Saturday, April 19, 2008

From Digital Negative to Digital Masterpiece?

At the end of the blog, I hope to show you how to turn a good image into a better one. We will start with the one below.

Pets, especially dogs, I find are great to use for shots like this. I have used a wide angle lens, which has made her nose a little larger but those beautiful eyes are a good focal point. Overall, still a bit dull but we will fix that. This shot has been breifly corrected with a one point white balance on the grey of her nose within Camera Raw. No sharpening but minor increase in the exposure. That is the great thing about Camera Raw - really easy to make these changes without detrimental impact on the image file itself. Right - next step: Curves.

With this image, we get all of the points in curves to ensure accurate white balance. In the curves dialogue, use the black selector and pick a black point (I have used under her left ear). Then do the same with the white. If you are having trouble know where is a good black/white point, use the ALT (OPTION on Mac) key and drag the black/white pointer and you will see where the blackest/whitest points are.

Now the grey point is a bit harder to get. If you have a 18% grey card/cloth, it makes it heaps easier. There is another method that I have borrowed from Scott Kelby's book but, to avoid making this blog too long, I will mention it next blog.

Finally, before getting out of the Curves dialogue box, tweak the curve to make a nice S shape to get good contrast. Obviously need to suit the image. Remember, there is no perfect "formulae". I would consider optimising images is more like a recipe - the best cooks know how far they can deviate from the recipe to make it that much better. And don't look at me, I am no chef yet.

For the image above, I have added an adjustment layer for Levels. By adding a layer mask I have been able to just push up the brightness on the eyes and white parts of the nose only. Adjusted using the opacity of the layer.

Finally, we want to get the nice dark edges (particularly good for portraits). There are two ways I know how to do this.

1. Duplicate the background layer and change the blending mode to multiply. Using the rectangular marquee tool, select the whole image. Use Select>Modify>Contract to reduce that by 200 pixels or so (depending on image size). Then use Select>Refine Edge: Radius 1.0, Smooth 3.0, Feather 200 to get the area that will be lighter. Select OK. Ensure that you have the duplicate background layer selected and press Backspace.

2. The other option is to use vignetting. Not as flexible as above but is a fast alternative.

To give you a side by side, here is a cropped version.

So there you have it, a nice way to spruce up the original image. It won't fix every image but may just give some of the better ones enough punch to make them the best few.

Hope you have a great week in the fray!

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