If you spend much time at all reading photography how-to sites or taking classes or even just talking to photographers, you’ll probably hear the mantra “get it right in-camera”. I totally agree, but what do you do if it isn’t just right? I seriously doubt that any photographer out there gets card after card full off 100% perfectly exposed and balanced photos. We’re human after all, and personally I’m kind of glad I’m not perfect all the time (although it would cut down a lot of post-processing time!!!). So here are a handful of tricks that will help clear up some of the more common little imperfections in your pictures
- Measure – I don’t know what it is, but I seem to have a built-in left hook when I’m taking had-held shots. Surprisingly consistent too. A lot of my pictures look perfectly straight in my brain when I’m shooting only to find that they are tilted about 1.4 degrees when I get them loaded on the computer. If you’re like me, here’s the fast and easy way to fix ‘em. Use the Measure tool…it’s buried at the bottom of the pop-out menu under the eye-dropper. Draw a line that matches a good horizontal or vertical line in your image then go up to Image > Rotate Canvas > Arbitrary. The correct amount and direction of rotation will be automatically filled in so all you have to do is hit OK and then crop the edges of the image. To keep the same aspect ratio of your original image, select the entire canvas with your crop tool and then drag from the corner control boxes while holding down the shift key.
- Curves – Instead of using brightness and contrast adjustments, use curves to make image tone enhancements. Create an adjustment layer (the diagonally split circle at the bottom of the layers window) and select curves from the list.
Then create a slight “S” curve by dropping the shadow portion (the lower left side of the curve) and raising the highlights. Curves adjustments can work wonders on black and white photography too. Note: this S-curve adjustment generally works well in a number of “normally” exposed images. Different exposures will obviously require different adjustments. You can also get a funky cross-processed style effect by selecting the Blue channel and pulling the white point of the curve down and bringing the black point up…essentially “flattening” out the line just a little. Depending on the version of Photoshop you’re using you may have a range of presets available to quickly make some of these adjustments. I will have a fill tutorial on curves in the near future to dig deeper into using this tool.
- Raccoon Eyes – people with deep-set eyes often get dark shading in the eye-sockets…raccoon eyes. This tip will help brighten them up. Duplicate your original image layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J) and change its blending mode to Screen to brighten everything up. Add a layer mask and then mask off the whole layer by filling the mask with black. Using a soft edged brush, paint white in around the eye sockets, letting the lighter layer show through. Work with the layer mask and your opacity settings until the effect looks good with your image.
- Red Eye – This may not be a concern for pro photographers, but I’m often asked how to deal with it when I’m teaching a Photoshop class. I’ll admit that every now and again I’ll just take a snapshot for Facebook and my cat will have a set of freakishly glowing eyes, so for an easy fix select the pupil of the eye and then use refine edges or feather to ease soften the edges of the selection just a bit. Create a new layer and fill the selection with black. Create a new layer on top and using a small soft edged brush add the catchlight back in to make it look real. You can adjust the opacity of the layers to improve the effect. or use a layer mask on the black pupil layer to fade out any jagged edges
- Smooth skin – There’s a hidden filter that you may have played with and wondered what in the world anyone would ever use that for. In the filter menu under Other, you’ll find High-Pass. If you just run this filter you will get a funky grey image with some colored edges that just doesn’t look like it’s worth a knuckle hair, but the secret to getting something wonderful from this is to combine it with layer blending modes. Make sure you’re working on a copy of your original layer and then run the high-pass filter. Smaller settings create subtler effects…I usually use something around 3 to 6 pixels. Now go over to the layer blending mode and pick Overlay. Suddenly you will see the image is given a good sharpening effect. This is pretty cool and can be quite useful, but to get a smoothing effect you need to click on the layer icon and then go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. This will give you a nice soft-focus look, again just as-is this is pretty cool, but if you want the photo to still be sharp add a layer mask and fill it with black, then paint white back in over the skin areas with a soft-edged brush while avoiding the edges around eyes and other features. Use the opacity slider to reduce the effect to a good level where there is still some detail in the skin.
- Reducing the “RED” in skin tones. – Sometimes, even if the color balance seems to be good people just come out looking a little flushed. If your photos seem to be giving uncle Roger a bashful blush, there are some pretty easy ways to tone it down. My favorite is to use a selective color adjustment layer. If you’re not familiar with adjustment layers there’s a quick tutorial (here). Open your image and add an adjustment layer, picking the Selective Color option. You’ll see an adjustments window with a drop box for selecting the color you’re working with and then sliders for adjusting the relative hues. Pick Red in the drop box and then drag the Cyan slider to the right until you think you’ve got a good cut in the red tones. you may also want to adjust the Black slider a bit too (usually to the left). Then, if you don’t want the change to affect the rest of your photo use the mask to paint out the areas other than your skin tones. You can also fade the effect by adjusting your layer opacity.