Frequently Asked Photo Questions for November

As you might have noticed by glancing at the date, my month FAQ is a week late this time around. I wanted to be sure you had a chance to read my Digital Photo Holiday Gift Guide while there were still plenty of shopping days left on the calendar. But fear not, I haven't neglected the mail bag.

Do you 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 August, September, and October.

Resilient Memory Cards

I repair washers and dryers daily. I thought you'd like to know that I found a Secure Digital memory card that went through the wash and dry cycle stuck in the dryer's bottom. It was not only clean, but it still works great!
--Erik Rice, Richmond, Virginia

Thanks for the note, Erik. Indeed, memory cards such as CompactFlash, SD, and Memory Stick are uncannily resilient. You can drop them out of windows, leave them in the wash, even run them over with your car. A lot of the time, they'll come out the other end just fine--but not all the time. I wouldn't get in the habit of washing and drying your memory cards.

Photo Storage Suggestion

I have a suggestion about storing photos. In your October FAQ, you briefly talked about storing your photos in different folders. I suggest that you take that one step further. I store my photos in a new folder for each day of shooting. My naming convention for these folders is the year first followed by the month followed by the day. I also add a description. This way all the folders line up in order that they were taken.

--Lester F Shalloway, Warrenton, Oregon

Good suggestion, Lester. Indeed, many photo organizers let you specify a naming convention similar to this when you import the photos. An example of this might be 20101206_scuba_roatan. Of course, I do still highly recommend tagging your photos, so you can search for photos by keywords rather than browsing folders by date.

How Do You Remove Duplicates?

Often, my photos get duplicated on my PC. Is there any way to eliminate all the multiple copies of photos that waste computer memory?

--Gord Lawson, Van Buren, Arkansas

Sure thing, Gord. Before I get to the solution, though, I have to wonder aloud: Why are your files getting duplicated? There's no technical reason for that to happen, so it sounds like you're doing something in your workflow that results in duplicates. I'd think about that, try to figure out why it's happening, and prevent it in the future. Duplicating photos not only wastes space, but it's confusing and dangerous: Which version of your photo is the latest? Is it okay to delete other copies?

To clean up your computer, try Duplicate Cleaner. It's a free utility that will scour your hard drive and identify your dupes. Depending on how you tell the program to embark upon its search, it can identify only files that are identical based on content, or it can just find files with similar titles.

Viewfinder Fails in Sunlight

I live in Florida and do or would like to do a lot of outdoor photos. The light is so bright, though, I can see nothing on the LCD. I just take shots in the light or literally point, shoot, and hope. Two questions: Why don't camera designers recognize this? And what can I do about it?

--Joan McKniff, Queen Creek, Arizona

Camera designers do recognize this problem, Joan, and they try their best to make bright LCDs that are viewable in direct sunlight--but the laws of physics limit how well these displays can work. As a result, cameras with LCDs only are typically budget cameras and compact, highly pocketable models. Step up to moderately priced or bulkier, more full-featured models, and you'll start to see a lot of optical viewfinders.

I've written about this before; it's something of a pet peeve for me as well. If I may crib from some advice I've given in the past, let me say that I am a big fan of optical viewfinders, and wouldn't buy a camera without one. If your digital camera has an LCD only, though, 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 plan to buy a digital camera that has an LCD but no viewfinder, I recommend that you visit a store where you can try it out beforehand. 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."

Should My VR Lens Be This Noisy?

I have a Nikon D80 that I love. Unfortunately, I have a problem sometimes with my hands shaking, so I bought a 55-200mm VR lens, hoping this would help. I find that this lens makes noise when focusing, and the image in the viewfinder shifts when you release the shutter. Do all VR lenses do this?

--Denetiza Jones, Alabama

First, some terminology: VR is the name Nikon uses for its "Vibration Reduction" lenses. Canon's "Image Stabilization" (IS) lenses work essentially the same way.

To answer your question, Denetiza, yes: All VR and IS lenses will make some noise and shift the image. Basically, there's an arrangement of gyroscopes in the lens that drives motors to move optical elements around in the lens. All that makes a little noise, but it shouldn't be especially loud. I own a handful of VR lenses and I have used Canon IS lenses. None of them have made significant enough noise to bother me. If yours is really loud, you might want to take it back to the store to get checked out. Likewise, the image will definitely shift when you release the shutter, since the gyros are no longer holding the image still. You should expect this behavior.

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: "Colours," by Isabella Grass, Frankfurt, Germany

Isabella tool this vivid close-up with a Nikon D70.

This week's runner-up: "Flying Symmetry," by Bob Brennan, Portland, Oregon

Bob says that he captured this shot using a Nikon D300 at a vaudeville-style juggling show at a local Portland high school.

To see all of this month's winners, visit the November 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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