Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

A “Happy Snap” Lightroom workflow

At Halloween last year I was asked to photograph some kids I’ve shot from time to time since they were born. Basically their mum likes to have some up to date photos of the kids and Halloween seemed like as good a time as any to get some shots.

When I’m shooting like this, my aim is to get some good shots but nothing formal and I prefer not to use a flash because I get a better response from the kids without one. I captured the images in raw and I chewed through three small size camera cards in about an hour and a half.

My deal with their mum is that I get to use the photos for my work and she gets a disk of pictures. To keep this fun – so it doesn’t feel like work for me – I need a fast and effective processing workflow.  I need to get the images off my camera, sorted, processed, burned to a DVD and delivered to mum in time for her to enjoy them.

Thanks to Lightroom the process was simple and, in all, I reckon I spent less than 2 hours getting the photos from the camera cards to a DVD. Here is what I call my Happy Snap Lightroom workflow – it’s what I do to quickly process casual snapshots:

Step 1: Determine a plan of attack

To begin with I have some criteria I work by. I never give away substandard photos so anything blurry, out of focus or over exposed gets permanently deleted. Then I sort out the best of the images intending to give mum around 50-60 photos of the kids – it’s a nice range of images for her to use to scrapbook and post to Facebook and it doesn’t over burden her with too many photos to choose from.

Step 2: Download the images

To begin, I download all the images from all three cards into a single folder on my hard drive (if there were only one card I would omit this step).

From there I import the images into Lightroom at the same time copying them to their permanent storage on my external photo drive and making a backup to a second drive. Copying rather than adding images to the Lightroom catalog lets me make backups and also add my metadata to the images so, when they popup on Facebook my copyright details are embedded in them.

Importing all the images in one step also means that when I’ve started the import process – which includes rendering standard previews – I can start working through the images and I don’t have to do it multiple times or switch out cards as I work – (the process works for me – your mileage may vary).

Step 3: Eliminating the duds

The first time I run through the images I am looking for images to delete as well as getting a general look at what I shot.

As I work through the images I’ll press X for images to delete and use the right arrow key to move past everything else. I’ll select to delete all out of focus images, anything where someone has their eyes closed or similar, and anything I don’t want to put my name to!

Once I’m done I choose Photo > Delete Rejected Photos to delete the images from my primary external photo drive. There are still copies on the backup drive and my hard disk but not on my main photo drive.

Step 4: Sorting the usable images

On the second run through the images I pick those I want to use. By now I have a rough idea as to what I have and what I might want to give mum. So this time I run through the images pressing P to pick an image and using the right arrow key to move past those she won’t be getting.

Step 5: Create a Collection

Once done, I isolate the picked images by clicking the first of the filter flag icons above the filmstrip. Then with only the picks visible I press Ctrl + A to select all of them and then click New Collection > Create Collection and type a name for it. Because the images are already selected, I leave the Include Selected Photos checkbox enabled and click Create.

Step 6: Apply initial processing to the images

Now I have a collection of the picks and it’s time to process them. I start out by selecting all the images in Grid View in the Library and from the Quick Develop panel I select Auto Tone. This gives me a head start on fixing them but, because of the lighting, pretty much all of them needed a white balance adjustment.

Step 7: Process in the Develop module

Switching to Develop module with the filmstrip visible I selected the White Balance Selector and then made sure that Auto Dismiss was disabled. This allows me to adjust the white balance on one image and then click on the next one in the filmstrip and continue to adjust the white balance from one image to the next without having to reselect anything. Basically all that most of these images needed was some white balance adjustment.

For those that needed cropping, I cropped as I finished with white balance adjustment and then moved on to the next image. This ensured that each image was dealt with only once as I progressed across the filmstrip.

Step 8: Make one off fixes

So, having fixed the worst of the problems I work backwards through the filmstrip to see if any of the images warrant special attention. If so, I make a call to fix them or simply remove them from the collection. To remove the image, right click it and choose Remove from Collection .

Here I had one issue with a couple of images where one child’s face was in shadow. For this, I used the Adjustment Brush tool at a small size with a large feather radius. I brushed over the areas where her face was in shadow and then adjusted the Brightness and Exposure to lighten to her face. In the same images other faces were overexposed so I added a second Adjustment Brush adjustment with the opposite settings to attempt to deal with this. The final result wouldn’t  stand up to close scrutiny but is just fine for the web and 6 x 4 printing.

Step 9: Export and burn

Once this was done it was time to export the images. Because they’re all in a collection, Ctrl + A selects all the images. I chose File > Export and then exported them as JPG images, 80 percent quality at the largest size and I added sharpening to them in the process. I made sure these images all went to a new folder so that they would be isolated from everything else and easy to find.

