Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rule of -2/3rds

It's possible you've heard of the Rule of Thirds. It's a guideline for composing photographs so that your focus *isn't* the dead center of the picture. This, however, is not what this post is about.

Instead it's a personal rule of mine to override the camera's Exposure Compensation.

Now when you take a picture the camera decides, based on some other settings I won't go into yet, how bright to make the picture. It adjusts (depending on what mode you're in) the ISO (sensitivity to light) and/or shutter speed and/or amount in focus.

More often than not, I find it's a bit brighter than I'd like. Colours are often washed out, and natural things don't look that real.

Normal Exposure
Normal Exposure

-2/3
- 2/3rds Exposure

Now it's a little difficult to tell after the fact what the exposure compensation is, since it doesn't show up in most programs - even the ones that normally show the ISO, shutter speed and all that other fun stuff. It is recorded as 'Exposure Bias' in the EXIF information - check the >Properties of the picture in question (Details tab if you have to click farther).


Normal
Normal Exposure

-1/3
- 1/3rd Exposure

-2/3
- 2/3rds Exposure (/w Auto Contrast in Picasa)

-1
-1 Exposure (/w Auto Contrast in Picasa)

While this is a personal preference, there is a technical benefit as well. When dealing with digital cameras, it's better to err on the side of too dark. Shorter exposure time means less chance for a blurring. If you're happy with the shutter speed, a negative exposure compensation will allow more of your picture to be in focus. When both of those are fine, it will allow for a lower ISO setting, which means less rainbow speckles in the picture and richer colours overall.

Often if something is dark and you'd like it to remain that way in the picture a lot of negative Exposure Compensation is needed.

-5/3
-5/3 Exposure

Another benefit is making details of white things visible - and not clipped out beyond the upper range of the camera.

Normal Exposure
Normal Exposure

-4/3
- 4/3rds Exposure As with most camera rules, there's times when they should be broken. If you're outside on a bright day, but your subject is under some small shadow it would be worth going to positive exposure compensation. Similarly if your subject is backlit and not showing up properly, this is a quick fix.

Most cameras do have Exposure Compensation. However, you will have to go into the letter modes of the settings (previously linked). Some cameras will show it as a fraction, in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 while others will show a decimal value. Check your manual.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Macro Photography

Definition

Now, technically, macro photography only applies to situations where the subject of the photo is the same size as the image sensor (35mm or smaller) - and takes up the whole frame. This is known as 1:1 magnification.

For the purpose of this article, however, I'll simplify to things the size of a quarter or smaller being the main subject.

Method

Generally speaking, there's two ways to go about taking a macro-type shot.

The first is the more obvious. Get as close as possible and take the shot. Many Point and Shoot cameras have a Macro mode - usually indicated by a 'flower' icon. This tells the camera to focus on things that are closer to the camera, rather than things that are farther away (like mountains - the complimentary symbol).

While this method can produces the largest and sharpest pictures of the subject, there's a few drawbacks. One is that you're likely to create shadow, and that hampers the camera focusing, or at the very least, reduces your depth of field (amount of things in focus).

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but the DOF is very small at close distances already. Not an issue when things are flat and perpendicular to the camera, but that doesn't always happen. Even things as small as bees and flies might not be in focus from front to back or edge to edge (depending on your angle and if you can get them to cooperate).

Which leads to the other problem - most living things (that you'd be taking macro shots of) don't like people in their space. Even if they aren't bothered, trying to get to as close as you can and still being able to see the screen/subject might be difficult.

Bright lighting will help the first problem - but if you're using a flash, it can be overkill. Bright, noisy lights don't help with the second issue either.


So what's the other option? I'm glad you asked (even if you didn't, you're still reading).

It might seem counter intuitive, but put the zoom to as high as it will go and be prepared to stand back. Your minimum focus distance will be quite large - at 10x zoom about 1m/3 feet. The larger your zoom, the more unlike the first method it will be and the farther you'll have to be from your subject. Which is, given the problems listed above, not always a bad thing.

The drawbacks to this method include a lower image quality overall - but better than you might think, especially in bright sunlight. At higher zoom, depending on camera/lighting, camera shake might be a problem. Your angles are also somewhat limited - it's hard to get directly under something that's closer to the ground than your minimum focus distance.


