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Quick fix for washed out landscape photos

 
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Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/10/2012 6:53:42 PM   
gjslaw


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There has been some discussion in another thread about fixing washed out landscape photos. It's really not that difficult with pretty much any photo editing software, so I thought I'd give a few pointers for Dennis and anyone else who might be interested. I'm going to take the liberty of using Ron's original photo in the other thread.


This photo is overexposed or washed out, and there is a lack of contrast between the highlights and the shadows. Also, as Ron has noted, the image was taken through a green polarizing filter which has given the image a fairly strong green color cast.

Here is a histogram of the image which I have taken from the Levels tool dialog in PSE 10. Most image editing software will have a Levels tool. (In Photoshop/PSE the keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+L). This histogram shows a distribution of the tones of the image from black (on the left) to white (on the right), with shades of grey in between. A normal well-exposed photo will have values across the spectrum. As we can see from this histogram, there are no values on either end, meaning that there are no apparent whites (even from the stripe in the road) and no black shadows (from the hills or the posts in the road). This means the image has low contrast and is what we would generally called washed out.



There are many tools and techniques to fix this image which requires both a tonal and a color correction. Both problems can be fixed with Levels. Essentially, what we will be doing is editing the image so that the objects we know are white appear to be white, and the darkest apparent shadows are black. In the next image of the Levels dialog, you will see three eye-dropper icons. If you look closely, they are filled with black, grey and white. What I did here was click on the white eyedropper to choose and set "the white point" of the image and then click on the white stripe in the road. This tells the program that the pixel I have chosen in the image is supposed to be white. I did the same thing with the black eyedropper tool and selected a dark post on the road barrier for my black point.



After completing the task, see how the image and histogram have changed:



The histogram now covers more of the spectrum, the image has more contrast and is more vibrant, and the green color cast has been removed - all with a couple of clicks.

Now, in the other thread, Ron has told us that he used a LAB color technique to fix the photo. I don't know too much about LAB color space, but I don't see how it can be an easy fix, since (a) it requires a change in the color space that is being used to edit the image (a subject that fill volumes of color management books), and (b) it is a color space that is used more by professionals. Also, whatever technique was used did not correct the color cast in the image, and to my eye did not really do a great job with the image tones. Here is a split screen before and after image of Ron's image and the simple correction that I performed.



Now, there is much more that could be done to this image, and I'm sure Doc could really pump it up using color curves, but this provides a really quick fix and makes a fairly significant difference to a washed out picture.



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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/10/2012 7:11:34 PM   
Roadside Ron

 

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The only reason I don't use that method on most of my photos is that it creates a very harsh look. It tends to over saturate the contrast and colors. I remove the green color cast with curves. I first punch up the contrast with a curve adjustment then bring down the green in the RBG space. LAB can adjust colors, contrast and sharpness without affecting the original. Using LAB you can sharpen and enhance contrast much better than the auto setting can. It takes a little more time but it produces much better results. Using the color picker on a white area works, but I find I have to then pull down the mid tones in levels adjustment to compensate. I did redo that photo because I wasn't happy with the result you saw. I use LAB in GIMP and the problem with that is you can't see real time adjustments until you recompose the color space. In Photoshop you can see real time minor adjustments, so Photoshop is better with LAB work. I'll put up a few more examples. It was hard for me to learn how to use LAB but now I can get it up and running on any photo in a couple of seconds.

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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/10/2012 8:59:31 PM   
justaviking


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Wow, great discussion, guys.

I'll have to pass along a couple these tips to my wife who enjoys playing with pictures. She does very basic stuff - mostly cropping and some modest playing with colors (usually changing them to black and white). Her source material usually comes from her cell phone (somewhere around 1.5 MP ??? - it's an older cell phone, not a new smart phone) and her target destination is usually her profile pics on Facebook.

Even if a person is not doing professional work, or even serious amateur work, it's nice to be able to improve or artistically manipulate your pictures.

Thanks again for the the show-and-tell.

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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/11/2012 4:06:37 AM   
RogRead


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Thanks for the tutorial, Greg. Now I understand a bit more about about the Levels histogram.

Following Ron's last post on the other thread, I downloaded Gimp to try the LAB technique, but was daunted by the task, especially as you can't see what differences you have made in real time. Having only PSE, I will try your technique on some of my washed out photos.

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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/12/2012 7:39:40 PM   
Roadside Ron

 

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I did this with just curves and levels. It looks good and I think I'm expecting too much from a 5 megapixed photo.




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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/14/2012 9:36:35 PM   
gjslaw


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Not worth talkin' about around here.
Ron, a 5 MP image has plenty of pixels to make adjustments. I "cheated" here by using a simple plug-in that I have. As we say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and you may think this is oversaturated but you can always drop that down.




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Greg
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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/15/2012 12:04:29 AM   
Roadside Ron

 

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Greg,

Do you see that pink cast on the light colored rocks just under the dark red rocks? That's not supposed to be that pink. When I use Auto adjustments that's what I get too. If I manually adjust with curves it looks more true to nature than auto.

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RE: Quick fix for washed out landscape photos - 6/16/2012 9:35:36 PM   
justaviking


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Looking at the two side-by-side (or "one above the other" in the forum), I'd have to say Ron's looks more natural and the way I remember them being from driving through that area. But Greg's has more of that vibrant "pop!" that catches your attention. It depends on what your intention is, and as Greg correctly reminded us, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Frankly, I like both very much, just in different ways and for different reasons..

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