Organizing Photos, Fixing Dark Prints, Solving File Format Problems, and More

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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 September, October, and December.

Printer Prints Are Too Dark

I have a problem with my printed pictures being too dark. They look great on my screen, but when I print them they come out much darker. I can't find a solution. Would a new
printer help?
--Cal Reed, Chicago, Illinois

Your problem is a common one, Cal, though I think that most people tend to call their results "good enough" and don't worry about the difference between their PC display and the printer. No, I don't think a new printer is the answer. The problem is that your computer monitor and your printer are calibrated differently. It's not your printer's fault; it simply has no way to know exactly how your monitor is configured. After all, keep in mind that you can make your screen lighter or darker using the brightness control, and the printer is be none the wiser. You can mitigate this discrepancy by calibrating your computer display. There are a variety of gadgets out there for doing this; for example, check out the relatively inexpensive Spyder4Express. After adjusting your display with the Spyder, your monitor and printer should be in much closer agreement with each other.

Of course, it's also possible that your printer is poor quality--but calibration is going to help either way.

Smarter Photo Organization

I have a question about organizing my photos. Many times I have started to organize them, and while I have some already organized, inevitably things get messed up. I have original photos, copies, resized copies intended for a digital photo frame, other copies resized for Web pages, and so on.

My system for managing my photos is that I assign a file name for each picture like 20110426-A-02, where each digit stands for something, like who it's a picture of and what number shot on a particular day. For example, "A" stands for the photo of my girl and "02" stands for the number of photos of my girl taken on a particular date like 20110426. I change letters after the date to denote myself, my wife, my son and my girl like "M" for myself, "P" for my wife and "J" for my son. Then I combine 2 letters like "A&J" for pictures of my son and my girl together, "M&A" for pictures of myself and my daughter, "P&J" for photos of my wife and my son. If a particular photos have more than 2 member of my family in it then it would take "ALL" like the file name of 20110426-ALL-10.

There is no program to do this automatically so I have to view each single photo and assign a file name for it. That would take forever to go through all years of me taking pictures. I think it is a little bit overboard. What do you think?
--Mo Ashkanani, Miami, Florida

Mo, I appreciate your elaborate file system and attention to detail, but I got a headache just reading about it. Your file system would not be practical or sustainable unless you quit your job and dedicate the rest of your life just to managing photos.

Here's my opinion: It's simply not practical to organize photos using file names and folders. As you yourself have seen, you end up having to overload the file name with way too much information. Not only are the file names unreadable, but the entire process is tortuously manual.

Instead, you should be managing your photos by metadata. You can tag your photos with important keywords--such as who is in your photos, where they were taken, and what the occasion was--using a simple drag and drop system in most common photo organizers. And you don't have to worry about the date, because your photos already have the date in the metadata. I highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom, in part because you can have multiple versions of photos without cluttering up your photo catalog. A cheaper alternative: You can also creative and manage multiple versions of photos in Corel's Aftershot Pro ($99), though I haven't yet had a chance to try this new photo editing program.

Whither Grainy Photos?

I know hardly anything about cameras or taking pictures, but I do know when I see a clear sharp photo versus a fuzzy and/or grainy photo. Sometimes the pictures I take with my camera are clear and sharp, and sometimes they are grainy. Is there one culprit I should pay attention to or should I get your book, How to Do Everything with Your Digital Camera?
--Ed Spence, Las Vegas, Nevada

Certainly, I'd recommend my book, Ed, as well, as reading Digital Focus each week. Keep in mind that there's a difference between a blurry photo and a grainy photo. If you have ruled out blurry--which is caused by the camera not being in sharp focus or by something moving when the picture is being taken--then let's talk about grainy.

Based on your description, it sounds to me like you might be encountering noise related to low light or high ISO. If you're shooting pictures in your camera's Auto mode, it might be automatically increasing the ISO to deal with varying light conditions. At higher ISO, your photo will look grainier than usual. You can avoid this problem by shooting in a different mode, such as Program, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority, or checking the camera's user guide to see if you can lock the ISO in at a lower value.

Questions About TIFF and Scanners

When I use my scanner it saves my photos in TIFF format. When I try to use them as a desktop background imge, I get an error that it's in an improper format.
--Bill Nigel, Orange, New Jersey

It sounds like there are two issues here, Bill. First, you should check your scanner software's options for the file format it uses to save the scanned images. TIFF is a good, lossless file format sometimes preferred by professional photographers, but it's difficult to work with. I'd recommend saving your scans as high-quality JPEGs instead.

Your second issue--that you can't use those images as desktop background photos--is because you're still using Windows XP. Windows 7 lets you use TIFF images as desktop backgrounds. I'd definitely recommend upgrading to Windows 7, as that will no doubt make your life easier in many ways, but the more immediate solution is to re-save your TIFF images as JPEGs. Just open the TIFF in any photo editor, choose File, Save As, and save the photo as a JPEG.

Finding Your Photos Online

I am a freelance photographer and I'm into gig photography. I take photos of local gigs and I post them on Facebook. Recently, I've discovered that a local publisher interviewed a local band and they used some of my photos in the interviews of this band without any acknowledgement. What should I do? I am not looking to kick up a fuss but I just want to be clear on my rights and how matters like this should be handled.
--Jake, Reno, Nevada

I feel for you, Jake; this has happened to me on more than one occasion. Obviously, you own an implicit copyright on any photo you take, with or without an explicit copyright notice. There's no question that it's wrong for anyone to republish your photos without your permission. Sometimes this happens, though--either deliberately or through an innocent misunderstanding.

My recommendation is to contact the offending party and politely identify yourself as the owner of the photo, and request that they take it down (or attribute the photo to you, if you prefer). I've personally found that this approach works most of the time.

If you don't get satisfaction from asking politely, you probably don't have much additional recourse; you could hire an attorney to send a take-down notice or even bring a case to court, but those are expensive options and the trouble generally far exceeds the potential benefit. You might want to read an article I wrote some time ago on "Your Photos, Your Rights, and the Law," and a follow-up column, "More on Your Photos and the Law."

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 800 by 600 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: "John Wayne Country" by Gerald Goodman, Holbrook, New York

Gerald writes: "I took this picture with a FujiFilm1800. I was on a bus tour with friends. The bus stopped at a tourist attraction, and I got off of the bus to take some photos. The passing horse and rider added a western sort of feeling to my unedited landscape photo."

This week's runner-up: "Sunshine Tree" by Michelee Scott, Escondido, California

Michelee says she took this photo in Joshua Tree National Park while on the Hidden Valley Trail. She used a Nikon D5100.

To see last month's winners, visit our December 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, "Organizing Photos, Fixing Dark Prints, Solving File Format Problems, and More" was originally published by PCWorld.

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