Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Digital Learning Curves Revisited

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As technology changes, we have to change. We are constantly updating information to our readers so that you will be well-informed and prepared to make good choices as you continue to explore your "Digital Learning Curve." 

Silly opening thoughts: when you first start using a digital camera you'll probably do what I did, and that's put the camera on auto-everything and shoot a few pictures. Wow! That's pretty cool, I can view the image immediately on the LCD viewer on the back of the camera, download it to my computer, and see a nice size image on my monitor. Now, I just made the assumption that you already know how to take the memory card from the camera, transfer the images to the computer using either the connecting cord that came with the camera, or an accessory "Card Reader" that you may have purchased when you bought the camera. I am also assuming that you are able to get those images loaded into the software program that you are using with your computer. 

You do have a computer don't you? You are familiar with imaging software such as Photoshop, aren't you? Wow! All of a sudden you begin to realize just how far you've come from the days when you just opened the back on your old Pentax K1000, put a roll of film in it, took a few shots, and then let your photo lab do the rest. 

Did you notice how I simplified the traditional process of loading film: Remember this? Hopefully the film caught on the sprockets okay, and it's advancing properly. Oh, when you are finished shooting, don't forget to push the film release button on the bottom of the camera before you try to rewind the film, or you will tear the film sprockets causing you to accidentally expose the film when you open the back, thinking the film has been re-wound into the cassette when it in fact didn't. If you handled that part okay, you still had to get in your car, drive to a camera shop or photo processing lab, drop your film off, and then return later to pick it up. "I'm sorry Mr. Stanley, but there was nothing on your film, it was totally blank. Did you load the film properly?" 

As you probably have guessed by now, this is called a "Learning Curve." We easily forget that this is a very normal part of the photographic process. While the equipment may change, the learning curve remains. Sometimes this learning curve is gradual, sometimes, it is very abrupt. It all depends upon what it is that we are trying to accomplish, and on how determined we are to see it through. 

Welcome to the "Digital Learning Curve!"


How can you become digitally savvy so that you won't be wasting good hard earned money? The most obvious way is to become more knowledgeable. You can surf the web for information, read books on the subject, or seek good sound advice from someone who has been there (Gee, I think this is where I come in). 

I want to help you to understand some digital basics, and what to expect. 

I will show you how to make an informed decision, and do it economically. We'll look at the various types of digital cameras and features available from very basic on up to the high end digital SLRs, covering the effect that the number of mega pixels and sensor size will have on the final photograph or print. 

I will touch on the similarities between film and digital photography and what carries over from one to the other. I believe that doing so will make you far more comfortable with the transition. 

I'll talk about the types of storage devices, both the cameras and the images, and how to get data from the camera to the computer. I'll briefly discuss what to do after you download to the computer, and a word about plug-ins. I'll talk about various printing options - e.g. printing yourself from your computer, taking your memory card to the local drugstore or photo lab.

Relax: You don't have to know it all. Take a moment to stop and think about what it is that you want your digital experience to do for you (sounds like a therapy session doesn't it?). 

Digital Terminology 
Digital Images are electronic snapshots taken of a scene. The digital image is then sampled and mapped as a grid of dots or picture elements (pixels). Each pixel is assigned a tonal value (black, white, shades of gray or color), The bits are then interpreted and read by the computer to produce an analog version for display or printing. 

Resolution is the ability to distinguish fine spatial detail. The spatial frequency at which a digital image is sampled (the sampling frequency) is often a good indicator of resolution. This is why dots-per-inch (dpi) or pixels-per-inch (ppi) are common terms used to express resolution for digital images. 

Sensors: CCD - Charge Coupled Device: one of the two main types of image sensors used in digital cameras, with CMOS - Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, being the other. When a picture is taken, the CCD or CMOS is struck by light coming through the camera's lens. Each of the thousands or millions of tiny pixels that make up the CCD or CMOS, convert this light into electrons. The number of electrons, usually described as the pixel's accumulated charge, is measured and then converted to a digital value. This last step occurs outside the CCD, in a camera component called an analog-to-digital converter. Foveon is another type of image sensor, currently only used on Sigma's digital SLR cameras. 

White Balance - A function on the digital camera (whether manual or to compensate for different colors of light being emitted by different light sources. It refers to the relative intensity of colors in your image. Without correction, a picture taken at sunset can seem too yellow or orange and a picture taken under fluorescent lights might seem too green. Some cameras come with built in automatic white balance correction.

Pixel - Picture Element: digital photographs are comprised of thousands or millions of them; they are the building blocks of a digital photo.

DPI - Dots Per Inch. A measurement of the resolution of a digital photo or digital device, including digital cameras and printers, the higher the number, the greater the resolution.

Image resolution - The number of pixels in a digital photo is commonly referred to as its image resolution

Histogram - A graphic representation of the range of tones from dark to light in a photo. Some digital cameras include a histogram feature that enables a precise check on the exposure of the photo.

ISO speed - A rating of a film's sensitivity to light. Though digital cameras don't use film, they have adopted the same rating system for describing the sensitivity of the camera's imaging sensor. Digital cameras often include a control for adjusting the ISO speed; some will adjust it automatically depending on the lighting conditions, adjusting it upwards as the available light dims. Generally, as ISO speed climbs, image quality drops.

JPEG - A standard for compressing image data developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group, hence the name JPEG. Strictly speaking, JPEG is not a file format, it's a compression method that is used within a file format, such as the EXIF-JPEG format common to digital cameras. It is referred to as a lossy format, which means some quality is lost in achieving JPEG's high compression rates. Usually, if a high-quality, low-compression JPEG setting is chosen on a digital camera, the loss of quality is not detectable to the eye.

RAW - The RAW image format is the data as it comes directly off the CCD, with no in-camera processing is performed.

LCD - Liquid Crystal Display: a low-power monitor often used on the top and/or rear of a digital camera to display settings or the photo itself.

Media - Material that information is written to and stored on. Digital photography storage media includes Compact Flash cards Smart media card, SD cards, Memory Stick and CDs etc.

Megabyte (MB) - A measurement of data storage equal to 1024 kilobytes (KB).

Megapixel - Equal to one million pixels.

Noise - Pixels in your digital image that were misinterpreted. Usually occurs when you shoot a long exposure (beyond 1/2-second) or when you use the higher ISO values from 400 or above. It appears as random groups of red, green or blue pixels.

Noise Reduction - Some cameras that offer long shutter speeds (exceeding 1 second) usually have a noise reduction (NR) feature that is either automatic or can be enabled in the menu. This is to help eliminate random "hot" pixels and other image noise.

Scene Modes - Many digital cameras now have an exposure mode called SCENE where the user selects the best pre-programmed scene to suit the current shooting conditions. The camera will automatically change many settings to capture the best possible image.

Shutter Lag - The time between pressing the shutter and actually capturing the image. This is due to the camera having to calculate the exposure, set the white balance and focus the lens.

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