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There is no way to get around the fact that the quality of your final digital pictures is dependent upon how well they were captured initially. Poorly photographed or badly scanned images take their problems with them throughout the whole production process and end up as poor quality prints. One of the best ways to increase the level of your work is to ensure that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to create the best digital file possible at the time of capture. This is true for the majority of you who now shoot with a digital camera as well as those who are converting existing photographic images to digital with a scanner.
To help gain this level of control let's go back to the basics and see how factors like resolution and numbers of colors affect the quality of image capture.
Photography is everywhere
Apart from the initial years of the invention of photography, I can't think of a more exciting time to be involved in making pictures. In fact, I believe that Fox Talbot, as one of the fathers of the medium, would have little difficulty in agreeing that over the last few years the world of imaging has changed forever. Digital photography has become the two buzz-words on everyone's lips. Increasing levels of technology coupled with comparatively affordable equipment have meant that sophisticated imaging jobs that were once the closely guarded domain of industry professionals are now being handled daily by home and enthusiasts.
This book introduces you to the techniques of the professionals and, more importantly, shows you how to use these skills to produce high quality images for yourself, your friends and your business.
The text centers on Adobe's popular Photoshop Elements program (with a little help from its sister package, Premiere Elements for a couple of techniques) and covers all the features in version 8 as well as the tools common to the previous versions of the program.
You will learn the basics of good digital production from the point of capturing the picture, through simple manipulation techniques, to outputting your images for print and web. To help reinforce your understanding, you can practise with many of the same images that I have used in the step-by-step demonstrations by downloading them from the supporting website (www.photoshopelements.net). A good selection of video tutorials can also be found on this site, giving me the chance to guide you personally through your skills building tasks. There is also an example site demonstrating the links between Photoshop.com and Photoshop Elements at pse-4-photographers.photoshop.com. Go here to see Elements online syncing power in action. There are also links to other relevant websites and information about the other imaging books I write. You will find a web icon (like this one [??] placed throughout the book to identify when such web content is available.
Also, you will find a real-life project in Chapter 21 showing you how to use your new-found skills to enhance your own images and create a professional-looking photo book. Source files and comprehensive video tutorials for this project can also be found on the website, giving you the opportunity to practise your skills on a real-world task.
The beginning - the digital photograph
Computers are amazing machines. Their strength is in being able to perform millions of mathematical calculations per second. To apply this ability to working with images, we must start with a description of pictures that the computer can understand.
This means that the images must be in a digital form. This is quite different from the way our eye, or any film-based camera, sees the world. With film, for example, we record pictures as a series of 'continuous tones' that blend seamlessly with each other. To make a version of the image that the computer can use, these tones need to be converted to a digital form.
The process involves sampling the image at regular intervals and assigning a specific color and brightness to each sample. In this way, a grid of colors and tones is created which, when viewed from a distance, will appear like the original image or scene. Each individual grid section is called a picture element, or pixel.
Creating digital photos
Digital files can be created by taking pictures with a digital camera or by using a scanner to convert existing prints or negatives into pixel form. Most digital cameras have a grid of sensors, called charge-coupled devices (CCDs), in the place where traditional cameras would have film. Each sensor measures the brightness and color of the light that hits it. When the values from all sensors are collected and collated, a digital picture results.
Scanners work in a similar way, except that these devices use rows of CCD sensors that move slowly over the original, sampling the picture as they go. Generally, different scanners are needed for converting film and print originals; however, some companies are now making products that can be used for both.
Video cameras use the same principle but rapidly capture a sequence of images. Any movement in the subject is recorded on successive photos. When these images, or frames, are quickly redisplayed one after another, the motion of the subject is replicated on screen. Until recently, capturing digital video required a separate camera, now, many still cameras also contain a very usable video mode.
Quality factors in a digital image
The quality of the digital file is largely determined by two factors - the number of pixels and the number and accuracy of the colors that make up the image. The number of pixels in a picture is represented in two ways - the dimensions, i.e. 'the image is 900 x 1200 pixels', or the total pixels contained in the image, i.e. 'it is a 3.4 megapixel picture'.
