Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Those Damned/Great JPEGs

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) images - the ones we all use on the web - are a blessing because they compress regular digital images so much that they have made common use of graphic images on the web a reality. JPEG images are also a bane because they rob your images of their original quality by throwing away information that you'll never get back. What many don't realize is that each time you alter and save a JPEG image you lose a little more quality. Here's how I handle JPEGs.

Rule One. Save the image only once. By that, I mean make all your adjustments in the original (non-JPEG) format first. Routine screen shots are usually BMP or other bitmap format. Keep a copy of the original bitmap. Make your changes in size, etc., and then save as JPEG. Some programs let you select a quality for your JPEG. I usually use 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Anything higher begins to defeat the purpose of JPEG, which is high compression and small file size.

Rule Two. For train sim screen shots, I usually sharpen the image before I save it. I use IrfanView (available free on the web - search for IrfanView). It has a batch conversion feature that lets me convert all my screen shots at once to JPEGs (while retaining the original format versions) and has a host of image adjusting features. Normally I just use the Sharpen function.

Rule Three. If your original JPEG is from a digital camera, it is probably a high quality image (9 or 10 on a scale of 10). If you plan to manipulate this image, you may want to save it to a more stable format, such as BMP or TIFF before working on it. Then save back to JPEG.

-- Al

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Now What?

So you're new to train simming. You've installed your sim and have it working properly. You've taken your favorite train out for a spin and you may even have tried a scenario (Trainz) or activity (MSTS). Now what?

If you like photography, you've come to the right place. Trainz and MSTS offer a world of potential for dramatic train "photography." I put that in quotes because it's not traditional photography in the sense that there's no camera to hold in your hand. Beyond that it really IS photography in my book because you are concerned with composition, lighting, and timing. The best part is that you don't have to drive miles to find an active railroad and you don't have to wait hours for a train to come by, or climb a mountain or rent an airplane to get a great vantage point. With train sim photography you get to choose the weather and time of day. You can even pose a setup - something only the company photographer or publicity studio ever gets to do.

With train sim photography you can take a diskfull of photos in very short order. Take adavantage of this capability to develop a critical eye, deciding which shot is most satisfying or appropriate or informative or dramatic - and why. In the end you may be surprised to see how good the results are. You may even find some great candidates for your next Christmas card. Print a few shots and hang them in your office - it's a great way to meet girls (or guys).

A few years ago I started a train sim gallery on my personal web site (see http://alfredbarten.com/trainsim_gallery.html). You may find some useful pointers there.

-- Al