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Taking Photos of Firefighters, Moving the Flash Off-Camera, Resizing vs. Cropping

Dave answers questions about dealing with nighttime reflections, photo quality when emailing, recovering lost photos, 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 January, February, and March.

Reflective Strips Are Ruining My Photos

I take photos of firefighters, which during the day is not a problem. But at night, the reflective strips on their uniforms reflect my flash, and resulting glare takes over the photo, ruining the shots. I have tried using a diffuser, but I still end up with the same mess. Is there some way around this?--Karen Moran, Trafalgar, Indiana

I have a couple of suggestions, Karen. Your reflection problem stems from the fact that you're using an on-camera flash. It's similar to the red eye effect: The light from your flash hits the reflectors then bounces straight back at the camera, which causes the ugly glare you get in your photos. A diffuser won't solve the problem, since the light source is still very close to the lens. Consequently, the solution is to move or eliminate the flash.

If there's enough ambient light where you're shooting, try to turn off the flash and shoot using a very high ISO setting. Another approach is to move the light source off the camera so the light won't reflect right back into the lens. If you can mount your flash externally, such as on a handheld flash bracket, that might do the trick. You can get an inexpensive cable to connect the flash to the camera.

Finding a Flash Cord

Can you tell me where I can find an off-camera TTL flash cord that will work with the new Fuji X PRO 1?--Ed Dickau, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

What a coincidence! This is exactly what Karen needs for her firefighter photos, Ed.

TTL flash cords--cables that connect your flash to your digital SLR or advanced point-and-shoot via the hot shoe--are fairly universal. Generally, TTL cables work with Canon, Fuji, Nikon, and Pentax cameras, to name but a few. So you can search for "TTL flash cable" in your browser and find a lot of options. For example, I found a TTL flash cable with a generous 30-foot cord for about $50 on Amazon.com.

Resizing Photos Using the Crop Tool

I recently tried to resize a photo using my photo editor's Crop tool, but it didn't appear to change the dimensions of the photo to what I wanted. How do you resize a photo when you crop?--Joseph Conrad, via the Internet

You've stumbled upon something that confuses a lot of people. Your photo editor's crop tool doesn't actually resize photos, even when you choose a preset dimension like 4 by 6 inches. Cropping lets you cut away the parts of the photo you don't want while you trim the photo to a new aspect ratio. This is handy because digital cameras don't take pictures in standard frame-ready proportions like 4-by-6 or 5-by-7 inches.

To actually reduce a photo to a specific pixel size, you need to use the resize tool. Take Adobe Photoshop Elements, for example. Start by using the Crop tool to recompose your photo and set the photo to the desired aspect ratio. Then choose Image, Size, Resize and dial in the exact number of pixels you want.

Recovering Accidentally Deleted Photos

I recently took some great photos of my granddaughter, but deleted them from my camera's memory card by mistake. Is there any way to get them back?--Cecilia Kane, Greensboro, North Carolina

All hope isn't lost, Cecilia. And don't feel too bad--I get this question more frequently than you might think.

There are a lot of data recovery programs available for download on the Internet, but it's getting very hard to find free ones that actually work as advertised. Consequently, these days I suggest you put your faith in either PhotoRescue Wizard or Digital Photo Recovery, both of which cost $25 and do a good job of finding deleted photos--as long as you haven't used the memory card very much since the accidental deletion.

If the photos are missing, not because of a slip of a finger on the Delete button, but because the memory card is corrupted, then I suggest you give CnW Recovery Software a try. You can try this program in demo mode for free to see if it can find your lost photos, then get a 30-day license for $20, which is handy for a one-time emergency. Last year I took a video of my daughter's performance in a school play, and due to a weird glitch my camera didn't save the file properly when I stopped recording. I successfully used CnW Recovery to get the video back in its entirety.

Best Way to Transfer Photos

It's not always convenient for me to transfer photos using a memory card. Sometimes I want to send a picture via email. Given any particular JPEG, will there be any difference in quality between using a memory card or emailing the picture?--John Walker, Kissimmee, Florida

That depends, John. If you manually add a photo to an email as an attachment (such as using the Attachment button in Gmail or dragging photos into a mail message in Microsoft Outlook) then the photo will arrive at its destination identical to the way it left your PC.

But that's not always the case. For example, if you right-click a photo in Windows and choose Send to… Mail Recipient, Windows will offer to compress the photo for you. If you choose any option other than Original Size, the photo will be smaller and compressed differently, so there will be an obvious quality difference.

Also, I should also point out that if you use Apple iTunes to copy photos to your new iPad, you might also run into some unexpected quality changes. This surprising result was uncovered by my PCWorld colleague Melissa Perenson. Based on my own experiments, I agree that iTunes appears to slightly increase color saturation and resave JPEGs at a lower quality level, which results in some loss of color detail and image quality.

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: "Canada Goose on Ice" by Eric Hoar, Springvale, Maine

Eric says: "This image of a Canada Goose hanging out on a patch of ice in the Mousam River in Sanford, Maine, is actually a panorama. I made it by combining two photos."

Eric shot this with his Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8.

This week's runner-up: "APBA Race" by Ron Knapik, Amsterdam, New York

Ron says he shot this on film using a Canon SLR, and scanned the resulting photo. He shot it from a patrol boat on the Mohawk River in Alplaus, New York.

To see last month's winners, visit our March 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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