Shadows in flash pictures

Bring out what’s hiding in the shadows

Pictures taken indoors with on-camera-flash usually have dingy, dark backgrounds. There is little that can be done about the behavior of light. An object at twice the distance from the flash will get only a quarter as much light. That means it will be darker in the picture.

There is no need to live with that problem. Post-processing, just a little bit of adjustments, can substantially enhance such photos. That is what the Shadows slider in Photo Gallery can correct substantially. With some judicious use of the Hightlights slider, and maybe a bit of adjustments with the others, a flash photo can be made to look quite good.

Here are a couple of screen shots to illustrate what can be done with a flash picture.

Shadows-01

This is the oroginal photograph, just the way it came from the camera. It looks like what you expect from a flash picture, the objects close to the camera, the table and chairs here, are properly exposed, things farther away look progressively darker.

Next the picture with some enhancements.

shadows-06

The Shadows slider was moved all the way to the right to make darker areas of the photo lighter. Sometimes such a drastic adjustment may turn out to be way too much, but for this picture it worked well. The Highlights slider is moved a little to the left to make the lightes areas a bit darker. The Contrast slider was also moved to the right jut a little bit to increase contrast.  Note how much lighter the far wall is, it looks almost normal they way you would see it.

Other photo editors have similar tools. Sometimes they have different names. In Picasa the Fill Light slider brings the details out of the shadows. The Shadows slider makes intermediate toned areas darker. Careful use and a little trial and error will help you get the best pictures out of your flash photos.

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.:.

© 2016 Ludwig Keck

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A peek into the “café art” atelier

Atelier – a studio or workshop, esp. one used by an artist” – Artist? Oh, well, I will use the term anyway.

Here is an actual glimpse of my “atelier”, of course, LJK_5255-Pthe real workplace is inside that black box on the right, my computer. And my tools are a collection of software programs. In this article I will tell you a little about how I import, manage, and organize photos, a bit about “café art” post-processing and some of the tools, and lastly about presentation and sharing of the images.

But this article being about “café art”, I must show this view this way:

atelier-5254-starGY

Importing, managing and organizing photos

My AutoPlay is set to start the import process when the camera is connected and turned on. imageOver time I have collected a ton of programs that, either as their prime task, or as an added feature, provide photo management operations. The program I settled on for that task is Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Photo Gallery is what I use to do the importing. blog-120629-01In fact, this is my go-to program for most photo organizing and managing tasks.

The default setting for most programs is to use “My Pictures” as the location and that is what I use. The import routine creates a new folder with the date when the photos were created as the name. That is already a giant step to keeping photos organized.

Right after import, Photo Gallery opens. I rename all the photos in the new folder to replace the “DSC_” prefix, that my camera insists on providing, with my initials. This is a two-second operation, see How do I replace the DSC prefix on my photo file names?

imageThen I select all the photos in the new folder, right-click, and open Properties. I add some “boiler-plate” tags, and fill in the Authors and Copyright fields.

Most of the specific tagging I do in Photo Gallery, as well as assigning titles, “Caption” as PG calls them.

My photos are now organized. In Photo Gallery I can find them by folder location – or by the date they were taken. But most importantly, I can find photos by tags.

imageSome photographers keep a careful system of tags, but I don’t make a project out of it. Occasionally I discover that I have assigned similar tags like “Athens” and “Athens GA”. I have not visited Greece, so it was easy to select all “Athens” photos, assign the “Athens GA” tag to them and then delete the “Athens” tag.

Finding photos by date or tag is easy. It does not matter where on my computer the photos are, and indeed they will be in different locations. To keep the “My Pictures” folder from getting too messy, I periodically move older folders to an “archive” location on another drive. There the folders are in tear and quarter sub-folders.

That’s pretty much it for organizing and managing, but I must add one note: Other photo managing programs see the same file structure, hence in Picasa, for instance, the organization looks exactly the same.

