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The Missing Digital Photography Hacks
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Personalized Wallpaper for Your Camera Phone

Want to look like a real hotshot when you flip open your camera phone? Create a personalized wallpaper featuring your name and business URL.

Whenever I talk about camera phones with people, sooner or later someone always comments, "Well, yeah, they're fun, but you can't really do anything useful with them." Ah, not true! In fact, in Digital Photography Hacks, we dedicated an entire chapter to camera phones.

Just to give you a taste, here's a very useful hack that isn't even in the book. Use your camera phone to create a custom wallpaper that displays whenever your phone is active. You can even create different versions and rotate them as your mood dictates. Here's how it works.

First create your design on your Mac. I used Photoshop because I'm familiar with it and can work quickly. But AppleWorks, Graphic Converter, or just about anything that lets you control the type and background will do. Take a look at the design I'm currently using on my phone.

Custom wallpaper design.
Here's a simple design I created in Photoshop to serve as my camera phone wallpaper.

One you have a design you like, put you camera phone in picture-taking mode and photograph the design right off your Mac's monitor. I recommend that you use the "Nighttime" shooting mode and the self-timer on your camera phone for best results. Also, if you make the design nice and big to fill the entire screen of your Mac's monitor, your camera phone will probably capture a sharper shot.

Here's a tip: Rotate the image horizontally on your Mac so it's the same alignment as your camera phone screen (camera phones have vertical orientation and computers horizontal).

Rotated design.
Rotate your design horizontally on your Mac so it is the same proportions as your camera phone screen.

Once you've captured the shot with your camera phone, you'll have the option of making it your wallpaper. You can even create specific wallpapers for special occasions.

Best of all, if you ever accidentally leave your phone behind, the person that finds it will know immediately who it belongs to and how to get in touch. Now tell me that isn't a useful camera phone application.


Eliminate Backgrounds with the Extract Filter

A beautiful background for your portrait is great until you're asked to get rid of it for a newsletter or some other use where only the image of the person is needed. That's when it's time to learn about the Extract filter in Photoshop CS.

In Digital Photography Hacks, I dedicate an entire chapter to Photoshop magic. I cover all sorts of stuff from brightening teeth to softening facial lines, but one of the most difficult tasks is to separate a subject from its background. There are many tools you can use, such as the eraser, but they often lead to hours of tedious clean up to get the image just right. In Photoshop CS, tucked away in the Filter dropdown menu is Extract. Why this is considered a filter is beyond me, but regardless of where it's located, it's a powerful collection of tools you might want to explore.

When you have your image open in Photoshop, simply click on Filter > Extract and you'll be greeted with a new work area. You have a collection of tools on the left side or the work area and some settings for them on the right. The Adobe Help menu does a good job of explaining what is what.

The process is quite simple. First you use the Highlighter tool to outline the subject you want to extract. Make sure you "close the loop" and highlight the entire subject without any gaps. If your subject has relatively smooth edges, check the Smart Highlighting box. It chooses the correct brush diameter and assists you with drawing a clean outline.

Using the highlighter tool.
Use the Highlighter tool to outline the subject you wish to extract.

Then use the Fill tool (bucket icon) to fill the inside of the area you've highlighted. Simply click once to fill.

Using the fill tool.
Click once inside the highlighted area with the Fill tool.

You can sneak a peek of how things are looking by clicking the Preview button. If all is well, click the OK button and Photoshop will place your extracted subject on its own layer. If you need some more work before clicking OK, use the Cleanup and Edge Touchup tools to tidy things up before making the final extraction.

The subject on its own layer.
Your subject now appears on its own layer with a transparent background.

I recommend that you don't work with your original image when using this tool; instead, make a copy, then extract to your heart's content and not worry about losing your master image. You still have to work carefully, but having a dedicated environment with its own set of tools can be a real timesaver for these normally tedious tasks.

Final Thoughts

You can see how addicting this digital photo hacking can be. I already have a new list in the works. Until I write those up, have a great time playing with these creative solutions and exploring the original 100 in the book.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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