Updated January 2, 2016. Here find practical advice and dollar-saving tips for digital camera photography, whether you are just getting started or want to improve the quality of your results.

This file is always kept up to date; major revisions are done annually but minor changes are done as the photography situation changes or I find useful tips that should be included sooner. The 01 January 2015 revision was more severe than normal, excising some older information that was no longer relevant to photography today. A lot has changed since my first digital camera in 2003.

Changes to the file are many. Of particular note is the inclusion of useful information for high end digital cameras including DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflexes), and some vital information about updates to photo software like Photoshop Elements. (I tend to call them photo manipulation programs; we use the software to manipulate photos, and the software vendors try to manipulate us ;-)

This file is updated if there are truly significant changes to hardware or software. Significant means exactly that, not mere additions of dozens of new "features" that no one needs or uses -- but only help a vendor's ad Campaign. Hence "We have 47 more menu items than Brand X." Phooey, a good help manual that is easy to read beats a million features you cannot find or understand or need.

If you got to this file directly from my metalworking home page, return there by using your browser's back button.

BUT if you came to this file as the result of a Web search engine, see more than 70 additional files (many useful to anyone, not just metalworkers) on my home page Machining and Metalworking at Home: http://www.janellestudio.com/metal/index.html


(how to get started, then take effective photographs for the web -- or for any other reason, including personal enjoyment)

Table of Contents (TOC)

The Aims of This Site
Convert Regular Prints, Film, and Slides for the Web
Selecting a Digital Camera for the Web
When Do You Need a Higher Resolution Digital Camera?
Critical Camera Features
Must-Have Camera Accessories
Digital Camera Photo-Taking Tips
Take Pictures in Your Workshop (or Studio)
Isolate the Subject Visually
How To Get Close to Your Subject
Lighting Tips
Support or Steady the Camera
Preparing Digital Photos for the Web or Newsgroups
Shrinking the Digital Copy's File Size
Give Viewers a Choice of Digital Photos
Website Bandwidth -- A Few Quick Words
About Different File Formats for Pictures -- JPEG, RAW, Others
Photo Manipulation Software
Photoshop Elements Books and Resources
Elements 14 Is Here -- Do You Need to Upgrade?
Other File Formats Needed for the Web
Printing All Your Photos at Home? Not Me
Update Additional Comments January 2016
Copyright Notice

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The Aims of This Site

- practical advice on choosing a scanner or digital camera and accessories;

- simple tips to improve your success with a digital camera;

- how to acquire good, appropriate-size digital images for the Web, particularly workshop-related but also for personal webpages;

- info for practical manipulation and improvement of photo files;

- guidelines for the appropriate use of text (extension .txt) and PDF (extension .pdf) files on the Web;

- and recently, more information related to digital photography in general, including producing quality prints inexpensively.

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Perhaps you're like me and have spent a lifetime with film cameras. Then along comes the Internet and its insatiable need for digital images to post on personal websites or Facebook pages or send in emails. Yikes. Got a whole new bunch of stuff to learn. But in many ways it is easier stuff. Just take it one step at a time.

You can use the info when assembling your own personal website, or just want to upload a few photos (and/or text) to a Yahoo newsgroup or wherever. You can convert existing photos, or learn how to use a digital camera. Hopefully you will also find some useful photo-taking tips on capturing machinery and projects, up close and personal.

"Hey wait a minute", you say. "Your metalworking site hasn't got a single picture on it. What the heck do you know?" True, this site was designed to be lean and mean without flashing ads, dancing penguins, or the overhead of bloated pictures. As of this file's latest update, this site had about 24 Megabytes mainly in very compact text files and is close to my current target size for this subject. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words when describing supermodels, or a complex machine setup or jig, but MANY messages with IDEAS! will fit into the webspace of just one picture. The logical place for photos is in one of Yahoo's many metal-newsgroups' photo sections, or on YOUR personal webpages.

My scanned regular film photography and digital photography (hundreds of pictures) appear on several non-metal-hobby websites. And my photography was used for years when publishing a newsletter for two radio control aircraft clubs. And digital images and graphics for a government agency and even a national magazine. And film photography as a life-long passion. Other separate lives, in only one lifetime.

Back on topic, looking at photos on some websites, we soon see a whole bunch of other people who don't know much about posting pictures at all. Some common problems seen:

- digital photo files are way too big to see on the screen -- we need a MUCH bigger desk for the mouse to scroll way over there;

- those same huge files take forever to load in the browser window;

- and Heaven help you if the site put dozens of full-size photos on the same page;

- then there may be added music to make the loading even slower;

- and some think animations, scrolling text, etc. are cool. [Not.]

Let's just establish an understanding up front. There are always better different way$$$ of doing anything. What follows is some pretty darn practical stuff that will serve the purposes of the average home photographer on an average, or limited, budget just fine.

Maybe those more expensive ways will come down in price in future, as much tech stuff does. But bigger files will always obstruct a lot of people using the Web with 5 year old computers or dial-up access. Those users are still a critical part of the audience of any responsible site trying to reach out and help others.

Those of you loving tools will appreciate the practicality of leaving some money for lathes, metal shapers, mills, accessories, other hobbies, ..... and perhaps even food. Try not to have to eat a cat ..... again.

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Convert Regular Prints, Film, and Slides for the Web

(or to repeatedly punish ex-friends and relatives with large e-mails)

The tool needed here is a scanner. Like all tech toys, any model you buy today is "obsolete" within a couple of months. Surprise: today's (and even yesteryear's scanner) will do just fine for the Web which absolutely requires small image files.

And perhaps you don't need a dedicated scanner. There are a lot of printers nowadays that have excellent scan functions, as well as the ability to produce a fine photocopy.

If you don't have a scanner yet, first consider whether your use warrants a purchase. The need may be just occasional, say you just want to upload a few pictures from your workshop to help the guys in the atlas_craftsman group. Take your photos, or slides, and computer diskettes and a box of donuts to a friend or neighbour's place. If they are really nice, they will make a set of files at the size needed, either during the original scan, or when cropped and downsized in a photo program.

If you need a scanner permanently, the choice will probably need more research on your part than you spent before choosing the items in the last sentence. Start with free material, magazines or books, at the library. You may be lucky enough to have a friend who has recently boned up on the subject for his own use, but keep an open mind based on your own research. Magazines may have a comparison chart comparing features of multi models. There are Web sites like CNET where you can compare scanner features and reviews, and read some brutally frank opinions of real scanner owners. Go to http://www.search.com/ and under Consumer Electronics, search for the word scanner.

Do yourself a favour and buy the book "How to Do Everything with Your Scanner Second Edition" [or newer if available] by Dave Huss, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, ISBN 0-07-222891-1. It will save you money in your scanner choice, or at least save you from buying the absolutely wrong one for your needs. It will also tell you more about scanning truths, and lies, and tips than I ever knew despite using a scanner for more than ten years. This book will quickly let you make excellent scans and learn to resize images properly. (If you don't buy this book, you may eventually regret it. Used copies should be available on the web.)

Only then go to a few computer/scanner outlets and insist on speaking to a sales rep who has personally actually used the models under consideration. Not surprisingly, some of the computer whiz kids know more than the manager. If the shop has a repair department, ask a technician for his experience with the various brands and models.

Don't buy more complexity than you need. Automated feeds of photos or documents are nice frills if you are going into heavy production, but cost more and may cause more breakdowns. Check into the price of the scanner light bulb; it may be worthwhile getting a 3-year extended warranty if that fee costs about the same as one burnt out bulb; in this instance be sure bulbs are included in the warranty. If bulbs are not included, don't bother with the extended warranty. The basic store or manufacturer warranty should protect against getting a lemon. After a year or so, you can probably get a brand new scanner with the same features for a drastically reduced price. I dislike the idea of a disposable item, but here do the math and make a practical choice.

Don't buy a scanner with more resolution than YOU really need. Yes, you will need the highest practical optical resolution if slides or negatives are going to be scanned. Slides and negatives need a scanner with an adapter, that has its own light source. Your whiz-bang 2400+ dpi (dots per inch) gazillion-colour model scanner will have to be throttled back to a lower setting for the Web. Or a higher resolution scanned image will need to have its file downsized severely in a photo manipulation computer program. (We'll mention some practical tips and advice about those programs later on here.)

Also carefully evaluate the features of software that comes with the particular scanner. Some are very basic and will soon cause you to have to buy a separate photo manipulation program. Some have bundled programs with more features. Look for a handy scanner feature where pages can be directly scanned into a single PDF file. You may, in any case, choose to do most of your after-scan photo manipulation with a separate program just because they will do far more than even the best program normally bundled with a scanner.

Once the scanner is home, please READ ALL the instructions before plugging it in. Some units have all sorts of hidden packing and taped areas to prevent damage to moving parts during shipping; make sure every one is removed. Install the scanner exactly per the maker's manual, taking into account your computer and its operating system.

Now try some scans using the manufacturer's default settings. You will often be surprised by the seemingly-low resolution specified, and the quality of the images at those lower settings.

Yes the really high resolution is best for tiny film negatives and slides; it is overkill for snapshots and the Web. Not to mention the bloated files that will quickly cause you to buy a much bigger hard drive.

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For the Web, typically you are starting with a clear photo print of perhaps 4 inches by 6 inches from your neighbourhood film developer.