Generally, a file with a large number of pixels will produce a better quality image overall and provide the basis for making larger prints than a picture that contains few pixels. The second quality consideration is the total number of colors that can be recorded in the file. This value is usually referred to as the 'color or bit depth' of the image.
The current standard is known as 24-bit color or 8 bits per Red, Green and Blue channel. A picture with this depth is made up of a selection of a possible 16.7 million colors. In practice this is the minimum number of colors needed for an image to appear photographic. In the early years of digital imaging, 256 colors (8 bits of color per channel) were considered the standard.
Although good for the time, the color quality of this type of image is generally unacceptable nowadays. In fact, new camera and scanner models are now capable of 12 bits per channel (36-bit color altogether) or even 16 bits per channel (48-bit color altogether). This larger bit depth helps to ensure greater color and tonal accuracy.
The steps in the digital process
The digital imaging process contains three separate steps - capture, manipulate and output. Capturing the image is the first step. It is at this point that the color, quality and detail of your image will be determined. Careful adjustment of either the camera or scanner settings will help ensure that your images contain as much of the original's information as possible. In particular, you should ensure that delicate highlight and shadow details are evident in the final image.
If you notice that some 'clipping', or loss of detail, is occurring in your scans, try reducing the contrast settings. If your camera pictures are too dark, or light, adjust the exposure manually to compensate. It is easier to capture the information accurately at this point in the process than try to recreate it later.
Manipulation is where the true power of the digital process becomes evident. It is here that you can enhance and change your images in ways that are far easier than ever before. Altering the color, contrast or brightness of an image is as simple as a couple of button clicks. Changing the size or shape of a picture can be achieved in a few seconds, and complex manipulations like combining two or more images together can be completed in minutes rather than the hours, or even days, needed with traditional techniques. Manipulation gives digital illustrators the power to take a base image and alter it many times so that it can be used in a variety of situations and settings. Once changed, it is possible to output this same image in many ways. It can be printed, used as an illustration in a business report, become part of a website, be sent to friends on the other side of the world as an email attachment, or projected onto a large screen as a segment in a professional presentation.
Where does Photoshop Elements fit into the process?
Photoshop Elements is a program that can be used for enhancing, manipulating, printing, presenting and organizing your digital photographs. Put simply, this means that it is the pivot point for the whole digital imaging process. Its main job is to provide the tools, filters and functions that you need to manage, change and alter your pictures.
Elements is well suited for this role as it is built upon the same core structure as Adobe's famous professional-level program Photoshop. Many of the functions found in this industry- leading package are also present in Elements but, unlike Photoshop, Adobe has made Elements easier to learn and, more importantly, easier to use than its professional cousin. In this way, Adobe has thankfully taken into account that, although a lot of users need to produce professional images as part of their daily jobs, not all of these users are, or want to be, imaging professionals.
In addition, Elements contains features designed to download digital pictures from your camera, or scanner, directly into the program, as well as functions that allow you to easily output your finished images to web or print. When used in conjunction with other programs, like desktop publishing packages, it is also possible to include Elements' enhanced images in professionally prepared brochures, advertisements and reports.
Photoshop Elements 8
Rather than sitting back and basking in the reflected glory of the success of the last few releases of Elements, Adobe has been hard at work improving what was already a great product. Version 8, just like the releases before it, is a state-of-the-art image-editing program full of the features and functions that digital photographers and desktop image makers desire the most.
Far from being overshadowed by the power and dominance of its bigger brother Photoshop, Elements has quickly become the image management, editing and enhancement 'weapon of choice' by many who count picture making as their passion.
This new comprehensive title is written especially for photographers and covers all the key tools and features in Elements for both Windows and Macintosh users. This book will help you learn not just about how the program functions but how to apply the great range of features that are unique to Elements, to your own photos.
