Image Capture

All web sites need images. If you buy this premise, then lets look at ways to find them and get them to our web pages. For this discussion, we'll consider an image to be a graphic that shows a real-world object such as a person or building, a sunset, or snapshot of a program's dialogue box, and this rules out clip-art and line drawings. Typically the format of such an image will be a .JPG file, rather than a .GIF file, because of the wide color range generally required.

I'd like to mention the acquisition of photo galleries; you know, those collections of images typically sold at prices of $395 for 100 pictures, half of which are baskets of fruit, NASA spaceships and naked babies. Surely you get the same mail I do. I generally dismiss these as irrelevant to what I do and I look elsewhere for images for my web sites.

As a rule, our web site design will say to us "I need an image of this client's office and his staff at work." Or, "This tutorial needs a few screen snapshots of the program's dialogues". Or the travel agent who says "I need pictures of these hotels and their surroundings."

The point is that we don't bring images to our web site and then decide how to integrate them in some way that doesn't look foolish. Instead, we have to be ready to respond to the requirements of the moment, equipped  with familiar tools to capture the required image at a moment's notice.

I see these tools as a scanner, a digital camera, and a screen capture program, and not necessarily in that order of importance. We'll now take a look at these three tools and I'll make some suggestions to you.

Scanner: This is a fascinating device. I have my Microtek right on my computer desk, turned off. It may stay that way for a month, until suddenly I'm 'dead meat' if I don't have one! The best example is my son's web site where he needed badly to present his trading card customers with manufacturers' literature explaining new product offerings. My scanner came to the rescue and was ready to welcome several file folders filled with literature. If you're interested in seeing how these enhanced his web site, you can jump to the following URL.

Real world examples for you might include photos sent you of a client's staff, his premises, or quite often a logo or other piece of artwork that you have to make 'web-ready'. This, in addition to hundreds of other requirements I can't think of at the moment.

There are several important considerations in scanning an image and I'd like to mention just a couple. However I'd like to give you a pointer to a web site that is absolutely profound in its explanation of scanning, photo touchup and scanning for display and printer resolutions. ScanTips by Wayne Fulton.

When you scan an image to be used on a web site, people may tell you to just scan at 75 or 92 dpi, since that's sufficient resolution for a display screen and the scan will be quicker. My experience is that you're generally better off scanning at 300 dpi and then use your image editing software to resample it downward to the size you need. The reason for this is that the lower resolution scan misses too much data, compared to the higher scan. Even though the resampling procedure will throw away data when it makes the image smaller, it will produce a better image. Often, you will benefit further by applying the 'sharpen' filter to the image just once, after resampling. Try this for yourself and see if you agree with me. I've prepared an example if you'd like to see it.

Digital Camera: Just about everything said about the efficacy of a scanner applies here as well. An obvious difference is that a camera has other utilitarian value, well beyond web site activity, and of course it costs 5-10 times a scanner.

There isn't much that can provide the instant gratification of the camera, however. Need some quick pictures of your client's staff at work, run over and shoot. Edit them with your software and they're 'web-ready'.

A consideration, however, is the media your camera uses. I bought a Sony Mavica which uses floppy disk. Theoretically I could drop the diskette into the client's machine and view the images. If unsatisfactory, just shoot 'em again. Not quite as easy if you have SmartMedia, CompactFlash or other card memory, unless you know there's a PC configured with a reader available. If you do a lot of web photography, you can probably justify carrying a laptop with you on your 'shoots'.

The concept of image resolution applies identically to digital photography as it does to scanning. An important difference though is the terminology used to describe it.

The camera's resolution is not described in terms of dots per inch, but rather 'dots per picture frame'. That is, a low-res picture is 640x480 pixels. The entire frame is just that, 640 dots wide and 480 dots high, not a whole lot of pixels to 'describe' a scene with a lot of detail. Today's cameras can handle resolutions upwards of 1280 by 960, but let's consider 1280x960 as a talking point. That resolution, mathematically, is 4 times the 640x480, just as the scanner's 300 dpi is 4 times 75 dpi.

Consequently, my recommendation for camera images to be used on your web site is the same as it was for your scanner. Use the camera's higher resolution and resample to the size required on the web. Here's a nice link to megapixel.net which has useful articles and reviews on digital photography.

Image Capture: In all that program documentation you've been reading over the years, did you wonder how in the world they were able to capture the various program screens to illustrate the points they were explaining? If you know how they did it, please move to the next topic. If you don't know, prepare to be astounded.

Click here so I can show you something:

The image is the FrontPage 2000 Themes selection dialogue. I left it at the original size and it is truly hard to distinguish it from the original. Now you may have guessed how I built the 67 thumbnails I used in the Web Themes Samples topic.

Did you know that Windows 95/98 gives you the ability to capture the entire screen to the clipboard where it's available for pasting  and manipulation by any image editing program, all just by tapping the 'Print Screen' key? More important, the currently active window can be captured by using Alt-PrintScreen. I couldn't believe I hadn't  known that trick when it was revealed to me. It surely will come in handy frequently for countless applications.

Excuse my exuberance, but I'm like a kid in a candy store whenever I play with this feature. It will always astound me for some reason.

For those of you considering PaintShop Pro Version 7, it contains a capture tool which allows you to specify an area of the screen to be captured, not limiting you to an entire window. Gosh, it keeps getting better!