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Archive | May, 2008

Plugging into Photoshop & Elements with Image Doctor 2

Alien Skin Software gave me a chance at Photoshop World to test drive their latest plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. I’ve been playing with Image Doctor 2 for a bit now and I want to tell you what I have discovered about it.

First, let me say right off the top that this is not cheap software. Image Doctor 2 retails for $199. If you are a Photoshop Elements user, that may seem an insane amount to spend on a plug-in for a base program that cost $100 or less. Usually I would agree without hesitation but Image Doctor 2 is made up of a specific set of tools that would possibly make it a good investment for anyone who takes high volumes of photos and edits heavily – or wants to but can’t get the hang of the skill set.

I’d never worked with a plug-in before but installing Image Doctor into Photoshop Elements 6 for Windows was simple. Once installed, it showed up in my list of filters. To use it, I just select Image Doctor from the filter list and that takes me into the plug-in’s tools.

Many of tools in Image Doctor do things that you can already do in Elements if you have the skill and the time. But Image Doctor 2 makes them easier and faster – a real plus if you need to cut your editing time or want to improve the results you are getting.

For instance, with Image Doctor’s Smart Fill tool I was able to remove objects from my photos and get results that I have never been able to get before from using PSE with tools like the Clone Stamp Tool. And I was able to do it in only a few minutes, where with PSE’s built-in tools it can take eons of minute adjustment to get unsatisfactory results.

I was thrilled with the results working on this picture below. I took it at Epcot in the Japanese pavilion. Of course, in a place like that it is hard to avoid getting people in your picture. Using Image Doctor, I was able to get results I was satisfied with when I tried to remove the people.

Before:

japan-pavillion-1_web

After:

japan-pavillion-2_web

Several of Image Doctor’s tools are intended for portrait use – the skin softener and blemish concealer tools. I put these to work on a super close-up picture that my 4 year old took of my husband. Under those shooting conditions we could all use a little help (especially a guy with five o’clock shadow) and I was pleased with the results that I achieved. I was able to turn a random preschool shutter click into an affectionate portrait of my husband with some skin softening and some blemish removal.

Before:

face-1_web

After:

face-2_web

The fourth tool in the Image Doctor 2 tool set is the JPEG Repair tool, which can help improve the quality of over-compressed images.

I’ve just scratched the surface of what this program can do with these tools, but the repairs I did above are ones I know that are common among scrapbookers. The tools have many adjustments and custom settings that allow for getting just the result the photographer wants from their image. And of course, when they are done, they just exit the tool box back to PSE!

If you frequently edit the people or things in your photos to improve the image (or would like to), Image Doctor is unquestionably a powerful tool to have in your photo editing  toolbox. It will save you time and get most users better results than they could achieve on their own.  I am certainly getting a lot of use out of it. If you can get past the sticker shock (especially as an Elements user), I’d highly recommend it. A free 30 day trial of Image Doctor is available via the Alien Skin web
site if you’d like to try it out before deciding if it is worth the price.

Image Doctor 2 is available to purchase by download from Alien Skin Software’s website, or from Amazon.com. It works on the Windows or Macintosh system platforms, and is compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS2 or later, Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 or later (Windows), Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 or later (Mac), Adobe Fireworks CS3, or Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2.

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Can Home Decor Help Scrapbooking In The Economic Downturn?

History tells us with gas prices (and the price of everything else) going up, people will turn to “nesting”. Since we can’t afford to go anywhere or do anything else, the DIY bug hits and we turn our attention to saving money by doing things ourselves while at the same time making our home environment that we are stuck in better.This is especially true with the slumping housing market. None of us can afford to move so we work on making what we have better.

So how does scrapbooking fit into all of this? The scrapbook trend was waning before the economic crisis hit. Now with most consumers having to cut back on discretionary spending, hobby expenditures of all kinds take a hit. But scrapbooking can fight back, if it tries to take advantage of the new “nesting” mindset that comes with the bad economy.

First, scrapbooking can be relatively affordable compared to some hobbies. Yes, it can get expensive if a person wants to let it be. But it can also be done at a very basic level with very affordable basic supplies. Emphasizing some affordable scrapbooking techniques in magazines and in store and manufacturer marketing would go a long way towards dispelling the image of the “scrapbook princess” with more supplies than she can ever use.

But there is a second way and it is a market that the scrapbook industry has been toying with already: home decor. Scrapbook supplies such as patterned paper can be used to create custom items to decorate homes. Donna Downey wrote a whole book about this in her “Yes, It’s a Scrapbook!” series and PaperCrafts Magazine shows projects like this regularly as well. These projects are usually presented as gift ideas for scrapbookers to make to give to others, but in reality in the current climate they could represent a whole new market to bring people into the scrapbook market, even if they aren’t going to create a scrapbook with the materials.

Difficult times require thinking outside of the box. In this case, thinking outside of the scrapbook may be what is required. We may not make scrapbookers out of home decor customers. But if they put money in the till at a time that it is desperately needed, does it really matter?

