There may be more detail in your photos than you think

Sometimes you may be happy with a photo – perhaps a flash photo of friends, or a photo of a bird against the sky, like here. Flash pictures often show the people in the front row just fine, but the ones in back are dark and hard to even recognize. hawk-E1Photos of back-lit subjects might make nice silhouettes but are a little too dark to show all the detail.

Cameras do a marvelous job of taking the work out of photography, but you can improve the photos more often than not after they come out of the camera.

Here is a photo of a hawk. The sun was high in the sky and what we see is the shaded side. Not a bad photo you might say – considering the luck in getting it.

You can see the red tail feathers and nice detail in the wings. The camera did a pretty good job.

The dark areas, almost black in this shot,  may contain more detail than is apparent when the photo is seen on a monitor or even printed as is.

Windows Live Photo Gallery makes it easy to improve your photos. Clicking Auto adjust lightened the dark areas a bit – it was a good improvement. hawk-E2

The manual adjustments can make it even better.

Photo Gallery, in the Adjust exposure panel, has four sliders and also two histogram controls.

Brightness affects the whole photo and makes it either lighter or darker. The Contrast control can make the dark areas lighter and the light areas darker or vice versa.

The Shadows control only affects the darker areas, it can lighten them or make them even darker.

The Highlights control works similarly but affects the lighter areas.

For this photo I set the Shadows slider almost fully to the right to lighten the dark, the shadow, areas.

The histogram shows the distribution of the pixels from full black on the left to full white on the right. The vertical scale shows the relative number of pixels of that shade. Note that in this photo of a hawk against a blue sky there are two humps or curves. The low, spread out curve on the left shows the pixels of the hawk, the big spike is the blue sky.

There are two sliders below the histogram. The left one lets you set the black level. Slide it to the right and every pixel that is to the left of the indicator will be set to black. The right slider lets you set the white level. Every pixel on the histogram that is to the right of the indicator will be set to full white. The nice thing is that once these settings are applied, the pixels between the slider settings will be spread out over the full range from black to white.

For this photo I moved the white level slider a ways to the left. There were no pixels there, so I did not turn any areas into chalk white. The effect was to spread the pixels out, lightening the photo and the sky.

There is no best setting for any of these controls, just play with them until you are happy with the results. I click Revert to original quite often to permit me to start all over.

Enhancing your photos is fun to do. It is even nice when your friends say that you take good photos.


© 2011 Ludwig Keck