Friday, October 9, 2009

Photo Editing Frustrations

Taken in bright sunlight with Canon Elph - no manipulation

As I really like to maintain copies of my original artwork, I usually photograph them with my Canon PowerShot SD 1000 7 megapixel Digital Elph. While I have been doing this for quite a while, I can never seem to get it right. (On a consistent basis) This top image was taken in full sunlight. I try auto mode, manual mode, macro mode and several different white balance settings and this is what I often end up with. This image is completely unedited and unusable as is.

Taken in bright sunlight with Canon Elph - Picasa Auto Contrast

When I got my new computer, I decided to forgo installing the resource hog that is Photoshop and started editing everything with Picasa - Google's free image editor. Usually it works out pretty well for me, but in this case, it's not. My usual routine is to balance the image by using the neutral color picker by clicking on a white area in the image, then use the auto contrast function, then add a bit of sharpness. In the above image, all I used was the auto contrast. Further tweaking with the Fill Light, Highlights, and Shadows sliders couldn't do the image justice. It still looks dull & flat. Unusable.

Taken in bright sunlight with Canon Elph - Picasa I'm feeling Lucky

For grins, I try the "I'm feeling lucky" button. Um.... No. As far as I'm concerned, I can't get a usable version of this print so I will need to try photographing it with late afternoon sun to see if it will come out any better. What irks me is that the images always look good in the viewfinder - even when I zoom. It's not until I put them onscreen that I see how horrible they are.

Scanned - no manipulation

This time I try scanning it with my Canon D660U scanner - but I already know what's going to happen. It's going to blow out. White paper always seems to create a blown out image such as this and I have tried & tried to adjust any and all settings in relation to my scanner & it's software & this is what I get. This is an unedited 180spi scan. Unusable.

Scanned - Picasa Auto Contrast

I give Picasa's Auto Contrast button a go and no way... Completely oversaturated with no detail on the rough surface of the watercolor paper. No manual tweaking can better this image.

Scanned - Picasa I'm feeling Lucky

Once again, I hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button and no better. Still oversaturated & blown out.

I feel like I'm missing something obvious. Is it the camera that just can't handle the white paper in bright light? Is the white paper going to always make my scanner go bonkers?


Any suggestions? I've already decided to pick my "favorite" images and have them (high-res) scanned at a local camera shop but I wish there was a way I could do this by myself with consistent results.


Anonymous said...

Shoot raw if possible. Not sure if your powershot can do raw or not. It is worth getting a DSLR that can. Point and shoots can get great results, of natural subjects, but not of this material at the standard you require.

Raws give you a lot more color depth than jpegs for a start, which will bring out the textures better.

And stay away from automagic one touch make-everything-perfect buttons. You need software, but do it all by hand, it is art after all, computers cannot do that for you.

Photoshop should be able to do everything you want but there will be a correct order to do things in, like brightness first, then WB, then levels, then saturation for example.

Gimp is a free alternative that should pretty much be good enough.

Picasa is unsuitable, its optimized for natural subjects.

I wouldn't be afraid of bumping the brightness and saturation right up on things like this and really making the colors pop.

range said...

You could ask Jessica Doyle what she uses. Her scans look pretty good and I know that she scans them at home, as well as prints them herself.

Brad said...

I use the exact same camera and the exact same techniques but I'm never photographing anything as intricate or colorful as you are. I'm hoping you pick up some good tips from the comments so I can learn something.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried manually setting the white balance on your camera using a grey card? (You can actually just print out out if you don't have one.) This should yield the expected result, although photographing your work would probably not be as good as scanning.

When it comes to adjusting white balance, I'm never satisfied with the results I've gotten from any program other than Photoshop - not that I'm an expert in that particular software. My usual workflow for photographs is to store them in iPhoto (where version control gives me the capacity to revert at any time) and edit in Photoshop. Sometimes I'll use iPhoto's controls if task is something simple, like a crop, but there's no substitute for Photoshop's ability to correct an image.

Kim said...

I know that the above commenter mentioned that you might want to get a DSLR, and I somewhat agree. If you're making edits to a jpg, then your're constantly taking information away, and you will probably be disappointed.

Considering buying a DSLR is a giant headache and frightening expense, but for your purposes I would strongly suggest finding a used out of date model, like the Canon XSi or Nikon D80.

