Picture Doctor

Soften your look, boost your memory, and more easy steps to better photos.



• Fundamentals: Concentrically receding semicircles draw your eye vortex-like into the frame.

• Tight framing: Right up to the edges on three sides to fill the frame.

• Unexpected orientation: We'd be tempted to present this horizontally. But by composing it as a vertical, the photographer mixed up our visual clues so that initially this doesn't quite look like what it is. (And that's a major reason it's not just another shoot-the-spiral-staircase-from-below cliche.) Also, the line of the railing going out of the frame at the bottom almost irresistibly draws your eye -- it induces a sense of vertigo, even though we're looking up, not down!

• Lighting: Good choice of time, with light just enough to the side to add three-dimensionality.

• Miscellany: The plants relieve the austerity of the picture and keep it from looking totally abstract.

3 Ways to Go Nostalgic

Creating a nostalgic mood in a photo can evoke rosy memories of a bygone world. Three simple techniques are warming, diffusing, and vignetting. You can work this magic with image-editing software, but here are easy ways to create these effects in-camera.

1 Warming

• Use screw-on lens filters. Many are available; a favorite is the 81B. Set your white balance to daylight to keep your digital camera from trying to cancel out the strong color cast.

• Optical-quality colored gels. Use a point-and-shoot? You can tape a gel over the lens.

• For flash photography, tape colored plastic film over the flash window. Free samples from a lighting company such as Rosco or Lee are great, but any scrap you find can work.

2 Diffusion

• Screw-on lens filters. Try diffusion, fog, soft-focus, or star filters. A variant: Leave an undiffused spot in your filter, so the middle of the frame is relatively sharp while the edges stay blurred. You can buy a filter like this or make one by smearing a layer of petroleum jelly around the edges of a UV filter.

• Rubber band a loose-weave fabric over the lens. My favorite is "wedding illusion" veil fabric, colored black with a magic marker.

• Double expose. Using a tripod, double-expose the shot, once in and once out of focus. Compensate by setting the exposure at half what's required for a single shot.

3 Vignetting

• Vignetting filter. An opaque mask with a round or oval hole in the center. Buy one, or make one from black paper, then tape it over the lens.

• Lenshood. A lenshood that's too long for the angle of view of your lens will make a circular vignette; so will a cut-off mailing tube or toilet paper roll held around the lens. Adjust the effect by moving it in and out.-- Timothy Edberg

Lose Weight Fast!

Pleasant drive: Portable hard drives are great for transporting many image files, but they're big and heavy compared to plug-in USB drives. Unfortunately these "thumb drives" have limited capacity -- or had, until recently. Among the new small-but-hungry drives is the 16GB Transcend JetFlash V60 ($106, street or direct; www.transcendusa.com). It's so small, it can hide under a pack of gum, and it weighs, well, next to nothing. The Transcend JetFlash also comes with a full software suite that includes website auto-login, PC lock, encryption, and mobile e-mail. Hi-speed USB 2.0 compliant, it comes with a lifetime warranty. -- Jon Sienkiewicz