Five New Year's Resolutions for the Digital Photographer

Happy New Year! Given my geeky nature, it should come as no surprise that I've been anticipating the arrival of 2010 as The Year We Make Contact. While I don't expect to meet any aliens this year, I did make a few resolutions to improve my photography in case I take some pictures of UFOs nonetheless. While I was at it, I came up with some resolutions for you to consider. Feel free to take a look at my resolutions from 2008 and resolutions from 2007 as well.

Get Organized

Many times, I've implored you to get your photos organized. Just putting them in folders on your computer doesn't count; they're just too hard to find that way. The New Year is a great opportunity to get photo organizer software and use it to tag your pictures using logical keywords, so you can quickly and efficiently zoom in on the photos you need long after you've forgotten what folder they're stored in or what file names you used.

I highly recommend Windows Live Photo Gallery, but there are several other alternatives, like Picasa (which, like Photo Gallery, is free) and the decidedly not-free Adobe Lightroom ($299).

Get Backed Up

The months ahead might be full of hope and promise, but your computer's hard drive has the potential to fail at any moment. And if it does, do you have a second copy--a backup--of your digital photos and other valuable files?

There are a lot of ways to back up your files. You could buy a Windows Home Server like the HP MediaSmart, which automatically backs up all the files on all the computers in your home every night. A more modest solution is to install a second hard drive--either internally in your PC or externally via USB--and use backup software to archive your stuff on a regular basis.

Whichever way you choose to go, do it soon, before the New Year spirit wears off and you get distracted by the daily grind. Trust me: You don't want to lose all your photos due to a hardware failure.

Upgrade to a Better Photo Editor

What do you use to edit your digital photos? Perhaps you're already using a fairly recent version of a full-featured photo editor, and you're happy with it. If so, that's fine. But if you're still using version 3 of a program that's now up to version 14, a trial version of something that came with a digital camera you bought in 2001, or Microsoft Paint, then perhaps it's time to step up.

Half the fun of digital photography is the ability to edit and enhance your photos after they make the short trip from your camera to your computer. You should be able to easily crop, color correct, adjust exposure, and combine photos with other photos. If you can't, you're missing out. Try the latest version of Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro, or Adobe Lightroom. Or, if you prefer free, GIMP is an excellent open-source alternative.

Learn Something New

You read Digital Focus, right? How often do you try any of the techniques I describe? If you haven't tried to apply any new digital photo tricks to your own images in a while, resolve right now to try your hand at a few new things this year.

I highly suggest trying to make a High Dynamic Range photo, which combines several images into one shot that captures a deeper range of colors than your camera is capable of doing on its own. Or generate a panorama from a series of photos. You can browse the Digital Focus archives in search of something that catches your eye.

Enter the Hot Pics Photo Contest

Finally, now that you've gotten organized, tried some fancy photo edits, and backed up all your photos for some peace of mind, why not enter the Digital Focus photo contest? Each week I pick two photos (a winner and a runner-up) submitted by the many readers of Digital Focus. They're published here, collected in a monthly slide show, and posted to a Flickr gallery for everyone to enjoy. Share your favorite photos!

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: "Crystal Clear," by Dan Lavric, Romania

Dan says that he took this photo of a woman through a pane of beveled glass.

This Week's Runner-Up: "Bouquet" by Marion Roman, Salem, Oregon

Marion says: "Using my Canon 50D, I had the bride and groom place their hands on the bouquet. I edited the photo as black and white and highlighted the flowers using Adobe Photoshop CS4."

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

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