Photoshop. You either love it or hate it.
At worst it can be used to create fake news, to create unrealistic expectations of people and places, to create a culture that demands perfection in a beautifully imperfect world.
At best it can help us produce an image closer to the real thing than our cameras can capture, teasing out the light, focusing in on the subject.
Recently, I was out on a trip to see birds of prey. The day was a overcast, a little on the dark side, but great for capturing lots of detail without harsh shadows. Time was short though and I needed to take pictures quickly without chance to alter settings. No time for checking results or histograms, just shoot and hope.
Fast and clever as a camera may be, it’s no match for our eyes. What you see isn’t what the camera sees and the resultant image can be beyond disappointing.
This was the case with a shot of an owl I took as it came to rest on a perch high up behind me.
A less promising shot would be hard to imagine. But just to show how powerful photoshop can be in rescuing detail, I decided to see what could be made of it and show you how you can do the same with some of your own shots that you may have consigned to the unusable file.
- Open file in Photo Editor.
Open your photo editor, go to file then open in the drop down box. Find your file and click on it.
Now click on Image>adjustments> Levels to bring up a histogram and the controls for adjusting levels
For this image, the histogram shows we have information at the light and dark extremes but nothing in the middle. This is typical for a silhouette shot. A histogram for a well exposed shot has a big bump in the middle, tailing off at either end and is known as a normal curve.
2 Make levels Adjustments.
To correct the exposure, we need to drag the white slider (circled) to the left. In this case that’s a very extreme adjustment. Straight away all the detail hidden in the shadows becomes visible.
3. Crop and finish.
After making such a massive adjustment, I’m not going to be able to do much more than crop to improve the composition. Making more changes would probably degrade the image and introduce lots of unwanted artifacts.
I’ve placed the owls face on an intersection of thirds to draw the viewer to his features. The crop tool, in the tool box, brings up a rectangle around the image with little handles to drag. Move these until you have the composition you want. Double click inside the area to complete the action.
The final image isn’t going to win me any prizes, but as a record of our day or an image to paint from, it’s perfectly adequate.
For the image at the top, I converted to black and white. This is helpful when making extreme adjustments allowing you to increase contrast or removing unsightly colour artifacts such as the purple fringing in this shot, that shows up on close inspection.
So if you have any images that you think are beyond hope but bring back special memories, it’s worth a try with this technique. You might just be amazed at what you find.