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.

shadows-05

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© 2016 Ludwig Keck

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Lost your friends to the shadows?

So often I see photos that show people almost totally lost in shadows. Maybe a group standing in front of the Eiffel Tower – beautiful detail in the landscape, but the faces of the people are totally unrecognizable because of the shadows falling across their faces. LJK11511-P7

Especially in photos taken with on-camera flash, the folks in front are way overexposed and the ones in the back row lost in the dark. It need not be so, there is help my friends! Some times all it takes is to let Auto Correct in Photo Gallery or a small move of the Shadows slider over toward the right to set matters right. In PicasaI’m feeling lucky” may do the trick or the Fill Light slider.

The dark areas of our photos hide a lot of detail that is often totally unrecognizable. Those details can be brought out. It may not result in award-winning photos, but it may make all the difference at a family gathering.

The photo above won’t let you bring out any detail in the figure, so don’t bother to try. It is a “doctored” photo, I made the figure, actually a flat sculpture, totally black.

I did make some experiments to see just how much information can be extracted from a painfully underexposed photo. I used a white cloth with a near-white plate and a white egg on that. The lighting was very soft, diffused window light so there would be hardly any shadows. My camera decided that the exposure at f/11 should be 1/15 of a second. Now we all know that cameras can’t tell an all white subject from a normal scene. You have seen photos of those white dogs romping in snow – they are just a dingy gray all over. So I over-exposed by 2 1/3 stops – used a shutter speed of 1/3 second. Here is my photo as seen in Photo Gallery.

CL140306-01

Note the histogram chart on the right. It shows the relative number of pixels of each shade, from totally black on the left to totally white on the right. There are just a few pixels that are below the halfway mark on the chart. The most pixels are bunched up near the right, the white, end. The cloth is not completely white and you can make out some texture in it. But looking at the photo you would conclude that indeed I had used a white cloth, a white plate, and a white egg, and the photo fairly represents my subject.

The next photo here shows the same scene but photographed at 1/250 second – four stops under the camera selected exposure, 6 1/3 stops below the photo above.

CL140306-02

Hopeless, wouldn’t you say? Take a look at the histogram. All the pixels are bunched up tightly on the black end. But note that they are just a tiny bit above the left end. There must be some data there.

Photo Gallery offers a number of sliders in the Adjust exposure panel. Those little doohickeys under the histogram are sliders too. They can be used to tell Photo Gallery to spread out the data. By sliding down the one on the white end you can tell Photo Gallery which pixel value to amplify up all the way to the white end, the rest will be proportionally lightened too. Lets see what happens when the “white” histogram slider is moved way left to just above where there is pixel data.

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Look at the picture. Amazing, isn’t it? Not quite as white as it should be. So let’s use the Brightness slider to finish the job.

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Well, what do you think? Yes, it is astonishing how much useful picture information can hide in shadows. I hope I have convinced you that you should take another look at your “uselessly underexposed” photos. As I said, maybe not gallery quality, but certainly very much worth doing.

For a bit more background on the histogram, see my post in Photography Notes & Tips Use the histogram to improve your photos.

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© 2014 Ludwig Keck

Enhancing photos with Picasa effects tools

Rarely is a photo coming out of the camera so good that it cannot be improved. Photo managing and editing programs provide a variety of tools for helping to get the best image out of every photo.

Two effects in Picasa have become mainstays in my “quiver” of tools that I reach for when my initial edits don’t quite reach the “sparkle” I wanted. The effects are “HDR-ish” and “Boost”.

Picasa 3 - Effects

The “Boost” effect increases the contrast of the photo and the saturation of the colors. The “HDR-ish” effect makes dark features lighter and light areas darker and boosts the edges by making the lighter side even lighter and the darker side darker. Both effects are easily overdone. Here is an illustration of Boost:

Picasa 3 Boost effect

The modified image is on the left, the original on the right. Note how the colors appear brighter. This can help a lot of photos. The “Strength” slider sets the amount of "Boost”. Going too far will make the picture look unnatural and gaudy, so use it with great care.

The “HDR-ish” effect is even more easily misused. The “HDR” part of the effect’s name refers to “high dynamic range”, a technique that normally requires several exposures of a scene which are then combined with the dynamic range, the darkest parts to the brightest areas, toned done so the highlights still show detail and the shadows are lightened to show what’s in them. The technique is often overdone with the result that the picture looks more like a drawing than a photo. The Picasa “HDR-ish” effect emulates that garish look.

Picasas 3 HDR-ish effect - landscape

Here is the same photo with the “HDR-ish” effect applied rather heavily. Note how the lighter clouds are surrounded with a dark edge and how the green trees now have a white halo around them. Clearly for this photo that is too much – unless you want such an effect for some special reason. The “Radius” slider defines how wide the halo effect is and the “Strength” slider controls just that, the strength of the effect.

With the “Radius” slider almost all the way to the left, just off the peg so to speak, the halos will be very narrow and almost invisible. However, the effect will sharpen the photo noticeably as you can see in the next illustration.

Picasas 3 HDR-ish effect - hover fly

In the above illustration the “Strength” slider is on the high end and this will cause uniform areas to show “noise”, a grainy appearance like sand on a beach. For best results the strength needs to be applied carefully, rarely more than half-way up.

Below are photos that were made sharper and brighter with these two effects. You can see that this technique might be something that you can also use to bring out the best in some of your photos.

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© 2013 Ludwig Keck

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Dramatic B&W Photos

Create dramatic dark skies with simple tools

In black and white photography it is all about the light, shapes and lines. Such images offer a totally different appeal from their color photo counterparts. Dramatic dark skies are a hallmark tool for stunning images. Here are some tips for getting the most from your color originals using simple tools.

Let me start with a demonstration.

Men of Steel

This delightful sculpture showing workers taking a break on a steel beam gleams in this photo. The dark sky and deep shadows bring life to this image.

It was derived from a rather ordinary color photo. The normal process is to use a color-filter conversion when making it into a B&W image. Pretty much all the photo editors provide such tools.

In PaintShop Pro you can pick the exact filter color from a color wheel as illustrated below. PaintShop Pro - Black & White Film tool

Similarly, Picasa has a “Filtered B&W” effect and the filter color is picked from a palette. Picasa - Filtered B&W

 

Windows Photo Gallery offers a selection of B&W effects with several filter colors. Windows Photo Gallery - Effects

With all of these tools the reddest filter does not provide that dramatically dark, almost black, sky for a normal blue sky in a photo. There is an added trick to achieve the deep dark sky: Adjust the color saturation to a very high level. The image below shows the results. The outside (left and right) portions show the normal photo with the normal result through a red filter.

The inside pair shows a deeply saturated sky and the the resulting dark black and white image.

Lunch break

One note of caution: The resulting black and white image will show a good deal of mottling in the formerly blue areas. A uniform sky will make this even more noticeable. So make the conversion in the largest image that you have. Make any size reductions afterwards to maintain a clean sky.

This post was also published at Photography Notes and Tips.

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© 2013 Ludwig Keck

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