A couple of my friends have asked me for help about how I managed to bring out the colours in my night photo walk images and the images I posted in here. While I am not an expert in image retouching or in any of the programs that enable you to do this, I have found a couple of tricks that might help with those pictures you have that you know they would have some wow-factor if the colours were a bit less dull.
This is not the only way, and I’m sure there are better ways to do this, but this is one way that works for me, and it’s very quick. It allows me to correct many pictures in a matter of minutes!
First of all, you need Photoshop (I’m using CS5) and an image to correct:
*I believe if you click on each image, you should be able to see them bigger, but please let me know if this is not the case!
As you can see, there is a great contrast between the green at the front, the massive glacier and the mountain. You can also see the size of the glacier by comparing it to the people on the balcony. This is probably not the best picture ever, but it should definitely help!
It would be worth mentioning that Perito Moreno has been in the news lately as big chunks of ice are falling off, so both sides of the Lago Argentino will probably join again soon… If you haven’t seen one of these moments, I highly recommend it as it’s quite breath taking!
Back to colour correcting…
Open the file in Photoshop, and the very first thing you should do is go to image -> adjustments -> curves.
Once you click there, a small window will open. Below, you can see this control panel. I have marked the buttons we’re going to be using!
As you can see, there are three eyedroppers, one black, one grey(-ish) and one white. Next to them there’s a checkbox that reads Show Clipping. I’ve also highlighted the horizontal bar on the curves graph, that has two sliders (don’t know how to call them), one black and one white.
First, we’re going to click on the white eyedropper, which is the one on the right. Once we have this selected, we will need to click in an area of our image we believe should be white. If we cannot see any area, we would check the Show Clipping box. This will make the image turn black. If we grab the white slider and move it towards the left, we’ll see some white spots appearing. This will indicate the parts of the image that are white. Return the slider to its original position, and uncheck Show Clipping and click in a white area.
In the image I’ve chosen, it’s quite easy to find a white area! Go ahead, click.
You shouldn’t see much difference yet. Maybe it has become a bit lighter, but nothing amazing yet.
We are now going to select the black eyedropper. This is the one that might make more difference to the image. We will do the same. If we cannot see any area we know to be black in the image, after selecting the black eyedropper, we check the box to show the clipping again. You will notice the image has become completely white. If we move the black slider to the right, we’ll see the black spots starting to appear.
As you can see, my image has very little black, so I really needed to click on the clipping this time! Once you’ve spotted a black area (I recommend you use really dark shadows, or black hair, if possible), again, get the slider back to its original place, uncheck the box for showing the clipping and click on the area you saw earlier.
Once you’ve done this, you should already see a noticeable change in the image:
After this, we need to select the grey eyedropper. Unfortunately, we cannot do anything with the clipping tool to show us the grey (we need to find some midtone grey in the image), so this is going to be a bit of trial and error. Be careful where you click though, as it might turn your image to a shade of green or magenta! Do not fret, if that happens, just press crtl-z to go one step back!
Sometimes there isn’t really much difference in the image. So far, we’ve told the software “this should be black, that should be white and this is midtone grey”. This way, the program can calculate the rest of the colours. Before we click on OK we can play around with the sliders a bit to darken the image or make the white areas brighter. Use your judgement and taste, but note if you brighten the white areas much, you might see some haloes around them! Here also you can add more points to the line in the graph, this will make the midtones vary as well. You can move them around. If you want to delete one of the points in the middle, just select it and drag it outside the graph. Simple!
Once you’re happy with how the image looks, click OK.
If, like me, you always take your pictures a bit crooked, you might want to keep reading. Photoshop has a great tool for straightening pictures: the ruler. This ruler is hidden under the eyedropper tool. Simply click and maintain on the eyedropper to display the hidden menu and select the ruler.
This tool couldn’t be easier to use. Basically, the aim is to create a line. We should draw the line on top of something we know should be straight, but isn’t, like the horizon, for example. Be careful if you’re using a wide angle lens, as many lines that should be straight (like buildings) will appear leaning to one side. This is normal, and won’t be corrected by this tool, as it’s because of the shape of the lens. If you tried to correct these lines, you would end up with the whole image being even more crooked!
In my image, I don’t really have an horizon, but I can imagine how straight the photo should be, so I have drawn a line as this:
Try to guess what we will do afterwards. That’s right! We just click on the straighten button and voilà! The image appears straight. I have to say this is the most useful tool for me, as all my pictures are always crooked…
If you want to play around with brightness or saturation, you should be able to find those on the windows on the right of your working area. Those are always on display for me, if you cannot see them, you will be able to get them to show by selecting them on the Window menu on the top. Otherwise, you can go back to image -> adjustments -> hue/saturation. Just play with the sliders until you find a look you like!
Please note once you change the saturation, a new layer will be created, so if you try to save the image again, it will save it on PSD. This is fine, but you won’t be able to open the image again in Windows Photo Viewer or similar. If you want everyone to be able to see the image, I recommend you try to save it as JPEG. In order to do this, you must flatten the image. Don’t worry, this is also quite easy! Just go to layer -> flatten image.
That should be it. You would now have an image with deeper colours.
I hope this short tutorial helps get the most out of your images. If you liked it, please let me know in the comments below!
Next time, I can give you some tips on composition, if you’re interested!