Digital Photography Hacks - 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
by Derrick Story
Hacks are bad things in the public consciousness. Hacking is often referred to as the process for breaking into computers and turning them into weapons of discord.
But to quote Derrick Story in the foreword to his book, "Among people who write code, though, the term hack refers to a "quick-and-dirty" solution to a problem, or a clever way to get something done." As in the other O'Reilly Press books in their Hacks series, it's a positive term.
There are 100 Hacks, or more descriptively, 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, in Digital Photography Hacks by Derrick Story. If you have bitten the bullet and converted to a digital camera, or at least added one to your arsenal of film cameras, you should check out these clever ways to expand your digital photo expertise.
Since I have been privileged to experience Derrick Story give presentations in person - at NCMUG meetings and O'Reilly Press MUG days - I am happy to report that his charismatic style, verging on folksy guru-ism, is alive and well in his writings. To augment his bag of tricks and tips, the author has enlisted a total of seven additional experts in everything from freelance photography to production management, professional design, and technical writing. Each of the 100 hacks has a byline of one of these experts - if not written by Derrick himself. Mr. Story is, however, the only one to throw in phrases like, "fiddle with the exposure..." and describe the pre-digital age vacation slide show as "the Kodak Carousel projector snooze-athon." See what I mean about folksy guru?
The end result is a very wide scope of topics. All hacks are described in a straightforward, user-friendly style that does not lose the reader in a technical jargon jungle. I did, however, enjoy learning about bluesnarfing, moblogging, and digiscoping-all completely explained in plain English.
To give you an idea of the wide range of subjects covered, let's take a look at the chapter titles.
Chapter 1, Digital Camera Attachments. Hacks #1-15. If you miss the guilty pleasure of a tangle of gadgets and attachments once found in a film photographer's camera bag, take heart. Inexpensive items such as a Pillow Pod, Ultra Pod II, Flare Buster, and the like populate this Rube Goldbergesque collection of digital photo hacks. Gadgets are back and they work great! (I tried a few in the interest of R&D for this review.)
Chapter 2, Daytime Photo Secrets. Hacks #16-28. Even holdout film-only photographers can benefit from on-the-road hacks like, "Pantyhose Diffusion for Flattering Portraits" and "Use Sunglasses as a Polarizing Filter," along with digital-only tips like, "Analyze Metadata to Improve Your Shots."
Chapter 3, Nighttime Photo Hacks. Hacks #29-38. Capture nighttime ambiance backgrounds with your flash portraits, record streaming car lights, moon shots, fireworks, light painting and many others - all updated hacks dealing with the quirks of digital cameras.
Chapter 4, Magic with Flash. Hacks #39-46. Practical hacks for fill, bounce, frozen action, non-glare, and red eye prevention flash photography. Hack # 46 answers the age-old question: What the heck is Second-Curtain Flash and why do we need it?
Chapter 5, The Computer Connection. Hacks #47- 61. Sorry film photographers, this one's just for digital shooters. Everything from sharpness, file organization, quality printing, digital slideshows, VR movies, voiceovers and even storing pictures and movies on an iPod. For us MacHeads, I am sorry to report that there are also Windows XP hacks included. The book is begrudgingly nonpartisan when it comes to computer platforms.
Chapter 6, Photoshop Magic. Hacks #62-74. Fixing it in Post-Production, so to speak. Finally - resolution in Photoshop explained. Also, sharpening improved, flash falloff remedied, and History Brush tricks. Digital nip and tuck hacks of softening facial lines, brightening teeth, desaturating red eye, and intelligent color correction, to name a few.
Chapter 7, Camera-Phone Tricks. Hacks #75-85. My least favorite hacks. Subjectively, I don't think phones should be cameras any more than cameras should be phones. However, if you really NEED to do this for the immediacy of it all - as Derrick writes, "the best camera is the one in your hand when something happens" - then these hacks are the best tips around to be creative and communicate visually with your camera phone.
Chapter 8, Weekend Photo Projects, Hacks #86- 100. Rainy day undertakings like creating greeting cards and coffee-table books. A grab bag of more complicated projects like advanced panorama shooting, close-up bird photos and bar-less zoo photos, faxing and slide-copying in your digital camera, digital diaries and the who's who in family portraits.
As the above chapter descriptions demonstrate, there is a wealth of information embedded in 100 hacks. Most techniques follow the author's beliefs that photography attracts creative problem solvers and that digital photography encourages you to take risks. He also strives for the cheapest and quickest solutions to photographic challenges.
Only a photo geek might read the book from cover to cover, as I did for this article. Otherwise the book is designed for you to "open anywhere and start exploring." Hacking-It's a good thing.
Review by NCMUG member John Hershey