Frequently Asked Photo Questions for August

Have a question about digital photography? 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 Digital Focus. For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from May, June, and July.

Making Free HDR Photos

My Panasonic ZS3 has a setting that allows me to auto-bracket a series of three shots with +1, 0 and -1EV. I'd love to use this capability to take high dynamic range photos, but I do not know if an inexpensive method to combine those into one HDR photo. Is there any inexpensive or preferably free HDR software?
--Jim Williamson, Summerville, South Carolina

Jim, you're in luck. In addition to the various pricey options like Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Photomatix Pro, there's also at least one free alternative out there: Luminance HDR. I've been using this program for a while now, and it is maturing into a great little HDR processing program--easy to use and gives great results. The program is free, but the developers appreciate donations.

For more information about getting started with high dynamic range photos, check out "Stunning Photos With High Dynamic Range, Part 1" and "Stunning Photos With High Dynamic Range, Part 2."

Do I Need to Erase Before I Format a Memory Card?

When I format a memory card, do I first have to delete all the images on it?
--Amamomma, via e-mail

No, you don't. Formatting a memory card effectively erases its contents and cleans the card up, eliminating any fragmentation that might have been slowing it down. It's a good idea to use the camera's formatting command whenever you finish copying a large number of photos from your camera to your PC.

When a Fisheye Is Not a Fisheye

I have a fisheye lens that I used years ago with my film camera. When I screw it onto my digital SLR, though, the effect goes away. What is going on?
--Jean Toth, Hollywood, Florida

It sounds like you're using a lens that was designed to be a fisheye on a 35mm film camera. But when you attach it to a digital SLR with a smaller image sensor, the effective focal length of the lens increases, eliminating the fisheye effect.

The problem is that the focal length of any lens depends upon the size of the camera sensor it's attached to. If you put a lens from a film camera on most digital SLRs, the effective focal length will be longer, increasing its telephoto effect. That's great if you like taking telephoto photos, but less awesome if you love wide-angle photography. One solution is to invest in a digital SLR with a full-frame sensor--this kind of camera matches the size of 35mm film negatives, and therefore the focal length of all your old lenses stay the same.

Trouble Using the LCD

I recently purchased my first digital camera. My problem may seem silly, but I'm having a terrible time getting accustomed to holding a camera a foot in front of my face instead of holding it up to my eye. All I see is a reflection of my eyeglasses in the screen and consequently don't have the vaguest idea of what I'm photographing. Any suggestions?
--Anne Stroh, Pekin, North Dakota

That's a serious limitation of many point-and-shoot digital cameras, Anne. Without an optical viewfinder, they can be hard to use outdoors, especially in bright sunlight. Personally, I am a big fan of optical viewfinders, and wouldn't buy a camera without one. If your new digital camera has an LCD only, though, there's still hope. You might be able to get a shade that blocks the sun and makes the LCD easier to see. Delkin, for example, sells Pop-Up Shades for exactly this purpose.

The next time you buy a digital camera that has an LCD but no viewfinder, I recommend that you visit a store where you can try it out before you buy. Take the camera outside the shop and see how the screen behaves in direct sunlight. Is it bright enough? For more camera buying tips, read "Getting Started in Digital Photography."

Selling Digital Photos Online

I enjoy taking digital photos and would like to know the best sites for selling some. I have never done this before and would appreciate any help you can give me.
--J Maddage, Nashville, Tennessee

It has gotten a lot easier to sell your photos in the last few years, thanks in particular to the rise of micro-stock sites. These are the modern Web equivalent of the traditional stock photography services that were the bread and butter of working photographers for decades.

The basic idea is this: You upload photos to a micro-stock site and assign keywords to them. When a client comes along looking for a particular sort of photo, they can browse the micro-stock site's library. If they choose your photo, you get a small payment in return. Of course, your photos will need to meet the site's quality standards, and don't expect to make a fortune. Read "Selling Your Digital Photos" for more information about getting started.

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: "Colorful Spring Evening," by Sandeep Pawar, Glencoe, Illinois

Sandeep says: "I took this photo using a Canon XSI at Chicago Botanic Garden this spring. As I was on my way out of the garden, I saw amazing colors in the sky, and the colorful tulips provided a nice foreground. Since the light was fading, I took three shots at different exposures and then made a high dynamic range image using Photomatix Pro."

This week's runner-up: "Grand Finale," by Jeff Knowler, Windsor, Ontario

Jeff writes: "I shot this from atop a toboggan hill in Windsor, Ontario, which overlooked the Detroit skyline. I used a Canon S5is,with a 2.5-second exposure."

To see all of this month's winners, visit the August Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

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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