Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Poor man’s photo enhancement in photoshop

Hey there everyone, I’m back with another sick tutorial. Today we’ll be talking about improving amateur pictures taken with a regular point-and-shoot camera. We’ll go over things like camera sensors and light, blur, focus and colors and how to deal with all these issues effectively. So click the pic and read on.

I’ve seen a bunch of GREAT tutorials on zeh web about today’s topic and they’re all very informative and instructive, but I’ve yet to see a comprehensive one when it comes to us, the amateur photographer that either doesn’t have the budget or doesn’t feel it justified to spend 500$ - 1500$ on a DSLR camera. So this article is for us, the cheapskates, the amateurs, the people that want to learn but without breaking the bank. Hear, hear!
A week ago I got back to Cluj from a very nice week long vacation back  in my home town. My girlfriend and I also decided to trek a bit on the very prominent landmark that is Mount Ceahlau. It’s 1907m above sea level at it’s highest and you can only get to the summit by foot, which is the way mountain climbing should be. You know, as in NOT with a car.

Anyway, the idea is we took a few pictures of the scenery and they were all nice and swell, even though we own a pretty old, low end, point-and-shoot camera. But as we reached the final stage of the track to the summit we got to a place that’s known as “Jgheabul cu Hotar” [a loose translation would be The Marked Ravine]. It’s a very nice portion of the track and a worthwhile climb there as one can see the highest peek above the plateau [Toaca, 1907m] and also the surrounding valley. So we thought, hey, what a good picture this would make! But as you can see below, the moment I tried to capture the sky, everything darkened. This is a normal and omnipresent problem with point-and-shoot cameras. Because their sensors are not as sensible to light as a professional camera you simply aren’t going to get that great picture.
Not in a single shot that is!
Because capturing more of the mountain and less of the sky meant the camera was able to adjust it’s light sensitivity and get all the nice details from the trees and rocks as you can see below. But not from the sky!
This is where pre-processing ends. It’s about as much as you can do to ensure a good result at home. There are a few more tips on how to get ok-ish photos from your 99$ camera, but more on those in another tutorial.
Ok, so we have our two photos, one with a great sky but crappy landscape and the other with no sky and good scenery. Let’s start performing a bit of photographic surgery, shall we?
! Note: click the pictures to see the large versions with all the details.
I overlapped the two photos, keeping the one with the good scenery in front and the one with the good sky in the back.
I know you might not understand much out of this one but what I did was I moved the top layer, the one with the good scenery and bad sky, higher so that it’s treeline was above the treeline of the layer beneath it. This is so that when I’ll be masking out the bad sky, all that remains underneath is the good sky and none of the old, dark scenery.
Here’s something a lot of people don’t tell you: when you need to mask something out, take a large brush [I used 50px] and do a rough masking out. It saves time and if you zoom in a bit this can be a very good stress reliever. Just pound away with that mouse ’till there’s nothing left! Then you can get to the detailed stuff.
This is a technique I picked up from motion graphics and especially movie effects. It’s called making a Junk Matte and the guy I first heard this from a while back is Aharon Rabinowitz. Check out his awesome After Effects tutorials on Creative Cow.
As you can see this is now looking pretty good! Sure, the lighting is off and there’s a blue tint on the whole picture but the point is that is looks like ONE picture, not a comp[osition].
So let’s carry on and give this picture the quality it deserves.
First things first: you can’t have quality output if your input is bad to start with, so let’s fix the all important lighting with a Levels Adjustment. Tightening the histogram of the image almost always is the most important step in any picture improvement.
There are many ways that blue tint could have been taken out but sometimes you have to try out a few until you like the result. For my picture I think a Color Balance with a -30 Blue set to Midtones works quite well.
Also, I liked the blue tint on the sky so I masked out the lower part of the sky on the Color Balance layer with a Black-White gradient.
Sometimes, with pictures like this, point-and-shoot cameras will get a vignette. Depending on your model it will be either a dark or light one. Our camera added a dark vignette in the top and top right side of the picture but it’s something easily solved by choosing a very soft, large white brush and clicking just a few times in that general area. Then, turn the opacity down to the point where it all looks uniform, like the cloud in our picture looks now.
This is something hard for beginners to notice so take a moment from editing and go do something else, then when you come back, put the picture in fullscreen mode and try to see if you can spot a vignette, but remember, it doesn’t always happen so don’t fix something that’s not broken.
Using Stefan’s Sharpen method, of which I’ve talked about in the “Jump for Joy” tutorial I cleared the picture of virtually all camera blur. Stefan’s method works particularly well with scenery photos and portraits so check that out!
As for the final treatments I almost always like to play around with Blending Modes. What I did was I duplicated the picture and set it to Soft Light with 50% opacity. Then I added yet another duplicate of the picture and set it to screen to brighten things up a bit, but I masked out this layer with a gradient to prevent overburning the sky. Then I just lowered the saturation of the trees in the lower left side of the picture to keep everything below psychedelic levels and that’s it!