Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Studio Background

Have you ever taken a picture that you absolutely loved, but hated the background? Me too. It happens often. What if you could take away the background and replace it with something that looks like a backdrop in a photo studio? This way you can have a professional-looking photo without dropping the huge bucks and enduring the miserable sitting time at a photo studio. Granted, this isn't perfect and takes a bit of work, but if you have dedication you can transform a great snapshot into a framed piece of work your family can enjoy.

Step 1: Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop.

Step 2: Cut out the background. If you have forgotten how to do this, click here to refresh your memory.

Step 3: Once the background is cut out, you need to select the colors for your backdrop. To do this, go to the Tools palette and click on the foreground color (large colored square). This will bring up a dialog box that will allow you to select a foreground color. Press OK once you have the desired foreground.

Step 4: Do the same thing as in Step 3, but this time with the background color.

TIP: When choosing these two colors, I would recommend having one be a dark neutral (dark gray) and the other a dark color that fits well with the subject(s) in your photo. In the photo I edited, I selected a dark gray for the foreground and a dark brown for the background. True, the brown isn't in the photo, but it's neutral and you really can't go wrong with neutrals. Besides, there's an additional step that will make everything right.

Step 5: Go to the bottom of the Layers palette and press the icon that looks like a corner of a page being peeled away. This will create a new layer. This new layer will be placed above your cutout layer. Move this below your cutout layer and make sure this layer is selected.

Step 6: Hold the Ctrl (Command key on a Mac) key on your keyboard and at the same time press the 'A' button and quickly let go of both keys. You should see marching lines going around your image. This means this layer is now selected.

Step 7: Go to the Filter menu, down to Render and select Clouds. You now have a backdrop of sorts. If you love it, then stick with it. If not, proceed to the next step.

Step 8: Go to the Filter menu, down to Render and select Difference Clouds. When I did this it changed my background into something more compatible with the colors in the cutout photo.

Now things are looking great except the cutout looks harsh against the backdrop. This can usually be solved by applying a drop shadow to the cutout layer.

Step 9: Double click on the right edge of the cutout layer in the Layers palette. This will bring up the Layer Style dialog box. Select the Drop Shadow option.

Step 10: Manipulate the Size, Distance and Spread options until you see a drop shadow that adds depth to the photo, but doesn't look too forced or fake. Each photo is different, so it's difficult to give specifics here. My best advice is to start by boosting the Size option.

Once you've done this, your masterpiece is done. It looks pretty good.

SOME NOTES: First off, I did a hasty cutout job on this tutorial. I was more concerned with getting the backdrop done than cutout perfection, but when you do it for yourself take the time to do a good job with the cutout. A good cutout will make your backdrop more believable than anything else you could do.

Secondly, this isn't the ONLY way to create a backdrop in Photoshop. In fact, there are hundreds of different backdrops you can create. This is just a simple way that looks quite similar to many photo studio backdrops.

Finally, experiment. Have fun. If the two colors you choose don't work out, go back a few steps in your history palette and try some different colors. Oh, and have fun!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WotW: Google when you're on the go

Happy Wednesday! If your week (and summer) has been like mine, you have spent a lot of time on the road and out of the house. Did you know that when you're out and about, Google can still help you find what you're looking for, no smart phone required? Google offers two different FREE (because that's the Google way) services to help you find what you're looking for when you're on the town or on vacation.
image source
Goog-411 is just like traditional 411, but without the surcharge from your phone or cell phone company. (If you are normally charged for making a phone call or receiving a text message, those rates will still apply, but you won't be charged the regular fee for making a 411 call.) 

Just dial 1-800-GOOG-411 from any phone (mobile or land-line), speak your location or type in the zip code, and then say what you're looking for: pizza delivery, hotel, craft store, etc. You'll hear a numbered list of results. You choose which one you want by saying that number, and Goog-411 connects you to that business, free of charge.

Want a text message with the business information or a map? As long as you're calling from a mobile device that can receive text messages, just say "Text message" or "Map it." Get more information about Goog-411 here.

image source
If you're on the go and want to avoid making a phone call, you can also use Google SMS (Short Message Service, aka text messaging). (Standard message rates apply, so if you're paying for your messages, Goog-411 might be the better way to go. In my limited experience. most results require more than one text message.)