The maximum size image that will comfortably fit on a computer screen without most computer owners having to scroll to see it all is 800 X 600 pixels. If you scan your 4" X 6" print at a setting of 100 dpi, the resulting image will fit just fine. Try a scan at a scanner manual's default setting if under 100 dpi, and then another one at 100 dpi. Look at them both at full size on your computer screen and make up your own mind if there is any significant quality difference. Just don't go any larger for the purpose at hand.

If the pertinent part of the photo is smaller than the print, use the scanner cropping feature to keep the part you really want to show. Also reduces the file size.

If the photo is scanned from a slide or negative, use the highest resolution available for your scanner. Then make a copy of the file. Use photo software to shrink the Web copy's version to less than the max 4" by 6" size on screen at 100% (full) size, or never more than a maximum of 800 by 600 pixels.

Save the image in the JPEG (pronounced jaypeg) format with .jpg file extension. The image file size actually undergoes some compression when saved in this format, which saves both Web space and loading time without any significant loss of quality that anyone will notice for what we are doing.

Always keep the file size well below 100 KB. Under 70 KB (or smaller!) is better, if it still shows the pertinent details. We are trying to convey information to the group or website visitor effectively here, not win a photography contest under the scrutiny of a magnifying glass.

At least one group's moderator has categorically stated that if images larger than 800 by 600 pixels are posted without good reason, and specific permission, they will be summarily trashed. So much for someone trying to impress the group with a 2 MB file that quickly fills the group's very limited space.

Now if you haven't bought that scanner book yet, you will need it for a zillion details and tips beyond my experiences covered here. Like how to use your scanner to take fine pictures of 3-dimensional objects. But no, not the red Chev truck.

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Selecting a Digital Camera for the Web

(or how to go digital with the most fun, and least cost, without eating another cat)

Before losing you here if you don't yet have a digital camera, the cost can be pretty low right now for the camera you really need and will enjoy immensely.

All that research I told you to do about scanners applies in spades to digital cameras, because you will really revolutionize your photography, and bring back excitement and fun again. You will buy one, or eventually more, digital cameras. I'm now on my third, and hopefully last for a long while.

I spent two years researching digital cameras before deciding on my first digital model. Since that first purchase, every camera was routinely obsoleted by its own manufacturer bringing out a new higher resolution model with more features every very few months. Each new model cost less than its predecessor, and the "older models" were slashed in price. Today, next month, and forever, the photography magazines are still reviewing dozens of new models monthly, and muddying the waters for anyone trying to make a choice.

My first digital camera was a tiny 2 Megapixel with 3X optical zoom, and is small and light enough to ride in a cotton shirt breast pocket. In 2015 it still takes great snapshots and still gets taken to many events where a bigger camera would be a nuisance.

Camera number two (which five years later cost much less than the first camera) is an 8 Megapixel so-called prosumer camera with lots of bells and whistles and built-in 12X optical zoom. This has been the go-to camera for wide angle pictures without flash at indoor events, as well as telephoto pix of outdoor events and wildlife. It actually takes good macro pix and can get within 1 cm. (half an inch) of a small subject and fill the picture frame. It has taken great flower pix and gotten in the way of more than a few butterflies and bees competing for a flower's use.

Camera number three is an 18 Megapixel Canon digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) that I actually got "free" in late 2011 for points from a card program. While ostensibly free, this camera is eventually going to cost far more than the other two combined. Naturally it might need several lenses (read expensive) before it could duplicate the zoom range of use of the prosumer camera. Naturally most of those lenses will have different objective lens diameters and will each need their own UV protective filter, as well as some other filters. Then there was the need to update my Photoshop Elements program to version 10 to be able to use the particular version of RAW files this camera model can produce. Then there is the whole learning curve for dealing with a more complex camera (way more complex than my old film SLRs). Then there was the additional Adobe Premiere Elements 10 video software program to handle the videos it can produce. Then there are the much larger and more expensive high speed memory cards needed for RAW files and videos. [Arrrgh!]

I should also mention cameras number four and now five, that were not real cameras at all -- they were "smart phones" with a built in camera function. And yes they can take some pretty good digital photos, which is very handy when you don't have a real camera with you. Today phones have ever increasing photo Megapixels but I still don't call them real cameras. They don't have a viewfinder, which means they are held away from the face and wobble a lot more than a real camera when humans are taking a picture under real life situations. You usually have to take several pictures before you get a good one. While the latest phones have started to add some more camera features, they really are clunky to set up and use compared to any basic camera with a viewfinder.

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Here are some hard thoughts (practical facts in my opinion):

It is not wise to wait for a particular camera you want to go down in price (which it will someday soon) because you will not have it TODAY! to go on vacation or attend family functions or go fishing or record your insurables, or a hundred other uses. (That prosumer camera I bought a few years ago has been upgraded in features to double the resolution and 2 1/2 times the zoom range, yet the price was cut in half. But the older one still works fine and for my web and snapshot size prints is still more than perfectly adequate.) Pictures NOW and memories are priceless, worth far more than a few bucks saved by waiting for the next camera model.

The newest models have more settings and features that you will never, ever use.

The most complicated camera has the potential to spend more time in repair, and cause you to get mad sooner and chuck it, and then have to buy an even more complex one because they stopped making simpler ones. A never ending plot?

You will take 90% of your pictures just fine with the default automatic settings, which often will NOT be at the highest resolution of the camera you just bought. And the default settings will let you take a picture right now, without burying your nose in the manual.

Even an older digital camera of a few Megapixels will produce much better photos than you might expect. Typical 4" X 6" prints are great. 5" X 7" are fine (two will fit on one sheet of photo printer paper). 8" X 10" are okay. And you know you don't print or use or need many that size. Look at all the 8" X 10" school portraits in the bottom drawer in the rec room. How much wall space do you really have? Or hard drive space? Or CD-Rs by the hundreds?

Even with a 2 Megapixel camera, you can take most of your snapshots at a lower than maximum resolution. Even low resolution pictures look as good as your TV or computer monitor can show when torturing friends after a vacation.

At any same max resolution, a good lens will take better pictures than the other camera. Sometimes a better lens on a lower resolution camera takes a better picture than a so-so lens on a higher priced, higher resolution camera.

Okay, without stringing you along or up, do your research. One website that I can highly recommend is Steve's Digicams which provides excellent reviews on new and recent camera models and takes pictures of several same subjects with each model, allowing you to see some startling differences in clarity when comparing particular cameras. Check the same details on the same subjects when taken by different cameras.

To compare auxilliary lenses to buy for a digital SLR I have been using the web to look for lens comparisons. One really thorough site which pulls no punches at pointing out lens flaws is:

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When Do You Need a Higher Resolution Digital Camera?

If you actually need a camera that produces excellent near-film quality 8" X 10" prints, the original file must have a high enough minimum resolution of 300 ppi to print at this size. [Note: we are talking ppi, or pixels per inch, image resolution which is the key factor in the details quality of the final printed image. Do not confuse ppi with a printer's dpi, or dots per inch, as stretching a low ppi image to a larger physical print size will look poorly no matter what the printer setting is.] Needing 8" X 10" prints at 300 ppi translates to a camera of just 6 Megapixel capability.

There are many reasonably priced 8 or 10 or even 18 Megapixel models available now. (Certainly a pro photographer already has purchased at least a 24 Megapixel adapter for the back of a medium format pro camera, or opted for a Digital SLR with at least 18 to 24+ Megapixels.) You will likely find that you cannot see any difference between the 6 and 8 Megapixel results when printed in the smaller print sizes; so the 6 Meg model may be what YOU actually NEED, at least for the next few years or so. The 6's can take darn fine pictures. But in 2015 they are virtually non existent -- the insane competitive race to provide more Megapixels continues and even basic cameras have way more than you every really need.

Nature Photography. One very good excuse for having a high resolution camera (let's say well over 8 Megapixels) would be for situations where: even with the highest power of optical zoom, the subject is still very tiny within the field of view. For example, in nature photography, you often cannot get close enough to a bird to fill the picture frame. When you later crop out the background and blow up the bird, the image of the bird is heavily pixelated (lots of jagged pixels instead of fine detail). If you had a higher resolution camera, cropping and blowing up the part of the image with the bird might still give an acceptably detailed picture.

Another good excuse for buying a high resolution camera in 2015 is that you cannot find a low resolution one. Every maker has embraced bigger-is-better just to compete with the other brands. The situation is just like the muscle car manufacturers' insane horsepower race for a vehicle used primarily in town and staying within urban speed limits [okay maybe not "within", but reasonably close].

Okay, there is another need for a higher resolution camera than the cameras we discussed above (that were better than good enough for our Web pix needs). If you have aspirations to write a magazine article with how-to pictures, such publications normally insist on higher resolutions for their submissions. Probably you will need a camera with 6 or 8 Megapixels or more to get the minimum resolution demanded. Using a camera with more pixels than the bare minimum will allow you the luxury of cropping a shot and still meeting the publisher's requirements. (Check with the particular publisher for their photo, and writing, submission requirements.)

If you thought a higher resolution camera than needed today is a good idea, be prepared to pony up big-time for storage devices. You got that high end camera and want to save original pictures as master copies at the highest resolution. That could be 18 or 24 MB or more. Then there are the copies of the picture that you enhanced in a photo manipulation program. Naturally you saved the master amended copy at highest resolution with all its manipulated layers intact. Let's say another 30 to 40 MB. Then there are the reduced file size copies you sent to publishers or friends. Didn't need the spare bedroom anyway. Yes I'm exaggerating, but much less than you might think, now.

