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16 October 2014

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Taking Digital Photos

Here's how to get the best possible digital photos to put in your digital story or video.

Taking Digital Photos by Carwyn Evans.

Digital stories in the main are created from our own personal archives; from those cherished photos kept carefully in albums, biscuit tins and drawers. This is the "invisible nation" which is made visible by the Digital Storytelling process and which forms the conceptual heart of Digital Storytelling. Using a flatbed scanner, these photographs are digitised and prepared to use in your Digital Story.

However, sometimes an image or a set of images you want to include aren't available in print or digital form, such as a prized swimming trophy or Aunt Betty doing an Irish jig in the parlour, and so you need to take new photographs. An easy and efficient way of achieving this is to take new shots on a digital camera.

A digital camera is an electronic device used to capture and store photographs digitally which are recorded on a memory card in the camera. Many digital cameras connect directly to a computer to transfer data. The most widely used method is USB and many people use an external card reader to transfer data from the memory card itself to their computer.

Remember, it's people who take good pictures, not cameras.

No matter how great your digital camera is, it cannot guarantee good pictures. Here are some hints and tips on taking good pictures using your digital camera.

Things to think about when taking digital photographs

* Camera settings:
Digital cameras allow you to take pictures at different quality settings - the higher the setting, the better the photo quality. Higher settings use more memory than lower settings. For taking pictures to include in your Digital Story, set the file size to at least 3MB. When you come to editing your pictures, you'll notice that the image size reduces to around 1.5MB each.

* Composition:
Anyone can point a digital camera at a subject and get a good quality photograph. The camera - provided it's set to automatic focus - will almost certainly ensure that the photo will be sharp and exposed correctly. However, the one thing the camera can't do for you is compose the shot.

Composition is important because it helps set the mood for the shot. Frame it, so your subject fills most of the picture area. The closer you get to the subject, the better. There's no need for unnecessary background detail. This is especially important if you publish your Digital Story online because frame size of the web version will be small.

Think creatively when composing your picture in the viewfinder. Instead of shooting at eye level, try shooting overhead, waist-level or ground-level. When photographing children or animals, get down to their level for best results.

* Focus:
Auto-focus is great, but it isn't perfect. Most digital cameras tend to simply focus on what's in the centre of the picture. If your main subject is not centre, point your camera at the subject, half-press the shutter button to focus and then re-compose before pressing the shutter button fully. This will ensure that the main subject is perfectly sharp.

Be aware of your camera's limitations when taking close-up photos. A better way to get very close is to use the "macro mode" if your camera has this.

* Zoom:
The advice here is don't.... unless you really have to, if you can't get close to the subject. But if you can get in close, then do so, to ensure that the quality of your image is the very best it can be. If you have to use the zoom, then use only optical zoom for best results. Zooming in also increases camera shake, so it's very important that the camera is kept really steady. When taking portrait pictures, don't get too close when the lens is wide as this will distort your sitter's face. It's always better to stand away from the sitter a little and use some zoom.

* Exposure:
Digital cameras use a light-sensitive chip rather than film to capture an image. The camera is designed to let light through a hole (aperture) on to the chip for a limited amount of time (exposure). Digital cameras use "auto exposure" to take care of exposing the picture for you.
Even with a fully automatic camera, you can modify the exposure. Point the camera at the object you want correctly exposed and half-press the shutter button. Move the camera to compose your shot, and then squeeze the button fully to take the picture.

* Flash:
Natural daylight is the best light to take digital photographs as flash can create harsh shadows around the subject you're photographing. This is also known as "burn out". However, you may use fill flash to help lighten up a subject which is in shadow.

A general rule of thumb is to remember that poor lighting conditions result in poor pictures, so use as much natural light - not bright light mind - on the subject you're photographing.

* Photographing small objects:
Small objects are best photographed against a plain background. For maximum visibility and impact, photograph light objects against a dark background and vice versa.

* Tripod:
Use a tripod if you can, especially in low light level conditions. Short animations such as a sequence or an action of some sort, like a book opening, can benefit from using a tripod too. As the frame is fixed, you can concentrate on directing the action in front of the lens, without having to align each frame individually in an image editing package before including it in your Digital Story.

If you don't have a tripod, try leaning against a wall or resting the camera on something solid such as a table, to help steady your shot.

For more details on taking digital pictures, please seek out your digital camera manual.

Downloading pictures:
The camera should be connected to your computer using the USB port or the memory card itself can be connected using an external card reader. Once the camera is powered, either an existing image capture software loads up or the device appears as an external hard drive on the computer's desktop or in its list of available drives.

From here, you should be able to download the images to our computer, ready to edit with image manipulation software.

Consult your software/computer guide on notes to transfer these image files onto your machine.

And finally, be warned:
It's very important to think about who you're taking pictures of. Only shoot photographs of children that either are related or that you have permission to photograph. No matter how wonderful a shot of a child in the street eating an ice cream is, you won't be able to publish your Digital Story if you don't have the permission of the child and their parent or guardian. If you are going to take pictures of people, make sure that they are happy for you to do so and that they understand that their picture may end up in your film and be published on the web. It's better to ask now than wanting to use a photograph and not be able to use it.

Be careful:
Don't put yourself in danger. It may sound obvious, but once you start getting excited about taking pictures, all common sense can disappear! Don't walk backwards whilst shooting photographs. Don't try for that unusual shot on the side of the motorway! Think about your safety and the safety of others at all times!

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