For local results such as businesses, just text your zip code or city and state along with what you're looking for to GOOGLE (466453) on your mobile phone. This would have been handy to have on my recent road trip. A simple "Chevron The Dalles OR" would have saved us the fifteen minutes spend driving from one end of town to the other, even if it is a nice town with a beautiful view!

You can get results beyond this by using shortcuts. Text
  • W for weather (w nyc or w 90210)
  • M for movies (m 84526)
  • D for definitions (d onomatopoeia)
  • price for a product (price ipod)
You can also text a flight number (such as ua 14) to see if the plane will be on time, a sports team (such as ny jets) to see the score of the game, or a stock symbol (such as goog) to check in on a stock. Go here or text HELP to GOOGLE for more information about Google SMS.

As a Googlephile, I feel much more secure in knowing that I have access to Google's services even when I'm not at my computer. Hopefully you will too, even if your relationship with Google is less akin to idol worship than mine...

And a special announcement: For the month of August, Wednesdays will be all about usability: helping your readers to find the information they're looking for on your blog as easily as possible. My nerdy technical-writer usability-loving self will definitely be showing, but I promise you that spending a month of Wednesdays talking about usability will NOT make you a nerd. :) Feel free to comment here or email me using the email in my profile with any specific question or requests.

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about books, crafts, recipes, and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays- Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon Without Wine

When I finished reading Julie and Julia a little while ago, I was desperate to make Boeuf Bourguignon. I decided to go right to the source and pulled out Julia Child's cookbook. I don't keep wine in my house, so I made a few modifications to make it easier to make and not to include wine. 

So, I changed the recipe to fit me and my family. After months of resistance, my husband finally let me make it for him, it is now one of his favorite meals of all times. So here is my easier, non-alcoholic version of Boeuf Bourguignon. Julia Child is probably rolling over in her grave but at least it is delicious!

You need:
1.5 -2 pounds of stew meat
a package of bacon
a carrot, peeled
a piece of celery
1/8 cup of green onion
2 cups of beef stalk
3 cups of red white or grape juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the bacon into strips. Saute the bacon in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 2 minutes until lightly brown. Put aside, in the same pan, saute the beef in oil. I usually saute about a third at a time. So pat your meat with paper towels before you throw it in the pan. Set aside.

In the same pan, saute your chopped carrot, chopped celery and chopped green onion. Add all the ingredients to a baking dish. Add 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and 2 T. flour and toss. Put in the oven for 4 minute, then toss the dish and put back in for 4 minutes. Turn oven down to 325.

Stir in 3 cups of red grape juice, 2 cups of beef stock, 1 tablespoons of tomato paste. Add to pan, just covering meat mixture. Let it simmer in the oven for 2.5- 3 hours. Pull out of oven and drain sauce off into a sauce pan. Put sauce on stove and bring to a boil and then let simmer. Prepare noodles according to package directions and serve the Boeuf Bourguignon over pasta and topped with its own sauce. Theses mushrooms are delicious and typically served with Boeuf Bourguignon.

You need:
1 lb of mushrooms
2 Tb butter
1 TB olive oil

Add butter and olive oil to pan when the pan is really hot and the butter frothy add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms brown and no longer. Serve over Bouef Bourguignon.

There you have it. My version of Boeuf Bourguignon. I may not be Julia Child but my family loves this recipe and that is all that matters!

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Posted updated 6/12/13

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quiet Book Tutorial- Balloon Color Page

This last week I wanted to start a project, a quiet book has been on my mind forever and so I got to work. It was simple and fun to make and since I made all of my own patterns, I thought I would share it here. This is the first part of what will be a weekly series for the next few weeks. Week 1- Balloon/Colors matching page.

You will need:
A page of felt, I just bought these as the page size at Hobby Lobby.
Scraps of felt in 8 different colors
Embroidery Floss in colors matching your felt scraps
Package of ric-rac

Cut out 8 balloons in each of your different colors. You can create you own shapes, or go here to download a PDF of the shapes I made. It doesn't matter what color is what shape, however, the colors with more letters in their name work better as the long shaped balloons.

