Software Review: Adobe InDesign CS5

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Article by Toni McQuilken. Artwork by Gannon Ruddy.

There are several new features in Adobe InDesign CS5 that photographers who do any kind of layout work are going to be incredibly excited about. Here are a few of the top features that will make you want to rush out and upgrade.

I should tell you up front—I love this new release. It’s a joy to use, and it actually makes layout fun. The project I’m currently working on is near and dear to my heart—my wedding invitations. My fiancé and I are creating them ourselves with his artwork and my skills at layout and design, and the new InDesign has made it a fun process instead of a frustrating one. I’ll take you through a few of the features I love about it, and how I used them to create what I think (but I’m admittedly biased) turned out to be some pretty amazing invitations.

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Content Grabber. Drag an image around within it's frame to adjust the crop on the fly. No more jumping back into Photoshop just to make a small adjustment to part of the image. When you grab the center of the image now, the frame itself won't move—only the image within it. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

The first one is small, but powerful—the ability to drag an image around within it’s frame to adjust the crop on the fly. No more jumping back into Photoshop just to make a small adjustment about what part of the image is viable. Called Content Grabber, when you grab the center of the image now, the frame itself won’t move—only the image within it. This was a helpful feature as I was moving around and placing the images in our invitations. I set up the bounding boxes and got the rough design done early; then, as the art was finished, I was able to bring it into InDesign and adjust it to get the exact part of the shot I wanted. Adobe didn’t leave it at that, however. Instead of having to wait until you’ve released the image to see what will be visible and what’s been cropped, a preview will show you exactly what’s still in the frame as well as a grayed-out preview of the portion that will be hidden from view.

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Live Corner Effects. Drag the tool to adjust the corners to get a rounded (default) effect, or press Alt/Option click on any of the yellow handles to scroll through the other corner effects. The default action is to do all four corners simultaneously, by the same amount for a balanced look. Hold down the shift key, to work on a single corner at a time. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Another nice addition to InDesign in this version is the ability to do custom shapes to the corners of images, again, without having to go into Photoshop to create the effect. Now, when you click on an image, a new yellow handle will appear in addition to the usual tools. Called Live Corner Effects, by dragging the tool you can adjust the corners to get a rounded (which is the default) effect, or you can Alt/Option click any of the yellow handles to scroll through the other effects built into the software. Once you’ve chosen one, you can adjust it to get exactly the look you’re going for. The default action is to do all four corners simultaneously, by the same amount for a balanced look. However, by holding down the shift key, you can work on a single corner at a time.

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Rotating. Now, when you have an image selected, move your cursor to any of the corners, and a new rotate symbol will appear. Click and hold, and you can rotate the image as much or as little as necessary. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Again, in an effort to make repetitive tasks easier and faster, rotating is another feature that was tweaked. And it was the one feature I used the most in the creation of the invitations. Now, when you have an image selected, move your cursor to any of the corners, and a new rotate symbol will appear. Click and hold, and you can rotate the image as much or as little as necessary. Instead of going with a straight invitation style, ours are folded, with each flap folding out to reveal a new piece of art. In order to get the front and inside to flow correctly, there was a lot of rotating and adjusting. The ability to just grab and tweak instead of having to change tools and go through a process to get the angles I wanted was a huge plus in my book.

Auto-Fit is another new feature I used quite a bit in the invitation creation. Auto-Fit allows you to automatically scale an image to fit the frame, instead of having to do it manually. The scanned artwork came in as massive files that I didn’t want to shrink in Photoshop because I plan to use the same art in other stationary throughout the wedding. The ability to re-size my art in the layout, based on the frames I had preset, was a godsend, and saved me more time than I care to contemplate. To use it, turn it on in the Control Panel, then Shift-Drag the image to the size you ultimately want it to fit. Instead of just adjusting the frame, this will automatically set the picture to the same size and shape as the new frame.

