Every year, more than one million photographs captured in some of the harshest conditions on the planet arrive at National Geographic magazine. From our trials and tribulations, learn how to conquer your own digital photography challenges.

August 2007

Posted Aug 29,2007


Our early ability to create tools is largely due to our dexterity, most of which we owe to our opposable thumbs. That same ability to grip can also be found in a handy little gadget that I carry with me five days a week.

Posted Aug 23,2007


In the last couple of days, we have received a flurry of competitive camera announcements.  Two of the offerings include the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (top left), 21 million pixel behemoth (that is sure to tax any hard drive), and the Nikon D3 (top right), which is capable of capturing images at ISO 25,600. Both have full frame CMOS sensors. Below is a breakdown of key features for these cameras, and a few details on the (more affordable) Nikon D300 model:

Posted Aug 20,2007

Canon40d Canon announced today a new addition to their digital camera line up.  What catches my eye in their press release is the ability to withstand the elements (if you look past the PR-speak):

"Canon design engineers made the EOS 40D SLR's magnesium alloy exterior even more ruggedly dependable than its predecessors with upgraded dust and weather resistant construction, particularly around the camera's connection ports, battery compartment and single-slot compact flash memory card door.

I destroyed a Canon 20D during a pleasurable but unfortunate walk in the rain with the camera while making pictures.  Through that traumatic experience I've come to understand the 20D as well as most consumer level digital camera are not water resistant.  If you are looking for a digital camera that won't break the bank and allow you to photograph when it is wet, keep this 40D on your radar.  It will be available in stores in early September 2007 for an estimated $1,299. 

Read "Canon EOS 40D, previewed" at Digital Photography Review for many more details on the camera.

[Canon 40D Press Release and the Canon 40D]

Evan Wilder

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Filed Under: digital cameras
Posted Aug 16,2007

While skateboarding with my son this weekend I watched several people struggle with their digital cameras trying to capture the near ballistic acrobatic moves of the boarders as they careened around the skate park. Unfortunately the fodder for that post will have to wait; as I was rudely reminded a short while later of a very important tool that I believe everyone who shoots digital images should have on their hard drive.

After my skateboarding misadventure and about three hours in the emergency room, I retuned home with my arm in a sling and a PC formatted CD holding my X-rays. I popped the CD in to my Mac laptop and fumbled through the numerous folders until I found what I hoped were the radiographs of my left arm. The first file I found was labeled 1426 with no file extension, which I tried to open in Photoshop without success.


Digital file formats come in a hodgepodge on acronyms: CRW, NEF, CVG, ECW, EPSF, IMQ, JFIF, MAG, MRC, PICT, SCX, TIFF, WPG, XFIG, YUV, just to name a few. My X-rays, as I later discovered were DlCOM, a medical imaging format produced by a Philips DigitalDiagnost digital radiography system.

Faced with a file format I did not recognize and could not open in Photoshop, I turned to the Swiss army knife of digital file formats for the Mac, Graphic Converter. Thorsten Lemke developed this shareware program in 1992, which now boasts it will open nearly 200 different graphic formats. Not only did Graphic Converter open the DlCOM file, it also allowed me to read the patient medical data embedded in the file header. Using Graphic Converter I exported the DlCOM file (right) to JPEG so I could include it with this post. I have also used Graphic Converter to open and recover corrupted JPEG images.

If you are a PC user you may want to take a look at Graphics Converter Pro by Newera, it has a five star rating on Versiontracker. Apple recently started pre-loading Graphic Converter, check your utilities folder; you may already have a copy.

Ken Geiger

Posted Aug 15,2007


I found a helpful tool that lets me know exactly where packages of photographs are as they are  shipped to the magazine.  It is a free widget for the Mac called Delivery Status and I encourage you to use it if you need to easily monitor multiple shipments.

The idea is simple - tell the widget the shipping company, tracking number, how often you want it to update and enter an optional description of the package.  Now when the need arises to check on a package simply look at the dashboard. 

To make the notification process even easier (who has time or remembers to look at the dashhboard?)  have Growl display any change of status concerning the packages on the screen.   

Could it get any easier?  Let us know in the comments if you know of any great ways to stay on top of shipments of packages.

[Delivery Status via Delivery Status Package Tracker (Mac) on lifehacker.com and Growl.]

Evan Wilder

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Filed Under: workflow
Posted Aug 14,2007

Everyone who uses a digital point-and-shoot camera knows the feeling. You’re looking at the LCD display, all ready for that decisive moment - toddler about to take his first step, daughter about to blow out her birthday candles. Shutterlag_cmp_img_0004You press the shutter-release button and . . . you get the moment after. This occurs because the camera has a lot to do to capture an image: It has to switch from LCD display to image capture, focus, determine white balance, and set exposure, which can take a quarter second, depending on the camera and settings. Newer models have reduced shutter lag, but until it’s eliminated completely there are a couple of things you can do.

In both shots my son, Cory, was in midair when the shutter-release was pressed. By the time the camera focused, processed, and shot, he was in the water (top right). You can reduce shutter lag greatly by prefocusing and locking exposure on your subject. Depress the shutter-release button halfway just before the action and hold it. Push the rest of the way when the action occurs, to nail the moment (bottom right).