Editing – post-processing – creating the “art”

Editing or post-processing is what you do to the photos after they are taken. Some cameras provide editing tools. The only one such camera tool I use regularly is “delete”. I prefer to do the editing in my computer when I can see the images on a large screen. A bit of touch-up can benefit just about every photo. This article will not go into enhancing photos by adjusting the exposure, doing some judicious cropping, retouching and other “tweaks” to bring out the best in pictures. This is about “café art”.

It stands to reason that I should define “café art”, so here goes:

Café art – playful, pictorial, or decorative work derived from or based on photographs. Such images do not imply deep philosophical meanings or make profound statements, they are meant to simply provide a fleeting moment of visual pleasure

Actually there is a bit more to café art: It provides a lot of fun in manipulating photos and creating totally new images. Photos that otherwise are suitable only for the “recycle bin” are often my best sources or “substrates”. On occasion I will take some pictures with the specific intent of manipulating them in a specific way. I did so for this article.

Most photo editing programs, as well as some unexpected applications, provide some “art effects”. Windows Live Photo Gallery is somewhat of an exception, imageit only offers some recoloring effects, unless you count some of the color or exposure adjustments.

imagePicasa provides a richer selection. I often use the “Pencil Sketch”, “HDR-ish” and “Neon” tools.

These Picasa tools are simple to use and provide a nice range of the effects.

A neat set of tools is provided in several of the Microsoft Office 2010 programs. imageI often use Word 2010 for its “Artistic Effects” in the “Picture Tools” ribbon. There are some delightful tools. These programs are not intended as photo editors and getting the pictures in and out is not as easy as with the photo apps, but some effects are just not available elsewhere.

image

Another tool I like is FastStone Image Viewer, it has a couple of nice effects that I use often, “Sketch” and “Oil Painting” and offers a rich selection of “Frame Masks”. You saw one of the masks at the beginning of this post.

There are many other art tools and I use several. Photo editors also include extensive manipulation tools. My long-time favorite is Corel PaintShop. This is a professional strength photo editor. Others are Adobe Photoshop and Gimp.

One of the effects that I love to use is what I call “plaster paint” and what PaintShop calls “Topography” (in “Artistic Effects”). In fact I specifically went out to get some photos to use for this article with this effect in mind. Here is one of them:

LJK_5393-C-P3-Cs

This is “Sunlight on Leaves 2012”. This gets me to my final section:

Presentation and Sharing of images

Photos, and especially “art”, is more satisfying when it is shared and presented to others for their pleasure. In this time of the Web, sharing is online. You are seeing these images on the Internet.

There are many photo sharing sites and many other places on the Web where pictures can be viewed. I use several, the menu at the top of this page takes you to most of them.

The sharing service I like the best is not even a good photo sharing site – although it was a couple of years ago: SkyDrive. Microsoft is trying to make SkyDrive the ubiquitous sharing tool for everything, everywhere, and everyone. For sharing photos it is not in the league of Flickr, Picasaweb, Shutterfly, and the many other sites specifically designed for sharing pictures. The reason is that it is much more private, it does not provide an  easy entry “front door”. It is more like a “private club” than a “public house”.

SkyDrive

Once you construct a “Grand Entrance” to your SkyDrive albums, you have a great way for sharing photos. I like to use blogs as the “front end”. You can see this at Gallery Ludwig, and specifically for “café art” at Silver Canvas.

SkyDrive is easy to use. Uploading to SkyDrive can be done right from Live Photo Gallery, directly in a browser, “skydrive.cm”, and most recently, with a SkyDrive desktop app.

Here are some quick demonstrations.

Uploading to SkyDrive from Photo Gallery

Since I use Live Photo Gallery for organizing and enhancing photos already, using it to upload to SkyDrive is just a click away. The process is simple enough: Select the photos you want to upload, click SkyDrive and the process is underway.

