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Digital Imaging Made Easy

It used to be that digital imaging was not for the faint of heart. Today, everyone is doing it!

By D. J. Herda

There was a time--back in the pre-Internet days, of course--when sending photographic images from one computer to another wasn't merely difficult; it was impossible. Even so short a period as ten years ago, capturing images from the Internet, saving them to a file, pulling them out of storage, and attaching them to an e-document was tedious and imprecise work.

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  • Today, things are different. Capturing images from the Internet is as easy as could be. In fact, creating images for Internet distribution is now a piece of cake. You do need the right equipment, of course, or access to a service with the right equipment-both the proper hardware and software--to send your images hurdling through cyberspace. But once you have acquired that and learn a few tricks of the trade, you'll wonder why you never did it before.

    Creating your own images
    This is the fun part. If you already own a digital camera (or a camera of any type, for that matter), you're practically home free. Check it out. With a digital camera, you can point and shoot and see the results within seconds on the camera's self-contained LCD screen. There you will see, in living color, the shot you just took. If you like what you see, turn off the camera and head for the computer. If not, just take the shot again ... and again ... and again, until you're satisfied that you have the best image possible.

    If you don't own a digital camera, relax. You can still go digital. Just use your conventional camera to take the shots you want to send out over the Internet. Then, take the exposed film to your local photo dealer for processing. Instruct him to process the film into conventional prints, as well as to convert the images to digital images, stored on either a 3.5-inch disk or a CD.

    Downloading images from a disk
    Once your disk or CD comes back from processing, slip it into your computer's drive. The media contains its own basic photo viewing and manipulation software that allows you to download the images into a holding file for computer manipulation and, eventually, permanent storage. Basic software (let's call it generic, or Brand-X) usually allows you to rotate an image left or right, reverse the image (called a "mirror" image, ideal for transferring an image onto fabric and other surfaces), and perform minor color corrections. It may also allow you to sharpen or blur the image (depending upon your mood and the quality of the original image), to crop the image, and to increase or decrease its size.

    While generic software has creative limitations, it is generally suited well enough for sending decent quality digital snapshots to loved ones or for sending digital images of cars, houses, etc., to prospective buyers.

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    For additional photo manipulation or enhancement possibilities, you will need to invest in a digital imaging software package that offers greater manipulation and correction options. Adobe, Corel, and other manufacturers make very reliable, comprehensive image-enhancing products suited to either home (that is, creative) or business use. Some of this software contains creative projects and various things to do with your images, such as image-viewing enhancements (like adding a digital picture frame to your images), blanks to use to create picture postcards or calendars, and templates for creating picture stationery, banners, posters, place cards, etc.

    Downloading images from a scanner
    If you have a pre-existing print or slide that you would like to digitalize for distribution via the Internet, you can do that, as well. Simply take the print, slide, or negative to your nearest photo dealer and ask to have it scanned onto a disk or CD. It will cost you a few dollars per scan, but that is a small price to pay to meet your burgeoning electronic-imaging needs.

    Of course, if you have a flatbed scanner, you can do the work yourself and pocket the savings. Just position a conventional print on the bed of the scanner, hit the "scan" button, and wait for the message screen to pop up on your computer's monitor. Tell the computer where you would like the scanned image to be stored--a good collect-all for your images is a file folder you create and entitle "My Photos," or something to that effect. After the image has been scanned and downloaded onto your computer, simply call it up onto your monitor and utilize your image-enhancing software to resize it, correct color, add special effects, etc.

    Downloading images from a digital camera
    The easiest and least costly way (after your initial investment) of downloading an image into your computer is to use a digital camera. The camera comes with its own image-enhancing software, usually quite a bit more flexible and comprehensive than generic software. It also comes with a standard RS-232C serial cable for connecting the camera to your computer's 9-pin COM 1 or COM 2 serial port. The instruction booklet that accompanies the camera will guide you step-by-step through the downloading process, which is relatively simple and takes only a few seconds per image. Once downloaded, you can call up the images on your monitor and manipulate them to your heart's content, just as with any downloaded images.

    Sending digital images by e-mail
    When you are ready to share your images with someone over the Internet, it's as simple as sending an e-mail. Just click on your e-mail host server, click on "new mail" or "compose message," and write whatever message you wish. Before sending it, click on the "attach" symbol. That will bring up a dialogue box, listing all of your computer files. Find the file marked "My Photos" (or whichever file to which you saved your digital images), double click on the particular image or images you want to attach to your e-mail, and then hit "ok."

    Before sending the e-mail with digital image attachment, double click on the symbol in the e-mail "attachment" box to bring the digital image up for review. Make sure it's the one you want to send and the way you want to send it. (Remember, there's no "unsending" a digital image once it's on its way.) If the image is too large or too small, go back to your image-enhancing software, call up the image, and make whatever size adjustments are necessary. Don't forget to save the image in its new size. Repeat the process above to attach the newly sized image or images to your outgoing e-mail.

    Then just click on "send," sit back, and wait, confident in the fact that your images are flying successfully through cyberspace.

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