One of the real success stories of the digital age is the marriage of photography with personal computers. Digital technology is used for taking photos, correcting mistakes, adding special effects, and printing, sharing and displaying.
All of this makes it easier and more enjoyable to take pictures for business and pleasure. But what hasn't changed in the transition from analog to digital is the photographic skill needed to produce a compelling image. There are rules of the road to follow when transforming raw images into eye-popping photographs.
Lighting is one common stumbling block, and many casual shooters - even business photographers - are in the dark about it.
When shooting outside, the best light is in the early morning or late afternoon. If you have to shoot at midday, put yourself and your subject in the shade, if possible, to avoid harsh highlights, dark shadows and squinting eyes.
If you must be in the sun, try to shoot with it beside you rather than at your back. If you can't avoid shooting with the sun behind your subject, turn on your camera's flash and use it to avoid a background that is overly dark or bright.
Photos snapped indoors can present tricky lighting challenges as well. Subjects illuminated with conventional incandescent bulbs may have a slightly orange cast because cameras are preconfigured for the sun's "color temperature."
You can correct for this in any of three ways: Change the camera's "white balance" setting, use special "daylight-balanced" light bulbs, or place your subject by a window to take advantage of natural illumination.
Using a flash can also prevent this, but flash photography has problems all its own. The inexpensive built-in flash in ordinary digital cameras can make your subject unnaturally bright and the background artificially dark.
Instead, if possible, turn off the flash and use additional lighting by moving a lamp or two close to your subject. If you must use a flash, experiment with diffusing its light by bouncing it off a light-colored ceiling or nearby wall. One way to do this is to hold a small mirror in front of the flash at a 45-degree angle.
Flashes can also cause the devilish "red eye" problem in living subjects. To try to prevent this, you can use your camera's red-eye setting, if it has one. Another option is to tape a small piece of tracing paper over the flash to diffuse its light.
Composition - how you position your subjects and yourself, and what you choose to include in the photo - is another crucial aspect of good photography that's often overlooked.
A frequent mistake is to shoot too far away from the subject. It's generally best to fill the camera's LCD screen or viewfinder with your subject and minimize the foreground and background. You'll get sharper results by moving in closer, if possible, rather than using your camera's zoom mode or a telephoto lens.
You can crop a photo later using an image-editing program, but you risk losing sharpness here as well. A high-megapixel camera can preserve the clarity.
Pay attention to the background. Avoid positioning your subjects directly in front of vertical objects, such as telephone poles - it will look like something is growing from atop their heads. Also avoid backgrounds that are overly cluttered, which distract attention away from your subjects.
You can correct many mistakes and add in amazing special effects using image-editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro.
But avoid the temptation of doing too much. An over-edited photo can look as amateurish as an over-designed Word document or Web site.
What size you make the final photos depends on whether you intend to print them out on your inkjet printer, send them via e-mail, post them to your Web site, or make them available to whomever you choose through a photo-sharing site such as Shutterfly, www.shutterfly.com, or Snapfish, www.snapfish.com. Photos meant for viewing on a computer screen should be smaller than those that will be printed out: One rule of thumb for Web photos is that the width should be no more than 800 pixels.
The durability of the ink used by inkjet printers is improving all the time. But to minimize the chance of an image fading, mount prints behind plastic or glass, or for optimal protection use special ultraviolet glass available from picture frame shops.