Al Campbell, Field Editor

January 13th, 2003

Digital Imaging Part 2
By Al Campbell

As this series progresses, you'll see me work with Ulead Photo Impact 8, Microsoft Picture It Publishing Platinum and Broderbund Printmaster Gold 10. You have already seen some steps in Ulead iPhoto Plus 4. I also own copies of older versions of Adobe Photoshop and PhotoDeluxe, and an early copy of Paintshop Pro. If you have versions or Photoshop or PhotoDeluxe, you'll find the tools in Photo Impact to be nearly identical in what they do, so I won't be demonstrating any tools in the Adobe programs or Paintshop. Although they may not be positioned in the same place or look exactly the same, if you read your manual that came with the program, you'll be able to access these same tools.

I removed PhotoDeluxe and Paintshop from my computer last month because I thought they were memory hounds that ran slow and used too much memory. Both programs had a tendency to lock up on large image files while I was working with them. That is the primary reason I bought Photo Impact 8. Another reason for that purchase was the price (paid less than $80 for the boxed version). I like the speed and easy tool access better in Photo Impact too. If you play with a lot of imaging programs, you'll find that many of the tools are either very similar or identical in what they do and how they do it. Anyone with one of the Adobe products or Paintshop should be able to find and use most of these or similar tools in their software.

I'm not advocating or promoting any brand of software here. I'm merely pointing out why I choose to use the brands I use. I have had a couple of stability issues with Picture It Publishing and Printmaster Gold when I opened too many images at one time, but not nearly as many as I had with Paintshop and PhotoDeluxe. So far, I haven't had any stability issues with Photo Impact; not even when I had 22 very large image files open at one time. That is the primary reason you'll see that program in use more than the others in this series of articles.

Before we get started this week, I'd like to announce a talent contest. Actually, it's a photo-imaging contest. When this series ends (about 6 weeks) I'll select three winners who will each receive one 8X10 color photo of one of the projects we do in this series. It will be printed on HP premium glossy photo paper.

The rules are fairly simple. Only one entry per person, so don't rush to submit an entry right away. Each entry must be a photo image that you have digitally enhanced using one or more of the tools we discuss in this series. Each entry must be flyfishing related. I'll be the only judge, so it will be a subjective type of decision on my part. All entries will be judged for image quality, lighting and framing of the subject, creativity, and how attractive your picture would be to a magazine publisher.

To a lesser degree, I'll consider the complexity of the changes you make to the photo, the number of enhancements and how unique your entry is compared to all the other entries. You must work with your own photos so there can be no copyright infringements in what you do. Entries must be e-mailed to me in JPEG format and no bigger than 1400 pixels high and 1400 pixels wide. If you want to make a fake flyfishing magazine cover page, that's OK, but please don't use the name of a real magazine.

You can start working on your projects now, but don't submit your entries until I tell you it's time. I'll announce the time to submit your entries in a future article in this series. Winning entries will be published in the last article of this series. I realize this contest isn't really fair to the people who don't have their own flyfishing pictures or digital imaging software to work with, but it's a talent contest and not a drawing, so it never would be totally fair to everyone. Good luck. I'm looking forward to the creative entries I'll be looking at soon.

Let's get started with this week's projects.

Last time we looked at basic tools we can use to improve the looks of our pictures before we put them on the web. I didn't mention then how important it is to start with a good picture. Although I can do a lot of nice things with good pictures and even slightly marginal pictures, the real key to photography success begins before the shutter button is pressed.

If a picture isn't framed properly or exposed properly there isn't a lot anyone can do to fix it. At a minimum, you need suitable raw materials if you want a reasonably good picture. Great pictures are created before the picture is captured on film or digital media. Everything must be framed right, the lighting must be right, and the background must be right if you want the raw materials you need to create a good picture. In a minute you'll see what I mean as I try to recover an underexposed photo.

Although I knew from the start that I didn't have the slightest chance to recover this first photo, it gives me the opportunity to show you an imaging tool called the "lasso tool". With a lasso tool you can outline a portion of a photo and work with just that part of the photo while the rest of the image remains unchanged. If you only have slight problems to overcome, this tool allows you the opportunity to fix a minor flaw in one part of an image. It has more uses too.

Those funny pictures of one person's head on another person's body are created with the lasso tool and some creative cut and paste work. Did I mention the idea of using a lasso tool to outline and cut a fish from a photo, make it bigger, then re-insert it into the photo?

Another tool I want to mention is something called a magic wand. With the magic wand tool, you can select areas of the photo that are similar in brightness, shade and color, and adjust just those areas. The magic wand works like a lasso tool in the way it selects or outlines an area, but it only works on areas of the photo that are very similar in brightness, color and shade.

Anytime you work on a photo, be careful to progress slowly, only adjusting a little bit at a time. If you don't like the results you obtained, click on "edit" and undo the changes that you didn't like. If you work slowly and deliberately, you should be able to get results you're happy with, providing you have a good picture to start with. (Always work from a copy - keep your original in a file, remember?)

Above I have a picture that is too dark. I want to see if I can salvage the picture, but I'll have to pull the boy's face out of the shadows to accomplish that. I can separate the face from the rest of the picture with the lasso tool. First I outline the area I want to separate with my mouse. The pink dots indicate each place I clicked on the outline of the shadow.

Next I double click on the shadow to make my selection active so I can work on just that portion of the picture.

Here I'm adjusting how light the shadow area is. I'm not getting much detail, so I probably won't be able to fix the image the way I want to.

After I merged the subject back into the image, it didn't look right, and all the details were still lost. Like I said earlier, you have to start with a quality image to make these tools work.

There just wasn't enough detail left in that shadow to fix that photo. This comparison shows all I could do to fix it and still have a fairly nice photo.

However, fixing minor lighting problems is just one thing you can do with the lasso tool. Let's try to make a trout in a net look bigger than it really is. Here is a photo of a friend netting a fair sized trout.

I used the lasso tool to outline the net with the fish, then made the selection active and adjusted the size of the net and fish.

When I was finished adjusting the size of the net, I inserted it back into the picture and moved it into the right position to make it look believable.

I don't like the way the sunlight turns the vest, shirt and upper arm of the fisherman white. It would take a lot of time to outline that mess with a lasso tool, and since it's just the white I want to darken, I can use the magic wand tool to select the area I want to fix. Simply click on the area you want to adjust with the magic wand and the area is selected. In this photo I selected the hand.

Next, I adjust the brightness to the desired level.

Since darkening the reflection of the sun turned that area to gray, I adjust the color to a skin tone. Preview your adjustments as many times as necessary to get the color right.

Next I select the back of the vest.

Adjust the brightness first.

Then the color, until I reach the desired level.

Then I repeat the adjustments on each area of the photo I want to fix. I can perform each adjustment by using the magic wand tool to select the area I want to adjust. Can you see the difference?

I'm sure you can think of many more fun things to do if you learn how to use the tools in your favorite imaging software. You can't overcome every problem, but you can have fun and even turn an ordinary picture into a special image if you try.

Next week we'll play with some other imaging features you can use to create some special memories if you want to. Until then, practice and don't forget that contest. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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