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2,673 Tutorials

Scanning Negatives, Shooting the Moon, Fixing the Colors in a Photo

Dave answers questions about white balance, shooting action photos, scanning old negatives, and more.

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can't promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus.

For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from February, March, and April.

Scanning Negatives

I've asked many people and have never gotten a satisfactory response. Is it possible to scan a black-and-white negative into a PC and then obtain a positive print of the negative? I've inherited a large number of negatives that I would like to convert into prints. The cost of having it done commercially would be prohibitive.--Joe Vincent, Neptune, Florida

Absolutely, Joe. What you are looking for is a photo scanner that accepts transparencies, and you can find high-quality models for under $100. Take a look at the Epson Perfection V300 ($79), for example. It comes with an adapter that can hold up to four negatives at once, which you can use to make the positive prints you need. In the scanner's software, just specify that you're scanning a negative, and the scanner does the rest.

Fixing Red Faces

My neighbor took 35mm photos during trips to Bermuda, Europe, and Spain. We scanned the photos, and they looked great on a laptop. But when we created a slide show on DVD and viewed the DVD on TV, the faces were too red. I tried to adjust the skin tone and color--but when the faces were acceptable, the photo's colors looked washed out. Any suggestions?--Edward Spence, Las Vegas, Nevada

There are a few things to consider. First, I would caution you not to adjust the skin tone in your photos based on how the photos look on a particular TV. If the photos look good on your PC and bad on the TV, then my first theory would be that the TV's color balance is out of whack. If the photos look uniformly bad on more than one TV, though, you might want to do some photo surgery.

If you've corrected the white balance (in Adobe Photoshop Elements select Enhance, Adjust Color, Remove Color Cast), then try tweaking the hue (Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation). For trickier lighting and color problems, you might want to try your hand at some regional corrections. By that I mean you can select all of the exposed skin with a tool like the Magnetic Lasso and make specific color corrections there, which will leave the rest of the photo untouched. Finally, you can take the edge off red faces by reducing the saturation (Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation).

Shooting the Moon

I am wondering about taking digital photos of the moon. I always leave my camera on the auto setting. I have had many opportunities to take pictures of the night sky and beautiful moon shots, but they have never come out because I don't know how to set the camera. What do you advise?

Thank you very much!--Jennifer McLellan, Arcadia, California

It's easier than you might think, Jennifer. You can get good photos of the full moon by using an ancient photography trick called the Sunny 16 Rule, which was originally designed to help people take pictures in daylight before cameras had automatic exposure systems built in. But since the moon is illuminated by sunlight, this rule works just fine in this situation as well. To use the Sunny 16 Rule, make sure the ISO is set to 100. Put your camera in manual exposure mode and set the aperture to f/16 (hence the "16" in the name of the rule). Set the shutter speed to around 1/100 second and take the shot. You'll definitely want to brace yourself securely to reduce camera shake, or use a tripod.

Panning the Subject

Our daughter rides horseback at a fast speed. We often set the digital camera to a fast shutter speed but I sometimes don't want the background in focus. I remember that in the old days, you could pan action photos with a film camera. Does this work with digital?--Stanley E. John, Steubenville, Ohio

It sure does, Stanley. Panning lets you freeze a moving subject while blurring the background. This technique really conveys a sense of speed and motion, while also emphasizing the subject by blurring everything else. I love this photographic style and have used it with almost every digital camera I've ever owned.

To do it, you'll want to use your camera's lowest ISO setting and a fairly slow shutter speed--about 1/8 or 1/15 second. The part you'll need to practice is the actual panning: Track the subject in your viewfinder, and as it passes right in front of you, gently press the shutter release and continue turning to track the subject. The more smoothly you can do that, the better your pans will be. For more details, check out "5 Steps for Great Action Photos."

Using a Gray Card

I recently purchased a gray card. It came with some very basic instructions, which I am not sure how to apply. How do I use this card to set my camera's white balance? After that, will the colors automatically match?--Wayne Johnson, Santa Monica, California

A gray card (or a white card--either will work) can be used to make sure that your camera accurately records the colors in a scene. If you don't have a gray card, you can probably leave the camera's white balance on "auto" and the camera does a reasonable job of setting the colors. But if you're a stickler for accurate color, you should know that your camera always gets the color balance at least a little wrong. Always. But you can fix that: If you hold a gray card in front of the camera lens and tell the camera, "this is gray," then it'll record colors accurately as long as you remain in the same lighting conditions.

To do this, you might need to dig out your camera's user guide to figure out how to set the white balance. Have someone hold the card in front of the camera and fill the viewfinder with the gray (or white) surface. Use the camera's white balance control to set that as the correct level, and then take pictures as you normally would. Just remember that you will need to reset the white balance every time you take the camera somewhere different, since the white balance setting you made with the gray card only applies in that specific situation, with whatever light was available at that time.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Great news! For a limited time (from March 1 till August 31, 2012), Hot Pic of the Week winners will receive one free downloadable copy of Corel PaintShop Pro X4.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Destination" by Gerald J. Bloniarz, Phoenix, Arizona

Gerald says: "There seemed to be an inordinate number of bees circulating around this Mexican Bird of Paradise. My objective was to capture one head-on near the flower, but afterwards I discovered I had captured this shot of one headed straight for its destination and liked it the best."

Gerald captured this photo using a tripod-mounted Nikon D 70 with a 60mm macro lens.

This week's runner-up: "First Sign of Spring" by Brent Baldauf, Butler, Pennsylvania

Apparently, it's bee season--judging from the many buzz-themed submissions this week. Brent says that he shot this photo beside his home's driveway using a Nikon D80 and a 35mm lens.

To see winners for April, visit last month's Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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