On the production side, the Mini-Bridge is a fantastic new way to get quick access to all of your assets. It’s a little mini browser right in InDesign that allows you to find the art you want and quickly get it placed. It allows you to compare images and assets within InDesign instead of having to go out of the program and into your file browser. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re in the middle of a project, it’s a huge time saver. I kept it open with the folder where my art for the wedding is stored not only for the invitations, but for all my stationary, so I could see at a glance which pieces I had ready to go, which ones I was still waiting to get the final versions for, and which ones had been used in any individual project.

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Mini-Bridge. The mini-bridge lets you view and access your assets within InDesign. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Another big win on the production side that’s not quite as noticeable or flashy is that Adobe took advantage of newer technologies and processors to export PDFs in the background. Especially on more complex projects, the ability to have InDesign exporting while you continue to work in the program on another layout is one of those time-savers you didn’t even realize was sucking so many minutes away from your day.

One of the nice parts about making edits in InDesign instead of going back and forth into Photoshop to get the same effect is that the original image remains untouched. The size, shape, resolution and any other changes made in the layout will allow you to get the look and feel you want without damaging or changing the originals. As I mentioned, we plan to use all of the art in more than one application, from wedding programs to table place cards to the thank-you notes, and all of these will be different sizes, require different angles, and would be a nightmare to keep track of if I had to create a different version of each piece of art for every use.

There are quite a few more new features that make layout much easier, faster and more efficient. Adobe has stayed with it’s pattern of making only minor changes in even-numbered releases, but in the odd-numbered versions, like the current one, they pack it full of new features and tweaks designed to really change the way you work. You owe it to yourself to at least take a look at the new version, and try it out if you can; since it’s packed with tools you’re going to enjoy using.

For more information, go to www.adobe.com.

toni mcquilken headshot• Toni McQuilken has been covering the print and graphics industry for the past 10 years. She is also an avid photographer who can be found with her camera out and about on Long Island most weekends. Check out her website at www.tonimcquilken.com to see more of her writing.

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Software Review: Lightroom 3 – Real World Test – part 1

By Diane Berkenfeld

Adobe Lightroom 3 provides not just the requisite speed and processing improvements that you would expect from a software upgrade, but brand new features too. Earlier this month we posted our early evaluation of Lightroom 3, which you can read by clicking here. We’ve been putting Lightroom 3 through its paces and are ready to report on the program’s many new features and improvements.

Imports

The import feature has been redesigned with Lightroom 3. When you click on import, you are now brought to an import screen. If you import images the way I do, which is select a group of files and drop them on the Lightroom icon in the Dock (on my Macbook Pro), those will show up with check marks, and any other files in the same folder will show up unchecked. This allows you to add or subtract images before they’re actually imported. In addition to letting you revise the actual files being imported before you hit the import button, you’re given the ability to import the files as .DNG, import and save to a second location, and more.

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Importing images now brings you to an import screen. Note the areas at the top and top right that let you choose the image type to import and destination. All photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

Also new with Lightroom 3 is the ability to import video files. The video files will show up in the Library module with a movie camera icon in the bottom left corner of the frame. The files play in whichever default movie player is installed on your computer, but now you can catalog the video files you’ve shot on a job along with the still images. This is great for photographers shooting with the new DSLRs that shoot video.

Grain

One of my favorite new features is the realistic grain. For someone like myself, who used to love shooting with high speed B&W film for the “golf ball size” grain, I can now add realistic grain to any image I’ve shot. This is one of the great benefits to digital capture. You can photograph any subject realistically—(i.e. in color, as your eye sees it) and convert to B&W, soften the sharpness, add a post-crop vignette, split-tone or most anything else you can dream up—after the fact. Your digital darkroom is as big as your imagination. What Lightroom 3 does best is simplify the process for photographers, allowing you to correct or alter images in a non-destructive manner, and in a workflow that saves you time and energy.

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Now you can add realistic grain into your images. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

Noise Reduction

Whereas grain can be desired—depending upon what you’re shooting and the mood you’re looking for—nobody wants a noisy image. Noise is the number one detraction from a great image. Some early cameras were so noisy at high (and not so high) ISOs that these images were unusable. Noise reduction software however, allows you to correct for noise and can correct enough that you can now use images that you hadn’t been able to in the past. Lightroom 3 uses new noise reduction algorithms to reduce noise while leaving edge detail sharp.

