One of the most exciting facets of digital photography lies in the power to control nearly every aspect of the final image. This gives the photographer an unprecedented ability to complete the photographic vision, far beyond any possibilities previously achieved in the darkroom.
Many want to work on a mobile platform. A laptop is fine for basic editing, storage and analyzing images in the field, but for serious work, a desktop unit with a quality, calibrated LCD monitor is a must. Choose a Mac or PC based on the availability of help. Yes, you'll need help, and you want to work on the same platform those around you are using.
A wide range of imaging programs is available at varying costs—choose yours based on the level of complexity you expect to pursue when working on your images. The latest version of Adobe Photoshop Elements (www.adobe.com) may provide sufficient versatility for your key image-processing tasks. The more expensive Photoshop CS offers more control and unlimited editing capabilities with each new version; it isn't for everyone.
You don't need to know everything about your program, but it's essential to develop a consistent workflow for downloading, optimizing, storing and retrieving images. The optimization aspect of your workflow can be as simple as correcting exposure to bring out detail in dark and light areas, sharpening all or portions of an image, and eliminating blemishes caused by dust or flare. You can go further with adjustments to color saturation, removal of distracting elements, and addition or elimination of highlights. More complex software will help you stitch together a series of images into a panorama or blend a number of images into one that's perfectly exposed, perfectly focused, or both. New software can even help you produce images with nearly unlimited depth of field (visit Helicon Products at www.heliconfocus.com).
The format you choose for presenting your images may be as simple as a computer-generated slideshow or as complex as large-format prints. Software programs, such as Photodex ProShowGold (www.photodex.com) for PCs and iPhoto (www.apple.com) or Boinx FotoShow (www.boinx.com) for Macs, provide versatile slideshow capabilities and are easy to master. Some photographers are using high-definition movie-editing programs to produce stunning image presentations.
For projection of your programs, you'll need a laptop computer and a digital projector with a minimum resolution of 800 x 600 dpi. Crisper capability is offered by projectors with a resolution of 1024 x 768. I personally use the Canon Realis 50, which has superior resolution (1400 x 1050) and excellent color reproduction.
Inkjet printers have revolutionized both amateur and professional photography nearly as much as digital cameras. Printers have advanced in quality and speed, and prices are more affordable. There's an increasing range of choices.
If you want your images to survive for future generations, choose a printer that offers archival inks and accommodates a variety of quality, long-lasting papers. If you'd like to print digital black-and-white, check out the new printers that include shades of black among the pigments, improving the production of neutral prints with great tonal range.
You'll need to master the printing software in your imaging program or the custom programs that are provided with some printers. It's not simply a matter of loading the image and clicking "print." Develop a reliable, consistent workflow that includes monitor calibration and the use of paper profiles to assure that the color of your prints matches the image on your monitor. You must be able to critically evaluate your prints to assure that they fulfill the creative vision you had from before the moment of capture.