Equipment

As much as I've love to recommend a DSLR camera with dedicated macro lenses to everyone, it's probably not going to happen. While the price of the camera body is coming down a 50mm macro lens is only barely under $400. Still inexpensive for a lens (comparatively), but it's a one-trick-pony. While you *can* take pictures of larger things, a 50mm prime lens will take in quite a bit more light, be a lot cheaper, lighter and quieter. The 100mm and larger macro lenses give a larger working distance and increase magnification as well, but expect the price to double or quadruple (!). Almost as effective is a 250/300mm zoom at the minimum focus distance as seen below - click for full size.

Macro Bee - Zoom

Above: 250mm lens 1.1m/3.6 feet away
Below: 50mm macro lens ~23cm/0.75 feet away

Macro Bugs - Macro Lens

That said, with the sheer amount of information that any camera today takes in, with time, patience and being in the right place at the right time, you can get a excellent shot with just about any camera.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Those Crazy Letters

Most cameras will let you pick them up and start shooting right away. Set the camera to Auto, indicated by a Square, the word 'Auto' or some other picture (all dependant on camera type, but almost always green) and it will adjust the settings for you. A lot of the time 'right' as well. Which is to say they generally get the shadows dark, but not pitch black, and the whites bright, but not blown out entirely. A good number of things are in focus, and - if it's light enough where you are - not blurry.

Certain times you're in a specific situation. Night Portrait, (Day) Portrait, Beach, Snow, Sports/Action, Landscape... and your camera probably has a settings for that too. Indicated by a semi-descriptive picture and the words on the screen when you go through them. Some really go all out and have a rather lengthy list of custom scenarios. (On a beach, at night, while it's snowing and you're lit by candles being slightly too specific, but they're getting close)

But enough about those. They don't really need an article. P Tv Av M. Or possibly M A S P do.

Camera Dial
Picture via Flickr - You'll notice I leave out A-DEP, but so do a lot of cameras

Let's go through them from 'easiest' to 'hardest'.

P - Program
When you'd like a little more control over your camera than is possible with the auto function, start here. It unlocks a lot of things like ISO (sensitivity to light, just like film, higher is more), over- or under- exposing the shot, different file options to save (RAW, if the camera has that feature) and so on. Unless you change anything, however, it does tend to act like Auto - in that it does do a lot of the calculations for you. The difference being, you now have the room to nudge them in a certain direction.

Tv or S - Time Value or Shutter Priority
Next on the list, as it does what it sounds like. This is handy for action shots, or wildlife (children included ;) ) that won't stay still. Set the value to 1/200 second (or more) and you can freeze a lot of things that would otherwise look like a blur. The camera still has the room to adjust the aperture - or how much light comes into the camera. The tradeoff being that the faster you set the camera the less number (or more accurately, less depth) of things end up being in focus. Force it to go extremely fast and you'll notice a very dark picture. Ooops. Learning from mistakes is just as valuable as learning from success.

Av or A - Aperture Value
This is where things get a little odd. All you really need to remember is that the smaller this number is, the less of your image will be in focus. Conversely, setting this number higher will result in a lot more things (or specifically depth) being sharp. As always there's a downside to pushing the extremes. The higher you set this value, the longer the shutter has to stay open. Which can lead to movement blurring or past a certain threshold, less sharpness overall. It is, however, quite handy for extremely closeup shots - as the closer something is to the camera the less 'depth' is actually in focus. More on that in an upcoming article.

M - Manual
While the previous two modes had the camera adjust for the 'missing' value, here everything is up to you. You'll notice that if your camera has an option for over- or under- exposing the shot, it, almost paradoxically, vanishes. This is because everything is under your control - so it will be bright, dark or just right based on your settings -- with no help from the camera. As you might guess, this does make things a little tricky. I would very strongly recommend a few test shots in the other modes first so you'll at least have a starting point. This mode is most often used (at least by myself) when the other two modes overcompensate, or vary the 'missing' value and I want to override that.

