Fixing old photographs

Old family photos are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for family historians, but often when you find them they have been damaged over the years. I have been practising my photo-editing skills to overcome this problem.

I have used Paintshop Pro for years. I know it’s not the industry standard; when I was deciding between it and the similarly priced Photoshop Elements (the cut-price version of Adobe Photoshop, which is very expensive) I decided that Photoshop Elements was going to take too long to learn and I just didn’t have time.

That was years ago, and Photoshop Elements has come a long way. I have continued to upgrade Paintshop Pro until this last one, and I still like it for some things like lightening up the photos I’ve taken of archival documents. Last year I was persuaded to buy Photoshop Elements for fixing scratches in photos because it does it so well and so easily. They have really tried to make Elements easier for novices to use since my first trial all those years ago.

This is one I worked on the other night for a client using Photoshop Elements. The brickwork was particularly tricky!

Unedited photo

 

Here is the photo after I had a go at it:

Edited photo

I spent about an hour on this on my laptop while watching TV. When I got to the bottom left corner I just decided that there was too much woodwork anyway and cropped the bottom off. There’s still more I could do. I was a bit nervous about his eye but I think it works.

Photoshop Elements and Paintshop Pro are about $100, depending on where you live; less for an upgrade. Paintshop Pro has most of the same tools as Photoshop Elements but Elements has a very cool brush  that lets you paint along a scratch and it takes the image on either side and fills it in for you. It’s like magic!

Online software

Today I attended a Dear Myrtle webinar on free online photo editing software, and was introduced to PicMonkey. It is fully-featured photo editing software that runs online. You can start editing without even signing up, upload (or drag) the photo you want to edit, and the resulting photo is stored on your computer, not on the website. And it’s free! I was very impressed.

Have a look at PicMonkey. Save a copy of your photo, upload the copy, and see what you can do. You can always undo what you’ve done, or rub it out with the eraser, so don’t be afraid to experiment. And you have your original stored safely because you made a copy to edit. Always make a copy before editing.

I highly recommend Myrtle’s webinar for a demonstration of how easy it is if you’ve never played with photo editing before. She recorded it so it should become available soon.

Which is the best family tree program?

I am often asked this question, and it is a difficult one to answer. This is an expanded version of my most recent answer.

The answer depends on what you want to get out of the program. There are some things you need to think about:

  • Ease of use – is the layout easy to understand, and is it easy to work out what you are supposed to do to enter and change your data?
  • Output – what do you want to do with the data once you’ve entered it? Reports, charts, websites and screen display are all ways of seeing the data you have spent all that time entering, and if one is more important to you than others you should look for a program that offers more in this area
  • Flexibility – will you want to change it to suit your own requirements – how it looks, what types of data it can handle

Trees and clouds

All programs will do the basics – allow you to enter and change data, and give you basic reports and perhaps charts. I personally prefer the more fully featured programs that have many different options and are flexible enough to cater to whatever you want to do with it.

I also prefer programs that allow you to download a trial version for free. You never really know how a program will suit you until you try it out, and many programs allow you to do this. I have used Family Tree Maker in the past and found that it was limited in many ways, although it has changed a lot since then. It is NOT available to try out for free, although it is the most popular.

If I was buying a program today I would look at The Master Genealogist, Legacy, and Family Historian. All three are customisable and allows proper citing of sources, and have a long list of features.

There are some free programs around too – PAF and Brother’s Keeper are examples. If you’ve never used a program before try 2 or 3 of the free ones to see how you like them – whether they do what you want, and how easy they are to use. You may find that you are perfectly happy with these and don’t need to spend any money at all.

Then there are the internet programs that allow you to enter your data and share it with others, or not. Examples are MyHeritage, which has its own program that runs on your own computer, and TNG (The Next Generation).

There is a new Australian book out that goes into the subject in some detail, which gives a detailed description of many programs and compares them using comprehensive tables of features. The book was written by an Australian researcher and teacher, and is available here.

Most people who ask the question want to be told the name of a single program which they can confidently go out and buy. I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that because everyone is different, and has different needs. I can’t tell you which car to buy, or which breakfast cereal is best, or which cookbook you should buy. Family tree programs are the same.

Take a couple out for a test-drive and see what you think.

Useful software

dreamstimefree_7966554_320x240Not directly related to genealogy, perhaps, but you might be surprised by how useful these programs can be.

Mindmapping

Mindmapping is a way of organising information or ideas. It is fantastic when when you are at the planning stage of a project for getting all your ideas down and organised. It’s very helpful for making decisions – you can get all the information you need down, all the fors and againsts, and everything becomes clearer. I don’t know why it works better than writing straight lists, but it does. I used to use it at university to plan essays. In those days I used pencil on a large drawing pad, or A3 paper. These days I use computer software, which allows changes and rearrangement more readily than pencil on paper.

There are a lot of different packages around, and after trying out a few I decided on Mindmeister. It is web-based, allowing collaboration with others, and it can also run off-line, which is quicker. The basic version is free to use and has limitations such as the number of mindmaps you can have at any one time. The premium version is a reasonable yearly fee that works out to something like $4 per month and allows unlimited mindmaps and offline access. Another free mindmap application, not web-based, is Freemind.

Photo albums

There are a lot of picture-hosting sites around that allow you to upload albums of photos to share with others. I use Picasa, one of the growing Google family of applications. I’ve mentioned Picasa before. It allows public sharing, which means anyone can see it, or private sharing, which involves a long key in the filename which you give to people you want to share it with.

This is a great way to share photos with relatives. You upload the album once, add photos as you wish, and send the link to your relatives. When you find a new cousin you can just send the link instead of sending photos as attachments. They can download the photos, and even though they may not be the same quality at least they have them and they can never be lost completely. Picasa is completely free.

Time tracking

Another web-based application I use is Harvest, to track my time and account for it. I create projects and tasks and start the timer when I am working on them. It also has an invoicing option. Although I started using it primarily for client work I also track my own genealogy research and general time-wasting. It is a very interesting exercise to do this for a week or two and find out exactly how much time you spend. Harvest has a number of monthly pricing packages.

A slightly different form of time-tracking that I’ve been experimenting with is RescueTime. This tracks exactly what you are doing on your computer – websites and applications – and gives you a list with time against each one. You can categorise them however you want; for example, I have MS Outlook and Gmail categorised as “email” and it is quite startling to see how long I spend in these applications every day. I can also set goals with warnings, so I can get a warning after I spent more than my allocated hour on email. I can also give each category a priority, from which my daily productivity is calculated. RescueTime is free.

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