Help for the Computer User

February 9th, 2004

Understanding Digital Photos
Joe Margiotta (flyfisherjoe)

I remember when I got my first medium format film camera. I could now produce much higher resolution prints than with my 35 mm because of the larger negative. 2 X 2. When I got my first 4 X 5 camera I could produce pictures bigger than life! Today the talk about cameras is in megapixels instead of film size but the basic concept is still the same. Lens and film were factors in the overall quality and today's digital cameras are dependent on the technology that goes into their design, not all 3 megapixels cameras are the same. Shopping around for the best quality and features to suit your needs is no different than shopping for a new film camera or rod and reel.

The equivalent of negative size in digital cameras is the megapixel size. The higher the number, the larger the picture it will produce. There are also settings on the camera to select the size you want to take. Larger, higher number of pixels, photos will produce higher quality pictures which are good for printing. They are larger in file size and the memory media will not hold as many. For viewing on a computer or use on a web site, you don't need a large (high number of pixels) picture and you can fit more on the media. Rather than discuss cameras here I want to talk about dealing with the pictures you get from them.

Let's say you take the pictures at a medium quality, which is usually the default. The next step, very frustrating for some, is transferring them to your computer. One way is with software and a cable, hopefully not old serial but USB, to connect to your computer that is supplied with the camera. My advice is to carefully read the directions and follow them exactly. Make sure the software is correct for your computers operating system. If you have problems, uninstall and try again. If you still have problems try downloading new software or try to contact support, if that's possible. The other way, which I use, is a card reader. I, personally, don't want any software on my computer that I don't need. Especially when these installations usually add a bunch of stuff I don't want. A card reader needs only to be installed to a USB port and I find them to be more convenient and useful for other things like data backup, but that's another subject. The readers are inexpensive and most can read all the different types of memory cards. The process is easy. Remove the card from the camera, insert it in the reader slot and it is just like a drive on your computer with it's own drive letter. You can copy the picture files to a place on your hard drive, using drag and drop or copy and paste just as you would from a CD or floppy. Or directly look at and load with your photo editing software. Some advantages to a card reader are: the camera is not in the way on the computer table, doesn't need to be plugged in or have the batteries drain.

Now that you have them on your computer you can erase them from the memory card. MAKE SURE that they are copied on to the computer. A good test is: take the memory card out of the reader or if you are connecting directly to the camera, disconnect the camera. If you can still look at the pictures on your computer, then they are on your computer. When you transfer them make sure it is to a place or folder that you know how to get back to.

If you do accidentally erase your pictures from your cameras card, there is still hope. In the computer world files, such as the ones on your computer or on the cameras media, are not really erased. They are just not accessible anymore once you delete them. Computer storage devices like your hard drive or a camera memory card use a system much like the table of contents from a book. The computer displays it contents from the FAT (File Allocation Table.) When you delete something it removes the file name from it but the actual files stay there until they are overwritten with new ones. Your computer keeps track of those deleted files in the "Trash." Computer operating systems also protect them from being overwritten until you "empty the trash." Nothing protects the erased files on a memory card so if you fill it with pictures again after erasing, they are lost. However if you don't overwrite them there is software that can recover the access to these files. Some examples of software for this is: Digital Picture Recovery (winutils.net), MediaRECOVER (mediarecover.com) and PhotoRescue 2.0 (datarescue.com.)

The extension jpg or jpeg is an acronym that stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is a format designed for photographic files that uses very high quality compression technology of the type known as "lossy" compression. You lose some quality but have a much reduced file size which is important for Internet related usage. This is the most widely used method for photos on the Internet. For files that don't need to produce the many colors and gradients needed for photographs a common compression technique is gif (Graphics Interchange Format.) This is a good method for sketches, logos and anything with a limited number on colors.

Quality digital cameras are capable of producing very large files important to use for printed pictures. They must be compressed as well as reduced in display dimensions to be viewed on a computer monitor and used on a web site or posted on a bulletin board such as the one here at FAOL. Print quality picture files are not suitable for Internet placement or e-mail use. You would not want to compress files for printing because it is easier to notice the results of lossy compression on printed pictures. You will need photo editing software and an understanding of how pixels, file size, screen size, print size and compression relate to prepare the photo. Editing software probably came with your camera. This may suit your needs. It may be a "limited version" which will suffice or one that could be upgraded. It may, however be something that you find inadequate or just too unfriendly. In that case you might shop around for something else. A few examples of inexpensive or free software are:

Paint Shop Pro 8.0: Popular and very capable

Micrografx Picture Publisher Professional 10: Loaded with many features and creative tools.

Adobe Photoshop Elements: Most of the features of Photoshop with a much lower price.

IfranView: Not as sophisticated or feature rich as the ones above but does a good job and it's free.

Other than the free one you can find these particular packages for as little as $40 to $60.

With the use of software you can turn your pictures into manageable files with the properties suitable for uses such as:

Printing: This is where the large high resolution files will be best. Cropping is a useful tool to isolate the important part or subject in composing but will reduce the size that you will be able to print. That is why you should try to compose the picture when you take it. There are other tools to sharpen lighten, darken, etc. Each of these will degrade the overall quality some but still may improve the appearance and are useful. Of course the better you take the picture, the less "adjusting" and therefore better final quality.

Posting: You can place them on a web site or post them to a Bulletin board. The directions for posting them here can be found on the top right of the posts page using the link "UBB code" When posting pictures it is important to reduce them to a manageable size and compress them for fast loading.

E-mail: Attaching a picture or any file to an e-mail is accomplished by selecting the "Attach" function in the window when you are actually writing the e-mail. It can be accessed by clicking on an button or icon that is a paper clip. Another way is to select "Attach" in the menu on top under "File" or "Insert." This will bring up a little window that you can navigate to the file you want. Many get lost at this point because they don't know where they have saved their picture files. You should save them in a folder that you will remember so you can easily navigate to it. You can specify that when saving. Learning to navigate your computer is very important and lack of this ability holds a lot of people back. Once you have found the file you can double click it or single click and click the "Save" or "Attach" button. You should then see the file name appearing somewhere in the compose or writing screen. When you send the e-mail it will be attached to it. Preparing pictures with a small file size is important to e-mail just as it is to posting.

Now we need to talk about preparing the pictures for these various uses.

Continued next week ...

Tip of the Week


Learn to use the Find or Search on your computer to find, "File or Folders." By using wild cards it is a good way to find things like picture files or Microsoft Word documents for example. To find all the files on your computer that end in the extension jpg, which is the most common for picture files, type *.jpg in the search box. If your search is for the C drive you will find all the jpg files on that drive. It will also tell you the "path," which is the folder and sub folder (if applicable) that they are located in. Using *.doc will find all the Word documents. The asterisk (*) is the wild card that means anything. Note: this is for search on your own computer, wild cards may not apply to other types of search.

What are you waiting for ? Go take some pictures! ~ JM

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