Fun Photo Tools: One-Trick Ponies
Today's a special day for me--if I was a kid, I probably would be wishing for a pony. That's right, it's my birthday. And in honor of my birthday, I got all of you a gift: A roundup of four (mostly) free photo editing toys. These are all one-trick ponies (see, birthday ponies!) designed to do only one thing--but they do those one things pretty well. These programs will go nicely with the free photo editors I told you about a few weeks ago, as well as last week's free photo toys.
Protect Your Photos With a Watermark
I frequently get questions about how to protect your photos online, and specifically how to watermark images so they're harder to steal. The somewhat generically named Watermark Image Software is a free program designed to address this very problem.
Watermark Image Software is really designed to work with large batches of files quickly and easily. Sure, you can use it to watermark a single photo, but that's like swatting a fly with a hand grenade.
To use the program, point it to a folder where you've stored some photos, then indicate the destination folder. If you set the source and destination to the same place, you can replace your originals, but I don't recommend that. Always choose a different folder, so you don't permanently watermark your originals. Then just specify the text (like © Dave Johnson), font, size, and color, along with where on the photo the watermark will appear. You can also choose to resize the photos at the same time, which is handy if they're headed for the Web.
One complaint: You have to indicate the font color in hex (quick: what color is #FFFFFF?), which is hardly user friendly. Here's some help, though: #000000 is black, #FFFFFF is white, and #000DDD will give you some nice blue text. Or try the Hex Color Code Chart, where you can click to choose a color and instantly see the proper hex value.
Enlarge a Photo Without Sacrificing Quality
Have you ever needed to print a photo much larger than it was really designed to go--like trying to make a poster out of a 3-megapixel image? There are a few programs that will do this for you. In the past, I've told you about Genuine Fractals. That program uses some pretty fancy math to tease out hidden detail when enlarging an image-but it's expensive. Try a free alternative instead: SmillaEnlarger works a lot like Genuine Fractals. To use it, drag a photo into the program window and specify the new size you want.
You don't need to tweak any of the program settings to get great results. Just click the Preview button to see what the final image will look like. If you're happy, specify a name for the final image and then click Enlarge & Save. The results can be incredible, maintaining enough resolution even at very large sizes to make even Jack Bauer proud.
Make a Greeting Card
About 10 years ago, you couldn't avoid greeting card programs; they were absolutely everywhere. Everyone from Hallmark to Microsoft offered their own version, making it easy to incorporate your own photos into homemade cards.
Those days are long gone. It's surprisingly hard to find greeting card software. But Frame Photo Editor is a modern, inexpensive substitute.
Frame Photo Editor is quirky, but think of it as a sort of simple layout program. You can add backgrounds, masks, frames and vignettes, and mask your photos with a variety of silly and fun shapes. You can also write on your project with text. It's easy to get the hang of, and you can do all sorts of things with your creations, such as print, save, e-mail, and convert to Windows desktop wallpaper. You can try out the program for free for 30 days, and it's $30 to keep.
Make a Ken Burns-Style Video From Photos
You know those dramatic documentary sequences in which the camera slowly pans and zooms around a photo while a somber voice narrates someone's childhood? Well, you can easily make your own videos just like that.
PhotoFilmStrip lets you load one or more still photos from your collection, and then just specify start and end points for the "camera" on the image. It's very easy to do; it's just like setting a crop selection. Then tell the program how long the sequence should take, and produce your video.
It's the easiest way I've found to make these kind of videos, but be warned: I was unable to get this program to work properly in Windows 7.
Hot Pic of the Week
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.
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: "Bendix Building" by Michael Doliveck, Morro Bay, California
Michael says that he took this photo in downtown Los Angeles using a Canon EOS 7D.
This week's runner-up: "Droplets" by Reza Haghighipour, Iran
Reza says: "I captured this photo using my Sony Cybershot DSC-W120 after a rainy day near the seaside. I used a flash to make the droplets stand out more."