Image Quality for Photo & Video

Most of us have heard the term, “Garbage in, Garbage out.”.  The saying holds true for photography and video.  Editing can fix a lot, but it cannot fix everything.  The key is to capture the best quality images to begin with, which will leave you with more options in editing later.

I produced a video on the subject which serves as a short synopsis of what to consider when capturing images, whether it be moving or still.  Read on for more detailed explanations of what is covered in the video, which can be found at the end of this post.

Image Size

Many cameras, both video and still cameras, offer several options for image size.  Using a smaller image size can certainly save space.  A smaller image garners a smaller file size which will effectively allow you to take more photos or longer videos before having to off-load to your computer.

The problem with smaller image sizes is that they cannot be enlarged and maintain a crisp image.  You may start off thinking your images will just be used on social media or small prints, but should you decide an image is destined for other applications where a larger format is needed you are going to wish you had taken everything at full quality and just brought extra media cards instead of trying to save space.

Larger images can always be scaled down in size to meet the requirements of the project you are working on.  Smaller images cannot be scaled up without loosing detail and clarity.  At some point smaller images become unrecognizable if they are scaled up too much.

Below are some images I took for a video project. I needed the images to fit a video frame size of 1920 X 1080.  Each of the images is annotated to show it’s original size and how much it needed to be scaled up by in order to fit the frame size I needed.

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As you can see, it is possible to scale images up to a certain degree and maintain decent image quality.  The extent to which you can do this depends on the size of the original image and how much you need to scale the image to make it fit into your project.

Lighting

To capture the richness of a scene’s color palette and to maintain overall crispness of an image, special attention should be paid to lighting.  In general, if lighting perfection cannot be reached it is better that an image come out a little too dark rather than being too bright.

Images that are too dark can generally be saved in editing.  The detail is still there and with a little help from photo editing software (I like Photoshop and Lightroom) the images colors, shadows, midtones and highlights can be enhanced to create the image you were hoping for when you originally took the photo or video.

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Images that are too bright rarely can be saved in editing.  When too much light is present in a shot it creates overwhelming highlights that drown out the detail of the photo. Darkening the image simply darkens the distortion created by the presence of excess light.  The detail is lost and cannot be regained in editing.

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To assure that you are closer to perfection with your lighting keep the following in mind:

  • The subject of your video should be evenly lit with the light source coming from the front and or sides of the subject.  The background should be darker than the foreground and for this reason the subject should never be placed in front of a window.
  • When possible make sure the subject is lit by a single type of light.  Outdoor light, indoor light and different light bulbs give off different temperatures of light.  This can cause an image to have a color cast (looks too blue or too yellow) if the camera is not white balanced correctly.  This can be fixed in editing, but better to avoid the problem to begin with.
  • Know your camera settings.  Most point and shoot cameras simplify exposure settings or make them automatic all together.  If you have a higher end camera that lets you adjust the three points of exposure manually (Shutter, Aperature & ISO) then some research on the type of photos you are planning to take should provide you with some best practices for using those settings to produce the best results.

Camera Stabilization

A moving subject and a moving camera can spell disaster for the outcome of your images.  While not all handheld images are destined for the digital trash can it is better to stabilize your camera whenever possible.

An expensive tripod is not always a better tripod but you do want to keep in mind the weight of the gear your tripod needs to hold.  When searching for higher end tripods you may see weight referenced in two ways.  One is the weight of the tripod it’s self.  The other is in reference to how much weight the tripod can carry in gear. If you have a large camera and will be attaching other accessories to that camera such as lighting and microphones you will need to take into account the collective weight of that setup and get a tripod that can accommodate that weight.

Lighter tripods may tip more easily if they are knocked into or caught in a good wind.  Weights can be attached to some tripods to help better stabilize them in these conditions.

If you are filming with a mobile phone or iPad there are adapters on the market for under $20 that will allow you to attach your mobile device to your tripod.

Monopods are a great alternative if you are traveling or will be shooting in a tight space that cannot accommodate a full tripod.  Some tripods come with a detachable monopod but they can also be purchased relatively inexpensively.

Media Storage

As discussed above, reducing image quality to make the most of your media storage space is not a good long term option.  Always buy the highest capacity media card your camera can take and then buy multiples of those.  No one every complained about having too much storage space.

If you are traveling and will have access to WiFi consider signing up for a cloud storage account.  You can transfer your photos to the cloud and then delete them from your camera or mobile device to make room for new photos. Check with some of the different cloud storage providers on rates and storage capacity.  I like Dropbox because it can be installed on and work with all types of computer operating systems and mobile devices.  Once in the cloud, your photos will sync to all the devices the account is attached to.  Do a few test runs using this workflow before using it for a project or going on vacation.

Check out the video below for quick visual review of topics covered above.

 

 

 

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Sunsets and Silhouettes

The most vibrant images can often times be images that play off light and dark and only display a handful of colors on the spectrum.

Capturing sunsets is a great way to experiment with natural light and the way it plays in various landscapes.

Sunsets on a backdrop of well formed clouds can be very dramatic.

If you photograph at the right time of day and look at ordinary things with a creative eye you can create some interesting scenes.

Generally speaking I have found that an hour before the sun goes down is the best time to photograph skies like the ones shown above.  The light is not as intense so glare is limited.  It also allows for more options in manually setting your camera for exposure.

