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All too often, digital photographs are taken with a “Ready, Fire, Aim!” approach. In an age when both “point and click” and “point and shoot” have come to represent no-brainer simplicity, there are many serious photographers who want their photos to reflect the serious thought they put into them.

That’s not to say you need to sit for hours (or even minutes) contemplating each photo you take. “Serious thought” may take only a moment or two deciding what you want to accomplish with a photo, and another few seconds examining your composition in the viewfinder. The difference between casual snapshooting and serious photography is often nothing more than an awareness of the process gained through practice and experience.

Truman Capote was thinking of the process of writing, not photography, when he rebuffed the work of a hack author by remarking, “That’s not writing—that’s typing.” Just as writing is more rewarding than mindless typing, you’ve already discovered that pointing your camera and pushing the button isn’t photography, and it isn’t particularly satisfying. Whether you’re trying to capture an image that will hang in a gallery, grabbing a shot for publication, or attempting to create a digital treasure chest of vacation memories, you’ll enjoy your digital camera a lot more if you put some thought into what you’re doing.

It’s time to move to the next level, and this book will help you. The first step is to know where you’re going, and to understand the tools you’ll be using. Then, you need to master the simple techniques that separate the amateurs from the pros. You’ll find all that information between these covers.

Why Another Digital Photography Book?

There are easily one hundred books that purport to address the topic of digital photography. I’ve written seven of them myself. Do we really need another book on the topic?

In truth, I’ve been busy writing books on various aspects of digital photography because I think there is a serious shortage of books written from the photographer’s viewpoint. Too many of the books on the shelves concentrate on the gee-whiz aspects of the technology and stuff that’s only peripherally related to picture taking. I examined several dozen existing books before sitting down to write this one. They averaged about 16 chapters each, which broke down into, unfortunately, perhaps only three or four chapters that actually dealt with digital photography. These were prefaced by chatty chapters explaining the history of digital photography, the pros and cons of digital cameras, and acronym-hobbled discussions of CCD, CMOS, and CIS image sensors. There were thick sections on selecting storage media, and each had perhaps half a dozen chapters on image editing.

I dispense with most of the background “historical” stuff with a few pages in Chapter 1, “Digital Photography from 50,000 Feet.” I suspect you don’t need any convincing that digital imaging is cool, and you probably have little interest in ancient history. I figure that you don’t really want to know much about amorphous semiconductors, you wouldn’t bother to read separate chapters on digital camera peripheral devices, and if you want a Photoshop book, you’ll buy a Photoshop book. (If you’re serious about image editing, Photoshop CS Photographers’ Guide from Muska & Lipman is a good choice.)

The manual that came with your camera probably has lots of great tips on how to turn it on, focus, and snap off a picture. I’m going to concentrate on what your camera’s controls mean to your photographs, not how to access them. There are plenty of general-purpose photography guides that apply equally to point-and-shoot film cameras as to the average digital model. This book concentrates on creative techniques for the digital photographer. There are enough nuts and bolts in the first four chapters, and image editing is mentioned only in passing as it applies to particular techniques. The rest of the book deals with honest-to-gosh photography. If you have a Windows PC or Macintosh and a digital camera, you’ll find what you need here. You’ll learn:

  • Creative posing for group and individual portraits

  • How to capture close-up scenes on your desktop using the digital camera’s special capabilities

  • How to use this book’s lighting diagrams to get professional portrait lighting the first time

  • Ways to capture breathtaking scenic photographs

  • Action photography techniques the professionals use to counter shutter lag problems

  • Inside information on the latest digital sensors and emerging technologies

  • Professional tips for removing defects before taking the picture

  • Easy special effects that can transform any photograph

What is not contained in this book is as important as what you’ll find here. The shrewd folks at Muska & Lipman/Course Technology recognize that digital photography is a huge topic, so all the things I don’t address fully within these pages are covered in other books in the Photography line of books. These include:

Photoshop CS Photographers’ Guide. This book serves as an introduction to intermediate and more advanced Photoshop techniques, specifically from the photographer’s viewpoint.

Digital Retouching and Compositing Photographers’ Guide. Here you’ll find everything you need to know to turn your shoebox reject photos into triumphant prizewinners. It covers both eliminating defects and repairing pictures, and also more sophisticated techniques for combining two or more images into a realistic (or, if you choose, fantastic) composite.

