Introduction: Photo Editing Without Fancy Software

How many of you cannot afford expensive $1000+ photo-editing software? What?! ALL OF YOU? Strange. Neither can I. So, as an ambitious High School student, I had started working with all the parts of Microsoft office to edit photos. I have keen interests in design. Being able to augment a photo can give it a very professional  finish for either presentations, comics, wallpapers, and much more. Though nothing really can achieve the professionalism of a Photoshopped image, putting in the effort makes all the difference when you cannot afford the tools.  

On the webernet there are dozens of free photo editing sites that let you many of the things that I am about to show you. I never got into these because, at the time, I felt that they would die out. I thought that maybe these free programs would kick the bucket in the short run, and I would be left with knowing about an obsolete interface. I figured if I stuck using Microsoft Products, then I could always edit a picture - even if it might take a while or was not a perfect job because it would suffice.

This instructable is my first. I aim to show you as much of what you can do for basic editing as possible using Microsft Office products. These include combinations of Word, Powerpoint, MS Paint, and Windows LivePhoto Gallery. In this instructable, I will use some real examples of things I have done as well as work through other models. 

Step 1: File Types : the Silent Killer

Especially when I was first starting off, I cannot tell you how frustrated I would get editing an image for hours.... Saving it for the next day, only to return and find that it had messed itself up: Colors were altered, lines were blurred, quality would go down.  You can observe this in my close up of Roberto, whom will be my example.  

This is the work of file types: the silent killer. Few people understand why there are so many ways to save all kinds of media, but they were designed as varying ways to store the same information. Below is a list of the most common types with explanations to how they work and what they are best for. All of this information I summarized from here

TIFF essentially uses an algorithm to store all the data of an image. It does not lose much of the originality of that image because it uses no compression (a means of making smaller file sizes). The files are quite large as a result, but the quality is top notch.

This is usually the best quality output from a digital camera. Digital cameras often offer around three JPEG quality settings plus TIFF. Since JPG always means at least some loss of quality, TIFF means better quality. However, the file size is huge compared to even the best JPG setting, and the advantages may not be noticeable.

A more important use of TIFF is as the working storage format as you edit and manipulate digital images. You do not want to go through several load, edit, save cycles with JPG storage, as the degradation accumulates with each new save. One or two JPG saves at high quality may not be noticeable, but the tenth certainly will be. TIFF is lossless, so there is no degradation associated with saving a TIFF file.

Do NOT use TIFF for web images. They produce big files, and more importantly, most web browsers will not display TIFFs.


PNG is also a lossless storage format. However, in contrast with common TIFF usage, it looks for patterns in the image that it can use to compress file size. The compression is exactly reversible, so the image is recovered exactly. 

PNG is of principal value in two applications:
          If you have an image with large areas of exactly uniform color, but contains more than 256 colors, PNG is your choice. Its           strategy is similar to that of GIF, but it supports 16 million colors, not just 256.
          If you want to display a photograph exactly without loss on the web, PNG is your choice. Later generation web browsers support PNG, and PNG is the only lossless format that web browsers support.

PNG is superior to GIF. It produces smaller files and allows more colors. PNG also supports partial transparency. Partial transparency can be used for many useful purposes, such as fades and antialiasing of text. Unfortunately, Microsoft's Internet Explorer does not properly support PNG transparency, so for now web authors must avoid using transparency in PNG images.


GIF creates a table of up to 256 colors from a pool of 16 million. If the image has fewer than 256 colors, GIF can render the image exactly. When the image contains many colors, software that creates the GIF uses any of several algorithms to approximate the colors in the image with the limited palette of 256 colors available. Better algorithms search the image to find an optimum set of 256 colors. Thus, GIF is "lossless" only for images with 256 colors or less. For a rich, true color image, GIF may "lose" 99.998% of the colors.

If your image has fewer than 256 colors and contains large areas of uniform color, GIF is your choice. The files will be small yet perfect. Do NOT use GIF for photographic images, since it can contain only 256 colors per image.

JPEG is optimized for photographs and similar continuous tone images that contain many, many colors. It can achieve astounding compression ratios even while maintaining very high image quality. GIF compression is unkind to such images. JPEG works by analyzing images and discarding kinds of information that the eye is least likely to notice. It stores information as 24 bit color. 

