Chianti Classico

Posted in Photography Tricks on October 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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Today’s point-and-shoot cameras are fantastic. I’m constantly amazed by what I can do with a camera that cost a fraction of what I used to spend.

However, even the best of them can’t cope with situations where the laws of physics are against you.

Take the example below. Claudia Spitzl snapped this shot in the cellar of a famous Chianti  vintner in Tuscany when we travelled with her and Helmut in 2004:

The original shot

Well, it has a big problem which Claudia couldn’t do much about. It’s dark because the camera flash was too dim at the distance of the primary subject. Light dims at the square of the distance, so it gets weak fast as you move away from your subject with your flash. Therefore, the hallway behind the man looks completely black.

I remember fondly our visit to the winery and I was wondering how much hidden information might be in the darkness. So, I decided to see if I could salvage this shot.

Firing up Photoshop, the first thing to do is to increase the exposure. This brightens the whole image equally. It is an improvement:

Increased exposure

However, we can do better. Photoshop has a cool adjustment called “Shadows/Highlights”. On opening that, we get an instant and dramatic improvement. We can now see what was buried in the darkness. A few tweaks of the slide controls later we have this:

After the Shadows/Highlights adjustment

The sunglasses had to go along with the extra light at the upper edge. A little fiddling with the Clone Stamp Tool to pick up blobs of the image from one place and put them somewhere else got rid of those distractions. Also, the fellow’s shirt seemed too bright for me, so I used the Burn tool to darken it a little:

Removing distractions

Now that I see it up on the blog, I’m not happy with the way I darkened the shirt. It is not evenly applied. It seems to have a darker spot in the center – the eyes pick it up as something wrong. I’ll just pretend that I did it purposfully to give an example of how NOT to do it.

I decided that I wanted to see more detail in the hallway in the distance. I used the Horizontal Perspective slider in the Lens Distortion filter to make the hallway look as if it were closer. I also cropped the photo to remove the closest red barrel ring. It seemed distracting to me:

Changing the perspective

It’s a sublte effect. Compare the “closeness” of the hallway and the wall at the end. In the second shot it looks closer.

Finally, I got rid of some pipes on the wall and the extra light in the hallway. I also changed the colours of the fellow’s clothing a bit. As a last touch, I reduced the intensity (saturation) of the colours in the whole scene and boosted the intensity of the red only:

The finished shot

Most any image processing program will have similar controls that you can apply to your photos. Before you delete a photo that seems hopeless, but evokes pleasant memories, take a few minutes to see if you can salvage it.

You might be surprised.

An interesting aspect of this is the whole issue of whether you can trust what you see to be true. I could argue with this fellow about when he lost his sunglasses. “Look at this, mate. You didn’t have them when we were in the cellar.”

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