Feature

Case Study: Adobe PhotoShop 5.0

Adobe PhotoShop is a popular package for creating images but one UK company has used it to create a best selling product

SUMMARY:

Digital Wisdom Publishing Ltd is based in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire. During the past decade it has established itself as a market leader in digital cartography, principally on the strength of a single product - Mountain High Maps.

Mountain High Maps are currently used in projects ranging from television weather maps to children's atlases. The story of its creation involves 30 years of work, a range of different mediums and one particular piece of software - Adobe PhotoShop.

FULL TEXT:

Digital Wisdom Publishing Ltd is based in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire. During the past decade it has established itself as a market leader in digital cartography, principally on the strength of a single product - Mountain High Maps.

Mountain High Maps are currently used in projects ranging from television weather maps to children's atlases. The story of its creation involves 30 years of work, a range of different mediums and one particular piece of software - Adobe PhotoShop.

In the 1960s, Aldus Books Ltd decided to produce a mapping resource to be used in their upcoming atlas projects. At this time maps were hand-drawn and shaded, a process that produced attractive but often, inaccurate results. In an attempt to produce a definitive relief map of the globe, Aldus commissioned over 100 physical models based on precise contour maps. These models were photographed and the result was a highly accurate, three-dimensional view of the earth's surface.

In the late 1980s, a co-editions publishing company ( The Quarto Group Inc ( aware that CD-ROM technology could now provide the storage capacity to store the entire mapping resource, established Digital Wisdom to market this resource as Mountain High Maps. The process of transforming 30-year-old photographs into a fully-fledged digital product proved to be a painstaking one. The original models had perished many years ago, but the negatives ( taken in the 1960s ( still survived stored on sheets of glass. In the early 1990s, these images were scanned into the original release of PhotoShop as a greyscale image.

The first task was to retouch these images, removing imperfections resulting from scratches on the glass and specks of dust. Next, the painstaking process of adding colour was undertaken. Shading was added, pixel by pixel, to represent changes in vegetation, topography and political allegiance. Because the original models included vast areas of the sea floor, boundaries of individual coastlines also needed to be established. Masks of each continent were defined and stored as PhotoShop Alpha Channels ( 8bit greyscale images used to store selections. This allowed continents to be distinguished from their continental plates. Having developed the basic forms of these digital relief maps, further details such as state, county boundaries and place names were added.

Each map that is supplied on the Mountain High CD-ROM is supplied in two basic formats for use in different image editing packages. If the end-user is working with PhotoShop, each map is supplied with a set of "paths". Paths are lines or shapes used to select specific areas or objects within an image. For example, when working on a map of USA, the user can grab the California Path from the palette, select that area of the map and make changes that affect that area exclusively. In Vector based packages such as Macromedia Freehand, map features such as place names, political boundaries and land relief are represented as layers overlaid onto the original image. These layers can be turned off or on according to the user's needs.

Because the finished maps were created by adding detail and colour to greyscale images, it is a simple task for end users to remove or change these additions to suit their individual needs. Digital Wisdom's use of PhotoShop has not only helped them create a best selling product but allows their customers to make the most of it. Chairman Alastair Campbell agrees that the program has made an ambitious project possible. "PhotoShop is a perfect piece of software for Mountain High Maps", he says. "It's almost as if it had been written for us. We have often considered designing our own software to perform some of these tasks but, in the end, it's always been PhotoShop."

By Richard Pitt


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This was first published in July 1999

 

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