From there, it was a matter of launching Ashampoo Burning Studio, grabbing all the images and burning them to a DVD.

This workflow is one giant step better than simply burning the images direct to a DVD. It takes only a little more time with Lightroom to sort and apply some basic fixes to the images and it also means that only the best of the images get circulated and those that do have my copyright information embedded in them.

So now it’s over to you. What’s your “happy snap” workflow? Do you capture snapshots in raw? Do you process using Lightroom? And how do you get your images processed quickly so you’re not spending hours on images that are really just family snapshots?

Helen Bradley

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Templates in Photoshop

A short while ago I wrote an article on using templates to create a collage or montage of images in Gimp. Sometime after, the templates that I suggested you  could use were taken down from the original website.

To help out our Gimp readers, I created a new set of templates and as I was making them, it seemed like a good idea to include instructions for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements as well as for Gimp. Here, therefore is how to use a downloadable template to create a montage of images:

Start by visiting this site and download the template zip file: http://projectwoman.com/articles/45PhotoshopTemplates.html

Then unzip the templates, save them where you can find them when you need to use them and open one of them. I’ve used the template triptych.psd.

When you open it, you’ll find that there are a series of layers. The top layer can be disabled or deleted at this point. The next two layers are instructions for Gimp and Photoshop users. Again, you can discard these two layers.

Open up the three images that you plan to use for this triptych. Images that are in portrait orientation will look best but you can use anything that you like – just be aware that you’re going to take a portrait orientation slice of the image.

In the template, click on Layer A and then click on the first of your images and drag and drop the background layer from the first of your images into the main image.

Click on the Move tool and size and position the image so that the interesting portion of it is over the black background. Click to accept this size and positioning and then with the new layer still selected, choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask. You’ll see that your layer is clipped to the size of the underlying shape.

You can fine-tune the placement and sizing by moving the contents of the new layer.

Now click on Layer B and again drag and drop the background layer from the second image into this template. Again, position the interesting portion of the image over the underlying background, sizing the image if desired. Create the clipping mask for that layer by selecting the image and choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

Repeat this for Layer C using your third image.

When you’re done, you can adjust the background of the image if desired by recoloring the layer marked background recolor if desired. You can now save and print the image or upload it to the web.

This same process can be used in Photoshop Elements.

Helen Bradley

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Ho-Hum to Wow! in Gimp


Some time ago I wrote a blog post http://projectwoman.com/2009/03/photoshop-color-that-packs-a-punch.html which involved using the LAB color space to adjust an image. In the interests of those of you who use Gimp, this blog post is a revisit on the topic of dragging color out of lackluster images this time using Gimp.

One of the hidden secrets of Gimp is that it supports the LAB color space so you can get access to the L, a and b channels in an image. This adjustment therefore produces similar results to those you can achieve with my earlier post using Photoshop it’s just that the process in Gimp is a little different.

Start out with an image that could use a color boost. This image of a statue over a door in Paris is very monochromatic so it’s a great contender for this process.

Start by making sure your Layers panel is visible – if not, choose Window > Dockable Dialogs > Layers (or Control + L) to display it. Right click the Background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. Select this new top layer.

To convert the image to LAB color, choose Colors > Components > Decompose. From the color model dropdown list, select LAB. You will want to decompose to layers so select Decompose To Layers and click Ok.

You’ll have a new image on the screen with three layers. Right now you’ll be looking at the L channel and below it in the Layers palette are the A and B channels.

Disable visibility on the L layer and click the A layer to select it. You should have a dark murky almost negative looking image on this layer. Choose Colors > Curves and adjust the curves by dragging the top right and bottom left points on the curve one, two or three boxes inwards on the grid. You can read off the values so pairs of values  like (30,0) and (225,255) or (64,0) and (191,255) are good.

You need to make sure the line goes through the middle of the grid, or you will get an unwanted color cast in the final image. This A channel controls the Magenta and Green in the image and you’re boosting it now to very high levels. Click Ok.

Repeat this by disabling the visibility on the A channel and do the same on the B channel. This is the Yellow/Blue channel. When you’re done, turn back on the visibility of all three channels. You should see no difference in the image at this stage.

If desired, you can adjust the contrast in the L channel using curves – this will give you some additional boost in contrast in the final image. The L channel is the luminosity channel and it has no color in it at all so you can create a different shape curve here and there is no requirement for the line to go through the middle of the grid.

When you’re done, choose Colors > Components > Recompose. The layers will be recomposed back into the original image.

