. Instead, the JPEG format works on luminance averages for 2 pixels at a time. So what does this really mean ?. Each time you load a JPEG image and then save it again as a JPEG image, the same technique is applied and image quality it lost. While this loss is not noticeable the first time if you take an image and save it over 3 times as a JPEG, then view the original, you’ll see a loss in image quality.

    Also for those people scanning an image in , if you plan to alter the image in anyway, its best to save in another format initially, for example, BMP, TIFF, PNG etc. Once you have finished altering your image, then save as a JPEG to keep the image loss to a minimum.

    Many people argue that the image loss is impossible to see, but the fact that image loss happens is good enough reason to keep it down to a minimum. For a better idea, and to see this loss, load an image in, then save as a JPEG, reload this saved JPEG, then resave it as a JPEG again. Repeat this about 10 times, then view the original image compared to the JPEG.

    Saving a JPEG image as a JPEG again once or twice will result in little noticeable loss, so if you plan on altering your images over multiple sessions, saving the image as JPEG, then altering it again at another time, it is best to have your images in another format other than JPEG and when you are happy you wont be altering the image again, then save it for final storage as a JPEG.

  6. krokodil

    krokodil Member

    Hi to everybody

    recently I tried to scan in my old slides. Unfortunatelly however my high end HP scanner can scan up to 4800 dpi on the slides it is somehow limited to 300 dpi (I could not find any answer yet from HP). When I increase the resolution the copy is bad, wrong colours etc. The scanner itself tells me that the optimum resolution for the slides is 300 dpi. Can somebody tell me why?

    Thank you for your help.
  7. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    OK, what about a GIF file? I play a lot with GIF's and find this thread very informative.

    I took a picture of my Mazda Protoge-5 and inserted it into Microsoft Powerpoint.

    Then I took pictures of a couple of my diecast trucks and converted them to GIF's so I could make the background transparent and drop them into the Mazda picture.

    The PPT slide was then saved back as a JPG.

    Attached Files:

  8. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    Here's another GIF on JPEG composite.

    Attached Files:

  9. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Graphics Interchange Format - gifs have an advantage of not being lossy, but they have a drawback of a 256 color limit (8 bit :( ). So they are not considered "photo realistic". This is preferred for simple animations, illustrations and line drawings.

    Joint Photographic Experts Group - jpegs offer "photo realistic" colors (tens of thousands), higher compression, but are lossy, even at high compression. Hundreds of KB in gif translates to tens of KB in jpg. Generally prefered for photographs, but in cases where there are large areas of a single color, the conversion may generate artifacts, and a gif may actually be preferred. BTW: Rule of thumb on jpeg compression: 75% is not detectable by the human eye.
  10. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    Jon...this is all very interesting.

    Sooooo...If I convert a jpeg to a gif I will experience a loss of color and then when I convert it back to a jpeg again it will have less color and less detail.

    I noticed that my original pictures are much sharper than what I get after superimposing and the fininshed product looks pretty bad.

    Thanks for all this info.

    I've been using film cameras for years but hadn't given much thought to the digital world.
  11. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Ty- can't afford your method, so I'll just have to do it the hard way! :D :D :D

    Goatee - Thaks for input. I didn't call the tips laws, because it just depends on what the photo is for. To add to the backups, it's best not to "Cut and paste" images off your camera, they could get lost.

    Shamus - thanks for the explaination of why jpegs are lossy in nature. This is so even with minimum compression, which is not realized by everyone.

    krokodil - Ive scanned at higher res for slides, and there was a color shift due to using a flourescent shop light forthe light source. I just used the GIMP to adjust the colors.

    Dan - yes, if you convert back and forth from jpg to gif, you will eventually get mud :( Best to go to a tiff or bmp and when it's all finished, convert to jpg or gif as desired. In the GIMP, you can copy and paste whole images or selected areas from one pic to another, regardless of the format of each. I have some more information on graphical filetypes somewhere. I'll try to locate that and post what the pros and cons are of several common ones.
  12. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Goatee - I forgot to mention I threw away my note pad! Check this out, the info is stored with the photo -

    Attached Files:

  13. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    RAW Images

    RAW Format

    A true "digital negative", untouched by cameras processing algorithms
    No sharpening applied
    No gamma or level correction applied
    No white balance applied
    No colour correction applied
    Lossless yet considerably smaller than TIFF

    A RAW image from a digital camera has not been processed or white balanced which means you can correct the image, and it's a better representation of the "digital negative" captured.

