Monday, January 12, 2009

Recapturing lost details in a photo via layers in Photoshop

I love old barns. It was a photographic treat to have one at my disposal at a local forest preserve.

The two photos above show what a little effort in Photoshop Elements can do for your pictures. The bottom photo is what came out of my camera. The contrast between the stone wall, red barn and white snow resulted in a pretty good picture. But are we satisfied with pretty good when we can have fabulous? No!

For one thing, the details in the foreground snow are lost. To get them back, I copied the photo and pasted it as a layer over the original. I then inverted the layer (Select All/Filter/Adjustments/Invert), which created a negative image. Then I selected Soft Light in the Layers dialog box. Hello, snowy details! I played with the Opacity setting slider until I was satisfied with the look - I wound up at just above 50% opacity.

While that action rescued the snow, it played havoc with the barn and stone wall, so I selected the barn and stone wall with the Polygonal Lasso Tool, added an 8-pixel feather and deleted them from the layer, exposing the barn and fence from the background layer below. I then flattened the image, cranked up the color saturation about 15% and applied an Unsharp Mask at 200%, 1.0 Pixel and 0 Threshold.

I then added a faint vignette - I used the Elliptical Marquee Tool to select nearly the entire photo. Feathered the selection at 240 pixels, then inverted the selection. Went to Enhance/Adjust Lighting/Levels and slid the right Output Level slider to 220, which darkened the edges of the photo slightly. I then added some soft blur (Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur at 8.0 pixels).

The inverted layer/Soft Light combo is a great way to recapture details that might have gotten lost in the shadows and highlights of your pictures.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

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