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Improving Your Digital Pictures with Picassa

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So you've taken some pictures and managed to get them off of your camera. You take a look at them, and they're just don't *pop* the way you'd hoped. What can you do now? This sample chapter shows you how to use Picasa, Google's image-editing software, to enhance your digital pictures without a lot of fuss.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

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Your digital camera likely came with software for downloading, organizing, and printing your photos (as discussed in Project 2, "Create Your Image Albums"). That software probably has a few other tricks up its sleeve—features that enable you to make important changes to your photos. You can likely straighten a crooked photo, crop away unnecessary parts of a shot, improve the color and contrast, and eliminate the spooky red eye effect that's caused by flashes. The program might even offer cool special effects, such as sepia toning, focus adjustments, glows, tints, and perhaps even adding text.

In this project, we'll walk through the most common image correction techniques using Picasa, and we'll also take a look at some fun and interesting special effects. (If you need to install Picasa, see the instructions in Project 2.)

Basic Image Adjustments

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference between a nice snapshot and a great photo. The difference is often very subtle. The camera may have been at a slight angle when the photo was taken, or there might be excess background or foreground that distracts from the subject. By working with Picasa (or the software that came with your camera), you can straighten (correct the alignment of the shot) and crop (cut off parts of the photo) to improve composition (the content of the photo). Compare the two versions of the same photo shown in Figure 3.1. Above is the original snapshot. Below, straightening and cropping provide a dramatic improvement.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 At the top you see the original shot. Below, a slight change of rotation and cropping of unnecessary empty space makes a big difference.

Opening a Photo to Edit in Picasa

To open a photo in Picasa’s image editor, you simply double-click it in the Library window (see Figure 3.2). Alternatively, you can right-click the image in the lower-left Picture Tray and then select View and Edit from the context menu.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 To edit a photo in Picasa, you double-click the preview or right-click it in the Picture Tray.

Your image automatically appears in Picasa’s Basic Fixes tab. (The Tuning and Effects tabs are discussed later in this project.) Note in Figure 3.3the Back to Library button in the upper left (which returns you to Picasa’s main window) and the Export button in the lower-right corner (which enables you to save your edited photo).

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 You can return to browsing by clicking the Back to Library button or make a copy of your edited photo by clicking the Export button.

Cropping with Picasa

Cropping is much like taking a pair of digital scissors to a digital photo. Picasa also offers the capability of resizing images to a desired print size while cropping. Here’s how you crop with Picasa:

  1. Start Picasa—Get Picasa up and running through the Start menu, by double-clicking a shortcut on the Desktop, or through the Quick Launch area in the lower-right corner of your screen.

  2. Locate the photo and switch to the image editor—In Picasa’s Library, navigate to the folder or label that contains the image you want to edit and double-click that photo in the upper-right preview area. The Basic Fixes tab of the Picasa editing feature appears.

  3. Click the Crop button—In the Basic Fixes tab, click the Crop button to open the window shown in Figure 3.4.

  4. Figure 3.4

    Figure 3.4 Notice that when you’re cropping, most of Picasa’s other features are unavailable.

  5. Select a size for your cropped image—Because different print sizes have different aspect ratios (the relationship between width and height), Picasa provides you with some preset selections. Use the buttons shown to the left in Figure 3.4 to select a size for your final image (4x6, 5x7, 8x10). Selecting Manual enables you to crop the photo to a custom size.

  6. Drag to designate the crop area and click Apply—Click in the preview area to the right and drag to create a bounding box that designates what part of the image will be retained after cropping. Figure 3.5 shows that Picasa uses shading to indicate what will be excluded by the cropping. After dragging, you can drag the four sides of the bounding box to resize it and you can click within the box and drag it to reposition it. Click the Apply button to accept the crop.

  7. Figure 3.5

    Figure 3.5 You click and drag to create the initial box and then reposition or resize as desired.

