Adobe Lightroom for the Hobbyist

Lightroom for hobbyists

Adobe Lightroom has a lot to offer to the photography amateur. Here, some reasons why Lightroom might be right for you.

If you are an amateur photographer, you take a lot of photos. You might shoot in RAW rather than JPEG, and you are willing to go through the extra work that RAW requires because now and again, or maybe more often than not, RAW gives you the latitude to adjust your photos and bring them from “so-so” to “wow.”

Whether you shoot in RAW or JPEG or both, the software you use to manage, organize and adjust your photos is very important. Well-designed, capable software can make or break your desire to sit down and go through your latest round of photos, deciding which to keep, which to delete and which to crop and “fix” to your liking.

Whether you have no money to spend on photo software or you have a substantial budget, there are many options to choose from. I won’t attempt to outline the many options here, but I do want to bring to your attention a piece of software called Adobe Lightroom.

At almost $300, the price of Lightroom can be prohibitive, but if you are able to get the student/teacher discount, the cost drops to about $80. At this price, and even at full price, Lightroom might be just what you need to take your photography to the next level. Here’s why.

Dealing with Incoming Photos

Lightroom is designed to help you effectively deal with large numbers of incoming photos. Once you have imported a group of photos, Lightroom has tools that enable you to easily keep the good ones and let go of the not-so-good ones. The simplest way to do this is to scroll through your photos and tap “P” to mark a photo as a “Pick” and “X” to mark a photo as rejected. Next, you do a simple filter to show all of your rejected photos, then “select all” and delete.

There are also ways to mark photos with stars (1 through 5 stars) and color codes.

For a casual photographer who takes 20 photos per month, this might not be so important, but if you take 50 or 100 or more photos per day, as many hobbyists do, the ability to quickly and easily sort the wheat from the chaff becomes increasingly important to your productivity and sanity.

Organizing the Photos You Have

Lightroom allows you to tag photos, either as they are “coming in” or one by one, and also to put photos in what are called collections. So you might tag photos with certain people in them (“Grandpa,” “Billy”) or put photos in collections such as “Billy – Best Shots.” Note that collections do not remove photos from the actual folders where they live, but they give you an easy way to view certain groups of photos that you have created.

Fixing Your Photos

Lightroom is designed for professionals, so the options available to fix your photos are top-notch. Removing “image noise,” the speckled look that photos get when you use a high ISO, is as easy as adjusting a slider. There are the usual tools for cropping and adjusting things like saturation and white balance, and also more advanced tools that remove blemishes or lens spots.

Keep in mind that if you want to do things like take a face from one photo and put it into another photo, you’ll need Adobe Photoshop or a similar program, but for many tasks, Lightroom is very capable.

There are too many options and tools to mention here, but suffice it to say that if Lightroom doesn’t have it, you — as a hobbyist photographer – probably don’t need it.

Presets, Presets, Presets

A Lightroom preset refers to a specific effect that you apply to a photo (or multiple photos at once) simply by clicking a button. Lightroom comes with 20+ presets, including several black-and-white effects, “aged photo” effects, and split tone effects.

You can also create your own presets, which is very handy for times when you have a group of photos that were all shot under the same conditions. Once you adjust white balance, noise correction, exposure correction and so on for one photo, you can apply those settings to multiple photos at once.

In addition, there are many sources of free Lightroom presets to help you achieve almost any look you can think of.

After I started using Lightroom and Lightroom presets, both those that come with Lightroom and some that I found for free on the Web, the number of compliments I got on my photos increased dramatically. It is possible that my improving photography skills had something to do with this, but I am also confident that presets had something to do with this.

Quite simply, careful use of presets can easily give your photos a professional look. For this reason alone, I think that Lightroom should be considered by any amateur photographer who wants to take his or her work to the next level.

Ease of Dealing with RAW Images

Many hobbyist photographers choose to shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG, but the downside can be the additional time and hassle required to deal with the RAW images. I personally used a combination of Picasa and UFRaw for GIMP for quite some time before I decided there must be a better way. It turns out that Lightroom is, in fact, a “better way,” because you do all of your edits directly on the RAW file before, one way or another, exporting as JPEG.

I won’t go into all of the details here, but also note that Lightroom uses what’s known as “nondestructive editing” for either RAW files or JPEG files. This means that you don’t have to constantly remind yourself to “Save As, Save As, Save As,” in order to preserve your original image.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t currently have $300 (or $80, in the case of the student/teacher edition) to spend on Adobe Lightroom, you might choose to save up for it. Or, you might look into one of the many other photo software options that are available.