    The RAW format is preferable if you wish to do any photo editing on the image.

    With JPEG every time you save (as a JPEG again) the file size grows and the quality goes down. Which makes it a terrible file format to edit images.

    However after you're perfectly happy with the RAW image (or any apart from GIF & JPEG) and intend no further image editing, You can save it as a JPEG (using the highest quality setting) and when viewed side by side, there will be virtually no difference between them. The JPEG image will be much smaller and ideally suited for viewing/downloading over the internet.

  14. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Thank you for the information on the RAW images, dear Shamus! Also it is note worthy that a converter is needed to use the RAW image once it's on the PC. Most cams come with one. I expect RAW will be available on less expensive cameras soon, as well as improved (30 FPS ful VGA) movie capability and "film SLR-like speed".
  15. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member

    Thanks Shamus,

    I have RAW on my Nikon but it does so well in the fine setting that I very seldom have to touch up anything. I've taken all kinds of macro shots and haven't used the tripod yet.

    RAW sounds interesting although when I switch to that setting I see I only have 19 exposures on my 256 chip that normally gives me over 200 JPEGs at 2500 wide.

    Experimentation and advice are the only ways to learn anything so I guess I'll experiment with a few model shots.

    Thanks again and keep the tips coming...from looking at your pictures you must be doing something right.
  16. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    :eek: WOW! :eek: Another reason to reserve this feature for special purposes. Being able to shoot hundreds of shots without returning to a PC is importat to me.
  17. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member


    Hold on.......

    I made sure my 256mb flash card was empty and then ran through the various settings to see how much I had in the tank.
    Number of shots in each IMAGE "QUALITY" will vary depending on what you choose for IMAGE "SIZE,"

    BASIC..... 424-3,588.......JPEG
    NORMAL.. 215-2306.......JPEG
    RAW........ 32...................NEF....

    I would get 424 pictures in the BASIC Quality at the FULL Image size but when VGA is chosen the picture count jumps to 3,588 but they are very small.

    FULL 2,560 X 1,920
    UXGA 1,600 X 1,200
    SXGA 1,280 X 960
    XGA 1,024 X 768
    VGA 640 X 480

    Now I find that even though my Nikon 5700 camera will take TIFF and RAW pictures it appears as though I need another program called "Capture-3" to view them.

    "The more I learn, the less I know."
  18. Goattee

    Goattee Member

    I may have not made myself clear. The Laws are my laws that I strictly go by.
    I download my camera to a special folder. Thin I copy the files to a CD and then move the remaining files to a working directory.
    My C5050 has EXIF but that only gives you the photo details. What I meant by a journal is I take a notebook along and write the location, date, and any pertinent facts that I think I might need. This is especially helpful when you are on a 2 or 3 week trip.
  19. Dan Vincent

    Dan Vincent Member


    I used to write magazine articles on Radio Control model airplanes and had to take notes on multiple pictures of 300 or more models.

    Carrying a couple of cameras and spare film didn't give me much room for a notebook. Walking around an airport all day was tiring and with the wind blowing the notebook was hard to deal with.

    I finally bought and Olympus Pearlcorder that I can carry in my pocket. It's surprising how quickly you can make a verbal note and then copy it on paper or in the computer when you get home. Try it and I guarantee you will throw away the note book.
  20. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Well my Fuji Finepix S7000 has "RAW" available, but I doubt I shall ever use it as the top quality "6M" photos are good enough for publication. The "Tiff's" were okay for publication on my Olympus C700UZ and as these "6m" photos appear to be better quality, I'll stick with those. Funny thing is my camera is now out of date as a new one has replaced it.
    He he, anyone interested in a second hand Olympus, its seen good service.LOL


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