Summary of Digital Photography Cardinal Rules

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This chapter contains many principles; suggested techniques and working methods that together will help you produce better photographs with your digital camera.

The reason I highlighted the following five Cardinal Rules is because they are easily overlooked and, if you did nothing else, these recommendations will greatly improve the quality of your work.

• Always use the lowest ISO possible with digital cameras.

The ability to change ISO settings from one frame to the next is an important advantage of digital photography. Most photographers are familiar with photographic grain and some even use it to great aesthetic advantage. The same could be said of digital noise but if reducing it is your goal then this rule is the key.

• Always shoot in Raw format unless you are certain that you will never need the visual information stored in the raw digital file.

Camera raw files not only contain much more visual information than JPEG images, allowing for larger, higher quality prints, they also contain useful metadata and make it possible for you to take advantage of raw conversion software. Unless image storage space is a priority and you are sure you will never need the advantages that raw files provide, this rule is always the best practice.

• Scan or capture for your largest final print size and never interpolate if you can avoid it.

When scanning, always determine the largest image size you ever intend to make and use that as your output size. The resolution should always be at 300 dpi if your goal is to make a high quality ink jet print.

• Expose for the highlights and process for the shadows. (Also known as: Expose to the Right.)

This is the general guideline for optimizing digital exposures. It helps you avoid banding by reducing the need for contrast adjustments and places your shadow values as far away as possible from the darker, pixel-level-deprived end of the histogram.

• If you are shooting raw image files, do as much image correction as possible during the raw conversion stage of the process.

Because of the digital linear effect, raw images are fundamentally different from the same image after it has been converted into a tone-mapped file. Raw conversion software, and especially Adobe's Camera Raw application, takes advantage of this process allowing you to manipulate factors like image exposure and color temperature in ways that are impossible to reproduce with Photoshop.

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