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On the left is a zoomed in portion of the original image. Color and luminance noise is visible in the shadows. On the right is the same area, but the color and luminance noise is gone. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

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The final image, after noise reduction and recovery of the highlights. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

This is another great benefit to digital. When software technology gets to the point that it can “save” once unusable images, it allows you to correct imperfections in older photographic files.

Post Crop Vignette

Vignetting has also been improved. This iteration of the software brings users two new vignetting styles for even more natural looking vignettes. These styles are the color priority and highlight priority modes in post-crop vignetting. With the post-crop vignette, you can realistically add a vignette to images post-crop. (Hence the name.) But while some lenses will give images a vignette due to the way they are made, you can add a very realistic vignette to images, to focus the viewer’s eye onto your subject with Lightroom 3.

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Post-crop vignetting allows you to add a subtle, natural vignette to images. This side by side comparison shows no vignette on the left, and an added vignette on the right. You can see the difference in the white wicker basket at the bottom of the image. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

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Here is the full image, on the left without the vignette, on the right with the post-crop vignette. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

I found this feature very easy to use, with great results every time.

Watermarking

Adobe added a more flexible watermarking system to Lightroom 3, making it very easy to add a watermark and adjust its placement. You can add text or a graphic, such as a logo, to your images as a watermark. Watermarking is available in the Print, Web and Slideshow modules as well as the Export dialog. Placing a watermark on your images in the previous version of Lightroom was not an easy task, and so this is a big improvement.

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Adding a watermark is now a simple task in Lightroom 3. A dialog box allows you to make various choices as to placement, opacity and type of watermark. This example was done while also testing out the custom print layout feature which is also new to Lightroom 3. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld

Print Layouts

The new custom layout function under the Print module makes putting together multiple image print layouts quick and easy. You simply pick a page size, click on the sizes you want to add, and drag images from the filmstrip to the layout. From that point, you can resize images or drag them around the page. You can also save the presets you use often. I found this feature extremely easy to use. Sometimes when you try a software feature and find it complicated to use you shy away from any other program’s similar functionality, However, with Lightroom 3, I think I will often find myself utilizing the custom layout feature for printing multiple images. It’s a definite improvement over the previous version.

Exportable Video Slideshows

In addition to being able to create slideshows of your work via the Slideshow module, Lightroom 3 now lets you export those slideshows as video files, in a range of preset sizes and resolutions from small YouTube suitable files up to full-quality 1080p HD resolution. You can add a music soundtrack and set the slideshow to fit the length of the music. The addition of this feature means that you can now create such slideshows from within Lightroom itself instead of needing to use another program just for slideshow creation.

If you’re looking to create a simple slideshow then you can use this feature of Lightroom 3. If you want fancy transitions between images, or the ability to quickly create text slides to intersperse between images then you’ll want to use a more robust program.

Photodex Proshow Producer is my slideshow program of choice so I missed the features I know exist in that powerful program. But for a simple and basic slideshow, Lightroom 3 will do the job fine .

With regards to rendering of the slideshow, like most other programs, it will take a few minutes, but that’s to be expected. Depending upon the resolution you choose—smaller res shows will render out quicker than larger HD resolution slideshows.

• Part 2 of the Lightroom 3 Real World Review will tackle tethered shooting, lens and perspective correction, and new web features. Look for it to be posted soon!

For more information about Lightroom 3, go to www.adobe.com.

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Software Review: Kevin Kubota's Pro-Pak w/ Dashboard

Article & Images by Kristin Reimer

One of the first lessons I learned about being successful in photography is that it is 20% photography and 80% business. I watch photographers come and go on a regular basis. Who remains? Obviously you need to have talent to begin with, but if you know how to market yourself, stay focused, consistently evolve with the times and stay ahead of the pack, chances are, you will be a success.

So what does this have to do with Kevin Kubota’s Actions? He knows his stuff. If you haven’t yet checked out his actions, the bad news is that you’ve wasted precious moments of time—the good news is that there is no better time than the present. Kevin Kubota’s actions are now packaged with an awesome addition called DASHBOARD.

