Digital Focus: A Neat Photo Gift for Someone Special

Feature: Get Creative with Layers and Saturation

When I showed this week's project to my 12-year-old daughter, Marin, I said that I didn't know what to call it. My intention, as I explained to her, was to arrange photos in a line to look like an old-fashioned filmstrip, with the center picture popping with color--but all the other images somewhat bleached or devoid of color. I envisioned making this sort of thing as a gift, with a recent picture in the center and older snapshots on either side. Marin suggested calling it a "lifestrip," and I suppose that's a pretty good title. When I was done, I liked it well enough to make it the subject of this week's newsletter. I hope you'll like it as well.

Pick Your Pictures

I decided that seven pictures was just about right for a lifestrip, though you could obviously use any number you like. You'll need to pick the picture for the center, and then get an even number of shots for either side. Pick your pictures, and load them all into your favorite image editor. As usual, I'll use Jasc's Paint Shop Pro, but the procedure is roughly the same with almost any program.

Make Your Pictures a Standard Size

The next step is to make sure each and every one of your pictures is exactly the same size. That'll be important later, when we paste them into the lifestrip. For this example, I'm going to make a very small lifestrip--just 300 pixels high--so all the pictures will be 300 pixels square. If you want to print yours, you'll probably want to make it a lot bigger.

That said, select one of your pictures and then click the Crop tool, which is in the third cubby down from the top of the toolbar on the left side of the screen. In the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen (if you don't see it, toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Tool Options from the menu), select Square from the list of presets. Now adjust the size and position of the frame in the picture so you select the best part of the image, and click the check mark in the Tool Options at the top of the screen to accept your crop. Finally, choose Image, Resize and set the width and height to 300 pixels, then set the Units on the right to pixels. Click OK.

You've now cropped your picture and sized it to fit perfectly into the lifestrip. Go ahead and repeat the process on all the other pictures, and leave them open in Paint Shop Pro.

Make the Lifestrip

When you're done resizing your photos, it's time to make the lifestrip. Choose New from the File menu and, in the New Image dialog box, create an image that's 2200 pixels wide and 300 pixels high. (The extra 100 pixels of width allows you to place a slim border between each photo.) Click OK.

Ready to paste the pictures into the strip? Select a picture and choose Edit, Copy from the menu. Switch to the new lifestrip and choose Edit, Paste, Paste As New Layer. Click the Move Tool (in the fourth cubby from the top of the toolbar on the left side of the screen) and drag the picture to the far left of the filmstrip.

Now it's just lather, rinse, and repeat--copy each picture and paste it into the strip, then position each picture beside the next. You should now have a lifestrip that's similar to mine.

Emphasize With Saturation

Now let's use saturation to draw attention to the center picture. Click on the image, and then choose Adjust, Hue and Saturation, Hue/Saturation/Lightness. Drag the Saturation slider (the vertical slider on the left side of the dialog box) up to about 30, then click OK. You should see the center picture "pop" a bit, since its colors have been enhanced.

Starting on the far left of the lifestrip, click on the first picture and choose the Hue/Saturation/Lightness control again. Lower the saturation to about -60 and click OK. Set the second picture to -60 too, as you can see here.

Lower the saturation of all the other pictures (except the center one, of course) in a similar way.

When you're done, you can save and print your project. As an alternative, you don't have to paste the pictures into a strip: You can instead make seven prints and mount them on your wall in individual frames. Get creative, and try some innovations.

If you come up with a really clever idea, drop me a note.

Dave's Favorites: Get Digital Photo News From Photoxels

Hungry for more info about the newest digital camera? Want to read up on digital photography fundamentals? Shopping for new digital photo gadgets? It sounds like you should bookmark Photoxels.

Photoxels has a great layout, with digital photography news right at the top of the page and information about new camera models within easy reach. When I visited the site, the front-page camera reviews were interesting and accurate, and nicely complemented the information at my favorite digital camera site, Digital Photography Review.

Photoxels includes lots of other goodies as well, like digital photography tutorials, buyers guides, and even an interesting (but very cursory) history of photography, told by describing important camera models from important companies like Canon, Nikon, and Minolta.

Photoxels isn't my single source for info on digital photography, but I think that you'll agree it's good enough to bookmark and visit occasionally.

Q&A: Why Do the Dates on My Photos Change?

I take pictures at car shows. When I edit my pictures months later, I often end up with a new date. I take so many pictures, I really want to track and group them by the date they were taken. How can I do this if the date changes every time I edit them?

--Ken Runyan, Willits, California

That's an unusual problem, Ken. You don't say what image editing program you use, but I assume it an older application, or at the very least a freeware or shareware program that doesn't play nicely with modern digital photography conventions.

Here's the deal: Digital photo files, including both JPEG and TIFF images, store a variety of nonvisual data such as exposure information, the date and time taken, and even the camera model used. All this is called "metadata" (English translation: "data about data") and it's accessible in the picture files for any photo software to read and write to. All modern software "respects" that data: It can display the information, but only changes it if you specifically attempt to do so. If the dates on your photos are changing to the date you're editing them, I assume your image editor isn't designed to respect your metadata and is changing it willy-nilly.

Hot Pic of the Week

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: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Ice Storm," by Peter Jou, Westerville, Ohio

Peter says that he took this picture in late December using his Canon PowerShot G2 when he saw the way the icicles interacted with the light in the sky.

I want your feedback! Send your comments, questions, and suggestions about Digital Focus to comments@bydavejohnson.com. If you have a question that you'd like to see answered in the weekly Q&A, send it to question@bydavejohnson.com. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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