This is the format of choice for nearly all photographs on the web. Digital cameras save in a JPEG format by default. Switching to TIFF or RAW improves quality in principle, but the difference is difficult to see. Shooting in TIFF has two disadvantages compared to JPG: fewer photos per memory card, and a longer wait between photographs as the image transfers to the card. I rarely shoot in TIFF mode.

Never use JPG for line art. On images such as these with areas of uniform color with sharp edges, JPG does a poor job. These are tasks for which GIF and PNG are well suited.


BMP is an uncompressed proprietary format invented by Microsoft. There is really no reason to ever use this format.



In the end, I use combinations of PNG, TIFF, and JPEG images. It really depends what you are doing and what you are using your image for. In most cases, I will make large TIFF or PNG files and then save them as JPEGs to publish them because I know these are universally supported. 

Step 2: Seek a Base Image

A base image can be anything. It can be (like in my case) images you take with a digital camera and put onto your computer, screenshots of things you find on the web during videos/tv episodes/video games. It can be someone else's image... >.>

For the purposes of this instructable, I will work through two examples of editing that can be done using Microsoft Products. Using a screenshot of Roberto, I will transpose him onto a couple different backgrounds. 

I should mention right here that any of these steps can be interchanged with any other step. The tools are quite versatile and you do not have to do them all to achieve what you are looking for in your project. There are many means to the same end. I just had to pick specific things to do so I could demonstrate their worth. Be creative when using these tools. 

The first image of Bender was done by me using these same steps. So lets begin with Roberto. 
Using Microsoft word, I copy/pasted (c/p) my image of Roberto into a document and messed with the Picture Tools under the "Format Tab." Depending which version of word you have, you can do a number of different things: change its style to fit a smorgasbord of different kinds of effects, colors, hues, and saturations. My version is not quite up to date, so I have basic editing ability: Recolor, Contrast, Brightness, and Compression.

Typically, when I start an image project, I want it to start as clean as possible. So I mess with the contrast and brightness until it is as simple as possible. The tools in Windows LivePhoto Gallery are much better for this, but not everyone has that. Plus, all images in LivePhoto must be (basically) JPEGs in order to be edited. That being said, it is a strong tool to begin and end your editing with. 

For this image of Roberto, I want him to be simply a wireframe - like a coloring book image - so that I can transpose him onto other images and color him in myself. For this purpose, I want to boost the contrast to remove as much from the background as possible. Roberto is in the foreground and is most lighted, so when I do this, he should remain intact. You can also make images easier to work with if you crop out stuff that is not necessary. 

As a different route, I can try and make as much of the image transparent so it is easier to work with in MS Paint. To do this, go to the format tab of Word or Pwr Point and the click recolor. The drop down has an option for "Set Transparent Color." Try and pick something that takes up a lot of space in the background. Then mess with contrast and brightness or saturation before continuing. 

Really, all you are trying to do at this point is play with your image so that it will cause you the least amount of work in the long run. Sometimes there are things you can do, and sometimes there are not. Usually, if I find an image that I like, but want it to be simplified so that I can pick out details that are essential to the shape/feel of an image, I will toss it around in MS Word or pwr point or LivePhoto. We will come back to these once we have a background figured out. 

Step 3: Pain Pain Pain : the Inking

This is easily the most strenuous (mentally) and tedious part of photo editing. I am essentially inking this image so that it is just the wire frame of Roberto. After opening him in MS Paint, I immediately saved him as a TIFF image so that I can get lines crisply on the screen. 

Using the free form line tool with "Fill" set to solid color, I simply have to click around all the outlines of Roberto until he is Black and White. 

If I were going to put him on a single background, it would be much easier to open him with another image, and then liberate him from his page and drag him to the other image - Shown above. THEN, if I was truly dedicated, I would do this step of using the fill tool to make him black and white - right over his new background. It is terribly paint staking though because you have to use the mouse to outline the entire image of Roberto in one pass. There are no undo's - just start overs. That is why I prefer to have the solid white and black image before I continue.

I should note that I am changing the view of my image almost every time I post an Image. It will happen very often where you have to zoom in and out in order to alter your image in paint. There is a magnifying glass that will do this for you in your Tools bar in Paint, but I prefer to hold Ctrl and then use the scroll wheel on my mouse to move in and out. This is especially useful when you just use straight lines. 

