Face the digital future

Digital imaging software is currently all the rage with digital camera enthusiasts. This workshop sheds some light on your options for a digital darkroom.

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By  Andrew Picken Published  December 28, 2003

|~|face_Main_dps_200w.jpg|~||~|Former US president, Franklin Roosevelt once famously said: "We do our best that we know how at the moment, and if it doesn't turn out, we modify it." The idea of digitally altering and improving the look of your photographs has proven popular in the Middle East with the burgeoning digital imaging software market fuelled by the explosive growth in digital camera sales. As people become more comfortable with digital photography, many enthusiasts are now looking at ways of manipulating their images in order to edit out the negative aspects of their photographs. These can range from sorting out red eye, changing the tones and colour of your image to the whitening of teeth. The desire to get more creative with photography has been aided and abetted by an increasingly sophisticated array of digital image editing software. Pick up any glossy women's magazine, such as Vogue, and the gallery of airbrushed models on show is a clear demonstration of the power of digital imaging. However, unless your image is particularly atheistically challenging then you will not need to stretch your editing skills to the lengths taken by professional magazines. Besides, while professional packages offer unmatched control and editing power, they come with a steep learning curve. Digital imaging software aimed at the home user is often just as powerful with what it can achieve and the tools are packaged in a way to make them more accessible to novice users. In addition to retouching and image enhancement, nearly all of them offer a wide selection of projects, such as multiple-image montage tricks, special effects and also a number of template-based projects for cards, calendars and invitations. All this allows you to design a more personalised creation in next to no time at all. A quick word of warning though, some of the more complicated software can perform minor miracles, but no imaging software can ever wholly rectify what is a bad photograph in the first place. For the purposes of our workshop we used Adobe's PhotoShop 7.0 software, which is one of the most popular packages available on the market. Although geared towards the more serious user, there are more accessible, less expensive, versions of this software available, such as PhotoShop Element v2. If your needs are closer to the professional end then you could also consider Corel Painter 8. At the cheaper, less sophisticated, end of the market, the choice is wide and it will more than suffice for the occasional user looking to sharpen up those family pictures. Stand out packages in this segment include Roxio's Photosuite 5 and Ulead's Photo Impact XL. Whatever type of package you plump for, most will offer some type of storage system. This will usually be in the form of thumbnails in a Windows Explorer style dialogue box. An intriguing development that has ruffled the feathers of the established digital imaging software players is the curiously named GIMP image editing software. GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a freely distributed piece of software suitable for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It is an extremely capable piece of software with a plethora of plug-ins and extensions. GIMP has been around for a few years now and, as it is free, might be worth a try before plumping for one of the other packages discussed. As you will discover, with all digital imaging software, even a few alterations will dramatically improve the look of your images.||**||Step 1 — The basics of Adobe PhotoShop|~|step-1_200w.jpg|~||~|We could devote an entire workshop to guiding you through the basics of PhotoShop but here is a quick rundown of some of the key ones. One of the most important things for any tradesman is his toolbox and this is a crucial element of PhotoShop. The marquee tool is one of the more important tools and allows you to make rectangular, elliptical, single row, and single column selections. Another highlight is the move tool, which move's selections, layers, and guides. The magic eraser tool is a godsend and deletes solid-coloured areas to transparency with a single click. The menu bar along the top consists of nine menus, from this list, Image and Edit are arguably the most useful. A glance through the menus will reveal that a number of the menu commands are followed by ellipses (...), this indicates a command that is followed by a dialog box where you can enter additional settings. There is also a wealth of keyboard short cuts to be learned if you want to speed up your PhotoShop experience. Each main tool has a single letter keyboard shortcut assigned to it.