Monday, October 09, 2006

Playing with Adobe Photoshop Elements

By Christina VanGinkel

I love spending time altering photos with computer software created for just such a purpose. I can try techniques and undo them on a whim, or save a new file when I hit on a look I really like. As a hobby, it can be both relaxing and fun to switch up a photo I have snapped myself with nothing more than a simple software program, no complicated darkroom and equipment required. Sometimes though, I have an idea in mind, and while I think I know how to do it, no matter what I try, it just does not work. Even pouring through the help files or inputting certain text into the search box of the software does not provide me with the help or information I need. If I had taken a class on the program I would be more attuned to the ins and outs of it, but too often, programs such as the ones I often use are geared for the home user and finding a class on them is nearly impossible.

This was where I found myself yesterday. I had taken a group of photos of my three-year-old grandson this past week at a neighbor's farm. He was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and an old faded blue and red checked flannel, faded, but perfect for a romp on a farm and through the leaf covered woods. Also on the property is the original homestead. Leaning next to one outside wall of the small, clapboarded side of the house is an old wooden sled, the type with metal runners. He sauntered on up to that sled and I naturally snapped a couple of shots. When I downloaded the group of pictures, I immediately fell in love with one of these. What I decided would enhance the picture even more though, given the nature and age of the structure and the sled, would be if I merged a color photo of the scene with a black and white one, leaving color only in the shirt he was wearing, and maybe the jeans.

For the life of me, even with several top quality photo editing software titles on my computer, I could not figure out how to do this. If I layered the photos, and tried to erase the top layer, it would erase both layers. Layering two photos again, wielded me not being able to erase any part of the picture whatsoever. I tried the help files, but without being able to clearly define in a word or two what it was I trying to accomplish, the help files were not able to offer much in the way of direction.

As I will often do when such a situation as this fails to be resolved by such actions, I went online to a few user groups that focus on digital photography. In no time at all, I had clearly defined directions for manipulating the photo in Adobe Photoshop Elements. To create the allusion I wanted, I opened the photo I wanted to alter and saved it as a new image. This was so I would have the original to fall back on were I to mess up the picture I was working with. I then went to the menu and selected Layer. From the sub-menu, I selected New, and from its sub-menu, I selected Layer via Copy. I then went back to the menu and selected Filter. From the sub-menu under Filter, I selected Sketch. From Sketch, I selected Halftone Pattern and left it on its default, which created a black and white top layer. At this point, it appeared as if I had a single black and white photo to work with. However, by choosing the eraser tool, and adjusting the size of it to a size that I was comfortable working with, I zoomed in on the picture and erased away the top parts of the layer that I had filtered to be a Halftone Pattern (black and white).

Once I was comfortable erasing, letting the color portion of the bottom copy show through, I tried a few different variations, finally settling on just leaving his flannel shirt in color and keeping the rest of the picture black and white. I liked the results so much; I also altered three other photos I snapped the same day, each of those pictures of him romping in the woods. While I was not sure how they would turn out, as the original idea behind them was basically to show off the beautiful fall foliage color, by just letting a bit of the color of the surrounding leaves show through, and the color of his faded flannel shirt, they turned out as good as I could have envisioned them.

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