If a DSLR is out of the question, the only other things I can think of is that I heard in the photo workshop I went to recently that there are tools for calibrating your own monitor so you can see what the colors are really looking like. Also try using some white poster paper to reflect more light onto the subject, or search around the net for DIY photo lighting tricks.

But ultimately if you've gotten to the point where you're into this much detail about it, you want to be editing RAW images, I think.

I have recently been using a trial version of Adobe Lightroom, by the way, and loooove it.

bleubug said...

One of my cameras is what you are using and it is capable of some good results. I know that the owner of this blog used the same camera for her food images:

Still, art work is a different beast to photograph I'm sure. I know that Adobe Lightroom is a very good tool for cataloging and tweaking images quickly and I recommend giving it a shot.

Neefer said...

I know you really like the reds, but they are the hardest to work with wrt digital images. Maintaining the red w/o oversaturation is very, very difficult. Do you have better success with your blue and green images?

Dizzypen said...

Just in terms of basic online editing programs I've had more luck with Picnik (which is Flickr's photo editing program) than I've ever had with Picasa.

Anonymous said...

Your requirements (things you want to do) are mis-matched with your equipment and software. First commenter is dead-on. I would suggest maybe getting a serious P&S camera, and upgrading to Lightroom or Elements (or Aperture if you're a Mac person.) All of these are not space 'hogs' and cost ~$100, worth it to get the consistent results you're looking for. Otherwise, frustration will continue.

Anonymous said...

Ever tried Gimp? It does a lot of the balance and color curve stuff that Photoshop does, and it's not so much of a pig.

Biffybeans said...

Anonymous #1: No raw available with this point and shoot. DSLR not an option. I have tried Auto & Manual settings - just to see if any works better than another. Photoshop is a resource hog. I choose not to install it on my (relatively) new computer. I might check out Gimp. Picasa actually works pretty well most of the time, but on images like this one that was taken in bright sunlight and was poor to begin with, not so much. I too like to push saturation levels on occasion, but this image was to be part of a product review and I need it to look like the original - which isn't anywhere as saturated as the images in this post are making it look. Thank you for your comments.

Range - she's using a scanner of higher quality than I have, and editing tools that I don't wish to use. And yes - her stuff looks amazing.

Anonymous #2: I actually have a grey card around here somewhere but I don't know how to do a custom white balance setting on the camera. Will have to dig out the manual. This is a great suggestion. If I were to scan all of my images, I'd never have time to create art or write blogs. :o) For images that I wish to reproduce, I will have them professionally scanned. Most of my digital pics are for reference & remembrance only.

Kim - DSLR not an option. Monitor might not be perfectly calibrated but I'm pretty sure it's the quality of the original images and the lack of quality (non-resource hogging) editing software that's giving me poor results. Thanks for your suggestions.

Bleubug - I use this camera for everything, including all of the pictures on this blog. It's a decent camera, but I just think it's the white paper that's throwing the camera's sensors off. i will look at Lightroom - thanks for the suggestion.

Neefer - Reds... yes... you are not the first person to tell me this but it's not the only colors I have issues with. It would be great if I could shoot any of my art (any color) at any time of day in direct light but I think that there are certain times of the day when the light just works better than others. (Where things don't come out with that blue-gray overcast)

Dizzypen - I wonder if Picknik can be downloaded, or if it's only for use online? I've tried to use it inline and often I get a ton of connectivity issues where I'm waiting & waiting & waiting... I'd prefer to edit on my desktop & then upload.

Anonymous #3: I just want to clarify that the results shown in this blog post do not happen all of the time. It seems to be tied to time of day/type of light I shoot in. If someone were to pop on and say "Shoot in mid-afternoon indirect sun" I wouldn't have to spend anything. :o) Perhaps I should try an experiment and shoot the same image in half hour increments over the course of clear sky day, hazy day...summer day, winter day...

