Sometimes those of us who know how to do something forget about how difficult it was to learn the basics when we started learning a new skill. A friend of mine reminded me of this fact when she asked me questions about her new digital camera. In this article, I explain how to get started with digital photos.
When you take a picture with your digital camera, the photo is stored on a tiny, removable card inside your camera. Think of this card like a mini floppy disk with space to save photos. You can put it into your computer, copy the files, or can carry it with you.
Learn About Camera Cards
The number of photos or videos (if your camera has video capability) you can store on the card depends on its size. Most cameras come with cards that have space for just a few photos. However, you can buy cards with more space, so you can store many more pictures. A few different kinds of cards exist, so if you're not sure which type of card your camera uses, ask an expert to look at it and give you the details. If you search the Web, you can find good deals on compatible cards with higher capacity, so you can store more photos.
However, camera memory cards are not meant to store photos forever. You use them as temporary storage for the photos you are taking, but you should, eventually, move those photos off your camera card and store them on your computer. If you start taking a lot of photos, you may want to move the files off your computer and save them off to a CD or DVD. To save them on a CD or DVD, you do need to have a CD or DVD drive that has recording capabilities. You also need to purchase special, blank CDs/DVDs that allow you to write to them.
Get Your Files Off the Camera
Most cameras come with special software you install on your computer that helps you move photos off the camera onto your computer. This software may also include photo editing capabilities as well or tools to help you create special projects using your photos. However, to get photos off the camera, you don't need to use this special software. In fact, that was my friend's biggest problem. She was having trouble understanding her new photo software, because she didn't understand where her software was putting the photo files. But a photo file really is just another image file.
When you connect your camera to your computer using the cable, the camera's custom software usually pops up on your computer screen. It offers to transfer your photos to a specific folder. If you don't want to use the software, you can just close that dialog box and move the photos on your own.
Move Files Yourself
To move the files yourself, press the Windows key + E to open Windows Explorer. (If you don't have a Windows key, right-click My Computer and choose Explore.) Look to see which drive says "Removable" or "Portable" disk or drive.
As you can see in the image below, when I plug in my camera, I get a new drive called Removable Disk (C:). (It is named C: because my main drive is the F drive, not the C drive as it is for most people.) Once I click down into that drive, you can see the photo and video files I have stored on the camera card.
Many people now use removable thumb drives that are tiny disk devices you can plug into your computer to store files. The camera card is just another type of those removable storage devices. If you wanted, you can move document files to your camera card and carry them with you because it's just another type of storage device.
Once you've accessed the drive/card on your camera, you can move the photos or videos off your camera card to a folder on your computer. To create your own photo folder, click the drive letter where you want the new folder, or on a folder you have already if you want to create a subfolder. Then click Files|New|Folder and type the name of the new folder.
To move your files from your camera to your new folder, click back to the camera drive. Now Press Ctrl + A to select all the files. Press Ctrl + X to cut (remove) them from your camera card. Click the new folder you just created and press Ctrl + V to paste the pictures into that location.
As you can see in the next image, I've created a Photo folder on my secondary D drive. Under that folder, I create various, dated folders where I place photos as I move them off my camera. Later, when I have time, I reorganize my photos from the dated drives into special folders that I've named for people, pets, or events. So I have folders like Cassy Pics (photos of my dog Cassy) and ones for holidays like Halloween2007, XMas2007, and so on.
Categorize and Tag Your Photos
After you have moved the images from your camera to your computer, you can use a dedicated photo program to categorize and tag your photos, so they are easier to find later. But again, you don't need a dedicated program. From your regular computer drive in Windows Explorer, you can select any photo, right-click and choose Rename to change the name of the photo. That way you can give your photos more descriptive names than the generic ones your camera gives them. Changing the name can make photos much easier to recognize later. File naming was another issue that totally confused my friend. She couldn't find the pictures she wanted to email because they all had cryptic, numbered names!
In the image below you can see I've accessed my computer photo folders through Microsoft Digital Photo software. If you don't have good photo sorting software, you can download a wonderful free program, Picasa, from Google's site here: http://picasa.google.com.
In my case, I've told Microsoft Digital Photo where I store my photos on my computer. It looks in the typical photo folders like My Photos, but also in folders I created called Photo and its subfolders. It's easy for me to find the photos I want because I've added tags. This categorization is just within the software; the photo files are still in the same place on my hard disk. The software just displays them in groups thanks to the tags I added to the photos.
Now, from within the Microsoft photo software, I can resort the view to see them by various categories, such as the date taken, as shown below. Again, this sorting helps me find the photo I want.
If you need to figure out where the photo file actually is located on your computer, most photo software gives you that information. Often you can right-click the picture and choose Properties. As you can see below, the photo I selected is in the Bark2007 folder under Photos on my D drive. Although I can just go to that place on my hard disk to find the folder, I don't really need to if I'm using the tools in my photo software.
However, you could view the picture right from the file location using Windows Explorer. Just right-click and choose Preview.
Using Your Photos
Once you know how to get your photos off your camera and work with the files on your computer, you can do all sorts of things with your photos. For example, you can take a photo, insert it into a program like Word, set it up, resize it and print it out. Or you can try this easy tip. View the photo on your screen, then take a screen capture of it with SnagIt (www.techsmith.com). The screen capture is smaller than the original file, so you can email it to someone or save it to your desktop temporarily and drag it into an email. Check out this video tutorial for more info about using SnagIt to manipulate and send photos: SnagIt: Saving Photo Editing/Sharing Time.
Relax, It's Just Another Drive
Digital photography is supposed to be fun. If your new digital camera is making you crazy because you see it as a complex device with lots of new processes and software to learn, relax! That card in your camera is simply another portable disk that you can plug into your computer. You can access files the same way you can from any other drive on your computer.
If you don't have a good way to get quality printing from your computer, you also can remove the card from your computer and take it over to your local drug or photo store, such as Walgreens or Ritz Camera. There they have machines that read the card, so you can view the images, select, edit and print quality photos right from the card.
Another option is to use online photo processing. If you have some photos that you want to turn into special gifts, like mugs, calendars or holiday cards, check out companies like SnapFish.com or Shutterfly. It's easy to upload your photos, and get prints and other cool imprinted stuff. If you're like me, soon you'll be hooked on digital photography and you won't miss your old film camera at all!