Favorite Photo Tips

by Derrick Story

I want to celebrate the release of the Digital Photography Pocket Guide, 2nd Ed -- now updated, redesigned, and in full living color (but at the same price as the first edition).

Since the whole idea of this project is to help folks get more out of their photography, I thought we could do a little of that in this blog by sharing some tips. Here's what I'm thinking.

I'm going to post a couple of my favorite tricks, then open it up to all of you so you can post yours too. We'll let this thing roll on until December 1st. At that time, I'll choose my five favorite reader tips, and send those folks a free signed copy of the Digital Photography Pocket Guide, 2nd Edition.

Keep These Things in Mind

To pull this off, we need to agree on a couple things:

  • You need to include your name with the tip. If you want, you can use an initial and a last name, or first name with a last initial, just something to identify you when I post the five favs.

  • Keep the tips short. Refer to my examples below for guidance.

  • If two people submit the same tip, the one with the earliest time stamp will be the one considered.

  • Your tip has to be time stamped before 5 pm PST on Monday, Dec. 1st. I'll post the favorites the following Friday, Dec. 5.

  • I'm the sole judge of the five favorites, so please don't argue about them. This is for fun!

  • Limit the scope of the tips to digital photography only. That's what this is all about :)

My Tips

Tip 1: Want to know an easy way to tell which shot in a series (of roughly the same composition) is the sharpest? View the images in "list mode" so you can see their file sizes. The image in the series with the largest file size is probably the sharpest picture.

Tip 2: You want to shoot an existing light shot in a dimly lit environment with the flash off, but you don't have a tripod or other suitable surface to steady the camera. What do you do? Try using the "camera strap tripod" trick. Sit on a chair or other place. Let the camera strap hang to the floor. Put your foot through the strap and pull the camera upward until you have tension. You'll be amazed at how steady you can hold the camera this way.

Now It's Your Turn

Those are my contributions to get the mind clicking. Let's hear one from you. And thanks for helping me celebrate the release of the new book.

Share your favorite digi photo tip. Be sure to include your name.


2003-11-21 02:31:59
Counterintuitive use of flash
One of my favorite tips is to turn the flash on for midday portraits (where it fills in shadows and puts a sparkle in people's eyes) and off for indoor shots (which tend to be very flat).

-Julio Ohep
Caracas, Venezuela

2003-11-21 05:25:33
Tungsten white balance
Manual white balance is so effective on my camera that indoor shots look sunlit. Use a slightly blue target for the white balance to get a more indoors look for the photos.

I must admit that this is theory only. I have experienced the problem but have not yet tried the solution.

2003-11-21 06:40:44
Manual Focus for Action
Since most digital cameras are slower than film cameras, I find using the manual focus mode for action shots. I focus on something at about the same distance as the action before I shoot.

Along with using manual focus, I usually use the aperture priority mode and set the f-stop to f8. This increases the field of focus and helps guarantee that the subject is in focus.

You don't get results like they do in the newspaper (with the background out of focus), but at lease you get a picture of the action.

It also helps to zoom out. You can always crop the photo before printing or sending.

Steve Afdahl

2003-11-21 06:54:46
Flash flat pictures?
You don't like the result of your flash on the pictures? even at set at low, some flash are to hard on the subject. So try this: take a small bit of a kleenex ou very thin white paper cut it to the size of the front surface of the flash, use some scotch tape to stick it on the flashing surface. It will act like a professionnal screen and give you softer light. And it's cheap ;-)
2003-11-21 07:31:04
Question about the 2nd edition
For those of us that bought the first edition of the guide, what would be the reasons to upgrade to the second edition besides being in color?
2003-11-21 08:47:43
RE: Question about the 2nd edition
That's a great question.

Basically what I did was go through the text and make changes where things had evolved in digital photography. Items such as acknowledging the new 4:3 format by Olympus, the Foveon sensor, and stuff like that.

I also added some new discussions based on topics that have been popular in my workshops, such as Jpeg vs, RAW.

As for the pictures, not only are they in color, but I actually went out and reshot over half of them, often with the same models. I think the current batch illustrates the techniques better than in the first edition. Second edition is also easier to read because of the redesign.

All of that being said, the first edition is still quite current and useful. I'm sure the sales dept won't appreciate me saying this, but if your original book is still in good shape, then so are you.

2003-11-21 13:13:58
Press the Shutter Release.
I mean it. If you want to get more great pictures, press the shutter release, and press it often. As often as you can. With film, it is a good day if you get one good shot per roll. With digital, you can shoot as many rolls as you like.

D. Conroy.

2003-11-21 23:22:58
The most important thing to remember with any camera is that it's no good sitting at home. If you only buy one camera, make sure it will fit in a pocket without causing discomfort (or "unsightly bulges"), and then make sure it's in that pocket when you need it.

Can't resist a second suggestion: I stumbled on this trick last summer, on a small boat with a group of people trying to see an eagle's nest on shore. Some people were having trouble finding the nest among the treetops. I pulled out the camera, used the optical zoom to get as close as possible, and snapped a picture. Next, I switched to the camera's preview mode, zoomed in on the photo, and found the nest. Now, by zooming back out in steps, others could see exactly where to squint when they looked back up into the trees.

