Picture for February 22nd, 2011 (making difficult pictures look great)

Wedding Picture

making difficult pictures look great

(click here for larger before/ after version)

A less wallpaper-ish image this time, this picture represents how to deal with problem pictures as well how to get out a really nice picture from one that didn’t start off that way.  I’m probably going to do a video tutorial on this picture, because it represented a number of things we often run across in pictures:

(the original)

1. It’s the type of picture we want to save

As an old picture from a wedding, it’s something we would love to have in our album as a much better-looking picture.

2.It has a deep, uneven hue that isn’t removed as easily as using the auto balance.

Unlike many pictures, this is not a picture where you can just adjust for the blue and and then continue.  When you decrease the brightness, and then try to bring out the color, this deep blue hue starts to really become more prominent in the picture.

Similarly, if you use the Auto Balance, it does a decent job of balancing the overall picture, but then exacerbates the blue hue.

This actually happens in a lot of pictures, and most of the time it’s a blue hue.  It just happens. Even with nice, new digital cameras, when you balance the overall image to a nice, neutral and colorful tone, the shadow areas turn blue. This picture is just the opposite, where the white areas turned blue.

This is just a fact of life with many pictures.  But, as it turns out, it’s easily fixed!  In almost every case, these areas represent areas with no color at all (i.e. white, gray, or black).  So, in Sagelight, you can just click on the blue area and remove the saturation — and you’re done.  This is how it was done in this picture.

3. It has a lot of elements that, once removed, start to bring out the subject.

Notice that not only is the above picture cropped to frame the subject better, but the objects behind her were also removed.  With Sagelight this is not a hard thing to do.  You can use the cloning, but also a good tool to use is the Wire Worm plug-in.  Not specific to Sagelight obviously, but hopefully I’ll get the credit for finding it and including it.  In this picture, the Wire Worm plug in was used to get rid of the large objects behind the subject, and then the cloning was used to to the more subtle work.

4. It is better when cropped

I think the idea of cropping — that is, as a general thought for all pictures, i.e. “what happens when I crop this picture?” — tends to get lost.  It’s a simple operation, and with the rule-of-thirds grid, it’s a lot easier to get a cropped image that centers on the subject.

In this case, there wasn’t too much flexibility in cropping.  But, the rule-of-thirds grid focused nicely on her hands, so even just those small movements with the grid helped make a difference.

5. The blown-out white areas of her dress are recoverable.

Every professional-level editor has its strengths.  One of Sagelight’s many strengths is its ability to recover highlights from “compressed areas”.  I’ve explained the idea of highlight compression before (and shadows, for that matter) — the idea that highlights get so compressed in the upper regions of the histogram that they can be difficult to recover, even though they are there.  So, a lot of times it seems like they are lost when they aren’t.

This picture is a great example of that.  First, it started as jpeg (see the next section), so it’s not going to have nearly the range as a RAW file.  Still, the highlights in the dress were recoverable and could be brought down to bring back the texture of the silk dress.

6. It shows you really can edit with Jpeg Images

As mentioned above, this image started as a JPEG image.  You hear a lot about RAW editing, and if you’re really into getting the best out of your pictures, that’s a good way to go.

But, it doesn’t mean that you have to use RAW.  Even at 8-bits, JPEG images have a lot to work with.  Sometimes you can see problems, but for general editing, if you’re starting with a decent picture, you can really do a lot of editing — more than just small adjustments to tweak a color or two — and really come out with a much nicer picture.

I say this because editing RAW images really does up the ante in terms of editing — you have to be more committed, and while Sagelight supports that in a large number of ways, it also supports editing your jpeg.  So if you just want to go out with your camera and shoot jpegs, and not deal with RAW, this image shows what can be done with a real troubled picture — but, see the next section, too.

note about jpeg:  This image is also a good example about another thing — with your camera and your edits, save your image at the highest quality setting!  When you do that, you have exponentially more to work with in your image.

7. Tweaking!  This is a good example of how tweaking a picture for various things can make a difference.

In addition to using the Wire Worm plugin and Cloning Brush to get rid of the background (not to mention cropping), this picture demonstrates how doing minor touch ups can really help out a picture.  Here is a list of some of these touch ups that were done on this picture (most of these were done because of the fact that the image had an uneven tone (which you don’t see much any more, thanks to digital imaging) and because it started as a JPEG).

  • The color tone of the wall was changed, and saturation was reduced.  This was done separately from the subject.
  • A soft focus was added to the subject
  • A very small, undetectable vignette was added to the image to focus more on the subject — this works well in most pictures
  • The Skin Smoothing was used to smooth the skin — this had to do with JPEG artifacts, but is never a bad idea for pictures like this, when used lightly.
  • The Image Smoothing was used to smooth some areas of the dress — this is because multiple edits can cause blockiness or banding in areas of the picture due to separating JPEG compression blocks.
  • The Highlight Brush in the Dodge and Burn was used to bring out the subject’s face.
  • The Undo Brush was used in many places, after various aspects were edited (see the next section)

One of the best example of a small ‘tweak’ that pays off (for me, anyway) are the clothes hangers.  Well, I croppped the image, but let’s say I was going to keep the image as-is.   You’ve probably seen this in your own images — when I reduced the brightness, the color cast in the image became much more apparent — the clothes hangers turned a horrible reddish-blue.  Since they are small and white, it was subtle.  But, I used the masking to remove the color from just that area, and it really made a difference.

