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July 29, 2007

Photoshop CS3's Automatic People Remover.

PhotoshopPeopleRemover.gif

Two weeks ago we ran a tip on how to remove unwanted people from public photos. Apparently, it's a popular topic — that post received almost 20,000 visitors in the first 10 days. Less than a week after publishing that tip, I ran across another technique using Photoshop CS3 Extended that makes the process virtually automatic.

As before, you must take several shots of the same scene using a tripod. This technique uses a new feature in Photoshop CS3 Extended called image stacks. With the right settings, Photoshop automatically identifies areas that are similar between your photos (the unchanging background) and removes the elements that change between shots (the wandering people).

So, if erasing people by hand seems like too much work to bother with (and if you spent the extra money to get the Extended version of Photoshop CS3), you can use this cool automatic people remover technique.

Step 1: Take multiple photos with a tripod.

To demonstrate this technique I visited the Fremont Troll who lives beneath a bridge in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. This whimsical public art attracts the procession of visitors and tourists we needed in order to demonstrate this people remover technique.

PeopleRemover-1.png

PeopleRemover-2.png

PeopleRemover-3.png

While only three photos are shown here, we actually shot about 6 photos over a couple minutes.

Note: For some history on this Seattle landmark, read about The Fremont Troll at Wikipedia. Fittingly, the Troll lives just up the hill from Adobe's Fremont Campus.

Step 2: Load your photos into an image stack.

In Photoshop CS3 Extended, choose File > Scripts > Statistics.

Pick the collection of photos you took with a tripod. Go ahead and check the "Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images" checkbox for good measure.

And the magic option: Choose a Stack Mode of Median.

PeopleRemover-ImageStatistics.png

Note: This script is not available in the standard version of Photoshop CS3 — you must be using the Extended version.

The Results: People Automatically Removed!

PeopleRemover-Result.png

Photoshop will process for a few minutes as the images are loaded, and after a moment you'll see your resulting image with most of the people automatically removed. Cool!

How does this work?

PeopleRemover-Layer.pngThis technique exploits a new feature in Photoshop CS3 Extended called an image stack. Look in your Layers palette, and you'll see that your images have been converted into a special type of Smart Object. That icon we've circled in our screenshot indicates that your layer is an image stack.

An image stack creates a single composite view out of a larger collection of images (in this case your original photos shot with a tripod). By choosing different stack modes (Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode) you can change how Photoshop generates that composite view.

Using the median setting, Photoshop automatically identifies areas that are similar between your photos (the unchanging background) and removes the elements that change between shots (the wandering people).

Experiment with the other settings and see what types of results you can achieve.

Source: This tip inspired by a timely episode of the fun Creative Sweet TV podcast. For another great example of this technique in action check out the always entertaining Russell Brown with his video tip: Smart Objects and Stack Mode Settings - The Disappearing Cars!

Photoshop People Remover - The Video.

Here is the Creative Sweet TV podcast that was a partial inspiration for this week's tip: Photoshop CS3's Automatic People Remover. Australian trainer Mike McHugh is the host of this entertaining and informative Adobe CS3 Podcast.

Check it out, and if you like what you see, you might want to subscribe to Mike's regular podcast via this iTunes link:

iTunes

Find Mac OS X's hidden UPS options.

ups.gif

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is the only way to make sure your studio's servers receive clean, sufficient, and consistent power. In the past, configuring an UPS for Macintosh required tedious fiddling with dubious third-party software. Now the functionality is built directly into the operating system, and the most challenging part of the process is finding exactly where Apple hid those controls.

In System Preferences (Apple Menu > System Preferences), look in the Energy Saver pane.

EnergySaver-Preferences.png

When your Macintosh is connected directly to a compatible UPS device via USB you can select UPS from the top pop-up menu. These options are only visible when an UPS device is connected — which is why most people consider them near-impossible to find.

Once you've selected the UPS option, a bevy of previously concealed settings appear for interacting with your device. At the top is the current battery charge, along the model information for the attached device. Below that, you can choose to configure three shutdown options based on minutes you’ve been on battery power, minutes left on battery power, or the percentage of charge left in the battery (generally the most accurate of the three).

APC offers a wide range of models which can accommodate Macintosh workstations or servers.

Source: This tip comes from a new technical blog for corporate IT Managers who support Mac-based creative departments— published by CreativeTechs' own server guru, Jordan Bojar: Make Mac Work.

July 22, 2007

How does your website rank on Alexa.com?

Curious how your website traffic compares to your competition? Alexa.com offers a fascinating ranking measurement that lets you pull up the traffic history for any website you wish.

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http://www.alexa.com/

Think of Alexa.com as a form of Nielsen Ratings for websites. Alexa collects traffic data from users who have the Alexa toolbar installed on their web browser. The resulting traffic data is flawed — yet while not completely accurate, this information does provide a useful tool for designers tasked with improving their client's competitive web positioning.

