New Year's Resolutions

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Happy New Year! It might be a little clichéd, but I'm one of those folks who make a few resolutions each January 1. And sometimes I follow through: I haven't had a drop of soda in about four years now, for example. And last year's resolution--to keep my Web site up to date--has resulted in at least a couple of blog postings each month throughout 2007.

Since I have such a solid track record, I thought we should use this week's newsletter to pledge a few New Year's resolutions to improve our skills at digital photography. Follow through on these, and you'll see your photos improve in 2008.

Read the Manual

This one may seem obvious, but no one does it. Dig out the manual that came with your camera and spend a few evenings actually reading it. You'll finally discover what "Best Shot" mode does and why your flash photos always turn out too dark.

Take a Class

And while you're in learnin' mode, seek out a digital photography class or two. Trust me: These things are fun.

Your local camera shop might offer photo classes or workshops--and they're probably free. Or check out the local community college or adult learning center. Camera makers sometimes run their own classes and workshops. Nikon, for example, offers some great classes all around the country; check out the Nikon School of Photography for more information.

Of course, don't forget that you have access to almost seven year's worth of photo editing tips and tricks in the Digital Focus archives. There's a drop-down menu on the right side of the page that lets you browse newsletters by year, going all the way back to 2001.

Carry a Tripod--And Use It

You've heard me talk about the miraculous steadying powers of a tripod for years now, yet you still never use one. Maybe making it an official resolution will help. When you connect your digital camera to a tripod, monopod, or some other support, the difference in image sharpness will be as apparent to you as night and day. Trust me.

Visit your local camera store and invest in a lightweight tripod. Need some shopping tips? Read "Stabilize Your Camera for Razor-Sharp Photos" and "What Makes a Good Tripod?"

Get Your Photos Organized

By now you have hundreds or even thousands of photos on your computer. Finding any specific image is getting harder by the day. So install a photo organizer and "tag" your photos with keywords. Then you can zero in on photos--and rediscover pictures you had forgotten you took-by clicking on tags.

I highly recommend Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery, which comes with Windows Vista. If you don't use Vista, you can download Windows Live Photo Gallery for free from Microsoft's Windows Live site--I like it better than most organizers you have to pay for. You can tag even a large photo collection over just a couple of weekends, and after it's done, you can find any photo in seconds.

For more tips and other programs, read "Organize Your Photos."

Back Up Your Image Files

Did you read the previous resolution? You've got thousands of photos on your computer! Good grief, what would happen if your hard drive failed?

Don't be one computer glitch away from losing all your photos. Get an external hard drive and back up your photos on a regular basis--or check out the coolest new technology on the block, Windows Home Server, which automatically backs up all the files on all the computers in your house. It does a bunch of other exciting things as well; for details, read "Microsoft's Best New OS (Hint: It's Not Vista)."

Enter the Digital Focus Hot Pic Contest

Each week, we select a reader photo and publish it for all the world to see, both here in this newsletter and on Flickr. Whenever you take a cool photo, send it in and maybe show it off to the world. After all, nothing helps you take better pictures than showing them to friends, family, and fellow newsletter subscribers.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.

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: "Gathering Pollen," by Loren Lewis, Vernon, Connecticut

Loren writes: "I took this photo with an Olympus C5050. I set the camera to macro mode and attached a home-built close-up lens. I took it late in the day, when it was cool and the bees were slowing down and not very aggressive. My lens was only inches away from their faces but they didn't seem to mind."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Wet Rock," by Christine Oravec, Saint George, Utah

Christine writes: "I took this photo during a light, steady rain in the Utah desert. The usually spectacular scenery had faded to gray, but the rocks beneath my feet created their own landscapes."

Hot Pic of the Month: Each month we choose one of our weekly winners to be the Hot Pic of the Month. For December, we chose "Water," by Nicholas Kosloski, from New Britain, Connecticut.

Congratulations to Nicholas and to everyone else who won a Hot Pic of the Week last month. To see all the Hot Pic winners for December, view the slide show. Keep those entries coming!

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.

This story, "New Year's Resolutions" was originally published by PCWorld.

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