Getting a really high resolution camera when you don't need one sort of proves you have more money than you really need, or is that more cameras than machine tools? But if you do need that many megapixels occasionally (or cannot find a lower resolution camera to buy nowadays), consider setting the camera to a lower resolution most of the time to reduce file size. If you want the camera to shoot large RAW files for very special subjects, good idea; but perhaps you can shoot smaller JPEG files when taking dozens of holiday snaps or setting the camera to take a burst series of shots.

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Critical Camera Features

Three really really important things to look for in your final choice no matter how many Megapixels a camera has:

The optical zoom range is adequate for your needs (digital zoom is flummery and irrelevant); be aware that too large an optical zoom range may result in some distortion of the image at extremes of the range; also zoom powers above 6 would benefit greatly from an image stabilizer feature in the camera or the lens to counteract hand or wind shake. The optical-type image stabilizers are the most effective.

You must see a good view in a large LCD screen in bright(!) sunlight. Many cameras' LCD screens are so washed out you cannot see enough detail to know if you are taking, or have taken, a good picture. Do not believe the reviews or the camera salesperson. Insist on taking the camera outside into bright sunshine to see for yourself. YES, SHOP ON A SUNNY DAY AND TAKE THE CAMERA OUTSIDE TO TEST THE LCD SCREEN BEFORE YOU BUY! A good salesperson will go outside with you and coach you about camera controls. If they are too busy to go outside, and hesitate to let you loose alone outside with this fairly valuable item, take a leaf from the car test drives and leave them a photocopy of your driver's licence as security. Or let them hold your kid for collateral. (You will bring back the camera and collect the kid right???) Or shop at a real camera store where they understand and appreciate the issue.

That brings up another weakness of the smart phone in its camera mode; their view screens (which must be used for the simple reason they have no viewfinder) are terrible and nearly useless with sun shining on them.

Most cameras today allow you to change the default settings and remember YOUR preferred new settings when you turn the camera on again. I was in an aircraft museum where the best pictures were obtained using natural light; my early camera always reverted to auto flash when it was turned on, and I had to remember to manually cycle it to the no-flash setting again before taking a picture. In a museum that does not allow flash, it would not be hard to forget to reset the camera one time and get kicked out.

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Must-Have Camera Accessories

(While actually making price comparisons and buying the model chosen, remember to budget for some "options" that are not in truth "optional".)

Immediately buy any of the following not bundled with the camera:

- compatible battery charger

- spare rechargeable battery or batteries (some don't last very long)

- a cable to connect to your computer to transfer pictures

- a small padded case to protect the camera and its spare stuff (one that has both shoulder and belt straps is very convenient; if camera cases are too large or too expensive, look at similar utility cases designed for other uses such as hiking or fishing.

Immediately or soon afterwards buy the following:

A couple of larger memory cards ON SALE (naturally of the exact type your camera uses). The extra card should be even bigger if you bought a camera with 12 megapixel or higher resolution. All memory is routinely on sale, so save some bucks here soon. The memory card that came with the camera (if it even came with one) is way too small to hold more than a very few pix. If you can negotiate a serious discount on a pair of larger capacity cards while purchasing the camera, all the better.

Be aware that too large a card is dangerous; if you fill it, you will have too many eggs in one basket, a basket that could be lost, stolen, damaged, or accidentally reformatted. While on vacation I spread my picture-taking between several cards. At home new pictures are transferred promptly and regularly to the computer.

As blank CDs and DVDs are way under a buck each, the photo collection is regularly backed up. The new pix are first, and any space left on the CD or DVD is filled with another copy of critical pix and files. Yes that is a bit redundant but it sure feels good.

One set of backup disks is stored away from home -- to be safe from fire or other disaster that might destroy the residence. You could keep them at work, a friend's place, or in a bank box if you have one.

Another very convenient memory option that I have become more fond of is the USB memory stick aka flash drive. These have come down in price so that a stick with more memory and less price is frequently on sale for an even lower price. Get several. Just plug one into your computer's USB port and copy your photo files onto it. These sticks are tiny and easy to store (as in the bank box mentioned). For safety I prefer several sticks containing identical sets of copies of my photo collection rather than one giant stick with one-and-only copies. One stick of a pair is stored away from home, while its at home mate gets updated monthly (or more often if there are lots of new pix); the current updated copy is rotated with its off-site mate every 6 months (you could do it more often). As soon as the off-site stick gets home, it is brought up to date.

A cable to connect the camera to a TV, to display images while still on holiday, or view at home without everyone crowding around a computer monitor; alternatively you can burn selected images onto a CD that can be shown on TV using a DVD player; but not all DVD players like all CD formats -- bring along your picture CD and test it in the player at the store before buying.

A plug-into-the-wall power supply for the camera to be used while transferring pictures from camera to computer; alternatively, make sure your camera battery is fully charged before starting such a transfer. The point is not to have a camera power outage during this sensitive process. Another advantage to the wall-power unit is if you plan on long sessions of indoor photography -- for example you are shooting dozens of household items to make an insurance inventory.

Truly optional is a card reader. Insert your camera's memory card into this device which plugs into the computer. The camera then is not involved in the transfer. Such devices can be for one type of memory card, or have slots for many types. The only problems I see with this gadget are extra (needless) cost, and the wear and tear on both the camera parts and memory contacts if frequently removing and replacing your memory card (which was always relatively safe if left in the camera). Many newer computers come with built-in card readers for multiple memory card formats; so this item may no longer be an issue.

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Digital Camera Photo-Taking Tips

Don't try to take important pictures before you are familiar with the workings of your digital camera. If you have already used it successfully, just skim through the following paragraphs until you find something you have not tried. But if not yet familiar with your digital camera, just read more carefully and then engage in a bit of fun practice.

You did read the manual, right? Try taking some pictures at home while the manual is open in front of you. Just accept the default automatic settings. Nothing fancy.

Be careful to remove the lens cap and keep the front of the lens away from anything before you turn the camera on. Some cameras extend the lens pretty quickly and forcefully -- the lens could be damaged if it hits something during this sudden extension.

Get used to turning it on and off, and finding the major controls like zoom and shutter release while having your eye up to the viewfinder. Also get used to a delay between when you press the shutter release and the shutter actually releases.

Frame the view you want to take. Squeeze the shutter release and try to stay still until a full second after the click. (It really won't take this long, but this routine of holding after the click will save you from getting into the nasty habit some people develop of pressing the shutter and immediately moving the camera. Their all too frequent result: blurred or out of focus pix.)

If you find yourself physically wobbling or wandering off the subject during the delay, try bracing your elbows against your chest, frame the scene, and then hold your breath for the brief shutter period needed. With practice, you will get better at this -- until you can freeze still during the whole process without even thinking.

The digital camera's longer shutter delay is caused during the cumulative time the camera takes to calculate the light levels, focus the lens, and then execute the picture. You can considerably reduce the delay by learning to frame your picture, then press the shutter part-way so the light level and focussing gets done and locked (for as long as you care to hold at this point); then pressing the shutter the rest of the way takes the picture more nearly instantly.

[Briefly way-off topic. This same part-way-shutter-hold tip is handy if the subject is moving. Point at something else which is in the same lighting and at the same distance and squeeze the shutter release button to the part-way point to hold the settings. Now point at the moving subject and squeeze the rest of the way. If the subject is moving really fast, like a train, you prefocus and part-lock the shutter on something near the track before the train gets close; when the train is near the point where you want to take the picture, you swing the camera view along with the train as you squeeze the rest of the way, and follow through with your swing. The train will be pretty sharp and the ground will now be blurred.]

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Okay, let's get back on topic to practicing our skills at capturing still objects, using the camera's default automatic settings, and as seen through the viewfinder. We'll take some photos of any immobile subject in the kitchen: saucepan, toaster, Winchester, Cold Steel Tanto, beer keg, brother-in-law, etc. (No one else has to know what You really keep in Your kitchen.) Just have fun.

DSLRs show a correct view through their viewfinder of what they are actually filming. Some other digital camera viewfinders are off center and the picture actually taken might not be what you expected. Learn how much you have to compensate left or right to get a full picture using the viewfinder when the subject is near the camera. As you get further from the subject, the viewfinder view captures a picture framed closer to what you think you are taking.

Now take some of the same pictures using the large LCD screen which usually shows more closely what the final picture captures.

If framing a scene, and capturing exactly as much you need is critical, you will someday appreciate this practice when an important picture opportunity arises and there are only a few seconds to shoot.

Now go outside and take a bunch of similar pictures of immobile objects like Chevy bow-tie, flower pot, empty beer bottles, other brother-in-law, etc. Using viewfinder, and then using LCD screen. Still not sure exactly how much left or right offset is necessary at different distances? Practice till you know for sure.

If you are wearing a hat with a brim, or hold the camera with your fingers too far in front of the camera, you will be amazed at how much of the scene is blocked in the final picture. Remember that on anything but a DSLR the lens sees much more than you see through the viewfinder, and even a bit more than you see if using the LCD screen for taking the picture. Learn to prop your hat brim up, or turn it around (briefly), and keep all your fingers in close to the camera and away from the lens.