I try to get as much done with the free form fill shape so that it automatically fills the empty space with white. However, some spaces get too small or just don't look right unless you go in and make adjustments with simple lines. Changing the line thickness, scale of the image, and color of your lines can make this less painful. 

Finally, the thing about inking, is that you can do it to whatever degree you want to. The thicker the line you use, the more jagged your image will look. To combat this, you can simply make a huge image (blow up the image with "resize" and then proceed inking). Or, you can use a very fine line. It has happened to me a few times where I will ink something to the end and then feel that it is not crisp enough - So I basically ink it again with a finer line. 

It sucks, but it can make all the difference between something that looks quality, and something you took ten seconds to whip up in paint. 

When Inking, and using the Fill tool, you can simply click little points around the image to get the essential shape of the object. Furthermore, if you can eyeball lines yourself, then DO IT. There is no point to trace every single line if you are confident that you can do small details yourself. For example, I can make lines on Roberto's arm all my own - I don't need to do every segment by itself. 

It is smart to keep an un-edited version of your image so you can refer to it while inking. The other shapes in the toolbox are also really helpful when making circles or curves that are too difficult to do straight hand with straight lines. 

To finish the inking, ink around the outside of the entire object with a different color (other than black) to make the background entirely white. Then, you can fill in the new color with white to leave your image on White. In this example, I used Blue to outline the background. 


You can now see the finished wire frame of Roberto. 

Step 4: Background : Thrilling

So, now we have an inked image of Roberto. After some touch ups and softening, he's looking pretty scary. Now, comes one of the final pieces - the Background. 

If you wish to color your image, it is really easy to take your original (I hope you did not delete it or over write it), open it next to your newly inked image, and transfer colors to it - creating a flat colored image. 

With this, there are a couple ways you can put it onto its own background. One easy way to do it is to open your image as a background in powerpoint, then put your image over the top, and make the white transparent. Saving it as a PDF or taking another screenshot are the easiest options. 

Here, I tried a handful of different options. Changing what things are transparent can create some cool effects. Most images I create are layers upon layers of this stuff - So I have to cut individual pieces out and post them onto one image using the free form cut/select tool. To add creative texts, I take screenshots of words blown up on a Word Document since they are easier to work with. 

Step 5: Other Examples

This page simply showcases all the things I have done using these methods. They include designs from T-Shirts I made, wallpapers, collages, and other random non-sense just for fun. I hope you enjoy them and perhaps find yourself a little inspired to do something yourself. 

It is only until recently that I got Adobe Photoshop - and have since been spending a great deal of time trying to learn that. I find that though this program is meant to be straightforward, there are SOO many things that you can do... It can get confusing and highly frustrating if you are a beginner. 

That is why I was able to put this instructable together. Microsoft Office products (for the most part) are highly compatible with each other and all have separate functions that make them useful when doing photo editing. 


Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or tech problems, please feel free to ask. 

*** Using keyboard shortcuts will make this work more easily for you. Below are some examples of easy shortcuts:
Ctrl+c = Copy 
Ctrl+v = Paste
Ctrl+x = Cut
Ctrl+a = Select All
Ctrl+Scroll Wheel = Zoom in/out
Ctrl+z = Undo
Alt+f4 = close window




Comments

author
codyg102 (author)2012-05-29

Great work sharing your ideas. Anyone looking for an alternative to that "expensive $1000+ photo-editing software" should really check out the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). Available for Windows, Mac, and a variety of Linux flavors it does virtually everything the "Big Dog" of the photo editing game does at the low, low price of: FREE! It's available at http://www.gimp.org

author
thegeeke (author)codyg1022012-05-31

+1... I was going to say the same thing about GIMP. (I personally use CS5.5, but before I had that kind of money I was loving GIMP!) :)

author
Shanderson (author)2012-05-28

I failed to mention one important thing...

To Screenshot your computer, press Ctrl+PrtScr
This will copy an image of whatever is on your screen to your clipboard.
Then, you can open a new window in Paint, paste in your image, and save it as whatever file type you need.

It typically defaults to PNG when you save a screenshot in MS Paint.

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