HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR “NOT-SO-GREAT” IMAGES
This week I thought I would just address a topic I consider when choosing pictures to post-process. That is, how do you get the most out of that not quite perfect image that you really like? Many times I end up taking a picture that does not look like much out of camera. I do not want to discard some of these pictures – after all, they are my memories, but it does seem to be a constant battle to figure out a way to pull out a good result with them.
One of the best starts is to try out different crops. Lots of times I have taken too much background and/or foreground in the shot, but the main subject does not look too bad close up. The image above is an example of this. This only works with my better camera where I have pixels to spare. Due to the lower resolution of my phone pix, they may not give a better result with a crop. That is one reason I like filters. So often a special effect turns a shot into something I totally love. With some pretty cool phone apps, you can get some very impressive results. But with my dSLR, I like to use the Photoshop plug-ins since I can often get some good results with marginal images. So let me walk you through the above example.
The image is of a male Common Moorhen – who knew – it was a really striking bird hiding in the grass. (To see the original RAW images, check out the end of the blog.) The patterns in the water were totally lost in the original image, but in Lightroom the image was cropped extensively and a totally different look appears. A good crop can make all the difference. Since cropping can create some rather soft edges in the image, Seim’s Super HDR X preset was applied to sharpen up the image overall. Then in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was used to sharpen just the bird – a black mask was applied and the bird was painted back. (See sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for Seim’s and Topaz website links.)
Now it was time to try out some different filters on this image. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) Topaz Impression was applied. This is such a painterly look that I did not consider it one I would like, but it is still worth trying different effects to see what you get. One of my favorite Topaz filter guys, Blake Rudis, created a video called Atmospheric Backgrounds with Topaz Impression. Since this image had such a crazy zig-zag pattern in the background water, it seemed like a good time to try out the Ethereal Background preset he created in his video. All the settings are listed at the link and it really did calm down the color so the bird stands out. A Lookup Adjustment Layer using the Crisp Winter preset was added and set to 55% layer opacity to cool down the colors just a little bit. The last step was using Nik Viveza 2 to direct the focus to the bird a little more – this is almost always my last step, but it you do not have this filter, try using Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter and adjust some Radial filters in the image. It creates a very similar result and I use it a lot also. I now have a shot I really like!
This beautiful little Cattle Egret was riding on the back of this gigantic cow. I was sitting in the backseat of a car and shot this through the opposite side window – I am still surprised it turned out at all! Now to be honest, this image was not really that great – lots of the background was very blurred. But the bird was not in too bad a shape. This image was turned into a black and white in Lightroom – it really made the bird show up nicely. (Used Seim’s Angels Kiss preset.) Otherwise its tiny size and all the colorful wild grass and reeds really made the bird hard to find. So definitely check out a black and white treatment just to see if it could enhance a rather tired looking color image. This is pretty easy to do in either Lightroom with the canned presets or Photoshop with the black and white adjustment layer.
In Photoshop the Shake Reduction filter was used, and it worked nicely on the bird, but way overdid the rest of the image. Therefore a black layer mask was used and just the bird and part of the palm tree in front were sharpened. The Shake Reduction filter can sometimes really straighten out a soft shot so check it out. Use the black layer mask if it is too much and paint back areas that needed the sharpening.
Use your brushes to paint in over the soft edges of focal objects. A New Layer was created on top and the bird edges were lightly painted in cleanly. Used a tiny soft round brush set to 7 pixels, 30% layer opacity, and sampled the bird color (ALT+click on object) – only painted his edges and a little bit in the beak area. I still did not like the overall appearance. Topaz Clarity was opened and my SJ Artsy with highlights preset was applied, and all of the sudden it looked so much better! This is a preset I created for something totally different ages ago, but it worked on this image. In a layer mask only the bird was painted back to retain its detail as this preset really softened everything in it. (Here are the settings if you are interested: Clarity Dynamics Micro Contrast -0.86, Low Contrast -0.86, Medium Contrast 0.63, and High Contrast 0.94; Tone Level Black Level -0.19, Midtones -0.36, and White Level 0.19; HSL Filter Hue – no changes; Sat Orange 0.06, Yellow 0.63, Green 0.13, Blue 0.25 0.25, and Overall -0.45; and Lum Orange 0.36, Yellow -0.34, Green -0.42, Blue 0.61, Purple 0.11, Magenta 0.75, and Overall -0.27 – all other colors were 0.00. Adjust these settings around if they do not quite fit the effect you want.) The layer opacity was set to 84%. Since this filter was applied to a black and white image, it gave a different result than on color images. The post-processing could have been finished here as it looked pretty good. A blue toned Solid Color Adjustment Layer was placed on top and set to Color blend mode at 33% layer opacity to get a really pretty night feel to the picture. And once again, since the background was pretty busy, Topaz Impression was opened and the new Ethereal Preset by Blake Rudis was applied. The layer was set to 75% layer opacity and in a white mask, the bird and some of the areas I wanted the detail to show up was painted back. The last step was using Nik Viveza 2 to draw the eye to the bird.
