Software & Hardware For Your Inner Photographer; Black & White And Read All Over

“I used to hate doing color. I hated transparency film. The way I did color was by not wanting to know what kind of film was in my camera.”—Helmut Newton

Basking in a post-photokina gizmo haze and with dreams of PMA sugar plums still dancing on our dreams amid echoes of “Auld Lang Syne” and Wallace Shawn shouting, “Beware evildoers, wherever you are!” still in my ears, it’s time to face a new year with a smile on our faces and a taste of champagne lingering on our lips. This column also marks a personal milestone and is my 1800th published magazine article. I’m pleased it will appear in Shutterbug and that I could share it with all the loyal readers who’ve been reading this column for the past 10 years. Thank you for your support.

© 2006, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Return Of The Jedi
As Photoshop CS4 has expanded into other niches serving designers, videographers, and endodontists, Photoshop Elements has quietly worked to expand its capabilities for, well, photographers. Photoshop Elements 7, like all recent versions, has been rolled out in its Windows version first and I installed it under Vista running on, of all things, my Apple iMac. The interface is similar to the previous version, which was the best ever, so why change something that darn near perfect? All the good stuff from Version 6 is back plus new features such as the new Scene Cleaner that’s based on Photomerge, borrowed from its more expensive sibling, that lets you brush away unwanted objects that may be directing focus away from the photo’s main subject. This feature was actually part of the Enhanced version of Photoshop CS3 but took scripting to make it happen. Here, it’s just part of the package. The new Smart Brush seems like a combination of Photoshop’s History Brush and Filter Gallery (that’s part of both Elements and Photoshop) and lets you apply more than 50 sophisticated effects to a specific part of an image file, making it easy to improve lighting and add textures. Common tasks, such as whitening teeth or brightening blue skies, are a snap to fix with the one-step Quick Fix tools. One new filter that’s ideal for portraits allows surfaces to be softened while retaining edges and keeping details crisp.

Elements 7 users have the option to sign up for one year of membership on, giving access to templates and tutorials delivered on a regular basis. The service offers automatic online back up and storage of photos and videos, including access to those photos and videos from just about anywhere. Basic membership is free but Plus membership guarantees new tutorials, movie themes, special effects, and seasonal templates. Plus membership provides 20GB of storage, enough for 15,000 photos, four hours of DVD-quality video clips or a combination of both. At $99.99, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 7 is still the best imaging bargain available. Plus membership costs $49.99 with Basic membership offered for free.

The Doctor Is Real In
The above quote is, of course, from the indomitable Lucy Van Pelt, the juvenile Auntie Mame, and is a great introduction to a useful plug-in from those inspired geniuses at Alien Skin Software ( Image Doctor 2’s algorithms are designed to help you rescue what would otherwise be a really good photograph from the trash bin while saving hours of Photoshop work trying to resuscitate it. Sure, Image Doctor’s JPEG Repair fixes blocky areas and ragged edges in over-compressed JPEG images, but its tools can restore old photos by selecting a rip or scratch and healing it. You can retouch new portraits, too, by using the plug-in to remove a mole, scar, blemish, or tattoo of an ex-wife’s name. Image Doctor’s Smart Fill feature lets you remove large, unwanted objects from photos, such as trash from foregrounds or undesirable guests (not him again!) from party photos. Smart Fill automatically replaces these areas with an intelligent sampling of the nearby pattern or you can specify a location for background samples. The Photoshop compatible plug-in is available for Mac OS and Windows computers and costs $199. Users upgrading from 1.0 can knock off $100 and you can download a free 30-day version and try it yourself.

Compatibility issues? Image Doctor worked perfectly with Photoshop CS3 but I haven’t been able to test it with CS4 since I don’t have a shipping copy as we go to press. Based on testing with my beta version of CS4 there should not be any problems, mainly because compatibility does not seem to be an issue with other plug-ins. If there are I’ll keep you posted right here.

Multiply By 1.4
For less than $90, Adorama’s ( Pro-Optic Multi-Coated 1.4x Tele-Converter that’s available for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony/Maxxum SLRs packs a lot of optical value in a small package. When placed between your camera body and lens, the tele-converter’s optics effectively increase the focal length of a lens by a factor of 1.4. Designed specifically for prime or zoom lenses with focal lengths of 100mm or longer, the Pro-Optic 1.4x tele-converter will increase a 300mm focal length to 420mm but—there’s no free optical lunch—will decrease the lens’ aperture by one f/stop. Similarly, manual focusing is recommended when using a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/4 or slower. Pro-Optic converters, like this one and the 2x model I’ve been using for a year, are made with high-quality multi-coated optics and are designed to electronically operate with your camera’s data contacts. In all of my real world shooting situations, image sharpness was not affected.