For all you digital camera users (and film camera users as well), I'm sure you can relate to having taken that one photo of Uncle Kimo or Auntie Leilani that turns out dark and underexposed. You might have had a flash failure or the flash on your point and shoot camera just didn't have the juice to light your subject properly. The family is greatly disappointed when you give them a dark photo with Kimo or Leilani completely unrecognizable.
If you can relate, here's a technique I pulled out of my newest publication Color Correction for Digital Photographers Only (Wiley Publishing) due out later this month. To follow the steps in this little sequence you need Photoshop CS or CS2. Unfortunately, the steps can't be performed in Photoshop Elements. The platform you use is insignificant and the steps are identical on the Mac and Windows.
Take a look at Figure 1. This photo was taken in a conference hall I shot with a Sony Cybershot point and shoot camera. The flash fired, but you can see it was of little use to sufficiently light my subject.
The average Photoshopper is likely to take a look at this kind of image and immediately open up the Levels dialog box (Cmd/Ctrl + L) to make a brightness adjustment. Just shove that white point slider over to the left and position it below the first appearance of data you see on the bell curve. Unfortunately, what you'll end up with is an oversaturated image that makes Uncle Kimo look like he's spent too much time on Kailua Beach (Figure 2).
Rather than make a radical tone adjustment that leaves you with a monster to color correct, try using these steps on a similar image.
1. Dupe the Background by dragging the Background to the Create a new layer icon in the Layers palette. From the Mode pull-down menu select Luminosity (Figure 3). The Luminosity blend mode applies edits you make to the brightness values without disturbing color.
2. Select Image --> Apply Image. In the Apply Image dialog box select Screen from the Blending drop-down menu and leave the Opacity at 100% (Figure 4).
3. Click OK and return to the Layers palette. Drag the top layer to the Create a new layer icon in the Layers palette. The blend mode inherits your last setting so it should still be set to Luminosity.
4. Again return to the Image --> Apply Image command. When the Apply Image dialog box opens, select Normal from the Blending drop-down menu. The idea here is that we want to slowly build up our brightness adjustments. If you add several layers and use only the Screen blend mode, your results will too radically change the pixel brightness values.
5. Dupe another layer and return again to the Apply Image dialog box and select Screen for the Blending mode. Keep alternating layers between Normal and Screen until your mage appears with an overall brightness close to what you want. Depending on the severity of the problem you might use 7 or 8 layers (Figure 5).
6. When finished blending layers, open the Layers palette fly-away menu and select Flatten Image. If you need to do some minor tweaks for brightness adjustments, you can now perform those in the Curves dialog box. Color adjustments can be made in the Hue/Saturation dialog box. For this image I boosted saturation slightly by moving the Saturation slider right in the Hue/Saturation dialog box.
Note: if you still see a red cast on your image, select Reds from the Edit menu in the Hue/Saturation dialog box and move the Saturation slider to the left to desaturate the reds. You can then give an overall saturation boost in the Master channel by selecting Master from the Edit menu and move the Saturation slider to the right.
7. Adjust the brightness. For this particular example the Shadow/Highlight dialog box works well. Be careful not to push the adjustment to an extreme. Use a 15 – 25% adjustment on the Shadows slider to bring out a little detail in the shadows (Figure 6).
8. At this point you'll no doubt see a lot of noise in your image. The appearance of noise is unavoidable when adjusting such a poor quality original with a limited tonal range. If you have Photoshop CS2, you have a nifty noise reduction filter readily available.
First duplicate your flattened image and select Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. If you have an image that doesn't require a lot of detail preserved in the foreground/background like the example shown, push the sliders to the extremes. For this example I used Strength of 10, Details 0, Reduce Color Noise 100%, and Sharpen Details 0 (Figure 7). These settings will blur up the image like using the Gaussian Blur filter, but don't worry we'll bring back detail in the areas where we need it.
9. Since you have the noise reduction filter applied on the top layer and the Background appears with noise but much greater detail, just eliminate parts of the top layer where you want the detail to appear. In this sample image I selected the Eraser tool with a soft brush tip and the Foreground color set to white. I set the Opacity to 70% and brushed away areas where I want my detail to appear. In this case I brushed over the subject's face, hands, belt, and some of the background items on the table. The curtains and wall texture can remain with a soft appearance that the noise reduction filter created. In Figure 8 you can see the end result of the edits.
Try these steps on one of your bad snapshots and see if you can't improve the image quality over making a Levels/Curves adjustment.
Book Giveaway I'm not sure how many people are reading this article, so I want to run a little exercise to see if I can get some responses from the readers of AroundHawaii.com. I'm going to send out 5 copies of my new book on Color Correction for Digital Photographers Only that should be out late April or early May. To enter this contest and become a potential winner, send me an email telling me how a book on color correction can help you. Give me some details on what you do and what you would like from an instructional guide on color correction. I'll pick out the top 5 responses and send each of you a book as soon as it becomes available. Note that a detailed response is more likely to put you in the winner's circle.
Participation in this contest requires you to have at least your first name published on this Web site so I may announce the winners in my column on AroundHawaii.com.
Much Aloha from Waikiki ted (email@example.com)
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