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Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

I often receive photographs from readers asking me what went wrong. The picture files are too large or of poor quality.

This month, we're going to look at some ways of improving your quality both within, and outside of, Fireworks MX. We'll see how to get the picture into Fireworks MX and, once in, how to make it look better.

Getting the Picture into Fireworks MX
Getting the picture into Fireworks MX properly is the first step of the process. This may seem pretty obvious at first. However, there are a lot of little tricks that even seasoned professionals frequently overlook.

The first thing you need to determine is whether the source of the photograph is going to be a scanner or digital camera. The price of both these items has dropped considerably over the past couple of years. A good quality scanner is around $100 (you can even get them bundled with a printer and a copying machine in one), and a digital camera costs around $300.

A word about digital cameras is in order. The quality of a camera is measured in megapixels. You can get a 2 megapixel camera for around $300, or spend upwards of $1,000 for a 4 megapixel camera. In most Web situations, 2 megapixels is more than sufficient. I personally own a 2 megapixel and, at the Web setting, it provides very high quality.

Most cameras and scanners have a Web setting that will determine the size and then give you the smallest dpi (dots per inch) without significant loss of quality. For instance, a Web output might be around 72 dpi; but a high-quality printing job might be around 300 dpi.

Recently, a friend called me about all of his scanned pictures being blurry in spots. After some examination, we determined that the problem was fingerprints all over the glass of the scanner. If you do a lot of scanning, use a good lens cleaner to keep your glass free of smudges, dust, and fingerprints.

Assuming your scanner is installed properly, with all the proper drivers, you should make sure that the source that needs scanning is placed properly in the scanner. Once that is done, from within Fireworks MX, select File > Scan > TWAIN Acquire. (Note: if you are working with more than one scanner, you may first need to select File > Scan > TWAIN Select.) The image should load right into Fireworks MX.

Most digital cameras use the USB port and are recognized as another hard drive letter. All you usually need to do is use Windows Explorer (or the operating system of your choice) to drag and drop the photographs from the camera to the folder you need to put them in on your local hard drive. From there on, you can simply open them up in Fireworks.

Once the Image Is In
Once the image is inside Fireworks MX, you can do all sorts of things to improve its quality. The photograph shown in Image I is a bit scratchy and poorly shaded.

By simply selecting Filters > Adjust Color > Auto Levels, you can clean up a lot of the problems so that the Image I photograph now looks like Image II.

Understanding the Histogram
With a picture open, you can select Filters > Adjust Colors > Levels. This is called a histogram and an example of one is shown in Image III.

The histogram shows three characteristics: Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight colors. There are three sliders underneath the histogram, one for each of the characteristics.

If a picture has too much shadow, details will be hidden; too much highlight will give the picture a washed out look; and too many midtones will make the picture look dull.

There are three ways in which you can change the characteristics: you can use the sliders (if you are a beginner, this might be the easiest technique); you can use one of the three corresponding eyedroppers; or you can type the amount in one of the three Input Level fields.

You will notice that this particular photograph looks very unbalanced. We can use the histogram to do some repairs. As an example, I can select the first eyedropper (for shadow) and click it in the hair region of the photograph. The results will be something like Image IV.

This will help sharpen your photograph considerably. However, you may notice that there now seem to be too many midtones, which are creating a blotchy effect. You can use the midtone slider in the histogram to cut that down a bit.

Add a Drop of Color
You can do some interesting highlighting to a photograph by using the Brush tool and a low opacity percentage. For instance, in Image V I used the Brush tool and set the color to soft gray. I used the Soft Rounded head with a diameter of 2 and I set the opacity to about 20%. I touched up the hair and a little of the shirt area as shown in Image V.

This will take a little experimentation, and a good eye, on your part. However, you can see that there are many possibilities. I strongly suggest that you look at my discussion of blending modes in the February issue of this journal (MXDJ, Vol. 2, issue 2). Many of the ideas I show there can be easily applied to this discussion.

If you open a color photograph you will see an even more pronounced histogram (see Image VI).

The photograph that this histogram is referencing has a lot of peaks around the the midtone area.

Another possibility for adjusting color is to change the curve. You can do that using Filters > Adjust Color > Curves (see Image VII).

The Curves feature is similar to the Levels feature but it provides more precise control. Levels uses highlights, shadows, and midtones to correct the tonal range, while you can use Curves to correct for a color cast caused by improper lighting.

We simply click on the curve and drag it to find that precise balance.

The final idea you might want to try is to take an image, such as the black and white portrait used in Images I and II, and create a background for the canvas. Experiment with color, opacity, and blend modes.

Next month, we'll discuss filters and how to create some cool effects with them.

More Stories By Charles E. Brown

Charles E. Brown is the former editor-in-chief of MX Developer's Journal. He is the author of Fireworks MX from Zero to Hero and Beginning Dreamweaver MX. He also contributed to The Macromedia Studio MX Bible. Charles is a senior trainer for FMC on the MX product family.

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jonathan Chambler 03/04/04 09:37:54 PM EST

I am always interested in ways of displaying photos dynamicaly as they are uploded via a database to show in a thumnail and full size.

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