Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

This new column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have in 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 the 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 got a Kodak digital camera ("210 Plus" I think) for Christmas and have been visiting your forum a little trying to learn how to make it sing. I downloaded the two .PDF files explaining digital photography, but the real issue I'm finding is what to do with those images. My dad got the same camera and he was in even worse shape, with huge 2-5MB image files clogging up his hard drive, not knowing that Adobe was converting them.
If you guys could put together a real nuts-n-bolts "digital photography 101" lesson (thread, workshop, file, whatever) for your average person, I'll bet it would attract like hotcakes.
I struggle with the complexities of taking the 250K JPG off the camera and what to do with it next, file-wise. I didn't even focus on the dpi setting until I uploaded a picture to my forum and a staff member commented. Now I guess I know better, and I've spent hours with that Adobe software.
What I need is a step by step cookbook. If I'm printing, what do I set it to? If I'm e-mailing, then what? If I just want to look at it on the screen and preserve it there, then what? After you've written up five pages explaining the theory of pixels and CCDs, just tell me what to set it to make the mother-in-law in Tulsa happy with me for the photos of the kids I e-mail. I'd rather have something say, "set it to this-and-this and save the file as this JPG with this compression, etc." Know what I mean? Save me the hassle of spending two hours tinkering on one picture.

A. First of all, I must commend you for availing yourself of the information provided to you by the camera manufacturer. That it was insufficient to serve your needs fully, follows a long tradition which I cannot complain about as it has kept me busily employed for many years. However, what is supplied in the way of instructions as to using the software supplied with a digital camera to transfer images from camera to computer, must be relied on as each manufacturer's software and camera setup for this purpose varies to some extent. At this point though I must suggest that there are other options as many photo-imaging software applications like Adobe's PhotoDeluxe 3.0, LivePix 2.0, MGI PhotoSuite II, and Microsoft's PictureIt 99, include support to download images from most popular digital camera models directly. These applications all provide relatively good "Help" as well as Wizards and Guided Activities making the download process as easy as possible.
Once you have an image downloaded to your computer you are at a critical juncture. You need first of all to preserve and secure that image information. Not doing so invites the possibility of losing it, which would be the same as losing a film negative--it is essentially irreplaceable. Digital is not unlike film photography, you need a safe and secure place to store your pictures. Obviously, from your remarks your computer's hard drive is not the place to permanently store images. There are lots of other options. A digital photo album is referred to in computer lingo as "removable storage." Essentially this is like a floppy disk, but because floppies have little storage capacity they are not to be considered for this purpose. There are at this time a number of devices, which are vying to replace the floppy, that have 100-150MB of storage on each disk. Currently the most popular is the Zip drive, but other contenders include Imation, Syquest, and Sony. Which one will prevail and become the standard replacing the floppy is at this point anyone's guess, and I'll not assume being a soothsayer on this issue. If you are a prolific picture taker, there is a storage medium which is already standardized and is very cost effective. That is recordable compact discs, or CDR. The drives are now down to the $300 range, and blank discs are very inexpensive considering they hold 650MBs of information. It's your choice, and should be made on the basis of what is most cost-effective in terms of the amount of storage you will need.

Now that you have a place to store those digital camera original image files, do just that in the original format which your camera downloads them. An alternate, that provides maximum security and flexibility, is to save this original as a universal format, uncompressed format file--I use the TIFF format myself for this purpose. Then, anything you want to do with that image file you should do to a copy of the file, not to the original. In other words, if you open an original digital camera file that's in permanent storage, use the Save As command immediately and store this second copy on your hard drive, working from it to do whatever you want, like resizing it and compressing it to send with e-mail.