Here is another example of an image a thousand people have taken and I wanted to get something a little different out of it. I have to say I have a soft spot for Wood Storks since they are all around where I live. In Lightroom the Crop was set, Seim’s Super Gentle X was applied, and the head was sharpened with an Adjustment Brush. The Clarity and Sharpness were set up fairly high. In Photoshop the first step was to extend the image size 50% so Flaming Pear’s Flood filter could be used. This is an oldie but goodie filter, but it is still one of my favorites and it gives major realistic results. (Flaming Pear Flood Settings: Horizon 56, Offset 0, Perspective 41, Altitude 29, Waviness 2, Complexity 43, Brilliance 39, Blur 27, Size 0, Height 24, and Undulation 38.) Next Topaz Detail 3 was applied. (Here are the preset settings: Overall Small Details -0.51, Small Details Boost -0.40, Medium -0.39, Medium Details Boost -0.30, Large Details -0.51, and Large Details Boost -0.41; and Tone Exposure -0.40, Cyan-Red 0.48, Magenta-Green -0.29, and Yellow-Blue 0.31.) This looked really good as is when applied twice. (See my Tidbits A Reflecting Wood Stork blog.) But I decided to go after one application and use Topaz Glow on a stamped layer and my SJ Inter Web Variation preset. (Settings are: Primary Glow Type Dark, Glow Strength 1.00, Effect Sharpness 0.12, Electrify 1.00, Simplify Details 0.06, Edge Color 0, Detail Strength 1.00, Detail Size 0.42, Brightness 0.16, Contrast 0.18, Saturation 0.08, Line Rotation 0, and Glow Spread 0; Secondary Glow Glow Type Light, Glow Strength 0, Effect Sharpness 0.54, Electrify 0.11, Simplify Details 0, Brightness 0, and Contrast 0; Color Overall Saturation to 0.62, Red Sat to 0.44, Yellow Sat to 1.00 Yellow Lightness -0.36, Green Sat 1.00 and Lightness -0.51, Aqua Lightness -0.36, Purple Sat 1.00, and Magenta Sat 1.00 and Lightness 0.50. Set to Screen blend mode at 66% Strength; and no Finishing Touches.) This gave a very, artistic twist to the image. On another stamped layer Topaz ReStyle was applied to get the pretty pink and greens in the image. (Here are the settings: SJ Thistle Blush 2-Sr1 Sh1 preset – ReStyle Sat Fourth 0.78; Lum Fourth -0.52 and Fifth -1.00; and Texture Strength 0.05; Basic Blend Mode Soft Light at 62% opacity; Color Temperature 0.25, Tint 0.42, and Sat -0.06; Tone Black Level -0.33, Midtones -0.06, and White Level 0.64; and Detail Structure -0.09 and Sharpness 0.97.) The lower part of the image was darkened to try and copy the way a true reflection looks. And of course my last step was using Nik Viveza 2.
I am showing thumbnails of what the originals looked like or this whole blog would have little meaning. It really does not matter whose filters you apply or what colors, it is just experimenting until you get something that makes the image look good. I could have used other filters and gotten totally different results. And by using adjustment layers and blend modes, even better results can be achieved. I know I have covered this before, but it is something I consider for the post-processing of each image. I love to just play in Photoshop and have fun – and that is what this whole blog is about. Challenge yourself to get something nice out of a “maybe not so nice” image. Have a good week…..Digital Lady Syd