Digital scrap items in the header, layouts and sidebar are by Miss Mint at or Jen Wilson at

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Photoshop. Wow!

I've been working with photoshop since 2003 and I'm not ashamed to admit I learn something new almost every week. It's a powerful program that does so much more than I can grasp right now. Someday I hope to be able to utilize it's full potential.

Lately I have been trying (in vain) to get my camera to take close-up shots that rival nicer, more expensive SLR cameras. Miss Mint has been in on my attempt to get my point-and-shoot hybrid project images to look more professional and while it's probably not going to happen, I have learned some REALLY cool tricks along the way.

You probably know I only share my photoshop secrets with my closest friends, which is why they're rarely if ever posted here. And if you don't know, I *HATE* actions. I much prefer to do things by hand and customize the settings for every image. You get much better results that way, as opposed to fixing errors created when some action blew your photo coloring out of proportion. This week I stumbled across a trick for a very quick and easy way to "defog" photos that I think everyone with a digital camera can benefit from. I've come up with my own settings that I find enhance the outcome and shared them below. This may or may not work in Photoshop Elements and if you want any additional help, I charge $8 per hour for lessons, question answering or help with anything Photoshop related. This is for intermediate photoshop users. Here's the trick:

Tay's Quick & Dirty Defog

1. Open your picture in photoshop. Do NOT edit anything & immediately do step 2.
2. In Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3 go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask
3. The Unsharp Mask control box will open. Enter these values:
Amount: 20%
Radius: 25 pixels
Threshold: 0 levels
4. Click Ok and wait for the Unsharp Mask filter to run. You should notice some new clarity.
5. In the Layers window, select the background layer & hit Ctrl-J to duplicate the layer.
6. Click on the new layer (Layer 1) and set the Layer Blend mode to Luminoscity to keep the overall color balance as is OR set it to Screen to also enhance vibrancy. (Drop the layer opacity if it adds too much and blows out your photo.)
7. Hit Ctrl-E to merge the layers back into one and continue editing as usual.

Examples: I took these pictures of a hyrbid card I made outside in indirect sunlight on a mostly sunny day with my point-and-shoot set to digital macro (no flash possible with this setting) at an ISO of 100. The first is the disgusting, straight-out-of-the-camera original:

The image below is the same image with most of the fogginess removed using the steps above with the blend mode set to Screen (100% opacity):

The above image wasn't quite defogged enough so I re-ran the Unsharp Mask and increased the radius to 50 pixels. The next image is what I got after setting the duplicated layer blend mode to Screen (79% opacity):

I liked how the grayish fog had gone away but I was starting to notice some color wash-out on the pinks. Not to mention it lacked the overall "pop" I wanted it to have to show off Miss Mint's bracket mats & Hot Mama papers. After a few more tweaks (no, I'm not sharing!) I got a final image that represents the real life coloring of the card and printed digital elements:

Unfortunately this shot is a great example of what I mean when I say a point & shoot can't do an SLR's job. It's great for a gallery image but it's not ever going to make the cover of a scrap magazine. I'm also not a professional and will have to learn how to shoot across the surface of a satin print, reflective rhinestones and matte elements all at the same time without getting such glare. (What I really need to learn is to just take things over to Kelsey's house! LOL!)

For whatever reason, I like these funky, artistic angled shots of my work. Unfortunately Photoshop can't work too many miracles if your starting image is crap. I'm probably going to have to throw down for a nicer camera in the future.

Thank You TXU!

I got a very sudden and unexpected voice mail from a nice gentleman at TXU last week. After my PUC complaint, he had reviewed my account and found everything had previously been restored. My account showed I was on the 13.9¢ lock-in rate plan and my voice recording was there. There was no evidence there had ever been a problem except for a credit to my account from March to this month for being slightly over-billed at 14.2¢. He apologized for the confusion of whoever I had spoken with at customer service and admitted to his own confusion but assured me my account was as it should be. My bill reflected the right information and a MUCH more reasonable electriciy charge. (Well, reasonable for August any ways! LOL!)

Thank you to whoever took the initiative to check on my account, do the research and correct it long before it was reviewed by the complaint department. I know I have one or two readers with the power to do this and I want you to know I very sincerely appreciate it!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Aiden Stories

How difficult could a seventeen month-old be, right? Let me tell you about last Friday.

Everything was going well. I'd somehow managed to vacuum my house every single day last week and had just put the vacuum away and gotten Aiden a snack. I'd found the new Cheerios snack mix on sale at HEB and I had a coupon so we picked up a bag. Once we were home, he'd zeroed right in on the new treat and wanted it. I gave him a small serving in one of his little plastic bowls and he was munching happily in the living room while I put away the rest of the groceries.

I heard the familiar sound of snacks hitting the tile followed by a sweet little "uh-oh". Before I could groan about my freshly-vacuumed floors I heard Major coming down the hall from our bedroom to vacuum them up himself. Then several things happened at once. Aiden was holding his little plastic golf club and snack bowl when, in a moment of random bliss and glee, let out a series of whoops and shouts as he ran towards the playroom swinging the putter like a caveman. Major, who was standing between Aiden and his bee-line to the playroom, had been staring so intently at the dropped snack mix that he didn't see Aiden coming at him...