Example #1: Taking the first shot in some other mode and forcing the same settings for the following shots - with the intent to stitch them together afterwards. Otherwise you could find a wide variance in exposure or amount of the image that is in focus from image to image.

Example #2: 'Forcing' a larger region of focus AND having a short shutter time - at the expense of image brightness - often used when something is both close to you and moving. This is when you can find the other modes are falling short. If the speed is fast then not enough is in focus OR it leaves the shutter open too long (and a blurry image) when adjusting for the focus alone. While I could also go into Tv/Av and say I want an underexposed image, I wouldn't know by how much. It would be easier to set both the Av to what I want (say 5) and the shutter speed to something useful (1/200s).



Apart from spinning the dial, it does vary quite a bit from camera to camera what buttons change the values in question. Do check your manual. If you've lost it, most camera manufacturers also make a copy available online.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cream of the Crop: Aspect Ratios and You

4x6? 8x10? 4:3? 16:9? Possibly the last thing on your mind when you're taking a picture. Especially so if you didn't know that these setting can often be changed *before* you even line up the shot.

Let's back up a bit.
What are those numbers? 4x6 is a measurement, in inches, of the smallest (non-wallet sized) printed photograph. It's also a ratio which can be expressed in a few different ways. 4x6 = 2:3 = 8x12 = 12x18. The last two are larger common print sizes. 2:3 is the shorthand for that camera setting - but more on that later.

4:3 you might have heard of. It's the ratio for the 'Full Screen' TVs. It's also the default ratio for a lot of Point and Shoot Cameras. Unfortunately, not much else. You can print an 8x6 - but it's rather difficult to find a frame for it.

Why am I going on about this?

In simplest terms some ratios/sizes can best be described as tall (or wide depending on orientation) - such as 4x6, 5:3 (Widescreen Photoframe) and much more so 16:9 (Widescreen TV).

Others such as 4:3, 8x10 and 8x6 can more aptly described as square-ish.

... And your point is?
As mentioned in the beginning of this post - you can likely set your camera's aspect ratio. Depending on what you're going to do - show them on a 'full screen' TV, widescreen, print 4x6s or 8x10s - it might be worth it to plan ahead. Either by changing the camera's settings and/or composing your shot with the above in mind.

If I don't?
Quite simply, you're going to lose some of your picture.

You'll have to crop it down - making for more work and possibly some tough decisions - OR leave that process up to the software on the Kiosk. There's a good chance you won't notice, if the edges of your picture are 'background' you'll probably have to see a side by side comparison of the print and the preview to even see what's missing. If you're someone who likes to go edge to edge- watch out!

There is a somewhat helpful second option, which I'll refer to as 'Anti-Widescreen'. Since the 'highest' setting of the average point and shoot camera is often tied to the less than ideal 4:3 ratio this name fits. What you can do on most Photolab Kiosks is to 'Zoom Out' a picture - which will *add* white bars to the left and right edges of an otherwise squarish picture to fill out the rest of the 4x6. If you don't like the television 'Widescreen effect' - this probably won't sit well with you either. The purpose, however, is the same - you don't lose any of your picture - you just 'gain' nothingness.

A point and shoot camera set at 4:3 - image cropped (somewhat poorly) down to the ratio needed for a 4x6 print
4:3 Cropped to 4x6


Camera set to 3:2 ratio - cropped in preparation for enlarging to 8x10
3:2 cropped to 8x10

The software pictured above is Picasa3(.6). A rather handy program for organizing pictures, pre-cropping them and a number of other useful tasks. With the latest version you can even set your own custom cropping ratios. It's also free and a rather small download. Various plugins can be used to help you upload to sites like Facebook.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Out of the shadows....

Every so often I find a 'new' feature in Photoshop. Which is odd - since the feature in question usually isn't new and I've been using the program rather heavily for the better part of 10 years.

The most recent discovery is the Shadow/Highlights adjustment. It became a part of Photoshop in CS(1) - as of writing CS5 is almost due - and is also available in the more recent Elements versions.

While there are many ways to adjust pictures values in this way - brightness/contrast, levels, dodge/burn, exposure - Shadow/Highlights is both easier to use successfully and more dramatic in effect.

