Common digital photo questions

My favorite part of every magazine that I read is the reader mail section. I enjoy the questions and comments, and I love reading the responses by the magazine's editorial staff. So this week I'm rummaging through the virtual mail bag and answering some of the most interesting questions sent in by readers.

Correcting the computer display

How do you set your monitor so you see your photos the way that everyone else does? I have had people tell me that the background of a picture had noticeable objects in it when all I see is total black. -- Elaine Farmer, London, Ontario

I can't ensure that your monitor will look exactly the same as everyone else's, Elaine. To do that, everyone you know would need to follow the same instructions I'm about to give you. But I can make sure that your monitor is displaying colors as accurately as possible. To do that, you should pick up a monitor calibration device from your local computer store. You hang one of these gadgets on the front of your monitor and let it guide you though a fairly simple process to change the brightness, contrast, and color levels. Then pack it away and enjoy your newly optimized monitor, which should display photos more accurately and give you a better idea of how pictures will print.

I like ColorVision's ColorPlus, which works with Windows 2000 or XP. You can order it for US$89 from the company's Web site (http://www.colorvision.com/profis/profis_view.jsp?id=281).

If that's too rich for your budget, you can calibrate your monitor yourself by following the directions at the Calibrate Your Monitor (http://pages.prodigy.net/ecmorris/tips/monitor.htm) or Monitor Calibration (http://epaperpress.com/monitorcal/) sites.

Free panoramic stitching?

I've seen you recommend Microsoft's Digital Image Suite because of its automatic panoramic stitching software. Is there a less expensive alternative? -- Rob Greene, Virginia, Minnesota

If you consider "free" to be less expensive, then yes, Rob, I might have something for you. Check out Autostitch (http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~mbrown/autostitch/autostitch.html). The program doesn't ask you to sort or arrange your photos -- it does all the work for you.

Converting to JPEG

I have scanned some slides and improved them using Adobe's Photoshop. I saved them as TIFF files because of the deterioration that I understand can happen when editing JPEGs and saving them. Now I want to resave them as JPEGs but Photoshop does not appear to give me that option. Is there anything I can do other than to scan them again from scratch? -- Carol Martin, San Diego

Actually, Carol, you can save your TIFFs as JPEGs in Photoshop -- or in any other image editing program, for that matter. Just load a picture into Photoshop and then choose File, Save As. In the Format menu, choose the JPEG option. (Most programs other than Photoshop call this option "Save as Type.") You'll then be able to save a copy of the file as a JPEG.

Photo quality and megapixels

Does an 8-megapixel camera take higher-quality pictures than a 4-megapixel camera if both are set at the same picture size and compression level? -- George Neuner, San Antonio

The answer is not as simple as you might think, George.

Of course, 8-megapixel images have twice as many pixels as 4-megapixel images. So on one level, that's better quality, right? Actually, the quality may not be any higher, but you can make a somewhat larger print. Delving deeper, you need to consider the quality of the camera itself. Often, for instance, camera makers pack more pixels onto the same size image sensor just to win the megapixel war. And usually, an 8-megapixel camera will take lower-quality pictures than a 4-megapixel camera with the exact same size sensor. On a completely different note, you need to also consider the quality of the optics when choosing a camera.

The bottom line: Don't shop by megapixels alone. Read reviews and get opinions before you buy.

In what order do you edit?

In your digital workflow, what's the first thing you do? Does it matter what order you do various edits and corrections? -- Larry Peavey, Newark, New Jersey

The order of your edits does have an effect, Larry.

If you are running any noise reduction software to eliminate high-ISO digital artifacts, I recommend that you do that before anything else. Otherwise, edits can make the noise worse and make it difficult for noise reduction software to do its thing.

Next, I'd crop the image so that color, brightness, and contrast correction tools work with just the final image, and don't need to consider colors that aren't going to appear in the photo you're printing. After that, the order of your edits is not as important.

For more advice on this subject, read my October 2005 columns, "Establish a Digital Photo Workflow, Part I" () and "Establish a Digital Photo Workflow, Part II" (http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,122426,00.asp).

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