Mac Gems

Photos are personal things—pictures of vacations, friends, family, or even the treasures we’ve decided to sell on eBay. But for people who make a living off of their photographs, use them for business purposes, or just want to make sure that other people don’t appropriate them for nefarious purposes, making photographs available electronically requires taking some precautions.

Watermarking is a process by which you superimpose an identifying mark—a copyright notice, a business logo, a signature, or some text—onto an image, so its ownership is obvious. Although there are a number of ways to add watermarks to your digital images, I haven’t seen a better solution than Script Software’s $20 iWatermark 2.0.3 (   ). iWatermark’s beauty is in its ease of use and its functionality. To apply watermarks to images, you simply drag a folder of images that you want to watermark (the Input folder) and another folder where you want to save the newly watermarked images (the Output folder) to the corresponding panels in the iWatermark window, and then click on the Process button. iWatermark leaves the original files untouched and creates new images complete with the watermark of your choice. (The new files retain EXIF and IPTC tags—a nice touch.) The process is fairly quick—for me, each image took less than a second.

Your watermark can be any image you want. Just drag it into the Image well, and you’re done. But you don’t have to stick with a standard image overlay; you can use text instead, or text and an image together. And you can completely customize the appearance of the watermark elements—location, justification, rotation, size, effect (emboss, outline, and engraved are a few options), transparency, and text font and style. A live preview shows what the resulting watermarked images will look like. You even get to choose the output format for watermarked images: support for JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PICT, and BMP is built in, and iWatermark can use QuickTime to save images in Photoshop format.

iWatermark also has useful features for preparing images for a Web site. It can generate corresponding thumbnail images in whatever format and size you choose, and it can resize the watermarked images themselves—you just provide the appropriate dimensions. You can also resample images to a higher or lower resolution. Finally, iWatermark lets you create watermark sets that you can quickly switch between.

Watermarking used to be something that only professional photographers did, but nowadays everyone should at least consider it. And iWatermark is an inexpensive and impressive utility for the job.

Picture Printing, Pronto

Speaking of photos, Apple’s iPhoto is a stellar photo-management application. However, its printing functionality makes a big assumption: that you’ve already prepared all your photos for printing—that is, you’ve rotated them, cropped them, resized them, and so on. Assuming the picture is ready to go, you just click on the print button, choose the paper size, and then print. But what if you haven’t done all that preparation? Or what if you want to print a cropped version of a photo but leave the original intact? (iPhoto always keeps an unaltered copy, but you have to remember to use the Revert To Original command to get it back.) Sometimes I just want to quickly print a new photo that I downloaded from my digital camera without worrying about “managing” it first.

Just as iWatermark lets you easily add watermarks to your photos, Stunt Software’s $20 PhotoBooth 1.2 (   ) makes printing photos quick and easy. When you launch PhotoBooth, you’ll see all your iPhoto albums in a list on the left. Choose the photo you want to print by selecting the appropriate album (or your iPhoto library itself) and then the image—it will appear in the main viewer pane. (You can also choose images that aren’t in iPhoto.) Now it’s time to work your quick-print magic: Select a margin width, picture size, and orientation. You’ll see the appropriate crop outline in the main viewer pane. Just as you would in iPhoto, you can move the crop outline to choose the desired section of the photo—but unlike with iPhoto, you can actually resize the crop as needed (it will keep the correct aspect ratio for your chosen picture size). Click on the Print Picture button, and the selected section of the photo prints at the desired image size. It’s that simple. A handy Preview window shows what your final printout will look like, depending on the chosen paper size and the printer you’re printing to—a nice feature that’s more helpful than you might think.

I’m sure there are some readers who are thinking, “I just don’t get it—printing in iPhoto isn’t that hard.” You’re right, it isn’t. But printing in PhotoBooth is even easier. It takes printing only a few photos with PhotoBooth to appreciate its usefulness. It’s a great utility that does exactly the job it’s intended to do—and it does the job well.

iSight Settings

Even though Apple’s iSight camera is widely considered one of the best videoconferencing cameras on the market, a common criticism is its lack of user controls for adjusting picture quality—you’re stuck with the iSight’s standard autofocus and autoexposure functionality. Although these features usually produce a good picture, many users would like to be able to adjust the iSight’s focus, brightness, or color balance to improve the video they transmit to their iChat buddies.

Interestingly, this limitation has nothing to do with the iSight itself—Apple just hasn’t provided a software interface for the iSight’s built-in capabilities. But there are several third-party products that do just that; my current favorite is Ecamm Networks’ $8 iGlasses 1.1 (   ).

After you install iGlasses, you get a new iGlasses Settings item in iChat’s Video menu. Clicking on that item brings up a window with a number of iSight presets such as Sepia, Night Vision, and Macro Focus. Or you can customize a number of attributes—brightness, edge enhancement, exposure level, focus, gain, hue, saturation, shutter, temperature, and white balance—and save your settings to a new custom preset.

As a bonus, iGlasses allows you to use an iSight camera with iChat on Power Mac G3s that have processors slower than 600MHz—computers that are not officially supported by Apple for use with the iSight.

iGlasses won’t turn your iSight into a studio-quality video camera, but it will significantly improve image quality. Now I just wish that I could get the people on the other end of my video chats to use it, too—sometimes they don’t look so hot.

Mighty Mini Mouse, Part II

Back in September, I talked about the RadTech BT-500 Mobile Mouse (   ), an excellent wireless mouse for Bluetooth-equipped PowerBooks and iBooks. That review generated a number of requests for a similar recommendation for Bluetooth-less laptops. I suggest BenQ’s slick $40 M310 Optical Wireless Mouse (   ).

Like the BT-500, the M310 is an 800-dpi optical mouse featuring left and right buttons and a clickable scroll wheel, all of which are supported by OS X right out of the box. However, it gets its wireless functionality via an included RF (radio frequency) hardware receiver that plugs into any USB port. What sets the M310 apart from many other RF mice is that its USB receiver is stored inside the mouse itself. When you want to use the mouse, you press a button to make the receiver pop out (an action that also turns the mouse on). When you’re done, you unplug the receiver from your computer and then slide it back into the slot on the mouse; this turns the mouse off. The M310’s receiver is convenient and nearly impossible to lose during transit or storage.

BenQ claims that the M310 will run for more than three months on two AAA batteries under normal usage. I haven’t yet reached the three-month mark, so I can’t tell you how accurate that estimate is (or what “normal usage” means), but my batteries are still going strong after two months. To preserve battery power, the M310 sleeps after approximately 30 seconds of inactivity—it wakes up when you move the mouse—and turns off completely after 5 minutes of inactivity. A click of any button turns the mouse back on again, although it takes a few seconds before the cursor is responsive.

For people who are concerned about size, the M310 (unlike many RF mice) strikes a good compromise between portability and usability. It’s 3.5 inches long, it’s covered in hard rubber for a good grip, and it weighs less than 3 ounces.

Although I still like the BT-500 for Bluetooth-enabled laptops, the M310 has become my personal favorite for non-Bluetooth models. My iBook never goes anywhere without it.

Prompt Prints: PhotoBooth makes fast work of printing your photos.iTouch-up: With iGlasses, your iSight video looks better than ever.Benq M310 Optical Wireless Mouse
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