After any picture, check the result in the LCD screen. If not right, take another until it is right. (Now you can really appreciate why a good LCD screen clearly visible in bright exterior light was so important in our choice of camera to purchase.)

And all that practice didn't take a penny in cost. Hey this IS fun.

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Take Pictures in Your Workshop (or Studio)

(information here works fine for pix of other crafts or hobbies)

Let's take some pictures of that neat tool or project that the guys (and gals) in the internet group wanted to see.

For safety's sake, have ALL machine tools off and unplugged during this whole photo session. Machining is difficult and dangerous enough without adding camera stuff and distractions to the mix.

Clear the area around the subject of extraneous items that are not part of the photo story. And besides, we are going to pretend that your shop is less cluttered and curly-chip-buried than the reality. (You never believed any of the other folks' pix of pristine shops where there were horizontal surfaces not covered in junk. They won't believe your workshop neatness either; but let's not give them proof!)

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Isolate the Subject Visually

One good tip is to pin/clamp/block-up a dull, monotone sheet of thin craft paper, or card stock or posterboard just behind the subject; if possible, it should also curl under the subject to provide a new, perfect background. It will also help to illuminate the back of the subject with soft reflected light. A light grey will work best to not affect exposure, but is inappropriate if the machine or subject is too close in colour to the background.

Experiment with different colours. Light to medium green works fine with grey machines or bare metal subjects. Light to medium blue works fine with green machines. Keep sheets of various colours from a stationery store on hand and pick the best one for your subject today.

You can also get short lengths of felt material in different colours from a fabric store; they drape nicely and make great backgounds for craft projects or fine tools or whatever.

Another way to isolate the subject is to place the background deliberately out of focus. This is easily done even with default camera settings just by placing the camera further away and using optical zoom magnification. Zoom settings have less depth of focus, so that only the subject is really clear. But this can be overdone if the subject is big enough to have some of its parts out of focus. Since this is a digital camera, where we see the results right away, we can soon change our setup to get perfect results at no cost other than time. And we are gaining valuable experience that will save time in the long run on other photo projects.

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How To Get Close to Your Subject

Shots of really small objects or details come out best if you first do everything practicable to get the lens close to the subject so that it fills the camera view and is still in focus. Here you must frame the shot using the LCD screen.

See the camera manual for how close the camera can physically be to an object and still focus itself. You can also try a little closer. Just be cautious to turn on the camera first and let its lens extend before moving it within a few inches of anything you don't want to puncture the lens.

It may have a macro range, which in some models is still too far away to fill the frame with tiny stuff.

Some cameras do not have a macro setting but you may be able to approximate a macro-like picture's close-up by getting the camera as close as it can focus while using the optical zoom.

The fancier more expen$ive cameras may have auxiliary close-up lenses; now we must be cleverer than that for our simple, dirt-cheap purpose here.

I have an old cheap close-up lens (just a one-lens magnifying glass with a friction-fit aluminium frame) that fit a Kodak box camera from the 1950's. Held close in front of a small digital lens, it works surprisingly well to increase the image size and get my first basic digital camera in closer. The autofocus still works just fine. (And if it did not work, I would try setting the distance manually, if this manual focus feature were available on the particular camera.)

By logical conclusion, a reading magnifier glass held still between lens and subject should work pretty good. By golly it does. Yes there is a bit more distortion than using Brand X's super lens, but it sure is good enough for our subject and Web information needs here.

And if all that doesn't work to your satisfaction, just increase the camera's resolution from the default lower one we mostly use. The object won't be any closer to the camera, but in our photo manipulation software we will severely crop the image leaving the critical bit to fill the new picture. We then prepare and shrink the image's file to an acceptable file size in the usual way.

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Lighting Tips

Chances are your shop lighting is fairly okay or you are already missing body parts. Now there's a flash in the camera which automatically fires during most default camera settings when light is limited, and this should be good enough, right? Wrong, it MAY work okay but you will only know by trying. If the flash washes out detail as it reflects off our bright metal stuff, then the built in flash should be turned off and the camera set to Available-light/No-Flash. I told you the manual would be useful.

Place one or two portable lights with regular light bulbs a couple of feet from the subject, but off to the side and behind the camera. This should give perfectly adequate illumination for our subject, especially if the subject is backed by the posterboard a few paragraphs back. Experiment. And take notes as to what works.

If you are going to take these workshop (or auction) pictures regularly, you might want to use a 3 light setup. The classic setup uses a light on a stand to either side of the camera and slightly behind it. Each light points at the subject and is far enough to the side so that it needs to be angled inwards roughly 45 degrees to shine directly at the subject. The third light is above the subject and slightly past it and pointing down. The position of this light (and the others if necessary) can be altered to eliminate shadows or glare/shiny reflections where such is a problem or objectionable to the detail you want to capture. Sometimes you want a particular shadow effect to bring out surface detail on your subject. Adjust to suit your needs, and take notes!

If the lights used give the picture a slightly different colour tone from reality, that won't matter for our purpose here. You could buy special photostudio bulbs; for our limited use, that is overkill. If your camera has a white-balance feature, it can be set to correct for the type of light you are using. (For example, it makes whites white and removes the blue tint given by fluorescent lights.) Some higher end cameras may even have automatic white-balance. If the final photo's colour tone bothers you, just use your photo manipulation software to make the tone more natural. Actually really easy to do.

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Support or Steady the Camera

The camera can be handheld but the clearest, most reliable photos will come from using a tripod in these carefully set up, almost photostudio situations. It does not have to be expensive but it should be sturdy and stable. Your new digital camera will not like a flimsy tripod falling over any more than your old film camera did.

Most tripod designs have extendible legs that lock at various heights. It is important that you obtain most of the height adjustment with the legs and not the central rod/stem (whatever you want to call it) that is directly screwed to the camera. If this rod is adjusted very far up from the tripod central structure, it may wobble. Normally it is the least stable part of a tripod's design, so keep it and the camera close to the main tripod junction.

An old trick to add mass to a tripod is to tie a cord to the underside of the tripod leg junction so that the cord is central, hanging down between the legs. Tie a mesh bag to the cord and fill it with weights obtained near the photo shoot (so you don't have to carry them with you all the time). On outdoor shoots, use rocks to stabilize against wind shake. At home use cans of pop, tools, whatever. Beer cans do not work well here as they tend to be(come) weightless.

In the old film days, these tripod shots were made even more steady by tripping the shutter with a flexible cable release that screwed into the shutter release button. Took human shake out of the situation.

Some digital cameras now can be connected to a fairly inexpensive electronic cable to trip the shutter remotely and thus eliminate shake. For not too many dollars more, you can plug a small electronic receiver into the camera that will trip the shutter when it receives a radio signal from a tiny hand-held transmitter. (That radio device can work well with wildlife as you can set the camera on a tripod fairly close to say a bird feeder, go and hide, and remotely trigger the shutter when a good subject arrives.)

Since some digital cameras (at least the kind we can easily afford) have no such option, we go to Plan B. When everything is perfectly set up, use the timer to trigger the camera with no shake. (Yes that feature is in the camera manual. Read it now; I'll wait.) Ah, you're back, and it turns out that your camera was obtained with corn flake boxtops and has no timer. Go to Plan C, where we still use the tripod and take the shot by carefully part-pressing the shutter, holding, stop breathing and freeze, then gently squeeze and follow through. (In this last case you probably have no cats left in your neighbourhood, but more tools than anyone in the group.)

Actually we always take several shots and from several angles just to make sure we get some good ones, and have the luxury to choose the best. There is no cost in taking many photos and selecting few.

Yay digital.

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Preparing Digital Photos for the Web or Newsgroups

Note: You will read elsewhere that every time you edit and then save a JPEG (extension .jpg) file, it loses a bit more clarity. Best final picture clarity happens if you do all the editing steps first, and only then save the file. That way there is only one tiny loss of clarity.

But if you prefer to edit and save at a few stages here, the total loss of clarity should be acceptable. (We are not making a fine portrait quality photo here with huge file size.)

Our goal here is to obtain a picture suitable for posting on the web. We want it to emphasize the subject and be of enough quality for its intended purpose -- perhaps show a close-up of a tool or project or an item for sale.

Now that you have a number of pictures of the subject, you transfer them to your computer and select the best for the purpose at hand.

If the purpose is to post a picture to a Web forum or group, say at Yahoo, you know the preference is for a full-size dimension on screen of 800 by 600 pixels or smaller, and of an appropriately small file size.

Keep the original and make a copy with a different name. If the original is named "Toolholder 27", then the copy can be simply "Toolholder 27A" or whatever terminology you want to standardize for your own use. Sometimes more description is better. I like to spell out the stage of the work and add the date of the new copy to the title as in "Toolholder 27A 06Jun2014".

If at any point you mess up a copy, you always have the original to copy again and start over.

If you want to save the file after a stage when you did a lot of new work on it, give it a new/amended name. Now you have several versions of the same file at different stages of work. If you ever get messed up during a later stage, you have the option of starting again at different points just by selecting an earlier file version.

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Shrinking the Digital Copy's File Size

Chances are you can use the software program that came with your camera (or perhaps the software that came with a scanner) to do what is necessary. If not, consider a new photo manipulation program as discussed later here. Take notes as to what you did and how things turned out. Next time will be much easier.

The first task is to fix any obvious problems on the working copy (not the original file).