Alexa's Sparky Toolbar for Firefox finally includes Mac users.

The Alexa toolbar was previously only available on Internet Explorer for Windows — so Mac users didn't get "counted" in the Alexa rankings. This month however, a new plug-in for the Firefox Web browser brings Macintosh users into that traffic ranking.

Once you install Alexa's new Sparky Toolbar, a small traffic graph shows the traffic rank for each page you visit:

AlexaToolbarFirefox.gif

Tip: To install the plug in, visit Alexa.com's download page with Firefox, and an "install now" option should be visible.

How should design studios use Alexa.com?

How could Alexa.com prove valuable to our audience of ad agencies, design studios and in-house creative departments?

Evaluate web traffic on your clients' websites. Run an Alexa.com report on your clients' websites. Especially clients who might be evaluating whether to redesign their site. Traffic reports give an objective measure of their website's exposure, and can help justify the cost of improvements to that website.

Evaluate web traffic on your own website. I suspect this is where everyone starts. Don't be discouraged if your studio's site is not highly ranked. As a tool, Alexa appears to be geared to somewhat active sites. CreativeTechs.com didn't show up at the bottom of the chart until we started getting daily traffic of 500+ visits on our tips site.

Evaluate the competition's web traffic. Alexa is a great tool for marketing types. Run the numbers for your clients. Differences in web traffic between your client's website and their competition is apt to spur any entrepreneur's competitive nature. If website design appears to be a major factor, comparing the web traffic results can help justify your creative fees.

Demonstrate legitimacy. Some venture capital firms use results from Alexa.com as an index to gage the legitimacy of a product or service concept. Site rank on Alexa and Google can be one of the many indicators of a concept's marketability. (Another great justification for your creative fees!)

Help us raise CreativeTechs' ranking! If you enjoy the work we put into this weekly newsletter the best way to say thanks is to help spread the word. Tell friends and colleagues about our weekly tips. Link to our tips website from your blog. And give us a good review on Alexa.com. Thanks!

Source: This is an update of a tip we ran back in 2006 in CreativeTechs Tips #85. That tip was written back when CreativeTechs had a traffic rank of 655,689 — we now rank as 119,633 (thanks for all the great referrals over the years!). Finally, for designers looking to better understand their own site's traffic patterns, we recommend using Google Analytics for more focused traffic information about your particular site.

Update PDF Forms with Acrobat's Replace Pages.

Acrobat-Replace-Pages.gifIt takes a lot of time to add bookmarks, hyperlinks, form fields, buttons, and other interactive elements to a PDF. Inevitably however, you'll need to change your design. How can you update your PDF when the original layout is modified?

We'll often catch designers painstakingly copying form fields from the old PDF into a newly created PDF — or worse, rebuilding all those interactive elements by hand. There is a much easier way.

The full version of Acrobat provides a Replace Pages feature that allows you to swap out the PDF background, yet retain all your time-consuming interactive elements.

In your existing PDF, choose Document > Replace Pages. Select a newly created PDF with your updated design, and indicate which pages you want to replace. Acrobat inserts your new design while the original form fields and interactive elements are maintained in exactly the same locations.

This feature should save a few designers an hour or two.

Source: This tip inspired by a recent question on updating PDF Forms from the in-house graphics department at Washington Mutual Bank. This tip comes directly from page 6 of the July 2007 issue of Jay Nelson's Design Tools Monthly. (By the way, CreativeTechs' member clients receive a complimentary subscription to this terrific publication in their monthly care package).

July 15, 2007

Microsoft Office for Mac won't save to your server?

Your creative team is working feverishly, when suddenly people can't save their Office documents to the server. A cryptic error message appears when they try:

There has been a network or file permission error. The network connection may be lost.
"There has been a network or file permission error.
The network connection may be lost."

No matter what you do, you can't seem to get Word or Excel to save to your network shares. You've gone over the machines repeatedly, and everything is set up properly. Worse still, the problem's intermittent. The errors often surface when your people are busiest, but sometimes days go by without any problems.

There is an explanation. What your team may be suffering from is an unfortunate side-effect of how Microsoft Office for Mac handles its temporary files. If your team is suffering from this problem, we have a somewhat technical description of the cause, with some options on how to address it.

Make Mac Work: Office Won’t Save To Server.

Source: The write-up for this tip comes from a new technical blog for corporate IT Managers who support Mac-based creative departments— published by CreativeTechs' own server guru, Jordan Bojar: Make Mac Work.

Remove unwanted people from public photos.

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This tip comes in handy for graphic designers who need a quick way to get pedestrian-free photographs of their signage or environmental projects.

