Once, picture manipulation was the designer's preserve. Now, there are a number of software products to choose from. Hugh John reports
So, all in all, a successful school trip. None of the kids got lost, the minibus wasn't trashed - just a shedful of empty crisp packets and cola cans to clear up. And the new digital camera seemed to work well enough. After all, it stood up to the rigours of teenage enthusiasm.
But what's this? Many of the pictures taken could certainly do with a little, er, enhancement. Young Jimmy looks as if he's spent the afternoon down the pub - he never had those red eyes when the photo was taken, did he? And Mary? She looks a little blurry, well, more, sort of I ghostly.
Modern camera technology can't entirely pre-empt human fallibility, but the appropriate software can go a long way towards ameliorating its effects. Redeye, inexact focusing, smudged lenses, even poor composition, can all, to some extent, be remedied. Capturing an image in digital form is only the first step in the creative process. Pictures, once taken, can be loaded onto the computer and manipulated in an image-editing suite.
Digital photography software performs a number of key functions that are particularly suited to the needs of schools. The first could be defined as restorative. Images can be digitally enhanced and corrected, resized, sharpened, colour balanced and cropped. In practical terms, this means that mistakes made through inexperience or lack of technical skill - in other words, the sort that children are likely to make - can be corrected.
The second function is artistic enhancement and allows users to subject the original image to an array of effects that range from subtle to downright caricature. Skewed, sliced, diced, inverted, cloned, elongated, twisted - it's alarming quite what can be done to the human form in digital representation. It's also great fun for children, and highly stimulating. A well-designed image editing suite should contain tools which can restore and enhance pictures with the minimum of fuss in the least time possible. It should also be able to deal with a wide selection of graphic file formats. Fortunately, there are a number of reasonably priced programs that fulfil these criteria.
Photoshop, Adobe's flagship product, remains the photo-editing choice of professionals and version 5.0 with multiple undos, layers and a multiplicity of effects, is a significant upgrade. Such sophistication, however, doesn't come cheap and many schools may baulk at the asking price. There is an alternative. Adobe PhotoDeluxe, could fairly be described as a cut-down version of Photoshop and contains many of the same core tools - layers, colour correction, text overlay - with the advantage of built-in cue cards and guided activities to assist the inexperienced user. Three other image-editing suites worth mentioning are PhotoSuite II, PaintShop Pro and Satori XL. PhotoSuite II comes with Internet connectivity (Internet Explorer) for connection to the MGI website, where it is possible to download a range of additional tools and, presumably, future updates. Potential buyers unable to spare the 100Mb of disk space that this entails can still buy the previous version, without Explorer, at a significantly reduced price.
PaintShop Pro has a good range of effects including emboss, sharpen, dodge, as well as layers technology, which allows the user to edit and preview effects quickly and creatively.
Satori PhotoXL is an excellent program with features one might expect from far more expensive software. It is also astonishingly fast. Microsoft's home offering is Picture It! 99, while its more comprehensive product, PhotoDraw 2000, should be available by Christmas.
Two other companies that produce innovative imaging software are MetaTools and Extensis. Kai's PhotoSoap and SuperGoo are, despite their initially strange interfaces, powerful image manipulators. Extensis offers a superb range of software that can be applied either within Photoshop (PhotoTools, MaskPro) or used as standalones (PhotoFrame).
And finally, although some image editors contain compilation and retrieval tools, any school intending to establish an extensive archive of digital photographs should consider some form of dedicated cataloguing software. All those beautiful and painstakingly edited pictures and no way of finding them! Consider NBA PhotoWallet, K5 Photo or Extensis Portfolio. These three programs provide flexible and well designed tools for managing large digital databases.
Adobe Photoshop Pounds 671 Adobe PhotoDeluxe Pounds 58 0181 606 4001 www.adobe.co.uk
PhotoSuite II Pounds 49 PhotoSuite 8 Pounds 19.99 0171 365 0034 www.mgisoft. com
PaintShop Pro Pounds 69.95 01295 258 335 www.jasc.com
Satori XL Pounds 120 01954 261 333 www.satoripaint.com
Picture It! 99 Pounds 49.99 PhotoDraw 2000 Pounds 100 0345 002 000 www.microsoft.comoffice
Kai's PhotoSoap Pounds 47 0181 358 5857 www.metatools.com
Extensis Portfolio Pounds 73 0181 358 5857 www.extensis.com
NBA PhotoWallet Pounds 80 01483542 100 www.digital-cameras.com
K5 Photo Pounds 173 01117 929 4555 www.keybase.co.uk
Digital Photography for Dummies Pounds 23.99 0181 579 2652
ISBN 0-7645-0294-8 www.dummies.com Photoshop 5 Bible Pounds 42.99 0181 579 2652 ISBN 0-7645-3231-6 www.idgbooks.com
The amount of information stored in the image. The higher the resolution, the better the picture. Resolution is measured in pixels.
Pixels and Megapixel images
Pixels (picture elements) are the smallest component of an image. A megapixel image contains more than one million pixels. For example, an image that is 1280 pixels wide by 960 tall (1280 x 960 = 1,228,800 pixels).
Images are stored in a variety of formats, the most popular being: 1. TIFF: Tagged Image File Format
2. JPEG: (Joint Photographic Experts Group) images are compressed. However, in taking less disk space, they lose quality.
3. GIF: (Graphics Interchange Format) Along with JPEG, this is the most popular file format used on the Web.
4. PICT: A popular Apple Mac format.
This is a function that allows the camera user to take extremely close shots.
This is the fiendish glow caused by camera flash being reflected off the back of the retina.
Liquid Crystal Displays on a camera back allow the user to preview and edit images before they are downloaded on to the computer.