To see it, you will need to close the LAB version and return to your original image. Because you’re working on a duplicate layer, you can now blend the top layer by selecting a different blend mode such as Overlay for the top layer and then adjust down the Opacity to suit.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Create a collage in Gimp

One task I perform regularly in Photoshop and Lightroom is to assemble multiple images on a single page for printing.  I love displaying my photos, for example, as triptychs –which are three side by side images.

I’ve posted before on the process in Lightroom here (http://projectwoman.com/2009/07/creating-a-triptych-in-lightroom.html) and here (http://projectwoman.com/2009/10/how-to-select-and-compose-a-triptych-in-lightroom.html)and today I’ll show you how to do this in Gimp using a set of templates I have created for you and that you can download free.

These templates work with both Gimp and Photoshop and you can find them here: http://projectwoman.com/articles/45PhotoshopTemplates.html

Unzip the files and open the one to use in Gimp along with the images that you want to use. I’m using the Triptych.psd file.

Start by viewing the template you are using and, in the Layers palette select and discard the top three layers which include the instructions for using the template in Gimp and in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

Select the first of your images, choose Select > All  and then select > Edit > Copy to copy the image to the clipboard.

In the template click on the layer marked A and choose Edit > Paste as > New Layer. This pastes the image from the clipboard into the layer immediately above layer A.

Click the Move tool (set it to Layer) and drag the image over the top of the shape on the right. If desired, click the Scale tool and scale the image to size it larger than the black rectangle.

Move the portion of the image that you’re most interested in seeing over the shape.

Now, to crop the image to size, click layer A, right click and choose Alpha to Selection.

Now select the Clipboard layer that you’ve been working on, choose Select > Invert and press Delete.

The image will be clipped to size using the template shape as a guide to the size. Choose Select > None before continuing.

Repeat this process for layers B and C – select and copy the image to use, click the layer you’re working with (B or C) and choose Edit > Paste As > New Layer.

Move the image into position and scale it if desired. When scaling, making sure to lock the width and height so that the image is scaled in proportion.

Right click the layer you’re working with – Layer B (or C) and choose Alpha To Selection. Click your newest clipboard layer and choose Select > Invert and then Delete.

When you are done you should have all 3 images in position.

This image has a background layer behind the pictures which currently shows white. If you prefer to add a solid color behind everything, delete this layer and add a new layer filled with your choice of color. Here I’ve added a new dark grey filled layer.

You can finish off the design with some text or simply save the resulting image.

These storyboard templates are a good place to start with your picture layouts. You can find similar templates elsewhere on the web so start with a search for “Free Photoshop Clipping Mask Templates” or “Free Storyboard templates”


Helen Bradley

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Pattern fills for your Excel 2007 charts

In Excel 2003 and now in Excel 2010 , there are pattern fills which you can use to fill chart bars so your charts print just great in black and white.

Unfortunately the same feature was removed from Excel 2007 – wtf? I have no clue why but it was but it has to be a very silly thing to have done.

If you are using Excel 2007 and you need to use pattern fills with a chart you are out of luck – well not really – you just need to read the rest of this tip because I can tell you how to put the fills back into Excel 2007.

To begin, download this handy add-in: http://officeblogs.net/excel/PatternUI.zip 

Update: This link is no longer live so patternui.zip is not longer available. You can find an add-in here (with instructions which achieves the same thing) courtesy of Andy Pope.

The zip file contains a single file patternUI.xlam which you need to extract and place somewhere you will find it easily and where it won’t get deleted by accident. You could make an Excel add-ins folder for it, for example.

Once you’ve done this, open Excel 2007 and choose the Office button > Excel Options > Add-ins and from the Manage dropdown list, select Excel Add-ins and click Go. This opens the old Add-ins dialog from earlier versions of Excel. Click Browse and locate the .xlam file that you just unzipped and placed somewhere safe. Select it and click Ok. Ensure that the PatternUI option appears in the Add-ins available list and that it is checked and click Ok.

Now create an Excel chart. Once you have you chart, click on the data series to fill with a pattern – if you have a single series plotted then select just one of the columns at a time. Select the Chart Tools > Format tab and notice that you now have an option called Patterns available. Click the Patterns option and select a pattern to apply to the currently selected chart series or column. Click on each series or column in turn and apply a pattern to it. When you are done, you can print your chart as usual.

Installed add-ins are managed automatically by Excel so you will find that the add-in will still be there and accessible next time you use Excel.

If you are using Excel 2010 you don’t need this add-in as the pattern fills are back where they should have been all the time.

Helen Bradley

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Outlook 2010: backup gets worse (if that’s possible)

If you thought Microsoft has, over the years, right royally messed up the process of backing up your Outlook PST files then the situation with Outlook 2010 has only got worse.

For Outlook 2002, 2003 and 2007 users Microsoft provided a Personal Folders Backup Tool that you could download from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=9003 which would install a backup routine into Outlook.