Mastering Digital Scanning with Slides, Film, and Transparencies. Shooting pictures on negative films or slides doesn’t lock you out of the digital-imaging realm. Low-cost film scanners, as well as flatbed scanners with film-scanning capabilities and third-party scanning services make it easy for anyone to manipulate images captured by silver instead of silicon. This book is your introduction to a whole new world of digital imaging possibilities.

What You’ll Find Here

I’ve tried to pack this book with exactly the kind of information you need to graduate from snapshooting to serious photography. It’s divided into two parts. One part gives you the background you need to understand the special requirements of digital photography. You’ll learn a little of how digital photography works, why so many options, features, and formats exist, and how you can use these to improve your pictures. The second part deals with professional techniques that anyone can use to take better action photos, portraits, scenics, close-ups, and other kinds of pictures. You’ll find an outline of the chapters in Parts I and II at the end of this Introduction.

I’m especially proud of the hefty illustrated glossary I put together for this book. It’s not just a word list, but, instead, a compendium of definitions of the key concepts of photography. You’ll find all the most important terms from this book, plus many others you’ll encounter while creating images. I’ve liberally sprinkled the glossary with illustrations that help clarify the definitions. If you’re reading this book and find something confusing, check the glossary first before you head to the index. Between the two of them, everything you need to know should be at your fingertips.

Who Are You, Anyway?

Mastering Digital Photography is aimed squarely at digital camera buffs and business people who want to go beyond point-and-click snapshooting and explore the world of photography to enrich their lives or do their jobs better and smarter. If you’ve learned most of your digital camera’s basic features and now wonder what you can do with them, this is your dream guide to pixel proficiency. If you fall into one of the following categories, you need this book:

  • Individuals who want to get better pictures, or perhaps transform their growing interest in photography into a full-fledged hobby or artistic outlet.

  • Those who want to produce more professional-looking images for their personal or business website.

  • Small business owners with more advanced graphics capabilities who want to use photography to document or promote their business.

  • Corporate workers who may or may not have photographic skills in their job descriptions, but who work regularly with graphics and need to learn how to use digital images for reports, presentations, or other applications.

  • Professional webmasters with strong skills in programming (including Java, JavaScript, HTML, Perl, and so on) but little background in photography.

  • Graphic artists and others who may be adept in image editing with Photoshop or another program, but who need to learn more about digital photography.

  • Trainers who need a non-threatening textbook for digital photography classes.

Who Am I?

Perhaps introductions are in order, but maybe not. You may have seen my photography articles in Popular Photography & Imaging magazine. I’ve also written about 2,000 articles for Petersen’s PhotoGraphic, The Rangefinder, Professional Photographer, and dozens of other photographic publications. You can find my opinions about digital photography on CNet, too (www.cnet.com). First, and foremost, I’m a photojournalist and made my living in the field until I began devoting most of my time to writing books.

Most digital photography books (I call them digital camera books) are not written by photographers. Certainly, the authors have some experience in taking pictures, if only for family vacations, but they have little knowledge of lighting, composition, techie things like the difference between depth-of-field and depth-of-focus, and other aspects of photography that can make or break a picture. The majority of these books are written by well-meaning folks who know more about Photoshop than they do about photons.

Mastering Digital Photography, on the other hand, was written by someone with an incurable photography bug. I’ve worked as a sports photographer for an Ohio newspaper and for an upstate New York college. I’ve operated my own commercial studio and photo lab, cranking out product shots on demand and then printing a few hundred glossy 8 × 10s on a tight deadline for a presskit. I’ve served as photoposing instructor for a modeling agency. People have actually paid me to shoot their weddings and immortalize them with portraits. I even prepared press kits and articles on photography as a PR consultant for a large Rochester, N.Y., imaging company. My trials and travails with imaging and computer technology have made their way into print in book form an alarming number of times, including nine tomes on scanners and seven on digital photography.

So, what does that mean? In practice, it means that, like you, I love photography for its own merits, and I view technology as just another tool to help me get the images I see in my mind’s eye. It also means that, like you, when I peer through the viewfinder, I sometimes forget everything I know and take a real clunker of a picture. Unlike most, however, once I see the result, I can offer detailed technical reasons that explain exactly what I did wrong, although I usually keep this information to myself. (The flip side is that when a potential disaster actually looks good, I can say “I meant to do that!” and come up with some convincing, but bogus, explanation of how I accomplished the “miracle.”)

This combination of experience—both good and bad—and expertise lets me help you avoid making the same mistakes I sometimes do, so that your picture taking can get better with a minimum of trial-and-error pain.

