Memories

Let's face it, there's not a lot to do at this time of year. My prize Christmas present of a Nintendo Wii has lost its novelty value and now lives in the cupboard below the stairs, so it must be time to warm up the notebook and carry on with those projects that were started last year and casually put aside just as the sun came out to play.


One such unfinished project is sorting out all my old 4x6in photos. These hold a real value. Unlike digital camera pics that are backed up and duplicated on numerous hard drives, CDs and free online storage sites, these older, precious pictures are kept on single, eroding, torn and scratched pieces of paper. Then they're stuffed in numerous drawers, shoeboxes and old albums.

So let's get cracking and try to finish turning these torn and scratched memories into digitally cleaned, recoloured backed up files. That way they will hopefully last forever.

To take this task on you are going to need access to a scanner to digitise your images, and some photo-editing software. You could go for Corel's new Paint Shop Pro Photo XI but the price tag (approx $100), though competitive, may put you off.

An obvious but rarely stated fact is that when new upgrades are released, earlier versions become much cheaper. Take for instance Paint Shop Pro 8.0, which is more than capable of tackling this job and can be found on the Internet at less than half the price.

Now before I have Corel's lawyers on the phone, all I am suggesting is that if you need to do only basic editing jobs then pay only for that. Get a basic editing program and, once you get used to it and feel you want to move on to more in-depth projects, upgrade to XI or something similar.

CLEAN AND RETOUCH OLD PHOTOS


1. Scan in a photo then open your image using your photo editor. Ensure the Tools toolbar, Options toolbar, and the Layers palette are displayed. Choose View-Toolbars-Tools for the toolbar and then View-Palettes-Layers and View-Palettes-Tool Options to display the Layer and Tool options palettes.


2. Save the image before working on it. You may want to create a duplicate using File-Save Copy As. You can also create a new raster layer to further protect your picture against any unwanted editing and saving mishaps. Choose Layers-Raster Layer, and then click OK to accept the default settings.


3. You will need to zoom in close enough to work on the affected area. Do this by adjusting the size ratio on the Overview Palette or by simply clicking the zoom + and - buttons. To view a certain part of your zoomed image move your cursor over the preview image and then click and drag the image.


4. Select the Clone brush from the vertical toolbar and adjust the brush size to suit your work area. This will depend on the size and resolution of your picture. A good tip is to set the Opacity on the Clone brush to 50 per cent as this will have a relatively gentle effect and will make it easier to blend the cloned area to the original.


5. We will use the Clone brush to copy unblemished areas of our original image on to imperfect areas of the layer we created in Step two. Your new layer is above the original layer so it will cover up the scratches as you work. If you make a mistake use - to go back a few steps or right-click on the layer to delete it and start again.


6. Begin by selecting your background layer in the layer palette. Locate an area of similar pixels to the affected area (usually close by) and click them while holding down the key. You have just defined the source pixels we're going to clone in order to cover up wear and tear.


7. Next select the raster layer. Move the cursor to the affected area and click the left button. Repeat this as many times as is necessary to paint the source pixels on to your new layer. In the screenshots we've shown above it appears as though the scratch and the discolouration are disappearing.


8. The second way of using the clone brush is to hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to paint your source pixels on to the new layer. The source pixels will change, depending on where you are. A crosshair showing the source moves in tandem with the clone brush.


9. As you work you will need to be careful not to paint with affected pixels from a damaged area. Turn off your new layer's visibility by left-clicking on the eye icon in the right-hand pane. This way you can remind yourself where the good source pixels are before selecting anything from the background layer.


10. You can also use the eraser and clean up some of your new pixels if needed. Simply select the Eraser tool from the tools palette. Change its size as needed and left-click. You could also turn off the background's visibility to get a better idea of what areas you need to delete.


11. Carefully repeat steps six to 10 and you should be able to clean up most of your pictures. Sometimes, however, there may be an area that can't be cloned. In the picture above, for example, the right of the mouth is both detailed and badly damaged. Here we will need to use a little artistic licence.


12. Choose the Freehand tool. Select the background layer and carefully draw around the undamaged left side of the mouth. Draw around a larger area than you need as it's easier to delete pixels than to add them. Now copy the selection, -, then create a new raster layer and choose Edit-Paste-Paste as New Selection.


13. Position your new selection over the right-hand side of the mouth and left-click. Then mirror your selection - and, using the move tool on the tools palette, adjust its position until it looks natural. - and the selection will join your newest layer. Double left-click this layer and name it Raster 2.


14. You can now use the Deform tool on the tools palette to rotate and stretch the mouth as will best fit. Use the eraser to delete the unwanted areas around the mouth. When saving unfinished work save your project as a Paint Shop Pro Image. This will preserve the layers. When you've finished save as a Jpeg.

Tips and tricks

PAINTSHOP PRO PHOTO XI Corel's latest version of PaintShop Pro is aimed solely at photographers. It's not the best photo-editing software on the market, but it really comes into its own with personalised editing tools such as Colour Changer. Makeover tools, Background eraser and Noise remover do exactly what their respective names suggest. And PSP XI's one-click effects and filters make it fast and easy to obtain really good results, even for beginners.
$99.99 from www.corel.com.au

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCANNER RESOLUTION Unlike cameras or printers, using the maximum scanner setting doesn't necessarily produce the best results. Make the maximum optical resolution (rather than a higher, software-boosted one) your upper limit. Check your scanner for details. High resolutions can be cumbersome to work with as unwanted detail starts creeping in. This is especially common with old photographs, slides and negatives where the emulsion may have begun to perish.

The most suitable resolution depends on what you'll do with the scanned image as well as the size of the source material. If you're going to want to print your photo at any stage, choose a setting of 600 or 1200dpi (dots per inch), depending on your scanner's capabilities.

HELPFUL DOWNLOADS

PROTECTMYPHOTOS ProtectMyPhotos is an automatic online backup service that helps safeguard your photo collection from PC failures, viruses, fires, floods, mad alien robot attacks, and those inevitable human boo-boos. A flat $US39.95 (about $AU50) per year gives you 40GB of online backup, which sounds like a good deal to us (www.protectmyphotos.com).

COREL SNAPFIRE Enhance and organise your digital photos and videos with this fast and simple-to-use software. This is one of the first free photo software downloads to make a wide range of photo- and video-sharing/organising capabilities readily accessible to users of all levels and abilities (www.snapfire.com).

THE GIMP 2.0 Before you shell out for expensive photo-editing software, you may want to make sure that it's something you really need to do. After downloading and exploring The Gimp 2.0, you may not need (nor want) to buy another image-editing program. It's free, you see (www.gimp.org).

SCREEN COPY MADE EASY

Capture hard-to-copy graphics and text from your desktop with SnagIt, a screen capture utility that will leave you amazed that you were ever satisfied with that old key. It has image-editing features that let you add text and effects to your screen captures, which makes SnagIt a good choice for preparing PowerPoint presentations. The latest version now supports Windows Vista and Office 2007 (www.techsmith.com/snagit.asp).

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