I’m not really sure who began to market action sets, but I will confess, I’ve been an addict ever since the day I discovered these time saving gems. It’s easy to find actions these days and there are some deliciously creative ones out there. I’ve been using Kevin Kubota’s Artistic V2 actions as well as his Auto Album 2 for years now and I rely upon them heavily. Simply put, they save me time, and they are creative and easy to use.

The Kevin Kubota Pro-Pak contains roughly 300 actions to help not only boost your creativity, but also increase your production and help clear time so that you can actually get work done quickly and get out to enjoy the world again. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The production actions range from border actions, interpolation, sharpening, B&W conversions and logo placement. Yeah, you can do these on your own, but why? Enjoy the fact that someone has already done the work for you. Spend your time getting creative. And then get creative with Kevin Kubota’s Artistic Action Volumes 1 – 4.

(l. to r.) Original photo, final image, Dashboard, Photoshop palettes. Screengrab © Kristin Reimer.

Original on the left. Image on the right created using Punch Drunk with Vignette. Photos © Kristin Reimer.

The artistic action options are endless. Not only are the effects inspiring but with names like Fashion Passion, Super Heroine CS2, Kiyoko Punch, Enter the Dragon, Punch Drunk—you know your visual taste buds will be watering to get busy. Even better, if you are curious at all about what the action does, feast your eyes upon the creative descriptions that accompany each one.

Now let me return to the beginning. So, aside from the actions themselves and the funky and descriptive copywriter, what sets Kubota’s Pro-Pak above the rest of the pack? The DASHBOARD.

Now, if you don’t have any addictive behaviors of your own, or if you don’t like to collect things, you may not understand the value of the DASHBOARD. What happens when you collect too many things? Clutter? Can’t find what you are looking for? Waste time searching? DASHBOARD is going to rock some housecleaning in the world that is Photoshop.

DASHBOARD is essentially a floating menu window that keeps your actions organized, easily accessible and easily searchable. Go to the top right and you can pull your menu down to access each pack of actions that Kevin has been producing over the years. To the left of that pull down menu you can enter in a keyword and the DASHBOARD will call up the actions to suit you. Type in moods such as “funky”, “creative”, “moody” or go with genres such as “wedding” and “portraiture” and you’ll see actions displayed that are best matched to your request. Loving it yet?

Once you find the action you want to apply, head on down to the bottom of DASHBOARD where you have a few options. With one touch of the buttons in the bottom of the toolbar you can “apply”, “undo”, “redo” and “paint”. Paint is pretty nifty. Essentially this creates a mask and you can simply paint the action in specifically where you want it to go.

Original photo on the left. Image on the right created using Smokeless Burn, Tea Stained, 81K warming, Wash Out. Photos © Kristin Reimer.

On top of all of this, the Pro-Pak is simply easy to install and understand. I will confess to limited patience for watching online manuals or detailed installation instructions. The installation did come with a video manual, but it was simple, clear and to the point. Installation itself was a breeze and the manual was simple to read. But the reality is, the Pro-Pak and DASHBOARD are simple. Simple means you get to the fun stuff right away…and I was certainly the kid in the sandbox in a matter of moments.

There is one downside to the Pro-Pak, you’ll be having so much fun playing with your images and combining the actions together that you will lose track of time and forget about the outside world. But hey, think of the possibilities.

Original image on the left. Image on the right created using Sepia Deep Black 3. Photos by © Kristin Reimer.

Kevin Kubota Pro-Pak [Kubota Artistic Tools V1, Kubota Artistic Tools V2, Kubota Artistic Tools V3, Kubota Artistic Tools V4, Kubota Production Tools V2, and the Kubota Formula Book] with DASHBOARD can be purchased online at: http://kubotaimagetools.com/store/catalog/product_16263_Kubota_Pro_Pak_w_Dashboard_cat_258.html.

System requirements: Actions work with Adobe Photoshop CS2 or newer, some effects require CS3 or newer 32 bit versions of Photoshop only, on Mac and Windows computers.

