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Open Sign

Later this month I'll cover how to make graphical titles for your slideshows, but first I want to acknowledge the obvious -- taking pictures of signs and using those images to help you tell the story.

For example, the "open sign" I've shown here is both artistic and can be informative in a slideshow. And you don't have to present it just a static image. You can pan it through the frame, or you use it as a transition to activity inside. The real trick is to remember to take these shots while you're gathering source material for your project. Even if you don't use them as originally conceived, they become part of your stock image collection for future projects.

Also keep an eye out for informative placards. Often they contain a wealth of informative that can really spruce up your show. For example, this drawing was displayed at the ruins of "Wolf House" that Jack London was building for his retirement. If you captured a high resolution shot of this drawing, you could then zoom in on it during your slideshow as you described that part of the house. Ken Burns would be proud of you.

Placard

This tip is to help you prepare your entry for the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase. Submit your Entry Form today (to get on the books), then start working on your presentation. Deadline to submit Entry Forms is May 30, and your presentation itself is due by June 15. Don't delay!

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Camera Phone Shooting Tips

Sony K510a Cameraphone

One of the reasons that people shy away from camera phones is that they often get lousy pictures. You can improve your odds by trying some of these tips. Here's a look at the most common camera phone settings and how they can help you capture better images.

Start with Picture size. This option gives you the choice between a couple resolution settings: large and small. (They would be more accurately labeled small and smaller, but that's so un-American) Choose large, which is usually about 640 x 480 or 1.3 megapixels. You can't make a very big print with these images, but they can look decent on a web page or part of an email attachment.

Here are a few other options you might want to try.

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Boinx Software

A well-crafted digital slideshow is a thing of beauty. Boinx Software and The Digital Story are teaming up to help you master the art of authoring the perfect slideshow, then providing you with the opportunity to share your work with the world. The month of May is digital slideshow month on The Digital Story, and we have lots planned for you.

These activities are gathered around the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase. The Showcase, sponsored by Boinx Software, is designed to help you perfect your slideshow authoring skills. Here's how it all unfolds.

In this week's podcast, Sensational Slideshows, I discuss how to pick an appropriate subject and offer some ideas for getting your tools together. Then, as we work through the month of May, I'll be providing tips for building your show, adding audio, making titles, and fine-tuning your presentation. The goal is that after a few weeks, you'll have your slideshow project in production and will be able to submit an entry form to the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase. In June, we'll select 10 entries to feature on The Digital Story and send out a press release with the names, bios, web site links, and pointers to all of the showcased presentations. This is an excellent opportunity to shine a light on your photography.

You should read the Official Rules for entry (at the bottom of the entry form), but the basic parameters are this:

  • Anyone over 18 can enter.
  • Slideshow entries must be between 1-4 minutes in length.
  • The dimensions of the slideshow can be no more than 400 pixels in any direction. 320x240 is the recommended size.
  • Music and/or voiceover is permitted, but not required.
  • You must own, or have permission, to use all of the content in your slideshow
  • You need to complete an Official Entry Form for each slideshow submitted, but you can submit as many shows as you wish.
  • If you wish to use FotoMagico to create your show, you can get a $10 discount off the software by entering "Digital Story" in the discount code box. Visit the order page and select FotoMagico. You'll be able to enter a coupon code at the first checkout page. The code is set to "Digital Story". Once the code is input, and the Checkout button is clicked, the $10 discount will be reflected on the final order total page.

You may also use other software to author your slideshow, such as iPhoto 6 (Mac), QuickTime 7 Pro (Mac/Windows), and Photo Story 3 (Windows XP), just to name a few. As the month goes on, I'll publish tips and tricks for adding polish to your creation.

The FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase also serves as our Photo Assignment for the month of May. You can send in your entry form before your slideshow is completed (to let us know that you're working on your presentation). In fact it's recommended. Entry forms and actual slideshows are due on June 15. You can complete and submit your entry form here.

I encourage Mac OS X users to take a look at the FotoMagico software. It is an amazing authoring tool for slideshows. You might want to watch an informative QuickTime slideshow that demos FotoMagico.

Regardless of which tools you use, I hope you will participate in the Showcase. The skills you can develop this month by working with us will benefit you for years to come.

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Nikon Digiscope

Digiscoping is the ingenious practice of connecting a digital camera to a spotting scope for close-up shots of birds and other wildlife. What began as a bit of a "hack" by serious birders has become adopted by Nikon and other optical companies.

Nikon just announced their Digiscope 8.1 package to complement their existing 5.1 and 7.1 Pro Digiscopes. The package includes a spotting scope, eye piece, bracket, and Nikon camera (as shown in the picture). Prices start around $730 USD.