Quite simply, it takes the extreme areas of an image (without having to pre-select them) and drags them back to a normalized value. Which is probably best shown with pictures.

Unaltered image:
Unaltered

Shadows 50%
Shadows

Highlights 50%
Highlights

Highlights 50% + Shadows 50%
Both

The only slightly confusing bit is that you're reducing the appearance of the said regions - so as shown above 50% Shadows makes the image brighter overall and 100% Shadows is even less 'dark'.

There's also an "Show More Options" version of the toolbar (at least in the full Photoshop) that will let you tweak things even more. Which probably wouldn't be a bad idea - as nice as the defaults are at bringing out 'hidden' detail - they tend to make the pictures more than a little 'flat'.

Original image inside red circles, 50% Shadow outside - Note how the water doesn't change much
Waterfall

More dramatic example - Shadow 100% on the right side of the image
Shadow100

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to Buy a Digital Camera - Part II

Card Type
Most cameras today take SD / SDHC cards. As a result, you have the most choice in card size, manufacturer and the likelihood of multicard deals increases. The HC addition (under the letters SD in the graphic) apply to cards 4GB and higher - these cards will likely not work in pre-2007(ish) cameras.

While they are the most common type - there are definitely exceptions:

Older Sony cameras take Memory Pro Stick Duo cards - same type as the PSP uses. They are more expensive than their SD counterparts and can also be harder to find. Newer Sony cameras take both SD-type and Memory Pro Stick Duo cards - still worth double checking though.

Older Olympus/Fuji cameras take the xD type card which - along with being more rare than either of the cards mentioned above - are also limited to 2GB. To get around this, some Olympus cameras come with an adaptor that takes a MicroSD card and puts it in a xD 'housing'. Newer Olympus/Fuji cameras are using SD though.

Some SLR cameras use the deceptively named Compact Flash card (it's actually the largest in physical size). Again rarity is an issue, though price is generally comparable to a similar capacity SD card. It can also have a speed edge on the SD type cards - but this only a factor if the camera itself isn't the bottleneck.


All of these cards have a rather long lifespan (10k-100k write cycles) and even the smallest commonly available (2GB) hold over 500 (jpg) pictures. As such, it might be tempting to dismiss the above information, get a few cards with the camera and be done with it. Of course, cards do get lost and not all external/internal card readers can accept every type and shape of storage. While memory cards are coming down in price, it's nice not to have to buy a new set of cards when/if you change/upgrade/replace cameras. Go with SDHC compatible.

Features

A lot of devices today go quite a bit beyond simply taking a picture. Often these features have a varying degree of sophistication from model to model. A few of the things you might want to look out for:

Image Stabilization
It is what it sounds like. As covered in a previous post, the feature really helps with indoor shots. Be careful to read how the camera is accomplishing this though - if it mentions 'digital' don't bother.

This is a very common feature of most new point and shoot cameras. In some SLR cameras it is lens based and, as it absence reduces the price by a large margin, is still fairly common to find them without it.

Face Detection
At it's most basic, it determines if there is a person looking at the camera and focuses on them (as opposed to the background). It may also adjust the exposure/white balance and determine if a flash is necessary.

Smile Detection
A rather cool, if somewhat creepy, feature of a camera to detect if someone is smiling - often to a variable threshold - and automatically take the picture.

Blink Detection
Still somewhat more rare than the above, this detects if someone has their eyes closed and either notifies you, or automatically takes a second picture.

Creative Effects
Black and White, Sepia, Fish Eye, Miniature Effect, Selective Colour, Red Eye Reduction and many, many others may be present on an increasing number of devices. Personally I prefer applying these effects after with software as it allows for greater flexibility - and undoing it if it doesn't work. On the other hand it does make picture taking more 'fun' and less workflow if it's on-camera. I wouldn't recommend getting a specific product for any of these features - but if you do have them, at least try them out.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Photomerge

Fortunately, not everything in Photoshop is labour intensive. Some of the coolest stuff is automated.

While some newer cameras have image stitch (panorama mode or another name depending on brand), they are somewhat limited in what they do.

Essentially these lock the cameras setting and let you 'weld' a few pictures together. It can also show you a bit of the previous image to help guide you on how much overlap you need. Also, it doesn't alter the perspective and the fixed camera settings aren't always helpful.

