Frequently Asked Photo Questions for December

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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 blogs from September, October, and November.

Printing Photos of Unusual Size

I have seen a few pictures that are long and short, such as 18 inches wide but only 4 inches high. How is a picture like this picture taken, and how is it printed?
--Fran, via e-mail

It sounds like you're describing a panoramic photo, Fran.

While it's possible to make a panorama with a wide-angle lens and then crop the image so it's wide and short, more typically it's made by stitching together a series of photos in a program with a panoramic stitching mode like Windows Live Photo Gallery. (Check out "Free Software for Making Panoramas" for a round-up of software to try.)

The more challenging question is how to print such a photo. If you want to make it oversized, such as 18 inches long, then you'll have to look beyond snapshot printers. There are a few printers available that support paper rolls that allow you to make prints that are several feet long. Alternately, you can get a "wide format" printer, which prints up to 13 by 19 inches, and cut the print down to your desired size.

Another option is to use a printing service that specializes in panoramic prints. Ezprints, for example, makes prints up to a staggering 156 inches long, and their prices are quite affordable.

Sharpening Photos After the Fact

I have a nice wedding photo which, sadly, is ever-so-slightly out of focus. Is there any way I can improve it... even a little?
--Geoffrey Edge, Nottawa, Ontario

Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to completely sharpen a blurry photo after the fact, Geoffrey. If the photo is only a little out of focus, however, you can try some sharpening tricks in a photo editor.

You can use your photo editor's Unsharp Mask tool to sharpen your photo--either apply it to the entire image, or just select the most important part of the image and apply Unsharp Mask there. Check out "Focus Tips" for an overview of Unsharp Mask.

Here's a trick that works for some photos: Select the background and apply a blur filter. Then select parts of the foreground and use Unsharp Mask on them. The blurry background will help deemphasize any slight focus problems in the foreground. I explain how to do all this in "Sharpen Up Your Photos."

Choosing the Right Mode for Macro Photos

When I want to take a macro photo, I know how to put the camera in its close-up mode (I press the button with a flower on it). But is there a setting I should use on the main dial to set a particular exposure?
--Dr. Pravin Pisolkar, India

As you indicated, Pravin, the tulip symbol on digital cameras represents the macro mode, which allows your camera to focus very close to the subject, such as within a few inches.

You can use any exposure mode, but some work better than others. For example, depth of field gets very shallow at macro distances, so you'll typically want to use aperture priority and dial in the biggest f-number you can, which will give you the most depth of field possible at that distance.

For more advice on shooting macros, read "Taking Close-Up Photos."

Killing Corrupt Photos

When I transfer photos from my camera to computer, I get a message saying the first two images are corrupt. I can't seem to delete them permanently. They just keep coming back like a bad penny. This doesn't seem to affect any other photos. All of the rest turn out fine. Should I be concerned or just ignore them? I'd hate to toss my memory card if I don't need to.
--Jo Bunch, El Paso, Texas

I've seen this sort of thing before, Jo. You shouldn't have to throw away the memory card; in most cases, you can make the corrupt photos go away permanently by formatting the card (instead of simply erasing the photos).

Use the formatting control in your camera's menu to format the card. You shouldn't do this every time you upload photos from the camera to your PC, but it's handy for times like this. Alternately, you can format the card on your PC: Insert the card in a card slot, open My Computer, right-click the memory card, and choose Format.

Photos for Sale

I've heard that there are some Web sites that will post your photos, and if someone likes one of them, they can buy it for pennies. It's not a lot of money, but at least you are aware that it's being used. What do you think about these kinds of sites?
--Maria, Loveland, Colorado

These are called "microstock" sites, and they are a modern take on traditional stock photography services.

In the old days, photographers listed their photos with stock services, and would get payments when clients used their images--in advertising campaigns, on calendars, magazine covers, and all sorts of other applications. These days, microstock sites work with a higher volume of business, since they allow almost anyone to upload their photos (as long as they meet basic quality requirements) and, in return, pay a tiny fraction of what photographers used to get.

This is good and bad. It's a great opportunity for everyday photographers to potentially make some money from their photos, and indeed, I wrote about how to get started in this business in "Selling Your Digital Photos."

But in the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of what these microstock sites are doing to the business of selling photos. In the same way that bloggers who write for free or for pennies on the dollar are eroding the entire publishing economy for traditional writers, microstock sites make it far harder for pros to put food on the table. Pros are now competing with people who can afford to give their photos away for free, since they don't do it for a living. Yes, it's a curmudgeonly viewpoint, I know, but one you might appreciate when you remember that I fall into both of those categories: writer and photographer.

If you want to read a little more about this, check out my blog post, "Making a Living in the New Economy."

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: "Chain of Angels," by Kevin Fenn, Spanish Fork, Utah

Kevin writes: "Anyone who has hiked Angel's Landing in Zion National Park has trusted the strength of these chains with their lives. I love the contrast between the strong chain and the weak sandstone rock. I took this with an old Olympus D-510 Zoom set to macro mode."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Waltham Reservoir," by Dave Moon, Needham, Massachusetts

Dave took this photo with his Nikon D50.

To see all of the December 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.

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

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