Images by Committee

There will be times in the life of any content creator when the desired image doesn’t exist and needs to be created. Those are the times when it’s good to know about objects—photographic images that consist only of a central foreground object, removed entirely from its background.

Our quest is to create an image of a healthy woman working out. Despite scouring all of my standard stock photo houses, we were not able to find the perfect image. But we did find the perfect woman:

She is an object; she has no background. And once we imported her into our image-editing program of choice, with one click of the automatic selection tool, we had her being sent out as a PNG file, the format that supports transparent objects like this one. Then we searched through traditional photographs for a dance studio or a clean, well-lighted gym, and found a great one. And by marrying the two photos, we ended up with this:

We had succeeded…and we had failed. The woman came in transparently atop the studio, all right, but she appears to be floating, as if she doesn’t really belong.

This is a common problem when trying to integrate an object into a photo that it didn’t come from originally. The room is pretty well lit, but where are the shadows? They need to be added, and for that you would need to return to your image-editing software…or be using the current version of PowerPoint, 2007.

Version 2007’s upgraded graphics engine offers support for realistic shadowing of any image or object. By applying a soft shadow to the woman and then a slightly darker shadow where she would be touching the floor, we have done a much better job of faking this scene:

This effect can be produced in any version of PowerPoint that can import transparent PNG files, with the help of your image-editing program of choice. But this is an instance where the edge clearly goes to Version 2007 for its built-in ability to shadow an object.

Your eye is probably drawn right to the vulnerable parts of this photo (shadow underneath the ball is perhaps not dark enough) and that is always challenging when trying to create realism: you’re your own worst critic. Pretty good chance, however, if you didn’t know what to scrutinize, you wouldn’t notice anything wrong. Your goal is not accuracy but plausibility and realism.

Download the version 2007 PowerPoint file  to see how shadows are handled natively within the application.

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