The steps outlined here use terminology for the menus provided in the program Photoshop Elements, but the same steps can be carried out in another program. After cropping the picture to improve composition, these simple steps under the Enhance Menu are usually sufficient to markedly improve most photos destined for a website or email or Facebook:
-- an Auto Smart Fix (which tries to fix several things and is usually a quick start point for me);
-- Adjust Lighting -- Shadows/Highlights (which works much better than messing with brightness or contrast) to lighten the shadows and back off the bright areas like you find on presentation screens or near windows;
-- Adjust Color -- Remove Color Cast, which allows you to click the eyedropper on something that should be white or black or grey to correct the color (such as clicking on a piece of white paper or white shirt);
-- and finally, as in every picture being processed, end with a sharpening (mostly I use Auto Sharpen as little is normally needed, but I could have played with some other sharpening procedures).

Of course there are some pictures that might warrant special additional touches, such as using red eye removal if flash was used, or perhaps removing shine from a balding head, or slightly slimming a protruding gut, etc. We do not wish to upset [most] people ;-)

Then use the Save For Web menu command to bring up a dialog box that allows you to choose the on-screen picture dimensions, which can be 800 by 600 pixels or smaller, and adjust the JPEG quality setting until the file size is appropriate.

For the websites where I use a lot of photos, I try to keep them mostly in the 70 to 100 KB range of sizes, so they look good on screen but load quickly when the 2 KB thumbnail image is clicked by a visitor.

During the file-save-for-web process, the software should allow you to choose the compression/quality setting for the shrunken file. The terminology used by many programs is different, but most show you how big the final file will be as you toggle through the alternative shrinkings.

A file size about 60 to 70 KB should be practicable and still give a good picture for our purpose here. If you go too far, so that the small file has lost critical detail, return to an earlier editing point (if the software will let you step backwards), or start over on a fresh copy of the original or an earlier saved stage. This will only take a few minutes or less if you kept notes as to what you did earlier.

Most times adjusting, cropping, then shrinking picture dimensions, and then compression of file size should reduce the file acceptably.

If not there yet, possibly the camera used a default very high colour range setting that, while nice for portrait skin tones, is not necessary for the simple picture needed here. Try reducing the file's colour range to 256 different colours (8-bit), which gives a much smaller file size.

Take notes as to what worked, or did not work, for next time. Now you have your personal checklist of steps that work quickly and well with your software. Saves headaches and increases time left for real fun.

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Give Viewers a Choice of Digital Photos

Now if your purpose was to produce simple project pictures for your own website, most of the above techniques will serve you just fine. And on your own site you can make some exceptions and use a larger picture where appropriate.

If there are a lot of pictures on one page, have the decency to place tiny thumbnail versions on the page instead. A small thumbnail typically is only 2 or 3 KB and is just big enough to show the content -- perhaps 72 pixels high. Beside each thumbnail image, write the subject content and the size of the bigger file so people will know what to expect for time needed to download the larger picture, letting them consider their own speed of computer and connection.

Giving them the choice as to which, if any, of the images to view in a larger size is common courtesy and makes a happy viewer who will come back again and recommend your site to friends and Web user groups.

Your photo or webpage creation software will take care of making small thumbnail versions, that you then link to the larger files stowed elsewhere on the site.

Please read the manuals for the software concerned until this all makes sense, and then experiment. You only really learn something by practicing it.

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Website Bandwidth -- A Few Quick Words

Bandwidth for a website (typically measured monthly) is the site's total amount of megabytes in the files viewed or downloaded by visitors. Smaller pictures on the site will reduce the bandwidth significantly, and hence reduce the costs to keep the site in operation.

If you are looking to start a website, and are comparing sales packages of web hosting services, carefully examine the features of each web package. Usually the inexpensive packages have lots of storage space for your files, so you might think the cheapest one is plenty big enough for your site's needs. Caution. Make sure the monthly bandwidth is big enough. If your site has lots of big files and becomes popular, bandwidth use will explode and excess bandwidth charges will be billed to you. It is usually cheaper to get a package with more bandwidth included.

Until you get up and running for a while, you are only guessing as to your actual needs. Many service providers will at any time during a contract period allow you the opportunity to upgrade your package if you need more space and bandwidth and special features (or downgrade your package if you need less).

And don't be fooled by the "unlimited bandwidth" advertised by some providers. Likely somewhere in the fine print it says they can charge extra for "unusually high useage" or cut off your service when their unstated limits are reached. You then probably would be invited to buy a bigger package.

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About Different File Formats for Pictures -- JPEG, RAW, Others

(An expanded note about photo file formats and file editing quality concerns.)

JPEG or JPG Files. Chances are the files you have been working with are JPEG (extension .jpg) as they came out of the camera. For the purpose of producing quickly edited Web postings, saving and resaving a few copies will not be detrimental to the relatively low quality and resolution needed for the on screen final picture.

The photo manipulation software and books will point out the danger of loss of detail if you repeatedly save JPEG files while working on them. JPEG is a form of file compression that loses cumulative detail with every save. When your objective is to produce a high resolution, high quality print or file, then such cumulative losses may be intolerable.

The alternative strategy is to save your first working copy of the original JPEG camera file in a TIFF or PSD format that introduces no loss of detail. Typically you can then manipulate the file, and save all the interim versions you want (or have the space for, because these can be very large files), without any compression loss whatsoever.

Only when you want to produce the final file do you save it as a JPEG version, and at that moment introduce only one small and relatively insignificant loss.

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RAW Files. Every digital camera actually takes pictures in an initial RAW, unprocessed, state. Most cameras then automatically process the original RAW data with their built-in software (actually called firmware) and save the image to the camera memory card as a compressed JPEG file; in these cases the camera user has no access to the much larger RAW data and there never was the possibility of keeping the RAW data in a saved RAW file.

Higher end digital cameras have the option of shooting (and saving) the picture in a RAW version that is very close to the original RAW data (the camera may do some very minor compression, but no essential data is lost). Some cameras have the additional option to save the picture in both RAW and JPEG format at the same time. You can imagine how quickly that will fill a small memory card.

The RAW version as saved by the camera may have a different file ending depending upon the camera brand, or it may have the same file ending within one brand, but there will be minor differences on the structure of the RAW file depending on the particular camera model. (That sounds a bit confusing, but we can deal with RAW file differences later when using photo software.)

The RAW file is much bigger, probably double the memory size of the highest quality JPEG version produced in the same camera. But there are advantages. RAW files can provide exactly what the camera saw, with no losses or distortion by the camera's built in manipulation and compression formula to turn out a JPEG. Consequently computer photo manipulation software can achieve finer results by working on the original details in the RAW file before converting the file to another format. In looking at a final low resolution printed copy for say a 6" by 4" snapshot, there may not seem to be much visual difference; but in a much larger print (say for a magazine or portrait or poster) the quality difference in the final result can be very obvious indeed.

In a camera that can output both RAW and large JPEG files, the RAW file will have much more exposure latitude during processing. For example, both files may be seriously over-exposed in the sky portion of the image so that portions of the sky look white on the computer screen. There is a much better chance of recovering greater sky detail in the RAW version, which actually still contains more data about the original sky details.

When a RAW file is processed in your software, the original RAW file remains intact. Processing changes done to the RAW data are saved in an auxiliary file (sometimes referred to as a sidecar file) with an XMP file type. When changes are made to a DNG version of the RAW data (we'll talk more about DNG files shortly) the adjustments are saved in the same DNG file.

"My photo software says it can process RAW files. Why won't it work on the RAW files from my new camera?" Actually there are hundreds of different RAW formats -- different RAW file types from different camera brands, and even many different RAW versions from different cameras within one brand. I won't go into the reasons for this nasty fact, suffice to say that non-standardization among RAW versions exists. So let's deal with it.

Solution 1 -- Update Your Software. The newest versions of programs like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements include a module with the latest version of Adobe Camera RAW (aka ACR), which can recognize most (I cannot say all, for a fact) camera models and the particular RAW format they created. But if you have an older version of these Adobe programs and a recent new camera, Adobe won't let you update those programs with the latest version of ACR. ACR latest updates are limited to only the current Photoshop programs on sale now. [Why would be pure speculation, but forcing folks with new cameras to spend more money to update their main software is a happy coincidence.]

Solution 2 -- Download Adobe DNG Converter. Adobe provides a free current utility that allows you to convert your camera's particular RAW format to the generic DNG Digital Negative format. No original picture data of consequence is lost (it is generally acknowledged that working on converted-to-DNG vice the original RAW provides identical quality). This is an extra step to process a RAW file, but the DNG standard version of a RAW file can now be processed in older Photoshops (back to CS) and Photoshop Elements versions starting with 3, as well as most other photo software.

Solution 3 -- The New Camera's Included Software. A company that produces a camera with a RAW output normally includes software that can work with it. In the case of Canon high end digital cameras, for example, they include a program called Digital Photo Professional that will recognize and process their particular RAW files. An added bonus is that their software recognizes their cameras and Canon lenses and some third party lenses, and can have built in corrections for known imperfections of those particular lenses. In the case of Canon, they also include a program called ZoomBrowser which can view, edit, organize and print JPEG images. It can also play and edit movie MOV files and movie snapshot albums, and extract still pix from such movies.

