Tiny Dancers

By Roger (19 June 2014)

Whenever possible, I'm a firm believer in taking charge of your photo-shoot and working out a plan for getting the best results. When you're out in the real world, however, that is not always possible. You may find yourself in a bad location, with questionable lighting, and very little knowledge of exactly what's going on. I had a perfect example of that, last weekend, as I attended a dance recital starring my granddaughters. (Well, for 4-5 minutes of the three-hour ordeal, they were my stars.)

I had never been to the auditorium, and I wasn't allowed to walk around or move up to the front during their performance. The lighting, as in all such shows, was constantly changing, and flash was forbidden. I was pinned in the middle of the audience. The auditorium was packed, so seat hopping wasn't an option. I had no choice but to work with the situation as it was. The results show some of these problems.

Down in front! 

Down in front! 

These are family snapshots, not a paying gig, but, to me, that means they are even more important. You don't want to dismiss your family snapshot work or use them as an excuse to put in minimal effort.

There were several steps to working through the challenges of this shoot. Your situation probably won't be the same as mine, so your mileage may vary. Part of a photographer's job is to find the right compromises to get the photos.

I usually set my color balance to a constant setting, but, in this case, I went to an auto setting. I knew the lights were going to give me some funky colors, and I figured the camera's computer had a better chance of keeping up than I could. My hands were full trying to keep the dancing princesses in my frame and focused. When I got to post-processing, the color balance only required some minor tweaks.

I sat up as tall in my seat as possible. The grandparents behind me would only let me go so far. This kept the dark silhouettes of heads to a minimum. I knew I was going to have to go into Photoshop, but I wanted to reduce the amount of work as much as possible.

Put the camera into aperture priority. Most of the time, I'm in manual mode because I like to fine tune the exposure solution and then forget it. But, again, the constantly-changing lighting was going to ruin that plan. I moved the setting to a wide-open aperture to allow in the maximum light. Because I wasn't very close to the stage, my depth of field was sufficient.

When your little hoofers come onto the stage for their number, shoot lots of photos. They, each, had about 3-4 minutes for their number, and I clicked throughout their performance. I had photographed a couple of prior numbers to validate my exposure solution. I made sure my ISO was high enough to give me a workable shutter speed.

The camera settings and practice during non-family-member routines made the post-processing much easier. The auto white balance worked well. My subjects were in focus. I took photos at a point in their routines when they were not so close to the other dancers. This kept my clone stamping to a minimum. Here is a sample.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

In the end, everyone had a good time, and we got some nice photographs of the girls. Thinking through the problem gave me the best possible solution. All of this was basic stuff, both in camera and in Photoshop. It was a fun exercise.

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?

Restore Your Memories

By Roger (24 April 2014)

Be warned – I'm still meandering down memory lane this week, but I'm doing it with old photographs.

In the past, when I receive old photographs from friends and family, I'd scan them, into TIFs, at the highest resolution possible. I like to get them into my family database, so they don't get destroyed or thrown out by folks who don't put any value on them. Once they are digitized, they can be repaired and shared.

Lately, I've switched to my macro lens to make the copies. You can set up a tripod for a steady hold and the best sharpness. Make sure you use soft, gentle lighting, avoiding reflections on the surface of the photo.

Almost always, these old photos will be scratched, discolored, and faded.

Thomas T.jpg

In less than a minute, with Lightroon, you can get rid of the yellowing of this old black and white. This photo was kept in an album, so most of the damage is just age. I just converted it to black and white; adjusted the blacks; and added some contrast.

Thomas S. Atkins

Thomas S. Atkins

This wasn't the final result – I went into Photoshop to clean up the background and make some very minor fixes.

This is Thomas S. Atkins. He fought with the Confederacy during the Civil War, with the 14th Virginia Regiment. He survived many battles, and, at Gettysburg, he was in Armistead's Brigade during Pickett's charge. He was wounded at Drewry's Bluff, on May 16, 1864, but survived the war. His photograph is now in our family genealogy and preserved for any of his descendants who wish a copy. One of his descendants is my wife.

Scratches and tears are usually the major problem in repairing old black and whites. To fix those, you are going to need something that can bend pixels. Keep the original digitized file, so, as technology and your skills improve, you can make a copy and revisit them and make them even better.

This next photo is really not that bad. (I've had some that I had to replace limbs, amputated by tears in the photo.) In the close-up, you can see multiple scratches and spots.

Scratches and spots

Scratches and spots

My workflow is pretty standard: make the copy (I now prefer a macro lens over the scanner); catalog in Lightroom; and move, directly, into Photoshop with a copy of the file, always leaving an original. Have I repeated that enough?