There is a classic digital photography technique for removing unwanted people: Take several shots of the same scene using a tripod — then layer those photos in Photoshop. People move around between shots, so you can use parts of one photo to erase an unwanted person from another. A good tutorial is available for this technique:

How to remove tourists from your photos. [dsphotographic.com]

Our own twist is to use Photoshop CS3's improved Photomerge feature to automate this task. Simply shoot a collection of photos, erase the unwanted people in Photoshop, and let Photomerge stitch together a finished image.

Step 1: Take multiple shots of your subject.

In this example, there were rarely less than 7 people in the frame at any given time. We didn't have a tripod with us — but that's okay because we'll be using Photoshop's Photomerge feature to stich all the photos together.

RemovedPeople-1.png

Note: While only 6 photos are shown here, we shot about 25 individual photos in three minutes.

Step 2: Erase unwanted people from each photo.

Open your photos in Photoshop. Before you erase your unwanted people it is important your resulting image supports transparency. So, in the layers palette, double-click on the background layer and give it a name.

Then quickly erase unwanted people using any of Photoshop's eraser tools. Unlike other retouching techniques, you don't need a lot of finesse here — just do a rough erase, making sure to remove all unwanted people from your collection of photos.

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Note: Save your finished photos in a Photoshop (PSD) format to maintain transparency.

Step 3: Use Photoshop CS3's Photomerge to stitch the photos together.

In Photoshop CS3, choose File > Automate > Photomerge... Pick your collection of images with the people erased. Check the "Blend images together" option and click OK.

RemovePeople-Photomerge.png

Photoshop will churn for a while. This process takes some time depending on how many photos you are working with and the speed of your computer.

RemovedPeople-3.png

In the end, the Photomerge feature combines your many photos into a single composite image — filling in the erased areas using parts from other photos in your collection.

In this example, we successfully removed all the people milling around this play structure. However we were not able to remove the long-term squatters on the two benches because they didn't move during our three minutes of shooting photos.

Crop your resulting image, and save the completed masterpiece.

Do experiment with this technique — It can quickly become addictive.

Source: This tip inspired some time ago by a tip on the lifehacker blog.

July 08, 2007

Photoshop Brush Tool Cheatsheet.

Cheatsheet-PS-Brush.pngHow much useful information can you fit onto a standard 3x5 index card? That's the challenge our Adobe Expert, Jasson Hoppe, takes on each month with his growing collection of Photoshop cheatsheets.

This month's tiny cheatsheet contribution covers shortcuts and tricks for Photoshop's Brush Tool:

Photoshop Brush Cheatsheet.pdf

On there own, these small quick-reference guides are handy to have around. But stay tuned as we add more each month. Soon you'll have your own small 3x5 flipbook with the best shortcuts and tricks for all of Photoshop's tools.

Previous Photoshop Cheatsheets:

June: Photoshop Lasso Tool Cheatsheet.

May: Adobe Pen Tool Cheatsheet.

Coming Up: The Ultimate Photoshop CS3 Cheatsheet Collection.

The cheatsheets for individual tools should be useful — but the cool part is when all the cards are collected into a single flip guide. That puts cheatsheets for every Photoshop tool and feature right at your finger tips.

CreativeTechs' production guru, Jason Hoppe, teachs several popular Photoshop and InDesign evening classes each quarter at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Over the next several months we are creating a whole collection of 3x5 Photoshop cheatsheets based on those classes.

We've been playing with some early prototypes, and we're pretty enthused. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more free PDF downloads — we've got a new set of creative and technical cheatsheets coming every month.

Source: These index-card cheatsheets are partially inspired by the Hipster PDA, popularized by 43 Folders. Our first round of creative cheatsheets are drawn from Jason Hoppe's popular Photoshop courses taught at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts each quarter. For details check out SVC's Summer Schedule.

Basic Workstation Settings Cheatsheet.

Cheatsheet-Workstation.pngFor this month's technical cheatsheet, we have a simple form to help capture those crucial details for each user's computer in your office.

The form includes the most commonly needed network and email settings for each user. Basic stuff, but important when you need to do some quick troubleshooting.

Workstation Settings Cheatsheet.pdf

These simple cheatsheets prompt you to track down and organize crucial network details on a single 3x5 card. Depending on your studio, a copy of this card could be given to each user, or a collection of cards could be kept in the network closet for future troubleshooting purposes.

Previous Technical Cheatsheets:

June: Important Router Setting Cheatsheet.

Source: This is the second in a series of cheatsheets designed to help document and organize the crucial IT details in a typical creative studio.

July 02, 2007

Hide all palettes fast. Except your toolbox!

Everyone knows that tapping the Tab key is the quick way to temporarily hide all open palettes in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator. But press Shift+Tab instead and you can keep your Toolbox and Options bar, while the other palettes are hidden!

Source: This Photoshop tip from Brian Wood at eVolve computer training in Seattle remains one of my all-time favorites. It is one of those basic tips that even the most seasoned creative professional misses along the way.