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Editing your digital photos just got easier

Apr 9, 2008
Adobe's Photoshop software is a very powerful image editing program that is by far the market leader for editing image files. I use Photoshop extensively when creating, and editing images for the web sites that I design. Almost all professional photographers and printers also use Photoshop to create all of the wonderful images that appear in magazines, billboards, and even on television. I am not the best artist in the world, but with Photoshop I have enough power to create brilliant images with tools that are built-in to the software. The coolest thing about Photoshop is that even as powerful as it is out of the box, there are many different plug-ins to make Photoshop even more powerful. The Photoshop plug-ins can be grouped into a few major categories which include 3D, color management, digital asset management, photographic, retouching, and special effects.

In the camera world there are dozens of formats, each format has something unique and some are more common than others. DNG (Digital Negative) Camera companies have introduced many different, and frequently changing, raw file formats. For example, one source states that there are over 140 RAW formats with more coming-some of them specific to a single camera model. On top of this, manufacturers are often pointlessly secretive about their specifications so there are almost always RAW files your software can't read-at least until someone reverse engineers the formats so they can support them. This lag time and inconvenience can be laid at the doorstep of the camera companies. These proprietary RAW files are at risk over time since companies come and go and interest waxes and wanes. One solution to this growing problem is a new Adobe format called the Digital Negative (.DNG). This publicly defined and openly shared format for RAW files is an attempt to ensure that you will be able to access your image files in the future. If your camera doesn't capture RAW images in this format, you can convert them to DNG using a program such as Photoshop or Lightroom. When you do so, you can even choose to store the original RAW image inside its DNG file so you can extract it at some future date should you need it. The DNG format is supported by Photoshop and other Adobe products, some other software companies, and a number of camera companies. As with all things in computing, only time will tell if the format becomes widely accepted or gradually fades away.

Lossy compression (rhymes with "bossy") can dramatically reduce file sizes. However, this process degrades images to some degree and the more they're compressed, the more degraded they become. In many situations, such as posting images on the Web or making small to medium sized prints, the image degradation isn't obvious. However, if you enlarge an image enough, it will show. The most common lossy file format is JPEG and many cameras let you specify how much they are compressed. For example, many cameras let you choose Fine (1:4), Normal (1:8), and Basic (1:16) compression. This is a useful feature because there is a trade-off between compression and image quality. Less compression gives you better images so you can make larger prints, but you can't store as many images.

RAW lets you decide on most camera settings after you've taken the picture, not before. For example, when you shoot a JPEG image under fluorescent lights, the camera adjusts the image to remove the yellow-green tint. Any changes you make later are on top of this initial change. If you shoot the image in RAW format, the camera just captures the images as is and you decide what white balance setting to use later. You can even create different versions of an image, each with its own white balance. RAW images can be processed again at a later date when new and improved applications become available. Your original image isn't permanently altered by today's generation of photo-editing applications even if they don't support non-destructive editing. You can generate alternate versions of the same RAW image. For example, many photographers will adjust highlight and shadow areas and save these versions separately. Using a photo-editing program, they then combine the two images as layers and by selectively erasing parts of the top image layer let areas of the lower image layer show through so all areas have a perfect exposure.

As you take pictures, your camera automatically creates and names subfolders within the DCIM folder to hold them (like placing manila folders in a hanging folder). The first three characters in a folder's name, called the directory number, are numbers between 100 and 999. The next five characters are known as free characters and can be any uppercase alphanumeric characters chosen by the camera manufacturer. When a new folder is created, as one is when the current folder is full, it is given a number one digit higher than the previous folder. Some cameras allow you to create and name your own folders, or select among folders the camera creates. This lets you route new images into a specific folder and also play back images from just one folder rather than the entire card.

When an image is saved, the camera assigns it a filename and stores it in the current folder. Filenames have two parts, an 8-character filename and a 3-character extension. Think of them as first and last names. The name is unique to each file, and the extension, separated from the name by a period, identifies the file's format. For example, a JPG extension means it's a JPEG image file, TIF means it's a TIFF image file.

Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format) is a specification that spells out how information about a JPEG image is stored in the same file as the image. This information, including a thumbnail image, describes the camera settings at the time the picture was taken, and even the image's location if the camera supports GPS (Global Positioning System). Digital cameras record this information as metadata in an area of the image file called the header. This information isn't just for managing images, it can also be used by some printers to give you better results. Basically, any camera control set to auto at the time the image was taken can be manipulated by the printer or other device to improve results. Those set to one of the camera's manual choices is considered to be a deliberate choice and is not manipulated.
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