On a separate layers, I use the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush to fix the spots. I'll merge that down and create a new layer for the scratches. If I need to replace major items, I'll do that on another layer. For those who espouse completely non-destructive editing, you can perform each step and create a flattened layer without deleting the layers beneath it; the shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+Altjust+E (Shift+Command+Option+E on a Mac). You'll have lots of layers and big file sizes. I don't foresee myself needing to go back and change those layers, so I merge them down.

After I've repaired the file, I'll add contrast and sharpening.

Here's the final repair.


Many times, some one else does the capture and kindly sends them your way. Today, these usually come as JPGs. In past blogs, we've discussed some of the problems with heavy manipulation of JPGs, so I won't go over them again. As I said back then, I'll take whatever files I can get, since I would not have them otherwise.

Since these scans tend to be more recent, you get the added challenge of faded colors to join the scratches and tears.

I just received a goldmine of old photos (almost 250) that are dear to my heart. Thanks, Jim and Brian. They are snapshots, taken with inexpensive cameras and scanned into JPGs, so they aren't in great shape, but they hold lots of meaning for me. These are from my past, 1977, when I worked at Camp Chanco for Charlie Hughes. Charlie was a kind soul who took a chance on me and backed me while I was the camp medic. He recently passed away and will be dearly missed by his family and thousands of campers and staff members.

There are many ways to restore vibrancy to faded photos. I'll explain a Lightroom method here and save the Photoshop method for another blog down the line.

So, here I am, all faded, standing at the keyboards, as we played in our fake band, Alderaan. (The first Star Wars movie was just out.)

The lighting wasn't great and the background's a mess with sound equipment, but Jim got the shot. You can tell from the shadows and the slant of light from the flash bulb, he was at the bottom left of the photo.

I cropped the photo to remove the round edges. I set a black and white point to even out the photo and brought the shadows up a little. Then, I added some contrast to and a touch of vibrancy for the color pop. To even out the flash, I put in a negative exposure gradient from the bottom left to about midway through the keyboards. I used the brush to darken the keyboards. Finally, I sharpened the photo, but masked heavily to try to keep down the digital noise. Your photos will be different, so my exact setting on the Lightroom sliders won't help you; adjust them to your taste.

The small JPG is suffering from all the adjustments. The colors are looking a little muddy. Lightroom isn't the best for lots of corrections, but for a five minute job, it looks ok. I'll see if I can get it better.

The last one is done in Photoshop. It is my favorite from the files I received. I remember this meal very clearly. My wife and I met while we were staff members at the camp. (Thanks, again, Charlie.)

My favorite photo from Camp Chanco.

My favorite photo from Camp Chanco.

Using LAB and layers in Photoshop, I can get the colors more natural looking, and the file holds up much better (I converted it to TIF).

I'm trying to adjust to a method I got, at Photoshop World from Vincent Versace, who credits much of it to Dan Margulis. (I'm not dropping names – I just don't want anyone to think I'm claiming I discovered this.) I need to work on it a little more, but, this blog has got to get up before the sun rises, so it's time to quit.

Please, don't let your old photos go to the dumpster; get out there and copy and repair them. It will bring back fun memories.

I've Been Away

By Roger (17 April 2014)

You ever notice how, sometimes, we get ourselves into a funk? The timing of said funk is always awful. Bad things pile onto you all at the same time. You don't notice the good news because you're stewing over the bad. It's a low down place to be. Yeah, that's been me for the last couple of weeks.

For 10 days, I was on the road with back-to-back-to-back-to-back trips, with no more than six hours between them: Florida; Virginia; Georgia; Virginia; South Carolina; Virginia. That might have worn me down a bit, but that wasn't the problem.

Just before and during that travel, I experienced several things that ranged from a death in our family of friends and a serious illness, all the way down to camera problems and quite a few things in between. I don't have much patience when things I can't control/fix go wrong. I get downright cranky when all these things happen simultaneously. I was chugging along on inertia, mostly.

Inertia was giving way, when a photography friend scolded me with the obvious – “Everybody goes through hard times.” Thanks. You are absolutely right! The sun began poking through the clouds (in the center of the photo because, if it had been a perfect composition, you would have never believed I took it).

Thanks for the emails and tolerating me when I don't post every week. It worked wonders. I promise the next blog will be about photography fun.

Rest in peace, Charlie. You were quite a man; a positive force in thousands of lives. Long ago, you introduced two of them to each other, and we just celebrated 35 years of marriage.

Fixing A Snapshot

We are big proponents of getting things correct in your camera. You should be aware of the limitations and capabilities of your equipment and use those to make the best image possible. However, every now and then, a simple fix in Photoshop can really make a difference in a snapshot.