Jazzing Up Your Image – The Process

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again, as you read this, I will likely have been stuffed into a long metal tube with a huge mob of other flesh and bone humans and am presently leaving a trail of noxious fumes across the frigid night sky between Honolulu and Phoenix. At Phoenix, I’ll hustle from one winged meat wagon to another and arrive, hungry, tired and lonely in Indianapolis. I pray the ground will not be white. I’ll be greeted by an old friend who will house and feed me for my time in Indy. My life today depends pretty much on the love of friends. That’s a good thing. It keeps me going, sometimes even when I’d rather not go.

Faithful reader DogsDon’tPurr commented that she would like to see some step-by-step illustrations of how a digital image is processed in order to produce a more pleasing image, according to the likes of the photographer. I had to think that over for all of five minutes. I’m pretty much running out of material here in Honolulu, so I grabbed a couple of illustrative images from my camera and recorded intermediate steps in my processing so that I can show the steps which I take to prepare my images for presentation. If you feel yourself getting drowsy, switch to another channel.

I don’t suggest that my method of working with images is any better than anyone else’s. Each image maker needs to tailor a sequence which feels right. I used Photoshop for these images, but similar results can be achieved with any image manipulation program, providing it has tools sufficient for the task.

I chose the first image to make a point. The shot as it comes from the camera does not need to be perfect. That’s why we have software to fix them. Practically nothing gets from my camera directly to these pages. I fiddle with every image until I’m happy with it. I took this yesterday evening at sunset from the apartment of a friend:

As it is, it’s a throw-away. There are so many problems with it that I’d bore you to list them. In fact, it’s so bad that I knew from experience that I would never end up with an image which looked “natural”, so I had it in mind from the beginning to go for the “vintage postcard” look. With an image like this, that’s what you’ll end up with anyway, so it’s best to just go with the flow.

First I lightened it up a bit and straightened the buildings.

Next, I had to decide what portion of the image I really wanted in the finished product. I used a cropping tool to remove the obtrusive building to the right and a little of the building on the left along with some of the bottom of the shot:

Now that I look at it on the page, I wish I’d removed the small building on the right also. I could easily make it vanish, but I’ll leave that for another time. What’s left is what I want to show. That’s cropping.

Then I lightened up the lower part of the image because all detail was buried in the shadows. Photoshop has a special tool for lightening up dark parts and darkening light parts in the same operation. I use it often for such images:

Now I can see some detail in the dark part at the bottom, but the colour is dismal.

So, I go to work on it with a tool that allows me to modify the hue of selected colours. I’m dealing mostly with green, so I need to take magenta out and add lots of cyan and yellow:

In the same operation I also took some cyan out of the red, which richend and warmed the sky a bit. The greens are now much brighter, but there is already an artificial look to the image, because I’m trying to create something from nothing. Now we’re crossing over into interpretation. I’m making it up as I go.

Next, I lightened the entire image. Then I used a special selection tool in Photoshop to select only the sky and I increased the saturation and contrast. This livened up the sky considerably:

I also lightened up the buildings and increased the contrast to give them some depth.  In this step I had to fix each little balcony on the building on the left. Some of them had furniture on them. I removed it all. You may have to click to enlarge to see what I’m talking about. You may note that I brightened up the lights in the buildings.

After looking at the image for a while I decided I may as well go the final step in jazzing it up. I did not like the strong blue cast in the clouds on the horizon, so I desaturated them to make them grey, leaving just the tops bluish. I also selected the top third of the image and made a graduated edge on the selection (I “faded” it on the bottom edge). I darkened this area to make the sky more dramatic. It’s an old movie trick:

There we have it. A “Vintage Postcard” shot from Honolulu. And, this proves the point:


For the next demo, I decided to use an example of an image which is not so shabby right out of the camera. You could print this water lily shot and put it in your photo album with reasonable pride. It’s a “lucky” shot:

Ah, some, however, are never satisfied. I can see the possibilities, but it needs some work. This is a sister image to one I put on these pages a while ago. The bee is just facing the other way.

First, I brightened up the entire image and cropped it so that it conforms more to my sense of composition which is biased strongly towards the Rule of Thirds (if you don’t know, you can use my search box):

On my Canon G11 I tend to shoot images slightly underexposed as it seems to give me better saturation of the colours. Maybe I’m dreaming. It’s just a feeling. I haven’t done any side-by-side comparisons to prove it. While I’m rambling photographically, I’ll mention that I’m going crazy trying to edit images on this five year old Toshiba notebook. The screen is horrible. The slightest change of angle changes the contrast drastically and the room lighting makes a dramatic difference. I know the quality of my images has suffered since I left my huge, high quality graphics monitor in Madang. It’s an ancient Sony CRT terminal, but I love it.