I hope this book will teach anyone with an interest in computers and/or photography how to spread his or her wings and move to the next level. This book will reveal the essentials of photography and the important aspects of digital technology without getting bogged down in complicated details. It’s for those who would rather learn the difference between a digital and an optical zoom, and how it affects their picture taking than find out which type of image sensor is the best; although, I do briefly cover that topic, because I think it’s possible to feed your technology curiosity without neglecting meaty photographic aspects.

What You Need

A few of you will be reading this book to satisfy your curiosity about digital photography before actually taking the plunge and buying a camera or scanner. The information here may help you decide just how much camera you need.

However, most of you already own a digital camera and want to know, “Is this book for me?” That’s an excellent question, because books that try to do everything invariably provide too little information for each of its audiences. I’m going to target information for a broad range of the digital picture-taking public, but if you can satisfy a few prerequisites, you’ll find this book will be much more useful to you.

I’m going to assume that your digital camera has certain minimal features common to the most widely used digital models, in terms of resolution, an LCD viewing screen, removable storage, and automated features. If you have a camera that exceeds the minimum specs, each chapter will offer additional suggestions of things you can do with your premium capabilities. If you happen to own a camera that doesn’t quite meet the recommendations, I’ll have suggestions on how to work around your limitations.

I’m not going to name specific models, for the simple reason that model names are irrelevant. One of the cameras I use regularly is an old Epson PhotoPC 600 dating from the latter years of the last millennium. Many of you will be using much newer basic cameras with similar features and capabilities, so the exact model you or I use doesn’t matter. So, when I talk about an 11-megapixel camera, or a 6-megapixel device, or even something between 2 and 4 megapixels, I mean to refer to those kinds of cameras generically, not a specific model. The techniques in this book apply to all digital cameras within the rough groupings I’ll outline in Chapter 2.

For most of the techniques in this book, I’ll assume you have a digital camera with at least 2 to 3 megapixels of resolution. (If you don’t understand resolution right now, don’t panic; I’ll explain what all these megapixels mean in Chapter 2.) A camera with a 2-megapixel sensor corresponds to about 1600 × 1200 pixels, which is enough detail to give you decent 6 × 8-inch prints at 200 dpi printer resolution. A 2-megapixel camera also can capture enough information to allow some cropping, especially if the image will be used on a web page, where high resolution isn’t necessary.

If you have a camera with less resolution, that’s okay, too. I’ll show you how to get the most from your resolution, which is plenty for web pages and 4 × 5-inch prints. As I mentioned earlier, my trusty old 1024 × 768 max resolution Epson camera still gets plenty of use, particularly at its lowest 640 × 480 setting for eBay auction pictures that must be kept slim and trim for efficient downloading.

Should your digital camera have 6 megapixels of resolution or more, you’ll have even more flexibility. You’ll be able to make larger prints, as full-size 8 × 10-inch prints are possible even at the 2048 × 1536 resolution of a 3-megapixel camera. You can also crop small sections out of the center of your pictures, and create more subtle effects. I’ll have some suggestions for those who have these more advanced cameras, too.

The other most important basic specification will be your lens. To get the most from the techniques in this book, you should have a zoom lens with a 2:1 or 3:1 (or better) zoom ratio and, preferably, a close-up focus setting. Some of the most interesting effects call for a wide-angle or telephoto look and a close viewpoint. However, even if you have a low-cost digital camera without a zoom or close-up (“macro”) capability, I’ll show you how to use what you have to get similar effects.

Most of the other components, such as amount and type of memory storage, manual/automatic exposure and focusing options, built-in flash capability, and so forth can vary widely. You’ll learn how to make the most of each of these features.

Chapter Outline

Here’s a breakdown of what you will find in this book:

Part I : Your Lean, Mean Pixel Machine

This part will provide both an overview and a detailed look at digital photography and digital cameras from a photographer’s perspective. How has digital technology changed photography? How are cameras changing now, and what will they be like in the future? How can a digital photographer choose a camera that does what is needed today and tomorrow? How do camera controls differ between film and digital cameras?

Chapter 1 : Digital Photography from 50,000 Feet

This chapter focuses on the rapid convergence of conventional photography and digital photography, in terms of features, capabilities, techniques, and price considerations. It outlines the skills film photographers already have that are directly transferable to digital photography, and shows how those skills actually become enhanced given the special features of digital cameras. The goal here is to create excitement among photographers who have worked with conventional cameras, showing them how they are well prepared to move smoothly into digital photography with the help of this book.