This is where Photoshop (full or elements) comes in. Open the pictures you want to merge and tell it to go to work.

I'm told that not everyone likes the music to this. Tough. Turn it off if you want :p



A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) It will only alter the perspective to about 120ยบ - after that it does a cylindrical mapping - in plain English, straight lines become curved.

2) You *might* want to scale down your pictures first. Most cameras output a very large file and you're asking the computer to load them all into memory, find where they join, match perspective and do brightness/contrast calculations. That's a lot of work, and if it can't do it all, it usually skips the last things in that list or possibly not even match it at all. You can still manually align the pictures and have it more likely to merge that way, but it's best to let the computer do it. The combined file will still be huge and more detail than you need - especially if you do the trick in #4

3)You still need a bit of overlap. The Photoshop help file recommends 25-40%. Having a notable object at the extreme right of a picture, then extreme left on next shot is usually sufficient.

4) Unlike cameras, you aren't limited to horizontal or vertical stitching.

Individual shots

Combined

Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Buy a Digital Camera - Part I

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe you don't have a digital camera yet. While this is a rather huge topic, I'll try and distill it to its most basic points.

Price
Likely your first consideration. Most retail (i.e. not used) digital cameras will run somewhere between $100-$300 US/Canadian.

Much less than that and you'll likely run into problems. Very cheap cameras lose the pictures when you take the batteries out. They will be a very small and/or poor quality pictures even if they do save to a memory card. The least expensive won't have an LCD screen to review your snaps.

Sub $100 cameras aren't a bad starting camera for someone quite young - at least till their early teens. Expect it to be outgrown very soon, and more headaches when less money is spent.


Beware of stats. While they might be technically correct, they don't tell the quality of the components.

Below are 100% cropped shots of a new, cheap 9MP camera (top) and a old 6MP camera (used costs as much as the 9MP retail)

9MP

6MP

Megapixels really only measures the final size of the image. As you can see, a larger number here isn't automatically better. Any (quality) camera 6MP and up will print a passable 8x10.

While double the Megapixels is double the image size, it's still not as noticeable as one would expect.

In the image below, the 6MP is a 4:3 ratio Point and Shoot camera and the larger 12.2MP image represents a 4:6 ratio SLR camera.
Megapixel


If you are able to spend more than $300, there's also reason to be careful. If you are buying a point and shoot camera, you're in danger of being a victim of 'bleeding edge': Technology which is overpriced and not yet perfected. You might want to consider an SLR camera (more on that later).

Size
In terms of dimensions, there is a huge spectrum: between small pocket-sized cameras to large SLR cameras.

While the practical benefits of a small camera are fairly obvious, there's a few things to keep in mind. First, you're paying certain premium for miniaturization. All other factors being equal, you'll pay more for the smaller camera. Second, in most cases, 'all other factors' aren't equal. The smaller the camera, the smaller the sensor size and the less zoom you'll likely get.

The image sensor is what actually digitizes the picture. While it's most often described in megapixels, it's also measured in a very real sense by physical dimensions. SLR cameras (and a few very specific Point and Shoot cameras) have a larger image sensor than most Point and Shoot cameras.

Even if they are both listed at the same Megapixels (which these below aren't, but close), the results are quite different. Canon SX110 (9MP top) vs Canon XSi (12.1 MP). Notice the 'flecks' in the top image, and how the bottom image resolves smaller details


Canon SX110

XSi


Zoom is a slightly inexact measurement that represents how much a camera can bring a subject 'closer'. It's a relative measurement, since it compares the range to itself - the camera in question might start with a very wide angle, or start where a different camera/lens might end.

In any case, it's a matter of optics - a very small camera cannot magnify as much as a larger camera.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Case of the Tinted Picture

You're inside. Following the advice of the previous post, you turn on a lot of lights. The lighting *seems* fine, but you take a picture and this happens:

Tinted Shot

What went wrong?


Remember what I said earlier about cameras 'seeing' light in absolutes? It just happened again.

Fortunately, most cameras have what's called White Balance. Unless you change it, it's also set to 'Auto' - which does a fine job in certain situations - but not the one above obviously.