A related issue which you may want to consider now, and which will come up sooner or later, is how do you identify and locate a particular photo image stored as a file on a removable disk? Many of the consumer photo-image applications like Adobe PhotoDeluxe provide an automated thumbnail image generation function, as well as some kind of on-screen gallery, to make finding your images easy. Although these built-in utilities work OK for the immediate images you have on your computer's hard drive, most do not have the database support and flexibility needed to organize a large collection of images stored on a number of removable disks. There are powerful stand-alone image management, thumbnail database applications available designed primarily for the needs of professionals. For the hobbyist, there is one particular utility which is easy to use, powerful, and economical, considering it is a part of an entire image editing and creation suite--it is Album, a part of Ulead's PhotoImpact 4.2. The core of PhotoImpact 4.2 is a very rich and highly refined, yet easy to use, image editor that I would recommend as a less expensive alternative to Photoshop. In addition, Ulead has included other utilities beside Album that are invaluable, like SmartSaver which provides a means to precisely select image compression that will assure the smallest file size consistent with preserving a desired level of image quality. I'll return to this shortly relative to preparing images for use in web pages and sending them via e-mail as attachments.

But first, the most likely activity a digital camera user will want to engage in is making prints of the image files made by a camera. By and large most of the popular digital cameras currently on the market will download image files which can be printed directly without adjustment to reproduce quite acceptable print quality. There will of course be images where lighting or subject characteristics are such that improvements can be made with an image editor by color correction. That is however a subject that demands at least a full article to do it justice, and I'll address at another time. For now let's just address the immediate issue of printing the image as is. You do not need to be concerned about the dpi setting, or any other characteristic of the image file, just leave it as is. You will probably be printing from an imaging application, and if it is any one of those I have mentioned, the application should be able to scale the image to the print size you select. This is done in the printer driver dialog, or if there is (usually selected from the File menu) a Print Preview. For instance, if you are using 4x6 photo paper you will need to select that size from the paper size selection, and of course you will need to be sure to select "portrait" if it is a vertical, or "landscape" if it is a horizontally oriented image. With some applications and printer drivers you may also have to select the option to automatically scale the image to the print size selected. Currently the only application I use that does not have auto-scaling, and requires manually setting the print size in specific (inch) dimensions, is Photoshop.

Preparing digital camera photo files for use in a web page or to send by e-mail usually does involve adjusting the size and resolution of the image. This should not be done to your original camera file, so make a copy of it and open the copy in your imaging application. Next you need to determine how large a screen image you want your picture to have on the computer which will open it. For the web and to send to people when you don't know the specifications of their computer, VGA resolution is assumed, which is 640x480 pixels and 72dpi resolution. For instance, if you are sending a picture of yourself, a portrait (vertical orientation), it will fill the screen if the height is 480 pixels (and usually should be less like 450 pixels to fit inside a window on-screen). If you want a horizontal (landscape) picture to fill just half of the screen, then size it to 320x240 pixels at 72dpi. Then if the computer receiving this image has a large monitor and is running SVGA (1024x768 pixels at 96dpi resolution), that image will only fill about 1/3 of the screen.

Once you have sized the image, then you can save it using JPEG compression with the goal of making the file size as small as possible without losing picture quality so it will upload and download rapidly. The JPEG compression algorithm is adaptive and the file size produced will be different for images of the same size because of the content of the image. And, when you apply JPEG compression you cannot predict how much image quality will be lost by arbitrarily choosing a particular level of compression. You can however, do this by trial and error saving the image at a particular compression setting like medium, closing the image and reopening it to see what it looks like on screen, but that is tedious and slow. That's why I recommended Ulead's SmartSaver earlier. This compression utility has an on-screen dialog with two windows: the one on the left displays a magnification of your original image and the window on the right shows a simulation at the same magnification after compression. You can then vary the compression rate with a slider in the dialog and see exactly at what point image quality is adversely affected. This is a very accurate method of selecting the highest possible compression to produce the smallest file size that will also provide good image quality. A similar capability is also available in Adobe's relatively new ImageReady application that is designed for preparing images for use in web pages.

Thanks to Michael Wilmer, manager of Compuserve's Photography Forum, for forwarding this letter.

