Monday, September 24, 2012

TUTORIAL: Using Photoshop To Touch Up Photos

I've seen a lot of posts on Pinterest lately for Photoshop Tips and Tricks and I thought to myself, "Hey! I use Photoshop 40 hours a week at my job! I'm sure there's a few things I know that would help people out." A lot of people commented on Judah's six month photo on Facebook and asked if we'd had shots professionally taken. Ha! No. I use a $100 digital camera from about 8 or 9 years ago. Definitely no fancy equipment for me - other than Photoshop. So here are a few quick tips for touching up your photos using Photoshop.

NOTE: This tutorial assumes a basic knowledge of Photoshop: how to create a new file, how layers work, etc. It is however, for beginners. Every designer works differently and has their general interface set up in just the way they like. This is by no means a professional way of going about each step - it's just one way to get things done, but there are several different ways to do several things in a program like Photoshop.

If you have a specific question about editing using Photoshop, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. I work in Photoshop CS4 at work, but have CS6 at home. I'm also on a PC at work and a MAC at home. These instructions are for PC users (The basics are the same except for keyboard shortcuts, etc.) Click on each photo in the tutorial to make it larger to see details. Here's my original photo:

You can see I labeled a few things I wanted to touch up on. Start by cropping your image to make the composition more dynamic. I don't like how everything is so centered in this photo, and I'm not a huge fan of the way I cut off my husbands head at the bottom of his beard (sorry, honey). It just looks weird to me. So locate your crop tool (the fifth down) on your tools menu and adjust your composition:
After cropping the photo, I started with the overall lighting. I wouldn't ever recommend using the "Brightness/Contrast" adjustment to brighten your photos. Instead, choose Image → Adjustments → Levels:
The right slider controls the highlights, the middle controls the midtones, and the left slider controls the shadows. You can get a much more precise adjustment with this function. Play around with the sliders and see what it does to your image. When you settle on the brightness and contrast you like, go ahead and save your file with a new name. That way, in case you hate whatever you've done, you can always go back to your original image.
And now we move on to the easiest fix in the history of fixes: red eye. Ready for it? Locate the red eye button, it should be the 7th button down. Tip: If you hold down a tool button, you can see the hidden button behind it. For example, the red eye button also hides the healing brush tool, patch tool, etc.

Now with your red eye tool selected,  zoom in on your photo (keyboard shortcut: hold down Ctrl and the "+" plus button to zoom in, Ctrl and the "-" minus to zoom out. Ctrl + 0 (zero) enters a full screen), and drag a square over the red eye you need to fix. Voila! Easy as that.

Now we move on to blemishes. There are only a couple on this photo and they aren't too noticeable. One is a little spot on my husband's shirt and a tiny scratch on Judah's forhead, because I'm a terrible mother who only clips his nails when they become demon-like.
Select the clone stamp tool, make your brush approximately the same size as the blemish and set the hardness of the brush to "0". Now, select an area similar in color to the blemish (I usually just pick an area right next to the mark I want to remove). Now hold down the Alt button while clicking your mouse once. This will set the area to "clone." Now move the clone tool over the blemish and click once with your mouse. This should remove the mark if you blemish is the same size as the brush.
Now I'm going to move on to the background. The flash from my camera tends to flatten images and make really harsh shadows behind the subjects of the photo. This is also because our house has zero amount of natural light. Whenever you can use natural light and get away with not using the flash, the results will always be better. But I digress...
Go ahead and double click the lock icon on your layer and give your layer a name. I just named mine "Main Layer." Click the new layer button at the bottom of the layer panel and name it something like, "background." You can fill the new layer with white if that makes it easier for you to see.
I'm going to use the Pen Tool to select the background areas I want to delete. Here's a great tutorial for using the pen tool if you're not familiar with it. You want to make sure the pen is set to "paths" mode and not "shape layers." With the pen, draw around the areas you want to eliminate. You may need to zoom in to get all the little details.
With the pen tool still selected, and your main layer activated, right click with your mouse near your path you just created and choose "Make Selection." Make sure the feather radius is set to "0."
Now you have several options with what to do with this background. You can choose to just delete it, which will look like this:
You can paint over it in a new layer. You can add a separate texture or color in the layer beneath your main layer. Or you can do what I'm going to do and add a gradient layer as a new background for your image. Select the gradient tool, and use the eyedropper to select the colors for your gradient:
With your selection still active, create a new layer, and drag the gradient in the direction you want it to go.
You can de-select by holding Ctrl + D. I'm about done, and it's getting to where I want it. However, I notice Scott's shirt looks a little dingy. So I brighten it up a little with the Dodge Tool:
Much better. For the finishing touch, I like a rounded corner. I'm sure there are several ways to go about doing this, but this is how I do it. Select your rounded rectangle shape from the tool box. It should be in a hidden layer behind the line tool. Duplicate your main layer and gradient layer and merge them together. Hide the original layers.
1. Make sure you have "paths" selected instead of "shape layers."
2. The radius will change the size of the rounded corner. The higher the number, the more rounded the corner will be. My radius is set at 35 pixels.
3. Draw your rounded corner rectangle over your image. Right click and choose "Make Selection." Now hold down Ctrl+Shift+I - this will invert your selection. Now hit DELETE. This will trim off any excess image outside the rounded rectangle area.
And the final product is:

Is it perfect? Definitely not. But I think it's better than the original.