The difference in the next image is subtle. If you look at the centre of the blossom, it will appear less colourful than the image before. It may appear to be a step backward:

What I was doing was changing the balance of colours in the center to bring up some subtle shading which was barely discernable in the original. I’ll fix the drabness in the next step, but if I did that first, I’d be unable to get back the shading in the centre which makes the details there more visible.

Here I’ve restored the vibrancy of the colours and sharpened the detail. The greens were still pretty dull and there was little to work with there. I jazzed them up as much as I could without making them look too fake:

I also selectively brought out the bee by brightening only the mid-brightness areas, leaving the shadows dark. For “naturalness”, I’d call this image finished.

Yet, the image still lacked zing. After scratching my head for a while, I decided to abandon all caution and dip into the Artistic Filters in Photoshop. For this shot I chose Poster Edges and applied it with some restraint:

It’s easy to go too far with Poster Edges. All I wanted was just a bit more outlining of the petals and a little more definition of the detail in the centre of the blossom.

There. It’s done.

I’ve known a great number of people who had a good eye for an image and produced great pictures, but were unhappy with their images for a variety of reasons. All of these vague dissatisfactions can be evaporated by a little patience learning to use a few tools in an image editing program. One doesn’t have to spend anything to get in the game. There are lots of free choices. Though not as slick, GIMP is a good editing program that will do just about everything that Photoshop will do, at least the things that a sane person would want.

I’ve taught many people to edit their images in just a few sessions of an hour or two. Once one is “over the hump” of the learning curve, self instruction is easy, considering the huge number of free tutorials available on the web.

The initial learning process can be a little frustrating, as I do not allow one to write down keystroke-by-keystroke instructions. I have found that rapid progress and retention come from understanding the process rather than memorizing the steps. I’ve also found that a glass of nice Merlot makes the whole learning experience much more enjoyable for both student and teacher.

Imagine that.

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Examples of Photoshop Artistic and Brush Stroke Filter Effects

Posted in Humor, Photography Tricks on November 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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This one is going to make you wonder. My primary graphics arts workstation recently turned belly-up and went “pop”. When rebuilding it, I discovered, to my dismay, that I’d lost a few folders because I did not have them clicked for backup. Horrors!  A SYSADMIN lost some files – not supposed to happen. Especially his own files!

There was nothing that I couldn’t easily replace. One of them was a folder of example Photoshop filter effects. I like to keep a folder filled with example filter effects applied to an image with which I’m familiar. Still-life type images work best, because they’re simple and usually have a variety of textures and colours. I wanted one that included a graphics art image and a photograph. I remembered a post that I did a long time ago which included an image that I shot in a gun shop (ironic, eh?). The place was a real loony bin – Don’s Guns in Indianapolis. Here’s the original post and here’s the original image:

The original James Bond Gun image - a Walther P-38I’ll show you a few full-sized image of some of the interesting filters. Here’s one called Plastic Wrap:The Plastic Wrap filter - looks like an evidence bagIt has the creepy effect on this image of making it look as if it’s all tucked away in an evidence bag. “Yeah, Jordan. The gun and the book are all bagged up here for you.”

This one is called Sponge, like in, “Who shot Sponge Bob Squarepants?” Look, it’s got his blood all over it.

The Walther with the Sponge filter appliedExcept it should be yellow, I suppose.

This one is Rought Trade. No, wait! I got that wrong. It’s Rough Pastels.  Big difference!

The Walther with the Rough Pastels filter

Looks like a very useful filter for fruits. I remember eating a watermelon once (not the whole thing) which had been carefully injected over a period of a week with a fifth of vodka. Everything looked pretty much like the image above. It’s not an excercise that I recommend unless you have your sweet tooth well under supervision.

Anyway, here is a gallery some more of the more useful Artistic and Brush Stroke filters applied to the image:

I had to trade off my Walther P-38 for an Indian Arms piece in stainless steel. The Walther rusted like a pig. I was forever cleaning it.

I don’t have a gun any more. I carry my trusty Canon G9 in my holster on my belt. I figure that, if I absolutely must, I can club a guy unconscious with it and then take his picture.

It’s that tough!

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The Panorama Techniques or Bore Me To Tears

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m not sure why I suddenly got the idea that somebody out there might be interested in this. My brain works, when it works, in mysterious ways.

I did a two-frame exposure with my Canon G0 a couple of days ago of a mediocre sunrise. As I was stitching it together and going through the process of determining if it was worth keeping, I began to think of the steps as a sort of dance with the pixels (don’t ask). So, from that demented state, this post was born.