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Photo Manipulation Software

Your scanner and/or camera probably came with some basic or even advanced photo manipulation software that will suit the most common needs of improving less than perfect original images.

Sometimes the easiest way to get a better picture is to simply retake the scan or photo. Kinda hard when the photo was from your holidays, or the scan was of a page you borrowed and returned.

So let's fix the picture, or at least make it much better.

The fact of life with photo manipulation software is that you often get what you pay for, which can take a lot of dough. And sometimes even then the product can be heavily featured but sadly lacking in ease of use or friendly, complete help.

And today, virtually no software comes with a printed manual. Obviously it is far easier to use a paper version of help while working on-screen with the photo. Here are three options, and doing all three is the best choice.
-- Print a copy of the help file, which is usually in PDF file format and prints easily.
-- Print a copy of useful how-to information and tutorials you find on the web and organize them in a 3-ring binder.
-- Then go to the bookstore and shop for a good book on your program. Compare their instructions on a common problem or procedure and see which one you like best.

I have used the most expensive high-priced illustration and photo software from several companies since 1988, and I now have a very critical opinion of some of the bigger and more/most expensive ones. Bloated, non-intuitive, and downright unfriendly to anyone who does not have the time, or commercial need, to master them.

Here is a simple opinion and suggestion that you can take, or reject if you do not have another program already.

Buy the relatively inexpensive Adobe Photoshop Elements in whatever version exists. (Version 14 came out in late 2015.)

It has a really good included help file. It has a lot of inexpensive (relative to other computer software) third-party-how-to books that have tricks to emulate its high-priced sibling even closer. There are scads of websites offering free tips and tutorials and tools like Adobe Actions (macros) to use with Photoshop and most work just fine in Photoshop Elements. Usually the only difference in a tip recipe is that a step that uses a Photoshop keyboard command has to be performed in Elements by mouse-selecting an item from a menu.

Don't get me wrong, if you really need a photo program for your technical job and time is money, then the full-blown Photoshop is likely the best way to go. For most of us hobbyists, Elements is very much more than adequate.

Elements' Hidden Features. An interesting fact is that Elements contains a lot of hidden computer program code inherited from its Photoshop bigger sibling. In other words, it contains a lot of hidden functions that you cannot access from the standard Elements menus. Aha, but one smart fellow has come up with a way to add more than 100 Photoshop functions to Elements with an add-in software product. The question you must frankly ask yourself here is whether you want the relatively simple but effective Elements as is, or want to complicate your life with more Photoshop functions? As always, I have no connection to any product here except sometimes as a customer. At last look $12.00 U.S. will buy this software from:

Those of you using and happy with other programs are certainly entitled to your opinion, and I am not going to debate this issue. You are welcome to put your money elsewhere, just do your research first. Personally I have a soft spot for companies (with good programs) that give upgrades either for free, or for a significant discount, to their registered customers that already paid for the earlier version of their program. Those companies are getting rarer nowadays, but some still exist. You can make that issue part of your shopping research.

Some alternatives to Elements include (in order of decreasing cost, but not necessarily power):

Corel's Photo-Paint (okay if you got it as part of a package deal with CorelDraw, but I would not buy it alone as it is relatively unintuitive to use);

Corel's Paint Shop Pro which is about as easy and quick to use as Elements and has a lot of user support information available on the web; I have a recent version which was on significant sale and included some filter features unavailable elsewhere. Do you need it? Do some research.

Media Chance's inexpensive but powerful Photo-Brush.

Free Software? Some of the best free software comes with the new camera, as was discussed above when talking about RAW files and Canon cameras. (Canon's Digital Photo Professional handles their RAW files and ZoomBrowser handles their JPEG and video files and both programs are excellent.) Yes there are some other free competent programs out there on the web, but some caution is also necessary. Before downloading or using such a program, check the web for users' experiences and opinions, and see whether the program's features and ease of use are likely to meet your particular needs.

One of our readers has strongly recommended GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program available free on the net. It is powerful and capable, with its various plug-ins and extensions, and is regularly updated by its contributors.

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Photoshop Elements Books and Resources

Here is a really excellent magazine that over a few issues will teach you more than any one book. The British magazine Digital Camera (called Digital Camera World outside the U.K.) is published 13 times a year; it used to be quite expensive at around $14.00 an issue, but recently was reduced to $8.95 on Canadian newsstands. Lots of photography and computer program how-to articles and tips. Each issue comes with a CD and approximately 8 video lessons for better picture taking and effectively using Elements and/or Photoshop, plus one or two equipment reviews. A lesson for either program can usually be replicated easily in the other by using a slightly different menu selection or workaround. Invaluable to improving your abilities with camera and software. And they have introduced an electronic download version of the magazine on Apple Newsstand for folks with iPads or iPhones. For print magazine subscription information see http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/photography/digital-camera-magazine-subscription/

If you have a Canon digital SLR, the publisher of the magazine above has an excellent book called "The Complete Canon SLR Handbook" that will teach you much more, and much better, about how to use it effectively than the manual from Canon. Incredibly thorough and useful, it also includes a CD with video lessons. As a longtime film SLR user and other digital camera user, I was amazed at just how much stuff I did not know about digital photography until reading this book and the magazine mentioned above. The biggest challenge is remembering all these new tips; take good notes as a reminder.

Digital cameras on automatic settings can be as easy to use as an old film snapshot camera, but digital SLRs can be far more difficult to use than film SLRs when you get into custom settings. Reading good how-to resources, and practicing, and then practicing some more, will quickly get you onto the right track for improvement and superior pictures.

The Visual Quickstart Guide series always has an excellent Elements book at a reasonable price. I would define reasonable as about $35 when dealing with specialty photography books. [Get used to the idea that you will probably buy 2 or 3 books which cost almost as much as an upgrade. The reference books with their tips and tricks make a competent program like Elements into a power-user's program, at far less total cost.]

Dave Huss, who wrote a great scanner book, also wrote a basic book for increasing the utility and fun of the early versions of Photoshop Elements. He also has a website with a routinely updated selection of his own photography showing what can be achieved using photo manipulation for artistic effect. You will definitely enjoy a visit to www.davehuss.com

Scott Kelby has written my favourite, "the photoshop elements book for digital photographers" (New Riders Publishing). He is also an expert on Photoshop, and shows some workarounds to get many of the same effects in Elements even if the feature is not present as a menu item. Fabulous, and very useful.

And if you do buy Photoshop Elements, see the hundreds of tools and tutorials invented by Photoshop artists that are shared on Adobe's website: http://share.studio.adobe.com/

Many of these add-in freebies work just fine with Elements and some other photo programs. Photoshop Actions there are macros specific to the Photoshop program but they now also work in Elements, starting with Version 7.

And if you really want to see the power of photo software, before and after shots of attractive fashion models made beautiful are featured at Shan Canfield's site Shanzcan at: http://www.shanzcan.com/photoshopahol.html
under the menu item "photo retouch gallery". Most of her step-by-step tutorials for Photoshop are fairly easily duplicated in Elements Two or newer if you take it slowly and do exactly what she says, allowing for the program command differences. In Elements the equivalent command, but perhaps with a different shortcut or name, may be in an Elements menu. So experiment and have fun; the worst that can happen is that you get more familiar with your own software. [I am assuming you kept the original photo somewhere safe, and are now working and practicing on a copy.]

As of late 2015, a few Elements 14 books have appeared, and more will. (But earlier books still contain most of the how-to information you really need.) Elements users will find loads of truly helpful discussions and solutions at:

Okay, we got way off our workshop subject here, but the simple truth is that your digital camera is going to take lots of people and event and vacation shots. Now you also know that near miracles can be achieved using fairly simple techniques in good photo manipulation programs when an irreplaceable photo needs repair or improvement.

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Elements 14 Is Here -- Do You Need to Upgrade?

In the fall of 2015, Adobe released Elements 14 [they release a new version every year in time for the holidays -- coincidence? -- not likely].

Situations FOR NOT Upgrading. By now you have learned how to use the program, and may have added some free plug-ins or learned techniques or bought books to empower the basic program. Chances are you have another program to organize photos, or you are happy with Element's ability to make folders and move/copy/edit/rename photos and its Organizer is incredibly powerful (you could spend or waste a lot of time with it). Or you may be perfectly happy using Microsoft's Windows Explorer and its folder and file functions accessed through the My Computer menu [we mean Microsoft's file manager Explorer, not to be confused with their Internet Explorer Web program]. Under XP, Windows Explorer has a very handy view-thumbnails mode that can be used easily to reorganize, rename, etc. all your photos. Elements versions 3 through 14 have a built-in photo album Organizer. This powerful Organizer works best if you spend a few minutes with it whenever you bring new pix into your computer; if you get too far behind, organizing the Organizer could become onerous.

Situations FOR Upgrading.If you already have any early version of Elements up to and including 7, I would opine that the upgrade to 14 is very worthwhile (but do note that the latest versions (13 and 14) do not support Windows XP, in which case use an earlier version). The optional package deal with Adobe Premier Elements is also very inexpensive to add movie editing (and movie and still pictures combined in videos with all sorts of special effects) to your toolkit. The newer digital still cameras can now take excellent full motion videos including high definition for television viewing, in various formats including wide screen 16 X 9.

