Photoshop Elements and dark photos

Have you ever taken a photo that was a little too dark? I have – a lot more often than I care to recall. Sometimes it’s not a big deal, but other times it really bothers me that there wasn’t enough light on the subject to capture the scene as I recall it. This is pretty common at dusk, when our eyes can still process a scene with sufficient light to make it look nice but there’s not enough light to get to the camera sensor to capture the scene as we see it. That was the case with this set of photos. Now I’m not a PhotoShop Elements (PE) expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I did a fairly good job of saving what would have been a throw away photo. I’ll tell you what I did …

First, this is the before photo …

Before

And this is the after …

After

Fortunately for me, this image was shot in RAW format so I could do more with it than if it had been shot as a JPEG. First thing I did when I opened it up was to lighten it a bit by setting my Fill Light to 13 and dialing back the blacks to 3 (standard setting for this is 5). Next, I increased my exposure to +0.15. I turned up brightness to +75 and contrast to +25. It was around this time that I noticed that the shot wasn’t as clear as I would like it to be, so I increased clarity to +37 and vibrance up to +4. Once all that was done, I opened the image in PE’s full editor.

Now I only needed to do some tweaking, since the majority of my work to brighten the image was done. I sharpened the image slightly to bring some crispness to it that it lacked due to being shot in such low light. Then I added an adjustment layer for brightness/contrast so I could bring a little detail into the trees behind the deer. If I hadn’t done that, the trees would have remained a black blob while the rest of the picture took on more definition – not a good look, and something I think a lot of people miss – or over do. I did bring just enough brightness into that area to give some definition, but I kept in mind that the trees were a good bit back, so too much definition would have been overkill. My next order of business was to tone down the sky somewhat. When I brightened the image at the beginning, it took the sky from almost black to very bright. Obviously that didn’t fit with a dusk setting, which I think the rest of the photo has, so I added another adjustment layer for the sky to dial back the brightness on it. That gave the sky a rosy color – which, as I recall more than two years later, is just about the color that the sunset painted the sky that night. My final action was to add one more layer – a filter layer.

Now, if you haven’t played around with filter layers in PE, this is an awesome tool. I was blown away by how much one can accomplish with this little layer. Once you add the layer to your photo, you can choose from one of several preset filters – warming filters, cooling filters, sepia, and various colors. You can even create your own color filter! The color filters work much as I expected them to – they bring out tones in the photo based upon how they interact with colors in the picture. For example, I could have used a yellow filter and brought out the green grass to a deep emerald. The red filter brought out more of the browns … and so on. If you haven’t already, play around with it. This is one of those artistic creative things that can make or break your photo, however, so be sure to use it in moderation. I chose to add a slight warming filter to this photo, because there was quite a bit of coolness due to the brightening of the overall photo. I felt that the warming filter brought the subject – the deer – more in line with the rest of the warm tones of the photo.

And there you have it. I took a photo that was so dark you could barely make out the subject to something that showcases the deer. Could it be better? Probably, but to be honest, I didn’t want to overwork it to the point where someone looks at the photo and is more interested in the processing than the actual subject.

More attempts to save photos

One of my biggest disappointments photographically speaking are my wedding pictures. Obviously I didn’t do them, and I don’t blame the photographer, but something went terribly wrong when they were taken and a great many were unusable. They look horribly overexposed, but I think the real culprit may have been equipment failure. At any rate, last night I played with a few of them to see if I could save them. Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time working on any one shot – I was more interested in whether or not I could do anything to save them than I was in actually coming up with works of art.

The original

Original

The revision

Revision

Original

Original

Revision

Revision

Again, I have a long way to go to say I’m “good” with PE. But my point is, these shots may be salvageable. I never thought that till last night, so I’m willing to try. I am a bit worried that they will look over processed, but the reason for that is, they WILL be over processed, which will be necessary to save them. The question is, how far is too far? How far would you go to save photos that cannot be replaced?