(Very) Basic use of Photoshop to improve your images.
By far the most popular image editing software is Adobe Photoshop. Various guises exist, Photoshop LE, Photoshop Elements and the Industry standard full programme (currently Photoshop 8.0, or CS as it is named). Many of these programmes share the same tools.
I sometimes use 'layers' but for the sake of simplicity and speed I won't go into them here (not to mention that they are not needed for basic image improvements). Keyboard shortcuts are shown in brackets.
When you finally get to see your digiscoped image on your computer's monitor it can sometimes be a disappointment. The sharpness of the bird may be lacking, the colours may be poor and the image lacks sparkle through lack of contrast.
A few minutes in Photoshop can make a huge difference to the photo. Though no amount of trickery will save you from fundamental problems such as poor focus or motion blur.
It's likely that the first thing to strike you upon opening the image on your monitor is that it isn't as sharp as you had hoped.
Although the first logical step would be to head straight for the unsharp mask in the filters-sharpen menu, sharpening should be the very last process applied to an image before saving. Certainly apply sharpening to the image straight away to gauge whether the image is ever going to look sharp enough for your needs, but use the undo/step back before doing any work on the image.
Initial unsharp mask settings for a 3mp image (full size from a cp990/995) will vary from image to image and any in-camera sharpening used, my own settings are for images with no in-camera sharpening (4mp Nikon cp4500 settings in brackets):
Amount: 140- 170 (150-190)
Radius: 1.1- 1.6 (1.2-1.7)
Threshold: 0.1- 0.3 (similar)
Keep an eye on the effect that sharpening is having on your image (zoom in to 100%+) and avoid high radius settings that can cause white halos around edges.
Brightness & Contrast
Although Photoshop offers various automatic 'one click' fixes for image adjustment, these can often produce strange and unwanted results. You can try 'auto levels' and see the results, it may be good enough for your needs. A better alternative is to use the manual levels adjustment dialogue box (image-adjust-levels).
It can look rather daunting at first but the histogram/bar chart is fairly easy to understand. The right hand side corresponds to the lighter tones in the image, the centre portion to the middle tones and the left represents the dark tones in the image. To the right (click to enlarge) is a fairly even exposure, little needs to be done to this image.
A dark (under exposed) image will show a graph that has an emphasis on the left hand side, with little activity to the right of centre. Obviously the reverse will be true of an over exposed image.... a nicely exposed image will show activity across the whole scale, though it pays to use your own eyes in judging what is correct rather than a nice looking histogram. To the right is a severely under exposed image.
If we move the right-hand slider (directly beneath the graph) to the left, the image brightens. On this example image I have moved the slider towards the main body of black (the middle slider will also move at the same time). There is a small amount of light information being 'blown out' by moving the slider as far as I have done, this can be retrieved if you apply the history brush after levels adjustment (only available on certain Photoshop programmes). You can fine tune the middle tones by adjusting the middle slider until the image looks correct to your eye.
With an over exposed shot (a rare event in digiscoping), you will need to move the left slider toward the right..... pretty obvious really. Over exposure is a more serious affair as the white 'blown out' areas usually hold no image detail to be salvaged.
Colour Fringing or Chromatic Aberration
Your scope and camera are likely to show colour fringing at some stage or another but there's little excuse for presenting digiscoped images with significant colour fringing when it is relatively simple to cure in any half decent imaging programme.
In Photoshop there are several ways to go about this, the simplest is to desaturate the offending colour to a less eye-catching mid-grey or any colour that will blend into the background.
The most frequent problem colour with fringing is magenta/purple, unless you have a bird with this colour naturally occurring in it's plumage, it is very simple to make your image far more respectable to the eye without specifically selecting the fringing.
Open the hue/saturation control box (image-adjust-hue/saturation), open the 'edit' drop down menu and choose magenta.
Moving the saturation slider down to it's minimum will get a grey, adjusting the brightness slider will alter this to match the subject or background.