Anonymous #4: I remember trying it long ago and I didn't find the interface to be very intuitive. Thank you for your suggestion. I keep forgetting that I have an old version of Paint Shop Pro around here somewhere which is very close to PS. Perhaps I will reload....

mabeloos said...

i usually scan artwork using vuescan, which isn't free but has free upgrades (retail $85). then i do all of my color-correction in photoshop using either levels for rough edits or curves for finer edits. you can get decent contrast by temporarily using the threshold adjustment layer and eyedropper point sampler to get my whitest and darkest points in an image: slide threshold to one side to get white, slide to other to get black. mark your points using the point sampler tool, then use the corresponding eyedropper in your levels/curves to get decent contrast. it doesn't always work, but for most shots it gives me good contrast.

to sharpen, i use unsharp mask, though i think there's a better function in cs4, but i'm so used to unsharp mask that i don't even bother looking elsewhere.

when i use the camera, i set the iso/preset to the condition: bright sunlight (iso 100), interiors (iso 400). it's a good starting point, but i tend to adjust white balance up one or down one, and find that i do the most tweaking when i'm indoors, as lightbulbs are either yellow, blue, or somewhere in between depending on the furniture surrounding my subject.

Joe V said...

A scanner can give you good results, but you've got to adjust the levels prior to scanning. First, do your preview scan. Then, open the levels tool and make sure the sliders are all the way to the left and right, giving you from 1 to 255 levels of tone. Then do the scan. This should ensure that you don't blow out the highlights while getting good shadow detail.

Biffybeans said...

Joe - I just did what you said - they were already set that way on the preview, I scanned... same results.

Josh said...

Hey Stephanie,

I make my living as a photographer. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is a white balance/color correction issue. If you can't overcome it with your current camera, you'll just increase your frustration by purchasing a DSLR that will have the same problems. RAW files can make it easier, but will not solve the problem.

You are pretty close when you describe your process of clicking on the white paper. From all the paper reviews you have done, you know that there is no such thing as white paper - some paper is warm, some is bright white, and some is so "bright" that it almost has a blue tint. You can't use the paper to tell your software what is true white. You need to have a reference that is a known value - either black, white, or grey. You need to get out your grey card or buy a reference card that includes grey, white, and black. Place the reference card on top of your art and photograph it. If you can use your camera manual to figure out how to do a custom white balance, that will be easiest. Make sure that the reference fills almost all of the image when you do the custom white balance. Remove the reference card, and take the photograph of your art. If you did not perform a custom white balance, open the photo of the reference card in Photoshop, use the levels dialog to click on the grey, white, or black of your reference card - write down the settings that Photoshop generates. Open the image of your art in Photoshop, go to the levels dialog and plug in those numbers. Your colors should be correct. Don't worry about saturation yet. You can fix that later. If you don't want to use Photoshop, I'm certain you can do something similar in most photo editing apps.

You know that this is a pandoras box don't you? If you're not trying to create reproductions, be content with good enough. In order to do all this properly you have to control, measure, and adjust all the light - that includes calibrating monitors, print viewing stands, spectrophotometers, and a lot more time and money that you want to invest.

Hope this helps!

Anne-Sophie said...

I found the first picture to be perfect!

I don't know if it is my computer screen or what but the first image has texture. It looks 3 dimensional.

It is the first time I have seen that in your mandalas.

Red and orange are not my favorite colors but it is that raised look that made me stop and take a second glance.

I found the retouched pictures dull.

Biffybeans said...

Hi Josh - yes... I found my grey card & have been experimenting. I just wish I understood which outside light (direct/indirect/morning/noon/overcast) was the best for attempting to do this because I know that some days they turn out great and others they are as blue & as dull as can be. I'm sure setting a custom white balance will be helpful, I just wish I had been smart enough to take notes to see which were the best lighting conditions to shoot under.

Like I said in the original post, I'm not looking to use these to reproduce, but I do like posting them to the web and I get irritated when I shoot 50 pieces and find out that 40 of them are beyond correction. (Like the image above - which by the way, is much lighter and the colors more subtle than any of the images shown.

Much thanks for the advice and it's good to know that a more expensive camera won't necessarily make a difference. I wasn't initially sure if it had anything to do with the size of the lens and its maximum aperture - especially because this is such a tiny camera...

PS - took a look at your site. I *love* candid portraiture.

Anne-Sophie - thanks for your comments!

drwl said...

This probably doesen't do it seeing your last comment (on it being lighter) as i'm posting this. Just some subtle sharpening and contrast tricks increasing the clarity and some minor wb (and i'm guessing too much saturation).

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