Digital Photography Outdoors

Paste this checklist next to your computer. Refer to it until these steps become automatic. If you do, you’ll save yourself extra effort and dodge the occasional disaster.

  1. Capture images.
  2. Transfer and save images. Save them as soon as possible to a computer, external hard drive, or CD. Always back up all your photos in their original format.
  3. Edit your images. Rank them and toss out the losers. Editing frees the computer’s memory—and your time. Image management programs create thumbnails of images and permit scrolling through them for rapid review (You can zoom in when you want to check for clarity.). Map out your naming and filing system first, then create appropriate folders in the image management software before naming and sorting your files.
  4. Convert from RAW. If you shoot RAW files, perform as much color and contrast control as possible in the RAW editor.
  5. Rotate and crop. Doing this now makes for easier manipulation later. Use the crop tool in Photoshop to remove any distracting elements that intrude along the edges of the image. Cropping is also useful if you find a vertical composition hiding in your horizontal image. Cropping can also extend the range of your telephoto lens—you can reduce the size of the frame in the computer to get a tighter telephoto. If the horizon looks tilted in a photo, you can straighten it in Photoshop by selecting Rotate Canvas from the Image menu.
  6. Resize up. When the original file is not large enough for a given end use, increase the size of the file now. You can inflate the image to the desired size either with tools in Photoshop or with plug-ins. To make the image smaller (for example, for the Web), wait until you’ve completed the other corrections so you can keep a larger corrected file as an archival copy.
  7. Correct color and contrast. Photoshop and most other editing programs provide for automated color and contrast correction. If you’d like to do your own custom correction, Photoshop bristles with options and parallel ways to achieve similar results. Wander through the menu as an experiment; as long as you have an archived copy of the image, you have nothing to fear. The Undo command is the most powerful tool in Photoshop.
  8. Repair. Photoshop and other programs offer multiple ways to remove flaws—such as signs of dust, glare, moire patterns and other artifacts—from an image. Sensor dust and glare on the subject as common problems with easy fixes. For small flaws, try the Clone tool or the Healing Brush, both found in the Tool menu.
  9. Enhance. If you wish to improve on reality, do it now. You can change the color of a tent. Remove a distracting log. Turn color images into warm sepia duotones or dramatic infrareds. Paste in a new sky. Add motion streaks to a running animal.
  10. Save working file. Save the results now—in 16-bit, if possible—before you sharpen. Sharpening cannot be undone after the file is saved. Retaining an archival copy may prove vital.
  11. Sharpen. The more you work on an image, the softer it becomes, so sharpening should be the last thing you do. Additionally, you never want to sharpen more than once because artifacts will multiply. Too much sharpening, and your photo will look harsh and grainy; contrast and noise will seem to increase. Don’t bother trying to sharpen low-resolution images. They are inherently highly pixelated, and even modest sharpening will highlight the individual pixels.
  12. Save Archival File. Copy the file to a folder in your image-management system. This is your archival copy. Toss the working copy if you wish.
  13. File Output. For putting images on the Web or sending via email, convert your images of 72 dots-per-inch (dpi) JPEGs set at low or medium quality. This way your images will be quick to load. To print photos, feed your printer 300 dpi files for best results. This keeps the file size down without loss of apparent quality.

--Adapted from Digital Photography Outdoors by James Martin (The Mountaineers Books, $18.95 paperback)


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