Women Riders

Taking and Making Great Photos

Written by  September 30, 2009

Many who ride take pictures. Perhaps some keep a digital camera tucked into a saddlebag or have the co-rider bring one along for those leisurely country road cruises. After all, you never know when the shutterbug will bite and how many of us walk back into our houses whining, “I wish I had a camera today!” As the colors of autumn start to appear, now is the time to get out that camera, take that country ride and capture the beauty around you.

What to do once we get home and want to display the photos we’ve taken is the dilemma most people face. I will attempt to remove the fears of producing photographs worthy of showing off to everyone.

First, let’s look at the camera. Most digital cameras have “presets,” programs in the camera for specific situations, such as “sports,” “twilight,” or “portrait.” If you think about what is involved in any situation, you can adapt a preset to fit your need. The “sports” setting, for example, is designed to capture movement with minimal blur. This makes it ideal for shooting from the pillion while moving. The “twilight” setting, usually seen as a sunset icon, is good for low light situations like deep shade. I recommend staying clear of the “Auto” setting as much as possible as it is designed to focus on your light source, and if the sky is bright, the image will be washed out or extremely out of balance in its light and shadows.

Check to see if your camera comes with an EV or AV adjustment dial. This controls the amount of light the camera allows in. Below 0 you would use in very bright areas, above 0, use in shady or less than brightly lit situations. Keep in mind where your subject is as that will affect the outcome. For instance, if you are in the sun but your subject is under a tree, adjust the EV above 0 to get the detail, but try to leave out as much sky or background as possible.

Even the point and shoot digital cameras usually have mode choices where you can adjust your shutter speed and aperture. If you think of each as a function of your eye, it’s easy to understand what they do. The shutter speed is the “blink.” The faster the blink, the less is seen. With the shutter speed, the higher the number, the faster the “blink” will be. I use a shutter speed of about 500 when riding. With aperture, think of it as a squint, except the numbers are fractions of a circle. In other words, an 8.5 is a smaller fraction than a 2.0. Photographers often use a rule called “Sunny-16” to remember what to do in sunny situations; the higher the aperture number, the less light the lens will absorb. The aperture is also used for focusing distance; the higher the number, the shallower the focus. So if you want to shoot that mountain in the distance, try shooting with an aperture of about 8.5 or lower.

Now that you have great images, what next? You should upload them to your computer and begin editing. These are two functions that scare the dickens out of a lot of people, but with a clear head, it's not scary or complicated at all. It is just a matter of keeping yourself organized and to take things one step at a time.
Before uploading, you will need to create a folder in which the images will go. I suggest naming this folder by what the pictures are about, i.e., 'Bike Week' or 'Fall Group Ride.' Have your folders set up in your options pallet to show thumbnails of the photos. This makes it very easy to find at a moment's notice. Avoid naming folders by date or keeping them at their default of 'New Folder.' If you do a lot of the same activity, you can include the date in the folder name to further distinguish it from others.
If you do not have a card reader, just hooking up your camera to your computer will do. Card readers are inexpensive, ranging from about $3 to $30. I recommend getting a good one as the cheaper ones will fail sooner. If your computer came equipped with card reading slots, you're ahead of the game.

You will need editing software and I will cover that later on in this column. Most pc's have only basic Windows viewing software and maybe MS Paint. For viewing and editing, I highly recommend the freeware Irfanview. With Irfanview, you can adjust color, crop and change size and format as well as view your images. It's very user friendly and can be expanded with available plug-in. I strongly urge you not to try getting a bootleg of Photoshop. These 'shared' programs many times are just filled with bugs, trojans and malware that can destroy your files.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is a good alternative, is cheaper and sometimes is included in Epson printer packages.

Now that your folder is created, simply open the medium in which your memory card is inserted. The quickest and easiest way to upload is to hold down your shift key, click on the first and last images to highlight them. Right click, click on 'copy.' Now go to your folder, right click and click on 'paste.' Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and wait for the transfer to finish. If any of the images are sideways, right click, look for the 'rotate' options and rotate them to their proper orientation. If several are facing the same way, simply hold down your ctrl key, click on each image, then right click and rotate. This saves a lot of time over doing each one separately.
Now that you have downloaded Irfanview, you can do some basic editing. I will base my instructions on the assumption that you have taken your pictures with a point and shoot camera. These cameras shoot only in jpeg although there may be choices of “fine” or “very fine.” “Very Fine” uses the maximum size image the camera has been rated for. The higher the megapixel number, generally the larger the image will be in that setting.

A quick word about how images are viewed as opposed to printed. In most cases, an image is viewed on a computer at 72ppi. This means that there are 72 pixels in every square inch. This is not a good printable measurement. Optimum printing should be at 300ppi to avoid pixellating, a breaking down of detail that can show up as blurring or as small squares of color, mostly around the edges and in brighter or solid hues. You can change the ppi in Irfanview by dropping the Image menu and clicking on “resize/resample image.” To resize to an 8x10, the longest portion of your image is 3000px. Set the box marked “DPI” to 300 and the longer side of the image to 3000px. Make sure that “Preserve Aspect Ratio” has been checked. Any size you want to print, just multiply the longest side by 300 to get the proper size of the image. So a 6x4 would be set at 1800. Simple?...Yes!

Irfanview is designed so that you must go to File/Save to save your changes. Merely closing the picture will revert it back to its previous state, so you can’t really screw it up. That reminds me: When you have uploaded those images to your folder, do NOT delete them from the memory card. Instead, keep them there until you have your images on your computer just as you want them, then transfer those originals on the card to a CD, DVD or just fill the card up with images and put it away. NEVER delete anything until you have it backed up at least once, preferably twice. Now, on to adjusting the colors.

Drop the Image menu once again and click on “Color Corrections.” The choices are pretty self-explanatory. Brightness adds white, Contrast bumps up black. “Gamma” is similar to the bright slide except that it will generally leave the blacks alone. If you find that your image looks a little dull, try using the “Saturation” slide along with “Contrast.” Experiment with them. Remember, you have to choose to save what you do, so it’s pretty hard to screw it up and even if you did, you didn’t delete the originals from the memory card, right?

You can crop in Irfanview, but it is not a precise tool. Simply drag your mouse over the area of the image you wish to save, eliminating the waste. Drop the Edit menu and click on “Crop Selection.” If you don’t like what you have done, simply go back to Edit and “Undo.” You can then, if you choose to, go back to the resizing and again, make the image closer to what you want to print it as. One word of caution, though. Generally at 300DPI (or, more accurately, PPI), an image will start to fall apart if you double or triple its measurements. Better to make your choice of size first and keep as much as the image as you can for a standard print size. Some people prefer to crop first, then resize, but that risks losing quality.

So there you have it. You had a great day riding, you took some terrific shots and now you can fix them, print them and show them off. Play around with the menu choices and see what you can accomplish so that editing soon becomes second nature.

By Louise Reeves