So how do I fix it?

If you have Photoshop, you can correct the problem somewhat using 'Curves>Auto' but it's really only half way there.

Curves Photoshop

A better option would be to fix the problem within the camera.

Bad News: You can't do anything about the shots you've already taken*.
*Unless you shot in RAW Mode
Good News: It's a better fix than Photoshop.

How?

Take a picture of something that's supposed to be white. That something should also be very close to what you're going to take a picture of. Technically it should be 18% gray, but white is easier to find and it doesn't make a huge amount of difference. You might find it helpful to put the camera in manual focus mode so it doesn't have to try and lock onto anything - it will just take the picture.

Custom White Balance

Find how to how to set 'Custom White Balance' with your particular camera. Use the picture like the one taken above for calibration.

Take another picture with an actual subject in it. It should now look like this:

Custom White Balance Fixed

Friday, March 26, 2010

Light and Cameras

Cameras love light.

How people perceive light and how cameras do is quite different. While people adjust organically to varying degrees of illumination so everything appears 'normal' - cameras take a more absolute approach.

What does this mean? While you might not notice the difference between looking around your room inside, and looking out a window - the camera does.

For this post, I'm mainly focusing on Point and Shoot cameras - as opposed to SLR - but much of the information is universally applicable.

How do cameras compensate? They do one (or more) of a few things:

Flash

If there isn't enough light, the camera makes more. Trouble is, this only works for a few feet away and it eats up the battery power. It also makes a obvious impact on the quality of the picture - it's very easy to tell when a flash is used on a point and shoot camera.

Sensitivity (ISO)
When you prevent the flash from going off in low light, the camera has other ways to adjust. The image sensor in the camera can be set to require less brightness to register a viewable image. Trade-offs for this include more noise (skittles!) in the picture and at higher settings a less natural looking shot - flatter colours and not as much variation. The highest ISO setting usually has to be set manually for these reasons. It's often better to have a sharp, albeit noisy and flat, shot than a blurry one.

Shutter Speed
If neither of the above are used - or it hits the upper limit on ISO, the camera has no choice but to keep the shutter open longer. This almost always leads to a blurry shot. You can set a 2s timer on most cameras and that will let you brace the camera better (rather than pressing the shutter) and/or (preferably and) use a tripod. Not a lot of situations lend themselves to those two tricks though.


So what else can you do?

Outside, even on a cloudy day, has significantly more light than you will find inside. If you're inside - more lights than seem necessary will really help your shots. Stand near windows, with your back to them, if you can help it. Don't blame the camera.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pictures for Photoframes

Without further ado, here's 454 of my better shots. They're sized at 800x480 which is a good size for widescreen photoframes. Not a bad size to see detail either, but not so big that people will be tempted to steal them for large prints.

Photoframe

Image Hosting

I've looked into a number of different sites for hosting pictures, and here's what I've found:

Facebook the 720x(up to 720x) image size isn't great - the tie-ins to commenting/news/email is nice. EDIT - Now closer to 1000x1000, sometimes. Still not huge.

Flickr is, for me, an exercise in frustration. Can't upload one file (2.3MB) via the web page. The uploader won't download (it quit twice in mid-transfer) - and even if I could get a picture on there, it wouldn't be full size - and only 200 pictures 'live' at a time - and no more than 100mb uploadable a month (without paying $$). I like the *idea* of Flickr, but can't seem to get it to work.

dotphoto while seemingly being able to upload anything, it only previews at 450px. It's geared toward 'Hosting pics - NOW YOU BUY STUFF 'KAY?'

PhotoBucket is my old standby. The free account allows for images up to 1mb (regardless of dimensions) and has only mini-thumbnails. There is a theoretical 'midsized' thumbnail but it's the large image crammed into a smaller space. Not a 'friendly' place for visitors to browse and leave comments.

ImageShack while I haven't hosted anything personally, I remember something oddly irritating about it. Oh ya. No mid-sized thumbnails again.


Picasa Web Albums


Pros: I have Picasa3. 1GB free space (more with $$), Small, Medium, FULL views (for real!)

