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Saturday, June 28. 2008
Dr. Mercury's Computer Corner: Lesson 12 - Images
Lesson 12: Images
A real blogger works only in real-time. His thoughts come to him in a blaze of profound insight that his flying fingers desperately try to keep pace with. If a mixtake is made, so what! Your readers know what you're really trying to say.
Because that's where the honestly lies. That's how they know they can trust you. Because if you went back and corrected every little mixtake and tidied up sentences and made everything 'just so', you'd be no better than the next bought-and-paid-for journalist. Your very integrity rides on your willingness to show the world who you really are, simple mixtakes and all.
Today, that integrity was seriously tested when you realized what you had done mere seconds later, yet, because of the blogger's code, you were unable to touch a thing.
And the horrific results are just now starting to drift in.
How unfair, you think to yourself as the screen-grab from your site is spread throughout the blogsosphere and you become a laughingstock in the eyes of the world. Everybody does it with their vacation pictures! You remember watching slide shows as a kid of the family vacation and there was always one that slipped in! These things happen! It's just not fair!
No, it's not, my friend.
Oh, if only you'd thought to take that night school course in blogmastering. If only you'd thought to be a little more careful when adding pictures to the site. And if only you'd thought to...
On the other hand, it depends on what you want to do with the file. If you want to lighten just one little area of a pic, then you're going to need a quality program. If all you want to do is crop part of it out, the 'Paint' program included with Windows will do just fine.
While I admit to not having used it in a decade, Paint Shop Pro has long been considered the best alternative to the expensive Photoshop.
Update: A couple of people in the comments have mentioned GIMP as being a free alternative to the commercial programs, so it's probably worth a peek. I'll give it a spin later and if it lives up to its advance press, I'll do a "Tips" post on it.
And keep in mind that many trial demos are fully-working and usually good for 30 days, so if you've just got to do something to a picture, but it's probably the only time you'll ever actually need to do so, start looking for trial demos.
By the way, it's pronounced "jif", like the peanut butter. So sayeth CompuServe, and they invented it, and the rules are that whoever invents it gets to call it whatever they want.
Historical note: I was actually there the day, hour and minute CompuServe released this hot new first-of-its-kind multi-platform image format to the public. I grabbed the first few and immediately slapped them on my Amiga BBS. In it's historical context, it was actually somewhat surreal, in that for the first time someone calling my Amiga BBS from a PC or Mac could download pictures and watch them on their own platform. It's hard to understand here in the days of the web, but at the time there was a huge gulf between the various platforms (don't forget Atari, Tandy, NeXt, etc) and GIF was the first to bridge it.
Just to make sure you understand what this means, let's take a minute and cover it.
If you have a standard monitor, you'll notice it's wider than it is tall. It has a 4:3 aspect ratio. Width always comes first. If the width was divided into four sections, it would take three of them to make the height. If the monitor was square, it would have a 1:1 aspect ratio. A wide-screen monitor (or a wide-screen movie playing on a regular monitor) has an aspect ratio of 16:9, meaning it's much wider than it is tall, almost by twice. When you see a picture or video and people look unnaturally thin or fat, that means the boob who worked on it didn't keep the aspect ratio together. We'll get back to this in a sec.
Slicing & Dicing
Let's run through the standard pic operations:
Resizing — Raising or lowering the width and height of the image. The 'trick' is that you have to maintain the aspect ratio when you do it. Most good programs will automatically raise or lower one when you adjust the other, but not the cheapie programs like 'Paint'.
Put the new width & height in the program and there ya go.
Related: Info on cropping a screen-grab is here.
If you're going so far as to lighten or darken a pic, you'll also want to nudge the contrast up or down and see how it looks. Most pics look better with a little extra contrast.
Like lightening and darkening a single area, the better programs will let you highlight a specific spot and recolor just that area.
Smudge — No question, the best tool on the rack. On the rare occasion the background is a solid color, you can just use the regular crop tool to snip something out. But in most cases the background is anything but a solid color, and that's where the smudge tool comes to the fore. Got some ugly power lines in the background? Smudge 'em out. Big ungainly telephone pole screwing up your perfect vista shot? Smudge it out. Your mischievous younger cousin stuck some 'rabbit ears' behind your head during the official Christmas family photograph? Smudge 'em out, then smudge out your cousin.