I primarily use manual focus, except on images where the sun is directly in the shot.  Then I put the camera on auto focus, take a best guess at where I should start for settings and then aim the camera at the sun without looking through the lens.  After I take the shot I quickly review and adjust my settings and take another round of photos…slightly adjusting the position of my camera in the hopes one or two of the shots end up with decent framing.

If you think the fun ends when the sun goes down you are mistaken.  Keep an extra battery charged for the late show with our other favorite light source…the moon.

 

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A Macro Minute – Local Scenery

Some of the most wonderful scenery can be found in our own backyard, if we know where to look.

In my home town, there is a small stretch of public land overlooking the marshes that is home to dozens of little vignettes that were probably seen once or twice in the minds eye when imagining places far away as described in a fairy tale.

When the author describes a clearing in the woods where soft grass grows, fed by a small pond, this scene is pretty close to what I picture.

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Although this is the scene one sees as they exit the property and enter back  into the real world, it is one that reminds me of home, a warm welcome and what I would expect to find in any cottage ever describe in a childhood story.

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This scene is a legend unto it’s self in my home town.  Grass Island is a piece of land that gives the visual perception of being an island, though there is a thin strand connection to the mainland.  One can walk to it.  The shack on Grass Island is the true land mark.  Never inhabited, rustic in appearance and sturdy enough to withstand tides and storms over the decades, it is a sought after image for photographers and painters alike.

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All one needs to do is look up into the sky, where ever they are and at just the right time, to see the warm array of color that comes at the end of the day.  Location, and what stands up against this scene in the sky, are what adds texture to the overall picture.

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Some scenes are elements that are isolated from the whole.  Beauty unto themselves, something recognized with the naked eye but captured, in perpetuity, only by the lens.

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A Macro Minute – Reflecting on Water

A nice gentle rain can bring a change of perspective to garden foliage.  This photo was taken just after rain fall and before the sun came out in force.

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A clear night and calm water can be a canvas for achieving a more artistic effect with sky shots.

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With the right lighting conditions and framing of the shot, water take on a diamond in the rough appearance.

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All photos were shot using a Nikon D5300. Basic photo enhancement was done using Adobe Photoshop.

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Thinking of Cutting the Cord?

Five years ago I wrote Evolution of The Playlist, a casual observers look at the changing landscape of media consumption and the choices the consumer is left with.

The accompanying set of video is a three part series for those thinking of cutting the cable / satellite tv cord.  This first episode takes a brief look at some popular media apps and what to consider before signing up.  The second video looks at the device options available for viewing content. The third video addresses data usage when relying on the internet to stream video.

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A Macro Minute – The Magnificent Magnolia

Through all of it’s stages, the Magnolia offers a variety of hardiness, delicacy, shape and texture in a short period of time.  This is one of my favorite trees to photograph in the spring.

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Protect Yourself From Online Phishing

It is always phishing season in cyberspace.  And nothing is sacred.  Hackers can get into your address book and send emails to you that appear to be from a friend.  Emails that look like they are from a known vendor or trusted brand name can appear in your inbox and ask you for login information to your account.  And then there are IRS scams, prize scams and all those oversees emails that come from someone in dire need (of your money).

How do you really know what message to trust anymore?  Here are a few things to consider before opening that next email.

Don’t click email links from “trusted” vendors.

We all sign up for emails from our bank, phone and internet company and tons of online vendors we use for personal and business transactions.  These emails can be informative in that they alert us to outstanding bills, sales, and new products.  It is for this reason spammers often try to replicate brand image of these trusted vendors and send out these fake email blasts and try to get customers to turn over their account information.

Best Practice: Do an independent internet search of your vendors and bookmark their website.  If you are still receiving paper bills you can also find their web address there. Just type it into your browser and then bookmark it.  Always go to that bookmark when logging into your account. Never click on the link in the email.

Emails with only a link in them are SPAM!

Emails coming in that have nothing more than a link in the body should be deleted immediately.  Do not click the link.  It will likely unleash some type of software that will run the spectrum of nuisance to destructive and possibly try to send its self out to your contacts as well. Speaking of contacts, you will likely receive this kind of email from someone you know, because they were hacked.

Be careful about updating your computer and software at a website’s suggestion.

Just as with opening emails from “trusted” vendors, be cautious about updating your system or web browser via links another website offers. If they are asking you to update your browser or other software needed to use their website than locate that third party by independent means.

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This is a screen shot from “About Firefox” which I pulled up within the app.  Many applications have this feature built in so you can update directly from the app.

Do not trust pop up screens.

Whether surfing the internet on a mobile device or full computer screen there may come a time when your screen/device is taken over by a pop up screen indicating  that you “have won…” or that your device is infected and you must call tech support.  They provide the phone number and everything.  Do not click the link and do not call the phone number. There will not always be a button you can click to close the window.  Many of these try to force the recipient into clicking the link or an “OK” button.

Best Practice: Close the app completely. Then re-open it.  If the problem persists,  close the app again and power off your device. This usually disables the malicious intrusion.

If all else fails, I have clicked “OK” and then been redirected to the website where I can claim my “prize”.  From there I close the page and the app without clicking on anything in the website. I also do a virus scan on my device.

Keep your antivirus software up-to-date and scan regularly.

My favorite anti-virus products are Intego for Mac and PC as well as Norton products.  They offer very reasonable pricing to cover a multi-computer home and many now have the capability of scanning mobile devices. The software can be set to scan automatically as well as handle manual scan requests.

Consider working some or all of this into your regular online routine to reduce the risk of being caught up in a phishing scam.

 

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