Either way, it helps to be aware of how the tools you use affect your commitment to your photography hobby. If one particular tool seems to be cramping your style, do some research and talk with other shutterbugs to find out what else is out there.

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How to Start a Home-Based CAD Business

CAD

Computer-aided design (CAD) has revolutionized the way companies across various sectors operate. From architecture and construction to manufacturing and fabrication – CAD has helped various industries maximize their efficiency. In simple terms, CAD is a technology that uses computers to create, modify, analyze, and test designs for various purposes. You can use it to develop accurate blueprints, floorplans, and models.

While there is a plethora of CAD software available in the market, it takes a certain level of expertise to use it efficiently. Consequently, many companies are constantly in search of specialized personnel to outsource CAD-related tasks. If you have been trying your hands at various CAD software, it is time you think about monetizing your skills.

One of the easiest ways is to offer CAD drafting services from the comfort of your home. It is, however, crucial to mention that the popularity of CAD has led to a spur in the growth of home-based CAD business. Therefore, you should develop an actionable plan to launch and sustain your venture.

Here are a few tips that will help kickstart your home-based CAD business:

1. Get Certified

If you want to start a CAD business, having impeccable drafting skills isn’t enough. You can only showcase your expertise once you have grabbed the attention of your client. However, it may not help you make a strong first impression. Thus, it is crucial to obtain professional certification from a reputed training institute.

When you gain a professional qualification, it acts as a stamp of approval on your prowess. This, in turn, adds your credibility and makes it easier for a client to trust you. Even if you possess top-notch drafting skills and meticulous experience, it is essential to get certified. This will give your business an edge over your competitors.

There are a plethora of colleges and institutes that offer CAD training courses. Make sure you select a trusted and recognized institute. It is also essential to choose the right CAD software for which you want to obtain the certification.

2. Procure the Right Tools and Equipment

Just because your business is home-based doesn’t mean you won’t have to invest money in it. The most critical investment for your CAD business is to get all the necessary hardware and software. To begin with, you need a sturdy computer with a large high-resolution screen and graphics card. The system should be capable of handling complex design instruction and deliver quick results.

Additionally, you must purchase the latest version of the CAD software you will work with. If you can’t decide which software to choose, check out their online reviews. Make sure you select a software that is quick and accurate and uses the latest technology.

Other important resources include a high-speed internet connection and a printer. Depending on the niche you are working in, you may also have to buy drafting supplies to physically test your designs. It is worth mentioning that you should allocate a specific budget for the initial set up of your business. It is equally essential to set aside a dedicated working space. 

3. Identify Your Specialization

Here is the thing – any company can purchase CAD software and hire a trained professional to carry out routine tasks. Why should they outsource the work to your business when it can be done in-house? The key is to offer highly advanced and specialized services, beyond generic tasks such as design and testing.

It is important to identify your area of expertise and develop a set of niche-specific services. Apart from impressing your clients, it also helps you identify the project you want to work on. For instance, if you are experienced in interior design, you can offer specialized services for construction and civil engineering companies. Likewise, if you come from an engineering background, you can focus on projects that let you showcase this additional knowledge.

In addition to routine activities, you should strive to offer sophisticated services such as 3D modeling and simulation. This will further convince your clients to outsource the project to you. It will also help you stand apart from the crowd of mediocre CAD drafting businesses.

4. Offer Competent Pricing

How do you convince a client to give their money to you in exchange for your drafting skills? The answer is to make your services as cost-effective as possible. Convince the client that you are charging them way less than what they would have to spend to carry out the task in-house. It is also important to keep an eye on your competitors’ charges and ensure that your pricing is at par.

5. Promote Your Business

Marketing is the most crucial step when launching a new business. Clients won’t approach you with their work unless they know about you. This has become even more crucial as the market is getting saturated with new sub-standard CAD businesses. You have to develop an effective marketing strategy to cut through this noise and hit the right ears.

The advent of digital marketing has made it easier for new entrepreneurs to reach out to their target audience. You can start by creating an impressive website for your business. Showcase your best work samples and include testimonials from your clients. Work on search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure that your website shows up in relevant search results.

Additionally, you should ensure that your business has a strong presence on different social media platforms. You can also leverage paid advertising on social media and search engines. You can even join a digital marketing online course to learn advanced marketing techniques and take your business to the right people.

Online marketing channels have a wide reach and are often more affordable. However, you shouldn’t ignore offline advertising altogether. You can leverage cost-effective techniques such as distributing flyers and brochures in your neighborhood. You should also identify businesses that are relevant to your niche and approach them for cross-promotion opportunities.

