Photographers are a lot like drug addicts. They start off with a simple point and shoot automatic camera and, if the bug bites them, they start hiding spare change from their spouse to buy film or the next greatest fix… I mean toy. From then on only a twelve step program has a chance of curbing the addiction. The moment I started clicking a camera’s shutter I was hooked and there is still no redemption in sight. As I started to get good images it justified my addiction and the expenditures that followed. I’m pretty sure I never took food from the mouths of my children, but I can’t be certain. The digital wallpaper cool revolution has even deepened the addiction with the instant gratification of image preview.

Digital cameras have saved folks so much money on film but there are many hidden costs with digital. If you want to do something with your images besides take them to one of those kiosks to print some images you will see a need for a computer and some software. You can be happy for a long time with free software like The Gimp or Picasa that does some pretty cool stuff. But, at some time, when quality becomes as important as the image itself, you are going to worry that these software programs are wrecking your image files. Things you didn’t notice will start bugging you; blocked posterized shadows, blown out highlights, loss of tone and detail. The more you tweak them the worse they look.

There will be a new high~ processing a 16 bit file. But to process in 16 bit you need Photoshop. Now you can buy Photoshop Elements for about $90 but it lacks Photoshop’s greatest tool, curves. To process without curves is like taking a hike and not really knowing where you are or where you’re going. I do all my tone adjustments with curves because you can make very precise tone adjustments without worrying about blown out highlights or blocking shadows. Blown highlights are bright highlight areas that should have detail and tone but have lost them because of camera exposure error or improper adjustments in processing. They are then rendered as pure white. Blocked shadows are pretty much the same problem except the tone and detail loss is in the shadow areas. Curves let you set the highlight and shadow points and only make adjustments to the middle tones.

You can find old versions of Photoshop on eBay and the web quite reasonably but the latest Photoshop CS4 retails for $700. Ouch! Always be careful when buying anything on eBay. If it’s too good of a deal it is probably a scam. If you are a student or have a child in high school or college you can get a big discount when buying the educational (not upgradable) version. Whatever Photoshop version you get be prepared for a steep learning curve! There are good books that can walk you through the basics and many tutorials on the internet. There are also tons of Photoshop plug-ins that do everything from improving sharpness to smoothing skin.

Another hidden cost in digital photography is your computer. Most people have computers in their homes, especially if they have children. Anyone who has purchased a digital camera in the last year has more mega pixels than they really need for their 4×6 pictures. The more mega pixels you have the larger your image files will be and the more space you need on your computer to store them. Since image files are much larger that text files your computer must also have lots of RAM and fast processors to handle dealing with so much data. I have 3GB of RAM on my computer and three external hard drives to store and back up images. My computer often gives me the hourglass figure when I’m working on large files. If your computer is three years old or more and you mostly do text work it may be too slow for 16 bit image processing. If, on the other hand, your child has just talked you into buying a gaming computer with a high end graphic card you are going to be quite happy. So to operate Photoshop and average sized image files you will need at least 1GB of RAM and at least a 1.8GHz or faster processor, otherwise prepare for some wait time. It’s also nice to have an external hard drive to store you images so you don’t use up all your computer hard drive space. Your computer also needs at least 1280×800 video display with a 16 bit video card.

Most of us still have film negatives or slides in boxes under our bed or in our closet. Memories of our younger years and images of times we still want to hold onto. Wouldn’t it be a nice winter time job to scan all those memories and store them on our computer? Many flat bed scanners scan film although there are scanners made just for film and the quality and resolution is better. When scanning slides or negatives be sure to scan them to a large enough file size and resolution needed to get a good print. I spent many hours scanning old negatives one winter only to discover I scanned them to a too small file size for the print I wanted to make.

Digital imagery has made the printing of photographs a much more exacting science. Instead of having color balance a subjective matter it can now be much more controlled. My camera, software, scanner, and printer all have the same color space. This means that all the different tools used to create, process, and print the image all use the same color palette. As your desire for finer quality prints increases the need to ‘print your own’ will be the only fix for your new addiction. You will justify the expense of the printer: so you have more control over your art.

After you have amassed the whole assortment of every facet of the photographic process your spouse and children will disown you, your house will be foreclosed, and if you still have a job, it will never again be as important as your new addiction. But it was never your fault; it was that of the person who sold you your first camera.



By Olivia

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