The Pro-Pak retails for $629.00.

Upon graduating with a BFA in photography from Pratt Institute, Kristin went on to become the studio manager for the esteemed Magnumphotojournalist, Elliot Erwitt. Under the tutelage of Elliott, Kristin acquired a more capacious understanding of the history of photography and of the unique and diverse contributions of those who define the field. Her work with Elliott also provided a forum from which to create and develop her own artistic style.

In 2002 Kristin founded Photomuse (www.photomuse.com), a fine art/documentary style wedding company. Kristin is an award-winning member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), a professional organization composed of photojournalists and wedding photographers from around the world as well as the Artistic Guild of Wedding Photography (AGWPJA) and the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP).

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Product Review: Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0

Article and Images by Diane Berkenfeld

Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 (MTTC) is a major upgrade of the suite of production oriented filters from AutoFX Software. The software comes as a stand-alone application and Photoshop plug-in. Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 is compatible with Windows-based PCs running Windows 2000/XP/Vista and Mac OS X (all versions); the Photoshop plug-in works with Photoshop CS4, CS3, CS2, CS, and Photoshop v.7.0.

Plug-ins like Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 are great because they give you the ability to make enhancements and alter your images creatively in one step—without the trouble of having to spend hours in Photoshop trying figure out how to do so. They do save you a lot of time.

Photographers can use the filters either globally or by brushing on/off the filter effect manually, as well as using tools like the gradient path and ellipse that let you blend the effect across a photo using Bezier based control paths. The new Effect Mask tool blends the filter through special content filters and masks that give a stylized look.

MTTC 2.0 lets you combine an unlimited number of filter effects, and easily delete unwanted layers—as it works by creating a new layer, leaving the original untouched. MTTC 2.0 supports .psd, .tif, .bmp, .jpg, and .png file formats. When you save a file as a Photoshop document (.psd), the effect(s) are exported onto a layered document with full transparency. The software supports Adobe Photoshop actions, layers and last filter commands.

Screenshot of an image within MTTC 2.0. Note the dialog box with the filter options on the left.

In addition to the 60 production filters, the software includes a collection of over 300 instant effect presets.  The software’s user interface is simple to navigate, offering you the option to further enhance the presets, making the effects stronger or weaker. The filters are categorized in groups: Color effects, toning effects, smoothing, lens filters, special, sharpening, HDR filters, and portrait. You can preview either by the full screen or split screen in numerous split configurations.

Cool features:

One of the cool features of the software is that you can stack effects using Effect layers and then save that combination as a Layer Present that can be applied to other images. This allows you to create your own custom library of effects. When you add effect layers you instantly see the changes and can decide right then to delete a layer or not; no need to save the file and rerun other filters.

I really like the software because it allows you to dial back the preset if you feel its too strong, or to increase the effect if you want more of a certain effect. This flexibility means you can make any tweaks within the program—you don’t have to let the filter do its thing and then go to another menu to dial back the effect or run it again to add more strength, as some plug-ins require you to do.

The filters in Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 are realistic looking, and that’s important because you want to make enhancements that are believable. Often you want a subtle effect, so viewers of the image will not be able to tell right away that it was “Photoshopped.”

Some of my favorite filters include the B&W Conversions. The example below is of a portrait that was converted using the Soft Black and White filter. Once you run it, you can change the color filtration used. For instance, for folks who remember shooting B&W film, to get a nice contrast tone in the sky you might have used a yellow or orange filter on the lens, and to get really deep sky tone you’d have used a red filter—well you can do this digitally. Just choose which color filter you want used and you’ll see the effect on the tones in your image. I also love the Moon Glow; the Sharp Contrast results are gorgeous; the Gradient Tinting is cool; and so are the Sepia and Color Tone filters. Many of the filters add vibrancy and enrich the colors of your image and really add punch.

The original image of Michael.

Final image after converting to Soft B&W, with the yellow filtration.

AutoFX provides training videos at: http://www.autofx.com/videos-training/mystical_2_list.html and detailed tutorials at: http://www.autofx.com/tutorials/mystical_2_list.html.