Conclusion

Starting a home-based CAD business is a lucrative career option. However, owing to the abundance of such business in the market, you must work hard to distinguish yourself from others. Identify your niche and offer specialized services at affordable rates to lure your clients. You should also outline a marketing strategy for your business that leverages both online and offline channels.

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How to Build a Career as a Freelance CAD Designer

CAD designer

In today’s day and age, it is often difficult to keep up with high living costs, rentals, and EMIs. Even if you have a high-paying job, it may not be enough for you to make ends meet. Moreover, companies might lay off their employees due to changes in the economy and organizational structure. It is not surprising that so many people are always on the quest for a profitable side hustle.

Fortunately, computer-aided design has opened up a treasure trove of new career opportunities for engineers, architects, designers, etc. It is no longer mandatory for you to work solely within the confines of your job. Many companies are on the lookout for talented CAD designers to outsource their projects. As a freelance CAD designer, you can choose your clients and work on projects that interest you.

Apart from providing you with an additional income stream, it also helps fulfill your creative aspirations. You get to make new contacts, hone your skills, and work on a variety of projects. It steers your career in a new direction and helps you make extra money. In the long run, you can even give up your full-time job and set up your own CAD drafting business.

Are you willing to take the plunge and give up the comfort of a steady job? Here are a few helpful tips for you:

1. Diversify Your Skills

If you are working as a CAD designer, you have likely already obtained the required training and certification. However, top-notch professional qualifications aren’t the only thing that will help you fetch new clients. As a freelancer, you have to deal with various types of clients who have very specific requirements and expectations. What will you do when a client asks you to work on Autodesk Inventor instead of AutoCAD?

The key is to not restrict yourself to any particular CAD software. It is important to remember that you are a CAD designer, not a mere software operator. Make sure you are well-versed with all the latest and popular CAD tools. It will prepare you to tackle the challenges of any project irrespective of how complicated and demanding it is. This, in turn, will help you win over your clients and bag even better projects.

2. Adapt to Technology

From architecture and interior design to manufacturing and product design – technological advancement affects every industry. CAD is not an exception. For instance, the introduction of 3D printing has impacted the way CAD designers work. Likewise, many companies are working to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning with their CAD tools to automate routine tasks.

It is, therefore, essential for you to stay abreast of the latest developments in CAD technology. Watch out for the emerging industry trends and latest software versions. This empowers you to revamp your skills and qualifications before a big change hits the market. It is also crucial for you to regularly upgrade the hardware and software you work with.

3. Scout for Projects

Freelancing can be a particularly lonesome journey, especially during the initial days. How do you showcase your designing skills and get hold of high-paying clients? Where do you go to find the kind of projects you want to work on? The internet has all the answers.

Just run a quick Google search for “freelance CAD projects”. You will find a plethora of websites that connect you with clients from all over the world. Some of the most reliable and popular platforms include Cad Crowd, Upwork, GrabCAD, Fiverr, etc. You can get started by signing up as a freelancer or job seeker.

Make sure you complete your profile and include a link to your portfolio and work samples. It adds to your credibility and helps clients perceive you as a trusted professional. Most of these platforms require you to compete with other freelancers by bidding on a particular project. It is crucial to place an optimum bid so that you don’t feel under-compensated upon completing the project.

4. Create and Promote Your Website

As a freelancer, you are in charge of advertising and networking too. One of the strongest marketing assets for any independent professional is their website. When you approach new clients, the first thing they want to do is take a look at your website. Thus, it is extremely crucial for you to have a well-designed website that showcases your work.

Platforms like WordPress and Wix let you create sophisticated websites in just a few easy steps. It eliminates the need to hire a trained programmer or struggle with the nitty-gritty of website development. Make sure your website is visually stunning and easily navigable. Include your portfolio and a few client testimonials to make the website even more compelling.

While your website is getting ready, you should develop a strategy to promote it. Even the most well-designed website is of no use unless it gets steady traffic. Make sure you include the website URL in your visiting cards, email signature, social media profiles, etc.It is equally important to ensure that your website has strong visibility on search engines. Identify relevant keywords in your niche and optimize the content of your website using these keywords. When done correctly, search engine optimization (SEO) improves your website’s search engine ranking and helps drive increased organic traffic. If you are not well-versed with the basics of SEO, you can even hire SEO virtual assistants to work on your website.

Additionally, you can start a blog to share your unique perspective on relevant topics. It helps establish your authority on subjects related to CAD. It also improves your website’s search engine ranking. This, in turn, motivates new clients to trust you.

