A Short Course Book
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment

Why Go Digital?

Signs for developing film may be disappearing but you can now drop off a memory card and pick up your prints and the card in an hour or so.

Kiosks in many stores let you print photos on the spot.
William Henry Jackson and his mule.
A digital camera is by far the best and most common way of getting a digital image.
Sony's ImageStation Web site lets you design your own AlbumPrint photo book and have it printed and bound in portrait or landscape mode.
Most of this book assumes you are already a digital photographer or have decided to become one. If you are still on the fence, this section is just for you.To begin, put aside any concerns about image quality. Digital images are equal to, and often better than film images. The real reason to switch lies elsewhere, in the fact that once captured, digital photographs are already in a format that makes them incredibly easy to share and use. For example, you can insert digital photographs into word processing documents, print them at a kiosk, send them by e-mail to friends, or post them on a Web site where anyone in the world can see them. With most cameras you can immediately see your images on a small LCD monitor on the back of the camera, or you can connect the camera to a TV and show them as a slide show. Some cameras can even be connected to a telescope or microscope to display dramatically enlarged images on a large-screen TV. It's this ability to instantly share photos with anyone, anywhere that makes digital photography so attractive.
If you're considering going digital, here are a few more reasons to get even more serious.
  • Going digital saves you money in the long run since you don't have to buy rolls of film and pay for their development and printing.
  • It saves you time because you don't have to make two trips to the store to drop off and then pick up your pictures (although you can do this with the memory card).
  • Digital cameras instantly show you how your pictures look so you'll no longer have those disappointments a day or two later when your film is developed.
  • You can view images before they are printed and if you don't like what you see, edit them to perfection or save money by deleting or not printing them.
  • Digital photography doesn't use the toxic chemicals that often end up flowing down the drain and into our streams, rivers, and lakes.
Digital cameras have triumphed over traditional film cameras in less than a decade, causing the greatest shift in photographic technology in 150 years. In a few short years film will be a speciality item carried only by a few Internet companies that cater to photographers exploring historic processes such as platinum and albumen prints. The only downside to this dramatic change is that digital cameras are less expensive to make so models tend to proliferate at a much faster rate than traditional cameras did.
  • No more waiting to finish a roll before having it processed. (Or wasting unexposed film when you can't wait.)
  • Many digital cameras are able to capture not only still photographs, but also sound and even video—they are as much multimedia recorders as they are cameras.
  • You can use a photo-editing program to improve or alter digital images. For example, you can crop them, remove red-eye, change colors or contrast, and even add and delete elements. It's like having a darkroom with the lights on and without the chemicals.

Free Photography, Photographic Freedom

Although it's both the immediacy and flexibility of digital photography that has made it so popular, there is one aspect that is rarely mentioned. This is the new freedom it gives you to explore creative photography. In the 1870's when William Henry Jackson was carrying 20 x 24 glass plate negatives around the West on a mule, you can bet he hesitated before he took a photograph. We may not be carrying window-sized glass plates, but you and I also hesitate before taking a picture. We're always doing a mental calculation "is it worth it?" Subconsciously we're running down a checklist of costs, times, effort, and so on. During that "decisive moment," the image is often lost or we fail to try new things. We lose the opportunity for creative growth and choose to stay with the familiar that has delivered for us in the past. Jackson did have one big advantage we've lost over the last century. If an image didn't turn out, or if he was out of glass plates, he could just scrape the emulsion off a previously exposed negative, recoat the plate with a photosensitive emulsion, and try again. Digital photography not only eliminates that nagging "is it worth it?" question, it also returns us to that era of endlessly reusable film (and we don't need a mule to carry it). Hand the camera to the kids, take weird and unusual angles, shoot without looking through the viewfinder, and ignore all previously held conceptions about how to take photographs. You may be surprised at the photos you get if you exploit this new era of uninhibited shooting.

The Three Steps of Digital Photography

Digital cameras are just one link in a long chain leading from the original scene through to the final image that you display or distribute—a sequence photographers refer to as workflow. In fact, a digital camera isn’t even an absolutely necessary link in the chain. The key element in digital photography is an image in a digital format made up of pixels. Although a digital camera captures photos in this format, you can also convert slides, negatives, or prints by scanning them.

To understand how the camera fits in with other parts of the digital workflow,it helps to understand the three basic steps involved in creating and using digital photographs—capturing, editing, and sharing

Step 1. Capturing Photographs

The first step in digital photography is to get a digital image and there is more than one way to do this.
  • Digital still cameras capture photographs in a digital format.
  • Film cameras capture photographs on slides, negatives, or prints which you can then scan to convert them to digital photographs.
  • Video cameras capture images in a video format. You can then use a frame grabber to isolate out individual frames and save them as still images.
  • Digital video cameras sometimes are able to capture still images just like a digital still camera. You can also use a video-editing program to extract individual frames from the digital video.

Step 2. Editing Photographs

Once a photograph is in digital form, you can store it on your system and then edit or manipulate it with a photo-editing program such as Photoshop. The things you can do to a digital image are almost endless. In some cases you improve an image by eliminating or reducing its flaws. In other cases, you adjust an image for other purposes, perhaps to make it smaller for e-mailing or posting on a Web site. Finally, you might take an image to a new place, making it something it never was. Here are some ways you can process images:
  • Crop the photograph to emphasize the key part.
  • Reduce the size of the photograph to make it smaller for posting on the Web or e-mailing.
  • Use filters to sharpen it or even make it look like a watercolor or oil painting.
  • Stitch together multiple frames to create panoramas.
  • Merge two images to create a 3D stereo effect or an animated image for display on the Web.
  • Change brightness and contrast or expand the tonal range to improve the image.
  • Cut and paste parts of one image into another to create a photo montage.
  • Convert the photograph to another format.
A Photoshop filter was used to highlight edges, making a photograph look like a line drawing.

Step 3. Sharing Photographs

Once an image is the way you want it, you'll find that there are lots of ways to display and share it.
  • Print the image on a color printer.
  • Insert the photograph into a word processing or desktop publishing document.
  • Post the photograph on a photo sharing Web site or a blog.
  • E-mail the photograph to friends or family members.
  • Send the photo to a service on the Web for prints, or to have the images printed as a bound book or onto T-shirts, posters, key rings, mouse pads, even cakes and cookies.
  • Store the photograph on your system for later use.
  • Create slide shows that play on a DVD player connected to the TV or a DVD drive in a computer.

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