|27 Aug 2010||#1|
Win 7 Graphics comments for today.
Making Great Photos with Windows 7 Applications
I've been taking pictures since I was old enough to hold a camera. As a kid, I had Brownies and later, the magical Polaroids that spit out their photos right then and there (and I'm so old I still remember having to peel the print off the development paper and wait for the picture to "come in," then apply a coating of protective chemicals to the finished picture to keep it from fading away).
In my late teens, I saved up my money and got my first Nikon Single Lens Reflex (SLR). It was a used Nikon F, which didn't even have a built-in light meter. I used it to take photos for my school newspaper and yearbook. The F2 was way beyond my budget then, although I did get a brand new one a few years later. At the time, it was the most expensive thing I'd ever bought for myself; in fact, it cost more than my first car. At that time, I was doing some semi-professional photography, taking photos at weddings and doing portraits on weekends. I had my own color darkroom and enjoyed manipulating the print process to obtain special effects, but it was an expensive, messy and time-consuming hobby.
Over the years, I've continued to take photos for fun and for money. I remember longing for one of the new digital cameras in the mid-1990s, but the prices were astronomical: $15,000 to $30,000. Like most electronic devices, though, prices fell steadily and I eventually got a shiny digital SLR. I still have a couple of film Nikons in the closet, but I haven't used them in years. Now I do most of my shooting with a Nikon D300 and a magnificent 18-200mm VR lens. They aren't the absolute latest and greatest, and it's a heavy combination - especially with the extra battery grip - but they take excellent photos. I have a couple of smaller and lighter models (D40 and D90) that I use as backups on weddings and for "tourist" type jaunts when I don't want to carry the big, high profile camera.
Great as the D300 is, there are times when the pictures it takes can be improved upon. I'm thankful that today I don't have to spend hours or days in a darkroom and waste paper and chemicals in repeated attempts to get the effects that I want. Instead, I can sit down at my Windows 7 computer and tweak my photos in a fraction of the time, with better and more consistent results - and without the smell or the cleanup issues. All it takes are the right applications.
PhotoShop has become the standard for photo editing, but I was never crazy about the Adobe program, and at $699.99, I think its price is way too high. There is a lower cost version, PhotoShop Elements ($79.99), but I don't like it as well as some of the other reasonably priced editing programs. That's just my opinion, though; one of those options might work well for you.
I actually use a combination of several different programs, depending on what I want to do to a photo, how quickly I need to do it, and how the photo is going to be used. If it's a professional job - a wedding or portrait I'm being paid for - I'm going to spend more time and I'm going to need more precise results. A higher quality photo is needed if large prints are going to be made from it. I may also need to create special effects, such as combining multiple photos for a double exposure effect or applying a vignette around the edges. If it's a photo that will accompany one of my articles on a web site, I want it to look good but I'll probably just be doing a tweak of exposure, color correction and that sort of thing. If it's a picture I took to share with friends in a Facebook album, I'll probably only do a "quick and dirty" edit, and the "automatic fix" offered by some editing programs will often suffice.
For those quick fixes, I like Windows Live Photo Gallery. It's easy to do a fast adjustment of the exposure, and it includes not just brightness and contrast controls, but also the ability to separately adjust the shadows and highlights, which some of the other free programs don't have. I also like the "Straighten" feature, which is great when you held the camera a little crooked but otherwise got a good photo. You can also change the color temperature, tint and saturation. I prefer to leave the color saturation setting on normal in the camera, and then add a bit more vividness afterward if needed.
Like most consumer-oriented photo editors, WLPG has an automatic red eye remover, and it works better than some of the others I've used. There's also a "Retouch" feature that can be used to remove small imperfections such as facial blemishes, or even remove a whole object that's shown against a consistent background. It's really just a simplified clone tool, and I've used it, for instance, to "hide" a dog treat that was sitting on the carpet in a portrait of my puppy.
Sometimes, though, I need to do more than WLPG is capable of doing. Then I break out one of my two other favorite photo editors. If I'm doing precision work, I use Corel PhotoPaint, which has most of the same capabilities as PhotoShop but I like the interface on the Corel product better. PhotoPaint is great for working with layers and applying artistic effects, 3D effects, distortion patterns and so forth. It has multiple mask tools that help you to select specific parts of a photo to manipulate. It lets you create macros, run scripts, define objects, create rollovers, replace one color with another and many more sophisticated actions.