5. Up Your Social Media Game

Social media has made its way into every aspect of our lives, including the way we work. It is essential for you to have a strong presence on various social media platforms. Start by creating a Facebook page and upgrading your Instagram profile to a business account. Invite your friends, followers, and clients to like the page. Upload snippets of your work to keep your audience engaged.

It is also crucial to use the right hashtags along with your social media posts. These will help expand your reach and connect you with potential clients. You can also run paid ad campaigns to promote your posts and reach out to a wider audience. Make sure you are present on all the platforms where your prospective clients will likely be active.

Conclusion

The thought of becoming a freelance CAD designer can be daunting at first. However, the joy of working on your own terms outweighs the risks associated with it. All you have to do is develop an actionable plan before you set out on your freelancing journey. Apart from acquiring top-notch skills, you should also focus on building your brand and networking with new clients.

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Using Pattern Brushes in Adobe Illustrator for Decorative Borders

Adobe Illustrator

Users of Adobe Illustrator can create complex patterns made of simple tiles, and also have an incredible amount of brush shapes to work with. Most of these two features are used separately, but combining them together can provide another great creative feature: pattern brushes.

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Almost a Hidden Feature

Unlike the patterns, you’ll notice in the Swatches palette, or the brushes in the Brushes palette, Pattern Brushes don’t stand out as an obvious feature in Illustrator. But if you look at the bottom of the Brushes palette’s default brushes, you can see an example of a pattern brush. Or if you open the Brush Libraries, you’ll find several sets of Borders that can be used as pattern brushes.

Patterns Combined to Create Paths

Pattern Brushes are comprised of a set of patterns combined on a path. This set of patterns can include the side tile (for standard strokes), start tile, end tile (which can be the same as a start tile, but flipped, — or a different design), outer corner, and inner corner tiles. The corner tiles can be omitted if a pattern tile is designed for free-formed paths.

When used on a squared border, Illustrator places the outer corner tile in all four corners, with the side tile placed in between, seamlessly joined together. When used as a free-form path, the start and end tiles cap the repeated use of the side tile. The side tile will follow the path, and be stretched around sharper corners.

Create Adjoining Patterns and Use As a Brush

Here’s how to make Pattern Brushes. First, create pattern tiles that will adjoin to each other seamlessly when used. You’ll need end tiles and a side tile (see Example A). Corner tiles would be needed if you want to create a box border or will have hard angles on your path. The examples below use only end and side tiles for a free-form design.

Important: make sure your new patterns tiles are named. Double-click on a pattern tile you’ve added to the swatch palette and give it a name in the dialog box.

Next, create a pattern brush by choosing “New Brush” from the pop-out menu in the Brushes palette. Choose “New Pattern Brush” from the next dialog box. The Pattern Brush Options dialog box appears (see Example B). All the pattern tiles from the Swatch palette are listed, with five indicators of the pattern placements needed. For our example, the two end tiles are placed as well as a side tile, but the corner tiles are left blank. Save the brush.

Now choose the new pattern brush from the Brushes Palette. Check a fill/stroke indicator to make sure you have “stroke” checked. Now pick a drawing tool and draw your object. The pattern brush follows your object’s shape. The pattern tiles are automatically added and adjust to the contours. You may need to edit the pattern brush in the Brushes palette to compensate for gaps and stretches, depending on the type of design you’ve created.

Creative Detailed Results without a Ton of Work

The use of Pattern Brushes allows for some very interesting and complex looking artwork without a ton of effort needed (see the finished example above or below). All the “hard” work is done in just a few pattern tiles, and Illustrator takes over to do the detail work on a larger scale.


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How to Design a Photoshop Club: Schools Benefit From an Online Learning Portal

Design a Photoshop club

Photoshop Clubs usually share a basic structure. There is need for a gallery, discussion boards and forums peopled with characters. They may wish to remain anonymous by displaying an avatar as a signature. These portals are easy to create and not too time consuming to manage if they are well planned from the outset. The benefits of this kind of learning can be quite profound.

Safety Procedures for Online Sharing of Content

Clubs can be locked to protect the privacy of the students. Digital space may be limited so that students are encouraged to be selective when uploading their work. This needs to be selective as it may cause students to develop a sense of discernment when learning about design.

A moderator can be appointed who will take material offline if it is inappropriate and does not comply with the rules of the club.

Feasibility Study to Ascertain Workability of Project

Although the idea is a good one, setting up the club may be time consuming. There is a need for some basic equipment if the club is to function.

Any school that has unlimited access to Photoshop on all computers is in an ideal position to create such a club free of charge.

