Hang Your Favorite Photos at a Virtual Museum

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Ask any photographer who owns more than one lens for their digital SLR, and they'll probably admit that they've long dreamed of someday getting their own photography exhibition. Well, no matter what kind of camera you own, and even if you never get your own show in real life, making it look like you've got one on your PC is a snap. In the past, I've told you how to incorporate your photos into fun projects like lifestrips and photo booth photo film strips. This week, let's treat ourselves to a photo exhibition by compositing photos into a museum scene. Or a billboard. Or on a giant screen in Times Square.

One-Click Exhibitions on the Web

Recently, I discovered a cool little site called PhotoFunia, where you can paste a photo into any one of hundreds of settings--museums, photo galleries, billboards, and many, many more.

Using it is a snap--just click a thumbnail of a scene that interests you, and then follow the instructions to upload and crop the photo you'd like to insert. Many of the choices work best with portraits, which you can hang on a virtual museum wall, insert in an FBI ID card, or display on a billboard on a famous street.

When you're done, you can share the finished photo in a slew of different ways including Facebook, Twitter, and email (by saving the image to your hard drive).

PhotoFunia is not the only site offering this sort of cool experience. You can do the same sort of thing at Photo505, for example. Both sites have a goofy, low-fidelity vibe, and they're a fun way to kill some time and to make use of some of your digital photos at the same time.

Do It Yourself

Of course, you don't have to settle for pasting your photos into the scenes provided at sites like those. If you're a DIY-sort of person, then grab a scene from the Internet and paste your favorite photos in there yourself. Here's how.

For starters, open the scene you want to work with in your favorite photo editor. I found a photo of Times Square on Flickr (photo courtesy of Flickr user Loozrboy) and opened it in Corel Paint Shop Pro X4, since it's fairly easy to do this in that program thanks to its free-form resize tool. More on that later.

Next, decide which part of the photo that you would like to replace. For example, I've decided to replace the middle right billboard with a snapshot of my wife. We need to know the proportion of the billboard; when we paste in the second image, if the proportions don't match, it'll look stretched or squished. (We didn't have to do this in Photofunia or Photo505 because those sites had a cropping tool that already knew the target proportions and did it automatically.)

To do that, click the rectangular selection tool (third from the top of the toolbar) and drag a selection that starts at the top left corner, extends down to the bottom left corner, and across to the bottom right, as in this photo.

The selection will be a true rectangle, of course, but it will accurately measure the proportions of the perspective-skewed billboard. Choose Edit, Copy, and then choose Edit, Paste as New Image.

Now we just need to find out the size of this selection. Choose Image, Image Information from the menu, and note the size it reports.

Open the photo you want to insert in the editor. Our next task is to crop the photo to the aspect ratio we measured for the billboard. Click the Crop tool (fifth from the top of the tool bar) and, in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, change the units to pixels and enter the width and height you measured earlier. Now click Maintain aspect ratio and drag the crop box until you've got the image you want to display. Double-click the cropped image to keep the changes.

Copy the image: Press Ctrl-A and then Ctrl-C. Switch back to your original photo and paste it into the scene by choosing Edit, Paste as new layer. While we're here, let's also get rid of the selection we made earlier; we no longer need it. Choose Selections and select None.

We're almost done--we just need to size and position the image. Start by clicking the Pick tool (second from the top) and then scale it down to about the right size by dragging the lower right corner. Position it so the upper left corner is touching the left corner of the billboard, as you see on the left.

At this point, to help the precise positioning, you might want to temporarily make the image somewhat transparent. In the Layers Palette on the right side of the screen, drop the opacity of the top layer to about 60 percent. Now you can see the edges of the underlying billboard frame, which will make it easier to size and position the portrait.

In the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, change the Pick tool's Mode to Free. This will let us distort the perspective of the image so that it looks like it belongs on the billboard. Grab each corner and drag it over the appropriate position in the billboard.

That's about it. You might want to zoom in to fine-tune the positioning of the image, and don't forget to pump the opacity back to 100 percent when you're done. Here's what my scene looks like after I replaced several of the billboards.

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 800 by 600 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: "The Roadrunner is Watching You" by Rob O’Donnell, Mesa, Arizona

Rob says: "It seems like there always something new to see at the zoo. Taking a break from sprinting around, this roadrunner stopped to look for dinner. I took this shot with a Sony Alpha a77."

This week's runner-up: "Summer Flowers" by Matt Wallace, Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Matt writes: "I took this photo with my Canon 5D. I didn't use a flash; just ambient evening light. I also added some extra vibrance in a photo editor, and applied a touch of a vignette to draw in the eye of the viewer."

To see last month's winners, visit our January Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Hang Your Favorite Photos at a Virtual Museum" was originally published by PCWorld.

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