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Top Ten iPhoto Tips

by Derrick Story, coauthor of iPhoto: the Missing Manual

At first glance, Apple's iPhoto appears deceptively simple. You plug in your digital camera, iPhoto grabs all the pictures, and you play with them on your computer screen.

This process is so easy in fact, that the next thing you know you have hundreds, if not thousands of images annexing real estate on your hard drive. At some point sobriety settles in, and you realize that you need to back up those iPhoto images. Or you may want to move them to another computer, or free up space on your hard drive for even more pictures.

So, you open your iPhoto Library folder, which has grown to more than a Gig in size, and figure you'll just grab logical parts of it and burn a few CDs. Problem is, there appears to be nothing logical about the contents of this folder. All you see are numbered directories, which when you open them contain more numbered directories. Suddenly you realize that sorting all this out isn't going to be so easy.

This scenario is based on the premise that you've figured out the best way to shoot your pictures in the first place. You've heard some recommendations here and there about how to take good digital images, but you're still not sure about things such as: Do you always shoot at the highest resolution? How do you take flattering portraits of people outdoors? And how the heck do you prevent red eye?

By now you might be thinking, "Hey, I thought iPhoto was going to solve all my problems. I'm more confused than ever. You're bringing me down, man."

The truth is, iPhoto is really quite powerful (and complicated), even though it appears simple on the surface. The following ten tips will put you on the fast track to avoiding the iPhoto "gotchas" that lurk beneath its Aqua surface.

These tips are divided into two sections. The first section I refer to as Data In because iPhoto is really just another database. As with all databases, the higher the quality of the information going in, the better your output will be. Taking good pictures is key to an enjoyable iPhoto experience.

The second section, Data Out, focuses on managing the mountain of data you'll be loading into your computer in the form of JPEG files. With just a little foresight, and by adding a couple of free (or really inexpensive) tools, you'll never suffer from the iPhoto backup blues.

Data In: Take Better Pictures

Tip #1: Buy a bigger memory card for your camera. Forget about that cheesy 8MB card that came with your digicam and buy yourself some real memory. Pony up for at least: 32MB for 1.3-megapixel cameras, 64MB for 2-megapixel models, 128MB for 3-megapixel digis, and 256MB for 4-megapixel shooters--anything less will force you to shoot at low resolution, tempt you to pass on creative pictures, or send you constantly running to your hotel room to upload images because your memory card is full again. Stick the 8MB card in your pocket for emergencies and go with the big guns in your camera.

Related Reading

iPhoto: The Missing Manual
By David Pogue, Joseph Schorr, Derrick Story

Tip #2: Shoot at your camera's highest resolution. You'll need a decent-size memory card to do this, but it's worth the investment many times over. You may think that you only want vacation photos for your Web site, but what if one turns out to be a real winner? Wouldn't it be nice to have it as an 8-by-10-inch print too? You'll need all the resolution your camera can muster to make a photo-quality print that size. Remember, you can always scale high-resolution images down for other uses, but you can't go the other way without loss of quality.

To get the most out of your camera, look for settings such as "SHQ" (super-high quality) and avoid anything marked as "Standard" resolution--which is really camera company lingo for "substandard."

Tip #3: Get closer. Casual photographers tend to stand too far away from their subjects. Sure you can crop the image later in iPhoto, but that's like turning your pricey 3-megapixel camera into a run-of-the-mill, 2-megapixel model. Get close to your subject, frame it in your viewfinder, then get even closer. Your shots will require less cropping and have more personality.

Tip #4: Find the fill flash setting and use it. Fill flash means that the camera's flash fires every time, even in broad daylight. You see, just because it's light outside doesn't mean that the light is good on your subject's face. By turning on the fill flash and getting within ten feet of your model, you illuminate his or her beautiful features and add a nice twinkle to the eyes.

Look for the flash icon that's usually a plain lightening bolt. Remember that your flash will most likely return to the default "auto" setting when you turn off the camera, which means your camera will decide when to use the flash, not you.

Tip #5: Avoid "red eye" when possible. This monster-like countenance that appears in otherwise innocent subjects is the bane of compact cameras. Red eye is caused by the flash reflecting off the subject's retinas. This usually happened in dimly lit rooms when a subject's eyes are dilated.

You can help avoid red eye by having the subject look at a lamp or an open window (that is if it's light outside!) right before the shot. Other tricks include turning up the room lights or shooting from a slight angle so that the subject isn't looking directly into the camera.

If all else fails, iPhoto does include a red-eye removal tool that can help with this problem, but it's best to avoid post production work as much as possible.

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