There would need to be:

  • support from administration
  • at least one teacher who has the passion to manage the learning environment
  • keen students, some of whom have at least basic skills with the programme so that they can be role models and lead the way
  • access to a scanner or digital camera (although students could download images from online if they needed to, as by the time they have been altered they will no longer break copyright)
  • a free social network tool such as Ning (social network tool) or WetPaint (wiki tool)

Characteristics and Benefits of Photoshop Clubs

A Photoshop Club can be structured so that it is a gathering place on line. So that the work keeps flowing and that students are learning and upgrading techniques, regular challenges are given out to participants. This provides the space and focus to motivate students.

Learning Photoshop via an online streaming vignette works well for many students. The amount of time required for students to complete the exercises demonstrated on WatchandLearnphotoshop.com is not too great. This is, of course, unless the students are highly motivated to extend their knowledge and mastery. If this happens and the students become engaged, they can extend the challenges, test the limits and hone their skills to a very highly polished degree.

Creating an Online Gallery of Images

As the students improve their ability to manipulate images and they develop their skills and sense of design, a fantastic gallery of images will evolve.

Not only can the students monitor their own improvement, but the school will benefit from a growing library of images to act as an image bank, relevant to the school culture. There will be a fondness for the material because the images would be owned by the student and teaching community.

Others could commission images and set challenges that will directly meet the needs of the school population. A promotions committee designed to publicise the school would be of particular benefit.

As the examples are loaded into the gallery, students will be able to see a wide range of styles, thought processes and artistic inspirations that can be stimulated by one simple question.

Once the community begins to understand the benefits of the venture, the learning culture of the school is expected to flourish. The bank of useful, local images is expected to attract an audience to further enhance feedback and participation.

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Free Software from Web design to Bookkeeping: Shareware and Free Computer Applications for any Purpose

free webdesign software

While Microsoft, Adobe Software and other giants have sold billions in application products, there are excellent free or what is termed, shareware applications, available at virtually no cost. If one has just purchased a computer on a tight budget and wishes to have most every application that others might pay handsomely for, a host of excellent free programs exists with limited drawbacks. While Microsoft has virtually invented the home/business computer in terms of the plethora of software applications, there are many great programs and applications available to anyone for free.

Google Leads the Way in Free Software Applications

Google’s search engine dominance has opened the way for anyone to do almost anything for free using Google’s software tools and applications. The trade media has long chronicled the battle between Google and Microsoft, yet the real winner is ultimately the computer user. Google has released so many excellent tools that are freely available to the end-user such as:

  • Google Desktop – A quick, efficient way of funding documents on the computer
  • Google Earth – A fascinating look at the world or any address in the world
  • Google Video, Images – A listing of both images and video by topic
  • Google Doc – A word processing and spreadsheet application
  • Google Picasa – A way to organize and edit images
  • YouTube – A way to watch, upload and share videos

And this is only a fraction of the number of products available for free.

Other Software Vendors

Google is certainly not the only provider of good free software. Merely running a search on free software or shareware applications will open up a whole new world of web experience. Even if someone wishes to run a small business with free software, there are many options. Many other sites including tucows.com, brothersoft.com, shareware.com, cnet.com, and many others offer hundreds, if not thousands of programs to choose from. Many of the programs may have pop-ups urging a user to buy the more advanced version of a program without the pop-ups, but if a user doesn’t mind a minor intrusion, it’s not usually a problem.

Many software companies are not really companies, at all, but rather an association of users that help to write or modify software that that is kept in the public domain. A good example of that would be Seamonkey or the Seamonkey project. SeaMonkey uses much of the same Mozilla source code which powers Firefox, Thunderbird, Camino, Sunbird, and Miro. These programs are mostly browsers with many added capabilities and are all free and quite reputable.

Free Trials on Software

Many software companies offer free trials by offering the user a 15 or 30-day window to decide whether to buy the program or not. Often these trials have limited capabilities, which may be annoying to a prospective buyer. A good example might be an MP3 recorder/converter program that only allows the user to convert one half or a small percentage of a song. This has the unintended side effect of angering a potential customer who winds up purchasing another program or using a truly free MP3 converter program from another software company.

Another problem to avoid is that some “free” programs come with spyware or in extreme cases, viruses built-in. Therefore, before downloading, a user should check the program out by running searches and determining if the software is from a reputable company. In any event, users must be vigilant and always have a good anti-virus and spyware program in place before downloading any programs from an unknown source.

It is certainly possible to browse the internet and use many different applications that are free. Some have drawbacks in terms of usage, capabilities or pop-ups. At the end of the day, if a user can put up with minor annoyances, the results are quite acceptable.

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