The smudge tool is also what gives overlaid objects that realistic look. There's usually a noticeable outline around an object you place on the main pic, so the smudge tool allows you to blend it in. If you hear some picture was "photoshopped" — meaning "faked" — you can bet the smudge tool played a part.
If you used the regular square tool to grab the section right next to the object, then pasted that on top of it, the outline would probably be fairly obvious and you'd have to use the smudge tool along the whole edge to smooth things out. If you use the lasso tool next to the object, the image you paste will have an irregular outline and might just need a touch of smudging to blend in.
Probably the best feature (at least after the smudge tool) a quality editor offers is allowing the pic to stay in 'layers'. If you put down some text, that's a layer. If you import another smaller picture, that's another layer. If you copy a piece of the main picture back onto the main picture in a different place, that's another layer. You can save the pic in this format for future use. For actual use in a program, it has to be reduced down to one layer.
What's great about layers is that you can later go in and change one small thing in the text, or nudge the small picture over a tad, then save both the new master layered pic and the new (single layer) pic for the project or site.
I note, however, that it's widely used in the WordPress world of 'themes' (the above pic came from a WordPress site), and might be used with other blogging software, so it's still alive and kicking.
Although they're hardly used any more, it should be noted that GIF's other specialty is its ability to display multiple frames like a video. Although a snazzy feature, the problem, again, is the 256-color limitation.
There are lots of special effects 'plugins' for popular image studios like Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro. There's always a hot new effect out there. I'd just get on Google and do a search for something like "special effects (program name) review" and see what the reviewers have to say. If you're into design, you'll definitely need some help from outside sources. The effects that come stock with the programs are usually somewhat pathetic.
As with many areas of the computer, keep your masters safe, and keep them in BMP format if quality is an issue. If you then want to import them into a word processing program or spreadsheet or desktop publishing program, you'll import the BMPs and retain the high quality. If they're off to the web, you'll convert them to JPG and take the small hit in quality.
See y'all next week!
Posted by Dr. Mercury in Dr. Mercury's Computer Corner at 02:00 | Comments (14) | Trackback (1)
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As Bird Dog said in the first comment, GIMP. Open Source, full featured replacement for Photoshop.
The Gimp. Please do a yahoo search for the free version that can be down loaded to windows machines.
I am tasked with making training material for men. I think I got the picture from your web site. It's a nice footie pic. Well I like it.
For years when I wanted to use the Gimp I would boot the computer with a live Knoppix CD disk. It's built in. In about 2 min, I have a fully functioning professional graphics workstation. Oh did I mention it's free?
The subject of the 5 puzzles is SAP Daily activities. 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11.
I have been using graphics programs for 10 years. I was too lazy to load a recent version of Photoshop and other reasons. This was the simplest thing I could use to split up the picture.
I hope you and your readers can get some enjoyment out of the Gimp.
Thanks, BD. Did you see the pic Theo used next to the link? Hot! If he'd wanted to stick with the theme, though, he would have placed it upside-down. :)
Houston - I think I get the clever joke, but unfortunately the link doesn't work. Got a picture you want to break into parts but don't own an expensive graphics studio? Just send it to a make-a-jigsaw-puzzle site and let them cut it up for you!
Thank you. I'll have to check again. When I use the link inside my own network, it works. The next time I sit out side by the pool, I'll use an external WiFi access point and check my own dog food. It does not work in Firefox but it works in IE. I will fix it.
Dearest Murky Poo,
Inspired by today's lesson, I must admit I was aggravated by the PNG graphic, asking myself: "How'd dey craft dat graphic?" Really, as soon as I saw it I shouted, "Whut!? Dat's sweeet!"
As an experiment, I made one o' dem for myself, put it on the web with the amazing webifying machine, and dedicated the page to you.