Chapter 2 : Inside a Digital Camera

Serious photographers have always been gadget freaks, even before solid-state technology began to intertwine itself into the workings of conventional cameras in the 1980s, and gave birth to the all-electronic digital cameras of the 1990s and 2000s. This chapter provides an inside look at how digital cameras work now, and some information on how they will work in the very near future when breakthroughs like the Foveon sensor become more widely used. You’ll learn about lenses, sensors, storage, and other topics.

Chapter 3 : Mastering Camera Controls

Although every camera uses different buttons and menus to control key features, nearly every digital image-grabber includes some variation on the basic array of controls. This chapter provides an overview of the controls a digital photographer must master, and includes descriptions of how these controls differ between digital cameras and film cameras. You’ll learn about the different exposure modes and how they can be used creatively. You’ll master focusing tricks, use of shutter speeds, and choosing resolution and compression settings that best suit the kind of pictures you’re taking.

Chapter 4 : Dealing with Digital Camera File Formats

The average amateur photographer with a digital camera just points and clicks, without a thought about which file format, from among those offered by a particular camera, is the best. More serious photographers will want to know why optional formats are offered, and how to choose the right one for a particular shooting session. This chapter covers each of the major formats, why they exist, and how you can use them to your advantage.

Part II : Techniques Unlimited

This part is all photography, written from the viewpoint of someone who wants to take better photographs and who probably has some experience with a conventional film camera. Each chapter will jump into a different type of photography and explain exactly what special demands digital photography makes as well as the special capabilities of a digital camera. Although each chapter explains all the jargon used, and will be written so that even photography tyros can catch up quickly, the text will explore each topic in more depth than found in digital photography books written by computer guru/amateur photographers. Each chapter will be sprinkled with “Tips from the Pros,” which are special tricks that pros use, and that amateurs would use if they knew about them.

Chapter 5 : Action Photography

Action isn’t limited to sports! Whether your subject matter is your kids’ Little League or soccer teams, or the company picnic, bowling tournament, or company products in action, you’ll need these tips on grabbing fast-moving subjects. You’ll learn how to stop action, choose your shooting spots, and use flash. Some of the topics covered include stopping action, using motion blur, and coping with fast-moving events.

Chapter 6 : People Photography

This chapter covers tips and tricks for photographing people for attractive portraits. Learn how to arrange and photograph groups, full-length portraits, head shots, and other people pictures. Among the Tips from the Pros in this chapter is a sure-fire way to know whether any of your subjects in a group photo had their eyes closed during the shot (without squinting at your digital camera’s LCD). Topics covered include group and individual portraits, with lighting diagrams that let you reproduce lighting techniques of the masters, as well as candid portraits.

Chapter 7 : Scenic Photography

The wide-open spaces provide wide-open opportunities for capturing great photos, whether you’re on vacation or just want to document the natural wonders around your home. This chapter includes topics such as filter tricks for great scenics, creating panoramas, and selection of lens zoom settings to get stunning nature and scenic photos.

Chapter 8 : Architectural Photography

Photographing buildings, monuments, and other structures offers some special challenges. This chapter shows how you don’t need a view camera to correct perspective, and ways to enhance photos of architecture to lift an ordinary shot of your home, office, or other structure to a new level. Among the topics are ways to correct for perspective distortion, and solving the typical digital camera’s wide-angle “problems.”

Chapter 9 : Macro Photography

This chapter covers making your hobby collections or business products look their best whether on location or in a “studio” you can set up and take down quickly. Learn how to set up this quick-and-dirty “studio” with effective backgrounds and lighting, and use close-up techniques. Topics in this chapter will include simple plans for creating a close-up studio, or taking your shooting on the road. You’ll also learn about depth-of-field, in depth, and how to choose add-ons to enhance your digital camera’s close-up capabilities.

Appendix A : Illustrated Glossary

This section explains all the photography and digital imaging terms in the book, illustrated by photographs that will help you understand the terms more easily.

This part will provide both an overview of and a detailed look at digital photography and digital cameras from a photographer’s perspective. How has digital technology changed photography? How are cameras changing now, and what will they be like in the future? How can a digital photographer choose a camera that does what is needed today and tomorrow? How do camera controls differ between film and digital cameras? And, hey! What are all those digital camera file formats used for?

As you can see, Part I is the nuts-and-bolts portion of the book, with everything you need to know to make the transition from serious film-oriented photographer (or even just a snapshooter) to digital-imaging proficiency. The first part gets you started making great digital images with your camera. You’ll learn how to choose your equipment and operate the basic controls.

Then, in Part II, we’ll get into the digital photography techniques that will spark your imagination and get your creative juices working overtime.

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