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Touch Up Old Photos With Paint Shop Pro

Paint Shop Pro can liven up your pictures!

Have you ever scanned old pictures into your PC and been disappointed with the results? Maybe your digital photos aren't looking as bright as you remember when you took them?

Paint Shop Pro is a widely available computer program and is perfect for making your pictures shine! First, use your scanner program to scan physical photos, or download digital files from your camera so they are accessible from disk.

Whenever possible make sure the scan is set to a high 'DPI' (dots per inch) setting, or your camera is set to hi resolution mode. This takes up more memory on the computer and is generally more definition than most people need, but allows more options when touching up the picture before it's shrunk to a more manageable size.

Most present-day scanners work seamlessly within other art packages such as Paint Shop Pro and deposit the scanned image directly into that software program.

I suggest you save it after scanning and before you do any work on it in case there are any mistakes later. When saving here, or when setting the camera's image type (if it has a selection for this) it's preferable to use non-compressed image types.

BMP format is preferable, but many digital cameras tend to the images as JPG files. If this is the case check your camera manual to be sure it saves as an uncompressed JPG file. Compressed files tend to loose image quality and you want to leave any compression until after all our work is completed.

The first thing to do is to crop the picture to the best size. Often when a photo is taken you want to focus on one element, say a person's face or a house etc., but leave out certain areas around it. To make it look more professional try to avoid placing the main subject dead center in the cropped image, especially with faces. Slightly to the left or right of center is best but don't stray too far.

Remember you can always undo the crop if it looks awkward. The easiest tool for this function is the crop tool which will cut off any area outside it's border.

A common problem with pictures is too bright or too dark an image. The brightness/contrast controls (found under the color menu tab, then the adjust selection) can correct this easily most of the time. The sliders can alter both brightness and contrast and usually you'll need to adjust both.

A bit of fine tuning is often necessary and I suggest you utilize the preview button (the eye button between the two windows on the brightness/contrast window) to see the actual results to your photo. You'll probably need to drag the brightness/contrast window aside a bit to see the results while you work.

As a first attempt on this window, try putting one slider to the opposite of the other. i.e. if you wish to darken the image try -10 on brightness and +10 on contrast. For brightening an image reverse these as a first try.

If you just brighten or darken an image without altering the contrast you often get a 'washed out' look to the image. Raising the contrast makes the brighter parts of the screen brighter and the darker bits darker in comparison to each other so there is a starker contrast between areas of different brightness.

In general, it is best to adjust this once to get the desired effect by checking the preview as you adjust the sliders. If the end result isn't right after hitting 'OK' then use the undo command and retry with different values.

Too many tries at changing the brightness/contrast one after the other without undoing can lose definition between different brightness levels and leaves faint lines around objects.

If you wish to cut an image from a picture, say a face from a scene, then you can try using the 'magic wand' tool to select an area. This automatically searches for a boundary based on how the colors vary on the screen.

To alter any of the settings bring up the 'Tool Options' bar by right clicking on any Paint Shop Pro tool bar and selecting it. This shows you the options for the current tool you are using. Often this is minimized to a small bar that enlarges only when you select it.

On this bar you can set the limit on how the border of the magic wand is from where ever you click. e.g. if you set the magic wand to choose by brightness and you set the tolerance value to, say, 100 and then click on a black area of the image it will try to select an area surrounding that clicked dot, moving outward until it hits colors of around medium brightness (The tolerance varies from 0 to 200).

If you have a very bright face on a fairly dark background or vice versa this can select the face from the background. But you may find it nearly impossible to get this to work correctly, especially when the face and hair vary too much in brightness. Or the lighting in the scene is too stark for light and shadow.

You can try different magic wand settings, say using an RGB setting instead of brightness where the detection is differences in color rather than brightness, and this can get a good result.

If this doesn't work you can attempt to use the freehand select and draw around the figure, though with a normal mouse this can be tricky, and if you zoom in to draw carefully then when the mouse hits the edge of the image window it will scroll and cause your select line to jerk.

A better solution is to simply erase the unwanted parts of the photo. Using the erase tool is fairly easy. The left mouse button will 'blank' out parts of the image to match the second, lower 'style' color shown on the right hand side of the screen.