So, I realize that was kind of long, but hopefully you learned a few tips for working with your photos in Photoshop. Like I mentioned earlier. If there's something specific you'd like to learn how to do, let me know and I'll put together a tutorial!

Monday, September 17, 2012

DIY Craft - Chalkboard Countdown Sign

First of all, thanks for the sweet comments and emails from the last post. As of today we're STILL waiting to hear from the specialist and it is especially frustrating.

On a lighter note, I was able to finish a little craft project this weekend, which is something I haven't done in a LONG time! I saw the idea for this cute little countdown sign on Pinterest, although I didn't think to look for the actual source, but it seems to be from THIS SITE.

We had a leftover piece of MDF from our built-in bookcase project, so I decided it would be perfect for this project since it was already about the size I wanted - 1" x 3" x 20". Here's how I did this simple project

• I coated each side of the board with 3-4 coats of chalkboard paint.
• Then when it was dry, I sanded the edges and corners for a little bit of a rustic look.
• I printed off the text for my "Days Until" to scale and used a pencil to trace transfer the image.
• Then I painted inside the lines with white acrylic paint (2-3 coats) so that the "days until" text is the only permanent part of the sign.
• Now I have a cute little sign I can leave up all year and use it to countdown to Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc.

I plan on decorating for fall next weekend as Sept. 22nd is the OFFICIAL first day of fall. So excited!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Judah and a CT Scan...

Nothing prepares you for parenthood. And I'm not talking about the dirty diapers and sleepless nights or what to feed him. I'm talking about the worry. The constant, never-ending anxiety that comes along with giving birth to an entirely new human that you made. SIDS still terrifies me and I steal into Judah's room several times in the evening just to make sure he's still breathing. I take zero chances with his safety and well-being.

So the worry came to a head this past week in the aftermath of Judah's 6 month appointment. It all began about a month or so before his appointment when I realized I was having a hard time feeling his soft spot. A little Dr. Google research (I know) let me know that normal closure of the anterior soft spot (the one on top of the head) falls within the range of 3 months to 18 months. A pretty wide range, but I thought we should mention it to the pediatrician anyways at his appointment. She agreed that she couldn't feel it either and ordered a CT scan to rule out Craniosynostosis, a birth defect that occurs when one or more of the sutures in an infant's skull fuses prematurely. Our skulls are formed of large bone plates that move and expand as we age so that our brains have room to grow - obviously pretty important. I was pretty sure this wasn't the case because the only symptom Judah had was the soft spot closure. However, knowing the ONLY fix for Craniosynostosis is surgery, I was terrified.

Judah doesn't exhibit any of the other Craniosynostosis symptoms which can include a misshapen head, restricted head growth, developmental delays, or ridges along his skull.
And then the preparation for the CT scan came. We had two options: we could either choose to sleep deprive him or we could sedate him. We chose sleep deprivation as the easier (?) less invasive route. If there's one thing I'm strict about - it's bedtime. He goes to sleep at 7:30 every night and sleeps 11-12 hours. Sleep is number one on my list and I feel it's so, SO important for health and development.

The sleep deprivation route required us to keep him awake until midnight, then wake him up at 4:00 am without feeding him and arrive at Children's Mercy Hospital at 7:30 am. The thinking is that he'll be so tired and hungry that you'll get into the CT lab, give him a a bottle, and he'll immediately pass out so they can do the scan. Keeping him up wasn't too bad, although he only made it until 11:00pm. He watched us make dinner - something he doesn't normally see because we usually cook and eat after he goes to sleep. He probably thought that we never ate. We went outside, played, watched a little Aladdin (this kid never gets to watch TV, so he was pretty fascinated), and then started his normal bedtime routine around 10:30. He passed out in my arms at 11:00 and I figured, "eh, good enough." It was the morning that was rougher on all of us. He made a pretty vocal protest after being awoken so early, but I knew it was going to be the car ride that would be the true challenge to keep him awake. He tried to sleep so bad but I was whistling, moving his arms and legs, and snapping to keep him awake.

He seemed pretty alert when we got to the hospital. It was a new environment and so colorful, so there was lots to look at. Children's Mercy is a wonderful hospital and is nationally recognized and does amazing things (they've treated a family member and are truly great). However, you can't help but get the feeling when you walk in that "my child does not belong here, not MY baby..." But then you realize that every frightened parent who walks through those doors probably has the exact same thought. Knowing there are kids there that are truly sick shocks you into reality, and you can only sympathize and pray for those families and hope that your child doesn't come to be counted among their ranks.