2003-11-22 08:46:32
Conny Svensson
I try to not use the falsh inddors, but the problem is your camera might have a hard time focusing if it's low light. I try two different techniques to solve this problem:
1. Try to focus on something at the same range as the subject but which is better lit. Maybe close to a lamp. Continue holding down the shutter button halfways and point at the subject and take the shot.
2. I use a flashlight to light up my subject to get the camera to focus and then turn it off before taking the shot.
Depending on your camera and in what mode it is the flash might react differently because the subject you were focusing on was differently lit than the target subject. For this I use manual mode and set the flash level. Usually the auto mode works like magic and it ends up being a very good shot.
2003-11-22 10:18:31
Digital camera as communication tool
While traveling in Japan I found a novel use for a digital camera. Most of the restaurants there have lifelike plastic displays of the food they serve. Since I couldn’t speak Japanese I just took a picture of wanted to eat and showed it to the waiter. He thought it was very funny but I did get what I ordered...

Phil Calvert

2003-11-22 14:49:02
Photo Tip: Level Panoramas
If you want to keep the full height of your image when shooting panoramas and not half to crop the top and bottom of it. Well, the thick to creating level panoramas every time is to combine a tripod and a three axis pan head with a two axis bubble level in the flash shoe of your camera.

Charles Eaton

2003-11-24 10:46:53
Family Christmas Picture tip
Promise the kids Krispy Cream donuts :)
2003-11-24 17:18:15
Family Christmas Picture tip
And do the photos early, not when people are on the way out the door! Otherwise you end up with photos where the faces clearly say, "I'm tired of being patient with my family..."
2003-11-24 18:58:55
Keeping track of spent and freshly charged batteries
I have a Canon A70 that uses four AAs. I always put the spare, freshly changed batteries in the carrier with their polarities alternating, one after another; in other words, battery no. 1 has “+” facing up, battery no. 2 has “-” facing up, etc. When I change batteries, I drop the spent batteries out of the camera and slip the new ones in--if you practice you won’t have to fuss with getting the new batteries oriented right, you can just drop them right in. Then I take the old ones and put them in the carrier with there polarities matching, thus avoiding the embarrassment of putting spent batteries back into the camera.

Phil Calvert

2003-11-25 09:51:55
Digital camera as communication tool (and memory aid)
Great idea! I do something similar with the camera on my phone.

If I end up in a good pub or restaraunt I take a picture of the sign outside. There are so many places to go out to in London it's easy to forget the good places.

I do the same in bookshops and record shops when I see something that I may want to buy another time.

I now have an archive of visual reminders that I keep in a special album in iPhoto and on my phone.

2003-11-25 16:00:30
getting good candid shots
Practice aiming the camera without looking through the viewfinder You will get more interesting photos if your subjects aren't self-conscious about being photographed. Leave the camera on the wide-angle setting and expect to waste quite a few exposures. Oh and you'll probably have to crop and rotate the resulting image.

bruce bowden

2003-11-28 13:53:36
A few tips
Here are a few tips:

When I go backpacking I can easily take 150 pictures over 5 days. Actually, I could take more if I had the memory for it. But the problem is that when you get home you may not remember what your pictures are of. So I bring my palm pilot and take notes for every picture I shoot. That way when I get home I know that picture 84 is of "Horseshoe Meadow", not "some nice looking meadow somewhere in the wilderness."

Another trick I use is to take mini-panoramas. I used to have a Kodak advantix camera which would let me take pictures in a panorama mode which would give you a picture just as tall as an ordinary picture, but a couple times wider. With my digital camera I take a couple of overlapping pictures and stitch them together in Photoshop using layer masks. If you have Photoshop Elements you can use its panorama stitcher (I don't recall exactly what it is called) to do this for you. You can take these pictures left to right, up and down, or in more of a square shape (that would be up and down and left to right) to get more into the picture than your camera can see. If you use an Olympus Camedia camera (or any other camera with this option) with an Olympus memory card you can use its panorama mode to make sure that all of your pictures use the same exposure settings.

Ansel Adams used to take pictures on top of his car in order to clean up the foreground. If you don't have a car handy you can stand on a rock. However, I often like to kneel down specifically to get as much foreground as I can. I especially like to do this when taking a picture of a meadow, a beach, a dry riverbed, or if I take a picture from inside a river.

Use the viewfinder instead of the camera's display whenever possible. You will save lots of money on batteries this way. However, when you are taking a close-up picture (and you should use your camera's macro mode for this) it is better to use your camera's display because the viewfinder won't give you an accurate view of your subject when doing close-up shots.

Mark W

2003-12-01 14:24:32
RE: Question about the 2nd edition

Thanks for being so honest about this. I did not write the question, but it is nice to hear such an honest answer. I can tell you that my current version will be going to a friend and I'll pick up the new 2nd edition, just based on the honest of your comment here.

Thanks, and the pocket guide is definitely a great resource!