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What Can Shutterfly Do For Scrapbookers?

I’ve been a Shutterfly customer for photo printing for quite some time now, but this time of year is one when I make heavy use of one of my favorite of their products – photo books – so I decided it was time to tell you all about why I am a Shutterfly fan.

First off, I know that Shutterfly is not the cheapest photo service out there. But I always have felt like I am paying for better quality when I use Shutterfly, and since my photos are important to me I am willing to pay a bit more to get the best printing. Plus, I try to keep an eye out for, and take advantage of, the frequent discount coupons that Shutterfly runs once you join their site. These range from amounts off of minimum orders, free shipping, or discounts on certain items. I almost never pay full price because I print my photos in batches when I get the special offers!

Turn around time on print orders is fast and I like the ability to share items easily with other people. One thing that does bug me about the web interface is the fact that I can only seem to get it to work in Internet Explorer and not in the Mozilla Firefox browser that I normally use. That is a pain but once I remember to switch browsers the experience is very user-friendly. I like that I can easily do basic effects like red-eye and cropping if I don’t want to put an image through my Photoshop Elements program first, or if I realize that I missed an edit in that program that I should have made before uploading.

For me though, the thing that really keeps me coming back to Shutterfly is their amazing photo books. The books can be made in two ways, either with their simple wizard that guides you through the process of selecting page details and pictures, or by uploading already completed digital scrapbook pages. I’ve never tried the process of creating a book from digital scrapbook pages, but I have made books in almost every available size from the template process and been thrilled with the results every time!

Shutterfly has been constantly adding to their library of templates and background designs, including bringing Creating Keepsakes in to design some special books. The options are seemingly endless and even within a chosen template style, there are so many options that no two books would be alike. Users choose the number of photos on a page and their size and layout, journaling fonts and options, photo borders, and digital background “papers”. The user interface allows for custom cropping of photos right in the album construction to make the photos fit the selected template and show the exact part that you want seen. If you need ideas for your book, Shutterfly recently introduced a gallery where users can share their photo books with each other.

For me, one of the best parts of these books is that they can be created quickly and I can print duplicates! Every single book that I have made, I have had multiple copies printed because I was using them for gifts. One was a Father’s Day gift for my husband and his dad containing the pictures from their trip to Augusta for a Master’s Practice Round. I printed copies for each of them. Another book I made was a special storybook for my 4 year old daughter containing pictures of her and her best friend during their school day together, showing what they do. I printed copies for both of them.

My most shared book, though, has been the one that I made for my daughter’s teacher and classroom aides as gifts at the end of last year. My daughter is just completing her second year in a special needs pre-k program for children with autism and other developmental delays. The classes are small and the staff is very devoted to the children, treating them like their own. I spend a lot of time in her classroom and usually take pictures during my visits. I used those pictures at the end of the year last year to create a custom yearbook for the class. It had all the kids in it and had pictures of most of the big events of the year, including everything from the first day to the last day of school and field trips.

I printed copies of the book for the teacher and two aides, and one for my daughter. Then I shared via email the book with all the parents that I could from the class so they could order a copy if they wanted! The staff loved the book and I even heard from the other pre-k teachers later about how much they loved it after it was shared with them!

I wish I could share the book but of course to protect the privacy of the children I can’t. I can however share the book I made for my guys with their gorgeous pictures from the Masters trip: Masters Pilgrimage

The books are surprisingly durable. The 8.5 x 11 one that I had printed for my daughter at Christmas time this year is one of her favorite books. She loves to read the story I wrote about her and her friend at school. The book gets a lot of rough handling and so far is barely the worse for wear in over 5 months.

If you are interested in the business model of Shutterfly, Newsweek recently had a great article about Shutterfly’s business operations.

I’ll be spending a lot of time on Shutterfly in the next few weeks as I work on getting pictures uploaded for the new school album and creating it. Come join me with the 25 free prints below – you’ll love what you can create!

Shutterfly.com 565x90

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A Call to Action on Orphan Works Bill!

Now is the time to make your voice heard on the Orphan Works legislation that is in front of Congress. (For information on its disastrous effects for the scrapbook industry’s creative people, see previous articles Hear More About Orphan Works Legislation and Legal Expert Weighs In On Orphan Works.)

There is a long list of artists’ organizations opposing this legislation:

American Society of Illustrators Partnership

  • The Illustrators Partnership of America
  • The Society of Illustrators New York
  • The American  Society of Architectural Illustrators
  • The Association of Medical Illustrators
  • The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators
  • The American Society of Aviation Artists
  • The Illustrators Club of Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia
  • The Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators
  • The National Cartoonists Society
  • The San Francisco Society of Illustrators
  • The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles
  • The Society of Illustrators of San Diego

The Advertising Photographers of America (APA National) and 10 Chapters:

  • APA New York
  • APA Los Angeles
  • APA San Francisco
  • APA San Diego
  • APA Northwest (Seattle)
  • APA Midwest (Chicago)
  • APA Atlanta
  • APA Charlotte,
  • APA Kansas City
  • APA Washington, DC

