In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2010 - Don & Linda Gilmore
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Enhancing Images 1
We'll start off with this original photograph taken with a small Point & Shoot camera of a Desert Tortoise. View larger sized image HERE. The first thing we want to do is resize it to a size we could use to send in an e-mail or put up on the web for others to see. This is not a very colorful image, for a reason. We'll want to add a little contrast and crop the image. When you resize an image you loose even more sharpness so we'll want to sharpen it too. There are two ways to do that as you'll see below. It doesn't matter what photo imaging program your using -- we can't show them all here, but the options are available in most, some have more variables than others. You can adapt this to your software. For this we'll use Ulead's Photo Impact.
Note the options used here:
Keep aspect ratio
Resolution-72 Pixels per In.
This is all pretty easy - we've set the size to 450 pixels wide and the program set the height because we had the (Keep aspect ration) box checked. This keeps the image from getting squashed from the top to bottom or from the sides - it keeps it's aspect ratio. The resample method is always set to bicubic -- this is available in Adobe's imaging programs as well. It will keep the loss of detail to a minimum. If you ever need to up size an image then change the way you resize to Percent instead of Pixels in the drop down box. Then proceed to up size by 110% which will add 10% in size to the image, if it's not enough then up resize it again, and again and again untill you get to the desired size. This way you will maintain as much detail as possible -- more so than just up resizing it all at once.See Page  for a freeware to enlarge photos.
This is the original photo resized down to 450 pixels wide by 338 pixels high. If you clicked on the link to the larger sized image above then you'll notice that the Tortoise's head lost some detail and even got a little darker. It looks a lot worse than the original does. Of course the more you down size it the worst it's going to look. This is normal. On brighter photos with more contrast and color it won't be as noticeable but it will be there. When the algorithms in the program down size an image they have to discard image information to make it smaller and this is where the loss of detail comes from.
Using the crop tool we're going to make it even smaller for use on a web site, or a quick loading image for an e-mail, just to show someone what a Desert Tortoise looks like. This won't lose any more detail or information from the image. After cropping we'll need to improve it.
Let's make it clear here -- you'll never get it back to what you could make it look like if you were working on the original -- say for a large print (8 X 10). But we'll make it look nice for the web or e-mail.
Here's what we ended up with from the crop. Pretty flat colorless image. Of course there wasn't much color there to begin with. But it is missing some of the color and highlilghts and midtones. It also needs to be selectively lightened, around the head especially. But first lets use the levels control to get the light right for the image.
The levels interface on the right shows how the image looks in it's before and after state by the use of a histogram. The before is on the left and the after is on the right. They are both the same here as we haven't made any changes yet. You can see the big space on the right side of the histogram where there is no image information -- that's the lighter shades of the image. They are missing. Mouse over the program interface image to the right. Keep an eye on the after box on the right side and also the little triangles at the bottom which are sliders.Click on the image to make it change from before to after. We moved the slider on the right for the light side of the image to the left till it was even with the dark part of the histogram at bottom. See what it did to the image in the top right box? It leveled the light, spreading it out. Looks a little better.
On the left we added a very little contrast using a contrast brush just on the Tortoise to bring up a little color that the camera didn't get.
On the right we used the dodge tool in a small size (little bigger than his head) to lighten up his head and neck and right leg a little.
Contrast, Dodge, Burn
You've probably noticed the header here -- Contrast, Dodge, Burn! The Dodge tool lets you lighten up specific areas of the photo. Burn lets you darken specific areas of the photo. Now this tool is adjustable for size and you can soften the edges of the tool too. Burn is nice for darkening shadow areas to make the lighter areas stand out. It will help to give that 3D effect in some images. It wasn't necessary here.
Sharpening your Images
Almost all digital cameras produce images that are a little soft. You'll want to sharpen them a little. LITTLE being the key word here. It's very easy to oversharpen them. There are two ways to sharpen them. The first way (shown here) is to use the sharpening tool that's available in most imaging programs. This is also the easiest way to ruin a photo. This sharpening setting can go up to 100 but it's not necessary to ever go above a number 4. Number one is shown here with the after box on the rgiht. Notice that the rocks and the Tortoise are showing a little more detail. That's all that's needed. See below for a comparison.
Mouse over the Tortoise image on the right and you'll see what a sharpening level of [60} sixty will do to the image. This was done to show what the effects will be if you use to much sharpening with this tool. Even a setting of a 10 will show on a good quality monitor as being oversharpened and can ruin a photo.
The Unsharp Mask. Doesn't sound like something you'd use to sharpen an image but it's the best way, in most cases. The above sharpening tool is great for signs with text, but the unsharp mask is the way to go for landscapes and animal photos. It's more forgiving and it works great. Look at the before and after in the boxes here. Note the settings. The radius very seldom ever gets set over 30 and the threshold is always set between 0 and .5 (point 5). The amount is set to each photo. In this case 15 worked great. You'll have to try different settings to get the desired effect. The main thing here is this: don't overlook this tool, it works great and isn't as likely to ruin your photos.
Saving your Images
This was all done in an exact sequence. Resizing should always be done first, then enhance the images. Sharpening should always be done last!
75% to 80% gives you a nice quality photo for web display or e-mails. 97% for prints.
When saving graphics or signs or photos of text you can get away with a lower percentage, and can even save them as gifs. Prints should be saved as tiff's or large jpeg's. If you going to work on them later then save them as tiff's
If your concerned about saving your photos as jpg's, you shouldn't be. We use that format for almost everything we photograph. It is a lossless file, which means that every time you save the same image it looses some of it's information and thus quality. As much as we work on our images we've never noticed any loss. Raw images are nice if you have to change the white balance or need a large file size for a very large print.
PAGE 2 for more on this topic and free imaging softwares.
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If you have any questions or suggestions concerning these aritcles please feel free to E-mail us or leave a message on the Desert Forum in the Photography section of the forum.