  8. (Optional) Save a copy or export a copy of your image—Use the File, Save a Copy command (or the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+S) to add a duplicate of the image file to the same folder. Alternatively, click the Export button in the lower right to create a separate image file of the cropped photo. This is the copy you’ll share with friends and family or use creatively in Project 4, "Cards, Calendars, and Other Creative Projects." In Figure 3.6, you can see that the Export to Folder window enables you to specify a location on your hard drive, resize the photo (if desired), and select a JPEG Image Quality setting.

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 You can export a copy of a photo to share or save.

Straightening with Picasa

Picasa offers a very elegant way to straighten photos—you simply drag a slider to align to a grid. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Start Picasa—Launch Picasa through the Start menu, by double-clicking a shortcut on the Desktop, or through the Quick Launch area in the lower-right corner of your screen.

  2. Locate the photo and switch to the image editor—In Picasa’s Library, navigate to the folder or label that contains the image you want to edit and double-click that photo in the upper-right preview area.

  3. Click the Straighten button—After you click the Straighten button, a grid appears over the image in the preview area, giving you a visual reference for straightening the photo. As shown in Figure 3.7, you drag the slider back and forth until the content of the image aligns with the grid. (In this case, visual reference points include the grass, the upper bar of the goal, and the vertical trees.)

  4. Figure 3.7

    Figure 3.7 Dragging the slider rotates the image so that you can straighten it.

  5. Accept the change—Click the Apply button to actually straighten the image. (Alternatively, click the Cancel button if you change your mind.) Remember that Picasa doesn’t permanently change the image file—you can use the Undo button at any time, even after quitting and restarting Picasa.

  6. (Optional) Save a copy or export a copy of your image—Use the File, Save a Copy command (keyboard shortcut Ctrl+S) to add a duplicate of the image file to the same folder. Alternatively, click the Export button in the lower-right corner of the Picasa window to create a separate image file of the straightened photo. This is the copy you’ll share with friends and family or use creatively in Project 4 of this book. (The Export to Folder window is shown earlier in this project, in Figure 3.6.)

Picasa’s Red Eye Reduction

When a person looks directly at the camera when the flash fires and a picture is taken, the light generally reflects off the blood vessels at the back of the eye and appears in the image as red eye. You can often prevent this spooky effect, shown in Figure 3.8, by using the Red Eye Reduction flash mode on your camera. (The various flash modes are explained in Project 1.) When you haven’t used the Red Eye Reduction flash mode to prevent red eye, you can correct the photo later in Picasa:

  1. Start Picasa—Open Picasa by using the Start menu, double-clicking a shortcut on the Desktop, or by using the Quick Launch area in the lower-right corner of your screen.

  2. Locate the photo and switch to the image editor—Double-click the image in the preview area of Picasa’s Library window to open it in the Basic Fixes tab.

  3. (Optional) Zoom in to check the eyes—Before clicking the Redeye button, zoom in on the eyes to see if you actually need to fix red eye. Use Picasa’s zoom slider, below the preview area, as shown in Figure 3.8. (You can also click in the smaller preview to the lower right and drag the visible area around the image to change your view.)

  4. Figure 3.8

    Figure 3.8 You can zoom in as close as 400% in Picasa.

  5. Click the Redeye button and drag over the eyes—When you use the Redeye feature, Picasa zooms you back out to see the whole image. Click in the image and drag a small box around one of the eyes (as shown in Figure 3.9) and repeat for the other eye (or eyes, when correcting red eye in a group photo). Click the Apply button when you’re done.

  6. Figure 3.9

    Figure 3.9 Drag a small box over each eye to make the red eye correction.

  7. (Optional) Zoom in again and check Picasa’s work—As you see is Figure 3.10, Picasa reduces red eye by darkening and slightly reducing the saturation of the pupil.

  8. (Optional) Save a copy or export a copy of your image—Use the File, Save a Copy command (keyboard shortcut Ctrl+S) to add a duplicate of the image file to the same folder. Alternatively, click the Export button in the lower-right corner of the Picasa window to create a separate image file of the corrected photo. This is the copy you’ll share with friends and family or use creatively in Project 4 of this book. (The Export to Folder window is shown earlier in this project, in Figure 3.6.)

Figure 3.10

Figure 3.10 Picasa reduces red eye (but generally doesn’t totally eliminate the problem).

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