The Artists Rights Society of New York (representing 40,000 fine artists worldwide)
The Professional Women Photographers, Inc.
The Editorial Photographers of America
National Press Photographers Association

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
The Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives
The Artists Foundation

The Craft and Hobby Association (representing the $31 billion craft industry)
SURTEX/George Little Management
Art of Licensing Listserve
Society of Decorative Painters
Southeastern Pastel Society

Society of Digital Artists

National Association of Independent Artists
Wellington Art Society
Palm Beach County Art Society

Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communication
Rassemblement des Artistes en Arts Visuels
Association de Illustrateurs et Illustratrices du Quebec
Creators’ Rights Alliance

The length of that list, however, does not reduce the need for members of Congress (both the Senate and the House) to hear from their individual constituents that they oppose the bill. To find out how to contact your House or Senate member by email, go to Senate.gov or House.gov. Make sure to include the bill numbers (HR5889 and S2913) in your contact to make it easier for them to log your communication correctly.

It only takes a few moments to drop your lawmakers an email and tell them how you feel about this. You can make a difference. Don’t forget they work for you – but only if you tell them what you want!

On June 4th and 5th a group of artists representing those opposed to this legislation will be assembling in Washington, D.C. to meet with various members of Congress about Orphan Works. If you would like to take part in this effort, please contact Joanne Fink or Marisa Shapiro at graphics@lakeside-design.com

Many thanks to Mike Hartnett at CLNOnline and Brenda Pinnick for their contributions to this piece.

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Follow-up on Themed Products in Magazines

Last week I wrote about the absence of themed products in magazines. Yesterday I decided to sit down with the four current issues of scrapbooking magazines that I have and quantify exactly how absent those products were from the magazine pages. Despite my previous writing lamenting the products’ invisibility, even I was a little surprised at what I found.

The four magazines that I had were:

  • Scrapbooks Etc May/June 2008
  • Creating Keepsakes June 2008
  • Simple Scrapbooks May/June 2008
  • Memory Makers May/June 2008

Although I also had the current issue of Digital Scrapbooking, I did not include it in the survey because style and products are a bit different in the digital scrapbooking realm.

Each of the magazines had only around a half-dozen or fewer layouts that featured themed products in any way. (I didn’t count florals.) In most cases the “themed” product was a tiny journaling sticker or other very small element. Three of the four magazines included articles on themed pages in which none of the example layouts in the article included a single themed product related to that theme.

Here’s how the survey broke down by publication:

Scrapbooks Etc, May/June 2008:
I counted 6 layouts that included themed products of any type (Dad p.6, School p.31, Bahia p.33, Hilton Head p.63, My Dad p.66 and Road Trip p.94). The issue includes a feature on creating materials to celebrate graduation that doesn’t include a single themed product.

Interestingly, the Show & Tell section from 42-46 included some themed products, such as the SRM Press Express Yourself Mother’s Day stickers on page 46, that I can’t imagine seeing in the other editorial pages of the magazine. I wonder if they realize that this makes these picks look even more like ads.

Creating Keepsakes, June 2008
I counted only four layouts in the general editorial content of the magazine that used themed products: Just Add Water p.62, Day Trip p.63, Animal House p.64 and Rough & Tumble p.70.

This issue included three themed feature stories. I can’t knock CK for not using themed products in the wedding themed 4 Products column, since the point of the column is to use the specific products, which weren’t wedding themed. The pet feature on page 23 featured no themed products in its layouts. The summer play feature on page 61 featured only one layout with themed products (Animal House, page 64).

Ironically, both of these themed features were accompanied by invitations to enter giveaways of product packages themed to the articles! I can’t figure out how Creating Keepsakes gets advertisers to donate for these packages when literally none of the accompanying art shows any of these products, or similar products, in use.

Simple Scrapbooks, May/June 2008
This publication, perhaps in being true to its name, featured more use of themed products than any of the three other magazines in these issues. These included Love p.26, 1 p.27, Ready 4 Summer p.27, Everyday Everyway p.28, two Disney layouts on page 31, Happy Everything p.88, First Time p.90, and Lagoda p.97.

Simple Scrapbooks was the only publication to have a themed article that focused on using themed products: their Simple Shortcuts column on using album kits that included Disney samples. But they also fell into the trend of having a themed article with no themed product in it, with their feature on Birthdays on page 77.

Memory Makers, May/June 2008
Memory Makers showed up with 7 layouts that included themed products, including two digital ones from their baby gallery starting on page 65. The other 5 layouts were: They’re off p.34, Goodbye & Hello p.80, 2nd Chance at Love p.83, 3 Good Years p.85 and School’s Out p.90. (The last one was part of their Get It Done feature – using themed products as time savers, similar to Simple Scrapbooks.)

The Baby Gallery that started on page 65 included only two layouts, both digital, which included themed product. That seems especially a shame given the huge amount of themed products – many of them absolutely gorgeous – available in that category.

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