At first I would suggest setting the eraser to a large size to erase most of the image. Experiment with different sizes till you have a size that does the job quickly, but doesn't overlap the parts of the image you wish to keep too.

Often a figure of around 30 - 60 does ok, more on very large image sizes. You should also remember to not keep the left mouse down all the time. Let go and press again to make lots of separate strokes when erasing.

This may seem more frustrating, but the undo command will only undo the last button press. If you do the entire erase on one press, then right at the end make a mistake and erase something you wanted to keep, the undo will get rid of ALL your work. It saves a lot of bother to take the time to make small strokes.

When you get close to the edge of the image part you want to keep changing the Erase settings to give a smaller size of eraser, maybe 10 to 20, and set the hardness to about 50%. This provides a finer tool to work with and softens the edges of the erase so you don't see hard dots on the edge of the picture.

If you do end up with such dotted edges don't worry too much. As long as your image size (in pixels) is larger than you want to end up with this is correctable when we resize later on. In general it is best to make short movements and try not to go back over edges you've just done as this again tends to get harder and harder edges.

If you wish, you can make part of the image blurred to appear out of focus. Simply draw a line with the freehand select tool around the area to be blurred and then select one of the blur options. The lightest blur is gaussian on a setting of about 0.6 to 1.0. Soften will also work, giving a slightly different effect. Experiment to discover what looks the best.

At this stage you should use the red-eye removal tool (in the Effects tab, under the Enhance Photo selection) if the subject is a face and shows the characteristic 'red eye' effect. This comes from a reflection of the flash from the retina at the back of the eye, making the eye appear to shine red.

Now you can resize your image to the right size. If you just want to print it out it's best to leave it as large as possible and use the Page Setup (in the File tab) to fit the image onto the paper. This gives the best definition, but some printers may slow down as they try to handle all that data. If so use the following instructions to shrink it a little before printing.

If you want to send the file in an email or just store it to look at again later on the computer then you should try to shrink it to appear right on the screen. If you know what resolution the screen will be that it is to be viewed on, try to match the size in pixels to fit that. The longest dimension should be about half the screen size for the best look.

If you're sending it via email and don't know how their screen is set up, going for a longest dimension of around 400 pixels works well. All these are guidelines to bring the image out to a decent size for viewing. You can certainly go smaller than this, but go too much larger and some viewers or browsers will have to scroll around to view the entire image.

To shrink the photo, use the Resize command under the Image tab. Make sure the Resize Type selection near the bottom says 'Smart Size'. This will help get rid of any harsh, digital edges that were created during the editing by averaging the dot's color in the final image across all the dots that are shrunk onto that dot.

It's best to use pixel reduction if you want to know precisely how large the end product will be. Otherwise either of the other two options; percentage or actual/print sizing, will do.

Finally you need to save the altered photo. I'd suggest that no matter what you save as, you should pick a different name (or at least slightly different) than the save you made after scanning or downloading the photo.

Select 'Save as' instead of 'save' from the File tab. If you aren't worried about how large an amount of memory the image will take up on your hard disk then the best method is to save it in BMP format. BMP uses no compression and it will retain the image exactly as it is shown in Paint Shop Pro. Otherwise it's best to use JPG or TIFF compression, JPG is more widely used so I'll use that as an example.

If you want the photo to be fairly high quality then you need to use low compression, and if you aren't worried if it looses a little definition then you can use high compression. When you are on the 'Save As' screen change the 'save type' to JPG and then click the 'Options' button on the bottom right. This brings up the compression level. Note, if you change the setting here and save the program will remember for the next time, even if you do not click on 'Options'.

10% - 20% will give a reasonable reduction in file size on your hard disk, especially if you erased a large section of the background and negligible image degradation. Up to about 60% gives fairly high compression but you will notice some visual effects (though small) on the final work.

More compression gives smaller size on your hard drive but more and more visual distortion in the end product. I'd suggest sticking to about mid way for most applications. If you are making images available for the web, especially thumbnails you want to load quickly, then you should use somewhere around 70% to 80%.

Once you've saved the enhanced photo you can open it again to view the end result.

About the author:

Gerry Penman is a engineer by trade, and a creative artist and writer by preference. Born in England, he has recently moved to Florida to work. He has always been fascinated by science and science fiction and his work reflects it.

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