A dialog opens showing your SkyDrive albums along with an option to create a new album. One small downside: You cannot upload to sub-folders this way. But that is easily fixed by creating a temporary album, uploading, then moving the photos to the sub-folder where they should be.

atelier-CL-02

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Moving the photos is done at “skydrive.com”, that is, online using your browser. It is quick and easy as you can see in the two illustrations here.

One other note: By default the photos will be resized to 1600 pixels (max dimension). There are other options, 600 pixels and “Original”, whatever size the photos are.

Uploading to SkyDrive using the SkyDrive desktop app

atelier-CL-01The SkyDrive desktop app replicates your SkyDrive on your computer and automatically keeps the contents of SkyDrive in synch with the local folder. The local folder is just like any other folder and you manage it with Windows Explorer.

Using the desktop app is just a matter of dragging photos to the folder or sub-folder. The size and other properties of the files are not affected. Note of caution: Be careful that you copy the photos and not move them, unless that is where you wish to keep them.

Uploading to SkyDrive online

Almost as easy as the two methods discussed is uploading to SkyDrive when you are signed in using your browser. You navigate to the folder and click Add files.

SkyDrive-upload-12

A window opens with a message “Drop files here…” (see illustration, you must have Silverlight installed for this option). Just drag the photos over into this window.

imageThe upload process starts right away. Of course, there is a catch. At the bottom of the dialog is a checkbox and the text “Resize photos to 2048 px”. The checkbox is checked indicating that your photos are already being resized. image

If you want the photos to be uploaded in their original size, click the checkbox to uncheck it. There will be another dialog that says “Change photo size”. Click the Yes button. The upload will be restarted and your photos will be uploaded in their full size.

A little bonus

Uploading by way of the online SkyDrive features was illustrated above with a file named “Triptych-5388.jpg”. This is indeed a rather large file and cannot be easily viewed in SkyDrive.

 SkyDrive-upload-07

You can see in the illustration that the size is 12000 x 2800 pixels. Larger than your monitor, I bet.

Here is  “Leaves – triptych” presented in a neat Microsoft service called Zoom.It, just click the image.

Leaves

.:.

© 2012 Ludwig Keck

Perspective correction using Microsoft Image Composite Editor

A prior post here showed how to use Microsoft Image Composite Editor, “ICE”, to make perspective corrections to panoramas (Perspective correction for panoramas). How do you make a perspective correction in a single photo? ICE, after all, is a compositing, stitching program and will give an error message when you try to load just one photo.Perspective distortion

If you do not have access to a full-fledged photo editing program, you can still use the free Microsoft Image Composite Editor to do that job.

ICE requires a minimum of two photos to operate. For stitching photos together, it’s primary purpose, the images must overlap so it can find the matching areas and combine the photos into a large composite.

Can it handle photos that overlap completely? Yes, it can. So a photo plus a copy of that photo fulfill the requirement of two images. It just so happens that there is 100% overlap. ICE can handle that.

loading photos into ICE

So, starting in Live Photo Gallery, make a copy of the photo you wish to correct. Select both the original and the copy. On the Create tab click More tools, then click Create Image Composite.

(If you do not have ICE installed this will not work, of course. Download ICE from the Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor download page.)

Live Photo Gallery starts ICE and loads the selected photos.set camera motion

In ICE the two photos will be recognized as “Planar Motion 1” for camera motion in the Stitch box (lower left). Set this option to Rotating Motion, see the illustration here.

Once this option is set, the menu bar above the image will show a little cube. Click that cube. An additional control will be added, “Projection”. In this control you can select how the image is to be translated. It will already show “Perspective”. The other projection options, cylindrical and spherical, are not applicable to this use. We want to make a perspective correction.

set projection

When a photo is taken of a building, or other subject, with the camera titled up or down to get the whole object into the frame, the resulting photo will show strong converging lines. The building, see photo higher up in this article, looks like it is falling in on itself. We call it perspective distortion, but it is how the camera sees the world.