To reduce the time between shots when shooting in continuous mode, overcoming small buffers, try choosing a smaller file size (from large JPEG to medium JPEG, for example). Smaller files take less time to process and write to your card.



From the National Geographic guide to digital photography.

Ken Geiger

Posted Aug 11,2007

Almost all compact digital cameras come with zoom lenses. But there’s a big difference between optical zoom and digital zoom. When you use optical zoom, you take full advantage of your camera’s millions of pixels. When you use digital zoom, you’re reducing the capability of your camera’s sensor to a fraction of its maximum potential. One picture (bottom image) was shot with a 7.1-megapixel camera using 3x optical zoom. The other (top) was shot with the same camera using 12x digital zoom, effectively reducing the 7.1 megapixels of image data to less than 0.5 megapixels. The picture’s detail and color quality is greatly reduced, making it look softer. The lesson: Use digital zoom only as a last resort.


From the National Geographic guide to digital photography.

Ken Geiger

Posted Aug 9,2007


James Bond would not be much of a secret agent without his supply of extremely lethal gadgets supplied by his man in the lab, the inventive Q.

National Geographic Photo Engineering is an entire department of Q’s, who invent, blueprint and build some of the most amazing gadgets that make impossible photographs possible. From their arsenal of lathes, milling and welding machines they have created custom submersibles diving 1,000 feet below sea level to a remote camera controlled through a pair of virtual goggles. 

In their quest to explore every avenue to make unique images, they are now turning to the spy market.  Technology has advanced to the point where GPS and computer controlled micro aircraft can carry video surveillance cameras for the military or search and rescue missions. That same technology, like the AirRobot, can also carry a 10 megapixel still camera to an altitude of 3,000 feet, creating a distinctive perspective on a subject where normal aircraft or a helicopter may be impractical to fly.

The stealthy AirRobot will fly for 20 minutes on field replaceable rechargeable batteries. Four carbon fiber blades supply vertical lift to the unit, which is stabilized by a combination of gyroscopic, barometric and magnetic sensors. AirRobot weighs only two pounds and breaks down in pieces small enough to fit in a backpack. The second generation of this amazing little aircraft is in production and we are hoping its larger payload will lift a digital SLR to vantage points yet explored.

Ken Geiger   

Posted Aug 9,2007

I'm Evan Wilder and I work as supervisor of Digital Imaging/Film Review.  The job includes receiving all incoming images for National Geographic magazine and preparing them for the editors.  As you may guess, we do see a lot of images each day!  We can't look too long because there are always more slides and film to send to the lab and more hard drives full of pictures that we need to prepare for the picture editors. 

The large volume and heavy flow of images through our office means I am always looking for ways to speed up the process.  One method I use and (I'm sure many of you use as well) are keyboard shortcuts. Simply put, using the keyboard saves time. 

When photographer Nick Nichols sent hard drives to me last week I started wondering how I could speed up the process of converting 23,000 RAW images into JPEGs.  My first instinct is to use the mouse to point and click on each step of the conversation process.  This typically is OK but since I had to repeat the process for each of the 212 folders I quickly tired of any slowness.  After I learned all of the keyboard strokes it took half as long to use the keyboard as it did to use the mouse for each folder of images.

The video below shows how it works and if you want to be a keyboard ninja yourself I've included the keyboard shortcuts below.

Click here to view the full resolution video

Photo Mechanic Shortcuts on a PC

  • Select All = Ctrl + A
  • Tools / Extract JPEG previews from RAW photos.. = Alt + T, E
  • Extract = hit Return on keyboard
  • Change focus in "Browse for Folder" window: Shift + Tab, then tap the letter matching the folder name to jump to the folder
  • Navigate folder structure: arrow keys
  • Create new folder: Alt + M
  • Hit Return to finish

Photo Mechanic Shortcuts on a Mac

  • Select All = Command + A
  • Tools / Extract JPEG previews from RAW photos.. Control + F2, T, down arrow, tap up arrow twice (this step is more awkward on a Mac)
  • Extract = hit Return on keyboard
  • Photo Mechanic always leaves you in the folder you were just in.  So to get back to the parent folder: Command + Up Arrow
  • Create new folder: Command + Shift + N
  • Hit Return to finish

Do you have any other tips for speeding up this process?  Leave them in the comments.

Evan Wilder

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Filed Under: digital imaging, technology, workflow
Posted Aug 4,2007

My childhood memories are slightly fuzzy, flicker, are briefly interrupted by black squiggling filaments of lint and accompanied by the soundtrack of 8mm sprocket holes begrudgingly snaking though a film projector. Memories that are literally decaying on celluloid film base, packed away in some box in my parent’s attic.


It seems a matter of inevitable chemistry; oxygen and water present in a confined film container creates an acidic chemical cocktail that reacts with the cellulose acetate film turning it into a brittle decaying mess. For most of us who don’t keep our precious memories stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults, you may want to take a look at an article in Saturday’s New York Times by Alina Tugend, detailing the technology and services available to transfer your film and video to DVD.

If you’d like to read more on the chemical process of 8mm movie film decay, try this link detailing the vinegar syndrome of film degradation.

Dad, if you are reading, please start digging out the old home movies, let’s get them converted to DVD!

Ken Geiger

Posted by Ken Geiger | Comments (2)
Filed Under: digital imaging, Digital Photography, Film, technology
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