SLIDESHOW

Picture Perfect: Virtual Frames Enhance Digital Photos

Leverage the aesthetic power of frames, mattes, and borders to enhance your digital photos, even if they never leave your computer.

Virtual Frames Add Real Aesthetics

It's no secret that the right frame, finished in the perfect color and style, can improve almost any photo. Artists knew about the power of frames all the way back in the Renaissance, and--based on the amount of time I spend at the local frame shop--my wife is aware of this as well.

Of course, if you print out a digital photo, you can insert the paper into a traditional frame. (Or, you can display your snapshots on the screen of a digital photo frame.) But did you know that it's easy to create a virtual frame in a photo editing program? You can leverage the aesthetic power of frames, mattes, and borders to enhance your digital photos, even if they never leave your computer.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Make a Simple Matte

The easiest way to create a frame is to surround your photo with a solid background. In Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, choose Image, Resize, Canvas Size from the menu and then add some extra "padding" to the picture. A simple way to do so is to click in the menu and choose Percent, and then set the width and height to 110. Click in the color box and select a shade that suits the photo--I tried a rosy hue. Click OK to exit. If you don't like the size of your frame, you can always click Undo and try again with a different value.

As you can see, you can use this technique to create a built-in matte, and then print and frame the result. Or you can use the border as a completely digital frame for your photo, even if you never plan to print it.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Add Special Effects to Your Frame

A solid-color matte is fine for some photos, but what if you want to get a little fancier? Most photo editing programs have custom frames that add visual flair to the image. In Photoshop Elements 6, for example, start by turning on the Content palette (click Window and then Content).You'll see two drop-down menus at the top of the pane; click the one on the right and choose Frames.

Next, find a frame that you like--the program has almost 200 of them in a variety of colors, styles, and shapes--and drag it from the Content palette into your photo. The frame will automatically wrap around the image, and, depending on the specific frame, it might also change the size and formatting of the photo at the same time. Use the frame's sizing handles to fine-tune your arrangement and click the frame's check mark to keep your changes. If you don't like the frame, you can always choose Undo, or drag a new frame into your photo to replace the current one.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Give Your Photos a Lift With Drop Shadows

Adding a drop shadow effect to the edge of a digital photo seems to elevate the image off the page (or off the screen) and give it a little extra life. This subtle effect adds some interest without distracting from the image itself. In Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, drop shadows are only a few clicks away.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Drop Shadows: Prep Your Photo

To get started, open a photo in Photoshop Elements. Make any changes you want--tweak the colors and exposure, for example--and then crop the image to your satisfaction.

Because the drop shadow effect is designed to work on a layer, you need to promote your photo to layer status. To do that, find the Layers palette on the right side of the screen and double-click the image, which should be identified currently as 'Background'. The New Layer dialog box will appear. Click OK. Your image is now a layer, indicated by the name 'Layer 0' in the Layers palette.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Add Some Shadows

You're almost ready to add drop shadows, but first you need to expand the canvas around the edges of the photo. Select Image, Resize, Canvas Size. Switch the unit of measure from inches to percent, and then enter 110 for both height and width. Click OK. You should see that the canvas has expanded, and a transparent border should surround the edges of your photo.

Now it's time to experiment with drop shadows. In the Effects palette on the right side of the screen, click the Layer Styles button (second from the left) and then choose Drop Shadows from the menu. Now you can drag any of the drop shadow presets from the palette to your photo. If you don't like the one you dragged, replace it with another. When you find one that suits your image, save your finished product.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Burn Your Photo's Edges

Back in the days of film and darkrooms, you could control the look of your prints with techniques called "dodging" and "burning." As you exposed a print, for example, you could cover part of the photographic paper on which you were exposing the image. The resulting effect (dodging) would make the obscured section lighter than the rest of the image. Alternately, you could expose another section of the photo longer (burning), and that would make it darker. Burn part of the photo long enough, and it would turn black.

Digitally, you can apply the burn effect to add some subtle vignetting to a photo. You can work with any image, but it helps to start with one that is already predominantly dark overall, like this shot of my son's marching band taken at a nighttime football game. You want to focus on the middle of the image by gradually darkening both sides, until the left and right edges are pure black. I'll show you an easy method that relies on the Photoshop Elements Levels tool.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Get Your Vignette Set

Begin by creating a duplicate layer: Choose Layer, Duplicate Layer, and then click OK. You should be working in the top layer automatically, but you can verify where you are by checking the Layers palette on the right side of the screen; make sure the top layer is selected.

Next, select the region that you want to preserve. Choose the Rectangular Marquee Tool (fifth from the top on the left side of the screen). In the Options toolbar, set the feathering to a fairly large value; the more pixels in your image, the bigger your feather value should be. For my sample photo, which is 800 pixels wide, I chose a feather of 50 pixels. Now draw a rectangle that contains the part of the photo you want to keep.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat

Burn Your Vignette

In order to burn the sides, you'll need to employ a favorite trick of mine: Choose Select, Inverse to swap the selected and unselected parts of the photo. Choose Enhance, Adjust Lighting, Levels. Drag the black-point marker all the way to the right so that it is in line with the white-point marker.

To get rid of the distracting selection marks, choose Select, Deselect. Finally, you can put the finishing touches on your photo by cropping it to size. You might end up with something like my final version, above. You can try for a similar effect by dodging the edges of your photos. Look for images with light backgrounds and shift the edges into pure white.

See related stories:

Top 10 Digital Photo Frames

Fun, Free Photo Editing Tools

Add More Effects to Photo Booth and IChat