Doing Digital

Surefire suggestions for capturing and sharing pictures of your baby

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Digital photography is, if you’ll pardon the pun, on a roll. An estimated 78 percent of U.S. households owned at least one digital camera in 2009, according to Photo Marketing Association International. And recent advances in camera technology, camera phones, online image-sharing options and printmaking make digital photography more appealing than ever, especially for busy new parents who want to make sharing baby pictures with family and friends as easy as possible. To make the whole process less intimidating, here are 13 tips for choosing and getting the most from a digital camera.

Know your megapixels A megapixel represents a million pixels, the tiny bits of visual information that make up a photo. The more megapixels your camera has, the better the image quality will be and the larger you can print. Aimee Baldridge, senior editor at the technology and electronics review site CNET.com, recommends choosing a camera with at least 4 megapixels. “Years from now, you may want to make really nice prints of your child as a baby, and a [digital] camera will let you do that,” she says. Always use your camera’s highest-quality setting.

Try before you buy “Not everyone’s hand is the same [size], so some cameras will be more comfortable than others,” says Baldridge, who recommends testing a camera’s controls in a retail store even if you plan to buy online. Look for a model that’s easy to use with one hand, freeing the other to steady a fidgeting toddler. Take a few pictures to test “shutter lag”—the delay between pressing the button and the shutter releasing. With longer delays, you may miss fleeting facial expressions, for example.

Out with the old Get the latest model available. Advances in features and performance more than make up for any savings you may get from buying a used or outdated camera. Zoom, zoom Spend a little more for a camera with an optical zoom lens, which gives you a lot of flexibility in framing your shots (allowing you to get close-ups of your baby’s face without sticking the camera in your baby’s face, for example). Unlike digital zoom, which is basically in-camera cropping, optical zoom doesn’t degrade image quality.

Spring for memory and power Most cameras come with low-capacity memory cards, but make sure to buy an extra one. If the camera doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries, buy them separately, Baldridge says, adding that digital cameras perform poorly with alkaline batteries and go through them very quickly.

Take lots of pictures Once you’ve bought a camera and memory card, shooting a picture costs you nothing until you print it. So make like the paparazzi—take 50 pictures in three minutes, and one of them is bound to be amazing.

Get creative Turn off the flash and let light from a window bring out the soft details in your baby’s skin. Switch to black-and-white mode (if your camera has one) for a sense of drama. Photograph your baby’s hand or foot, a wisp of hair, the tiny fold of skin at her wrist or ankle. And don’t be afraid to fill a frame with your child’s face: Babies are always ready for their close-ups.

Back up often “Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t bother to copy their pictures onto their hard drives or back them up,” Baldridge says. “That’s a mistake.” She recommends creating a filing system on your computer or using photo-organizing software, and frequently making backup copies of your image files on CD or DVD.

Share, share alike When e-mailing pictures to be viewed on screen, reduce the file size (Windows XP and some e-mail software automatically give you this option) so you don’t saddle recipients with long downloads and clogged in-boxes. Computer monitors display all pictures at low resolution; anything higher than 640 pixels by 480 pixels is unnecessary unless the recipient plans on printing the images.

Make an online album Flickr via Yahoo! Photos allows you to build and update online photo albums using a simple interface. Friends and family members can then view, download and even order prints via the site (http://photos.yahoo.com). Other options include Facebook, Apple's iPhoto, Instagram and various other photo-sharing platforms.

Chat in color Online instant messaging services such as MSN Messenger, Apple iChat and AOL Instant Messenger all make it easy to drop images into online live chats (remember to keep the file size small).

Print at home Regular inkjet printers will work with photo paper, but prints made with some printers and inks can fade and be prone to smearing, especially if they get damp. Epson’s PictureMate churns out photo lab-quality 4-by-6-inch prints using your computer or directly from your camera’s memory card. Better yet, its prints are fade-proof and water-resistant.

Customize holiday cards Upload your images and get film-quality prints and a variety of customizable greeting cards (birth announcements, holiday cards, etc.) through online photo services. Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) will print your high-quality picture on the front of a greeting card, add your personal message inside and even address, seal, stamp and mail it (prices depend on volume and card style). Be sure to send us one.

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