In the first article of this series I talked about things you might consider when deciding on whether or not to step up to a digital SLR (DSLR). Iim going to assume that you have considered some or all of my advice and that youive either bought your new picture taking baby, or you are seriously eyeballing one or two, trying to decide which one to go with.

Whether you to step up to a DSLR or decide to use one of the increasingly capable consumer cameras, one thing should be very clear to you; they donit call it idigital photographyi for nothing. Your camera turns those beautiful sunsets, crunched fenders, and chubby-cheeked smiles into a bunch of ones and zeros, which, in turn, can be manipulated like no film photo ever could.

To work this digital magic youill need the tools of the trade; a computer and printer or print service. Youill also need post processing software, but weill talk about that in the next installment.

Before we get into the meat of this installment Iid like to correct an oversight pointed out to me by some of you who read the first article. I didnit go into one of the most important benefits of buying a DSLR: Higher quality photos.

Iim sure Iill get an argument on this, but the fact is, ounce for ounce, a DSLR is designed to give you higher resolution (the amount of detail distinguishable), lower noise (caused by the sensor that records your photo and can more easily seen in photos taken in poor light), and a broader dynamic range (the high and low limits of photographic data in which meaningful information can be had) than what a snap-shooter can give. All of these and other features combine in a DSLR to give you the opportunity to produce a better photo than you might with a snap-shooter given equal circumstances.

I emphasize "opportunity" in the above statement because no matter how good your equipment is, if you donit make use of the camerais features and the capabilities of your post processing equipment and software then the resulting photos from your thousand dollar DSLR wonit look any better than they would if youid used a camera that cost a hundred bucks.

Also, I believe that there is such a thing as the iPhotographeris Eyei; like a gardeneris green thumb or the soul of a musician, the photographeris eye is something that can be enhanced, but it canit be taught. No one can tell you how they iseei when they shoot photos. You can learn the mechanics of photography, and even learn to take a consistently decent shot, but the Eye is what sets the pros apart from the rest of us. So, even though you have a DSLR, your photos may never hang in a museum next to those of Ansel Adams, but you can learn to shoot well enough to feel good about hanging your pix in a gallery in your den, and that is a good thing.

So, letis jump right in, shall we?

It should go without saying that, if you are going to shoot digitally, then you will need a computer to load the images on to. (I guess I said it anyway.) Which computer to use is largely a question of what you have available and your preference.

I use Macs, I have for a long time and Iill likely continue to use Macs until someone comes up with a quantum computer that anticipates what I want and starts to work on my request a nanosecond before I hit the return key. (...and that computer will likely be a Mac.)

iMac Family

If you use a PC I wonit hold it against you, PCs are capable and Iive heard that many people swear by them (while others swear at them). Seriously though, no matter what you use for a computer make sure you have plenty of hard drive space. I suggest buying an external USB 2.0 or Firewire hard drive to store your photos on and to use as a backup for your other data (iTunes songs, email, etc)

Regardless of which type of computer you use, make sure you donit skimp on RAM. Trust me on this; your digital photography experience will be a lot more enjoyable if your computer isnit struggling to do what you ask of it, and RAM is the least expensive way to increase the performance of any computer.

How much RAM? The answer will vary depending on many factors, RAM prices and the depth of your wallet being prime among them. Also computers have limits to how much RAM they can hold. New iMacs and Mac minis, for instance, will accommodate 2 gigs (a euphemism for gigabytes) of RAM. I suggest that you buy as much as you can afford, and aim for?at least get 1 gig of RAM.

Your computer and your patience will thank you.

Model T Ford taken at the Winter Park Auto Show, Winter Park, FL

Walk into any technology store (and even some supermarkets) and youill likely find a vast array of printers each offering features youill likely never use and claiming impressive specs.

Ignore the glitz and and geewhizardry, in fact, think about what it is you want out of a printer before shopping for one.

Donit know what you want out of a printer? Many folks donit. Let me suggest that you think about the following:

  • What will you print?
  • Do you want to print 5x7-inch photos, or do you also need to print the occasional document and maybe an 8x10-inch photo? There are many new printers designed specifically to print single size photos, typically 4x5-inch or 5x7-inch, quickly. There are other printers that will let you print panoramas as well as regular 8.5x11-inch or A4 size documents.