Unfortunately, it's no longer available to buy as a standalone program (as it once was); you can only get it as part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. Even so, the cost is $200 less than PhotoShop ($499.99) and you get the CorelDRAW vector illustration software, as well as web graphics and animation tools and more:
Graphic Design Tools â€“ CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5
Note that if you're a student or faculty member, you can get the full version education edition for only $99:
Corel - CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5 Education Edition - Software
You can use PhotoPaint to retouch photos of people, but I have yet another program - also from Corel - that makes that easier. Paint Shop Pro X2 has specific tools designed to automatically do things you'd have to figure out how to do manually in PhotoPaint (or PhotoShop). There is a blemish remover to do away with pimples, lines or spots. There's a teeth whitener to brighten up a smile. There's a suntan tool to add color to the cheeks of the model who forgot to apply blush. There's a "Thinnify" tool to take off those extra pounds that the camera sometimes adds. There's a "Skin Smoother" to get rid of wrinkles and blotches. There's an "Eyedropper" to take care of bloodshot eyes. You can make anyone look like a fashion model with just a few clicks.
Paint Shop Pro also has the same types of "fix it" features as WLPG - exposure, contrast and color controls, straightening and cropping tools, automatic photo fixes. It also includes some more advanced adjustments, such as perspective correction that will remove the tilted wall look from pictures of buildings, a one-step purple fringe remover to make overexposed photos look better, and my favorites: the depth of field tool that lets you throw the background of your photo into soft focus as if you'd used a wide open lens aperture when you didn't, and the HDR Merge that lets you create multiple exposures in one picture from different images.
You can see the photographic examples of editing with WLPG, PhotoPaint and Paint Shop Pro in my blog post at
Tell us what application(s) you prefer for photo editing, and why. Do you stick with the free programs, or do you need features they don't have? What features are on your "wish list" that you haven't been able to find in any program? Do you long for something that was in one of the older programs (such as the versions of PSP made before Corel bought it)? Or do you think using a photo editor is "cheating" and that we should all publish all our pictures exactly as they come from the camera? We invite you to weigh in on this topic in our forum at
Follow-up: Windows Home Server Last week's editorial took a second look at Windows Home Server (WHS), Microsoft's solution for those who want centralized backup, storage and remote access at home. First, I need to clarify something. Several people wrote that you can buy the software and install it on your own hardware. Well, yes - but ... there is no retail version of the WHS operating system. System Builders can purchase it, but the license actually requires that it only be sold with qualifying hardware. Some retailers will sell you the OEM version without the hardware, but they aren't supposed to.
One reader asked about 64 bit support. "Vail," the code name for the next version of WHS that's currently in beta, not only supports 64 bit systems but works only on 64 bit. Read more about that here:
Windows Home Server "Vail" Available for 64-Bit Testing
The Connector software for clients also works on 64 bit Windows 7 computers (both for the beta and the current version of WHS).
I was curious about this statement in the forum from Challinger: "I fear that WHS is going to end up on the same pile as Windows ME and Windows Media Center, if it hasn't already been placed there and we just don't know about it yet." Exactly what "pile" has Windows Media Center been placed in? WMC is built into every Windows 7 computer (except Starter Edition) and works beautifully. Since it became a part of Windows Vista and then Windows 7 instead of a separate edition, more people than ever are using it to record and play back TV, organize their music, photos and videos, etc. Windows ME is an obsolete operating system; WMC is an application built into Windows. I don't understand how they're alike in any way.
I was surprised and pleased to hear from so many readers who are already using WHS. Many seem to find that it fits their needs well, although one reader wants it to be more of a presentation virtualization server for thin clients. Right now, VDI and application virtualization are business-centric solutions, but I wouldn't be surprised if that changes in the future. After all, file servers were once pretty much limited to businesses, too - but today WHS provides file and print server functionality targeted at the home network. A future version might very well host a virtual desktop infrastructure.
The WHS article generated quite a bit of discussion, both on the forum and via email. Obviously there are more people out there who are interested in it than I realized. I hope those who like it will tell their friends and family members about it. The more popular it becomes, the more likely it is that Microsoft will keep it around and make it better.
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