Wire Worm for Photoshop

While it sounds like a nasty intestinal parasite, Wire Worm is a plugin designed to rid your photographs of pesky unwanted artefacts (particularly wires). Like many modern Photoshop plugins and features, it does a lot of the heavy lifting automatically, calculating the replacement colour /tones and shapes from the surrounding background. And it does a pretty good job, cutting down on the need for fiddling around with endless cloning and other patching techniques.

The Past is a Foreign Country

Looking backwards in time is to be constantly surprised. There's always so much that has been forgotten, and is genuinely strange and unfamiliar Seen in detail, eras often belie their stereotypes. How to be a Retronaut posts themed photo galleries chiefly from any decade of the last ten. Topics include Colour tourist photographs from the Soviet Union (1960s), Harlem Street Scenes (1930s), Pepsi advertisements (1950s), an Apple Gift Catalogue (1983), portraits taken in fake snow (Victorian England) and abandoned buildings of Detroit (2000s) and many, many more. The photographs and ephemera are often hard to contextualise and integrate, yet in an odd way, bring the past momentarily into the present. 

Stars in Your Eyes

As a child, I was disappointed to discover that only a couple of thousand stars were visible to the naked eye. With the encroachment of light pollution, that figure is probably rather optimistic. Uber-enthusiastic amateur astronomer Nick Risinger decided to create a massive full sky image combining thousands of images -- the night sky we wish we could see. For optimum viewing, he travelled tens of thousands of kilometres to seek out the darkest parts of the US. The results are awe-inspiring. Our own galaxy extends from edge to edge in a blaze of starry glory, with lanes of gas and companion star clusters clearly visible. He has made large versions (3000 pixels wide) available to the public, plus selling prints on archival stock. 

Vectors Online

aviaryOne of the interesting aspects of cloud computing are programs that run over the web rather than residing on your PC. Examples include Google Documents, Google Calendar, online accounting solutions and online databases. Other programs install on your computer, but run on a constant stream of data from the web, such as Google Earth, or are strongly integrated with the web, such as Picasa. Google Docs and Calendar have fairly limited capabilities compared to programs that reside on a single PC, mostly due to limitations of bandwidth. In the graphics field, the tentative beginnings of a revolution may be underway. A company named Aviary is offering a suite of programs available online, no installation required. The programs include both an image editor and a vector drawing editor. The drawing tools are frankly primitive compared to those available in Illustrator or CorelDRAW. The fundamental interface is very similar, and it could prove a useful introduction to people learning to use vector packages. As a pointer to the future, however, it is very interesting indeed. If a user could access a professional standard drawing package online, would it make sense any more to install it on your machine  (assuming reliable internet service provision)? Updates and improvements would be instantly available to the user, projects could be stored and distributed online, and collaboration and file sharing would be much easier. The same reasoning would apply to photo editing packages and even page layout programs. The financial model would be subscription or membership based, with some offerings perhaps free in return for advertising placement. Bandwidth would have to improve dramatically for this to become a reality. Barriers to entry for new software providers would be much lower. Personal computers would become windows to a much larger realm rather than kingdoms in their own right. Perhaps the only role for the home computer would be to mirror the data generated online in as a form of insurance. Perhaps each of the programs to which the user subscribes could have an offline version for moments where the web is unavailable, resynchronising when the connection is restored.
Read More

HDR - Too Much Reality?

[caption id="attachment_210" align="alignleft" width="167" caption="A canyon with all shadow detail visible"]
A canyon with all shadow detail visible
[/caption] Traditional film-based photography involves a great deal of compromise, much of it arising from the limitations of the equipment. Digital photography removes or diminishes many these limitations.  For example, digital photography is extremely good at rendering tonal range and colour. High dynamic range imaging (HDR) takes this capability to extremes. HDR involves combining differently exposed images of the same scene. The resultant image retains useful information from all of the exposure settings. The idea is not new, but digital photography has made HDR accessible to vast numbers of amateur and professional photographers. And they trying it out en masse -- a search for HDR images on Flickr yields over one million results. HDR images are unsettling. The level of detail is almost overwhelming, and the colours just too rich. Where the human eye usually sees only partial detail, HDR picks up everything. One can imagine a superhero with the capacity to see in HDR. Mere mortals may prefer the ordinary world of muted colours and imperfect perception. Software is available for those wishing to try their hand at HDR, some of it free.
Read More

Mi Casa es Picasa

These days it is easy to accumulate large quantities of digital images. Hard disks are much bigger, digital cameras are ubiquitous and attached images are emailed in industrial quantities. The image viewing and search tools supplied by Messrs Gates and Jobs are functional, but often slow and not particularly exciting. Others have tried to fill this gap. Apple has iPhoto, Extensis has Portfolio and Adobe sells Photoshop Lightroom. A program called iView Media Pro was gobbled up by Microsoft, but still exists. All are excellent programs, but in our experience, they are just  not as fast and intuitive with large volumes of files as Google's (free) Picasa. After installation, the user instructs the folder manager to watch specified folders on her hard disk. Picasa can also watch folders on networked drives and removable media. The initial index of all image files  on a given volume can take many hours. The resultant database built up by Picasa is often large. The interface is extremely clean. The default option is rows of image thumbnails, but alternatives include timeline and slideshow.  Searches are carried out 'live' -- search results appear as the user types. Individual images can be opened and edited in a number of simple ways.  Scrolling through results or the overall image library is usually fast, particularly compared to previously mentioned programs. Yet Picasa does have its flaws, or at least it can be pushed to breaking point. Image collections with more than ten thousand images may load quite happily in Picasa, but after a few searches, the program often slows dramatically. Picasa performs well in OS X, but even there, a very large image library can bring matters to a standstill.  Users are advised to watch only the folders they need, not the entire disc. It is also possible, if time consuming, to regenerate the database. Picasa doesn't just sit on your desktop. As befits a child of Google, Picasa offers access to Picasa Web Albums, where users can  store up to 1Gb of images on Google's servers. Bloggers can also upload images from Picasa to their own blogs. Useful how-tos for Picasa can be found here and here. Overall, Picasa is a worthy and capable image viewer and suitable for the vast majority of computer users.
Read More