For remodelers, digital photography has less to do with cameras and more to do with communication. Using a digital camera and the Internet, issues that used to take days or weeks to resolve with meetings and site visits can now be handled in minutes.
Even the image quality from point-and-shoot cameras built into cell phones is becoming good enough to use on the jobsite, and if you are willing to spend a couple hundred dollars on a stand-alone camera, you will get instant communication benefits and print quality that rivals 35mm film.
Instead of film, digital cameras use a light-sensitive CCD (charge-coupled device) chip that captures images using a grid of dots, called pixels. Today's best digitals can capture roughly 3,300 x 2,500 pixels — around 8 million dots, or 8 mega-pixels. But these high-resolution images won't work for e-mailing or sharing on the Internet. For example, if you tried to display a 3,300 x 2,500-pixel image on the typical 1,024 x 768-pixel computer monitor, you could only look at 1/6 of it at a time.
One solution is to shoot pictures at a lower resolution. Most digital cameras have several settings for image size, including one or two that are small enough for e-mailing directly from the camera. Problem is, commercial printers process images at 300 dpi (dots per inch), so a 320 x 240-pixel image that is just right for your Web page will print at the size of a postage stamp in your marketing brochure. A good rule of thumb is to shoot pictures at the highest resolution you'll ever need, and then use image editing software, like the packages below, to manipulate size and fix color or exposure problems. Adobe Photo-shop (www.adobe.com, $600) is the image editing software most graphics pros use, but it's overkill if all you need to do is re-size and touch up your digital pics. Here are three very good alternatives, all of which can be downloaded from the Internet:
Picasa: Free, http://picasa.google.com. In addition to being an excellent organizer/viewer, Picasa has editing tools that allow you to fix exposure and color, as well as reduce file size, e-mail copies of your pictures, or save them as a Web page with one click. Even if you use other image editing tools for heavy duty chores, Picasa is so handy it's worth installing.
Adobe Photoshop Elements: $90, www.adobe.com. As the name suggests, Elements has all the essentials of high-test Photoshop without the complexity. Remodelers will like the one-step fix feature and “attach to e-mail,” which, like Picasa, automatically re-sizes and compresses a copy of the image while leaving the original alone.
Corel Paint Shop Pro: $129, www.paintshoppro.com. Paint Shop Pro has a one-step “photo fix” that lets you correct poor shots in one click, and a Web/ e-mail export tool that will reduce file sizes considerably. It's pretty close in capability (and complexity) to the full version of Photoshop, but at $129 you'll save enough to buy the camera.
—Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Reach him at email@example.com.