Digital Innovations
Real Or Photoshop?
Is That An Illustration Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?

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Acclaim Software's Focus Magic is as close to magic as it gets by helping minimize and sometimes eliminate blurred photographs caused by camera or subject movement. As a photographer who shoots too many images handheld at slow shutter speeds, it has become an indispensable power tool.
Photos © 2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

"Vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu."--Lucretius (96-55 B.C.)

I happen to think that the process of making photographs extends beyond snapping a shutter. Manipulating images has been a part of the photographic process since Julia Margaret Cameron got her first camera, yet when computers are involved, it sets the purists' "hair on fire." Recently, the appearance of one of my motorcycle images on a photographic website generated these comments:
"Once you change an image it ceases to be a photograph, even if all you do is sharpen it." I thought that was strong until I read, "Resorting to Photoshop tricks just means you're not a good enough photographer to actually capture the image." Ouch, that one hurt, but I especially enjoyed: "Let's say you take a photograph and manipulate it in some software program. If the end result is 50 percent photograph and 50 percent manipulation, you are only half the photographer you think you are."

One photojournalism fan put it this way, "Putting anything new in a photograph makes it an illustration. Taking objectionable items out does not debase its basic photographic nature." So let me get this straight: Removing a telephone pole is OK as, I assume, was the 1970s Denver Post photo editor who airbrushed a prize bull's photograph to hide its cojonés. I can tell you this; the bull's owner was not amused. Then there was a comment that "Photoshopped images are drawings, not photographs." After all these years of not being able to draw stick figures, I can finally draw! Mom would have been proud. Finally, there was this Rodney King-like statement I sorta agree with, "Why don't we just call it all Art?"

Dynamic Skin Softener is part of the Complete Edition of nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 and lets you use a few simple sliders to smooth skin tones affected, while areas such as eyes and lips remain sharp.

Fuzzy Pictures?
When my friend Michael got a new digital SLR, he e-mailed me saying that most of his pictures were "out of focus." I asked, "What are your shutter speeds? Are you sure you're not seeing camera movement?" Hand holding cameras at slow shutter speeds is easier for some photographers than others, and that's why a sturdy tripod is a useful accessory when image sharpness is critical. Acclaim Software's (www.focusmagic.com) Eric Schwerzel believes that 60 percent of blurred photographs are caused by motion and developed a Photoshop compatible plug-in called Focus Magic that reinstates as much of the original "in focus" image as possible, allowing it to recover detail from photographs blurred by movement.

How does it work? The short answer is pretty good, but it's ultimately dependent on how much camera movement there is. Focus Magic is not a miracle worker, but it improves images for which there is otherwise no hope, which earned it a place in my personal list of must-have plug-ins. A free trial version can be downloaded from Acclaim's website and allows up to 10 images to be sharpened. Focus Magic costs $45 to register and is available as a stand-alone Windows program and Photoshop compatible plug-in. A Mac OS version is available as a package of two plug-ins, one for images blurred by motion blur, the other for out-of-focus photographs.

The latest nik Color Efex Pro plug-ins include a "Traditional" filter called Classical Soft Focus that now offers three different soft focus modes with two sliders instead of one allowing you to maintain as much skin detail as you like while smoothing and softening. Classical Soft Focus still includes the basic Zeiss Softar-style soft focus but adds modes that add warmth and glow, making it a good bet for glamour images like this one.

Digital Skin?
I've seen Photoshop tutorials that purport to show you how to create "perfectly smooth skin," but every one I've tried accomplished this goal by obliterating detail and creating an unnatural look. Here are some power tools that put you in control.

The nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 (www.nikmultimedia.com) includes a new filter called Dynamic Skin Softener. First use the eyedropper tool to select skin color; adjust the Color Reach slider to encompass the range of skin tones affected; then move the Soften Strength slider which lets areas such as eyes and lips remain sharp. Like all of the new Color Efex Pro 2.0 filters, Dynamic Skin Softener includes multiple preview windows allowing you to compare "before and after" images in adjacent horizontal or vertical windows with individual zoom controls for previewing image detail.

Previously my favorite nik Color Efex Pro filter for smoothing skin was Classical Blur, which was a bit of a misnomer, because it was really a soft focus filter in the mode of a Zeiss Softar camera filter. In Version 2.0, it's been reworked, expanded, and re-named as Classical Soft Focus and now includes three different soft focus modes with two sliders instead of one, allowing you to maintain as much skin detail as you like while smoothing and softening. Which one of these two filters is best? I like both, and choose between them based on the mood I'm trying to produce. Dynamic Skin Softener is easier to use and produces realistic effects for portraits, while Classical Soft Focus is a good bet for glamour images.

Easy Media Creator 7 has a common user interface design and a shared set of utilities for common tasks such as copying discs, importing photos, capturing videos, making "labels" as well as a utility for organizing, finding, and accessing files.

More Than Burning CDs
Roxio's (www.roxio.com) Easy Media Creator 7 combines photo, video, and music capabilities along with CD/DVD burning in an integrated suite for Microsoft Windows. I don't know about you, but whenever I burn CDs using Windows XP, I end up copying lots of duplicate files that can't be opened; confusing my clients and making me look like a dummy. (OK, maybe that part is easy.) Easy Media Creator 7 includes an enhanced burning engine along with PhotoSuite 7 Platinum, VideoWave 7 Professional, and the newly reborn Napster. Consider it the Windows version of Apple's iLife. All the programs have a common user interface design and a shared set of utilities for common tasks such as copying discs, importing photos, capturing videos, and making labels, as well as utilities for organizing, finding, and accessing files. Label Creator produces great-looking disc artwork and includes the ability to print directly on CDs with supported printers. I especially liked StoryBoard; it can create slide shows combining photographs and video clips with narration, background music, and special effects. Its Motion Pictures feature adds pans, zooms, and motion to still photos a la Ken Burns. Easy Media Creator does all this for less than $100.

Roxio's new Toast with Jam 6 includes all the capabilities of Toast 6 Titanium, but adds audio capabilities such as Dolby Digital Hollywood-style encoding and decoding, the ability to record 36 hours of music onto a single DVD, and DJ-style mixing and mastering.

Mac OS users should use Roxio's new Toast with Jam 6. (I last wrote about Toast 6 Titanium in the December, 2003, Shutterbug.) It includes all the capabilities of Toast 6 Titanium, such as ToastAnywhere, which enables sharing of CD or DVD burners across a network; Plug & Burn that lets you create Video CDs or DVDs automatically from DV camcorder content; and Motion Pictures that can add pan and zoom effects to photographs. Toast with Jam 6 includes Dolby Digital Hollywood-style encoding and decoding software that lets you squeeze more than two hours of video on a DVD (that works in standard DVD players) while maintaining audio fidelity and video quality.

DVD Music Album lets you record more than 36 hours of music onto a single DVD. Jam 6 includes DJ-style mixing and mastering software that produces mixes with smooth crossfades and BIAS Peak Express stereo editing software to enhance and clean audio files and video soundtracks. Jam 6 can be purchased as a stand-alone product and installed without Toast, as an upgrade to Toast for $99.95, or a separate package for $199.95.

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