Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have getting into and using digital cameras, scanning, and using digital photographic images with a computer and different kinds of software. All questions sent to me will be answered with the most appropriate information I can access and provide. However, not all questions and answers will appear in this column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. I inherited a Gateway 400/64MB RAM with Photoshop 5.0--no manuals though. I have read so much about the usefulness of the Rubber Stamp tool but I am unable to use it, and I cannot select the Brushes palette, when clicking options, navigator, etc. Is that hidden somewhere? Preferences? Your help is very much appreciated.
Perry Joseph

A. On the menu bar click on Window, and then Tools. In the Tools menu, which is a vertical dialog box with icons representing each of the tools, click on the one which looks like a Rubber Stamp. Next click the Alt keyboard button to set where the stamp is to clone from by also clicking the left mouse button, then just use it by clicking the left mouse button when the cursor is located over a part of the image into which you want to "stamp." To change the size of the Rubber Stamp brush, also go to Window on the menu bar, then drop down and select Brushes, which will put a dialog on screen from which you can select various brush sizes. Finally, also under the Window menu bar list is Option, clicking it places another dialog window on screen that allows selecting the transparency of the "stamping" (as well as options for use with pressure sensitive input).

Q. As are many professional photographers, I am new to digital photography. Though I came into this phase of my career kicking and screaming, I'm glad I did it. Digital is fantastic. I have a few questions, and I hope you might have some answers if you have time to respond.
I have a new Nikon D-1 digital camera. It's a great camera and affordable, considering the cost of the Kodak pro equipment. My portrait images are good, but not as sharp as many that I've seen created with the more expensive cameras. Nikon has provided a way for me to sharpen the image (it's defaulted for what they call "normal"). My choices are normal, high, and low. I figure that I need to use "high." If I use "high" is there anything I should be aware of: like, increased noise, artifacts, or contrast? I had hoped you could help on this one because it could speed up my studio tests. My 3D Matrix metered candids look good, and the studio stuff isn't bad, but my portraiture doesn't have the best sharpness. As a new digital user, I'm not sure what adjustments to pursue for fear of not finding my way "back" again, or acquiring "crap" that I'm not informed about.
Finally, I'm getting noisy values when using dark backgrounds, not just with low key portraiture, but with anything in front of a dark background. I use a three to four light setup with Photogenic 1250DR monolights at 3:1 ratios, sometimes but rarely 5:1. Is there a solution: Do I stop using dark backgrounds in color? Should I restrict myself and try to use a type of gray "Masters" backdrop? I should also note that I haven't liked my color values, or saturation, with the digital camera set for "Flash" white balance in the studio. I've had to manipulate the color levels in Photoshop too much as a result. One studio portrait photographer said to try "Daylight." I had also used "Auto" white balance on my "older" Nikon 950 since the Photogenics used daylight coated (balanced) modeling lamps. Not good. I got better results with that camera by using "Flash" white balance, and that's why I began using the same setting with the new Nikon D-1.
Robert G. Woodring

A. On the Nikon D-1, which I have not worked with, I can only comment in general terms. With the portrait softness problem, I would leave the camera setting at normal, and then see what Unsharp Mask filtering in Photoshop does (which provides a large range of adjustment). The advantage of Unsharp Mask for sharpening is there are some things in a portrait like hair, eyelashes, eyebrows you want sharp while maybe avoiding sharpening less contrasty textures. At least with other digital cameras with close to the same resolution, I've found this approach produces the results I want, and without risking the original image's overall quality.
The actual color temperature a named white balance setting maybe varies between cameras. For instance "flash" can refer to handheld flash that's often a cooler color temperature than studio flash. And, from my experience when I was testing lighting, I found considerable variance in output between different brands of studio flash. So the mismatch in terms of your satisfaction may simply be the "real" color temperature of your flash, and what the "flash" white balance setting is with your D1 in degrees Kelvin, are different. I would contact Nikon to see if there is a way to set the white balance to a specific color temperature number, like 5600°K, if in fact a measurement of your studio system output is 5600. Using "daylight" is the same gamble--what is "daylight" to the D1, 5500°K, or 6000?
Noise in dark backgrounds is not unusual with CCD capture, but I'm surprised the D1 is producing it. It is relatively easy to correct in Photoshop however. With an image open go to the menu bar and click on Select, and then Color. In the dialog that appears, select Shadows and then adjust the slider so just the background is "selected." Then click OK and you'll have a marquee around the background. Select Filter from the menu bar, and then Noise, and click on Despeckle.

Q. I am a journalist, and I often photograph my own stories. Most of the time I have no problem getting great shots to tell my story, but sometimes (like this week) I find nothing of interest, and I have to submit something. What do you do when you look around at your subject or story's surroundings and find yourself "underwhelmed"?

A. That depends on whether the problem is subjective, e.g. writer's block, or if there really isn't anything within grasp that's inspiring. If time permits, usually a luxury, I've found getting away from it and coming back to it fresh after some totally unrelated experience intervening, works best. When the problem is objective, what's in front of your nose is really boring, then I dig into my bag for anything which will change the perception, whether a fisheye lens, infrared film, shooting everything at wide open aperture, taking a worm's eye view, whatever. The bigger your bag of tricks, the better. Sometimes it's not the physical tools which work but attitude--if you're seeing the situation too seriously, make believe your Elliot Erwitt or Salvador Dali.

