I recently called my sister Brigitte, an economist at a prestigious university, to ask her advice about my mortgage. A few days later, I was in the room when my sister Heidi called Brigitte to ask whether she should refinance her townhouse. Since I had moved some of my retirement funds into “safe” assets, I said to Heidi, “Ask her when she thinks the stock market is going to bottom out.” To which Brigitte replied, “What am I, a genie in a bottle?”
My feeling is that if you spend your whole life developing a profound knowledge of a particular field, you can’t be too annoyed if your friends and relatives take advantage of your expertise. Whereas if you spend many years getting a “well-rounded” education and don’t really commit to a career path until you’re well into your 30s, you’re pretty much safe from ever having to give anyone advice about anything.
Since I fall into the well-rounded category, it behooves me to tap the expertise of others so that I can provide you with useful information. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by experts on many subjects, including family history, publishing, photography, graphic design and software engineering. My team here at AncestryPress also includes a former Naval officer, a certified ski instructor and a guy who builds 7-foot model rockets in his spare time. So as you can see, you’re in good hands.
For our first issue of the AncestryPress Monthly, I interviewed Maureen Taylor, who is both a professional photographer and an avid family historian. After talking to Maureen and reading her new book, I put some of her advice to the test. I was surprised at how easy it was to improve my photography skills by following a few simple tips. And the timing was perfect, because AncestryPress has several new features that let you do some really cool stuff with your photos.
Create your own backgrounds
Here at AncestryPress, we often get messages like this: “I love your page backgrounds, but I wish there were more options. When are you going to add a background having to do with X?”
I’m happy to report that as of this month, your background selection is limited only by your imagination. Any image that you import into AncestryPress — a photo, document, old map or any other image you’ve saved in a JPG or PNG format — can be a page background.
To add a background, go to the Backgrounds tab and click the “Upload Background” button. You can grab any image file on your computer and turn it into an AncestryPress background. All the backgrounds you’ve uploaded will appear in the “My Backgrounds” folder.
In addition, you can convert any image in the My Photos tab or the Ancestry Records tab into a background. Just right-click on the image and then click “Use as background.” The image will be applied as a background to the current page. It will also be saved in the “My Backgrounds” folder. You can also right-click on an image that’s already been applied to a page to convert it to a background.
What I love about this feature is that it lets you fill up a whole page with one photo. You can let the photo stand on its own — which is a great way to showcase a particularly interesting or dramatic shot — or layer other images on top of it.
Here are a couple of examples…
I like the effect of using a close-up of a face as a stand-alone page. The thoughtful child in that last example belongs to one of our engineers, Greg Burgess, who happens to be a pretty good photographer. The photo of the German storybook village is from my brother-in-law, who is also a software engineer and photography buff (I’m seeing a pattern here).
The “Use as background” feature also works really well with scenic shots. Try using a scenic photo as a background and then placing a detail shot on top of it.
Note that when you convert an image into a background, the image is automatically cropped, resized and centered to fit the background area. Images that have a portrait rather than landscape orientation might not work very well. And depending on their resolution, smaller images may not look so good when they’re scaled up to fill the whole page.
Take your photos to the edge
Here’s another trick for showcasing your photos: drag a photo to the vertical or horizontal edges of the page, leaving some white space along one or two sides of the page. You can keep the white space white or add a solid background in a color that complements your photo.
To get this “full bleed” effect, drag the photo OFF the page, meaning that the edges of the photo will get cut off. In the screen shot below, the green outline shows the dimensions of the photo. This technique doesn’t work for every image — obviously you wouldn’t want to chop off someone’s head — but it works well in this case because the pieces I’m cropping out are mostly grass.
In the example below, I layered a vertical full-bleed photo over a textured background (“Green Cursive”) and then added a detail shot.
Check out this two-page spread by Greg Burgess, featuring another of his photogenic boys:
I like how Greg made the photo from the left page overlap onto the right page. What he actually did was make a copy of the photo and then crop both versions to make them look like one continuous shot. This is a bit tricky to do, but it’s a fun idea to play around with — especially if you’re a “power user” who likes to get creative.
Adjust the transparency
We just launched another new feature that opens up all kinds of design possibilities: a transparency meter. Just click on an image and then click the icon with the little blue circle in the image editing toolbar. By default the meter is always set to 0, meaning that the image is fully opaque. Scroll down or move the slide bar to change the transparency.
If you’ve applied an image to a page with the “Use as background” feature, you can adjust the transparency and/or flip the image by clicking the “Edit Background” icon at the top of the screen. Alternatively, you can right-click on a page and then choose “Edit background” from the fly-out menu.
You can create some interesting pages by using a transparent image as a background and placing a smaller, 100% opaque image on top of it. In the example below, the German village is 25% transparent (75% opaque).
If you place a transparent image over a colored background, the color will of course show through, which lets you create some interesting effects. In the example below, the Alaskan wilderness is 50% transparent and the background is pale blue (“Light Blue Distressed”).
In the final three examples below, I’ve left a border so you can see the background color at the top and bottom of the page. The German wildflowers are 50% transparent, the flamingos are 35% transparent and the moose is 20% transparent.
I don’t typically include pictures of myself in this blog, but it isn’t every day that you get to pose with a moose.
I hope the sample pages I’ve presented here have sparked some ideas for showing off your own photos through your AncestryPress projects. Have fun experimenting with these three new features — and as always, let me know what you think!
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NOTE: AncestryPress is now MyCanvas
In October 2008, AncestryPress was relaunched under the name MyCanvas. It is still a free, online software program provided by Ancestry.com. For current information about products and features, please see my more recent blog posts.