Programs foster photo wizardry

Pictures: Three editing programs' upgrades deliver a lot of features for the money - sure to help everyone from novice photographers to ace shutterbugs.

January 15, 2001|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,Sun Staff

If you want to make simple adjustments to your digital photographs, you'll find plenty of inexpensive programs that get rid of your granddaughter's red-eye or add "Happy Birthday" to a greeting card for your dad.

Adobe PhotoDeluxe and MGI PhotoSuite easily fit the bill for $50 or less.

But if you want to show your sophistication with wildly warped text, create collages of pictures from the old and new millennia with enhanced colors or produce a sharp Web page about your vacation, you need the power of better graphics and image-editing software.

Three of the best programs available to enhance scanned photos and pictures from digital cameras had significant upgrades this fall. If you're on a budget, you'll probably like the fact that Jasc's Paint Shop Pro 7 and Ulead's PhotoImpact 6-Web Pro Studio cost less than $100. They not only offer basic tools but also professional features that handle complex jobs.

For a whole lot more dough, you can purchase Adobe's PhotoShop 6, which sets the standard for photo manipulation, Web page design and creation of original images. While PSP and PhotoImpact are accessible for beginners, PhotoShop is strictly for professionals or serious photo enthusiasts who are up to its challenges.

All three programs require a Pentium-class computer. PSP and PhotoImpact will run under Windows 95 with 32 megabytes and 64 Mb of RAM, respectively. Photo Shop requires 64 Mb of RAM and Windows 98 or later. The Mac version of PhotoShop requires a PowerPC Mac running OS 8.5 or later. As with all graphics programs, the more memory you have, the smoother it will run.

Using a graphics program is critical if you want to get the best out of your images. Pictures shot with a digital camera sometimes have a blue haze that robs the photo of brilliant colors. And photographs imported through a scanner routinely should be sharpened to eliminate focus problems.

PSP 7 ($100 downloaded from www.jasc.com) is the best of the less expensive image-editing programs. It has added several automatic enhancement tools to correct the exposure, color balance and contrast of a photograph, remove scratches and sharpen the detail in a few seconds.

PSP has kept the traditional simplicity of its interface and comes with a 108-page quick start guide that allows you to get going quickly without cracking open the 600-page reference manual.

It includes ready-made "buttons" for less sophisticated Web pages, but also includes tools to make fancy "rollover" buttons with images that change when you place your mouse over them on a Web page. If you want to make animated GIFs - those blinking lights and other doo-dads that Web artists love - you can use a bundled program called Animation Shop 3.

Ulead's PhotoImpact ($90 downloaded from www.ulead.com) is a touch more challenging for more complex image manipulation, but it makes short work of the jobs you'll do most often.

Whereas PSP uses separate enhancement tools, PhotoImpact offers a feature that allows you to change various aspects of your photo with a single command. Simply click on all of the enhancements you'd like to use on a picture, then hit the "run" command. You can also enter text and then place it on a curve or a circle. And a new spline drawing tool helps you to easily smooth curves without some of the limitations and confusion of the more complex Bezier tool that other programs rely on.

PhotoImpact is no slouch when it comes to creating Web pages, either. For example, you can draw and paint images, then slice them up so that the program can arrange the images and create a Web page in HTML (hypertext markup language). But it's not a substitute for a Web-building program such as Microsoft Front Page because you can't import HTML files into the program. The program also comes with GIF Animator, which is similar to Animation Shop.

PhotoShop 6 ($609, www.adobe.com) is not for the casual image editor. But with patience and a serious interest in photography, you can produce high-quality art for the Web, brochures and other printed material, such as posters.

PhotoShop is more about precise control than easy enhancements - although one of the hallmarks of its newest incarnation is making certain options such as brush size (for painting and retouching) easier to find with a new tool bar at the top of the screen.

Among its new features are a "liquify" tool that allows you to distort small parts of your picture, whether you want to make a toddler's head bigger or make a wagging finger longer. And without knowing the language used by Web developers to build pages, you can use PhotoShop to build an online photo gallery. All you have to do is supply a folder of images and have a way to get the pages on the Web.

One of the advantages of all three programs is the level of support available online. In addition to the program publisher's sites, users have created hundreds of Web pages offering help. You'll find more aimed at PSP and PhotoShop than PhotoImpact.

Publishers have also produced scores of how-to books on topics that range from basic editing to advanced enhancement. Muska & Lipman Publishing, for example, offers "Paint Shop Pro Web Graphics" ($40), "PhotoImpact Solutions" ($35) and the "PhotoImpact Resource Kit" ($20), a CD with more than 20 tutorials.

You can Visit M&L's Web site (www.muskalipman.com) to buy discounted books, or simply plug your program's name into a search engine to find other titles.

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