Photographs can add life to any presentation -- but only if they are prepared and added correctly. An image-editing software program is an invaluable tool for this task. Combine such an application with some of the special-effects plug-ins available today and your presentations won't merely display correctly; they'll visually stimulate your audience.
Whether a photographic image originates from a scanner, digital camera or Photo CD, before adding it to your presentation, you will need to bring it into an image-editing program to adjust such characteristics as contrast, brightness, size, color depth, resolution and color balance.
Initially, scanners offer the greatest control of your digitized photo file because you can select from a variety of settings in the scanning software, such as pre-scanning, cropping, resolution, brightness, contrast, color preview, sharpening, output size, shadow/highlight point selection and color balance. The more settings you have in your scanning software, the less fine-tuning you'll have to do in an image-editing program.
Although inexpensive digital cameras don't offer the control settings or image quality of scanners, they are easy to use, require no film, let you delete poor-quality pictures with a click of a button and provide immediate results. Just be aware that, to look their best, digital photos will generally require touching up in an image-editing program. High-quality Photo CD images also need to be brought into an image-editing program for adjustments and resizing before they can be inserted into your presentation materials.
Most digital camera and scanning software programs allow you to save files in a variety of formats, including JPEG, BMP and TIFF. But you can always use an image-editing program to convert them to another format.
A Full Palette of Image-Editing Software
Some of the most popular image-editing software titles include Adobe Photoshop, JASC Paint Shop Pro, Ulead PhotoImpact and Corel PHOTO-PAINT. These programs' latest versions range in price from $69 to $895. Any of them will let you resize, crop, retouch and correct the colors of your photo images. The more expensive ones give you tools for drawing, painting, layering, compositing, palette control and other advanced editing features. Some even let you dress up your images with stunning special effects. Photoshop, for example, includes a filter that transforms a regular photograph into what looks like a watercolor painting.
Live Picture 2.5, Fractal Design Painter 5.0, DeBabelizer and JASC ImageRobot offer specialized features that set them apart from programs like Photoshop. Some of these specialized capabilities include fast editing of huge image files, batch file-format conversions, unique color adjustments and filters, and even animation. (For more on these programs' capabilities, see "Image-Editing Software: Bringing Out the Artist Within," in the July 1997 issue of Presentations magazine.)
Five Things Software Can Do to Your Photos
1. Right-size them.
It's hard enough to find the right photo without worrying about whether it's going to fit once you do. And although it's possible to reduce your photo's size in your presentation program, this generally won't reduce the amount of data that makes up the photo; you still can end up with a memory-gobbling image the size of a postage stamp.
That's why using a program like Photoshop makes sense. Resizing a photo in Photoshop is as easy as selecting Image Size from the Image menu and typing in the new width or height in pixels or percentages.
Well, almost that easy. You should also make sure the Constrain Proportions and Resample Image options are both checked off before you execute the change. The former maintains the proper aspect ratio to prevent image distortion and the latter changes the number of pixels that make up the image. This step, known as "downsampling," will make the resulting image file smaller than the original.
With Photoshop, you also can enlarge a photo through a process called "resampling up." Up or down, Photoshop fills in the missing pixels' information by interpolating their values from neighboring cells.
2. Cut them down to size.
Cropping a photo with an image-editing program not only decreases its file size, but also makes it more appealing. Let's say you've just received a photo of your company's headquarters -- including the back end of a delivery truck and lots and lots of sky. To crop in Photoshop, you simply click on the Select tool, draw a rectangle around the building and choose Crop from the Image menu. With the click of your mouse, the unwanted portions of your photo fall away.
3. Get rid of the clutter.
Sometimes making simple alterations to a photo or removing certain items can greatly enhance it. For example, say you have a fine photo of some colleagues at the company picnic. It would be perfect for your presentation, if only it didn't contain two minor flaws: A tree branch blocks out the foreheads of two women and another person in the photo has one red eye.