Photoshop Elements is the type of software tool that photographers, designers and illustrators use daily to manage, enhance and present their photos. There are many companies who make programs designed for this purpose but Adobe has a substantial advantage over most of its competitors because it also produces the flagship for the industry - Photoshop. Elements draws a lot of strength from its association with Photoshop, but don't think that is the whole Elements story. The program contains a host of its own features and tools and has workflow that is quite unique.
In this chapter, as a way of orientating you to the program, we will look at the various tools, functions and interface components that make up Photoshop Elements.
Top tools for the photographer
With Photoshop Elements, Adobe recognized that not all digital imaging consumers are the same. Professionals do require a vast array of tools and functions to facilitate almost any type of image manipulation, but there is a significant and growing number of users that want the robustness of Photoshop but don't require all the 'professional bells and whistles'. Savvy Elements users will see a lot of similarity between the programs, especially in the Editor workspace. This is because both programs are based on the same core technologies, but feature different front ends. This makes Elements sound like a cut-down version of Photoshop, but there is a lot more to this package than a subset of Photoshop's features. Adobe has taken the time to listen to its customers, and has designed and included in Elements a host of extra tools and features that are not available in Photoshop.
It's this combination of proven strength and new functions that makes Elements the perfect imaging tool for digital camera owners who need to produce professional-level images and at the same time be able to manage and present their photos, easily and economically .
The Photoshop Elements workflow
Photoshop Elements 8 provides a workflow solution from the moment you download your files from camera, scanner or the net, through organization and manipulation phases and then onto printing (photos, books) or sharing the pictures electronically ( online gallery, slide shows, e-mail attachments). Understanding how the various components in the system fit together will help you make the most of the software and its powerful new features.
Two workspaces - Organizer/Bridge and Editor
Tasks within Photoshop Elements are broken into two different varieties - those activities that are concerned with organizing or managing your photos and those tasks that involve editing or enhancing your pictures. Adobe has created two different workspaces to accommodate these tasks - Organizer and Editor. All your activities in Elements will be conducted in one or the other of these spaces. Macintosh users have the Editor workspace and the Bridge application for managing their files instead of the Organizer.
The Welcome screen is the first dialog box that the user sees when opening Photoshop Elements. From this screen you can choose to Organize or Edit your pictures. At the bottom of the screen there are some community options that include member's sign in, account and backup settings, personal web gallery address and tips and tricks links. There is also a button to allow you to sign up for your free Adobe ID which is needed to access the online services provided by Elements for community members.
Task based panes
Elements breaks down the photographers workflow down even further by providing Task based panes in both the Organizer and Editor workspaces. The panes are located on the right of the workspace and each tab groups together all the Elements options available for a specific task. Organize, Fix, Create and Share panes are located in the Organizer workspace with Edit, Create and Share tabs in the Editor space.
The Organizer workspace
One of the core strengths of Photoshop Elements is its image management tools. The Organizer is the center for these tools. Not only will you find a sophisticated file browsing workspace but you will also have access to a huge range of search, tag and display options and sophisticated backup and album features.
Once the picture files have been imported (Organizer: File > Get Photos and Videos) into Elements they can be viewed by date taken, their associated tags and even their folder location. Keyword tags can be added to any image. You can even create your own tags. You can also form subsets of picture based around an Album heading. Both these features make finding your favorite pictures much easier.
Pairs of pictures can be viewed side by side with the Organizer: Display > Compare Photos Side by Side feature to help choose the best shot from a series of images taken of the same subject. In Date View (Organizer: Display > Date View) images are grouped and displayed based on the date they were taken. Map view (Organizer: Window > Show Map) takes a different approach, displaying photos based on where they were taken rather than when. Instant slide shows of whole albums, or just those pictures selected from the browser, can be created and displayed using the Organizer: Display > View, Edit, Organize Photos in Full Screen feature.
Excerpted from Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 for Photographers by Philip Andrews Copyright © 2010 by Philip Andrews. Excerpted by permission.
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