Frequently Asked Photo Questions for October

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 FAQs, read my July, August, and September issues.

High ISO Photos Without the Noise

I have heard about photographers taking pictures with extremely high ISOs and the results are not grainy. How do they do this? If I shoot anything much over 100 on my Olympus C-8080 it begins to look quite grainy.
--Jo Smith, Crescent City, California

The high-ISO, low-noise photo can seem as elusive as Bigfoot, especially if you have an older camera or a point and shoot. Your Olympus C-8080 was a superb camera when it was released in 2004, but even so, it's six years old, which is a long time in the technology world. Newer cameras have somewhat better noise handling at high ISO. And no point-and-shoot model will be able to keep noise under control like a digital SLR--point-and-shoot cameras have relatively tiny sensors that tend to express a lot more noise than SLRs.

So, while you'll get the best high-ISO performance from a digital SLR, there are things you can do with your Olympus C-8080. Be sure the camera's high-ISO noise reduction feature is turned on. And you might also want to investigate a noise reduction program like Noise Ninja ($70, free trial) or Noiseware ($80, free trial) . These programs do a superb job of reducing noise in photos after you've gotten them onto your PC.

For more details on dealing with noise, read "Take Control of Digital Noise."

Capture More Realistic Colors

The fall colors in the Black Hills of South Dakota are gorgeous right now, but no matter what I do I can't seem to capture the colors I'm seeing with the naked eye. Any tricks I should try?
--Shari Kosel, Rapid City, South Dakota

There are two important components to reproducing the colors you see with your eyes in your photos, Shari: White balance and saturation.

I'd start with white balance. Try adjusting the white balance setting on your camera. You can either choose a preset that matches your shooting conditions (daylight, cloudy, and so on) or manually adjust the white balance while focusing on a white piece of paper held in front of the camera. You might need to check your camera's user manual for details on how to do this, but it'll give you the most accurate results. Most people rely on the camera's ability to automatically detect white balance, but the reality is that the camera gets it wrong most of the time, which leads to photos that look just a little off.

Once you've got the white balance under control, consider increasing the saturation a little. Your camera probably has a saturation (or "vivid") setting buried deep in a menu, and you can increase the intensity a bit. Or bring the photo into your image editor, where you have more control, and try using the saturation slider.

Recovering Lost Images

Does Microsoft Windows Vista or Windows 7 have a way to recover lost images on a Secure Digital card? Recently, when I removed the SD card from my camera and inserted it into the computer, I received a message that the card needed to be formatted, and there are no photos to download. One thing that could have caused the problem is that the camera was on when the card was removed. What can I do?
--Stanley John, Madison, Wisconsin

I recommend that you always be sure your camera is turned off before you insert or remove a memory card, Stanley. If your camera is using the card when you remove it, there's a really good chance your photos will be damaged.

But now that your card has been compromised, you do indeed have some options. There's nothing built into Windows to help recover photos from a damaged card, but free and commercial options abound. Most free photo recovery tools won't work on corrupted cards, which it sounds like you have, so I suggest CnW Recovery Software. You can try this program in demo mode for free to see if it can find your lost photos, then get a 30-day license for $20, which is handy for a one-time emergency like you are experiencing now.

Action Photography at Night

I am now acting as the photographer for my son's middle-school football team. I have a Canon XSi with a 55-250 mm zoom lens (f/4 - 5.6 IS), which I have used to get some great action shots in sports mode. But now that it's getting darker, my photos are getting blurry. How can I get good action shots when it's darker outside?
--Cindy Tay, Orleans, Ontario

You're bumping up against the laws of physics, Cindy. Cameras crave light--a lot of it--and freezing action means using a fast shutter speed, which severely restricts the amount of light you can work with. There are two ways to fix this problem: Bumping up the ISO or using a faster lens.

You can definitely make some improvements by going down the ISO route. Crank your camera's ISO to its highest value. That will increase the sensor's sensitivity to light, allowing you to shoot at a faster shutter speed in low light.

If that's not enough, you might also consider purchasing a "faster" lens. Photographers talk about lenses being fast or slow depending upon their maximum aperture. A lens that can reach f/2 admits a lot more light than a lens that can only muster f/5.6, and so the f/2 lens is a faster lens--mainly because you can use a faster shutter speed in the same lighting, which is exactly what you need in this situation.

That's the great thing about having a digital SLR--you can switch lenses without replacing the entire camera. Since you are shooting sports, I am guessing that you're probably working near the extreme telephoto end of your zoom range. Out there, at 200mm or 250mm, your current lens can only muster f/5.6, which is pretty slow (it doesn't admit much light). When you combine a slow f/5.6 aperture with low light, the resulting shutter speed will be sluggish, resulting in blurry action.

Consider investing in a prime telephoto lens--a lens that isn't a zoom, but is fixed at, say, 250mm. Fast prime lenses are a lot more affordable than fast zoom lenses, so you might be able to shoot several stops faster. Combined with a higher ISO, you'll be much better poised to capture sports action at night.

Duplicate File Names When Formatting Memory Cards

A few weeks ago, I followed your suggestion in the August FAQ to format a memory card occasionally in the camera. As a result, I now find my photos with duplicate file names when I download them into my computer. Can you help with this problem?
--Paul, McComb, Missouri

You're right, Paul: When you format your camera's memory card, depending upon your model, the file names might reset every time. I mentioned this in "Memory Card Questions Answered." As a general rule, this is a problem only if you are storing all of your photos in a single folder--which is not a good idea. It's a much better bet to import each new batch of photos into their own unique subfolder within your Pictures folder. If you do this, duplicate file names will never be a concern. Either way, you'll eventually have to contend with this duplicate problem when you buy a new memory card.

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: "Droplets," by Keith Barnett, Santee, California

Keith captured this photo with an Olympus C750UZ with a fast 1/500 second shutter speed.

This week's runner-up: "White Sands Sunset," by Jill M. Smith, Arlington, Texas

Jill writes: "On a recent trip to White Sands National Monument, I took this sunset shot with a Canon 50D. I was disappointed because there were no clouds in the sky to get some really striking sunsets, but by boosting the color temperature, I was able to get this pretty cool compromise."

To see all of the October winners, visit the 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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