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Beginner's guide to manipulating stock photos

Published: 6th Aug 2006, 00:04:55 | Permalink | Printable

Getting your message across with ArtWorks and Photodesk

Here we present a really gentle introduction to using ArtWorks with bitmaps for illustrations and motifs, such as those used in Drobe articles.

Despite primarily being a vector graphics package, ArtWorks can be used to improve and add to the vibrancy and depth of photographs and other bitmap images. In this friendly beginner's guide, we shall look at the fun you can have in creating some straight forward yet useful effects.

Using the Internet, it is possible to have at your fingertips a wealth of stock photography that can be used, for example, as illustrations and motifs in books or articles. Previously, designers and editors would have to buy CD-ROMs of pre-arranged photographs, crossing their fingers in hope that few of their peers will choose to use the same files; the vast selection available in the online world helps to minimise this.

Text heavy work can be alleviated by the careful placement of an image related to the subject matter in such a way that the page ceases to intimidate the reader, instead enticing them in.

For instance, a piece about businesses in seaside towns could be accompanied by a generic shot of families relaxing on a Cornish beach with icecream or alternatively a photograph of an empty shop longing to be bought, depending on the angle of the article. Good stock photographs also highlight just how awful vector based clip art can be for decorating articles, and I look forward to seeing CD-ROMs of the latter being piled high and destroyed in a grand effigy.

Sometimes spurned for being mere space fillers, these generic stock bitmap pictures more often than not aid the reader in relating to the story being told, especially when used in mediums that demand instant communication of information and ideas: namely, posters, leaflets, magazine articles and so on. These stock images also work well on the Internet, in articles and webpages online, to add extra colour and depth to a piece.

Another advantage of using stock photography is that it enables smaller publications to use work that would otherwise require an in-house photographer or the booking of an expensive freelance snapper, as well payment for models and props. Images available on the Internet, as described later in this article, are often available for a one time purchase fee or can be used freely provided some reasonable conditions are met; sometimes a photographer will be
kind enough to share her work openly without any restrictions. With this affordability comes the lack of exclusive access to an image, as the file will usually be available to everyone else on the Internet as well as you.

Down to business
Once a suitable picture is selected and downloaded, it is often necessary to take steps to make sure the image has an obvious connection with the text. In this article, we'll play the role of an art director or sub-editor for a magazine that intends to publish a report on which bank websites are compatible with RISC OS web browsers. As well as a few obligatory screenshots, a motif image is required to go alongside the headline to grab the reader's attention.

To efficiently symbolise the topic of banking, a picture of a piggy bank is sought because the little toys are more vivid and interesting than, say, a pile of change or a cheque book. In order to make the connection between the subject matter and RISC OS, we shall also add the familiar cog logo to the picture to signify the fact that the article is investigating access to financial funds with RISC OS.

First, sourcing the image: a highly recommended website is Stock Xchng. This is a searchable online repository of images uploaded by photographers of varying talent: from beginners getting to grips with their first digital camera to professionals exploiting the convenience of the Internet. An important factor to always consider is the issue of copyright and restrictions of use; images distributed by Stock Xchng come with a usage licence, each chosen by the individual photographer. The licences range from 'no restrictions' to 'seek permission for commercial work' to 'seek permission for any use' - the conditions of which are immediately obvious.

Registering a free account on Stock Xchng is straight forward and easy, simply visit the website and click on the 'Sign up!' link on the lefthand navigation menu. Once you've got yourself an account with a new username and password, log in and, for the purposes of this article, search for 'Piggy bank' in the top left form. Some results will be returned and the cute pink number is adorable enough to be our mascot for this episode. Clicking on it will reveal further details about the stock image.

This little piggy went to the market: Selecting the right image for you

As shown in the bottom corner, the image is suitably large for our purposes in terms of resolution and "there are no usage restrictions for this photo", which means we're free to have our way with it. Images destined for webpages tend to have a resolution of around 90 DPI, whereas the mass print medium can command anything from 180 to 300 DPI; the website handily informs you of the physical size of the picture at 300 DPI.

The sidebar on the right of the webpage confirms that the image is royalty free and has the contact details for the photographer for when you want to drop them an email to say thanks. Clicking on the 'download' link under the image will provide you with the full size copy that you can then save to a hard disc for editing. Using your favourite web browser, export the image as a sprite and store it somewhere safe.

First, we load ArtWorks and drag the piggy bank sprite onto a new document window, adjusting the view and scale size of the image until it's comfortable to edit the document in the current desktop resolution. Then we drag on a suitable ArtWorks vector logo or illustration to add to the photograph and scale it appropriately; in the case, the RISC OS cog logo designed by Richard Hallas for RISCOS Ltd., although any in practice will do, within reason. If you don't have it, then download it from here.

Clicking into position: The cog logo is dragged from the Filer and dropped onto the document viewer

Using the extremely versatile 'Fit to envelope' tool, we can mould a drawing to a particular shape or contour. In this case, we shall try to manipulate the cog to fit around the size of the piggy bank, thus creating the impression that the object has been branded by the logo or had it painted on in some way. The overall effect will be that the superimposed cog creates the aforementioned link between the bank metaphor and RISC OS.

In the pink corner: Moving the corner points of the envelope to match the shape of the object

Select the cog and click on the Fit to envelope' tool to being shaping it. In turn, click on one of the four large red corner points surrounding the component and drag it to the side of the piggy bank so as to bring the cog closer to the prop's surface. Feel free to adjust and shuffle about these points until you have something close to figure 3, where the cog is roughly draped over the photograph.

Smoothing things over: Using the smaller handles to bend the cog over the piggy bank surface

Once the cog has been positioned so that its corners match the side area of the piggy bank, use the smaller red handles to alter the perspective and shape of the cog so that it accurately hugs the contour of the pig's belly. Do this by clicking on one of the handles and then dragging the mouse pointer in the direction you want to move it.