If you wish to change the magenta fringing to match the greens of foliage or what-ever, you will need to use the hue slider.... this will change the magenta to another colour (colours limited on some versions of Photoshop) As this effect is being applied to the whole image, you may end up with good looking green foliage, but the magenta fringe around the subject will have changed to green as well, this is where applying hue/saturation adjustments to specific areas applies.
All Images are 'clickable' for a larger view
This wonderful shot of an American Kestrel was generously supplied by Jane Zatta. It illustrates some of the problems using a standard glassed spotting scope, notably colour fringing and the 'dirty cloud' effect that surrounds the subject matter.
As you can see, the problem colour in this example is a dark blue, desaturating blue with the previous method will compromise the lighter blue of the sky, so a more accurate method can be employed with later versions of Photoshop.
Using the 'color sampler/eyedropper' tool ( i ), click on a representative part of the offending colour on the image. Then go to Image - Adjust - Replace Color in the Photoshop menus.
The dialogue box that pops up should show your image, highlighted in white will be the areas that contain the sample colour, the fuzziness slider can be adjusted upwards to expand the colour range of the sampled color, but make sure it's not taken up so high as to start highlighting parts of the image that need no adjustment.
Now we can reduce the saturation and/or change the hue of the offending colour to a more desirable one.
In this example I have just desaturated, though lowering the lightness is also recommended in many circumstances.
After applying the changes to the image you may still have some problem areas that need addressing, sample the remaining offending colour again and repeat the process.
Although not show on the example to the left, I also used this method to remove the excessive red glow from the bird's legs and removal of some unwanted green elements.
The Clone Tool
The dirty fringe that surrounds the subject needs to be dealt with in a more manual and time-consuming manner, though only a few minutes.
This is accomplished by use of the famous clone tool/rubber stamp ( s ). This is a painting tool, so we have moved from simple tonal changes to actually altering the image.... some may have moral objections to this.
The Cloning tool is used with a suitably sized brush and varying opacity/transparency of the effect, the brush palette has a range of brushes in varying sizes and hardness.... soft brushes are always the best choice for avoiding any patterning in the final image.
Brush size can be enlarged by using ] or downwards by [ (these are brackets on the keyboard in case you're wondering).
The transparency/opacity of a painting tool can be varied by using the keyboard numerals, i.e. 0 will give you 100% of the effect and 1 will give 10%. Knowledge of keyboard short-cuts will save you a lot of time, so get familiar with them.
You need to select an area to be cloned from, in this case a clean patch of sky as close to where you're going to start the repair as possible. Alt + click on the source area and then 'paint' along the edges of the subject (the source spot will move with the brush).
A fairly high transparency setting can be used in this situation, 70% or more, and viewing the image at 100% or greater will make life easier (zoom out every now and again to make sure there are no clone patterns). Try not to get too close to the subject and end up 'painting' over it with the sky! You may wish to use a harder brush when painting alongside a straight edge, maybe the branch in this example.
Now you have seen the clone tool at work, it's up to you whether you wish to remove distracting parts of the photo..... I've removed that annoying branch in the top left hand corner as an example.
The images of the American Kestrel are copyright of Jane Zatta, a link to more of her photos appears in my links page. Thanks Jane.
Above is the comparison of the original image with the image produced after roughly 6 minutes in Photoshop (including time spent getting screengrabs). Slight additional work was carried out with the burn tool ( o ) with transparency at 10% to darken the branch and bird's bill, the bill needing slightly more definition. More can be done, but this will do for now. Sharpening was applied as the last stage.
I should mention this noise reduction stand-alone programme, especially as it's free. Very popular with some digital photographers, notably for web images. The new version does offer more subtle results than the original but I still find it unsuitable for large prints. It would be very nice if it was a Photoshop plug-in filter so that you could apply it to specific areas.
NeatImage have introduced v2.5 Pro, this includes a NeatImage plug-in for Photoshop. It does everythng the standalone does, with the benefits of being able to apply the effects to specific areas and, with the History Brush, enables you to take brushed areas back to between 1-100% of the original photo.
This is a very effective little standalone programme that gives results similar to that of Neatimage. It's very simple and rapid to use and gives a useful preview of the results.
