Photoshop CS6 Fundamentals: Photo Improvement Techniques
Adapted from Understanding Adobe Photoshop CS6: The Essential Techniques for Imaging Professionals (Peachpit Press)
By Richard Harrington
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Learning how to fix damaged areas in photos is not a step-by-step
process. Rather, it is learning how to identify problems and make
strategic decisions about which techniques to employ to fix the
image. Practice is the best path to becoming a skillful retoucher.
However, you can expect good results if you know which tools
to use. I have personally seen students become proficient using
Photoshopís rich suite of tools in just a few weeks.
Cameras are much more likely to generate a soft focus under
low light. The Smart Sharpen filter has the most options of any
sharpening filter built into Photoshop. It allows you to choose the
sharpening algorithm as well as control the amount of sharpening
in shadow and highlight areas. This filter can produce dramatically better quality, but do not expect results like you see in a TV
Faded Historical Photos
- Close any open files, open the Sharpen1.tif file, available with other sample images in this downloadable ZIP archive, and zoom the document
window to 100%. This will give you the most accurate view of the sharpening.
- Choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen
and select the Advanced radio button.
- Click and drag the image in the preview window so you can better see the wood texture.
- Adjust the controls in the Sharpen tab:
- Amount. Sets the amount of sharpening.
A higher value increases contrast between
edge pixels, which gives the appearance
of more sharpness.
- Radius. Determines the number of pixels
surrounding the edge pixels that will be
affected by the sharpening. A greater
radius value means that edge effects will
be more obvious, as will the sharpening.
- Remove. Allows you to set the sharpening algorithm to
- Gaussian Blur. Is used by the Unsharp Mask flter.
It works well on images that appear slightly out of focus.
- Lens Blur. Detects edges and detail in an image.
It provides finer sharpening of detail and can reduce
halos caused by sharpening.
- Motion Blur. Attempts to reduce the effects of blur
caused by camera or subject movement. You will need
to set the Angle control if you choose Motion Blur.
- Angle. Set this to match the direction of motion. Itís only
available when using the Remove controlís Motion Blur
- More Accurate. Allows Photoshop to spend more time
processing the file. It generates more accurate results for
the removal of blurring.
- You can refine the sharpening of dark and light areasótry
using the Shadow and Highlight tabs. These controls should
be used if you start to see halos in light or dark areas:
- Fade Amount. Adjusts the amount of sharpening in the
highlights or shadows regions.
- Tonal Width. Controls the range of tones in the shadows
or highlights that are modifed. Smaller values restrict the
adjustments to smaller regions.
- Radius. Controls the size of the area around each pixel
that determines if a pixel is considered a shadow or a highlight. Moving the slider to the
left specifies a smaller region; moving the slider to the right defines a larger region.
- When youíre satisfied, click OK to apply the filter.
A common problem with old black-and-white or sepia-toned
photos is that they fade over time. You can use a Levels or Curves
adjustment, but both commands often introduce color artifacts
into the image. A few extra steps are needed to get the best results.
- Close any open files, and then open the file Fading_Historical.tif.
- With the Eyedropper tool, sample the color tint if you want to
retain it in the finished piece.
- Leave the photo in RGB mode but strip away the color. Choose
Image > Adjust > Desaturate or press Shift+Command+U
- Perform a Levels adjustment and restore the white-and-black
points. Drag the black Input Levels slider and the white Input
Levels slider toward the center.
- Add a Solid Color fill layer by choosing Layer > New Fill
Layer > Solid Color. Click OK. The Foreground color you
previously sampled will load automatically.
- Set the Color Fill layer to use the Color blending mode. Adjust
the Opacity slider as desired.
Tip: Colorize Another Way
You can use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to tint the image. Just click
the Colorize option and adjust the sliders to taste.
A professional photographer can spend a good part of a day
waiting for the perfect sky and weather conditions. You, however,
may not be as lucky. Skies will often be washed out and appear
missing due to overexposure. One solution is to take pictures of
the sky when it looks its best, and then use a few
techniques to combine two or more images into
a new composite.
- Close any open files, and then open the file Fix_Sky.tif.
- Use the Color Range command (Select > Color Range) to choose the sky region.
- Subtract any stray selections in the lower half
of the photo by using the Lasso tool and holding down the Option (Alt) key. Alternatively,
switch to Quick Mask mode for more detailed
touch-up of the selection.
