“…and now for something completely different…” (Monty Python’s Flying Circus)
This portrait of a lionfish (Pterois volitans) is—somewhat surprisingly—the first photo of a fish that I have posted on this site. It’s also a marine species (I have only posted pictures of marine animals a couple of times so far) and, most significantly, this animal isn’t nearly as small as my typical subject. The sunflower starfish that I featured in my last post was a larger beast, but I only photographed a very small part of it. Plus, these days I try to avoid pure black backgrounds and typically try to create images that have either a natural or a pure white background (as a result of using a white box). Today’s picture is different from my usual content in many ways…hence my Monty Python quote.
This is another picture that I took over 20 years ago and recently had scanned and digitized (from a Fujichrome 50 slide). I chose to scan this slide both because of what was good about it, and what was bad. When I looked at the slide I really liked the composition, and the contrast between the fish with its contrasting stripes and the black background is quite striking. However, the colour of the fish was overly muted and the resolution was not optimal as a result of shooting the animal through very thick glass in a public aquarium. The glass also wasn’t clean, as evidenced by the murky reflection visible against the black background at the top of the photo. I was curious to see what I could do to improve the picture digitally. I am still a novice when it comes to Photoshop, but I am trying to improve—and I have come a long way in the past few months. It seems to me that the best way to develop my technique is to work on less than perfect images.
The unedited scanned version of the picture is shown below. It most definitely isn’t a prize winner…its washed-out and not overly crisp; plus there is a lot of noise in the photo as a result of the scanning process. There’s quite the difference between the picture below and the final version above, isn’t there?
The following are the steps I took to edit the image:
- First I opened the image with Noiseware and cleaned-up the noise using the Default setting and saved the filtered version. You can download a free version of this software here: Noiseware.
- I then opened the filtered image with Photoshop Elements 8.0 (I really need to get around to getting a newer version) and saved a copy as a .tiff.
- Next I clicked on Enhance/Adjust lighting/Brightness/Contrast and adjusted the contrast to +50. This improved the picture dramatically.
- Then I chose Enhance/Adjust Sharpness and adjusted the settings to: Amount: 99%; Radius: 1.0 pixals; Remove: Lens Blur and clicked OK.
- The colour was still too muted, but that was a quick fix: I clicked Enhance/Adjust Color and selected Adjust Hue/Saturation. I then chose Reds and adjusted the saturation to +49. I looked at a number of pictures of this species both online and in books to decide the appropriate colour intensity.
- Finally it was time to fix the background. The black background made this really easy. I chose the Magic Wand tool, set the tolerance to 10 and selected Anti-alias and Contiguous. I set the background colour to black, selected the background with the Magic Wand and hit delete.
The resulting image is shown below.
As you can see, it is a much better picture that the original. However, it still isn’t really crisp, nor is it quite as good as the version at the top of the page.
My final editing step was the following nifty little trick:
- I opened the Layers window and duplicated the image (creating a Background copy layer). With the Background copy layer selected I clicked on Filter/Other/Hard Pass and adjusted the radius to 5.8 pixels. The Background copy then consisted of a grey outline of the lionfish. This technique worked really well with this picture due to the strongly contrasting patterns and black background.
- Next, in the Layers window, I selected Hard Pass and voila! Compare the picture above with the final image at the top of the page: the difference is small, but significant with the final image looking noticeably sharper.
- The final step was to flatten and save the photo.
Needless to say it would have been far preferable to start with a nicely exposed and composed photo that doesn’t need editing. But it is pretty cool that software like Photoshop allows one to dramatically improve less than perfect pictures.
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus OM-4 SLR
Lens: Zuiko 50mm F1.8 lens + 12mm extension tube
Settings: F16 @ 1/60 sec
Lighting: Vivitar 283 with vari-power module
Film: Fujichrome 50 ASA