So we get checked in and back to the lab, and wouldn't you know it? The little angel is wide awake. All of our hard work was for naught. Then they tell us he doesn't need to be asleep, he just needs to be calm and still. If we had to sedate him, we would have to reschedule the appointment. So we get him all strapped in and swaddled into the CT flatbed, and he looks like a tiny mummy all wrapped up while we stand by in our lead aprons. The assistant held a little flashing toy for him to look at and he was still for the two minutes it took to do the scan. All of that struggle to keep him awake and he only needed a little flashy light to look at. That said, the kid took two three-hour naps that day and still went to bed early. He was wiped out.

Those lips! Those eyelashes! No wonder he gets mistaken for a girl so often.
We got the call from our Pediatrician the next afternoon - his anterior fontanel (soft spot) is indeed closed and the Metopic Suture has fused. now what? Well, she says she doesn't "think" that means he has Craniosynotosis since she believes that the closure of that particular suture comes along with soft spot closure. But....she's not sure. She says she's going to recommend us over to the specialist cranio-facial surgeon at Children's Mercy because she doesn't feel confident enough to give us the go-ahead that Judah is in the clear. Fair enough - I can understand that a pediatrician who doesn't deal in this specialty would want someone more experienced to give us the all-clear.

This diagram shows the two main sutures - the Coronal which runs from ear to ear and the Sagittal which runs from front to back. The two that are shown but aren't marked on here are the Lamdoid (spelling?), which runs across the back of the head, and the Metopic which runs from the fontanel down the forhead to the nose.
So now once again I'm sick with worry. The call was not exactly reassuring. A quick trip back to Dr. Google shows that normal closure time for the Metopic Suture is between 3 and 9 months of age. Huh, so basically his CT scan shows normal results? Why would she recommend us to a specialist if this is the case and all of Judah's other sutures remain open and normal? As of today, we have called and we are STILL not on the specialist's schedule. Scott asked why he couldn't just look at his scans and clear him, but apparently we have to go in to be seen in person. The fact that you cannot just call a doctor and get an answer and the inner-workings of our medical system is a whole other blog post just in and of itself. And I have to wonder, if I had never mentioned anything about his soft spot in the first place, then we wouldn't even be in this situation in the first place.

How did my parents ever survive my childhood and this constant worry? I think back to the times I had to go under anesthesia - tubes in my ears when I was five and tonsils removed when I was nine. How did they handle it? As an invincibile kid, nothing scares you. I was just excited to have 10 days off from school when I got my tonsils removed. In truth the recovery was awful and I still don't enjoy Jell-O to this day. But I've never given a thought to my parents' stress and worry until I became a parent. Not even adulthood, but parenthood itself, makes you realize what your own parents went though. So thank you mom, dad, and step-mom, step-dad and in-laws for worrying about me and surviving my childhood. I wonder if something truly awful happens, would we be strong enough to get through it? I don't know, and I hope we never have to find out. But I know now that we've signed on for a lifetime of worry and stress. Hopefully this mess will be over with soon enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On the Menu: Oatmeal Coffee Cake Muffins

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to eat healthier. I didn't used to eat breakfast, but I found that when I didn't, I'd crave something crappy, like a donut, around midmorning. I found this recipe though Simple Food Healthy Life, and these muffins keep me so full that I'm not even that hungry by lunch time. This was the first time I've ever made a muffin.  You read that right. Cupcakes? Yes. Muffins? Nope. But I think for my first experience, they turned out pretty well.

I will say that on the original recipe, it says these are 259 calories each - which seemed like a lot. When I entered the same recipe into MyFitnessPal's calculators, it came up with around 130 calories. That seems more likely, but I suppose products vary from brand to brand. Also, this recipe is slightly adapted from the original - I used homemade unsweetened applesauce (Thanks, Mom!) instead of canola oil. I think these would be good with chunks of baked apples or raisins inside the mix as well.

Makes 9 Muffins

Topping Mixture:
• 1/3 C brown sugar
• 1/3 C old fashioned oats
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon chopped almonds

Muffin Mixture:
• 1 C old fashioned oats
• 1 C skim milk
• 1 C all-purpose flour
• 1/2 C brown sugar
• 2 tsp cinnamon
• 3 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 egg
• 5 T unsweetened applesauce

• Preheat oven to 400°F
• Line a standard sized muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter.
• Mix your topping mixture and set aside
• Mix the dry ingredients for the muffin mixture in a large mixing bowl
• Mix the wet ingredients for the muffin mixture in a separate bowl and add to the dry until blended. I just used a large rubber spatula.
• Fill 9 holes of the muffin tin 3/4 of the way with your muffin batter
• Sprinkle the topping mixture on top
• Bake muffins for about 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Mine were done after 20 minutes.