Having done this you could then select File > Backup to backup your PST file.

Over the years of course, this has prompted questions as to why the thing wasn’t built in to Outlook in the first place? It is a stupid and ill-considered omission in my book, but let’s put that aside for now because the problem only gets worse for Outlook 2010 users.

You see the Personal Folders Backup Add-In doesn’t work with Outlook 2010.

As I say repeatedly it’s Microsoft’s world and we just live in it. Microsoft knows that there’s a problem and explains that the failure of the add-in is due to the new fast shutdown functionality in Outlook. If you visit this website http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2030523 you can click the Fix It For Me link and Microsoft will fix the problem for you.

Don’t even bother asking why there is a problem in the first place. There should be (and it’s inexcusable that there is not)  a backup routine built in to Outlook to make it easy for you to backup your PST file.

Consider this – everything you receive or send via email is in that PST file – and that includes attachments! Lose it and you lose the lot. Worse still, there is a physical limit to its size – beyond around 2GB the thing can become horribly unstable. So you will need to back it up or risk losing it all if your computer crashes or the thing becomes corrupt.

So, if your using Outlook 2010, run (don’t walk) to this site: http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=9003 and download and install the Personal Folders Back up tool for Outlook 2002, 2003 and 2007 (yep! I know you’re using Outlook 2010! Then go to this site: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2030523 and run the Fix It Tool – you have to have the backup tool installed first.

If you don’t like clicking Fix It buttons then there’s a detailed explanation in that same Knowledge Base article explaining how to fix the problem manually – basically it’s a fairly simple registry fix.

Helen Bradley

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Photoshop – Free Valentine heart shapes download

free download 14 valentine heart shapes for photoshop

I’ve been messing around in Photoshop this week making heart shapes. As a result I wrote a blog post to show you how to make these shapes yourself.

Just in case you want to take the easy way out, here is a free download with a collection of 14 hearts just in time for you to use for Valentine’s Day projects.

As with all  my downloads, you are free to use them for non commercial purposes, they may not be given away, they may only be downloaded from this site. Commercial licenses are available by request.

Helen Bradley

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Cool Photoshop Textures – free – commercial use

One of the biggest problem designers and graphic artists have is in finding content that can be used commercially. It often seems that even content you pay for you have to jump through hoops to read the fine print to determine what exactly you can do with it and it often  has overly restrictive limits.

Today I found a great site. Great because of a number of things:

1. The content is free.

2. The textures are gorgeous and varied and hi-res.

3. You are free to use them for commercial purposes.

4. Attribution is appreciated but not required.

Verbatim, here is the terms of use: “Lost & Taken textures are made freely available for use in both personal and commercial projects including web templates, designs, and other materials intended for distribution. Attribution is appreciated, but not required.”

The textures fall into a  number of categories including: Vintage damask, torn paper, skin, bubbles, wallpaper, book covers, subtle grunge and lots more. Check out the vintage wallpaper ones on the home page they are so totally cool.

To view and download textures head to the Gallery.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Microsoft PowerPoint – Free!

If you don’t already own Microsoft PowerPoint 2010, did you know you can download a 30 day trial version for free from Microsoft?

PowerPoint comes bundled with Office 2010 and the entire downloadable trial version of Office is available from the Microsoft web site. If you like what you see, you can purchase the full version later on.

If you like PowerPoint but can’t afford to shell out for the suite, why not settle for a cut down version – free – available online? You can find PowerPoint at www.skydrive.com sign in using a Windows Live ID – if you don’t have one (but you probably will), you can sign up for one here. Then click the Office link at the top of the page and you can choose to create a new PowerPoint presentation online.

The PowerPoint tools are a cut down version of the full PowerPoint program but they are all you need to get a good start on a presentation – you even have access to a range of great looking themes to kick start your presentation.

Better still you can share your PowerPoint presentation with others so they can view it and even edit it online and you can download the finished file to your computer. Of course, your files are stored online too so you can access them any time you like and Microsoft gives you a hefty 25GB of online storage – more than enough to create all the presentations you’re ever likely to need.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Kawaii Panda Shape – free download

I’ve been messing around today making shapes in Photoshop. This is my final Panda Kawaii shape which I’m offering as a free downloadable shape that you can import into Photoshop and use yourself.

I find shapes are easiest to build up from pieces so I make each piece then build them up bit by bit into the final shape by combining the paths. It’s painstaking work but ultimately rewarding to have a custom shape you can use anytime and scale to any size.

Here is the link to download the shape file – you can use the shape for your own designs but you aren’t permitted to sell the shape or offer it for download from your own site.

Helen Bradley

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