Aside from being a technician and writer, I am a photographer. People often ask what kind of camera I have when they remark about my shots. The fact is, I only paid a few hundred dollars for my camera; it's not a professional model by any means. I explain that I don't have a great camera, but a good eye.
Too often I see photos posted on Facebook, websites or blogs that people are proud of. They have the potential to be good shots but were simply posted prematurely and unedited.
You don't need superior knowledge or special software (although the latter is nice), to transform an average photo into an extraordinary one.Most PHD cameras (Press Here, Dummy) come with software. Alternatively, you can download free software at download.com. Just use terms like "free photo editor" in your keyword search.
A wonderful (free) open-source program is GIMP. It's a Photoshop-like program for the serious photographer. Download it at http://www.gimp.org.
Whether you use Photoshop, GIMP or another freebie from the Web, there are a few simple steps to enhancing each photo you take.
• Crop your image, especially if you didn't get close enough when you took it. Try to delete extraneous background matter that could draw attention away from your subject.
• Optimize the picture. Lighten shadows, darken bright spots and add contrast when necessary. Some photo editors have a one-click button that does it all automatically.
• Watch for things like trees and telephone poles coming out of subjects' heads. Shooting from a different angle or asking your subjects to move could avoid this. If unavoidable, with the use of software, a clone tool can place sky or foliage where a pole may have been.
• Be aware of your background; if you can avoid it, keep stray people out of your shots (although you can learn to get rid of them with the software).
• Try to have subjects looking into the shot instead of out of it. The same goes for flying birds, sailboats, etc. It makes for a more interesting picture.
• Use the Rule of Thirds while composing your photos. Having your subject off-center just looks better. Wikipedia provides a good explanation of this concept here.
• Be aware of the sun and try not to shoot into it; but don't have your subjects squinting either. Consider its position in the sky. A high sun is the brightest, but causes facial shadows. A low sun has a softer light but causes long shadows.
• Watch for reflections in glass, especially if you're using a flash.
• Don't be afraid to use a flash outdoors. It will get rid of facial shadows. Keep in mind that most cameras' built-in flashes will reach only 6-8 feet, so make sure you are close enough for it to have an effect.
If you do use a flash, watch for red eye. Your camera may have pre-flash burst that eliminates red-eye or you can easily treat it with your software.
• If you use a DSLR, you can be more creative and have more control over the camera by taking it out of Auto Mode.
There is a direct relationship between shutter speed and aperture size. To get the same exposure, for each F-stop you decrease (higher number yields a smaller aperture), you need to add a time element.For example: shooting at 125th of a second at F-16 is the same as 250 and F-8. There are times you may need a faster shutter speed (to stop the action) and times that call for a smaller aperture (it yields a greater depth of field).
Set your DSLR to bracket your shots. It will take photos at the exposure you want and one or a few on either side of that to ensure you'll get a good one.
• Remember the resolution: it all depends on whether you're posting an image online or printing it. To do the latter you want a hi-res shot. To get a good 8 X 10, you'll want at least a 4 MB image. For Facebook, you can put up a 60k image and it will look just fine, but you couldn't print it.
Film and the processing of it used to be expensive. Digital photography is not. Take lots of shots.
I often shoot a few dozen images just to get one or two good ones. Some will have a poor exposure, others may be blurred and a few will have the subject either not smiling or with their eyes closed. If you take enough shots, you are guaranteed to have at least a few quality photos. Even those few that appear to look fine will warrant some tweaking. Unless they were cropped while you took them, if you do no other editing, crop them with your photo utility.
With just a $90 camera, a trained eye, some free software and this advice, you'll soon hear your friends tell you what nice shots you've posted.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page.