Digital cameras give you the freedom to shoot hundreds of images
on a single holiday. But what happens when you get back home? All too often,
best images may be downloaded to a computer and never get looked at again.
With the help of easy to use photo editing software on your PC, you can give
your memories a new lease of life. Imagine being able to call up all the
snaps of a favourite pet in an instant, correct lighting problems with the
wave of a mouse, or create back-up discs and even photo websites at home.
And photo software isn’t just for digital cameras. Attach a scanner
to your PC and you can preserve old photos and negatives digitally, clean
up scratches, and make pristine new copies.
No PC, no problem
Today’s digital cameras don’t need computers. You can take a memory card full of images to your local photo lab to buy enlargements, or slot it straight into some printers, to view your snaps and produce photo quality prints in minutes. Some cameras now even let you edit your captured images instantly. You may be able to eliminate ‘red eyes’ from a flash portrait, brighten up the image or resize it to make it a smaller file, for easier emailing later on. If your camera has these features, you’ll find them by pressing the Menu button when viewing photos. The process is usually completely automatic – and don’t worry, it will always save the original photo, too, just in case.
But if you do partner your camera with a computer, you’re opening the doors to a whole new world. Cameras connect with a normal USB cable to download images to the My Pictures folder on your hard disc. Downloading is important for several reasons: it frees up memory cards to be used again; enables you to view and edit pictures on your PC’s screen; and lets you back up photos permanently to a CD or DVD disc.
Most computers can comfortably hold tens of thousands of images, without slowing down at all. That’s great news for long term storage but a nightmare to organise and search – imagine trying to sift through a hundred shoe boxes of photos for a single snap! This is where photo editors can help.
Nearly all cameras come with editing software to take the first step in organising your photo collection – deleting images that you don’t want. Open an editor and most will show the images on your hard drive as miniature ‘thumbnails’. You can browse through these, deleting any duff shots with either the Delete key or by choosing Delete from the File menu.
Time to tag
Once you’ve decided which images to keep, it’s time to organise them. The good news is that your camera has already started to do this for you. Whenever you take a photo, your camera saves digital information (called ‘metadata’) alongside. This metadata includes the exact time and date it was taken – so you should always make sure your camera knows what day it is. Set the date and time on your camera by pressing the Menu button and choosing Set-up. For an instant photographic timeline, try choosing Date or Timeline from your editor’s View or Browse menu.
The other useful way to organise your digital photo collection is with tags or keywords. These are words or categories that you can add to as many of your pictures as you like. For example, you can rate images from one to five stars and note which ones show holidays, pets, weddings or birthdays.
Most editors come with a variety of tags, or you can create your own. To add a tag or keyword, you can right-click on the image and choose the tag, or often just drag the image into a tag menu at the side of the screen. You can also right-click to change the date and time, if your camera wasn’t set up properly.
Editors make it easy to search your images using the tags: simply click on the tick box next to a tag and the programme will display just your baby snaps, or only photos of your model ship collection – whatever you want!
Sizing your snaps
Modern digital cameras capture sharp files that are perfect for printing out. Unfortunately, the same high resolution images are often too large for e-mailing to friends or posting to websites. It’s easy to resize photos, without losing all-important details, using your editor. Select a photo and from the menu, click on Image and Resize. Choose a width of 500 pixels, but let the editor change the height automatically – this ensures your resized image isn’t distorted. Hit OK to resize.
You might also need to crop or rotate your photo. Cropping means digitally trimming the top or sides from an image, and can be done with a Crop or Selection tool. Choose this, then click-and-drag across your image to frame the main subject. Hit OK or choose Crop from the menu to finish.
Rotating a picture is even easier – just choose Rotate from the Image menu. Pick an amount in degrees, but stick to quarter turns (90 degree increments) unless you want a deliberately crooked-looking picture!
With all of these features, if the result isn’t quite what you hoped for, don’t panic. Just choose Undo from the Edit menu and try again. When you’ve finished, always save your new image by choosing File and Save As from the menu. Type in a new name (to avoid over-writing the original image) and, if prompted, pick a quality level of 10 to retain detail. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment: you’ll always have the original, untouched photo to go back to.
Once you’ve mastered these basics, or if you shoot a lot of photos, it’s well worth spending a little more on a dedicated photo editor. In our examples (see xxx), we’re using Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0, but most editing software works in a very similar way.
One advantage of a more advanced editor is that it comes with smart, time-saving features such as Smart or Auto Fix settings. These automatic systems can analyse photos and instantly boost brightness, correct colours and eliminate ‘red eyes’ without you doing anything more than clicking OK to accept the changes.
Packages like Photoshop Elements also let you fine-tune images for yourself. For example, you might want to make a dark image brighter. In Photoshop Elements, click on Enhance then Adjust Lighting and Brightness/Contrast. A pop-window gives you a simple slider to pull one way or the other. As you move it, the image instantly previews your changes – just stop when you’re happy.
You can enhance colours with the Adjust Hue/Saturation option from the same menu: sunsets become richer, pale skin turns into a healthy glow and tired flowers get a new lease of life. And remember, you can always Undo any changes you’ve made, going all the way back to the original image.
Photo software offers much more than just the ability to tweak colours and fix problems. There are dozens of creative effects to be found on the Filter menu. You can add blur, reduce distortion or even turn your photos into Impressionistic paintings, using the same sliders and preview windows. Combine several effects and the only limit is your imagination.
Editors also let you choose and alter individual elements of an image. For instance, you can delete ugly pylons from a landscape or cut and paste a person from one scene to another. See our box out (xxxx) for a sample walk-through but be patient, as getting professional-looking results won’t happen overnight.
Once you’ve spruced up your images on screen, photo editors help you print them out, too. Choosing Print from the File menu brings up a preview of the image – check that you’ve selected the right format (portrait or landscape) and the correct paper. You’ll need a photo quality printer (see our recommendations xxx), stocked with photo paper and the manufacturer’s branded inks. Printing on plain paper or with cheap, generic inks can lead to smudged detail or weak colours, and will risk your precious photos fading over time. Editors also make photo gifts easy: creating albums, labels, greetings cards and T-shirt designs is as easy as selecting a project from the menu and choosing the image you want to feature.
Photo software also offers a host of digital features for the 21st century. If your PC has a CD or DVD recorder, editors let you back up your images for safety, often with just a single click. You should back up your photos (and other important digital files) regularly, as PC hard drives do fail, sometimes without warning.
A DVD recorder can also create video slideshow discs to play back on most home DVD players. Accompanied by your favourite background music or a recorded voice commentary, they’re a world away from the boring slideshows of yesteryear – although you can always fast forward if you want! And for the ultimate in interactivity, why not create a photo slideshow website? Photoshop Elements does all the hard work of resizing images and creating the web code – all you need is some web space to upload it to.