Q. It's the "Galloping Consumer" again. I went out and bought a Sony Multiscan E200 17" monitor (wonder where they get their rulers?). I have seen references, in the forum, to "calibrating your monitor...". Is this addressed by the monitor, the computer, the photo software, or by all three? I had noticed on my old monitor that I was getting the color saturation and contrast of my photos wrong, and they always looked smoky and dark on other's monitors. This Sony is quite brilliant out of the box, but is there any way to know that the settings are "standard" so my photos will be more uniform from screen to screen? I know I am dependent on the settings on the other monitors, but if there is a "ground zero" of monitor adjustment, how do I get there?

A. Monitor calibration is part of the process of setting up a system to manage color to obtain matched results, or WYZIWYG between input, monitor, and output. So obviously your monitor is the cornerstone of the system, as well as the means by which you make color adjustments perceptually in images. Calibration is the first step in determining where this cornerstone is located, or giving it a set of known coordinate values. This calibration is most economically accomplished using software, and most commonly by those using Photoshop 5.02 or 5.5. Photoshop has a utility called Adobe Gamma, which is a Wizard that takes you through certain guided steps adjusting your monitor's brightness, contrast, and color balance. Once these adjustments are performed setting the parameters at optimum levels, the conditions are then recorded by the software as a profile, which is the cornerstone characterized and defined.
If you want a color managed system and do not have, or don't want to afford Photoshop, you can get software for under $100 which supports calibrating your monitor, writing a profile, as well as profiling scanners and printers so they will all work together. One such software package recommended by a highly respected color expert and consultant is WyziWYG by Praxisoft. You can purchase it online, just go to

Q. I have ordered an Epson 1200 printer. I also plan to get the 1200S scanner and transparency adapter. I have several projects in mind. One is reprinting very old family photos that I have restored and printed only to watch them turn purple.
The older ones I will print in sienna. I will scan my slides and pick the very best to print as a family history in full color at 3x5. This should allow the slide scanner on the 1200S to provide adequate resolution.
I have spent time researching MIS Supply and will use their inks. Based on my intended use, what paper(s) would you suggest? Thanks for your help.

A. If you plan to use the MIS Supply pigmented archival inks, then I would suggest following their recommendations for paper if you want the best archival performance (the information is available at their web site I plan to do some trials next week with their inks and a paper that I have found of very good quality, which is called Liege, and one that produces beautiful print results with the Epson ink set. It is a 100 percent rag content, thick, coated stock that is also brilliant white and designed for ink jets. It is however not truly archival, but stable enough for as long as I'll be around. It is distributed by Legion West Paper in Los Angeles. They do not sell retail, but a call to them will produce a source to your liking and convenience. Call (800) 727-3716, or visit them at:

Q. I enjoy your column and have taken much of your advice to heart. To establish a digital darkroom, I have ordered a Nikon CoolScan 2000, an Epson Stylus Photo 1200, and a screaming workstation that uses Windows NT 4.0. I am confident that this equipment will enable me to produce professional-looking 11x17 reproductions of high quality slides. However, I am concerned that Windows NT will not support What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get images on the monitor vs. the printer. What can be done to facilitate this? Will Adobe Postscript 3 help? Does my monitor matter much in this regard? Any advice you could give me to obtain WYSIWYG with Windows NT would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
John Kiefer

A. I am currently in the process of evaluating a new workstation (I've just completed a report called PC Workstations 2000 for a future issue of Shutterbug), and loaded Windows 2000 (which replaces NT 4.0). Windows 2000 unlike NT does have ICM 2.0 color management, as much good as that does. Monitor quality is crucial to achieving good color results, as it is the cornerstone of a color managed system. Fortunately you can choose among a number of good products. The top of the line Mitsubishi, Sony, Hitachi, IIyama, and NEC models are all quite capable. A used, older, economy monitor is usually not capable of calibration and will not function effectively in what you want to do. However, even though I now have the most current and top of the line Windows equipment, I still rely on my Mac to do printing, if that tells you anything. Microsoft has let it be known they are working on a 3.0 version of their ICM color management, and it is hoped it may be released with the next version replacement of Windows 98.

Q. I cannot sort out the units of "color values" in Photoshop 5.0. For example, if one is in curves and "RGB" the value may be "128" but the separate values of R, G, B might be 195, 118, 37 or 104, 133, 187 (round numbers). I believe these are numbers where the highest value could be 254 and the lowest 0. I understand these are powers of two. How do the numbers for the individual colors get converted to the aggregate RGB number?
I understand that N(R) = N(G) = N(B) and that if these numbers are entered they are various shades of gray. But their sum could easily exceed the maximum number for the RGB aggregate. Thanks very much.
Earle B. Hoyt, Jr.

A. I think from your remarks that you are possibly assuming RGB numbers have some quantitative value, which would be confusing, I'm sure. Although the number does reflect the relative density value for the color on a scale of 0 to 255, it is maybe easier to understand that a particular set of RGB numbers (like R53 G7 B112) are locators of a particular color in a three-dimensional map of the visible colors that is divided into 17 million cubes. This 3D map has a boundary that is the gamut of the colorspace. And each different RGB number set relates to a different one of the 17 million cubes within the space.
Another way to look at RGB number values is to see that each of the 17 million "computer" colors is made up of a certain amount of color from each of the three colors of light, red blue, and green; that information is stored as data in three channels one for each of the primaries, Red, Green, and Blue. If the RGB values are R0 G0 B0 you have pure black; if they are R128 G128 B128 the color is neutral mid-tone gray; and if R255 G255 B255 the color is pure white. So, when the numbers are uneven, then it is a mix of some red, some green, and some blue; how much of each defines which of the 17 million different possible colors it is. In other words, although each of the three RGB numbers refer to a density for each color component for a particular RGB color composite, their numeric value other than identifying a specific color among 17 million has no meaning or purpose. The RGB number(s) simply identifies the color.