Let’s start at the beginning. Well, not really at the beginning. We’ll start with the image that Photoshop coughs up after you load the two frames into its Photomerge feature. Here’s what you get if you are lucky and you’ve held the camera straight and overlapped the two shots correctly. It helps to have a “Panorama” setting on your camera, because it will set the exposure on the first frame and then keep it the same for each subsequent exposure. Otherwise, you might have to set your camera on manual or use an exposure lock feature, if you can find it. Anyway, here’s the starting point for our purpose:

The two-frame panorama as stitched together by Photoshop

As you can see, Photoshop had to do some fancy footwork to make the two frames blend together as if they were a single exposure. That’s why the shape is funny. If you’re doing more that two frames, it can get a little crazy. That’s why it’s always best to shoot several sequences of the same panorama. Hopefully, one of the sequences will come out more or less straight, indicating that you were holding the camera in a consistent way and lining the shots up correctly.

You can see in the shot above that the horizon bulges down a little and is slightly tilted. We use the controls in the Filter | Distort | Lens Correction feature of Photoshop to fix these problems:After straightening the curved horizon

Now we have a nice straight and level horizon, but the image is squeezed in at the bottom. If we don’t fix this, we’ll lose part of the sky when we crop it to a rectangle.

We use the same filter as before, except we use a different control to pull the bottom of the image out toward us. You can think of it as if you were looking at the image on a canvas and you tilted the top of the canvas back away from you. Now the image is more or less rectangular. We can get away with this in this image because we have no obvious lines that must be kept vertical or horizontal, except for the horizon, which we’ve already fixed:Stretching the bottom to make the image more rectangular

These controls are very handy for images that contain architecture. You can fix those buildings that look as if they are leaning back away from you.

Now, we crop (trim) the image so that looks compositionally correct. On this image it is a no-brainer. If we were dealing with other images we might want to think of the Rule of Thirds. Here, however, we just need to grab as much detail as we can:Cropping the image to the area of interest

Notice that, because I did not want to lose any of the detail high in the sky, I had to cheat on the crop a lttle at the upper corners. That’s no problem. We can use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop to pick up bits from one place in the image and blend it in somewhere else. This is one of the coolest things since sliced bread.

It this image you can see that I filled in the missing areas:Cloning in the missing bitsWe still have the problem of the boat intruding on the image, but we can fix that also by cloning some of the water near the boat to cover it up.

Now the boat is gone and all that is needed is to adjust the final colours:

Cloning the boat out and adjusting the final coloursThe whole job took about ten minutes. That’s far less time that it took to tell you how I did it.

If you like photography and you want to look like a pro, learn to use Photoshop. It’s the easiest fake-out job on the planet.

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The Eyes of Heidi Majano

Posted in Guest Shots, Photography Tricks on August 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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I could teach Photoshop all day. Of anything that I’ve ever done with a computer, Photoshop provides me the most satisfaction with the least effort.

Our friend Heidi Majano has keen eyes for an image. When she asked if I’d teach her how to refine her photographs with Photoshop, I jumped at the chance. She has proven to be a quick study. Once she is shown how to do something, she seldom needs that skill refreshed. She’s able to understand the whole process of image refinement rather than trying to remember each keystroke or slide control. I find that people who take time to learn some theory instead of concentrating on the details learn to produce images that please them much quicker.

I’d like to show you a few of the images that Heidi has found interesting and that we used as training tools. She shot this one in El Salvador in the village of Suchitoto. Heidi shows a natural talent for composition, something which many people struggle with:

El Salvador - men gossiping in the village of Suchitoto - Heidi Majano

Here again, showing her excellent eye for composition is The Garlic Beauty,  aloso shot in El Salvador:

The Garlic Beauty - by Heidi Majano

The photo above is a good example of that indefinable quality that practically nobody can explain, but most people recognise instantly as a great image.

This image of women sorting green beans in India is also a stunner:

In India, women sort green beans - Heidi Majano

Here is Heidi and her son, Keyen, in El Salvador on his fifth birthday:

Heidi and her son Keyen in El Salvador on his 5th birthday

Keyen loves to dress up and let his mommy take his photograph. It’s a skill shared by all children:

Hiedi's son Keyen as "The Dual Hero"

Heidi calls the shot above The Dual Hero.

Sadly, Heidi will be leaving PNG in a week. She has made many friends while here and everyone is going to miss her. The time that I have spent with her helping her to learn to develop her natural talent through the use of Photoshop has been a great pleasure.

Any other Madang Photoshop students out there?  The lessons are free.

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Faking It

Posted in Photography Tricks on July 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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There are few things that I can do with a computer that I enjoy more than faking it. I’m not a professional faker or a “faker for hire” (today’s Top Gun types) such as you can see on Worth1000.com, but I’d say I’m an enthusiastic amateur.