Price and Availability: estimated street price of Mystical Tint Tone and Color 2.0 is $249. Upgrades from previous versions are available for $129. Go to www.autofx.com for more information.

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Product Review: Auto FX Software's Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7

By Diane Berkenfeld

I’m going to begin the review of Auto FX Software’s Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 at the beginning—with installation. Photo/Graphic Edges will take about 30 minutes to install, not the five to 10 minutes that the installer says. And it may not look like it is doing anything right away, but be patient because it will install correctly. The software is Mac and Windows-based PC compatible and will work as a plug-in with Photoshop versions 7 through CS4 or as a stand-alone program. on a computer running at least MAC OS X (on an Intel or PPC Mac) or on a Windows-based PC, running Windows 2000, XP or Vista.

This version of Photo/Graphic Edges includes 32 new edge, border and frame effects. With all of the edges, frames, borders and overlays, adornments and embellishments you have thousands of options. For the pro photographer who wants to be able to add edges to a wide variety of images from baby and child photography to teens, seniors, couples and families, Photo/Graphic Edges provides edges, borders and frames appropriate for all. The software also features powerful tools to alter the edges, frames and borders. Many of them can be tweaked in a number of ways, from changing the hue, opacity, and other characteristics.

One of the additions to this version is the ability to add multiple layers to create unique images. You can save these new borders, edges and frames as presets so you can use them again. Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 includes 300 pre-made layouts and instant effects, as well as the ability to add your own presets. Other new features include new storyboards and the ability to brush on edges. Auto FX Software has also improved the program with the addition of a new rendering engine and interface updates. An example of this is larger content previews. The content collections have also been reorganized so it’s easier to find what you want. And a favorites feature has also been added.

Using Photo/Graphic Edges

The software is simple to use, as a Photoshop plug-in or a stand-alone product, you launch the software, open an image and choose an edge, frame or border. You can add embellishments, adornments and overlays. If you don’t like the edges you’ve chosen, simply delete that layer and choose another. The edges and frames load pretty quickly too, so you won’t find yourself waiting.

When you are done with one image, and want to move on to another, you just open the new image and that automatically closes the first. It would be nice in a future version to have a ‘close image’ choice in the File menu, if only because everyone associates the word with the act of closing a working file.

When working with Edges, regardless of the one you choose, they reshape to fit the dimensions of the photo. When you are working with Frames, the Transform tool allows you to scale and position the photo as you want. There are actually two transform tools, transform frame/edges and transform photo so you can tweak the frame or edges and the photo exactly how you want. Auto FX notes that the Transform tools are dynamic and non-destructive.

Images can be saved as Bitmap, JPG, TIFF, and PSD files, however the software saves the PSD files flattened but with full transparency, so you can’t make any changes among the layers when opened in Photoshop. You need to do all photo editing and manipulation in Photoshop before you import the photo into Photo/Graphic Edges. One other thing you need to be aware of is that when you’re working with an image and Quit out of the stand-alone program, it will quit without asking if you want to save what you’re working with, so just don’t be too quick with your keyboard shortcuts. When you’re working with the plug-in, and Quit, it cancels the plug-in and returns you back to the host program, for example Photoshop.

I love the photo realistic darkroom edges like the filed out film holders, Polaroid film and Polaroid transfers. One of the cool things about the software is that you can add backgrounds for a full layout. Backgrounds include colors, gradients, textures, and more. Many of the frames and edges are for a single image, but there are also two-up and quad frames that can each hold a different photo. You can add text to images as well. There are frames that are designed to look like actual frames, as well as scrapbook style frames, embellishments and layouts. There are also geometric, digital, traditional, artistic, and more modern edges and frames as well as vignettes.

For software that incorporates so much content—a thousands items—you’ll have plenty to browse from, to find that exact frame or edge for your images. Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 offers photographers such a wide range of options, that practically anything is possible. So much so, in fact, that you should definitely take a look at the manual before you begin, it comes as a PDF file. You might also want to view the free video tutorials on the Auto FX Software website.

For more information, go to the website at www.autofx.com.

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