Frequently Asked Photo Questions for May

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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 February, March, and April.

Where Are My Photos?

Picasa 3 seems to have lost a bunch of my photos. Is there any way I can recover them? Are they on my hard drive?
--Alyn McConnaha, Guthrie, Oklahoma

First, let me come to Picasa's defense, Alyn. Picasa is unlikely to have lost your photos.

It's important to remember that photo organizers like Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery, the organizer in Adobe Photoshop Elements, and others don't actually store your photos. Instead, they point to wherever your photos are located on your computer.

When you start using an organizer for the first time, it will scan your hard drive, locate all your photos, and generate small thumbnails to represent each image. When you choose one of those images, your organizer finds the photo, still nestled away where you originally stored it.

The moral of the story is that you should never think, "Picasa is storing my photos now, so the originals are duplicates," and try to delete them. If you do, you'll be deleting the only copies of your photos from your computer.

So what happened to your photos? The most likely explanation is that you deleted the photos accidentally, either in Picasa or in Windows Explorer. To be sure, you can search your computer for the photos. Hopefully you store your photos in the My Pictures folder (in Windows XP) or Pictures folder (in Windows Vista), which will make them easy to find. You can also search your PC for any JPEG files (Select Start, Search and try *.jpg).

Understanding the Polarizer

I'm finding the effect of my polarizing filter to be subtle to the point of invisible. It doesn't seem to reduce reflections at all. Can you explain?
--Jerry Heiss, Baltimore, Maryland

Sure, Jerry. Ordinary light, unpolarized, causes reflections in glass and water, and contributes to low contrast, hazy-looking skies in your photos. You can use a polarizer to reduce or eliminate reflections and punch up the skies.

A polarizer is a circular polarizing filter that you screw onto the front of your camera lens. You can spin it around, and it has a variable effect depending upon its position. The effect on your photos is based on a number of other factors, including where the sun is and the angle you're making with respect to the reflections or the sky. To get the right effect, you need to consider all of these factors when you frame your photo.

See "Fix Common Photo Problems with a Polarizer" for tips on getting the most out of a polarizing filter.

Face Recognition

I recently saw an ad for Apple that says it can help organize photos for you based on face recognition. How long will it be before something like that is available for Windows users so that I can better organize my photos?
--Kathleen Diehlmann, Highland Springs, Virginia

Apple might be actively advertising face recognition (and to be honest, I haven't seen those ads myself), but rest assured that there are several programs for Windows with face recognition technology built in.

Right now there are three programs you can try for a taste of face recognition. Picasa Web Albums can recognize the faces in the photos you store on the Web. PicsMatch is a full-featured desktop photo organizer with face recognition, and Windows Live Photo Gallery has some limited face recognition features as well. Read "Let Your Computer ID the People in Your Photos" for my review of these programs.

Face recognition is one of the last frontiers of digital photography, Kathleen; I think we'll see a lot more of this sort of thing very soon.

Shrinking Photos for the Digital Focus Contest

I have a few photos that I would like to enter but they do not meet the size requirements. How do I shrink them so that I can enter?
-- Steve Scheret, Staten Island, New York

I get this question frequently, Steve. You can use the Resize feature in almost any photo editing program to shrink your gargantuan 10 megapixel photo down to 800 by 600 pixels for the photo contest.

In Photoshop Elements, for example, just select Edit, Image, Resize, Image Size from the menu, and then select a width and height in the Image Size dialog box to shrink the photo. Check out "Put Your Photos on a Diet" for more details and tips on other ways to resize your photos.

More Clever Camera Tricks

Recently, I wrote about six clever ways to use your camera, and a lot of readers couldn't resist sending me their own unconventional uses for digital cameras and camera phones. Here are the best reader tips.

I use my camera to take photos of preexisting damage to rental cars on business trips. I try to also shoot the odometer or other surroundings that document the date. On the rental agreement, I note that I took photos of existing damage. I haven't had a problem since!
--S. Calabrese, Lawrenceville, Georgia

On vacation, I'll often see a public map. Paris has many of these as you exit the subway, for example. I quickly snap a photo of the map and refer to it as we tour to stay on track and avoid getting lost. Once we have left the city I simply erase the picture and retrieve the camera space.
--Rob Schenk, Dublin, Ireland

Take pictures of your luggage before you check it. If lost or damaged, you can give them a picture, which is better than a description. If the luggage turns up damaged, you can use the photo to prove they did the damage.
--Lester, Pueblo, Colorado

I've got a tip for the do-it-yourselfer: If you take something apart to repair it, a photo of the gadget in different stages of disassembly can help you get all those darn pieces go back together in the right order, with no missing pieces at the end.
--Charlie Bress, Olympia, Washington

Traveling abroad? Keep a digital picture of your passport on your camera. If you should lose your passport, the data on the picture will speed a replacement passport.
--jaygeecee, via Comments

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: "Jump," by Joey Sours, Luray, Virginia

Joey writes: "I took this photograph of my wife, Elisabeth, in Arches National Park in Utah. I allowed the sun to peek around the edge of the arch in order to get the lens flare effect. I caught her in the middle of a jump for joy."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Opening Day," by Ana Karina Casal, Royal Palm Beach, Florida

Ana says: "I snuck the camera through the fence and shot a picture of my son trying to win the Homerun Rally contest on Opening Day in West Palm Beach.

To see all of May's Hot Pics, visit our slide show. Stop by the Digital Focus Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? Send 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.

This story, "Frequently Asked Photo Questions for May" was originally published by PCWorld.

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