Lesson #1 -- A Wineglass

Wine Glass photo

Notice the above photo of a wine glass.  If you've ever wondered how professionals get such good digital photos, here are a few facts you might want to remember.  First, let's discuss what you don't need to capture good digital photos rather than what you do need.

You don't need multi-megapixel cameras that take huge multi-megabit photos.  The filesize of the above photo is 26.9 kilobits.  That's roughly 1/40th the size photo a One Megapixel camera would take. Yep, it doesn't look like a 1MB photo would create a file 40 times as large as this, does it?

Look at how sharp the edges of the leaves are.  And what about the colors.  Outstanding, aren't they?  Here's what you need to know.

Picture Size is Unimportant

1) Megapixels don't create photo quality.  Here's what the numbers in Photoshop Elements look like for the above wine glass photo:

When you look at a digital photo on a web page or in an email the size photo you see is determined by the settings on your screen and the pixel dimensions of the photo NOT its physical dimensions.  An ideal size photo size for email and the web is about 700 pixels wide by about 525 high, with a minimum resolution of 96 pixels per inch.

Smaller photos like the wine glass cannot be enlarged.  If you blow them up they'll look like the example below.  Some people call this "pixelated."
blow up of Wine Glass photo

The option to enlarge a photo is the main reason those multi-megabit cameras became popular.   But even small photos will look great if you have the right lens.

The Lens is Everything!

1) The lens, not the camera's megapixels, make the photo.  Cameras with replaceable lenses, although expensive, take the best photos.  Even still, there are inexpensive cameras with non-replaceable good lenses.  Here's a photo taken with a 4 megapixel Kodak that cost less than $200.  I bought the camera for Linda in 2005.  She took this photo at a park in Hoover, Alabama the afternoon we bought the camera:
Hoover Lodge

Lighting is Essential

2) You can't photograph a person in front of a bright window and expect a decent portrait.  They will turn out dark every time.  We took this photo of my grandson wearing his new hat.  The camera was pointed toward a bright window.  When I lightened it in Photoshop Elements it came out grainy, artsy looking but not portrait quality.  A flash would have helped.  Shooting from another direction would have been better.
new hat - dark photo


3) You can sometimes improve the camera's color settings.  Experiment with the camera's menu to see if it has color settings that can be adjusted.  Of course, nothing beats chosing a colorful image and taking the photo in the correct light.  Here's a lucky shot we got with just the right color and lighting while we were traveling out west:
Old Wagon

The time of day the photo was taken made all the difference in the color and lighting.  Of course we also discovered you can't take sharp or colorful photos through the windshield of a traveling car.

Phrame the Photo Phirst

4) Correct lighting and color are important but most important is framing your photo.  That means stop all motion including the subject if possible, choose the right spot to stand with your camera (for lighting and proper framing), and keep the camera absolutely motionless while taking the picture.

There are all sorts of things wrong with this photo of an old barn in Vermont.  We were traveling 55 mph.  We shot the photo through the car window.  If we had stopped and kept the camera motionless, the photo would have had the same rich color as in the photo of the lake above (it was the same camera).  We did not frame the photo.  Choosing a different angle might have eliminated the telephone lines and guard rail.
An Old Barn in Vermont

Edit the Photo If You Have Editing Software

5) Here's a tech trick I learned if you have Photoshop Elements.  It's called the "histogram."  This is the histogram of the wine glass photo.  It represents the "luminosity" (brightness) of principle colors: red, green, and blue, and the amount of light in the photo's highlights, shadows, and mid-levels.

In a nutshell, if your histogram is spread out (with no empty spots), the overall contrast of the photo will look fine.  If not, the photo's lighting can be adjusted slightly by dragging the white arrow (makes highlights lighter) or black arrow (makes shadows darker) more toward the center.  The goal is to drag the white and black arrows more under the higher end-points of the histogram without washing out the photo.

A free photo editor, Irfanview (http://www.irfanview.com/) will make similar adjustments if you can't afford Photoshop Elements.  Unfortunately, Irfanview does not selectively adjust the luminosity (brightness) of shadows or midtones while leaving highlights as-is the way Photoshop Elements does.  In Irfanview, you can only adjust what they call "gamma" which auto-adusts the shadows and midtones together.  Beware that, although making these adjustments will let you see an otherwise dark subject on a bright background, it will also make your photo very grainy looking.  See #2 above "Lighting is Essential."

An Inexpensive Example

In closing, let me show you this photo taken at sunset on the coast.  I took this with a Samsung Digimax 200 digital camera in 2003.  The camera had a Carl Zeiss lens and cost less than $200.  It would take a maxium photo size of 2.1 megapixels.  The camera was slow as could be.  It was very annoying having to wait for 1/2 a minute or more between shots.  If I waited more than 2 minutes between photos it would turn itself off and I'd have to wait two more minutes for it to boot up.  But the picture quality was top shelf for digital cameras back then.
Sunset on the Gulf Coast

You can see a great example of what another inexpensive camera can do by clicking  HERE.