Digital Focus: Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 2

The holidays mean a lot to me: time with the family, a mouth-watering turkey dinner, delicious pumpkin chocolate chip walnut cookies (my very own recipe, in fact), and oodles of presents. And there's always a few digital photo-related presents under the tree at our house.

This year, as always, I thought I'd share some of the more interesting items on my wish list with you. I started this year's shopping guide last week. If you missed it, you can catch up here. Now let's wrap up our look at cool presents for the digital photographer in your life.

Morph It Up

Who says digital photography needs to be realistic--or even serious? Morpheus Software's $30 PhotoMorpher lets you transform one image into another using two or more digital pictures. (You can morph your own face into your dog's, for example.) Just click on important parts of each image to assign control points, then let the program work its magic. You can save your completed animation in a common format like Flash or Animated GIF. Last I checked, the program was about $30 online.

Back It Up

Backup software might sound like a bland gift idea--like a pair of tube socks or a socket wrench--but it protects all the memories you're going to create with that shiny new digital camera. ProtectMyPhotos is an automatic online backup service that helps safeguard your photo collection from computer failures, viruses, fires, floods, dragon attacks, and inevitable human boo-boos. A flat $40 per year gives you 40GB of online backup. It seems like a great investment, no matter what time of year it is.

Light It Up

Photographers are always on the lookout for ways to take better flash photos: Used on their own, camera flashes often result in flat, harsh lighting that is anything but flattering to your subjects.

Gary Fong's Lightsphere 2 is a diffuser that dramatically improves photos captured with your digital SLR's flash. The Lightsphere is compatible with most flash units and costs $50.

Books, Books, Books

On Christmas morning, my house always looks like a bookstore--everyone in the family gets a stack of books to help them get through the dreary winter months. So not surprisingly, I have a few digital photo book recommendations.

If you or someone you know was lucky enough to get a Nikon D200 for the holidays, here's a slam dunk gift: Thom Hogan's Complete Guide to the Nikon D200. This $30 e-book comes in the Adobe PDF format and is very well-written. As a D200 owner myself, I highly recommend it.

Looking for a general-purpose book on digital photography? Then check out How Digital Photography Works, by Ron White. This full-color encyclopedia-like book explains the science and mechanics of your camera, exposure, photo editing, and more, for about $30 on Amazon.com.

If you don't mind investing a whopping $100, take a look at Snap: the ultimate guide to digital photography for the consumer, by Mark Sincevich. This unusual publication grabbed my eye because of its unique publishing model: You get a subscription, like software, and the book is updated throughout the course of the year with additional information. The author claims he'll save you money, take the place of photography classes, and show you how to do all sorts of additional things with your photos.

Last, but not least, this the one time of year when I get to plug what is surely the best digital photography book on the market: My own digital photo guide. How to Do Everything with Your Digital Camera is now in its fourth edition and has sold well over 100,000 copies. It's available on Amazon.com for about $17.

Hot Pics

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Fire on Earth," by Joshua Yankovic, Observatory Hill, Pennsylvania

Joshua writes: "I took this in the dead of winter from the bedroom of my townhouse in Observatory Hill, Pennsylvania using my Sony digital camera. I did nothing special to create the vivid colors and deep contrasts; Pittsburgh has some amazing sunsets if you are home to catch them.

"This picture has been my background image at work for several months and people constantly ask what Web site I got this from. When I tell them I took the picture they can't believe it."

Hot Pic of the Month: Each month we choose one of our weekly winners to be the Hot Pic of the Month. For November, we chose "A Warm Place," by Joshua Woodland, from Salem, Virginia.

Congratulations to Joshua and to everyone else who won a Hot Pic of the Week last month. Keep those entries coming!

See all the Hot Pic of the Week photos online.

Have a digital photo question? Send me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Digital Focus: Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 2" was originally published by PCWorld.

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