Saturday, October 13, 2012

When In Doubt, Don't Just Throw It Out

Okay, I admit it. Not every photo I take is a masterpiece.  In fact, some are downright atrocious! Have you ever taken a photo you knew would be perfect only to find out that your hand shook when you pressed the shutter button, or your composition was a little off? Or maybe you didn’t even notice that big stinky garbage can in the background.

I don't want to call myself a pack rat, but some photos, even though they're terrible, I just can't seem to throw away. So what do you do with photos like that? Let them gather virtual dust in your digital archives? You can, but why not try to save them somehow!

Here's an example of what I mean. I took this photo over a year ago:

What's wrong with it, you ask? 1.) It doesn't look so terribly bad at this size, but when you enlarge it, you see just how blurry it is.

Not good! 2.) The original is covered with dirt, spots, and distracting elements. All those little black spots on the flower are actually bugs. If they were clear, that would be AWESOME because I love bug photos . . . but they're not, they are blurry little smudges. 3.) Now this is what really irritates me! The tips of the flower petals are cut off in the reflection. How I wish I had taken a couple shots of this scene.

But since I didn't, it's photo editing to the rescue! The first thing I did to try and save this photo was remove all those spots:

A lot of work? Yes, but it sure does look better! Next, I removed the distracting elements like the cut off lily pads in the background and that light streak across the flower reflection:

So, what was that third thing that bugged me? Oh yes, the composition. I really want to see the entire reflection. So I started reconstructing:

 I shrunk the photo just a little, and started cloning in the details.

Such a small thing, but now I feel much better about it. Now what?

Now it's time to treat this photo like any other (good or bad). Give it a brighten/contrast adjustment, check it for digital noise, and sharpen it a little:

Now I'm just loving it! But wait . . . don't you think I should check it out at full resolution first?

Man! Even after all that hard work, it still is a poor photograph. Does that mean all the time and effort I put into it is completely wasted? Not necessarily. When in doubt, don't just throw it out. Turn it into digital art. There are a variety of programs out there to help you with this. Among them are Corel Painter Essentials, Foto Sketcher (which is free!) and my personal favorite, Topaz Simplify, a plugin from Topaz Labs that works with both Photoshop and Paintshop Pro etc.

This part takes a little experimentation. Let your inner artist out and play around with settings, run the photo through a program or two, do a little dodging and burning to get the effect you want. That's what I did to try and salvage this photo:

Hmm . . . still seems to look like a photo. Well good! That's what I want. What I'm really concerned with is: Does it look decent at full scale? Let's take a look: 

Click Here to See Full Resolution
This image doesn't do it justice, but you can see it's better. For a more realistic view, you can check out different portions at full resolution here. Just click on the spot you want to see and a window will pop up with a closeup view.

Now let's see if all that work was worth the effort?

And there you go! Another photo saved from the recycle bin.

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  1. great blog!! I did a similar blog a long time back ( - love how you get into deeper detail than I did with your post! Will keep yours for additional reference.

  2. Well done Tracie! I really LOVE the fact that you talked about taking the time to spot clean the image, you'd be surprised how many photographers don't bother and it, in itself, can make all the difference in the world! I have the full Topaz suite and love it!


    1. Thank you, Doreen :-D I'm so jealous! I've been buying the Topaz plugins piece by piece. Can't wait 'til my GCU check gets here because DeNoise is next on my list.

  3. Some great tips you gave for using a fixing a not so perfect photo! I'm sure your advice will help many! :-)

  4. Good post, Tracie! Yes, this is definitely for the times when one can't bear to throw an image away. I've done it myself. The spot cleaning is always a good tip. I use the Topaz filters myself, these days as plug-ins in Lightroom 4.

    1. Thanks Roseanne :) Glad to know I'm not the only one who gets attached to my photos.

  5. Tracie, Good Job! You must have way more time than I have! LOL However, seriously very good encouragement for not throwing out all bad images. there may be some which we just can't realisticly ever get a chance to retake, like a special birthday or moment that never will be repeated. nice to know that there's always hope. I've heard a rumor down the line that Adobe is coming out with a one button blurred image fix tool. Don't know if that's good or not? Now pro photographers will have nothing left on the amateurs. Guess it will just have to come down to who has the best eye. By the way, good eye seeing the potential in this image. You saved a worthy one!