Lay out your ric rac with your cutout balloons and see what different lengths your ric rac needs to be to allow all the balloons to be seen.
Sew the ric rac onto the felt. I used my machine and black thread and it worked great. With a pencil above each piece of ric rac write the color name out lightly. With your embroidery floss, go over your letters.
If you have an older child, you could embroidery all the names in black, so they have to read to match. Since my child is much younger, I wanted her to match the colors.

Felt sticks on felt very well, so I did not feel the need to use Velcro but you can if you want. I always like to make my projects a couple of steps easier if I can.

There is not a storage place for the balloons on this page but there is a storage place for them on the next page that will face the balloon page. Stick around next week and we will make that page.
Any questions on this page? Leave me a comment and I will make sure to get back to you!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review - Pretties

Pretties is the second book in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. To read the review of the first book, go here. This review contains some spoilers about the first novel.

Pretties did not go exactly as I expected. At the end of the first book, Uglies, Tally agrees to take the experimental medication that will hopefully take away the lesions the pretty surgery places on the brain. In order to see if the medication is going to work, Tally has to have the pretty surgery. The last line of the first book is, "I'm Tally Yongblood, make me pretty."

I have to say I was a little dissapointed that she was going to become pretty. I loved the idea of the heroine not conforming to social standards. In the book Pretties, the story turns as Tally conforms to social standards and then has to learn to fight against them.

Pretties opens up with with Tally pretty and in new pretty town. Her biggest concern of the day is finding something to wear to a party. She is found at the party by someone from the first book who gives her clues to the location of the medicine and the note she wrote herself saying why taking the medicine to cure the pretty lesions was necessary. Zane, one of her pretty friends, decides to help her and takes the medicine with her. This is where the book got a little frustrating for me. I LOVED David from the last book. I thought he was perfect for Tally and their romance made me smile. Now there was Zane, whom I also loved, but for different reasons. I couldn't decide who I loved more and it broke my heart that I knew she couldn't be with both. I won't ruin that part, but the whole situation made me sad.

Pretties was good. I read it very fast and it made me want to finish the triology, but it also suffered from "middle-book syndrome." I often find that the middle book in a trilogy tends to stagnate a little bit. They are meant to move the story along, but they can't move it along too much or you won't finish the series. I felt that at times with this book. Sometimes I was so aggravated that the author wouldn't give me more information. I kept feeling like he was holding back for something bigger in the last book, but it also made this book not as good as it could have been.

Overall, a good, simple read about what happens when Utopian societies go wrong. This book, although not the best book you will ever read, will propel you into the next book.

P.S. I didn't review this book for any reason other than I love reading!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Sepia

One of the most popular photographic effects is sepia. For those not up on their photo lingo, sepia is the style of photograph that looks like it's from the Old West - kind of brownish-yellowish.

Most photo editing programs have a quick-edit sepia effect, but most of these tend to look too yellow, too brown or sometimes too pinkish. Getting the right sepia effect takes a bit of practice, but it's surprisingly simple.

To begin, we need to revisit what we did last week: turning a photo black and white.

Step 1: Open a photo you want to edit in Photoshop.

Step 2: Go to the Hue/Saturation palette by going to the Image menu, down to Adjustments and click on Hue/Saturation...

Step 3: Drag the Saturation slider down to -100. Your photo should be in black and white now. Press OK.

Step 4: Now, go back to the Hue/Saturation palette. I know this seems redundant, but trust me on this one.

Step 5: Go to the bottom-right corner of the palette and click the Colorize check box. This will add some color to your black and white photo.

Step 6: Here's where you turn your photo into sepia. Move the Hue slider to the left until it turns a yellow/brown color. Don't worry about getting the color too dead on because it probably won't happen. Just get it in the ballpark.

Step 7: Now play with the Saturation slider to add saturation or take it away. This is really a matter of personal preference and varies from photo to photo. If you want the sepia really faded, keep the saturation levels low. If you want a more vibrant sepia, increase the saturation levels.

Step 8: Finally, you can move the Lightness slider ever so slightly one direction or the other to add or take away lightness. This is a fine-tuning option. Once you have the photo the way you want it, press OK and...

There's your sepia!

