Digital Photography for Car People
Mary Schils presented Digital Photography

British V8 2007 Tech Session:   Digital Photography for Car People

as published in British V8 Newsletter, Volume XV Issue 2, September 2007

presented by: Mary Schils
coverage by: Curtis Jacobson

Mary got this year's British V8 tech sessions off to a great start at 4pm on Thursday with a lively discussion of digital photography. This proved an excellent topic for our meet because it's interesting for people at any stage of an engine swap, plus people (like spouses) who could care less about "grade 8 bolts", "double shear", "voltage drop", and other typical session topics.

I personally hope this photography discussion will be continued at future British V8 meets.
Mary started by reviewing basics (equipment selection, printing options, etc.) The key question is: "What are you going to do with your images?" Would you believe some people never download images from their digital camera, preferring instead to simply enjoy them on the camera's integral LCD screen? Nothing wrong with that! Other people want a paper print of every single shot they take. Viewing images on a computer screen is a popular option, and frankly a lot of people print very few images because they're happy with on-screen slideshows.

The reasons this question is so important is that it drives every follow-up question. Very different image resolutions are required for different viewing mediums or image sizes. If you're going to print a lot of 8 x 10 glossies, or especially if you're going to submit photos to magazines, you need to invest in a camera that will support that. However, if you're only going to print 4 x 6 prints or view images on your laptop computer screen, you simply don't need a "4 megapixel" (or higher resolution) camera. Perhaps you should put a priority on convenience features.

By the way, don't get too hung up on a megapixel rating. That's just one performance spec. Choosing a camera based solely on a megapixel rating would be like choosing a car based solely on the weight rating of its tires. If you need to haul heavy stuff, so be it - but there are other performance and convenience factors that are at least as important.

Cameras are one of those odd things... the marketing department only knows how to sell "bigger is better" whereas the engineering department only wants to think about "miniaturization". Case in point: pretty much all digital cameras come with "liquid crystal display" screens. The LCD's come in different quality levels and different sizes. (Good luck getting any quality specs - you'll just have to compare them in a store.) Lately, bigger LCDs are extremely popular... and sometimes that's a big problem! On small cameras an over-large LCD can crowd out other important things. It can force control buttons smaller, or oblige camera makers to use one button for too many purposes. Get a demo of the camera and make sure it's easy to operate.

To save money and make space, some cameras leave off the conventional viewfinder window. Mary cautioned: "Make sure you get a viewfinder!" The viewfinder works great on very bright days when an LCD can be hard to see. The viewfinder also lets you hold the camera up to your face where it's more stable, whereas looking at an LCD may force you to hold the camera out away from your face. If your hands are shaking at all, the quality of your photos will be compromised, so try to choose the camera that's most comfortable and easy to hold steady.

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Some of the better cameras come with an LCD screen that's hinged and pivoted. That's a WONDERFUL feature because it means you can see the display clearly even when the camera is held at various angles or odd positions. There is no more stable place for most people to hold a camera than against their body. Furthermore, if you're taking pictures of cars (or flowers), you'll inevitably want to put the camera places where your eye can't follow. With a pivoting display, you can "frame" your shot while holding the camera out over the engine compartment or up under the fuel tank. It's great!

How will you store digital copies of your images? If so, consider how you want to back them up. (This isn't news: 5" floppies replaced by 3.5", replaced by CD, replaced by DVD...) Probably a bigger deal is deciding on a file naming and folder scheme so you can sort through and find the right old photo in a hurry.

Editor's note: My Canon camera downloads photos into folders that are named by calendar date. It asks me what name to use for the photos, and then adds a three digit number to that name for each specific file. (When I got home from the British V8 Meet, I downloaded photos named "BritishV8-2007-001.jpg" through "BritishV8-2007-928.jpg" into a folder named "2007-08-07".)

How will you edit and adjust your photos? This question doesn't seem important to people who are used to letting someone else develop all their film. You can ignore this question if you want. The thing is, with digital photos it's relatively cheap, relatively easy, and relatively fun for you to do all the things the professional photo lab used to charge a lot of money for. LOTS of different software is available. Just to give you some idea, every single image on the British V8 website has been adjusted in a software program called "Photoshop". Many of them have been cropped. Almost all of them have been blown-up (or blown-down). Often contrast has been increased. Cracks have been "air-brushed" out of driveways and numbers have been air-brushed off of license plates. A nifty tool called "unsharp mask" has punched up the "depth of field" of almost every engine photograph. Then the files have been compressed to get file size down for quicker downloads.

The final and most important advice? Take a LOT of photos... and HAVE FUN!

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Top Ten Tips for Submitting Digital Photos to The British V8 Newsletter

1)   Submit lots of photos!
2)   Submit the highest resolution (largest file size) available.
3)   Any popular file format (JPG, TIF, etc.) is fine.
4)   Please don't edit, crop or downsize the photos before you send them.
5)   Please don't superimpose captions on top of images.
6)   If your camera has an option to superimpose a date label onto pictures, please turn that off.
7)   Please don't insert photos in a Word document. They come through better as individual files.
8)   Please only send us photos that you actually own the copy rights to. We don't want to be sued.
9)   Please tell us what the photo shows, if it isn't obvious.
10)  Don't hesitate to send photos of people having fun with their cars. We can't get enough of those!

Disclaimer: This page was researched and written by Curtis Jacobson. Views expressed are those of the author, and are provided without warrantee or guarantee. Apply at your own risk.

Photo by Curtis Jacobson. All rights reserved.

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