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Frank Thorne

A simple guide to photo manipulation.

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Most photographs that you shoot from the air look fairly washed out and lifeless so its worth spending a few minutes "fixing" them.

First fix is before you even leave the ground. If you can set your camera to underexpose by 1 or 2 stops then do it. Cameras are fooled into over exposing making very light pictures and blowing highlights - that is not recording data in very bright subjects like clouds. If you have electronic stabilisation use that as well.

So what program to use. I use Photoshop but its expensive so Bob posted a link to this one Gimp which is free

Dont panic it looks complicated but most of it you wont use but it is pretty good for a freebee. Whatever you decide to use most photo manipulation programs follow the same procedures.

So I used Gimp never having used it before.

Heres the photograph which I just downloaded from my camera. P1030431

Copy and save the photograph and Open the file in Gimp.

1) First off its not straight the horizon is not level which is a common problem.
Fix - Rotate using the ROTATE tool in the Tools box. ShiftR if you cant find it. Click on the pic and you can rotate it by dragging until its straight. Notice now that the edges aren't straight so you need to crop the picture to make it square again.
Crop tool and drag out a square box. If you make an error you can go back using the history box on the right or redo anything you dont like at any point.

2) Its washed out.
Fix - Adjust Levels using COLOURS drop down menu selecting LEVELS
This produces a histogram under Input levels. There are 3 pointers under the chart and the idea is to slide the left and the right to where the graph begins. In this case its only the left one that needs sliding to the right up to the start of the graph - the start of the darkest recorded level data in this case. Have a play and you should end up with something similar to Picture - Levels.
Looks better already

3) Brightness and contrast. The hills are still a bit washed out and some parts of the picture are a bit lifeless.
You can adjust the brightness and contrast to the whole picture using COLOURS drop down menu BRIGHTNESS-CONTRAST.
Increasing contrast makes the fields a bit better but the sea darker but the sky can disapear See Brightness and Contrast Picture.
So heres the clever bit.
There a tool called FREE SELECT TOOL which looks like a lassoo in the tools menu box on the left. Click on it and click on FEATHER EDGES box underneath and set radius to about 40 or 50. Draw a circle on the picture left click hold down and it selects a circle. Any tool that you use only applies to the selected area until you deselect it (right click select none)

So whats its use - the mountains are still a bit washed out so you can selectively darken them by drawing around them and then applying brightness to just the selected area. You can do this to any bit you like such as the land on the right. If you make a **** up just go back in the undo history box on the right. (upward left pointing arrow if not visible)
See Picture Brightness and contrast 2

4) Saturation this makes the grass greener and everything looks more alive.
You can change the whole picture again using COLOUR drop menu HUE AND SATURATION
Sliding the Saturation slider to the right makes the grass greener but can make the sea and sky too blue.
We can cheat again by using the FREE SELECT TOOL again just remember to set the feathered edge to at least 40 or you will get a sharp line in the picture.
Picture Saturation 1200 is done without the free select tool saturation2 1200 is selective saturation changes.

TIP if you let the picture load you can see the differences using the Free select tool by using the previous and next buttons.

Normally it takes me a couple of minutes to do the basic fix which I think is well worth it. Have a go and you will be surprised at the difference you can make.
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  1. VinceG's Avatar
    Great post Frank. Thanks for sharing that with us. If you load them all, then you can flick back and forward to see the changes, it's amazing.
  2. Bob T's Avatar
    Yes a good blog. One tool that I tend to use is auto white balance in GIMP. It is s very quick one pass way of making a picture better than the original.
    GIMP is a very powerful program.