You don't have to stick with the traditional sepia if you don't want. To change the color, you basically follow the same steps, but instead of moving the Hue slider in the yellow/brown range, you can move it to any other color scheme you find interesting. Below is an example in the blue-green color scheme. It adds an interesting dynamic to the photo, making it seem slightly other-worldly.

And that's all there is to it. Sepia is a very easy effect and this is a quick and easy method. A great addition to sepia is to add aging effects, but that's for another time. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Wife

Shh! I don't have much time before she comes in and finds out what I'm up to, so I've got to make this quick. This is Debra's husband. I know, you're impressed I can type coherently. Me too.

Today is a special day. It's Debra's birthday. Yes, she's hit the big ______ what, you really thought I'd say her age? It's her birthday, not my death day.

I'm not savvy on the whole blog-world etiquette - as near as I can tell I'm supposed to share my life stories or show off my craft skills (though I don't think you'd be impressed by belly button lint statues) - but I wanted to hijack my wife's blog today to tell her happy birthday. (What, don't act so shocked, I'm a nerd. I have nothing better to do.)

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how incredibly talented my wife is. She's also beautiful, sweet and incredibly brilliant. I'm a lucky man to be married to her and I'm proud of what she does. Not only does she keep up with this blog (quite a task in itself), she runs a successful photography business, takes wonderful care of our beautiful daughter and even makes me delicious dinners. Yeah, you've seen what we eat. Go ahead, be a little jealous.

My wife is an amazing person and I'm the luckiest man in the world to get to spend the rest of forever with her. So, what I'm trying to say is...

Happy Birthday!!!

Oh, and I love you!

BBQ Chicken Wings

So, my husband loves my buffalo chicken wings, but my wing dinners were lacking something. BBQ wings. As much as my husband loved hot wings, he loves BBQ wings even more. I decided to just make a few tweaks to the recipe I already use for hot wings. This is super easy and so much cheaper than a restaurant.

2-3 pounds chicken wings
enough oil to fry wings in
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup -1.5 cups your favorite BBQ sauce

This meal is enough to feed two hungry adults but this recipe is very easily doubled. Buy the chicken wings that are ready to fry (the little bit smaller wings) or you are going to end up cutting off the tips and cutting the wings in half at the joint. Seriously, buy the smaller wings, it makes this whole meal just a couple step process.

1. Fry chicken wings in oil until cooked inside. I cut each wing open to check, since I have problems with chicken making me nauseous, but if you are super sure of your frying skills just fry away.
2. Drain the wings on paper towels.
3. Mix the wings with the sauce.

1. Melt butter in pan. (the more BBQ sauce you use, the more butter you use.)
2. add BBQ
3. Stir well and then remove from heat.

Serve with celery and ranch! Super easy, isn't it! These are delicious. Seriously, chicken is not on my list of favorite things and I love these.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to make a word collage hanging

So... no crafts from me in a long time. I have been lazy busy. Lu inspired me with her Wednesdays on the Web last week and this is what I came up with.
I chose to use Tagxedo for my creation. It was super easy but I am a step-by-step person, so I will share it that way.
Click on the world load on the left top. It will come up with the box in the below picture. Type all of your words separated by a comma. Then click the submit button that is next to THAT box.
It will change the filler words to your words. Then select the arrow next to shape and you can decide what you want it to look like. I went with undefined.
If you select the arrow next to theme, it will let you change the colors.
Then save it! I saved it as 16MP, because I knew I was going to print an 8.5x11. It does save with Tagxedos name on the lower left corner. You can take that off with Photoshop and the clone tool. If you don't know how to do that, left me know. Honestly, the picture is not exactly sized 8.85x11, so when I printed mine (on card stock), the logo was cut off.

Then I found a document frame at the Dollar Store. I painted it blue with the little dots and then I sprayed it with a clear varnish. After it dried I put it together. I like it, I hope my sister does too because it is for her boys. :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review - Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth

For the review of the first book, Click Here.
For the review of the second book, Click Here.
For the Review of the third book, Click Here.

