Friday, August 26, 2011

DIY masks

Masking is a great way to display photos in a scrapbook. It can give the image a dreamy or handmade feel without taking away from the photographic quality of the subject. Many digital scrapbookers buy the masks in a kit, but I've discovered through experimentation in GIMP that that they are super easy to make!

First, get the brush you want. There are lots of free brushes that you can download from the Internet. My favorite site to browse for GIMP brushes is Deviant Art ( The brush set I used for this mask is from Akisu-Sama (he wants me to post a link to his website

Though there is a mask tool in the GIMP, I've found that it's just as easy to create a mask as its own layer. First, add a white layer above the photo layer (or whatever color you want your background to be). Set the opacity to about 50% so you can see both the mask and the photo at the same time. Then select the eraser and the brush and erase the part where you want the photo to show through. I added jitter to the brush to get the rugged outline that I wanted.

You can have even more fun by putting words on the mask, as I did here. I had wanted to use these lyrics from a song by the Indigo Girls that came onto my Pandora station:

I've got no worries on my mind
I know what to do
That's to treat you right
And love you kind
Thank you ever on my mind
Love is just like breathing
When it's true
And I'm free in you

In addition to writing them legibly on the photo, I wanted to mix them in with the mask as well. This was super easy. I just duplicated the text layer several times, turned them white, then moved them to random places along the edge of the mask.

Just as a note, we were at Beavertail in Jamestown, RI in this photo. I nice woman came up to us and offered to take our picture. She looked familiar, and after a few questions, I discovered that she was my kindergarten teacher! I can't believe that I recognized someone from when I was 5 years old! Of course, I had to get a picture with her to show my old classmates.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More word art ideas

I am always looking for ways to creatively combine words and pictures. Here is my latest one. It's not completely original, though. I got the idea from a page of National Geographic in which they used a similar technique to display a collage of photos.

These photos are from the long nine mile, 4,500 ft climb we completed last month in the White Mountains. The trail took us to the summit of Little Haystacks mountain, across the summit of Mt. Lincoln, then to the summit of Lafayette Mountain. I got lots of great pictures and I've done several layouts already. Most are full-page photos of the great views from the top of the world. In this layout, though, I wanted to include the other photos I took along the way as well.

This technique works well with very short phrases. Even with the words “what a hike,” I used 18 photos. If I used any more words than that, the photos would be too small and the page would become too cluttered. Even as it is, I had a hard time fitting photos into the middle of the “K” and “A's.”

The font is important for this layout. Keep in mind that the lines of the letters frame the photos, so keep it thin and simple. I used the font “sans” here. Sans is a thin font without the little feet at the top and bottom, leaving more room for the photos.

Inevitable, the white text blends into the light parts of the photos. To fix this, I just duplicated the text layer, turned it black, and blurred it enough to get a very soft outline around the letters. Look at the top left of the “T.” That was completely invisible until I added that outline.

After I put the photos inside the lettering, my husband came up behind me and said that it would look better with pictures between the lines of text. I'm not sure if he really meant that it would look better artistically or that it is more economical, given that I pay for prints by the square foot. This threw me off a little, because I had intended to leave those spaces blank. I thought that if I put photos there, the page would become a crowded mess. My solution was to include photos of the horizon and overlay them on top of a textured digital paper (from Lauren Reid Designs). I think it makes good use of that space without taking emphasis away from the text.

This is just one more way to lay out a collage of photos in a fun and interesting way. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adjusting levels: when too much is a good thing

Journaling reads:

The most popular topic of discussion surrounding babies is their eye color. I suppose there is not much else to talk about early on other than their physical attributes. You can't really ask about what hobbies they are into or what they do for work. So for the time being, Thomas' eye color is one of the most important parts of his identity.

When asked who he looks like, we say that he has his dad's features with his mom's coloring. Mom's eyes are brown, and dad's are blue-green. That means our offspring have about a 50% chance of having brown eyes. That statistic has played out perfectly, as one out of our two children has brown eyes.

Though almost all newborns' eyes are blue, his were very dark from the beginning. Within a few short months, they had transformed into a beautiful dark brown. They are so dark, in fact, that the true color is very difficult to capture on the camera. I tweaked this photo, adjusting the layers to bring out a rich brown that we can see in real life under the right lighting.

They say that eye color can continue to change until the age of three, but that brown eyes tend to stay brown. I certainly hope they do. They are just one more reason that I know he's mine when I look into his eyes.

~May 2011

I came up with this image of his face purely through experimentation. I was playing around with some of my photos, adjusting the color levels to see what I could come up with.

Here is what the original photo looks like:

As you can see, his irises appear very dark, almost black. That changed drastically to my surprise as I adjusted the levels and contrast. To get this effect, I first adjusted the levels (color > levels). I slid the middle arrow down to 2.0. This left the photo a little muddy. To bring out more color in the eyes, I increased the contrast to +43 (color > brightness/contrast). Lastly, I lowered the saturation of the entire photo except the eyes because I didn't want his blue shirt to detract from the “brown” mood.

Levels is a tool that adjusts the brightness of a photo. One can use levels to stretch the histogram, making the brightest parts brighter and the darkest parts darker. The trade-off is that you can lose detail by reducing the number of tones in the image. Rather than producing a soft gradient of color, adjusting the levels too much can lead to “posterization,” showing stark lines in between color values. Professional photographers use levels to make minor adjustments on their photos. The general rule is that if it is noticeable, you've gone too far. Of course, I don't follow that rule. I'm a scrapbooker, not a professional photographer.

Indeed, editing photos can destroy details and make them look fake. Yet when using the software to create art, one can use these tools to their fullest extent. It's kind of liberating, actually. I think of it as using broad brush strokes to paint an image. No one says Monet's paintings are unrealistic. Duh, they're supposed to be!

As you can see, I lost details in the face with my edits. But I thought it worked well with this layout. The eyes came out so bright, you should know what the page is about before reading the title (I hope). It turned out to be a perfect image for the words I wanted to say about his intense eye color.

There is no magic formula to creating an effect. Every photo is different, and there are an infinite number of ways to adjust them. By playing with photos, I was able to discover a great image to go along with some words I wanted to express. The lesson I learned is that great things can happen through experimentation. I always remind myself that there are no wasted supplies in digital scrapbooking. The worst that can happen is that I don't order a print!