Is that brand new digital camera you got for Christmas still sitting in a box in your closet? Or have you managed to get it out of the box and take a few photos, but don’t know how to get them out of the camera and into some form where they can be seen and enjoyed?
Today’s “basic” camera is light years beyond the basic box camera and point and shoots we grew up with. No longer do we simply drop a roll of film at the drugstore, pop in a few hours later and pick up photos. The camera and its accompanying computer software have given all of us the ability to be darkroom technicians as well as photographers. But it isn’t always as easy as it looks.
Help comes from technology specialist Kathleen Perroni, a Hamilton resident who gives a three-session class on “Digital Camera Basics” on Mondays and Thursdays, July 10 through July 20 (the class will not meet on Monday, July 17), at 6:30 p.m., at Mercer Community College. Cost: $104. Call 609-586-9446 to register or for information. Students should bring a digital camera to the class.
The class focuses on helping novice digital camera users understand the basic features and operation of the average digital camera, says Perroni. “This course is aimed at the complete beginner,” she says. The class has been so popular, she adds, that a second course, “Digital Camera Basics II,” will be offered by MCCC for the first time this fall.
The course will give the participants a broad overview of how to use a digital camera, including basic camera operation, how to download the photos from the camera to a computer, how to view the photos, and how to organize, transfer, and archive them using various storage media. Different methods of printing good quality photos will also be discussed, as will how to use the digital photos on the Internet, in E-mail, and in several popular software applications. The students will also learn some basic digital photography terminology and will learn about common image file types and pixel resolutions.
What camera to purchase? Perroni says that, as with most technology, digital cameras continue to improve while, at the same time, their prices drop. “A few years ago a two megapixel camera was a couple of hundred dollars. Now you can get six megapixels or even more for about that range,” she says. “Two years ago those were cameras that only professionals could afford.”
A megapixel is a measure of resolution that indicates the ability of a digital camera to record detail. The more megapixels, the more detail in the images, and the more they can be enlarged and still remain sharp. With a six megapixel camera 8×10 photographs should have excellent resolution, Perroni says.
Taking the photo. Digital cameras have features that mimic the features of a traditional camera, says Perroni. For example, “white balance is an attempt to adjust the camera to certain light conditions. While all of the digital cameras have automatic settings, she says, “if you don’t like what you are seeing with the automatic settings, you can adjust the camera manually to change the light.”
Traditional cameras use filters to correct for various types of lighting, incandescent and fluorescent for example. If a filter isn’t used, most indoor photos came out with an orange cast. Digital cameras replace filters with the white balance feature that makes corrections for the color temperature.
A second feature of digital cameras is the ISO number, which indicates the camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the sensitivity, the less light is needed to take the photo. Digital cameras automatically set the ISO, but just as with white balance, it can be changed manually. Auto ISO works best in bright light.
Downloading your photos. One of the biggest differences between traditional cameras and digital cameras is that, instead of just taking the photos, the digital camera and its related computer software handle photo editing and processing as well.
“There are a lot of digital features that help you take better pictures,” says Perroni. You can enhance and improve your photos and when you are satisfied with the result, you have several options to display the pictures.
The first step, says Perroni, is to download the memory chip from the camera to the computer. It is important to make sure that you have enough memory to take all the photos you want. If you are going on a vacation, for example, and won’t have a computer available for a week, you might want to invest in additional memory chips to make sure that you can store a week’s worth of photos.
Once the photos are downloaded to the computer a number of popular software programs, such as Photoshop Elements and Paintshop Pro, allow you to adjust the focus, make the photo brighter or darker, change the colors, and even crop people and objects out of the photo. In other words, says Perroni, the software “allows a person to make a good picture even better.”
Sharing your photos. Along with new ways to take photos, the digital cameras — coupled with the Internet — offer a number of new ways to share photos. Digital camera owners can print their own photos fairly easily, but many of their photos never make it into print. Instead they are shared over the Internet. Understanding how to E-mail photos is an essential part of digital photography.
Photos can be sent as an E-mail attachment in a number of formats, including jpeg, tif, and gif. Anyone sending a photo via E-mail should check to see if recipients can easily download with each type of attachment.
Another extremely easy way to share photos is to upload them to a photo storage and sharing website such as Ofoto or Snapfish. Post the photos there and then send invitations to everyone with whom you want to share them. They can view the photos again and again, and have the option of purchasing prints — often at very low prices. The prints generally can either be mailed or picked up at a local drug store.
Perroni learned about digital cameras through her work as a technology specialist at Timberlane Middle School in Hopewell Valley. She holds a master’s degree in education as well as a certificate in instructional computing. “I started learning about digital cameras because it was just part of my job,” she says. “It was a new piece of technology that we wanted to introduce into the curriculum and teach the children how to use.”
As so often happens, our children lead the way in learning about technology. But with Perroni’s class, the rest of us can impress our children with our knowledge and skill in the latest in digital photography skills.