Route One (just outside San Francisco, CA)
Let me start with the original image first, and explain why it’s so bad! Firstly it was taken with old(ish) Compact Digital camera, not my DSLR. Secondly, we were probably doing 50-60mph at the time it was taken, which was by reaching out from the convertible Mustang. (sorry, had to add that bit of detail – it was a rental (and my dream) car!) I should also add that the photo was taken by the passenger – not the driver!! So that explains the severely wonky horizon, and the faded colours anyway.
So why and how? Well firstly, the photo has some personal sentiment attached to it – it was taken while we were on honeymoon in 2012, and from one of my favourite days – a day-trip driving down Route 1 from San Francisco to Big Sur (stopping off at Santa Cruz and Pebble Beach on the way) – it’s a beautiful drive – the scenery is breathtaking (despite how it looks from the original image!). Oh, and did I mention the convertible Mustang! (sorry, last time!)
I’ve been wanting to get my teeth into fixing my bad pictures such as this one, and I finally found a video tutorial (on a free CD that came with Digital Photo magazine) that showed me what I needed to do. The tutorial properly introduced me to Adjustment Layers – I’d known about their existence, but clearly not about their potential! But before I set to work on improving the colours there was some basic editing to be done. The first thing to sort out was the skewed horizon, simply rotating and cropping the image fixed this. I then used the Wireworm plug-in (as mentioned in a previous post) I removed the unsightly telegraph pole. Then it was time to use what I’d learnt in the video tutorial. By using the lasso tool, and feather edging I was able to select the foreground of the image and create a Levels Adjustment Layer – by tweaking the highlights, shadows and mid-tone levels and increasing the saturation and vibrance, I was able to make the image look a lot brighter and more interesting. I applied the same process for the mountains and hills on the horizon. I also tried this on the sky, but due to dullness of the sky there wasn’t too much I could do except make it more blue. My only option was to create another sky. A quick google helped me find a replacement image (and one more similar to how I remembered it), and then by using a blending layer, I was able to replace the sky with the one the appears in the final image. To do that I followed a quick online step-by-step tutorial (here) which wasnt too complicated to follow. Once I was happy with the overall colour of the shot, all that was left was to look at the composition. The horizon was still too close to the middle of the image, so by applying the rule of thirds, I cropped the image to bring the horizon closer to the bottom third of the image, it also tidied up the foreground as there was probably a little too much road in there. A final few tweaks using the dodge, burn and sponge tools to pick out highlights and shadows, and reduce some of the saturation (also learnt from the video tutorial) I was finally happy with the image.
I think a lot of what I’ve done can be repeated on Photoshop Elements, or Lightroom, and its a really useful technique. Now I think I understand photography better, I hope I don’t take too many of these bad shots in the future – but its good to know I can now use Photoshop if I am really struggling!
I’ve tried to not go into too much detail on what I did in Photoshop, as I wasn’t intending on turning this post into a tutorial, but if anyone wants any info the specifics of the tools I used, I’d be more than happy to share the detail – and if I can find an online version of the video tutorial, I will certainly post the link.
Thanks for reading peeps, as usual, and feedback or comments would be greatly appreciated!