If You Upgrade. Don't remove the earlier version, if it works with your current computer, as it might be quicker and easier to use for small, simple jobs; you are already familiar and comfortable with it. But do practice with the new version and write notes to yourself about how you did anything unusual or neat that worked, or didn't. Soon you will become comfortable with its new menus and features and find you are automatically choosing to use it for jobs big or small.

The desire to upgrade software every time a company announces a newer version is a human frailty that manufacturers prey on. My 30+ years' experience with software is that most upgrades are not cost effective (do not give enough new bang for the buck). You will save money and not be significantly disadvantaged if you lock your wallet and wait for at least two upgrades from your current version before buying again, if even then. For the Elements program, registered users of earlier versions usually get a small discount when upgrading, but still likely pay about a hundred bucks with tax on each upgrade. If you bought the original Elements 1, and upgraded each time, you now have about $1400 with tax invested in a $100 program. [Yikes!]

Confession Number 1. In 2009 Adobe sent me a price discount offer for Elements 7, and I bought this upgrade. I already had Elements 2, with which I had been extremely happy for many years. But after five upgrades, I thought it was time. In truth the 7 version has much more stuff than my old version. But the cost of using any program upgrade is more than money. They changed the look and menus and functions enough that it sometimes took a while to figure out how to do what I used to do easily. But after using it regularly, I now like the new version.

Confession Number 2. In very late 2011 I acquired a digital SLR camera. The new camera has 18 megapixels when shooting in RAW mode, and my Elements version 7 cannot recognize the camera's raw format to process these photos without a long roundabout step. So I bought Elements 10, that does know about my camera and can recognize and work directly with its particular RAW files. A slightly more expensive package deal included Adobe Premiere Elements 10 which does a fine job of editing video movie files that can be taken in high definition with that same new camera. More about RAW files and their special needs were discussed earlier in this article. See About Different File Formats for Pictures -- JPEG, RAW, Others

If you do not yet have a competent photo manipulation program that you like, then Elements 14 (or up to 12 for XP users) is a very reasonable choice.

I should also note that very recent (but never the latest) versions of Elements are frequently packaged for free with Wacom's digital tablets. And despite being pricey, you will have your photo manipulation and digital art supercharged if you use one of these marvellous tablets. The Intuos Pro versions detect more than 2000 pressure levels of the stylus as you draw, and detect the angle and rotation of the stylus. If you are pretending to use say a digital pencil, the tablet knows if you are drawing with the "lead" perpendicular for a fine line, of varying thickness depending on how hard you press, or on its side for broad shading. Like magic. If you decide to get one, do read all the reviews online, especially the user reviews. And the biggest and most expensive versions are not needed except perhaps by illustration professionals, so save quite a few bucks. In fact some illustrators and you might do very well with the smallest version, which is surprisingly large in size and bulk. The medium size is physically the size of many laptop computers.

Naturally everyone who wrote a book to help Elements 2 through 13 users will update it to an Elements 14 version. Many of these books are not worth buying if you have a fairly recent version. Most of the contents are a rehash of the earlier book, with new photos to make it look completely different. If you are comparing such books, check the Table of Contents to see how many truly new tricks or features are included.

And most of the tricks in the later books will work fine with earlier versions of Elements, or other photo programs. The ones that do not work with your software (because you do not have a new feature available only from the upgrade) can often be accomplished via a work-around. Many new features are one-step shortcuts that can be achieved with other software in a few manual steps. Experiment. Your current program can do a lot more than you (or most magazine reviewers) think.

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Other File Formats Needed for the Web

Okay bear with me for a few more minutes as there is more good info ahead.

You can see the power of the simple text file to share written information in a very compact format by looking at the various text files on this site. If they had been in a bloated format so that website addresses could be launched by clicking within the file and had more formatting features, the files could be double or triple in size. Not a good trade-off for a private, non-commercial site with limited space.

[More complex formatting would also have increased time needed for my daily chores after reading 100+ messages from several groups; and then selecting, editing, compacting, and simplifying messages for my files. The original messages are in a wide variety of layout; some need a lot of hand tweaking as it is. Have to save some time for family, work, metalworking, other hobbies, and fun.]

Similarly when you have written information to share in the files section of one of our metal groups, no matter what program you use to write the file originally, have the courtesy to save it in a plain text version for sharing. Then anyone with any computer and any browser and any software can open, read, and save it. They can also copy the text and insert it into their own reference files -- combining, shortening, editing, using smaller type, printing multi-pages on one sheet of paper, etc.

If you do not yet have a simple, friendly program for writing new text files, or editing text files downloaded from the Internet, you won't go far wrong with many of the free text editing programs out there. My favorite, as mentioned on the home page here, is NoteTab Light. I used it to make this web page, and dozens more on my various websites. This is a freeware program available from Fookes Software at http://www.notetab.com Usual disclaimer, just a happy user.

There is a tendency for many people who personally own Adobe Acrobat (the commercial, paid PDF creation software), or have a copy at the office, to overuse this program and create PDF files when a text file is smaller and much more considerate to others. Yes everyone can download the free Acrobat Reader and read the files, but they are big and bloated for simple text content. And they cannot be edited by your average Web user, unless he too has the paid version and the originator allowed in the file properties for others to edit it.

Now there are times when the use of PDF files is socially acceptable here. A PDF file is a good choice when one of us is scanning an old brochure or old tool manual long out of print. It typically contains text, photos, diagrams, and exploded views or drawings. Today's scanners can save such a complex, multi-page document in a single PDF file that is efficient and relatively small for what it contains. Then a PDF file provides a real service to others needing help with the same old/obsolete machinery or other subject.

Just remember to respect copyright laws.

A Free Program To Make PDF Files, For The Rest Of Us. Being frugal (not cheap), I have a lot of good but older computer programs that cannot create PDF files. Recently I researched free PDF creation software and found a very capable utility program called doPDF. It is small in size and gets installed as a printer choice. No matter what computer program you are using, simply select Print and then choose the doPDF printer. The result is a PDF file saved to the directory of your choice on your machine. Now you can email the file or use it on your website or whatever. Usual disclaimer -- I just really like it. You can find it on the Web at http://www.dopdf.com/

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Printing All Your Photos at Home? Not Me

You might have noticed earlier that I did not go into the topic of printing photos at home. My personal experience is that colour printers are a waste of money. Yes they have come down from the over $3000 I nearly spent once on an early inkjet; fortunately I tested the output and the pix faded badly when exposed to bright light, so I did not buy that clunker. Later, prices came down and I used many models at work. Their pictures still faded badly. The ink cartridges clogged and wasted lots of ink being cleared, if they did not fail completely, long before empty.

Now they nearly give printers away but you will have to cut back on food if you buy a lot of cartridges and special paper. (Yes paper and inks have improved, but their prices have soared. Archival photo inks and top quality, acid-free, specially coated photo papers are justifiably more expensive than bargain stuff.)

Phooey. I have mine printed at professional photography stores using the same machines that do the high quality film-generated photos. Saves me a great deal of time and money, especially for pix in bulk.

Note, I did not say just any old photo place -- such as the sideline operations found in corner stores. Use a photo store or lab that also does high quality prints from film -- the kind of place local professional photographers and keen amateurs frequent. The print may cost a bit more than a corner store version, but will be worth the difference if it lasts many years longer without fading.

TEST. If in doubt as to which store/lab makes a better product, choose a typical photo (it should also have some prominent red object in it, because red tends to fade more than other colours) and order two copies of the sample print from each store. Lightly pencil the store identity on the back of its prints. Then shuffle the prints face up (one from each store) so you don't know which is which, and compare them. Place them in winning order, and then turn them over and record the source stores' order of finish.

Take one picture from each store and put it in a safe dark dry place for the duration of the testing; that way you have an original copy for later comparison.

Next take one picture from each store and tape to a south facing (or sunny) window, photo-side facing outside. After a couple of weeks, compare them for fading and note the order of best to worst. (If there is no difference, you can expose for another two weeks. If there is still no noticeable fading, the print will last for a lot of years -- possibly more years than you -- in its nice, safe, dark, acid-free album or photobox.)

Now you have a unbiased pecking order as to which stores produced the best looking prints, and which stores made the most permanent prints. Hopefully one store comes out tops in both categories.

"But," you ask, "doesn't that take away your control over the quality of the final output?" Not really.

If you want absolutely complete control of the final product, then sure, manipulate the image in a photo program until it satisfies you and do your own printing with a very good (not bargain) model printer, with archival inks onto top quality photo paper designed to work with your printer. Work away to your heart's content producing beautiful portraits or prints of special occasions. Special pictures, special handling. (And you might want to evaluate your printing results against the store prints from the earlier test. No cheating, print the exact same files. Hopefully yours are best and least faded.)

But when you want to have prints of the 200 plus pictures you took on your recent vacation, the time and expense of doing all that printing at home can be excessive. You can still have quality control of the photos and get them printed inexpensively by a good photography store.

Make a new working file folder on your hard drive and paste COPIES! there of all the photo files you want to print. (Just in case you change your mind as to which ones are worth printing, bring over working copies of every one of the say, vacation files. You can always eliminate unwanted ones later during your final decision as to which get printed.)

Use your photo program to examine and enhance and crop the working copies until you are satisfied. No loss of quality control there. Now make your final selection for printing and put those files onto a media type (memory card or CD or ...) that can be read at the photography store (ask first which media they can use). Sometimes you can send the photos electronically, but if you don't have high speed Internet, or have more than a few photos, it is usually easier to deliver the files in person or by mail.