Q. I have a few questions for you. I have been taking pictures of specific plants for a few years. I sell copies to plant label companies, publishers, and Green Industry people. I have also sold to CD-ROM publishers for gardening subjects. I am in the process of developing my own CD-ROM for the industry. Something quite unique for the industry and homeowners.
My questions are as follows: Instead of having my photo's drum scanned, I would like to scan my Fujichrome slides for my own purposes. My camera is a Nikon N90s. I have talked to people about the Nikon CoolScan 2000. What are your thoughts on this particular scanner or any other scanner that would suit my purposes? Also, what printer(s) would you suggest for photo quality prints in glossy or matte finish? I have also called around the area as to who scans slides. I live in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland, Oregon. It is hard to find anyone that scans slides. I would like to scan my slides for CD-ROMs, calendars, cards, etc., but I also have thoughts about starting a service bureau to scan slides. I have talked to some of the photo developers and print shops such as Kinko's. Even Wal-Mart takes two weeks to make a print from a slide. Does it make sense for me to consider such a venture, scanning slides and making photo prints as a service bureau?
For my own use or as a service bureau, what do I need? I have worked with Photoshop in the past taking photos from Kodak PhotoCD, editing and such. What do you suggest?
Thank you for your time and input. I truly need help with this situation. I don't want to make this a learning experience by trial and error. How can I accomplish one or both of these problems?
James H. Schutte

A. First of all, your consideration of the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 is definitely appropriate for what you are describing as your uses and applications of your images. I have used this scanner, with the addition of LaserSoft SilverFast 4.1.4 software, for some time now, very successfully scanning slides and color negatives. If you want then to reproduce these scans by printing, currently for non-archival purposes, the ink jet printers I have obtained the best results with are the Epson Stylus Photo EX and 700. You might also look at the new Canon BubbleJet 5100 as well as the HP PhotoSmart printers. Currently desktop 8.5x11 and 11x17 ink jet printers provide the best photographic quality on their respective brand glossy photo paper. Independent paper suppliers like Digital Wizard and Amazon Imaging also offer matte and even canvas papers for popular ink jet printers. Lyson also has an archival ink for the Epson printers that is currently being evaluated by Epson. However, although there are archival pigmented inks for wide format jet printers, obtaining the same level of color saturation as is achieved with standard inks is not currently possible. Even high quality archival art prints made with Iris printers on expensive artist media display color qualities which are muted compared to a typical photo lab color negative print.

Another option is to have prints made digitally but using a photographic, light sensitive print media with the archival qualities of silver-based printing papers, like the Fuji Pictography 3000 and 4000 printers. These printers are relatively expensive, so print services are offered using these printers by some photo labs and service bureaus.

I am somewhat familiar with what is available in the way of digital services in your area as I was recently based in Eugene, Oregon and before that in Seattle. I think you do need to make a more thorough survey of the digital imaging services available in Portland before considering going into the service bureau business yourself. You should also consider the fact the core of service bureau business is preparing images and graphics, including CMYK conversion, and then plate making, for offset printing. This is a highly specialized technical service function which demands experienced, trained personnel, and the use of very expensive high-end digital systems. Film scanning is usually a part of a service bureau function, but to support photographers like yourself with slide scanning, professional photo labs very often provide more appropriate services. Another resource is rapid printing services. In your area LazerQuick and as you mentioned, Kinko's, offer digitization and digital reproduction services focused primarily on small business needs. Even minilabs are now getting into the business as Kodak, Intel, Adobe, and Epson have announced the launch of a program to provide national Picture CD service for consumers, which involves scanning film.

Digital imaging is obviously a growth industry, and one that affords opportunity. However, to get into it and have a good chance at success, I believe it is very important to know thoroughly what services already exist, and to what extent they satisfy current market demands. In other words, does expected growth in demand provide sufficient opportunity for a new business. Then I would consult with the suppliers of digital equipment made for the purpose of servicing consumers, like Kodak and see what kinds of business planning and research support they offer.

Personally, if I had your interest, I would look for a partner already in the photo processing business who has not yet added digital services. If you find an opportunity and decide to get involved, then I think you will find that the equipment best suited to the task comes in the form of integrated systems which includes a high-speed scanner, computer workstation, CD burner, and digital printer. Such systems are currently offered by Kodak, Sony, Canon, Ilford, and Fuji, as well as others.