March/April 2008 HelpLine

This Article Features Photo Zoom


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Despite the powerful search features of operating systems, it’s best to organize your photos using photo software. While operating systems offer ways to browse all files, photo software is made specifically for searching and sorting images and fine-tuned to minimize the time spent on this aspect of digital photography.

Photo Organization
Q) In Windows XP, I have many subfolders defined for basic photo organization; however, I like to rearrange thumbnails in the folders as one would in a photo album. But I find that Windows often rearranges the thumbnails after I’ve spent a lot of time organizing them. I’ve tried turning off auto arrange, but it seems to happen anyway. I’ve tried arranging on type, etc., instead of name, but that doesn’t seem to help. Turning off auto arrange also interferes with organizing the photos in the first place. Is there some way of stopping Windows XP from reorganizing subfolders after they have been organized? Thanks for your help.

Fred Harris
Via the Internet

A) Generally, I don’t recommend using the operating system to organize your image files. You can use subfolders to organize your images by year or by subject (e.g., Prague 2007), but I’d stop there. XP is an operating system and its sole job is focused on managing the computer’s hardware and software. Since the file system part of XP is designed to operate on all varieties of files—sound, text, images, video, applications, drivers, databases, etc.—having it visually sort files is rather like trying to repair a car when your only tool is a screwdriver.

But if you must (and I like challenges), there’s a convoluted way to organize your files visually using only the XP operating system. After I explain how to do it, you may decide it’s not what you’re looking for. If it is, then you’re a very patient person.

Another reason for accepting this challenge is the opportunity to talk a bit about metadata. Metadata is usually described as data about data. While this is a clever description, I’m never sure whether it truly helps explain the concept. So let me try to explain it differently by describing an image file created by a digital camera.

When you take a picture—let’s say it’s a picture of a flower—and download the image file to your computer, you download one file made up of two parts. The first part is primarily what you’re concerned about, namely, all the digital “bits” (1s and 0s) that make up the image of the flower. The second part is all of the extra 1s and 0s that aren’t about the flower. This information might be the date and time the photograph was taken, the brand and model of camera that took the picture, whether or not the flash fired—and the list goes on and on. Since these extra bits aren’t about the flower, in most cases, if you change any of these values, the image of the flower stays the same. (There are some instances where the metadata can change the image-white-balance information in a RAW file can be used to adjust white balance after the fact.)

Now on to the sorting method. First, each file has a series of metadata fields that’s accessible by the operating system-filename and date are just two of these fields. There’s also a field called Comments. To gain access to this field, open My Computer or Windows Explorer, locate and right-click on one of your images and then select Properties. In the Properties dialog, select the Summary tab and locate a field labeled Comments. Click in this field and add a value that you can sort on. For example, if this is the first image you want to see, you might enter “0001.” Once you’ve entered a value, click Apply.

Next, go to My Computer’s or Windows Explorer’s View menu and select Choose Details. This feature lets you select the fields that display in the Details view. Put a check in the Comments field. Notice that now when you select Arrange Icons By (also in the View menu), all the checked fields (including, now, Comments) appear as sorting options. So once you add values to all your files’ Comments fields, you can Arrange Icons By Comments to keep them in order.

I admit that while this accomplishes what you want, it has many problems. One is that if you don’t plan ahead and you want to rearrange images, you’ll be stuck recommenting all your files. Planning ahead might mean incrementing the comment number by 10, instead of by only 1. That way, you could insert file 0005 between 0001 and 0010.

A better solution is to use software specifically designed for organizing images. In your question, you say, “I like to rearrange thumbnails in the folders as one would in a photo album.” Just as in the physical world, a file folder is a poor substitute for a photo album. In the world of computers, an operating system is a poor substitute for image-organizing software.


Noise Solutions
Q)
A coworker and I were shooting a fireworks display the other night. This was my first experience using extended shutter-release settings. I have a Sony DSLR-A100 and he uses a Canon; we metered for ƒ/22 at 30 seconds with an ISO of 100. My camera would take a 30-second exposure and then say “processing” on the LCD for another 30 seconds before I could take another picture, whereas my friend would take another picture immediately with no in-camera processing. This happened with RAW, JPEG-fine and Standard. Needless to say, this was quite a nuisance, and my picture capability was cut in half compared to the Canon.

I contacted Sony, and after speaking with my third tech support guy (on a tiered system) over one hour later, I was told that after the extended exposure, the sensor generates a lot of heat, which creates noise, so the camera takes another exposure with no shutter release to create a black picture and the camera combines these to create a picture with less noise. He also stated that all digital SLRs use this same process. I told him about my friend’s Canon that doesn’t do this. He then conferred with another tech support guy who said that he knows that Nikon does this. My friend talked to a fellow student of his who owns a Nikon, and she said her camera only takes one to two seconds to process after exposure. Sony also stated that this can’t be turned off and that the new Sony DSLR-A700 does
the same thing and that he wasn’t sure about the yet-to-be-released Alpha pro-series camera.

Is this an accurate explanation of my problem, and am I stuck with this disappointing feature?

Mel

Via the Internet

 

During long exposures, a digital camera’s image sensor can build up a lot of image noise, which is most noticeable in the dark areas. Actually, the noise is always there, but it becomes more evident the longer the exposure you take. Whenever there’s noise, manufacturers implement noise-reduction algorithms to reduce it.

A) While you describe this “feature” as disappointing, it can be useful—it just depends on how you look at it. But first, let’s deal with what’s going on here and why your camera takes so long to process images between shots.

During long exposures, a digital camera’s image sensor can build up a lot of image noise, which is most noticeable in the dark areas. Actually, the noise is always there, but it becomes more evident the longer the exposure you take. Whenever there’s noise, manufacturers implement noise-reduction algorithms to reduce it.

One popular way to reduce noise is to try to capture just the noise and then use the captured noise to remove it from the original. If you remember anything about sine waves from school, you might recall that if you invert a signal 180 degrees and add it back to itself, you’ll cancel out the original signal.

For example, let’s say you walk into a room that has a lot of noise in it—a blowing air conditioner, a buzzing sound coming from a speaker or a humming microwave in your kitchen. If you want to make an audio recording of someone speaking in that room, you would get poor results. But if you could record all the background noise in the room before the person started talking, you can take the noise, invert it and add it back into a recording of the speaker in order to reduce the noise.

A digital camera’s noise-reduction process works using the same method. By taking a second exposure immediately after the initial one (this time with the shutter closed), a so-called “dark frame” is created. In essence, the camera is taking a picture of the noise. This second picture is then subtracted from the initial exposure so any noise that appears in the same place in the two images is reduced or removed.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. The only way to accurately capture the level and placement of the noise is to have an exposure that’s the same length as the original exposure. When you use long exposures, the doubling of the exposure time is very noticeable. As you experienced, a 30-second exposure becomes a 60-second exposure. As you use longer and longer exposures, not only is time an issue, but battery power is a concern as well.

But the good news is that you can turn off this feature if you have a Sony DSLR-A100. Find the Noise Reduction option in your shooting menu and turn it to Off-most cameras allow you to turn it off. If you have questions, please send them to HelpLine, PCPhoto Magazine, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025 or helpline@pcphotomag.com. Visit our website at www.pcphotomag.com for the web-exclusive HelpLine Weekly and past HelpLine columns.

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