Frequently Asked Photo Questions for October

Have a question about digital photography? Don't keep it to yourself. Send it to me. I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails 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 Digital Focus from July, August, and September.

Camera Settings

I set my camera to its lowest compression setting, and I set the resolution to the highest it will go. It seems logical to me to permanently set my camera to these values since everything can be adjusted later on the PC. I am curious, though: Why would I want to go with a higher compression or a lower resolution?
--Eugene Wong, Chicago

In a sense, those resolution and compression settings are artifacts of the early days of digital photography. It's almost hard to imagine it today, but there was a time when memory cards were not cheap and didn't offer vast amounts of storage. Back in the distant year of 2000, for example, people commonly bought 16MB memory cards for their digital cameras--which held just 14 photos at the then-impressive 2 megapixel resolution. But drop down to 640-by-480 pixels, and you could pack perhaps 150 photos on the card instead. So shooting at lower resolutions was a strategy to stretch pricey, cramped memory cards a little further.

These days, of course, you can buy inexpensive memory cards that hold thousands of photos even at extremely high resolutions, so I consider those settings to be like a vestigial tail for your camera.

I am sure there are some users who prefer to set the resolution they expect to need on the camera to avoid the complexity of doing it on the PC afterwards, but if you do that, you always risk preserving a once-in-a-lifetime photo at low resolution. So I'm with Eugene: Set your camera's quality and resolution to its best position, and leave it there forever.

Changing Photo Dates

When I scan an old photo, Windows gives the image file the current date. When I sort photos by date, they get grouped with more recent ones. Is there a way to eliminate this problem?
--Shirley Calhoun, Vinton, Virginia

Sure thing, Shirley. If you use Windows Vista you can change the "Date Taken" field in the Details pane in the folder that your photos reside, for any image file on your PC. If these are older photos and you're not sure exactly what date is correct, you can always estimate. In Windows Vista, select a photo and then, in the Details pane at the bottom of the folder, click in the Date Taken field and select any date you like, all the way back to the year 1600 (assuming you have any photos that old).

Another option, if you use Windows XP: Windows Live Photo Gallery lets you adjust the Date Taken field (this tool also works in Vista).

Intentionally Underexposing Photos

I am a longtime avid amateur photographer, and I switched to digital several years ago when I bought a Canon EOS Rebel. I was wondering if it was possible to intentionally underexpose photos on this (or any other) digital camera?
--Tom Armstrong, Marietta, Georgia

Sure, Tom. For starters, you could always switch the camera to manual exposure mode and take total control over its exposure settings. This would allow you to under- or overexpose the scene as much as you want.

Alternately, you can use the camera's exposure compensation setting. Virtually all digital cameras have this control, which lets you over- or underexpose in increments as small as a third of a stop or as much as two or three stops from what the camera's automatic exposure recommends. This is handy, for example, if you are shooting into the sun: Leave the camera on automatic, but use the exposure compensation dial to overexpose the photo by about one stop (because the camera will react to the bright sun and therefore underexpose your main subject). The exposure compensation control is usually marked with the abbreviation Ev (for exposure value).

For more information, read "Fix Your Exposure Before You Take the Photo" and check your camera's user guide for details on where to find this control.

Out of Memory

My computer is pretty much out of space. What's the best way to get more storage? Should I delete older photos, or do you recommend adding more storage to the computer?
--Val Anderson, Somerset, New Jersey

Digital storage is so cheap these days, Val, that I would never recommend deleting any photos to make room. Just buy a new hard drive. You can get a 500GB external hard drive--which plugs into one of your computer's USB ports--for under $100, and that's probably more space than the hard drive that originally came with your PC. Check out PC World's Shop and Compare for a list of inexpensive external hard drives.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

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: "Windmills," by Elliot Madriss, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Elliot says that he took this photo of wind sculptures in Algodones, New Mexico with his Nikon D100

This Week's Runner-Up: "Just Another Day," by Rob Castro, Chino Hills, California

Rob writes: "I used a Canon Rebel XT with a 50mm lens and a 2X teleconverter to take this photo. I shot the same image twice; once focused and again out-of-focus. I layered the two using Photoshop, with the out-of-focus shot on top at about 30 percent opacity."

To see all of October's winners, visit our slide show. 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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