Cons: Google takes over the world that much faster...

Working with Text/Shapes - Part I

While Photoshop has "Photo" in the name, it's also a good program for general graphic design.

A good portion of this work is, as the title suggests, Text and Shapes. Initially, these elements can be rather dull, however there's a very quick way to spice things up.

Blending Options. These can be mixed and matched as well as tweaked by a rather large number of variables. This video shows a very quick overview.



Of course, one shouldn't limit it to these basic options. Unless you really play with the initial values, it's going to look like everybody else that does the same 'just check' technique.

In the example below, I use Outer Glow (with a high 'Spread' value), Drop Shadow (with zero 'Distance' and a high 'Spread') as well as Stroke to do the bottom text in one layer.


Things that can be done in Photoshop - Part II

Fixing Image Quality

Quite a few things fall under this heading. The first being brightening/darkening.

Now, to a computer, there is a lot more information in the average picture (just jpg, not even talking RAW here) than is readily apparent to the eye. Different methods (levels, contrast) have different effects on the values assigned for the pixels colour.

Pictures can frequently be brought back to 'normal' - even if it starts by looking pretty much all black/white to start with. Extremes at either end are bad - dark pictures have 'noise' and overly bright can wash out all detail. Worth noting that I've had more success with brightening a dark picture than vice versa.

Noise. There are a lot of plugins and stand alone programs on the market to deal with the Skittle effect (taste the rainbow!). More often than not, they cost more than they are worth, since the free ones do an equally nice job. Sometimes you can get away with fixing the picture all at once, and other times, it's bad enough (will negatively impact the final image's overall colour) that it's better to apply selectively (with masks).

Chromatic aberration. If you haven't had personal experience with this, count yourself lucky. The problem with all these 'prosumers' having fancy-pants cameras is that unless you get the very expensive lenses (+$1k) you get that nasty halo around images. Particularly on the wide end of the lens and near the edges of the shot. Now Photoshop has a little thing called lens correction (which also fixes pincushion and barrel distortion) which attempts to tackle CA.

Problem is, that CA isn't a by-the-numbers type of problem. Well it is. Just very long and complicated numbers based on the lens, focal length and other controllable factors (which the camera companies do account for in their RAW correcting software), but a lot of unmeasurable factors (for all intents and purposes) like angle of light, brightness and so on.

What usually happens, at least for me, as that I get 'half-way' with the CA fix section, and get it the rest of the way the same way as I get rid of noise. Even then, a large image with a lot of people/objects can take several hours to tame the worst of it (and triply so if they didn't shoot in RAW mode).

Things that can be done in Photoshop - Part I

A lot of people are surprised by how flexible Photoshop (and other image editors) are. In this short series, I'll tackle some of the highlights

Adding and Removing content


This is basically the bread and butter of Photoshop what people usually mean when they say an image has been Photoshopped (a term Adobe dislikes). From the very small - pimples and zits and minor scratches, to the very large - people, buildings and even whole backgrounds.

Now this is pretty much without limit.

Adding pretty much boils down to matching the lighting/quality/colours of the original image.

Subtracting less than full frame elements is a tiny bit more work than adding, but as long as there is something nearby that you can clone/heal from it isn't too bad. Removing background is quite easy - green screening makes it easier still, but as long as there is some contrast between foreground and background it's a quick job regardless.

Sharp, defined edges make both of the above much easier, but if one is willing to put forth the time/effort - hair and other things are possible. They are constantly improving the "Edge Defining" of Photoshop. Until that is perfected though, a rough edge and some post work blurring and smudging makes more sense than fiddling with sliders (contrast/feather/radius/expand/contract).

Moving picture elements is basically subtracting, then adding without as much correction for light/colour needed - depending on the shot.

In this quick video, I'll show an object being removed via the clone and heal tools.

Colouring!

Let's start with a quick bit of colouring. Image borrowed from Inktank.com

I like the idea of colouring on a computer, because if you don't like it you can do it again. It's a lot easier to do various effects - a number of which can be changed after the fact.



There's also a few tricks you can do - like Multiply Layer - to let you work fast and (gasp!) sloppy and still have it look nice.



Might have to adjust your tool's presets though: