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Your job title may be something like teacher, salesperson, or HR manager, but somehow you end up creating newsletters, brochures, presentations, and Web sites. True, you weren’t trained for these tasks, but just because you’re not a designer doesn’t mean you can’t fake it. One good way to make projects look professional is to skip the low-end clip art and use high-quality photos and illustrations instead. There are plenty of places to find great-looking art that’s inexpensive or even free. And with a few tricks, you can make it fit your needs perfectly.
Where to find stock art
For a huge selection of inexpensive photos and illustrations, iStockphoto is the king. The site offers an extensive archive and low prices: most images cost only $1 to $6.
Type your search term—or terms—into the Search field to find all matches. Then narrow the results by specifying dominant colors or composition. For example, if you want the left side of the image to be fairly plain so you can place words over it, mark that empty space in the 3 by 3 CopySpace grid (see “Sophisticated Searches”).
All of iStockphoto’s collection is royalty free, which means that when you pay the onetime fee, you can use the image again and again. (For more on usage terms and copyright issues, see “Copyrights and Wrongs.”)
Free and Legal Images If you’re absolutely broke or can’t find what you need on iStockphoto, it’s time to dive into the Internet’s pool of free images. While a simple Google.com image search might seem like a no-brainer, don’t do it! The images you’d find this way are probably not legal to use.
Instead, try a legitimate source of free images. I’ve posted a long list, but I do have some favorites. The Morgue File, for instance, is an excellent resource for anyone looking for a range of high-quality images from photographers who willingly contribute their shots for free.
The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains the NOAA Photo Library, which includes roughly 16,000 images that are free and in the public domain. It isn’t the easiest site to navigate, but you’ll be rewarded with everything from dramatic tornado photos to etchings that are hundreds of years old.
The Library of Congress’s American Memory site includes 136 well-organized collections of images, prints, maps, sheet music, videos, and more. Only some of the images in the Library are in the public domain and thus open to commercial use. Most collections or individual images note which uses are OK—look for a Rights And Reproductions link.
How to customize stock art
You’ve done it—you found a photo that perfectly captures the message your brochure is supposed to communicate. The only problem is that it’s oriented horizontally, and you need something vertical. There’s no need to start the search again. With software you probably already have and a little time, you can make any stock art your own.
Crop Photos Take the example of the horizontal photo. To make it vertical in Apple’s iPhoto 6 (part of the $79 iLife ’06 suite ), click on the Edit button and then on the Crop icon. Click and drag to resize. For specific dimensions, click on the Constrain pop-up menu to the left of the Crop button. Choose from the preset options here or choose Custom to enter specific dimensions. Get similar results in Apple’s Pages 2 (part of the $79 iWork ’06 suite) by masking the image.
To access the Crop tool in the $239 Microsoft Word 2004, open the Formatting palette (View: Formatting Palette) and look under the Image header (it’s not visible unless you’ve selected an image). Once you click on the Crop icon, you can drag the image’s edges to crop it as you like.
When you approach the task creatively, cropping can be more than making something fit. You’ll often find photos within photos—for example, a beach scene can contain a palm tree, a picturesque boat, and a cabana. You could place the image several times and crop it to reveal each element in turn.
Colorize Photos Let’s say you want to change a color photo to sepia. In iPhoto, click on the Effects button to call up a floating palette with preset options for altering color. Click on one to try it; if you don’t like it, click on the Original option to reset the image. Also, by using the Adjust palette, you can tweak the photo’s brightness, contrast, saturation, temperature, and tint. Pages lacks the preset color choices of iPhoto’s Effects palette, but its Adjust palette works the same way.
Word gives you a surprising number of ways to colorize images. Under the Image section of the Formatting palette, look for the Correction subsection. For basic choices, such as Grayscale and Black & White, click on the Mode pop-up menu. To really play with color, however, try the Adjust pop-up menu. In the dialog box that appears, you can try out different effects, such as desaturating the entire image or dialing its reds, greens, and blues up or down. Word displays a set of image thumbnails with a range of settings applied to help you choose visually (see “Word Image Adjustments”).
Look under the Formatting Palette’s Picture section and click on Effects to access 42 special effects such as Dry Brush, Charcoal, and Rough Pastels.
Create Borders Since you probably don’t want your company’s newsletter to resemble a scrapbook, it’s wise to use borders sparingly. But when edge effects really are called for—to make a series of unrelated images look more cohesive, for example—iPhoto has three choices. Click on its Effects button to display the floating palette with ways to make the edges of the photo black (Vignette), white (Matte), or blurry (Edge Blur).
You won’t find a border tool in Pages, but, depending on the template you use, images you place in your document might have a Stroke or Shadow. Change (or remove) this effect by opening the Inspector (1-option-I). Click on your image, and set the stroke to one of the four border types. You can also change the stroke’s color and thickness.
It’s easy to create an image border in Word. Select the image, open the Formatting Palette, and play with the tools in the Borders And Shading section.
Place Images Inside Shapes When you wear a mask, only certain parts of your face show through it. Software masking works the same way: you place a shape, such as a circle or a rectangle with rounded corners, over an image, and anything that falls outside the shape’s boundaries is invisible. Masking can effectively focus a reader’s attention.
iPhoto lacks tools for placing images inside shapes. Pages, however, excels at this task. Insert your image (Insert: Choose), and then add the shape you’d like to use as your mask (Objects: Shapes). Select the image and the shape, and choose Format: Mask With Shape. Move the shape to reveal the right parts of your image and drag the shape’s selection handles to change its size. When you’re satisfied, double-click on the mask to set it (see “Masking in Pages”). Because you haven’t actually destroyed any image data—you’ve just hidden it—you can change the mask at any time by double-clicking on this object again.
In Word, you insert a picture, click on it, and then bring up the Picture toolbar (View: Toolbars: Picture). Use one of the marquee tools to create a shape, and then click on the Cutout button in the Picture toolbar. While there are only two predefined marquee shapes—rectangle and oval—you can create more-organic shapes with the three Lasso marquee tools.
Small budget, big results
When you need to make something look good on a small budget, free or inexpensive stock art is the way to go. And with these customization tips, no one will ever know that the title of designer isn’t actually on your business card.Sophisticated Searches: Using iStockphoto’s CopySpace grid (A), you can narrow your search results to show only images that have empty space in the area where you’d like to place text.Word Image Adjustments: Word 2004’s Color Adjustment dialog box gives you several ways to change an image’s appearance.Masking in Pages: Here I used Pages 2’s masking tools to round the edges of an image. These changes are nondestructive—simply double-click on the mask to change its shape.