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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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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Landscape Design Software: Visualize Completed Landscape Before Planting

Landscape design software

Not everyone is able to envision a finished landscape while looking at the bare ground. Landscape design software helps visualize arrangements of plants and fixed features to create the desired end result. Used in combination with good references books about plants adapted to a region, a landscaper will make better decisions and be more pleased with the result than landscaping through a haphazard purchase and planting process.

Getting Started With Landscape Design

Professional landscape designers use eight basic principles to guide their designs— unity, simplicity, balance, color, natural transition, line, proportion, and repetition. The landscape design includes more than plants; it also includes fountains and ponds, statues and sculptures, and paths. So the options available for the final look of a home landscape are almost infinite.

Before beginning a home landscape design, visit local botanical gardens, show homes, and upscale neighborhoods to generate landscape ideas. Consider the common characteristics of appealing landscapes and make note of the plants and complementary features used. The Landscape Design Advisor offers information and example pictures of 11 general styles including Tuscan, formal, informal, desert, xeriscape and Asian.

Think about the care and maintenance required by plants being considered. Some landscapes look great because the owners spend hours pruning, mulching, and pampering their plants. Plants that are not adapted to the region in which they are growing may require a lot of extra water and soil amendments to survive. In the long run, an informed decision before planting will lead to a better outcome.

Using Landscape Design Software

There are many software solutions to help design a landscape. These software packages range in price from free to computer-aided-design programs that cost several hundred dollars. The landscape design programs vary significantly in terms of capabilities and ease of use. Here are some software features that many people have found useful in creating a landscape design for their home:

  • The ability to use a photograph of the home rather than just a line drawing of a generic house.
  • A large database of plants
  • 3-dimensional views of the landscape
  • A night view of plants with landscape lighting
  • Editable graphic objects such as paths and water fountains
  • Adding fixed features such as fences, hot tubs, decks, and patios
  • Editable templates to begin the design
  • A training CD or on-line tool tutorials

Planning a home landscape that will be pleasing for years to come and can be accomplished within one’s budget, time available, and gardening capability requires a commitment of time for planning. Landscape design software can help.

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Popular Computer Aided Design Software: The Top CAD Programs Used by Engineers

CAD design software

Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to perform many of their design and optimization tasks. A variety of CAD packages are available with different functions and target users.

2D CAD Packages

The original CAD software packages developed as analogs to the physical draftsman’s table. The two packages that dominate this market include:

  • AutoCAD – Autodesk’s AutoCAD is the grandfather of all commercial CAD packages. First released in 1982, AutoCAD is the premier 2D digital drafting package, although 3D modeling functionality was added with the AutoCAD 2007 release. The latest version of AutoCAD includes parametric modeling capabilities as well as mesh modeling. The file format for drawings used by AutoCAD, DWG, has become the standard file format for CAD system interoperability. While pure 3D packages are gaining market share in many areas, AutoCAD is still the preferred package for architects.
  • TurboCAD – TurboCAD, currently owned by IMSI/Design LLC, was originally created as a low-cost competitor to AutoCAD when released in the US in 1986 with a price of $99. TurboCAD was popular with computer resellers and educational channels. TurboCAD added 3D functionality in 1995. TurboCAD supports a variety of third-party plugins for specialized functionality.

Several other smaller packages are still available, and many others have been discontinued over the years as AutoCAD has thrived.

3D CAD Packages

The development of 3D CAD systems has revolutionized engineering design. The top 3D CAD packages include:

  • Autodesk Inventor – Autodesk entered the 3D modeling system market in 1999 with its Inventor package. Inventor is a 3D parametric history-based modeling program, whose functionality Autodesk calls “virtual prototyping”. Inventor includes specialized environments, such as sheet metal, frame generation, tube and pipe, and cable and harness.
  • Pro/ENGINEER – PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER was the first 3D parametric modeling solution available to the engineering market, released in 1987. Pro/ENGINEER is an integrated application, including CAD, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) functions. A wide range of modules is available for a different design, manufacturing, and industry needs. Pro/ENGINEER supports the design of individual components and complete complex systems of components.
  • Solid Edge – Solid Edge, currently owned by Siemens PLM Solutions, was originally developed in 1996 by Intergraph. Solid Edge competes for market share with Pro/ENGINEER, Solidworks, and Autodesk Inventor. The system can integrate with Sharepoint to provide product lifecycle management (PLM).
  • Solidworks – Solidworks, now owned by Dassault Systemes, was first released in 1995 as a low-cost competitor to PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER package. Solidworks employs a top-down engineering approach, allowing users to start with a 2D or 3D sketch and refine the design, as an engineer would do on paper. Solidworks supports a variety of toolboxes and modules for a variety of specialized functions, such as simulation and product validation, as well as product data management (PDM).

Other commercial and company proprietary packages do exist, but these software systems dominate the 2D and 3D CAD markets.

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