Digital Photography

Understanding digital photography

Digital photography is a form of photography that uses an array of light-sensitive sensors to capture the image as opposed to an exposure on light sensitive film. The captured photo is then stored as a digital or electronic file ready for digital processing (color correction, sizing, and cropping), viewing or printing. Until the advent of this technology, photographs were made by exposing light sensitive photographic film that used time consuming chemical processing to develop the image. By contrast, digital images can be instantly displayed, printed, stored, manipulated, transmitted, and archived using digital and computer techniques, without chemical processing. Since the introduction of modern digital photography, the use of film is has become a thing of the past.

The quality of a digital image is a composite of various factors, many of which are similar to those of film cameras. Pixel count (typically listed in megapixels [MP] millions of pixels) is only one of the major factors. Digital camera manufacturers advertise this figure because consumers can use it to easily compare camera capabilities. It is not, however, the major factor in evaluating a digital camera for most applications. The processing system inside the camera that turns the raw data into a color-balanced and pleasing photograph is usually more critical. Read below “Not all megapixels are created equal.” Resolution in pixels is not the only measure of image quality. A larger sensor with the same number of pixels generally produces a better image than a smaller one. One of the most important differences is an improvement in image noise, formerly called “grain” in film. This is one of the advantages of digital SLR cameras, which have larger sensors than simpler cameras of the same resolution.

Not all megapixels are created equal

Every year, camera manufacturers bring out their latest models touting an ever increasing number of pixels. In theory, the greater the number of pixels, the higher resolution the image. While the number of megapixels (MP) is still somewhat important, it is vital to understand not all megapixels are created equal. In the early years of digital photography it was assumed by most that a 5 MP camera was superior to a 3 MP unit, but this is not the case. The size and price of a camera is, in great part, determined by the size of the digital sensor. Smaller sensors used in most point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras is about 1/15 the size of those used in the typical DSLR cameras. Cramming the same number of pixels into a smaller sensor means smaller pixels. The smaller pixels just can’t absorb the same amount of light (and photo data) as the larger pixels, so you end up with excessive noise (graininess) in your enlarged photographs, particularly when taken under low light conditions. This also translates into a poorer quality final image or photograph. Depending on the manufacturer, size and shape of megapixels are very different, and size matters. There is no way to compare two cameras solely based on the number of megapixels. As an example, Canon’s “EOS-1D” an older professional 4.2 MP camera has pixels 12 times larger than the pixels on Canon’s 4 MP “G2” consumer camera. This of course makes a big difference in image quality, that few if any camera store salesman will mention. To get great color and detail in each photograph, you need to capture as much light as possible from the scene. Each camera sensor can only hold a fixed amount of light and process that into digital data, so a larger sensor means a greater space to capture light; more light means more data; more data means you get a clearer photo that can be enlarged without losing much image quality.

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Above: Small sample comparison of the many digital camera sensor sizes

Do it yourself digital photos, a big mistake

With the introduction of digital cameras came thousands of people who now considered themselves photographers. With each passing day more businesses are turning their efforts to unskilled employees or friends, for money saving do-it-yourself digital photos using a newly purchased camera. But instead of professional quality photographs they are soon previewing dozens of poorly framed, out-of-focus, and improperly exposed pictures. The results are frequently a major disappointment, a complete waste of time and resources. It can be a very expensive experiment in attempting to save money.

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Here are some of the disadvantages of using a digital point-and-shoot or cell phone camera. These consumer cameras are great fun for informal events and even vacations. This is exactly what these cameras were designed and manufactured to do. However when you turn their uses towards business and professional needs they fall short.

Remember, the images you chose to show and market your company’s products or services is a reflection on the company itself. Poor quality photographs are not going to yield the same marketing results one would get from professional images. Make your business stand out in your field, and leave your completion far behind.

Lighting can make or break your results

The most important variable in today’s photography is proper lighting. Lighting can make or break an image and amateurs frequently lack the know-how and proper equipment to achieve the best quality results. The light issue becomes most important with an indoor or studio-type atmosphere. While a single or on-camera flash can sometimes help, it often yields poor and often harsh effects. Ask a professional photographer and they’ll tell you, good quality photographs are the result of proper lighting. Indoor, skilled use of the correct lighting equipment can make the difference between outstanding and unfavorable images. Professional lighting equipment can cost thousands of dollars. Knowing how to use these tools and create the best possible photographs takes talent and expertise derived from years of experience.

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Camera lenses often an overlooked factor

A valuable note on do-it-yourself photos comes from the glass or camera lens. As noted above, consumer point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras are inexpensive and lack the high-end optics found on professional grade equipment. As a result there is a world of difference in the final image quality or output. Moreover, the professional lens offers adjustable f-stops not found on consumer cameras. If you want a high-quality image for your company or business, hire a pro who uses professional grade equipment and lenses.

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