You can cobble together your own system too. I featured digiscoping in my Digital Photography Hacks book (Hack #94 "Get Close with Digiscoping"). If you don't have the book yet, I have a treat. You can download a PDF of the digiscoping hack (1.3 MB) and build your own system. This hack was contributed to the book by Terrie Miller and is in its original printer's proof format with all of the alignment marks.

Regardless if you build your own system, or buy a slick one such as Nikon's offering, digiscoping is a great way to capture some of Spring's magic.

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Penguin Party - How to Get the Shot

Penguin Party

Lots of great stuff goes on behind glass. I've talked about shooting scenics through hotel windows, but museums and aquariums are also great windows of opportunity. However, lighting in these facilities can make the challenge a bit more daunting.

This shot of penguins during feeding hour in an aquarium was captured through thick glass. (She's actually throwing a fish. You can see it in mid air if you look closely.) Here are the steps:

  • Turn off the flash.
  • Increase your ISO to 400 or 800.
  • Set your lens to wide angle or mount your favorite wide angle lens.
  • Use a lens hood if you have one.
  • Put the lens hood directly on the glass to eliminate reflections.
  • You can cup your hand around the lens barrel if you don't have a lens hood.
  • Hold the camera steady and take the shot.

The specs for this penguin shot are: Canon Rebel XT (350) in RAW mode, 17-40mm lens, f-4 @ 1/30th of a second, ISO 400 with white balance set to auto.

If you have the urge to go shoot something interesting, but can't think of a good subject, consider a trip to your local museum or aquarium. You're bound to find something interesting happening behind glass.

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Casio EX Z1000

Casio has refueled the megapixel wars with the first 10.1 megapixel compact camera, the EX-Z1000. In addition to lots of resolution, the new compact features a large 2.8" LCD monitor, anti-shake technology, super-life battery, and a release time lag of only 0.002 seconds -- allowing the shot to be captured practically instantaneously with the push of the shutter button.

The EX-Z100 will be available in June for less than $400 USD.

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Harbor Seal with Pup

Harbor Seal with Pup

The Harbor Seals in Monterey County pup during April. During my recent explorations, I found a sheltered cove where the pups were learning to swim and hunt with their mothers. There were over a dozen pairs that were taking turns venturing into the water, then returning to the beach to nurse and rest. This pup must have done well after his recent excursion, because if you look closely, he's about to receive a kiss.

This shot was captured from a cliff above the beach where I could observe but not disturb the seals. I used a Canon 75-300 Image Stabilizer on a Digital Rebel XT in RAW mode. The ISO was 400 with a shutter speed of 1/750 @ f-9.5 with image stabilizer turned on. I handheld the shot at 300mm.

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Lightzone Drops Price to $149.95

Lightzone

Back in January I posted a short article about Lightzone. I was introduced to this image editor/photo manager at Macworld, and it seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. At the time, the price was $249.

Lots of news on this front since then. LightZone now runs on both Windows and Mac OS X. The new Universal Binary version is compatible with both PowerPC- and Intel-based Mac computers. Version 1.3 is available to all current owners of LightZone as a free software update. The company claims it provides increased performance and camera compatibility. Plus, they've also reduced the price to $149.95.

Seems like high-end photo managers are coming back to earth. With Apple's recent announcement of Aperture 1.1 with better performance and a new price tag of $299 (down from $499), and now Lightzone's reduction to $149.95, I'm curious to see what price Adobe is going to announce for its new product, Lightroom, later this year.

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Aperture 1.1

Want to learn more about the tinkering under the hood that Apple did with the latest version of Aperture? Scott Bourne, the photo guru behind the great ApertureTricks website, had delved into Aperture 1.1 and posted his review on Mac DevCenter. If you're a current Aperture user, or tempted to try it now that the price has been reduced from $499 to $299, you should read what Scott has to say.

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Is Your Firmware Up to Date?

Firmware Menu

Digital cameras are really computers with a lens attached. And just like our desktop computers, their operating systems need an occasional upgrade. These are called firmware updates, and they're designed to fix known problems and sometimes add new functionality. The procedure usually goes something like this: You download the firware update from the camera manufacturer's website, copy it on to a memory card, put the card in your camera, initiate the firmware update, don't touch anything during the updating process, then clean off your memory card and go take pictures.

If you haven't updated your camera since the beginning of time, you might want to check your manufacture's website to find out the current version of firmware available. If you're not comfortable updating your camera yourself, you can always have technicians apply the update for you. Here are a few recent updates that are available:

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