I'm standing in front of the pantry, frozen, seeing my precious son, the massive doberman and Major's fixed gaze on the food all around them. I could feel my muscles tense and the adrenaline rush hit about the same time as the snarl in my throat. (That's how we communicate "no" to Major without confusing or frightening Aiden. Heck, even Aiden growls now.) I'm scolding myself for not making sure Major was locked in our bedroom while Aiden was awake and now I'm worried Aiden will get knocked down when Major makes a move for his spilled food. I have no idea how dogs can move so much faster than we can...

Major looks up from the prized snack mix to see a club-waving, screaming banshee coming at him and panics. He turns to his right to escape but is standing too close to the wall to complete his turn. Instead he goes completely vertical, stands up with paws on the wall, pushes off to turn around and hits the ground running in the opposite direction. In the middle of this maneuver I hear the *CRUNCH* and CRASH of plastic and I see Aiden skid to a stunned stop. By this time I've reached him and scooped him up, still anticipating he would be knocked over by the hairy hoover, and then I see what broke:

Major had hit the wall outlet in the hall with his knee, knocking the HUGE childproof double outlet cover off, breaking the faceplate and jamming the outlet back into the wall. See the drywall damage? Luckily Brian is super-handy and had it fixed in no time after a trip to Ace Hardware to perfectly match up the plate for me. But back to our story. So I see this smashed in faceplate and plastic chips on the tile. I lock up the dog then grab the camera and the broom, thinking Brian is never going to believe this story. While I take a picture, Aiden is trying to touch the broken plastic. I tell him "No, no, it's sharp. Ow! That can cut!" and put my hand over it to block his poking. As I pull my hand away, I cut myself on the finger! I show Aiden the cut (to prove my point that plastic can cut) and then go to get a band-aid with him following me scolding "Nuh-nuh-no! OW! No, no!" I inspect the annoying shallow cut, dig around for a band-aid and then sweep up the plastic debris before I notice Aiden has silently disappeared. In fact the whole house has fallen silent. He must be in our bathroom....

I bolt into our room to see him running out of the bathroom shouting "Nuh-nuh-NO!" as he tries to get past me. (He's so self-incriminating! LOL!) I notice he has something pink and crumply in is hand as he weasels by. There on the floor he has dumped out an entire box of nursing pads I had stored in the back of a drawer in the bathroom and has made off with one, which he is now shoving into the driver's seat of his Fisher Price train.

Arg! I begin picking up the nursing pads when I wonder how he got these out of the back of the drawer with all the other stuff - like that black hair dryer attachment - in the way. Wait. I peer around the half wall and find the other stuff strewn about around the toilet and into our closet. HOW?!! It only took me about a minute and a half to get a band-aid on and sweep up the plastic!

It's not the worst afternoon ever. The grocery shopping AND vacuuming are done so I can't complain about the mangled breast pad riding in the battery-powered train down the hall. That night he brings a bottle of bubbles to the bathroom for us to blow while he's in the tub. Problem is, the once-clear bubble solution has now turned cloudy and has a slight green tint to it. I have no idea what he's added to it (Crystal Light?) but he's wailing for bubbles so I start blowing. Only problem is they're now indestructible mutant bubbles! The things won't pop! They pile up all over him and his bath toys. At one point he has a bubble-fro & Brian recovers from the hysteria first and runs for the camera before I can:

This isn't a lucky shot. The bubbles are staying in place, holding their shape and didn't budge until we rinsed them off. If I can figure out what he's mixed together to create this concoction of unpoppable bubbles we'll probably be made millionaires by our impossibly busy seventeen month-old! LOL!

Every mom needs head shots!

Seriously. I think they do. Just one picture in the house of yourself looking fabulous so you can smile as you push the vacuum past it with your hair pulled back, no makeup on and wearing mis-matched workout clothes with your toddler hanging onto the cord, ripping off the on-board attachments and throwing them at the dog as you go. (Hmm, guess what I was doing this morning!) LOL!

After combing through the fifty plus pics Kelsey snapped I have somehow narrowed down my favorites. Brian loves them and I have to agree, she really did an incredible job! I will confess, however, that I've had to learn to just listen to her and wear layers of bright clothes and ridiculously chunky jewelry. When I do, my photos have always come out looking cute. I need my shots for creative team bio pages so I look a bit more funky & fashiony, which is acceptable for us nutty, creative types, but you get the idea! :D

Okay, this pic is the perfect example. I showed up to her house looking like I had gotten dressed in the dark in jeans with a light blue tank top under a hot pink tank top which was then under a vibrant orange tee. I piled on a denim jacket, an apple green scraf and two bright-colored necklaces with those huge earrings. For whatever reason I feel like I don't "show up" in pictures. I always seem washed out. The vibrant colors and gobs of layers help.

Same photo with a different crop. You can't do this to me Kels! It makes things MUCH harder to pick from! LOL!

This one has been a surprise favorite. When I began to overheat in my five layers and scarf (in August) it started to show in the pictures. Kels had me take the jacket & scarf off then snapped this. Sure enough, loosing the layers helped!

Next time you get family pictures taken, don't be shy about asking for a few of just you. Your hubby will love having one at work and you'll be grateful for the shot on those random occasions when you need to submit a photo of yourself for something. I think I'm going to start adding this on to our photo shoots a couple times per year. Kels usually doesn't mind because I hold still and don't try to topple her studio lights! LOL! Hmmm, maybe I can get a few of Brian by himself at our family shoot in November!