Robert D Feinman

Creative Image Adjustments

One of the powers of digital output of photographic images is the ability to tailor the scene to better represent what was originally seen or to modify the scene to reflect artistic aims.

Here is a scanned image which has been color profiled and thus represents almost exactly what is on the film. (The same issues discussed here will also apply to digital originals).

As can be seen this was taken on a very foggy day and the image is quite blue and low in contrast.

The scene did not appear this blue or flat when the scene was photographed, but the film is more sensitive to blue and ultraviolet than we are.

Original Image
Original Image

The first step is to improve the contrast somewhat. To do this we create a curves adjustment layer.

Here is the RGB curves dialog. We have moved in the black and white points to increase the contrast.

rgb curve
RGB Curve

At the same time we want to compensate for the overly blue cast.  This is the blue curve with the middle lowered in value.

blue curve
Blue Curve

Even these small adjustments have made a dramatic change in the appearance. The scene is much closer to what was viewed originally. The blue is neutralized and the increase in contrast makes the tree stand out better.

Using conventional photographic techniques we could have used color filters to neutralize the blue, but there is almost nothing we could have done to improve the contrast.
step 1
Image after Curves
We can probably do better with some additional adjustment.

We reopen the curves adjustment layer and modify the green curve as well. We lower the mid tones to make the red tree stand out a little better, but fix the highlights so as not to shift the color of the sky towards magenta.

At this point, photographic filters have reached their limits. We cannot selectively adjust color balance with them.

green curve
Green Curve
This is the image after this adjustment. We see that the leaves of the tree are more vivid. There is a little less green in the foliage, but it still looks realistic.

This is the version that I used for my final printed image. Because this is being viewed on screen it is not quite the same as the printed version.

We will compensate for this later when we show a larger version.

after green curve
After Green Curve
The tools provided have many short cuts. Let's see what happens if we, instead, choose the auto adjust feature in curves.
Here is the red curve that is created. Notice how much the shadow and highlight levels have been moved.
We also used the balance gray tones option so there is a point added in the middle.
auto adjust red curve
Red Auto Curve
Here is  the green curve. It appears similar with slight differences in all three points. The software is trying to maximize the contrast in each color separately. You can use other options, if you wish.

green auto curve
Green Auto Curve
Finally here is the blue curve. The auto adjust feature is quick and easy, but let's look at the results.

blue auto curve
Blue Auto Curve
The sky has lost all its color, the leaves are drab and the atmosphere of the picture has been radically changed. For some purposes this may be what is desired. The point is you have the flexibility to treat the image as you wish. The skill and art is developing the eye to express what you wish and not settling for just a recognizable image or "good enough".

If it's worth doing, don't compromise.
auto adjust image
Image with Auto Adjust Curves
Finally, to try and make the image look more like that taken with the latest generation of supersaturated films we show this variation.
Starting with the original image, we adjusted the rgb curve to make the sky have a zero density and the shadows in the lower right read 100%.
We then added a saturation layer and raised the saturation on the reds and the greens. We also lowered the blue saturation so the sky remained white. With digital processing the choice is yours.

Click here for the image we chose as best satisfying our goals at a larger size.  We made some adjustments to the saturation and lightness so that it will display correctly online.
staturation contrast
Saturation and Contrast Raised
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© 2004 Robert D Feinman