Monday, May 10, 2004

Digital imaging zaps braces, zits from yearbook photos

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Brian Tomko's braces hid his smile for three years and he didn't like the thought of them being forever captured in his yearbook pictures.

When a portrait company told Tomko it could use computer imaging to remove them, he jumped at the chance.

"What they can do with graphics and editing, it's just amazing," said Tomko, a Stow High School senior. "I was amazed at how good the picture looked."

Digital photo retouching is making it easy for students to erase pimples and scars. They can even choose to have whiter teeth or a tan.

Retouching photos isn't a new practice. Airbrushing to correct redeye or remove pimples has been done for years. But the digital process, which uses software to alter photo images captured on computer files instead of film, is quicker and more sophisticated. It generally costs $35 to $55 per image, depending on the complexity of the job.

"It's just gotten a lot easier, faster and more consistent," said Scott Gloger of Myron Photographic Elegance Inc., a Beachwood studio that shoots up to 400 senior portraits a year. "And the results are more seamless."

Competition from discount chains and department stores has prompted more studios to add digital technology in the last few years.

The senior portrait, once a two-pose flash-and-shoot, has become a full-blown modeling session. Seniors are posed in elaborate sets and photographers can digitally combine multiple images to create composites.

"And you think it would be a girl thing, but guys really get into it," said Toni Gasbarrino, a Mayfield High School English teacher and yearbook adviser.

Parents are spending $300 to $500 and up for senior pictures using the technology.

Melanice Hicks spent $700 on daughter Tiara Wilcox's portraits.

The Solon High School senior wore four outfits, posed with her best friend and was shot in black and white and in color. Cars and buildings in the background of a scenic outdoor pose were digitally removed.

"Oh, my goodness, she was beautiful," Hicks said. "Brought tears to her mommy's eyes."

The technology goes beyond making cosmetic changes.

Aaron Patterson of Visualizations Photography in Cuyahoga Falls, which takes about 350 senior portraits a year, shot a senior on both sides of his chessboard. He combined the images digitally to make it appear the graduate was playing chess against himself.

Mayfield High School senior Kaitlin Juarez is a huge Harry Potter fan. The J.J. Regal studio had her dress in a plaid skirt while her mother held old books in front of her.

With digital imaging to remove her mother's hands, it appears that Kaitlin is magically keeping the books afloat.

"I think it's pretty cool," said Kaitlin, who also had shots taken in a snowboarding outfit with her snowboard.

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