Annette Godtland's Tips for working with Digital Photos

I have long played with taking photos at family gatherings, on vacations, etc. But when I got my developed prints back, I found that more photos were worthless and should be thrown away than the number that should be kept. That is when I decided to go digital. I thought at least then I wouldn't have to pay to have so many of them printed. However, I found that by going digital I am now able to salvage more photos than ever before, and because I basically have unlimited film, I take way more pictures than I ever used to. Because of these two things, I now end up with way more and much better photos than before.

I enjoy working with digital photos. I am by no means an expert, but I've had friends and family new to digital photography ask me some of the basic questions about working with digital photos. So here are some tips that I thought I would pass on to others just getting started in digital photography.

What resolution photos should I take?

The resolution photo you take depends on what you want to do with the photo. Like me, you probably don't know what you will want to use the photo for until after you take it. So my philosophy is take the photo at the highest possible resolution and quality that your camera will support and that you have room for on your memory card. You can always reduce the resolution based on what you want to do with it later.

What resolution should I use for sending in e-mail?

It is important that you do not send very large photos through e-mail unless the person you are sending it to wants and is expecting a large file. Otherwise, depending on the speed of their internet connection, you may inadvertantly clog their e-mail with a download that takes too long.

It has been my experience that the best size e-mail to send is about 640x480. This makes a file less than 300K, and it seems to be acceptable to send several of them attached to one e-mail. 640x480 seems to be a nice size for placing on the web, and still prints an acceptable 4x6 print. However, if you are simply trying to send them a photo showing them something and you do not think they would want to print it, even 320x240 is an OK viewable size.

What size prints can I make from a digital image?

As a rule, any digital photo may be printed at any size. Basically any photo will be stretched or reduced to whatever size you try to print it. However, stretching photos may result in a poorer quality photo. The quality of printed photo that is acceptable to you is a matter of personal preference.

Here is a rating system and chart I found which will give you some indication of the quality of print you will get when you print different resolution photos in different print sizes:

* Poor   ** Acceptable   *** Good   **** Very Good   ***** Excellent

  3x5" 4x6" 5x7" 8x10" 11x14" 13x19"
640 x 480 pixels *** ** *      
800 x 600 **** *** ** *    
1024 x 768 ***** **** *** ** *  
1280 x 960 ***** ***** **** *** ** *
1600 x 1200 ***** ***** ***** **** *** **
1712 x 1368 ***** ***** ***** ***** **** ***

How can I change the resolution of a digital image?

You may make the resolution of an image either larger or smaller, but keep in mind that making it larger will result in a poorer quality image. That is why it is best to take your original photo as large as your camera will support.

Often times simply cropping an image turns a poor photo into a great photo. Crop a photo so your photo contains only what you want in the photo. If you plan to do any cropping of the image, you should do it before you change it to the final desired resolution.

Chances are that your camera came with some photo editing software. It may have some feature on it to use for reducing the image resolution. I use my photo editing software for resizing my photos. However, if you do not have photo editing software that will allow you to change the resolution of the photo, and you are looking for some free software to try, I would recommend Photo Resizer. Photo Resizer is an easy to use freeware program available for your use. Save this PhotoResizer.exe file to your computer and double click on it to install it.

How can I set the size for the photo to be printed?

As stated above, any photo can be printed at any size. If you simply double click on the photo, it will bring it up in some default program which may have a print option. Depending on how you have things set up on your computer, you may be prompted for what size you want it printed, or it may simply print what it thinks the printed size should be based on the resolution of the photo.

If you want more control over what size it will be printed, you will need to use some other software. You may be able to get by with your favorite word processor: import your picture into your word processor then use it's capability to drag the corner of the image to whatever size you want the photo. However, this may be difficult to visually see when you have it right for 4x6 prints, 5x7 prints, etc, especially if the resolution of your photo is not proportioned right for 4x6 or 5x7, etc. I use Qimage which may be purchased at If you do not have any software that will aid you in printing your photos to specific sizes, and you are looking for some free software to try, I would recommend IrfanView. IrFanView is an easy to use freeware program available for your use. You can read more about it, including the license agreement and who may use it for free at Download it from their site, or save this iview397.exe file to your computer and double click on it to install it.

What software do I use for editing photos?

I do all my image editing using Deneba Canvas, version 7. The newer versions cost quite a bit, but version 7 does everything I need and I've seen it sold for much less on e-bay and other sites. I use Canvas because it was the first computer graphics software I used. We used it in a class I took at the local community college so I got very familiar with it. And it not only handles all my image editing needs but also all my vector drawing needs for working with clip art.

Other image editing software that I would recommend include:

What kinds of things can be "fixed" with image editing software?

I've been surprised at just how bad of photos may be fixed. I am not an expert at image editing, but I have found that even just a simple image adjustment using the histogram will greatly help a bad image. Here are a couple of examples of photos I took then later fixed:

I know, I should set my camera to allow for the light source behind what I am photographing, but I don't always think about that when I am simply taking snapshots. Accidentally capturing such a silhouette is a common occurrence in my experience as a photographer who doesn't think too much before taking a photo. I pulled the image into my image editor and noticed that the histogram shows that even though it used the full range of colors, it used way more of the dark colors than the light colors, so I slid the midpoint marker way to the left to help bring out the light colors. The second photo shows how this change lightened up the colors, which is a much more identifiable photo than the first photo. There may be more that could be done to make this an even better photo, but you can see that even this one easy step helps a lot.
original histogram
This photo was taken with a disposable underwater camera. The colors looked washed out so I scanned in the image onto my computer and I pulled it into my image editor. I noticed that the histogram showed that it wasn't using any of the dark colors, so I slid the left marker to the left edge of the graph. The second photo shows how this change enhanced the colors, which is a more accurate picture of what I actually saw.
original histogram

I just included this to demonstrate how I use Deneba Canvas to edit vector drawings and clip art. With Canvas I can break clip art down into its elements and edit each piece separately. Here I changed the color of the hair to blond, changed the color of background circle, changed the color of the skin tone, added another background circle, and even changed the girl's expression to more of a smile. As you can see, with Canvas I am able to modify clip art to better satisfy what I want to use the clip art for.

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