This is a natural consequence of how optics works. Things farther away look smaller, hence the result. This also happens in our eyes. But we humans have a powerful built-in computer – our brain. We know the flagpole stands up vertically and that the walls of the building are vertical. When we stand in front of the building we do not perceive the converging lines, although we see them exactly the same as the camera.

In a photo, however, these converging lines look all wrong. Hence the need for perspective correction. The Image Composite Editor makes this correction easy. Just drag the image up or down, even side to side.

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

As you drag the image, ICE “distorts” it to modify the perspective. Moving the image up stretches the top out. You can move it sideways and the image area will be stretched appropriately. You can see this in real time so this process is very easy.

When you are happy with the result, click Apply.  You can then select the output file format and other parameters in the Export block. The Export to disk button initiates the file save procedure.

One bit of caution: You can make the perspective correction “perfect” so that all vertical lines will be truly vertical. When you look at that picture, however, it may not look perfect at all. It may, in fact, appear that the building is now out of proportion and “growing” outward at the top. Here are a couple of images of the building shown at the top. One is completely corrected, the other still has some converging lines. You will likely agree with me that a bit of under correction produces the better result.

Full perspective correction some perspective under-correction

Click on the photos for larger views.

.:.

© 2012 Ludwig Keck

Perspective correction for panoramas

Sometimes you want more in a photo than the widest zoom setting can provide and there is no way to back up to get more of the scene into the frame. Taking several overlapping shots and combining them as a panorama is an often used answer to that problem. But this procedure introduces problems of its own. Let me illustrate: I have three photos of the front of a restaurant and I want to combine them into a single picture.

Café Café Café

The photos were taken from the same spot – that is important. I hand-held the camera and the pictures don’t match very well. Yes, even the exposures don’t seem to match – that, dear reader, is to illustrate the power of Live Photo Gallery and more, but let us not get ahead of the story.

Live Photo Gallery offers a panorama tool on the Create tab. This quickly produces a well-stitched combined picture. It even matches the exposures properly.

LJK_5353-5-Stitch

Alas, the result looks way to much like a “fish-eye” picture. The curved roof line and sidewalk just don’t seem natural and right.image

Microsoft Image Composite Editor, “ICE”, to the rescue.

If you do not have ICE installed, you can obtain ICE from the Microsoft Image Composite Editor download site.

With ICE installed, it will show up in Live Photo Gallery, in the Create tab under More tools.

Select the thumbnails of the images to be combined and click Create > More tools > Create Image Composite. ICE will open and show a composite pretty much as you would get in Photo Gallery.

Click the little cube in the menu bar. An additional control will come up “Projections”. Click that and click Perspective in the drop-down menu. The illustration here shows that.

ICE-02

You can adjust the image by dragging it up and down or right and left. For buildings the primary objective should be to get vertical features to be vertical and not sloped in or out. I usually like a little bit of under-correction – it seems more real to me.

You will not be able to make a complete correction of all features, but the image will be much improved.

Click Apply. After the image is updated you can drag the crop lines to fit the picture.

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In the “Export” area you can select the image file type. For most uses that is “JPEG Image”. You can adjust the JPG image quality (default is 80%). There is a “Scale” box that permits scaling the image down. The the final image size is also shown in that area.

The last step is to click Export to disk (lower right) and to step through the file location selection.

LJK_5353-5-ICE-stitch-1024

There you are, a nicely stitched picture, even the uneven exposures were automatically corrected. Is this not a much more satisfying picture?

.:.

© 2012 Ludwig Keck

Using SkyDrive as your Photo Gallery

Windows Live SkyDrive offers a lot of storage for photos and documents. Recent improvements make organizing albums and folders much easier. SkyDrive is not designed to be a photo sharing service, but with some care you can present your gallery in a pleasant manner and make it fun to visit.

Here are some tips for making your gallery a nicer experience for your visitors.

