New Year's Resolutions for Digital Photographers

Happy New Year!

First, the bad news: still no hover cars, personal space shuttles, or butlerbots.

Now, the good news: We're closer than ever to all those things, thanks to levitating fish, Space Ship Two, and Roomba.

This year, I thought I'd welcome the new year by laying out a handful of digital photo resolutions. Like most of my resolutions (eat less ice cream, work out more, stop embarrassing my kids in public), I probably won't follow through on all of them. But these, at least, are designed to improve my photography--so let's vow to work on them together.

Take More Pictures

Of course, there's no way to take better pictures without taking more pictures. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. Even if you have a fancy digital SLR, it's not a bad idea to carry a small, pocket-size point-and-shoot to capture photos of opportunity, serendipity, and chance. The more pictures you take, the better your chance of capturing something truly unique, and the more comfortable you'll get with your camera's features and exposure settings.

Get Organized

According to my computer, I have a little over 9000 digital photos. How on earth can I keep track of that many?

If you are in the same boat as me, make this your year to get organized with tags or keywords. Figure out a logical set of tags that describe most of your photos, and then spend a weekend or two applying them in an orderly way. If you're upgrading to Microsoft's Windows Vista in the next few months, everything you need to do the job is built right in. If not, get Adobe Photoshop Elements or Microsoft Digital Image Suite and use the built-in organizers (each costs less than $90).

Pay Attention to Histograms

Most digital cameras have a histogram view that shows you graphically whether the picture you just took is underexposed or overexposed.

Get in the habit of viewing the histogram after you take a picture. If it's skewed to one extreme or the other, take another shot with different exposure settings. It's hands-down the fastest and easiest way to take home better photos.

Pay Attention to Shake

The number one problem with photos--today and throughout history--is blurry shots. That's usually caused by shooting with a shutter speed that's too slow.

Vow to use the "one over rule," which says that you should make sure your shutter speed is at least as fast as one over the focal length you're shooting at. For example, if you are zoomed way out to about 200mm, make your shutter speed a snappy 1/250 second, not a sluggish 1/60 second. If that's not possible, carry a tripod, or a monopod--or, if all else fails, brace yourself against a door frame, wall, or tree.

Share More Photos

Your handiwork is no good to anyone if it's locked away on your hard disk. Make this the year that you share digital photos with friends and family. You can burn them to CD--almost all PCs have CD-RW drives built in these days--or post your photos online, at a site like Flickr, Yahoo Photos, or Google Photos.

To get some idea of what you can do on a site like this, visit my Flickr site. Or check out all the Hot Pic winners.

Get Help

Finally, vow to seek out help when you need it. There are many great books, Web sites, and magazines dedicated to digital photography, as well as this very newsletter. If you have a question, send it to me and I'll do my best to answer it.

Hot Pic of the Week

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: "Grandma's Jewelry," by Deborah Jackson, East Rochester, New York

Deborah writes: "As I did with my own grandmother, my granddaughter always asks to see the 'special jewelry.' As she tries on every piece, she wants to know what it is and who gave it to me. She always asks me, 'Will all this be mine someday?'

"I took this picture with a Kodak Easy Share digital camera. I shot many pictures that day and this one seemed to be perfect--I did not change a thing."

See all the Hot Pic of the Week photos online.

I want your feedback! Send your comments, questions, and suggestions about Digital Focus to comments@bydavejohnson.com. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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