    Also, consider your other printing and document handling needs. Do you need to occasionally fax something, or scan in a photo or document? New all-in-one printer/fax/scanner/copier devices are becoming increasingly capable and reliable. However, if your primary goal is to print photos, then Iid concentrate on printers that emphasize that feature. Look for printers that can use enhanced inks: Some new printers using special inks and paper can print photos that will last 20 years or more.

  • ?How often will you print (really)?
  • If you donit or wonit use a printer very often then it doesnit make sense to spend a lot of money on an expensive, full featured printer. On the other hand, if you enjoy printing and giving out the photos youive taken, it might be wise to invest in a printer that makes the best possible prints. This is where those dedicated printers come in handy; they can push out nice gift size photos quickly and the paper is relatively inexpensive.

  • How much will it cost to print (per photo)?
  • This can be a big deal, and a hidden igotchai in digital photography. Keeping a printer in ink cartridges and paper can be a pricey affair, especially if you intend to do a lot of printing. Donit be fooled by the cost of inexpensive printers, the ink cartridges for these may cost a third to half the cost of the printer, and you may have to change them often.

    Some printer makers will tell the approximate number of prints per cartridge. For instance, HP has a website that lists the approximate print cartridge yields for each printer it sells, and?the cartridges ordering page shows approximate cost per print. Epsonis site used to tell you the approximate number of photos per cartridge you can expect, but those links seem to have disappeared. ?Canon, however, does list yields by printer

    Specs for ink cartridges should be readily available and I find it reprehensible that some printer makers wonit make this information easy to find. I would suggest that you not buy a printer from a maker that wonit give you cost per print info.

The point here is to investigate printers BEFORE you go out to the store. Youill save yourself a lot a time, money, and possible heartache in the long run.

An interesting thing to note: Kodak is releasing a series of printers where the ink cartridges are about half the cost of the cartridges for other printers. They also claim that the ink used in these new printers will create photos that last up to 100 years without fading. There is no way to validate Kodakis fade claim, but if inks cost half as much as the other guys then it might be a good idea to take a look.

Black-throated Sparrow, Tucson, AZ

Print Services
Printers are fine for most photographic needs, but when you really want your photos to look their best you should consider using a print service. Beyond your standard prints, these services offer a variety of enlargement options as well as specialty items like photo books, mugs, calendars, and tee shirts. The downside is that it can take several days for you to get your prints back.

Mac owners will be familiar with the Apple/Kodak printing service supported by iPhoto. It doesnit get any easier to order prints, and you can compose and order books of you photos as well, which can make treasured gifts.

PC users have Picasa (Windows XP only) which offers a list of print services to choose from. Again, itis easy to get the quality printing you want at reasonable rates.

Still, if you want professional quality printing you should consider a professional print service. Youill be surprise to know that pro print services donit cost much more than those that cater to the average consumer. In fact, they are often one in the same service. The difference is that the pro services offer more options. For instance, EZ Prints has a consumer page and a pro page. On the pro page you can get prints of panoramas up to an amazing 64-inches wide.

There are also printing services available at many local stores. For instance, OfficeMax offers printing and other services at very competitive prices. Also look into the photo centers at your corner drugstore or discount store, like Walgreens. The centers in these stores can give you prints up to 8x10-inches in just a few minutes and are inexpensive.

Finally, consider professional printers in your area. These folks cater to pros, but will often do special jobs for you, like printing on canvas and poster size enlargements. Be prepared to pay a little extra for their services, but what you get in return - excellent customer service, high quality, and attention to detail - is worth the extra cost.

On Ramp, Hwy 10, New Mexico

I currently use the Apple/Kodak service from iPhoto and EZ Prints. I also have an HP CP1700 printer and I will have prints made at my local OfficeMax if I need something done quickly and cheaply.

As you can see, the camera is only part of the equation, and weire not done yet. In my next article weill talk about post-processing software, like PhotoShop and The Gimp.

I hope youive found this article informative and enjoyable. If you have questions or comments please post below or email me.

Until next time; happy shooting.