Example of a photo salvage operation

Ron’s Kap (Flickr nickname) asked me to share the details of how I salvaged this image:

Britannia Park, Britannia Pier, Ottawa, Ontario - Kite Aerial Photography (KAP)

This KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) session was abandoned after a few minutes due to rain. The few images I had in the camera had to be tilted, cropped and doctored somewhat.

A similar article was also placed in a discussion thread in the Flickr Kite Aerial Photography group.

I don’t profess to be a PhotoShop expert, but there are number of steps I apply to almost all my images, KAP or otherwise:

– save as a working copy file
– tilt
– crop
– levels
– saturation/lightness
– contrast/brightness
– noise reduction

Skip any steps that don’t seem to make a difference. I try to avoid going “over the top”, avoiding artificial-looking adjustments, hopefully still achieving something that under other circumstances “might” have come directly out of the camera. Tilt really only came into play seriously since I started KAP.

Here is the initial image:

IMG_1629_768

FIRST I SAVED THE FILE UNDER A DIFFERENT FILE NAME AS A WORKING COPY.

Next I tilted the image about 10 degrees counterclockwise (image > rotate canvas > arbitrary > 10 CCW).
I was looking to get the tree vertical not worrying about the horizon as I already had plans to crop the horizon.

IMG_1629tilt_768

Next I used the cropping tool (from the tool bar) leaving the height and width parameters blank to give me control of the dimensions.

IMG_1629tiltcrop_768

The rule of thirds tended to work well putting the tree and people in the top left and top right thirds respectively. This is what resulted:

IMG_1629tiltcrop2_768

Then I adjusted levels, which most photos can benefit from (layer > new adjustment layer > levels), moving the left and right sliders to the edge of the histogram. I also moved the middle slider to the right to compensate for the fact I thought the image was made too bright.This is what resulted:

IMG_1629tiltcroplevels_768

Next I usually adjust saturation (layer > new adjustment layer > hue/saturation), but this image did not benefit much from this. You can adjust colours separately but usually a minor tweak with the Master adjustment by moving the saturation slider to the right is all that’s necessary. If you feel that a particular colour needs to be brought out more strongly (like red canoes or covered bridges) then change the Edit window to “reds”. Using the lightness slider here sometimes enables you to use the saturation slider more without going artificial. Play with it. Anyway, I basically had the same result after playing with saturation on this image.

IMG_1629tiltcroplevelssaturation_768

Next I go to contrast (layer > new adjustment layer > brightness/contrast). I usually play with contrast before brightness. Watch out for the white parts of the image so you don’t blow out any detail in the white areas. This can make a big improvement to some images but in this case not so much. Use the contrast slider conservatively. Usually the image has brightened significantly after the “levels” step but if you still think it needs some help, play with the brightness slider. Here is my result after playing with contrast:

IMG_1629tiltcroplevelssaturationcontrast_768

Since you have made a new layer at each step, you can go back to any of the steps and tweak them again. When finished you can save this as a .psd file for future editing (huge file size so I rarely save them). Then “flatten” the image layers (layer > flatten image) and save the file (.jpg) (UNDER A DIFFERENT FILE NAME if you haven’t done that as your first step).

The next thing I try to mitigate if necessary is digital noise. If it is just the sky I tend to do the correction in PhotoShop so as to not blur the details in other parts of the image. I use the wand select tool from the tool bar to select the sky areas, holding down the shift key to select additional areas. Then I use the noise filter (filter > noise > median). Try radius 2 to start with.

If the whole image needs work I use a software called “Neat Image“. There was a lot of noise in the water in this image so I used Neat Image. It also tended to iron out some of the ripples, making the image look less like “pending storm” and more “tranquil”. However, I did not use the default setting which seemed to overdo it. On the noise filter setting I set it to “remove only half the noise”. Otherwise I let the software run automatically. Here’s the end result:

IMG_1629tiltcroplevelssaturationcontrast_filtered_768

I’d be grateful to hear how people do things differently as I still feel to be on a learning curve myself. I just thought I’d share what I’m currently doing to tweak my images in case anyone else feels they can benefit from trying my approach.

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