Crop Warning Warning Warning! And no we're not talking about an impending agricultural calamity. Most of the digital cameras sold today take pictures with an aspect ratio (relative proportions of the width to height) of 4 wide by 3 high. Great, for web use that easily shrinks a picture to 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels high, or 800 by 600. Your overpowered recent multi-megapixels camera probably takes pix at something like 3264 X 2448 or 2592 X 1944. Do the math and divide the width by the height here and you will get an aspect ratio of 1.33 for all these resolutions.

Note: this concept of different aspect ratios can really mess with the mind. I'll try to keep the explanation simple, and my/our sanity.

Now most of the time you are going to order photo prints on paper that is 6 inches wide X 4 inches high. That aspect ratio is 6/4 equals 3/2 equals 1.5 which is a different shape from the 4 X 3 ratio used by early digital cameras. Something has to give. When the 4 X 3 ratio photos are printed, you can see the whole width and height of the original picture only if you leave white bands (borders) on two sides of this paper.

Alternatively, if you have the lab completely fill the 6" by 4" paper with the picture, they do so by blowing up your original picture so it is bigger than the paper, and then automatically cropping off the overhang. Kodak calls this procedure Zoom and Crop. It sometimes chops off things you wanted in the composition. [So that's why your printed pictures came back looking different. You carefully and perfectly composed and framed the original scene with your camera, and then the photo lab chopped it up differently to suit the shape of their standard paper.]

So we're going to outsmart the lab if we want our vacation snapshots to look the way WE want them. When preparing your final pictures in Elements or another photo program, crop using an aspect ratio of 6 to 4 aka 3 X 2. You get to choose exactly how the final print will look. There should be no surprise missing parts.

Newer versions of programs like Photoshop or Elements have a selection of preset crop ratios to choose from for their crop function. For example, Elements includes 4 X 6 (which in this program means 4 high by 6 wide) as one crop ratio choice, which is perfect for making a horizontal (landscape) shape print. Ah, but some of the time we want to print a vertical (portrait) picture and crop with a 6 high by 4 wide ratio. Click on the crop tool to select it, but don't use it yet. Look at the figures in the crop options bar near the top of the screen. Let's assume it shows that 4 X 6 is now selected. To reverse the ratio to 6 X 4, just click on the arrows between these two numbers. (You can also custom type any ratio for height and width.) But do not enter anything in the Resolution box, as that would resample the picture. (Yes we may someday want to resample a picture, but not here and now as it could degrade the picture quality.) Now when you use the crop tool, your chosen crop ratio is the on-screen shape of the cropping tool's frame. Expand it, or contract it, and move it until you frame the perfect portion within the original photo; press enter.

Some of the newer digital cameras (mainly expensive SLRs -- Single Lens Reflex cameras) come with an aspect ratio of 6 to 4. That makes standard size 6" X 4" prints easy without any cropping, unless you want to crop to improve the picture. But everyone, even with these new cameras, still needs to crop in the same ratio as the final print's paper size if they are going to have some done on 7" X 5" or 10" X 8" paper, as those aspect ratios are all different from the camera's original aspect ratio. [All of this messing with aspect ratios is a good excuse for printing specialty photos like super-wide landscapes on your home printer, where you have absolute control. For holiday snaps by the dozen/hundred we are better off cropping to suit the photo lab's standard paper shape in a particular size.]

For home printing of text, letters, diagrams, plans, and for reference material off the Web, black and white laser printers are ideal. These printers and their cartridges have dropped to very reasonable prices for home use. They have permanent output and use inexpensive, regular paper. They are also extremely reliable and long lived.

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Update Additional Comments January 2016

(The file contents above have also been reviewed and totally updated where needed, and some new information added about higher resolution cameras and their needs.)

The owners of new higher resolution cameras can use every bit of the information here. We have now discussed high end digital cameras like DSLRs, and the complexities of getting software to deal with the non-standard RAW files they can produce. And yes, your old 2 to say 6 Meg cameras will still do holiday 6" X 4" prints just fine. And you will be less worried about your old camera and take it more places and in worse weather conditions than a brand new what'sit

Even cell phones are getting higher resolutions and taking pictures that appear nearly daily on the TV news because they were actually carried by someone who chanced to be at a breaking-news event. Not too many people carrying 24 Megapixel 4-pound digital SLRs everywhere they go. Any camera small enough to carry everywhere, every day, beats an expensive clunker in the closet at home. And the old camera will be taken places where you would not risk an expensive new one. (And yes you could have both. The new clunker will shine when you take it on a special mission where you can tolerate its weight and bulk for the duration of your task.)

If you buy a higher resolution camera today with more features (that you really/probably/maybe will use) and a more pleasant dropping price, great. The photo tips still work. And so does the gotcha that more megapixels mean bigger memory cards and more back-up disks, and eventually more memory and faster processors for another new computer, which needs new programs with more new features (than all the old features -- that you never did learn how to use) and so on ...

You have the right at any time to say: "Stop the world, I want to get off -- here!"

Use this file's tips to be an informed buyer and competent user and get the most out of your camera. No matter how much money you throw at a new camera, it will be obsolete next month -- if you believe the advertising hype. Hopefully you will make up your own mind and enjoy your current camera for as long as it serves YOUR real needs.

If you have aspirations to elevate your photography to the level of serious amateur or professional artist, remember that money and the latest gee-whiz lens or hardware are no substitute for study and practice and a developing artistic sense.

Through practice, your technical ability as a photographer will improve. Solicit opinions and advice from those with similar interests. Just do not be intimidated by snobs or hacks with expensive cameras but little talent. Their photos may be perfectly exposed and meet all the usual technical criteria, but have they captured something greater than a pretty picture of a pretty thing? (Anyone can do that.)

A photographic work of art captures the soul. A great work of art can be created from common subjects, in the same way that some writers can create literary masterpieces from common words. Either it is great art, or it isn't. The particular camera or machine used is simply not relevant to whether artistic greatness is achieved. Development of an artistic eye, with time and practice, will triumph over mere gimicks and money.

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Okay, we are really almost done. Longer, with pictures and more tips, would turn into a book and then I'd have to charge for it :-) There are more than enough good digital photography books and third-party-how-to books on photo software out there. Besides buying a few key reference books, save some money by reading your library's books. You can also learn a great deal from the many photography-help websites out there. People freely sharing knowledge is the greatest achievement of the Internet.

And do enjoy digital photography with the little-kid sense of wonder and adventure that you haven't felt in all too many years!

Best regards

Steve Bachanek
in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Machining and Metalworking at Home

P.S. Why "ACME" in the filename for this webpage??? Yes, I was rooting for Wile E. Coyote in the cartoons. And I needed to put this file at the start of the list alphabetically in the General section of my home page. Anyone who hand codes webpages knows how much nuisance it is to re-order contents in a multi-column table. No darn roadrunners here, except perhaps sauteed with a little orange sauce ... but that recipe would take us too far afield from this subject about how to get effective workshop or studio digital images.

P.P.S. Just joking about critters. No cats or roadrunners were harmed in the writing of this web page despite the best efforts of various local coyotes, who have now seen the light and become vegetarians and are preparing to write their life-changing memoirs and will likely get onto some best-seller list.

P.P.P.S. Some references here to metalworking machines may be a bit of a mystery if you stumbled onto this photography page through an Internet search. Be assured that the photography information here is equally useful to you no matter what your craft or hobby. And if you have become curious about metalworking, browse through my Machining and Metalworking at Home site. There are a lot of general interest subjects there (e.g. Rust Removal) that could be helpful to anyone.

Copyright © 2003-2016 Steve Bachanek. This file's contents are not to be reproduced by any means, including electronic, without written permission except for strictly personal use.

Some Feedback, Please. If you have read most of this photography file, I hope the experience was worthwhile and will help save you some time and money in this great hobby. Please do me the favour of firing off a quick email to mmah4q[usual at symbol with no spaces]janellestudio.com with any comments. So long as I know this file is still helping folks, I will remain motivated to keep updating it. I almost yanked this file at the end of 2015 due to declining monthly viewership and no feedback, but then I received a nice email from a reader that encouraged me to do this latest update and keep this file on the website. Thanks.

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BEWARE: DO NOT ASSUME that any subject matter or procedure or process is safe or correct or appropriate just because it was mentioned in a news/user group or was included in these files or on this site or on any other web site or was published in a magazine or book or video.

Working with metals and machinery and chemicals and electrical equipment is inherently dangerous. Wear safety devices and clothing as appropriate. Remove watches, rings, and jewellery -- and secure or remove loose clothing -- before operating any machine.

Read, understand and follow the latest operating procedures and safety instructions provided by the manufacturer of your machine or tool or product. If you do not have those most recent official instructions, acquire a copy through the manufacturer before operating or using their product. Where the company no longer exists, use the appropriate news or user group to locate an official copy. Be careful -- original instructions may not meet current safety standards. Updated safety information and operating instructions may also be available through a local club, a local professional in the trade, a local business, or an appropriate government agency. In every case, use your common sense before beginning or taking the next step; and do not proceed if you have any questions or doubts about any procedure, or the safety of any procedure. Follow all laws and codes, and employ certified or licenced professionals as required by those laws or codes. Hazardous tasks beyond your competence or expertise should also be contracted to professionals. Let's be really careful out there.

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