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Organizing your Gallery

imageYou can have folders with sub-folders in SkyDrive, so one album page can lead to others. Recent changes now allow “root location” folders to be moved to any other folder or sub-folder. This makes organizing and re-organizing your gallery quite easy.

Right-click on a folder tile to get a drop-down menu with various options. One available choice is Move to. This allows you to move the folder to any other folder.

imageThe order of sub-folders in a folder is not under user control, however the photos inside an album can be rearranged.

imageIn the right pane, click Arrange photos to go to the “Arrange photos” page. If you have Silverlight installed, this is just a drag-and-drop procedure.

The alternate procedure is just a little more time-consuming. Each thumbnail is shown with a text box below showing a number that indicates the current order. Just replace that number with the new location order.

imageWhen a thumbnail in an album is clicked, it will be shown large. imageThe information pane on the right can be turned off with a click on the “Collapse” chevron.

The right pane also offers a “Play slide show” option. All this can make your album and entire gallery a nice experience for visitors.

image

 

Uploading photos

There are two easy ways of uploading photos to your SkyDrive albums. You can open the “Add files” dialog from folder view. imageAgain there is a drag-and-drop option. Just drag photos from your computer to the “Add files” panel. imageThey will start uploading as soon as you release the mouse button.

Here too, there is a manual method that opens a standard “Open” dialog where you can navigate through your libraries and folders and select the photos to upload.

The second way of uploading is directly from Live Photo Gallery. There is a serious limitation in this method. You can upload photos only to albums in the root of your SkyDrive. You cannot upload to subfolders.

The procedure is simple. imageSelect the photos and click the SkyDrive icon in the Share group on the Home ribbon. Photo Gallery opens a dialog that connects to your SkyDrive. You have to sign in if you are not signed in to Photo Gallery.image

The upload dialog shows your albums so you can select the one to upload to. You may even see other albums that you are permitted to upload to.

You can also create a new album right in this dialog.

Another option is to specify the size of your photos. If they are larger than this specified size, the photos will be scaled down to this size. The default is 1600 pixels on the larger dimension. For most uses this is just fine. You can select “Original” in this dialog to upload photos in their full size. There are uses for that, but that is the scope of this article.

 

Providing a path to your gallery

Now, unfortunately, comes the part that is a “downer”. There is no short, easy to remember, web address for SkyDrive albums. One way to inform your friends of the album and provide them with a link is with an email. This can be done right from the SkyDrive album.  imageClick “Share folder” under the Share group in the information panel on the right.

As you can see in the illustration, there are a number of options. Besides sharing with an email you can post to Facebook and other social networks and to get links that you can distribute separately.

For the email option just enter the recipients’ email addresses. You can include a message in the email. Note that the “Recipient can edit” check box is already checked. Normally you want to uncheck that. imageYou can also require that the recipients sign in to their Windows Live account to view your album. Not something you want to require when just casually sharing photos.

The recipients get a pretty email that looks like the illustration here (the recipients address has been removed). The email contains a “View photos” link that takes the visitor right to the album in folder view with the pretty tiles of the photos. In fact, clicking on any thumbnail in the email opens the browser right to that photo in large view.

imageYou can copy the URL of the photos or the folder. These are very long and ugly, as you can see in the illustration. You definitely would not want to type out such a link. Better to stick to the pretty email. If the album is public, that is shared with Everyone, the email can even be forwarded to others.

My suggestion is this: Set up one folder as your “gallery”, organize you photos in subfolders. Share your gallery with “Everyone” if you want public access. Private albums should go into a separate folder or folders with more restrictive sharing. Note: You can share individual photos. However the visitor will have access to other publicly shared photos and albums.

If you want a public gateway to your gallery consider setting up a blog. Here in this blog post you can see how links to your gallery could be set up:

Using Live Writer as your blogging tool offers a number of ways to show album links. Above is just one example.

.:.

© 2011 Ludwig Keck