Photoshop can appear daunting at first, close all the floating palettes to give more space... I leave the navigator open, but that' all.
Making A Selection With Quickmask (Not available on Photoshop Elements)
To apply an effect or filter to a specific area of the image you can use several methods. The quickest and easiest is to make a rough selection around the area you want selected by use of the 'Lasso Tool' (L) holding the left mouse button down you can draw loosely around the target area. When finished, the selected area will be surrounded by 'marching ants'. You may not have a particularly tight selection but it doesn't matter if you go into Quickmask mode (Q), this will turn the unselected/masked areas into a reddish colour (correct term is rubylith).
The mask can be added to or it can be removed (to make the selection bigger) by use of the painting brushes. Painting with a brush (B) in black at 100% will add to the mask and painting in white at 100% will remove from the mask, the eraser (E) will also remove from the mask. You can go back to a normal 'marching ants' view of your image by hitting Q again, the Q key just acts to toggle between the two views.
If you zoom right into the image and use a suitably sized hard brush, you can make pixel perfect selections.
If the colours in use are black and white, you can toggle between them by pressing X.
You can invert (Shft+Ctrl+I) the selection at any time so that your selection becomes masked and the masked becomes the selection, and go back again the same manner. This is handy as it's sometimes easier to paint a selection with the red mask.
You need to exit the Quickmask mode to apply an effect/filter to the selection. It often pays to 'feather' a selection so that any effects don't end abruptly and give a visible hard edge. You can find 'feather selection' via 'Select' and then 'Feather' it down to the user to decide how much feathering is applied, I usually use 4 pixels but it varies greatly with what you are doing.
When you have finished manipulating a selection, the 'marching ants' can be removed by 'Select' then 'deselect' (Ctrl +d).
You can make large selections of a similar tone with the 'magic wand' (W) and set the effect level at a percentage that gets most of what you want selected (skies). You can then go into Quickmask to touch up the selection.
Another frequent request.
Copyright banners on photos don't really do a great deal, the photo is copyright to you no matter what. If you post your photos on the internet they can be taken by others for use on other websites or for their own reference (maybe a birding database that they keep on their p.c.), but the size you post at will be far too small for anyone to use for actual publishing.
I have no problem with people saving my photos to their p.c. for their own personal use, and almost always give permission for my photos to be used on non-commercial websites when asked.
If your images are taken without permission for use on other websites, at least your name will be on the image.... as people can rarely be bothered to remove the copyright banner.
If the truth be told, a copyright banner is more about self-promotion and making you look 'pro', I'm certainly no exception to this!
Making A Copyright Banner Brush
Instead of writing out the text for the copyright banner for every web photo that you produce, you can have your copyright banner as a brush. Applying the text to a photo as a brush will only take a click or two and you can apply it at varying transparency (or blending mode/colour) to make it more sympathetic to the image and not stand out like a sore thumb.
The first thing to do is open a new blank document (640x480 in size will do) in Photoshop.
Then using the text tool you write your banner in a font and size of your choice, remember to type in black!
Try not to make your banner too large, though you can change it's size when applying the banner by using the [ ] brackets to enlarge or decrease brush size.
Anyway, you've got your banner written out. Now use the marquee tool (M) and surround the banner text with a tight box.
The next step is to use the 'define brush' function. This appears in different places on various versions of Photoshop.
In Photoshop 7 (and probably 6 & Elements, but I can't quite remember) it is accessed from the Edit drop-down menu, as in the pic below. Clicking 'Define Brush' will prompt you to name the brush. It will then be added to your brush palette.
In Photoshop LE the 'Define Brush' option is located in the brush palette via the drop-down menu accessed by clicking on the little black arrow. See pic below.
When you need to apply your banner to an image, just select any painting tool ( obviously paint brush is favourite) and select the copyright brush from the brush palette. Paint brush in black colour set at 40% has a quite subtle effect, but you can choose the colour to suit the background of the image by cliking on the black or white paint boxes in the tools palette.
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