||**||Step 2 — How to crop images|~|step2_200w.jpg|~||~|Before we get to grips with manipulating our image let us explore what is easily the most commonly used function, the crop tool. The crop tool is great for getting rid of unnecessary background noise on your image and closing in on the details. Open any image and select the Crop tool. To select an area to be cropped, just click and drag in your image and when you let go, the crop marquee will appear. The default crop cursor makes it somewhat difficult to see exactly where your selection begins and ends but there's no need to be precise when making the first selection, because you can edit your selection before committing to the crop. The selection point actually begins and ends at the very centre of the crop tool. If you want exact precision however, you will want to switch to a crosshair cursor. At any time, you can switch from standard to precise cursors by enabling the caps lock key. This works with the painting tools as well. You may find that the precise cursor is hard to see in some backgrounds, but it's nice to have the option when you need it. OK, now pick whichever cursor preference you like and drag out a crop selection.||**||Step 3 — How to use effects to improve your |~|step-3_200w.jpg|~||~|The Layers option can alter not only brightness and contrast but colour balance as well. Use Layer / New / Adjustment Layer and select Levels. The histogram of the image will be displayed along with several tools. The histogram shows the distribution of light values in your image with a range of 256 values -from darkest to lightest, with the vertical axis showing the amount. The three tools that you'll be using are the left, right and centre input level triangular sliders. You see that the one on the left makes the image darker and the one on the right makes it lighter. Move them both inwards and you're increasing the contrast. The centre slider allows you to make overall changes to the general brightness of the image. If you now look at Window / Show Layers you'll see that a new layer has been created called Levels. This layer contains the changes that you just made. You can turn the layer off at any time by clicking the eye-icon located next to it. Most importantly you can recall the histogram and tools at any time by double clicking on the Levels layer in the palette.||**||Step 4 — Make your image black and white|~|step-4_200w.jpg|~||~|You can add a whole new dimmension to your image by making it black and white. Duotone takes a monochrome grayscale image and allows you to take the tonal range, from the lightest to darkest tones, and allocate a different colour to that specific part of the tonal range. Select Layer / New / Adjustment Layer and then Channel Mixer. Now select Monochrome and you'll see the image turn to black and white. Notice that of the three colours slides, red is at 100% and green and blue are each at 0%. Experiment with setting each one individually to 100% while reducing the other two to 0%. (Remember that the final combination should add up to around 100%). Though the image on-screen appears to be black and white, it is still in RGB colour mode so we need to rectify this. To turn it into a Grayscale you now need to select Image / Mode / Grayscale and say Yes to discarding colour information. Next, use Image / Mode / Duotone and click on Load, select a suitable colour, and load it. This dialog box is a crucial part of using Duotones and it is worth devoting a bit of time to experimenting with the different options.||**||Step 5 — How to sharpen up your image|~|step-5_200w.jpg|~||~|A useful addition to your digital imaging armoury is the sharpening tool, and the Unsharp Mask filter is a much better option for overall sharpening, though remember to use it sparingly as too much can have some really disastrous results. If you need to see it to believe it, just push that pressure up to 100 and make a couple of swipes across any image. To get this going, firstly on the Layer palette select your Background Layer and right click. Select Duplicate Layer. With this new layer highlighted select Filter / Other / High Pass. Set the Radius to 10 and click OK. Zoom into your image to Actual Pixels level so you can better see what you're going to do next. Go back to the Layer Palette and select Hard Light from the left drop down. Now go to the Opacity Slider and select a level of sharpening that seems best to you. Usually something between 20% and 70% will be best. All the effect tools you apply in PhotoShop have a mode option and a pressure setting. With the sharpen tool you will want to keep the pressure setting very low. ||**||Step 6 — How to brighten your subject’s teeth|~|step-6_200w.jpg|~||~|Not everyone has that million-dollar smile so to brighten their teeth go to the Layers palette and click on the Background Layer to make it the active layer. Then use the Lasso tool (or any selection tool you're comfortable with) to put a selection around the teeth. Once selected, we'll need to soften the edges of the selection so the retouch isn't obvious, so go under the Select menu and choose Feather. When the Feather dialog box appears, enter 2 for low-res images, 5 for high res, and click OK to apply this edge softening. In many cases, a person's teeth will have some amount of yellowing, but not to worry — it's simple to remove. Go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose Hue/Saturation. When the Hue/Saturation dialog box appears, from the Edit pop-up menu in the dialog box, choose Yellows. Then, to remove the Yellowing, lower the Saturation slider. Now, from the Edit menu in the Hue/Saturation dialog box, choose Master (so you're no longer editing just yellow) and drag the Lightness slider to the right to brighten the teeth. ||**||

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