Digital Life

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Turning the page

Images from one of the most prestigious magazines are now in everyone's hands.

SOME of us are old enough to remember that subscribing to the snooty National Geographic used to be no easy thing. We had to find someone who was already a subscriber - or ''member'' of the National Geographic Society of Washington DC - to nominate us.

Once we had paid our money, we had to wait weeks for a passing ship from the US to deliver our magazine but it always seemed worth the wait. No other publication compared with it for the sheer brilliance of its photos.

This was the era of Kodachrome - when we first subscribed it was Kodachrome 16 ASA. Kodachrome transparencies reproduced on true white, glossy paper and gave a brilliant, richly saturated image. We thought of it as essentially American - a little brighter and a little richer than the dull world we lived in.

These days any Tom, Dick or Harriet can get a 12-month subscription for the National Geographic on iPad or Android tablet for about $20. What's more, the electronic version is interactive - touch the screen here and there for additional information, zooming in, playing videos and so on. And the fondly remembered visual richness is still there.

In fact, our pal A reckons the saturation is a bit over the top but we argue that is the National Geographic style we know and love. The current crop of talented photographers may be shooting digital but it looks as though the publishers have instructed them to set their DSLRs to higher saturation and sharpness than the default.

The National Geographic Society is no longer a haughty club but, rather, a veritable online shop and not surprisingly, there is an emphasis on photography. The photography section of the society's website ( sells books, posters and videos. Every day has a new, stunning Photo of the Day; there are also useful giveaways.

You must sign up for the freebies, which means you will get regular new product emails - but it's worth putting up with a small invasion of privacy to get the goodies, two booklets in particular: Ultimate Field Guide to Photography and Guide to Photography: Photography Basics. These e-books are for beginners to download and read on a pad, tablet or computer. The authors assume readers don't know a lot about camera technology and the basics of good photography but would like to learn.

Ultimate Field Guide to Photography is largely about camera technology and Guide to Photography is about light, framing and composition.

If you know someone just getting started in photography, you could help them by downloading and printing the two booklets. There is some misleading information about lens focal lengths in Ultimate Field Guide to Photography but otherwise they are the best beginner's manuals that no money can buy.