Digital Focus: Scale Pictures for Framing
Ever tried to bang a square peg into a round hole? Not a problem, as long as the peg is smaller than the hole. Printing digital images is pretty much the same story. You can make a print that's more or less 8 by 10 inches, but when it comes to framing the little guy, you often have to print it a bit too small--and claim you meant it to look that way--or print it too big and cut it down to size by hand with a paper cutter. There has to be a better way.
Thankfully, there is now. The newest version of Paint Shop Pro makes it easy to crop images to a specific size. This long-overdue feature is ideal for mounting or framing your prints--all image editors should adopt it. Don't have Paint Shop Pro 8? Later in this article I'll show how to do the same thing with an inexpensive image utility.
Of course, if printing a picture at a specific size like 5-by-7 or 8-by-10 isn't important to you, just click your image editor's Print button and get it over with. But if you want to print your image so it fits properly in a traditional picture frame, let me show you how it works.
Suppose we want to make a print that fits perfectly in an 8-by-10-inch frame. Start by opening Paint Shop Pro and loading the picture you want to print. We want to crop it down so it will print at the right proportion to fit in the frame. To do that, we'll use Paint Shop Pro's new and improved Crop tool. Click the Crop icon (it's the third one down in the toolbar on the left side of the screen), then click on one corner of the image and drag the cursor to the opposite corner. The cropping box will expand to encompass the image, creating a rough crop. At this point, it's not important to be even remotely accurate; just make a crop box anywhere in the picture, with any dimensions.
Now look at the Tool Options Palette at the top of the screen. (Unfortunately, this toolbar isn't labeled; it runs the width of the application window near the top and displays the width and height of the image in pixels, centimeters, or inches.) If it's not open, choose
Set the Units menu to inches and change the Width and Height dimensions to 8 by 10 for portrait orientation or 10 by 8 for a landscape orientation. If your image's resolution is on the low side and Paint Shop Pro won't let you enter 8 and 10 inches for the Width and Height, then enter two other numbers that maintain the correct proportions--like 4 and 5 inches or even 2 and 2.5 inches, if necessary. Then click the Maintain Aspect Ratio box, which allows us to resize the crop box without changing the aspect ratio.
So far, so good. Now you can use your mouse to move the crop box around the image to pick the perfect composition. You can grab the crop box by a corner to stretch or shrink it--the proportions will stay primed for an 8 by 10 inch frame.
When you're happy with the result, click the check mark in the Tool Options palette to make the crop, and you'll get an image that's proportioned exactly right for an 8-by-10-inch print. From here, choose
Well, I hear what you're saying: "Dave, I don't have Paint Shop Pro 8. How can I make perfectly proportioned images for framing without it?"
I suggest that you try a cool little program from Trivista called
Back when I was in college and pocket calculators had only recently gotten inexpensive and popular, I predicted that eventually everything we bought would come with a calculator built in. These days, I have another ludicrous prediction: Eventually, everything will have a digital camera built in.
Maybe that's not so crazy. Sony's newest Palm-powered PDA, the Clie PEG NX80V, is just one of many handheld devices popping up on shelves with a built-in digital camera. The NX80V's 1.3-megapixel camera takes sharp, colorful images--proving that integrated cameras aren't just gimmicks. PDAs really can take good pictures. The PDA even has a light that does a reasonable job of illuminating a dark room: It uses a lot less power than a flash unit, and extends the Clie's battery life.
The Clie comes with a great collection of software. Sony includes its superb Picsel Viewer--which lets you view images, Office documents, and PDFs exactly the way they look on the desktop, with no conversion needed. There's a photo album built right into the device's ROM, and you can copy images between your computer and the PDA via Memory Stick media. Unlike older Clies, all images are stored in good-old JPEG format. The Clie also records video with sound, so you can use it to make short movies.
The Clie PEG NX80V is very nearly perfect. It has the highest-resolution PDA screen on the market (320 by 480 pixels), and its clever clamshell design lets it work like a tiny laptop or a slate-style tablet, depending upon your mood. In addition to the Memory Stick slot, the Clie has a CompactFlash slot and works with Sony's CompactFlash Wi-Fi adapter.
One drawback: The Clie PEG NX80V comes with 32MB of memory, and only 15.5MB is available right out of the box--the rest, unfortunately, is reserved for applications. But that's a small compromise to make for what could well be the best PDA ever to walk the earth.
This much is certainly true: I've used one for about a month now, and it has changed the way I take pictures. I now grab more snapshots and take a lot more little movies of everyday scenes. And when you get right down to it, isn't the definition of a successful product one that changes your life?
At press time I found the NX80V for less than $500 at the PCWorld.com
A friend of mine says that after talking a picture, he simply looks at the histogram on the back of the camera to determine whether a picture is a keeper or not. He deletes those that are not up to standard without even looking at the image itself. Can the histogram alone be a good judge of image quality? What's your take on this practice?
The histogram is indeed a great little tool, Bruce. Bruce. But a histogram alone can't determine picture quality; that requires human judgment.
The histogram is a graph that displays the distribution of light and dark pixels in a photo. Many digital cameras let you view the histogram on the LCD viewfinder after snapping a picture. If yours doesn't, don't despair: Most image editing programs offer a histogram as well.
When you look at the histogram, check the pixel arrangement from left to right. If the graph is skewed too far to one side or the other, it's an indication that your picture is over- or underexposed. But there's more to it than that. Your picture may be intentionally bright or dark. And there are other factors to consider, like the composition and the mood of your photo. Sure, the histogram is great. But I'd never put so much stock in that little graph that I'd discard photos without even looking at them.
The histogram isn't always just a static display, either. Programs like Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements let you use the histogram as a guide for redistributing the brightness and contrast in an image, which can dramatically improve a photo. Next week I'll show you how it's done.
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.
Here's how to enter:
Cheryl says: "This was the last day of a four-day camping trip in Navajo country in Monument Valley. My motor home was parked to the right of this particular campsite, and each afternoon a different family would park next to me for the evening. This day, a gentleman set up his tent on the edge of this bluff overlooking the valley. Using my Olympus E-20N set on aperture priority, I was able to capture the simple beauty of the area. The sun was setting and a nearby cabana had cast a shadow over part of the bluff. I removed the shadow by cloning over it using Photoshop."
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