Friday, April 08, 2005

The Mess on the Desktop

by Tom Bozzo

You may have seen this "transparent desktop" thing (if not, it's cool, follow the link) — pictures of computers with desktop images that seamlessly display whatever is behind the screen, as if the screen had been removed. It seems to have originated as a Mac thing, but has been linked by BoingBoing, possibly among other high-traffic sites. Some are so seamless that they've raised questions as to whether they're "real" or just digital image editing trickery (i.e., pasting an image over an image of the screen).

The PowerPage linked a MacMerc tutorial that demonstrates a "no cheating" method employing a three photograph process:
  1. Photograph the background.
  2. Place the computer (or its display, if a desktop) in the vignette. Photograph the computer from the same position as the first picture.
  3. Engage in some Photoshoppery, using the screen from the second image to crop the first image to make the desktop image for the computer and transforming the result back to a rectangular image.
  4. Make the result of step (3) the background image, and re-photograph the computer. Done!
Step (3) struck me as cheating a little, and anyway I don't have Photoshop, so I wanted to see if steps (2) and (3) can be eliminated, for a two-picture process. MPoS (*) that I am, I experimented; the answer is yeah, pretty much.

Marginal Utility Central:

This isn't nearly as nice as the images in the Flickr slideshow — color matching is a big issue (the desktop image was taken with a flash), and my composition would have been more interesting if more of the mug were behind the screen — but I can report that the only image editing step for the image above is a crop in iPhoto. Plus, look at the time stamp on the post (not fake).

Here's my simplified process:
  1. Line up a shot of the background that's approximately the width of the LCD. (I zoomed in on the LCD, closed the computer, then tried to take the background image from the original position.
  2. Crop the excess from the top and bottom of the background image according to the LCD aspect ratio. Set the result as the desktop image.
  3. Try to photograph the computer from the original viewpoint. A tripod and/or a digital SLR would be very useful for this step, though not completely essential. (I couldn't use the flash with the anti-glare coating on the LCD, so a tripod would help keep the camera still in addition to making it much easier to replicate the original photograph's angle.)
Meanwhile, you can see why in real life, my background is a tiled a wildflower image from this collection at Jenn's Web Garden (by Jennifer Forman Orth of the Invasive Species Weblog).


(*) I know what you're thinking. It's for Madison Person of Science.
That is pretty sweet!
That is awesome... It sort of makes me think of those cars that have "Heads-Up" displays of the speed on the windshield... know what I'm talking about?
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