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Introduction: Welcome to Create Your Own Digital Photography

Introduction: Welcome to Create Your Own Digital Photography

You've never taken a class in photography—and perhaps have never even taken a picture before. But you have a digital camera now—perhaps it was a gift, perhaps you purchased it yourself—and you want to use it properly. You may want to take photos of family and friends, probably vacation shots, maybe even some special “artsy” photos. Maybe you know your way around a camera, and perhaps you're only comfortable with the Auto mode. You might be intimately familiar with your camera's user guide, or you might have found that slim booklet either daunting or completely lacking. (Various camera manufacturers pay differing amounts of attention to their documentation.) This book is for you.

This book is not for professional studio photographers, fine-art photographers, or experienced commercial artists. It's for people who haven't been working in the field, who don't (yet?) get paid for their photos.

I suspect that this book will be given as a gift as often as it's purchased for personal use. It's great for folks just starting out with digital cameras—and perhaps should be wrapped up with the camera when given to a beginner.

The Wide World of Digital Cameras

Digital cameras come in a wide range of capabilities—and prices. Odds are, you already own a digital camera. But what else is out there? How does your camera stack up? The market changes so fast that between the time I type these words and the time you read them, dozens (or even hundreds) of new digital cameras will have been released. But that doesn't mean we can't generalize, does it? Take a look at this figure, which shows a range of digital cameras:

Each camera is shown with a full-size print at 300 ppi (pixels per inch), the optimal image resolution for most inkjet printers.

On the left is a tiny little freebie camera that I received some years ago with an order of computer equipment. On the right is an affordable “prosumer” camera, the Canon 20D. It is a digital SLR camera, and you can use with it a variety of interchangeable lenses, as well as detachable flash units and other accessories. In between are typical cameras with which most folks take digital photos, and those cameras are the focus of this book.


Digital cameras can cost as little as, well, nothing, and as much as tens of thousands of dollars. In this book I work with (and assume you work with) cameras that range from about $100 to about $500. These cameras generally have a single fixed lens (with or without zoom capability) and record somewhere between 3 mega pixels and 7 megapixels. The discussion and projects you find in this book are not designed for tiny little digital cameras that capture less that 2 megapixels, nor for professional digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras with interchangeable lenses.

When shopping for a camera (and who won't be looking for a better camera someday?), there are two concepts you should keep in mind:

  • More megapixels is not always better— A lot of factors determine the quality of your digital photos. The computer chip that records the data (CCD or CMOS), the lens, and even the software embedded in the camera all have an impact on the quality of your images. But, generally speaking, 5 megapixels will give you a better image than 3 megapixels, and 7 megapixels will give you a better enlargement than 5 megapixels. If you can, see some sample shots from cameras that seem to fit your needs.

  • Look for optical zoom, not digital zoom— Optical zoom is like looking through a telescope to get a closer shot. This is a great thing; it makes your camera more versatile and presents you with a number of creative possibilities. On the other hand, you should avoid digital zoom if possible. It simulates zooming by enlarging pixels (which can degrade the quality of your images and make details fuzzy).

You might also want to consider factors such as the type of battery (rechargeable or disposable) and whether the camera can be hooked directly to a photo printer you already own.

How You Should Read This Book

At least for the first reading, you should start at the front and work your way to the back. Later, after you've worked through the book the first time, you can most certainly reread specific sections at your leisure. If you've already read your camera's user guide, you might want to reread it after you read Project 1, “Capture Your Life Visually.” (It may finally make some sense.) If you haven't yet read the user guide that came with your camera, please do so after reading Project 1.

What's on the Book's CD

This book's CD includes some software: Picasa (a free program from Google.com for organizing your photos) and a demo version of Adobe Photoshop Elements (a 30-day trial version of a very powerful image-editing program). You'll also find a number of sample images to use with the various exercises in this book, as well as some templates for creating your own greeting cards and calendars. (Please keep in mind that the images on the CD are for use only with the exercises in this book and cannot be used for commercial purposes.)

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