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How to crop a photo for better composition

In an ideal world, every photo you take would be perfectly composed. However, in real life, many pictures could use some improvement. Often, thoughtful cropping can make the difference between a mediocre image and a better one. Cropping a picture just means eliminating or trimming off edges.

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Do you need a drawing tablet?

I was cleaning out my office today when I ran across the most unlikely of items—an original Koala Pad drawing tablet! According to Wikipedia, the Koala Pad was the first graphics tablet available for home computers. (That makes me sound older than I’d like but I’m only 34!)

Koala Pad
Click to enlarge

Today, I own a Wacom Graphire tablet and I love it. It offers a level of intuitive ease of use far beyond what a mouse can provide for certain operations. As a digital photographer, a graphics tablet might be an important piece of equipment but it depends a lot on your digital workflow.

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Easily edit your photo metadata

Microsoft Photo Info is a new, free downloadable software product from Microsoft that lets you easily and elegantly modify the metadata (IPTC and EXIF) about any of your digital photos. The download is for Windows XP and Vista only.

Photo Info

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Build your own 42″x78″ free-standing lighting panel for about $40

Light panelThe ability to control the lighting in a location can be the difference between a batch of duds and keepers. Nice light is worth a fortune in lenses. Unfortunately, equipment for controlling light can cost a fortune. With that in mind, a friend of mine recently constructed two free-standing lighting panels out of very inexpensive but sturdy PVC pipe (which you can find at any home improvement store).

He uses the panels for portraits indoors and out. Just set your lights up to shine through the panels and position as desired. In addition, outdoors he’s found they work great as portable shade for his subjects to soften direct sunlight.

The parts list and assembly instructions follow. Also, check out the photo set of the assembly process and finished product.

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Quick photo sharpening tip

Just about every digital photo can use a little bit of sharpening. You should definitely experiment with the sharpening tool in your photo editor of choice (preferably, your editor has unsharp mask). But you don’t want to overdo it or you’ll see sharpening “halos” around objects in your photo: bright and dark lines near areas of high contrast. Here’s a quick and simple tip to reduce halos in photos that have a combination of low and high contrast areas:

  • When you are ready to sharpen your photo (sharpening should be your very last step), flatten all layers.
  • Duplicate the remaining layer.
  • Sharpen the top layer to get the best result possible.
  • Now grab the eraser and simply brush away any problem areas that have been over-sharpened. The bottom, unsharpened layer will show through in those spots. If your photo editor supports it, you can even erase those areas with partial opacity to customize the amount of sharpening.
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