FW Editor: Hello, can you please tell us more about yourself? How old are you and when did you start developing programs?
Harald Heim: I am 37 years old and live in Germany. I wrote my first program, a music program, on a C64 when I was 13, but I started with professional software development in 1999. During my time at university where I studied psychology I started developing Photoshop plugins and applications. My final thesis was about improving the user-friendliness of a strategy computer game. By the time I finished my final exams I was already living of my software for two years, so I decided to continue with that business instead of looking for a job as a psychologist, which proved to be the right decision. Being your own boss has a lot of advantages.
I have been doing a lot of digital photography since 2001, which gave me a lot of idea for improving and creating new software products. Another result was that I wrote a book about portrait and nude photography in 2009, which is now published in four languages and 12 countries. Writing about the psychological aspects of photography was the most fun whereas writing the detailed Photoshop tutorials was quite tedious. If I should ever write another book I would rather write about a psychological topic.
FW Editor: What can you tell us about Focal Blade? How did you come up with the idea for it?
Harald Heim: Sharpening is a fundamental step in image processing, so it was only logical to create a tool that sharpens images. But I only wanted to create one that offered better sharpening or at least special fine-tuning options that were not available in other products. I experimented with a lot of different algorithms and finally decided to improve the old and proven Unsharp Mask technique, which was developed in the 1930s in Germany.
FW Editor: Can you tell us more things about how this program really works? How is it able to sharpen photos at such nice level of details?
Harald Heim: FocalBlade improves the classical Unsharp Mask algorithm in a lot of ways. Unlike Unsharp Mask FocalBlade does not increase color noise, makes the Amount and Radius sliders work independently of each other, allows effective sharpening even at a 0.05 pixel radius, offers independent edges and surface sharpening, provided halo suppression and lets you remove sharpening from certain tonal or color areas of the image. All of these features boost sharpening quality dramatically.
FW Editor: How long have you worked on the algorithms that make Focal Blade work?
Harald Heim: Actually I only worked three months on the first version of FocalBlade. But over the last eight years there were nine updates and one major upgrade. So in total I certainly worked more than one year's time on it so far. Actually writing an image processing algorithm is rather fast once you know what it should do. Experimenting with various alternatives and later optimizing it for speed requires much more time. But programming the GUI and making it as user-friendly as possible, e.g. by communicating with a dedicated group of beta testers, consumes the most time.
FW Editor: Focal Blade is not the only program you have developed. What else can you tell us about applications like Contrast Master, Light Machine or Color Washer?
Harald Heim: They are all part of my PhotoWiz product series, which aims at providing sophisticated and easy-to-use tools for basic photo enhancement steps. Until last year they were only available as Photoshop plugin, but now there are also available as standalone programs and external editors for Adobe Lightroom.
I created ColorWasher, because I wanted to remove the yellow tint from the photos of my father's 60th birthday and found no other software that was able to do it satisfyingly. ContrastMaster evolved after a friend asked me repeatedly how to achieve the HDR effect he was seing in some photos. The idea for LightMachine came when I played around with the Shadow/Highlight filter in Photoshop CS and wanted to create something that produced more photorealistic results and offered more options.
FW Editor: Other applications of yours also work on Mac OS X, not only on Windows. Why does Focal Blade only work on Windows?
Harald Heim: No, FocalBlade is also available for the Mac as is the majority of my other software. Actually I am only doing the Windows programming myself at the moment. A contracted software developer creates the Mac versions of my Photoshop plugins. But I plan to release the next updates of my Mac plugins and will try to make smaller changes myself. I probably won't do any major Mac development work myself in the near feature as I rather want to spend my time creating new products. I plan to release two new PhotoWiz products this year, which keeps me quite busy at the moment.
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