One of the easiest ways to make fakes that still look realistic (depending on your tolerance level) is to modify the colours. In Photoshop you can use the Replace Colour gizmo under Images / Adjustments. It’s pretty intuitive and can produce spectacular results:Sunrise faked by replacing colours
You saw a tamer version of that sunrise here.

A step beyond colour replacement, but still very easy, is image overlays.  Here is an original sunrise shot from the same post as is pointed to by the link above. It has a bit of reflection of the town and clouds in the water, but not enough to suit me. So, if I could just copy the top part of the picture, flip it top for bottom, and then overlay it lightly over the bottom part, I’d have just what I want:
Original sunrise shot
A it turns out, this is a surprisingly easy job with Photoshop. It’s as easy to do as it is to say. Draw a marquee around the part you want to copy, copy it, start a new file, paste the copied bit into it, flip it over, copy it again, go back to the original and paste it, then position it properly and adjust the opacity and fill levels. That is it – finished:
Faked 'reflection' sunrise

It looks surprisingly real.

Another little step toward effective fakery is laying on of bogus images. Here’s a daisy. Nothing special, just a daisy:
Original daisy
This is a daisy after dropping some acid. This is why we don’t take dangerous drugs, kiddies:
Daisy with Glowing Outline filter appliedI got that effect by using one of the outline filters in Photoshop. I think it was the “Glowing Edges” filter.

The next step is similar to the process for the reflections, but we don’t flip the image. We just lay it directly over the top and adjust how strongly it overlays the original:
"Venusian Daisy" composite
Now, miraculously, we have produced a Venusian Daisy.

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A Week Into 2009

Posted in Photography Tricks on January 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Crazy things are happening on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. The look of the site will be changing day-by-day for a while. Semper Fi Web Designs and I are fiddling and scripting daily to get everything perfect.

I’m still unhappy with some of the colours, especially in the text. It’s devilishly difficult to find in the computer code where all the various colours come from unless it’s something you do daily. I’m still poking around in the code to pretty everything up the way I like.

Still, life goes on.

I woke up to a fine sunrise this morning; let me share it with you:

Good morning, sunshine
On the way to work I saw our tugboat out in Astrolabe Bay. The Finisterre Mountains were stunning in the background. The colours were too muted for my whimsical eyes, so I blasted them up to the level of surrealism. It’s beginning to take on a Warhol look:
The little tugboat that could

Not satisfied with that silliness, I tried a new filter. It’s called Redfield Fractalius. It’s a little pricey for a filter (about US$40), but I may spring for it. In this image, it has made the tugboat look as if it’s about to be consumed by a tsunami:
Tugboat about to be inundated by a tsunami

Never missing a chance to get my own image burned into your retinas (egotism is such a useful thing for filling up blog space), I massaged a photo taken by Eunie many, many years ago with the Fractalius filter:
Shaggy, fractalized MadDog
Truth is: I never looked so good.

Stay tuned. Some fresh new things are coming your way. I’m finding some über-cool new media gizmos with which I hope to amuse you.

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Boat Tricks

Posted in Photography Tricks on December 6th, 2008 by MadDog
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This has nothing to do with boats as such. But, it does have to do with lifesaving. It’s about saving the life of a photo that you shot because you wanted to capture the moment. We used to call them “Kodak Moments.”

Sadly, when you see the photo on your computer screen, you sigh and your finger hovers over the delete key.

Hold that finger!

Instead of watching the tube, Google “photoshop lessons” to find a technique that interests you. There’s all kinds of stuff out there – things you wouldn’t imagine. Take a half hour to master the technique. It will now be in your “Bag of Tricks” for you to pull out whenever lifesaving is required.

Actually, you don’t even need lessons. I’ve sat down with many people for an hour just going through the “Filter” menu. After seeing the effects of the different filters, anybody can use them by just fiddling with the slide controls.

Yesterday evening there were a lot of people out on the water in front of my house. Though the light was awful, I killed a few minutes shooting innocent bystanders – a favourite hobby of mine. The cops don’t mind, since my gun isn’t loaded with bullets.

Here’s a perfectly horrible shot of my next-door neighbour arriving home in his canoe. It’s dull and lifeless because of the poor light. It could be spruced up into something for the album, but why not go for the full glamour treatment. Take it to the beauty shop:

Bad shot of my neighbor in his canoe

Fifteen minutes with Photoshop and we have an artsy-fartsy watercolour rendition that, while it’s not exactly wall material, would be quite at home in your portfolio of your “special shots” that you pull out when company comes. They’re so much more interesting than baby pictures:

My neighbor in living colour

Just keep the Rule of Thirds in mind.

Here’s another wretched exposure:

A bad shot at a boatload of people

And here’s the same exposure after the same beauty treatment:

Beautified boatload

Really, this stuff is so simple you could teach your dog to do it.

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