Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Smart Photo Editor

£39.90 (but may be on special offer)

If you want to jazz up your photos by enhancing the colours, adding artistic effects, replacing the background or getting rid of unwanted objects (and people!) you may think you’d need to invest a few hundred dollars to buy a copy of PhotoShop, then invest many days of hard effort learning how to use it. In fact, Smart Photo Editor makes light work of all these tasks and costs less than £40 (about $56) for either the Mac or Windows edition. In fact, at the time of writing it is on special offer so if you are fast you may be able to get a copy at half price!

The simplest way to modify an image is by selecting a ready-to-use effect from a gallery containing several thousand effects, many of which have been created and submitted by users of the software. In this way, it is easy to change a colour photo to sepia or black and white, lighten shadows, deepen colours, apply artistic effects to make a photo look as though it is a drawing or a watercolour painting, add borders, vignettes and so on.
Here I have applied an instant effect to make my photo looking like a colour illustration.
If you only want to apply an effect to a selected area of the image you can apply a mask first. You can create masks by painting around the edges of a selected area using the mouse. The masking ‘brush’ automatically calculates the edges between the selected and deselected area so won’t have to be pixel-accurate in drawing around  the edges of a building or every hair on a person’s head. As long as there is reasonable contrast between the two areas, the brush generally does a pretty good job of figuring out the precise details of the contours. Then, you can use the mask to do things such as making the selected area monochrome while leaving the remainder in colour, or adding an artistic effect to the background while leaving the foreground untouched.

Options are supplied to make it easy to replace the sky in your photo with a more dramatic alternative or to defocus the background to put more emphasis on the foreground. If you want to tidy up a photo by removing unwanted elements you can select the items to remove; then you can fill in the deleted areas with textures taken from the surround areas. This works best if the surrounding  areas are of a fairly consistent or texture – sea, sand or grass, for example. It would not be so simple to remove objects from a busy street scene.  
The sky in this picture is pretty boring so I’ve added a mask to the sky…
…then I’ve selected a more dramatic sky from the Smart Photo Editor gallery and it is immediately added to my picture.
Although in many cases the ready-to-use effects may do all you need, you can also tailor each effect by adjusting parameters using sliders arranged in a docked panel.  For example, you could use one slider to change the contrast and another to change the exposure. Yet more sliders can be used to control various artistic effects such as crayon drawings and watercolour paintings. And for the really ambitious effects creator there is even a dedicated effect editor that lets you design and save your own effects.

Here I have tried out various effects on a photo. You can see the original photo at the top left and the same photo with added effects in the other three images.
The software includes many standard image editing features to let you pan, crop, deskew and resize pictures.  In addition to running as a standalone application the Studio Edition (£69.99 but once again, watch out for offers) may optionally be used as a ‘plugin’ with PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements.  See here:
Smart Photo Editor is really a very impressive piece of image editing software. At its current offer price of just £19.95, it is definitely a bargain.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Which programming language should you learn next?

This is a question that I'm often asked. "I know one language? Which one should I learn next?" My advice to people is generally to think less about the specific language than about the principles. Do you need to learn how to structure and maintain your programs? Do you really understand encapsulation and modularity? What about low-level programming? Are pointers and addresses a mystery to you? At any rate, this short video may give you a few ideas...