Demigod Percy Jackson is at it again in the fourth installment in this series. The book opens on Percy once again destroying his school by killing a mythical monster before taking off on his quest. This time he doesn't leave alone, taking with him Rachel Dare, one of the only humans who can see through "the mist" which allows the gods, monsters and demigods to hide their identities.
Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labryinth is a fun read and great for kids
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Percy heads back to Camp Half-Blood, which is supposedly one of the only places in the world where the demigods are safe. However, in this book, the rising Lord Kronos and his followers find a way to breach the magical boundaries of the camp. The only way Percy and his friends can stop the invasion is to venture into the Labyrinth (Yes, Daedalus’s Labyrinth) which still exists under the continental United States.

What I have always liked about the Percy Jackson series is that they are EASY reads. No, I don't feel like they make me a better person. No, I don't really feel like I have learned something afterward (if you don't count that sometimes I sat with Wikipedia open as I read so I could discover each god's back story.) These books are the type of story I like to read when life is stressful. They are easy, humorous and they don't take a lot of effort to process.

The Battle of the Labyrinth was not my favorite in the series, but I liked it enough to read it and get through to the next book. I did love to see the relationship between Percy and Annabeth start to blossom and it was fun to see Percy start to grow up. There doesn't seem to be as much face time with the individual gods in this book, which I missed because the small illusions to their back stories are often so humorous.

I did like this book. It is not on my favorite list, but it is a fun read. I recommend it if you like mythology or fantasy books and you are looking for an easy read.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Black and White

Cameras have come a long ways since their early days. We now have full-color, digital, high-definition cameras that can capture every little feature. But, sometimes all that detail can be distracting. While I am a huge fan of color photos, there's something special about a good black and white photo.

Black and white allows the viewer to focus on the image itself and observe the contrast between shadows and highlights. Think about it, some of the most famous pictures you remember are in black and white. If they were in color, they may not have the same effect.

Today, we're going to talk about how to turn a photo into black and white. Yes, I know you probably have some simple button in a photo-editing program that turns a photo black and white instantly, but usually the default black and white doesn't look all that great. We're going to make black and white work for us.

Step 1: Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop.

Step 2: Go to the Image menu, down to Adjustments and select Hue/Saturation...

Step 3: Drag the Saturation slider down to -100. Your photo is now black and white.

Look at your photo. Chances are it appears rather flat and dull. That's because your camera originally captured the image in color and did it in such a way that the colors would stand out.
Step 4: To add some depth and shadows to your photo, go to the Image menu, down to Adjustments and select Levels...

Step 5: You'll notice three sliders at the bottom of what appears to be some strange mountain. That 'mountain' is a histogram that shows the amount of shadows, midtones and highlights present in your photo.

The left slider controls the shadows, the middle slider controls the midtones and the right slider controls the highlights.

Step 6: Personally, I like to start by adding some highlights. To add highlights, move the right slider to the left. As you do so, watch your image and you'll see the highlights coming out. Be careful to not add to much highlight or you'll lose definition.

Step 7: Next, drag the the left slider (shadows) to the right. Do not drag it very far. A little shadows go a long way.

If your photo still seems to be missing something, you can add or take away the midtones. To add midtones, move the middle slider to the right. To take away midtones, slide the middle slider to the left.

Below is the image with some contrast added via the shadows, midtones and highlights. It's a much more pleasing picture.
Alternative Method_Step 1: Another way to make a flat black and white image have more depth is to use the Contrast/Brightness setting. You can access this by going to the Image menu, down to Adjustments and select Brightness/Contrast...

Alternative Method_Step 2: To add some brightness to the image, slide the Brightness slider to the right. To take away the brightness, slide it to the left. The same rules apply to the Contrast slider.

Some Tips: Too much brightness and/or contrast can mess up your image. I usually add a small amount of brightness (+5 or so) and a smaller amount of contrast (usually no more than +8).
However, sometimes you can create a really cool effect by really blowing out the brightness and the contrast, as seen below.

Fixing Poor Pictures
One of the greatest uses of black and white is to repair those photos we all take where the subject looks great, but our color is just off. No matter how hard we try to repair it in Photoshop, it still looks messed up. Good news: you can usually save these pictures by turning them into black and white.

Here's my poor color-quality photo...

And here's that same photo after being turned into black and white and adding some definition...

Black and white can be used to enhance the focus of a picture, especially on an object.



Finally, try black and white on a variety of photos. You'd be surprised how many images you think MUST be in color, but look fantastic in black and white.



So have fun with it.