I haven't been thinking in terms of graphic design as of late but am working charity gig with cohort redesiging a local theater's site. I know, I know, the page I put up w/ said graphic is ugly on the far side of tackage, but, Dude, it's for the sake of checking into a graphics frame of mind. The site we're working is going more for the thematic (I think); maybe an Asian, post-colonial, doppelganger gothic thing picking up the vibe of the theater digs. But sweet savior o' mine, you are a ray of inspiration!
Jephy - You can see why the PNG crowd has been pissed at the JPEG crowd all these years. Not only does it combine GIF and JPG, but it does a far superior job of transparency. Transparency, as a feature, tends to be given short shrift -- until one sees an example like that pic up above. Inspirational, indeed.
Houston - The link worked the second time. You can see my confusion the first time, as you're talking about a graphics program and linking to a puzzle site. I did, however, apply my vast brainpower to solving the mighty poser you offered and I'm pleased to announce that with fortitude, courage and diligence I was able to finish said puzzle. I'm just that good.
Marc - I've heard of GIMP but never pursued it. I'm currently downloading v2.4.6 and if it lives up to the advance press, I'll do a 'Tips' post on it. I've also updated this post, and thanks for the mention.
Never felt the need for diaphanous graphics, although thought they might come in handy with elastic layouts and z-index as is the case in the graphic I created. It's just one more tool in the tool box. Since Macromedia Fireworks #whatever I've neglected PNG as support of for opacity was limited.
Also, color management in FF3 is subtle yet awesome. The page I linked above is rendered truer to my intent w/ management enabled and ICC profile synch.
Murk, I twisted the graphics around on the page I put up for a "still amateur, yet sadly almost good" feel. The wonder of the page, of course, is the images are layered with a opaque PNG sitting on top of the background and the text is not rasterized. (Just in case you didn't poke around the graphics with a stick). Natch the graphic could have been one flat image (with greater attendant ease), BUT this IS about opaque PNG's after all.
By opaque intended to say semi-transparent. Geeze!
Marc (or anyone ) -
It just occured to me that next week's lesson is going to be on audio files and there might be an open-source audio editor out there along the lines of GIMP. Thoughts?
thank you for your much too kind words on my little puzzle.
I was not my idea. I copied it from someone else. I think I left the proper reference embeded in the Html.
But on the matter of open source; Look at you question from a different way. What can I do with open source that will appeal to a cheep skate liar and theif like myself?
I want to get out of my audio problem in the lazy man's way. What can I find for free?
There are many people who slave, alone, out in the open source community looking only for a thank you. Not Money. I'm not one of them.
May I suggest you consider, " Audacity". I used it to make a little from an ex-ENRON day trader a few years ago. It was good enough to embed a voice recording into a flash anamation and I got paid for my work. Did the recording with Knoppix Live CD.
My 2nd suggestion, if you are doing audio recording, you must address DRM.
Thank you again for the update on my prior post . I will try to limit my mistakes in the future.
Houston - Thanks for the link to Audacity, I'll check it out. If there's something as good as GIMP (which I've been reviewing for the past two hours) for the graphics world, then there's probably something in the audio field. It doesn't have to do much, just clip off nasty 'clicks' at the beginning of songs, change the bitrate and save in both MP3 and WMA formats. It's that latter one that's the snag, as both involve royalties (or whatever the word is).
As far as that bad link goes, didn't I mention that it worked later? There wasn't any mixtake on your part. Prolly just a bit of net congestion.
"you must address DRM."
It would be a shame if one of the programs I recommended accidentally stripped out the DRM, wouldn't it? You'd think those lazy programmers would pay attention to little details like that!
Jephy - Interesting news on the PNG front. I didn't know this, but the transparency doesn't work with IE 6 unless it's directed to a small .js file first. More info here. Skip down to the bottom of the page and the "Download SuperSleight" section. Slap the three lines into the page's header and the transparency works just fine. The transparency works by default with Firefox, Safari and IE v7.
In an effort to round out Maggie's Farm and make it truly eclectic, Bird Dog has invited me to add the geek factor to the mix. But, rather than just adding a few geeky articles here and there, I thought it would be fun to actually get serious about the wh
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