As you move the handle, you'll notice the outer envelope of the cog changes and the drawing is then suitably distorted once you stop dragging and release the mouse button. The cog is twisted and shaped in a similar way in which bezier curves are manipulated; the cog deformed so that its envelope matches its new custom one.

By moving the smaller handles, you can pull the shape of a component in a particular direction and control the strength of the distortion by adjusting the distance between the smaller handle and its larger corner parent.

This stage will take a degree of experimentation and fiddling until it looks just right. Figure 4 shows how to achieve perspective by changing the length of the smaller handles: for the corners furthest away from the viewer, the length of the line between a smaller handle and its parent corner control point is smaller than the lines between the handles and control points at the corners closest to the viewer.

The key aim is to get the cog to hug the side of the pig so that it's nice and tight against the side of the object. Note also how the sides of the cog follow the curves of the prop's outer shape, especially along its lower belly.

Just right: Adjusting the perspective so that the branding looks believable

Due to the fact that green clashes with pink, I switched to a red coloured cog although you can continue with the green, or edit its colours from the colour menu.

Blending into the crowd: Reducing the contrast between the photograph and the vector artwork

With the cog in place, it's time to make a more realistic branding. Select the distorted cog and select the Crystal transparency tool. In the toolbar for Crystal, tick the 'Display' box and then from the menu, select 'Mix'. Drag the percentage bar left and right to alter the translucency of the selected cog. Move this bar until you settle on a transparency strength that matches the soft pastel colour of the pig's surface.

I chose a level close to 80% in order for the highlights and shadows from the surrounding lighting, subsequently caught by the digital camera, to influence the colours of the cog draped over the object. You'll notice the subtle darkening of the cog towards the edges of the pig as the shadows underneath show through the now translucent logo.

Get in line: Aligning the text to be neatly positioned under the pig

Finally, I added some text to the image, placing it below the pig and aligning the selected text objects left using the align tool (Control-F9). The image is nearly complete but it is not perfect; the original stock image has in its background a slight shadow in the corners and these need to be removed. The document should be exported from ArtWorks as a sprite using a recent version of ArtWorks, or using Paint's snapshot facility.

Smear attack: Blending the outer shadows with the white background

Finishing touches
Once loaded in Photodesk, you can use the Smudge and Smear effects tool to gradually blend the shadows in the top right and bottom left corners into the white background of the overall illustration. This stage takes a little patience to make sure this touching up operation is smooth and seamless. The smear tool is good for gently rubbing the subtle background shades into the surrounding white. Figures 10 and 11 compare the before and after.

And you're done: Right, the image imported into Photodesk, and left, with the shadows blended into the white background

Don't feel too shy to experiment and investigate new styles and effects by playing with the envelope tool and the Crystal settings; a great deal can be achieved and learnt by trying out the Mix, Stained Glass and Bleach transparency effects and adjusting the strength percentage bar until the desired result appears.

An alternative website to Stock Xchang is Stock Xpert. This offers high quality royalty free stock photographs although invariable you will have to pay for them with a one off fee. Have fun branding your photographs with the aid of ArtWorks and Photodesk.

This article was written in November 2005 for the now comatose Qercus magazine, and was never published as no issue has been printed since October. Rather than let it go to waste, it's reproduced here for everyone to enjoy and comment on.


Stock Xchange website
Stock Xpert website
More illustrations hints and tips Don't let it go to waste. Send us your Qercus-bound articles

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Excellent article! More please!

I am sure I'm not the only one who learnt something from this article. Perhaps you could add a menu option to drobe that finds tutorial articles like this one. It would definitely be of value to many people.

Not only is this a tutorial but it also demonstrates the capabilities of RISC OS applications.

10 out of 10 from me

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 6/8/06 12:34AM
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Yeah - one of the best tutorials I've seen for ages. This is of course useful for creating graphics for presentations as well as articles, so knowing about available resources, and good how-tos are really beneficial. Many thanks!

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 6/8/06 12:56AM
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 is a RISC OS UserJanRinze on 6/8/06 11:15AM
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That is a very well written and informative article.

 is a RISC OS UserRevin Kevin on 6/8/06 1:50PM
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If you are impressed by this article then take a look at [link] XaraX and Artworks share the same heritage and I am sure lots of the stuff on Xara could be adapted for ArtWorks

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 6/8/06 10:06PM
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Great article, keep the decent content coming Drobe! Hopefully the new RO magazine has articles of similar standard.

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 7/8/06 2:55AM
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A very good article, and is exactly the sort of thing needed to remind RISC OS users how powerful the tools are at their disposal. The resulting image looks quite sophisticated, but is in essence a combination of two pre-drawn bits of clipart, that with a bit of practice can be knocked up in seconds - before anyone using Windows will have negotiated all the file open dialogs!

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 7/8/06 9:24AM
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Not bad, but it's a shame that whoever produced this article (why isn't it credited?) failed to turn on the 'Group' switch when applying transparency to the cogwheel. It definitely needs it; without it, you can see 'stringy bits' around the 3D edge of the cogwheel where the objects overlap, which the Group option would have removed.

Also, the cogwheel isn't in the correct orientation, with teeth pointing in the compass directions. The green cogwheel was the right way up (relative to the pig), but the red one isn't. I can see what's happened: the red logo has been taken directly out of the group of four interlocking cogwheels and used without being rotated back to the upright.

I know I'm nitpicking. The overall image is quite effective, and the perspective in particular has been applied well.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/8/06 6:09PM
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Can you do an article on photo manipulation, and send it to Reuters, entitled 'How to spot doctored photographs' :-p


 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 8/8/06 9:16AM
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