- Double-click the Background layer to float it.
Name the layer Boat and click OK.
- Invert the selection by choosing Select > Inverse or by pressing Shift+Command+I
- Use the Refine Edge command to improve
the selection and add a layer mask to the
- Click the Add layer mask button to mask the
Letís now add a new sky. DSC_2197.jpg has the right color and time of day for this photo.
- Choose File > Place and select the file. Press Return (Enter) to apply
the placed photo.
- Drag the sky photo behind your masked image. Use the Free
Transform command to scale and position the clouds. There
may be fringe on the edges that will need touching up.
- Select the Layer Mask thumbnail in the Layers panel.
- Open the Properties panel and click the Mask Edge button to
refine the mask as desired.
- Touch up any problem areas on the Layer Mask. Use the
Smudge tool set to Darken mode to touch up the area around
the trees on the right of the frame. You can also touch up the
Layer Mask by using a paintbrush and black set to 20% Opacity. Brush over areas that need to be blended.
- Blur the sky slightly so it better matches the depth of feld in
the image. Use the trees for guidance. You can use the Gaussian blur flter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) set to a value of
- To make the colors match
better, you can place a second copy of the sky on top.
Be sure just the blue sky is
covering the photo. Set the
blending mode to Overlay
or Soft Light and lower the
Opacity of the layer.
- The completed image, Fix_Sky_Completed.tif, is in the downloadable archive if youíd like to examine it more closely.
Tip: Shooting Skies
The desert or the ocean is the best
place to shoot the sky. This is often
because the amount of environmental and light pollution is greatly
reduced. Donít worry if this isnít an
option for you; just keep your eyes
out for a great day with beautiful
skies and remember to shoot some
still plates for your collection.
Often, distracting noise or grain will appear in your image. This
is typically caused by shooting photos with a high ISO setting on
a digital camera, but it can also be caused by underexposure or a
long shutter speed. A lower-quality consumer camera is also more
likely to exhibit noise problems. Additionally, film grain can be
picked up by a scanner and cause problems as well.
The most common type of noise is luminance
(grayscale) noise where the noise does not have
varying colors. This noise is usually more pronounced in one channel of the image, usually
the blue channel. By adjusting for noise on a
per-channel basis, higher image quality can be
maintained. Letís give it a try:
Adding Lens Blur
- Close any open files, and then open the file
- Activate the Channels panel and view each
channel separately. Click the channelís name
to isolate it. Do this for each channel.
You should notice a large amount of noise in
the Blue channel, in the area shown below.
- Activate all three channels by clicking the
RGB composite channel.
- Choose Filter > Reduce Noise.
- Select the Advanced radio button to enable
per-channel corrections. This allows for additional correction to be added at the channel
- Switch to the Blue channel within the filterís dialog box and
adjust Strength and Preserve Details as desired.
Selectively blurring an image can help your viewer find a focal
point. Photoshop offers a realistic lens blur that also produces
depth-of-field blurring. This allows some objects to be in focus
while others fall out of focus. You can be very specific in regard
to the blurring if you make an accurate alpha channel to serve as
a depth matte. The depth matte defines how far away things are
from the camera. Black areas in the alpha channel are treated as
being the foreground, whereas white areas are
seen as being in the distance.
- Close any open files, and then open the file Lens Blur.tif.
- An alpha channel has already been added
to the image. It was created using the
Calculations command and Quick Mask
- Make sure the RGB composite channel is
- Choose Filter > Blur > Lens Blur to run the Lens Blur filter.
- Choose the alpha channel from the Source menu. You can
click the Invert box if you need to reverse the blur. For faster
previews, choose Faster. When youíre ready to see the final
appearance, select More Accurate.
- Adjust the Iris shape to curve or rotate the iris. Photoshop
mimics how a traditional lens operates. Even if you are not
an experienced photographer, you can twiddle and adjust as
- Move the Blur Focal Distance slider until the desired pixels are
in focus. Additionally, you can click inside the preview image
to set the Blur Focus Distance.
- You can add Specular Highlights by adjusting the Threshold
slider. You must set the cutoff point for where highlights occur.
Then increase the highlights with the Brightness slider.
- Finally, itís a good idea to add a little noise/grain back into the
image. Normally, the blur obscures this, but putting it back in
makes the photo seem more natural as opposed to processed.