Frequently Asked Photo Questions for July

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many e-mails as I can--though given the quantity that I get, I can't promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in this newsletter.

For more frequently asked questions, read my April, May, and June issues of Digital Focus.

Fixing a Jaundiced Sky

I just returned from a trip to the American Southwest, where I visited such scenic vistas as the Grand Canyon, Brice, and Zion national parks. I downloaded the 1600-odd pictures I took into my computer. I realize that that many pictures would invariably have some faults, but in many canyon shots, the sky is a pale yellow. What did I do, and can I correct it in editing software?
--Michael McCurdy, Lansdowne, Ontario

It sounds like the white balance is a little off, Michael. This isn't too surprising; no matter what camera you use, the automatic white balance will be wrong about half the time.

Most photo editing programs have a white balance correction feature. If you shoot in RAW and use Adobe Photoshop Elements, for example, use the Temperature slider in Adobe's Camera Raw converter that pops up when you open your image file. If you shoot in JPEG, you can use a similar Temperature slider in the Quick Fix pane.

For more ideas, check out "Make a Dramatically Blue Sky."

Tips for Good Action Photos

I recently purchased a Canon EOS 40D as a step up from the 20D I had been using, mainly because I had trouble capturing action photos at soccer games. Now I'm trying to determine if I should use the Sports mode, or use Aperture priority and Al-Servo mode--which supposedly predicts motion changes for the best image. I've had too many shots in the past where the central image is not the focus point.

The main reason I got the 40D was because of its better, more predictive high-speed focus, and it hasn't paid off yet. Do you have any suggestions?
--Mark Borys, Ann Arbor, Michigan

I can give you some general advice, Mark, but after that it's a lot like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

For starters, the Sports mode is a good choice if you want to get your feet wet in action photography and you don't want to get bogged down in learning about camera settings. By automating everything, it makes your 40D behave like a point-and-shoot camera. But it also locks you into a focus zone that's in the center of the frame, and you can't easily tweak your exposure to deal with unusual situations.

For sports photography, I prefer using either Aperture or Shutter priority mode, so I can directly dial in the shutter speed or aperture that will work best. This gives you the freedom to set the focus zone anywhere in the frame that you prefer.

While the 40D's AI-Servo (predictive focus) feature is excellent, you'll still need to practice your panning technique to keep the area of interest in the focusing zone. Read "Panning for Action Gold" and "Making the Most of Shutter-Priority Mode" for more on this.

Broken Clone Tool?

In "Clone Away Your Problems" you discussed using the clone tool in Photoshop Elements. I agree that this is a great tool, but I have encountered an inexplicable error message: "Could not use the clone stamp tool because of a program error." Maybe you could talk to Adobe and help them to come up with an answer. After all, it's only a great tool if you can get it to work.
--Paul Beauvais, New York

There's no need for me to chat with Adobe, Paul. I think what you're experiencing is a conflict with a misbehaving plug-in. In particular, I suspect that you have Alien Skin's Snap Art installed. Remove it, and your clone tool should work like a charm.

Poor Photo Printing

My brother e-mailed a bunch of photos. I have been unable to print them because no matter what program I send them to, they appear too small to print. When I try to enlarge the photos, they become very distorted. I suspect they were somehow compressed, but I don't know how to uncompress them to print clearly.
--Connie Seglund, Wichita, Kansas

Your problem, Connie, is that our brother reduced the size of the photos before sending them to you. People often shrink photos for e-mail because full-size images can bog down e-mail programs. The downside of this practice is that, as you have seen firsthand, shrunk photos print poorly.

Think of it this way: printer tend to print at 200 or 300 pixels per inch. If you get a photo that's 3000 pixels wide, it'll print 10 inches across, which is about the size of a sheet of paper. But resized to 300 pixels, that same photo will print at a minuscule 1 inch across. If you try to enlarge it, it'll just get blocky.

The solution is to ask your brother to resend the pictures to you at their original size, suitable for printing. However, your e-mail program might not be able to handle that much data--in which case he might need to send the files to you on a CD.

Using Filters With Digital SLRs

I have a number of filters that I was accustomed to using with my 35mm film camera. Can I use them with my digital camera?
--Marcie Vogel, Monrovia, California

Sure thing, Marcie. If you have a digital SLR, you can screw any filter onto the front of your lens: warming filters, polarizers, neutral density, you name it. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, it might be possible to mount filters with an adapter.

Of course, many effects that you used to need lens filters for can now be accomplished digitally in a photo editing program like Photoshop. One exception: I've found that the distinctive effect of a polarizing filter is impossible to duplicate digitally, so it pays to carry such a filter in your camera bag.

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: "Kissing Cousins," by Arnold Dubin, Indialantic, Florida

Arnold writes: "I took this photo at the Viera Wetlands in Florida early in the morning. I mounted my Nikon D200 on a tripod and used a 500mm lens and a 1.4X teleconverter."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Sunshine on Earth," by Whitney MacEachern, New Waterford, Nova Scotia

Whitney writes: "I pass by this spot almost every day. Most people hate dandelions and call them weeds, but I love them. I feel that they are miniature reflections of the sun."

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.

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