With Photoshop or a similar program, you can remove the red from the eye by zooming in on that area and using a few different tools to replace the red, pixel by pixel, with a color that matches the normal color of the person's eye. Likewise, filling in the pixels of the offending tree branch with colors sampled from each woman's forehead -- then using the Smudge tool to make the new pixels blend in with their neighbors -- will put the problem behind them.
4. Color them perfect.
Sometimes a picture from a Photo CD will be washed out or a scanned photograph will look a little too blue. With image-editing software, you can change the color of an entire photograph. In Photoshop, this is accomplished by pulling down the Adjust submenu from the Image menu, then selecting from various options, such as Curves, Color Balance and Hue Saturation, to brighten your washed-out photo or get rid of the excessive blue.
You can also use image-editing programs to alter the colors of selected objects in your photo. Say you've found a perfect photo of a colleague -- but her bright yellow scarf is a bit too loud for your presentation. In Photoshop, the Lasso tool allows you to select only the scarf; you then can use the Hue Saturation option to give the woman a scarf of a different color.
5. Give them a verbal dimension.
Although most presentation software will let you insert text over imported photos, problems can arise if the presentation is played back on a system that lacks the correct font (and your software doesn't allow embedding), if you accidentally move your graphic, or if your slideshow is imported into another presentation program.
By using image-editing software to insert titles and captions directly into your photo file, you can be sure the text won't change or move. Adding text to your photo in Photoshop is as easy as selecting the Type tool, choosing your font characteristics and typing the title or caption. Text is added to its own transparent "layer" of the image, so you can change it later.
Arrows and other graphics can also be added to photos. Just open the graphic's file and use the magic wand to remove the background; then you add the graphic as another layer over the photo.
Plug-ins for Image-Editing Software
Numerous third-party plug-in applications are designed to work with image-editing programs to create special effects or optimize a process -- and much of this software can be had for less than $200.
Programs such as MetaCreations' Kai's Power Tools, Alien Skin Software's Eye Candy 3.0, Photo/Graphic Edges Volumes I to III and Andromeda Series filters let you add gradient/texture backgrounds, 3D effects, creative edges, drop shadows, motion trails, fur, fire, smoke and other effects to your photos.
Other plug-ins, such as Textissimo 1.1 and TypeCaster, can bring your text to the foreground with such effects as "neon," "carve" and "bubble." Some plug-ins are even more specialized. ScanPrepPro, for instance, works with Photoshop to quickly improve the appearance of washed-out photos. (For more examples, see "Plug In to Extend Your Image-Editing Capabilities," in the September 1997 issue of Presentations magazine.)
Plug-ins are usually easy to use. Sometimes it's as simple as choosing the effect you want and clicking OK, and the filter does the rest. And some, such as Eye Candy 3.0, let you set options to get the effect you want and then preview how the settings will affect your image.
Choosing an Image-File Format
Most presentation software can import image files in a wide variety of formats, but for presentations, certain image formats are better than others -- and each has its pros and cons.
PCX files load quickly and use RLE (Run-Length Encoding) compression. You can save them in five ways, depending on the color depth and display resolution of the computer you'll use as your presentation platform. The TIFF image, if saved as a compressed file, is another good choice for presentations. Although BMP files load quickly, they do take up more hard drive space than other formats. Targa (TGA) files are another marginal choice for presentations, since the files tend to be large. GIF files, although great for the Web, take a while to display in presentations. Another popular Web file format is JPEG, but its high level of compression results in lower-quality images.
Before you import photos into presentations, be sure their color depth matches your computer's display resolution. To import a file into a PowerPoint presentation, select Picture from the Insert menu and place the image where you want it. For a photo with a jagged edge or some other irregular border, be sure to change (in your image-editing program) the image background to match the presentation's background. This trick works for simple backgrounds but not gradations. For most fine-tuning of presentation photos, you'll probably want to return to the image-editing program.
Christine Saucier is a free-lance graphic designer specializing in Web-site design, multimedia authoring and presentation development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tiac.net/users/sauc.