Cameras, photography and technology
I don’t speak technology. I don’t understand the language, I don’t get how things that are supposed to make our lives easier make mine so much more complicated. Basically, I struggle with anything that has more than one button.
Using this computer to type this article is an achievement. Okay, so that is exaggerating a tad; years of practical use of computers and mobile phones have allowed me to take part in the modern world comfortably. But, for some reason, if you show me something new, something inside me gets a little bit scared.
A new computer program will frazzle my brain for just a bit too long, a new phone will take me a while to work out and, while I figured out how to download music to my mp3 player, three months on I am still struggling to learn how to make a playlist.
I don’t have a working DVD player at the moment. I haven’t bothered to replace it after my last one bit the dust and, truth be told, it’s because I just don’t have a whole weekend to figure out how to set it up. Get the point? I am technologically challenged.
Admittedly, I have to blame a lot of my struggle on my own impatience. But while it generally takes me years after everyone else to catch on to gadgets, I do eventually get there.
And a couple of years ago I finally bought a digital camera. It sounded good – a 5 mega pixel, 3x optical zoom little compact thing. I knew that was good because, working with a team of photographers, I couldn’t help but pick up some of the lingo. I didn’t really know what it all meant but hey, I figured if the photographers approved then it must have been okay.
So I bought my little camera the day before my son and I departed for our holiday to Port Douglas. And I was so pleased I could finally see images before they were developed. We took hundreds of pictures. This was great.
I even worked out how to play the photos back and what most of the icons on the camera meant, including the video mode, the night setting and this extra special thing that allows you to take three separate images of a wide view and then “stitch” the photos together to give you a panorama shot.
But I never really mastered this particular trick. And when I tried to take photos at night, the image was a blur. When I tried to take something moving, it too was a blur.
Frustrated, I just gave up on some things. But when I just had to point and shoot, I could do it. Then, about a year later, the batteries just kept dying. I’d charge them and bang, they would go flat in two minutes.
Occasionally the camera would work so I got by. And eventually I bought a new set of batteries and charger. But it kept happening. And during a trip to Cambodia earlier this year, it started to die again. I was not happy.
I’ve thought about buying a new camera but I am sure there is a solution out there. I just have to find it. That’s probably my problem, I don’t take the time to find out, then when I want to use it, I’m stuck.
But I recently discovered a camera whiz in my home town, Geelong, runs courses to show people how to use their cameras. I haven’t embarked on such a course yet but I went along to chat to the guy who runs them, photographer and camera expert Calvin Harris. “Calvin, is it just me? Or are cameras hard to use?” I asked him.
He assured me that many people found them just as challenging. And that is why he started the courses. He runs classes over two weeknights for use of a compact camera, weekend courses for the more complicated SLR ranges and another, longer course for use in the editing program Photoshop. This is another of my problems: what to do with the photos once they are on the computer!
Most participants in Calvin’s courses are women. But he believes this is not because men are more technologically adept than women, just that females don’t mind admitting when they need help, as opposed to some men. Hmmm, that’s a whole other story! But back to the courses.
“Cameras can be daunting,” Calvin said, making me feel better. “But we generally see a real change in attitude in people after they’ve done the courses.”
Often it was just a case of learning what things meant and then repeating the action to use the mode enough times to remember it, he said. “We jump in the car and drive it, but you certainly don’t need to know how the car works,” Calvin said. As we chatted, he gave me some tips to fix common mistakes.
Number one, when you are taking a photo with a lot of light behind the subject, turn the flash on rather than relying on auto mode. The trick will eliminate shadows.
Number two, a lot of new cameras have a special built-in tool to detect faces – some can find up to 15 faces in a single image, so the person becomes the focus. And it does it automatically.
Number three, macro mode stops the delay factor between hitting the button and taking the shot. All you need to do is press the button half way, then when your subject moves in place, push it the full way. This, Calvin said, was ideal for photographing children and other things that moved a lot.
“Even that tiny little trick helps people immensely,” Calvin said. “Suddenly that camera that’s five-years-old and slow as a wet week is quicker.”
Number four is a little more complicated because it involves use of one of those foreign words I so struggle with. ISO. Huh? Apparently it is how the camera senses light. ISO mode has numbers with it and the higher the number, the more sensitive it in lower light.