8. Shows how the Undo Brush means never having to be careful

As I mentioned, I am thinking about doing a video tutorial on this image, because it shows so many elements.  One of the biggest of those elements is the Undo Brush.

Not only that it was used and shows how useful (and, for this picture, needed) it is, but also how it was used, which really points out how editing can be made very easy. Let’s look at a couple examples.

1. Dodging and Burning with the Highlight Brush.

As mentioned, I used the Highlight Brush on the subject’s face (and arms) to bring out the skin tones.  They were starting to get flat, and a very brief set of brush strokes with the Highlight Brush is a great way to bring out highlights and depth simultaneously.  This may seem difficult, because you want to get the face — not the surrounding dress, because these areas are already close to white, and we don’t want to burn out those highlights — we’re looking to add highlights to areas that need them, not increase areas that already have them.

But, what I can do is use the brush with total carelessness with regard to everything but my main focus, the facial area.  I just need to go over her face and make sure I get what I want and not worry about anything else.

This is because I can then use the undo brush — which is a standard and automatic part of my editing process, not an just a tool among many in Sagelight — to go back to either undo the areas I don’t care to keep, or to start with the pre-Dodged-and-Burned image, and then just put back what I want.

2. The main part of the dress.

You may have seen this a lot, and I will be talking about this quite a bit soon myself — the dreaded idea of masking with the Lasso Tool.  Sagelight purposely doesn’t have a lasso tool, because it’s not needed, it’s boring to use, and it’s not really that accurate.  That is to say, for image enhancement — which is what Sagelight’s all about.

To that end, you can also use the manual (as opposed to automatic) masking tools in Sagelight.  You can draw a mask around the highlighted area of the dress, and then refine this mask, and get it to exactly outline the dress.  With Sagelight, you can then adjust all you want, and then re-edit the mask dynamically as you edit.  So, it’s a fairly painless process.

And it is useful for certain things.  But, to recover the highlights from the dress, it’s also completely overkill!

The reason is because of the Undo Brush.  All you have to do is to bring down the highlights while keeping an eye on the dress — get what you want there, and forget everything else.  Then, use the Undo Brush to go back to the previous edit and then brush back in what you want.

And here is the great thing about that — since you have total control over the brush, you can also not worry about how you brought down the highlights, because you can use the brush to undo more or less of the areas you want, depending on the pressure.  You can realize, for example, that you want less here and more there, and use less pressure here, and more pressure there.

When is the manual masking (i.e. when you draw the mask, as opposed to auto-selection) useful for things, then?

The manual masking comes in handy when you want to see the actual difference so you don’t have to visualize it.  For example, if you want to darken a sky area (and you decided not to use the auto masking), you can draw mask over the sky area, and then feather it. Then you can use all of the Quick Edit tools to see what is happening with the image, to get a direct result instead of performing the operation on the entire image without necessarily seeing how it will look as an end-result.  You can then use the undo brush to refine the result, as opposed to generating the result as described above.

It’s also very useful for areas when you’re not sure what you want, but just know it doesn’t look right.  In this picture, for example, it was used to adjust the color tone on the bride’s shoulder area where the veil overlaps — it was turning blue, but I couldn’t tell where to go with it by adjusting the entire image and then using the undo brush.  So, I used the manual masking to cover just that area, and then I could use the Quick Edit Tools to adjust the area to get it to blend with the surrounding areas.

Which is another good point — when you do use the manual masking, you don’t typically need to use the undo brush, or, as mentioned above, it can be used very effectively to adjust the result around the edges of the masked area.


As I mentioned, this picture is a great example of many elements of Sagelight coming together — elements that are not very complicated, but definitely have uses for various aspects of an image.

Most images only take about 5-to-10, or maybe 15 minutes to edit, yet another idea for an article.  This image, though, represents more of a cherished memory and, therefore, is more worthy of some concentrated effort, especially when it comes to using the Wire Worm plug-in and Cloning Brush to remove the background elements near the bride’s veil.

The end result is a nicely cropped, portrait-level image that also looks very candid, since the bride is looking down at a wedding gift.  The total editing time was about 30 minutes or so, and now its ready to be put into an album for all time.

image credit: Emily’s Mountain Wedding, provided by Joanna8555

2 thoughts on “Picture for February 22nd, 2011 (making difficult pictures look great)

  1. Rob, Great tips on how you enhanced the wedding photo; I look forward to the video! Thanks for pointing out the Wire Worm plugin. Once you get used to how it works, it actually does a very good job at removing “blemishes”. Also, you often talk about using the Undo Brush (as you did here) and I think I’m at last really seeing the power of using this tool, and not just applying global changes as I did when I first started using Sagelight.


    • Hi, Adrian.

      Thanks. I’ll have to start working on the video…

      Yes, the Wire Worm is great isn’t it? Like I said, I can’t take credit for it, and I think it works much better than cloning for those large items. I find it very fast for getting rid of wires and things like that, too. It’s adjustment to the local brightness and color is great.

      With the Undo Brush — yes, for sure. I am really trying to talk more and more about it, because I really think that when you start to do localized editing, that’s when you can really get some interesting (not to mention poweful) results. It’s basically the replacement for using layers and masks.

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