Monday, September 29, 2014

Make like paint

Occasionally I like to make my photographs look a little less photographic and a little more drawn or painted. Over the years I have tried a lot of software to accomplish this with varying degrees of success and lack of. This last few days have been a concerted effort to find which software could produce the best results.

I had previously tried Virtual Painter 5 (now no longer available), Corel Painter (now only available as part of  a $600 package) and a few others that escape my memory (i.e. not memorable - literally).

This time I looked at four packages. I excluded anything costing over $100 as being too expensive for the use I would make of it and ended up looking at:
FotoSketcher (free),
GMX photo Painter (about $50),
Dynamic Auto Painter ($100) and
Snap Art 4 ($100).

First the exclusions;
Dynamic Auto Painter has a lot of people rooting for it. I didn't like the results. I really tried with this software, processing my test picture through about a dozen filters and post processing steps. The results were unconvincing. I also didn't like the way it messed with the colours. While there were detailed differences between the filters, the overall effect was sameness and a lack of differentiation. It’s also an overly complex program to come to grips with. Big fail.

GMX photo painter was much better. There are heaps of controls and, with some effort, good results could be obtained. But to get good results does require a lot of trial and error and patient work with a stylus. Don’t even think of using this program with a mouse! I liked this program a lot and if cost is an important factor then its a reasonable pick despite one or two little niggles (like the painting not going all the way to the top and left edges of the picture). I only really excluded this program because my final choice was just so much better. A free trial is available if you want to give it a try.

I’m keeping two of the programs:
FotoSketcher is brilliant for a free program. It doesn't have as many filters as some of the other programs but what it does have are very flexible. I found the best way to use this program was to produce a few JPGs with different settings and to combine the layers in Photoshop to produce the finished piece. In fact this is the strategy that I use with both my keepers. If you just want to play around and produce some reasonably impressive results then download FotoSketcher and give it a go.

My best keeper was Snap Art 4 from Alien Skin. It’s the easiest program of the four to learn and the results it produces from a single pass are truly impressive. However, produce separate layers for underpainting, body and details to combine in Photoshop and the results really surpass anything else I have ever tried. If you don’t have Photoshop then you can mask different setting from within Snap Art but I simply find using Photoshop easier. This program is a wonderful blend of power and ease of use. It also works as a stand alone program and as a plugin for photoshop, lightroom and other  graphics programs.

Here are my two test pictures (original photos from processed in Snap Art 4 and Photoshop (view full size):

Monday, September 22, 2014

Deep breaths, people

So, it's all over for another three years. We didn't get the government I would have liked, but we also didn't get the government I feared. What we did get was the government best equipped to run the country. Confused?

I would have preferred a competent government with compassionate social policies that could have carried this country forward to a better future for all its citizens. In some people's eyes that would make me a centrist or perhaps a centre-left voter. Unfortunately there wasn't a choice of voting in any leftward direction at this election. The left were united in only one thing - getting rid of John Key. There was absolutely no evidence that having achieved that goal there was any competency to run a country - the bickering and infighting that would have resulted would have paralysed New Zealand for the next three years (if they had lasted that long). New Zealanders didn't vote 'right' so much as they voted for stability - absolutely in line with the New Zealand psychi in my view.

As well as no demonstrable evidence that the left had any cohesiveness, or ability to manage NZ Inc. there was the spectre of Dotcom being behind at least a part of any government. As Dotcom admitted himself afterwards, the Dotcom brand had become 'poisoned'. I think it's a shame that we lost Hone Harawira in the process - I didn't often agree with him but he was a good voice to have in parliament. Shame.

Which brings me to the brokenness of our party political system. Elections should be about policies and the direction the country is headed in. This election had very little about policy; it was about getting elected and stopping other people getting elected - by fair means or foul. The policy debate, as little as there was, was lost in the noise of the bar-brawl. Indeed the little policy there was could have well been characterised as a series of election bribes (from both sides). I think it's time we demanded better of our politicians.

How about each political party being required to publish a couple of statutory documents three months out from an election. The first document is a brief ‘Vision’ document of where they would like to see New Zealand in 25 years time. Let’s set a word limit on that to discourage waffle and political BS. The second document should be the party’s 10 year business plan for NZ Inc., spelling out how they intend to move towards their vision. If we had those two documents we might have a chance of knowing what we were voting for every three years.

Of course coalitions would require compromises but an incoming coalition government  would need to identify which policies from each coalition partner were going to be pursued and publish a revised business plan and vision at the beginning of their term. It’s about transparency of intent and accountability of action. We, the people of New Zealand, need to know clearly what our politicians are going to do when we elect them and to be able to hold them accountable for their actions while in government.

Maybe there are other and better ways to achieve transparency and accountability but it seems to me that requiring our politicians to be clear about what they intend, provides a good basis for both.