Ah, a night photo solution. When it is dark, you want to use ISO 1600-1800, if your camera goes up this high. It basically means the camera is able to read lower levels of light quick enough to stop blur. Good to know. “Setting to a higher ISO is like having an amplifier on a signal,” Calvin explained.
Number five is that you can use your night mode on your camera successfully, but the camera and the subject need to be very still, such as with the use of a tripod, because night mode requires the camera to open and shut a lot slower than normally.
Number six is about batteries. Good! Apparently most camera problems stem from the batteries, so when it keeps saying batteries are flat, like mine, it’s probably time for a new set.
Number seven, is about the other big problem – the user. Often people don’t always treat their cameras as well as they should and even just a tiny grain of sand can cause a big problem. So when the camera keeps failing, like mine – even with new batteries – it probably means the user has damaged it somehow. What, someone like me? Hmmm.
These days, however, some cameras are specially designed for people who aren’t always as careful as they should be. Or for the rugged outdoors use.
Finally, Calvin, who works at Camera House in Geelong, recommends people buy their cameras from a specialised retailer where experts can give them advice, rather than from a big “supermarket-style” store. “The big problem is people usually just don’t know what they want or need,” he said.
And the best tip: price. Most people need to spend between $250 and $400 to get a camera to suit all their every-day needs. The more expensive, generally the more options the camera will come with.
Right, now if only I could find where I last put the camera and I might set about getting its problems fixed.
Saving and displaying
Digital cameras are just great – until someone asks for a photo. Realisation strikes. The old days of dropping a film into the one hour and receiving a packet of prints in return has gone for good.
A key change to get your head around in making the transition to digital is how to ‘develop’ (ie store), preserve and display your images. There are several methods to store and print – with pros and cons for each.
Memory cards are generally only for temporary storage until the images on them can be transferred to a more permanent record. In years to come many families will have a gaping hole in their pictorial records because images were stored on a computer that was infected by a virus and crashed.
Computer or laptop hard drive
When transferring from a memory card, create files on the computer by date and event. Bear in mind that this first stage should never be the last. The safest option for computer storage is to install a dedicated second hard drive, or use an external portable hard drive which stores images only.
Use the Copy function and do not delete images from the memory card until a second hard copy has been created. Once a file has been created on the hard drive delete any poor quality images.
Burn to CD
Be disciplined and mark exactly what is on each disk. A printed index sheet of the images will provide an easy ready-reckoner of each disk’s contents. It’s also a good idea to purchase an inexpensive storage wallet that will hold a number of disks together.
These can store many more images, but to prevent a tedious hunt for a specific image burn by files. For family memories consider purchasing the more expensive archival CDs or DVDs as these should have a much longer shelf life.
Always check that the images have successfully burnt to the disk before finally deleting from your memory card. Check disks every 12-18 months as images can degrade over time.
Images are not at the mercy of damage to home hard drives but there may be size restrictions on images. You can create albums which allow family and friends to view and order prints. Images are secured for viewing only and cannot be downloaded – and family and friends must be invited by you via email to view and purchase.
There’s a saying that an image is not a photograph until it’s printed.
The quality has come a long way but is dependent on many variables – the ink, paper and colour calibration of your printer. Without regular calibration of your printer to monitor, colours will not reproduce exactly as seen on screen. However if images need adjusting, it is usually easy to manipulate printer software and reprint on the spot.
One hour kiosks
Some are better than others. Those that are ‘instant’ ie an hour or so essentially produce the same quality as a larger home printer. Other franchises, where you might wait 24-48 hours for the result produce a superior quality photograph, similar to film.
An alternate home convenience service – simple log on to one of many companies, join, upload images and order. After a short wait (usually 3-5 days), high quality prints are delivered to your door. Postage is additional and there may be a limit on image size.
A digital picture frame is an electronic device that displays digital pictures. An LCD screen is used as the display. Digital picture frames are just the same as a photo album but can hold many digital photos per GB. Simply copy your images onto a small memory card and insert the memory into the frame and presto – a revolving display of images that can be regularly and easily changed.
By Rebecca Tucker
Good web sites
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, October 2008. Updated July 2009.