View Full Version : How I use Photoshop

11-15-2005, 10:43 PM
Several have asked "How'd you do that?!" in my photo thread (http://www.reeffrontiers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11059). I thought I'd put together a quick step-by-step of what I'm doing in Photoshop, to help explain how much is being done post-process, not just with the camera.

First, the photo has to have something to start with. I look for decent sharpness primarily, then also something to work with as far as composition. The photo I used for this is sort of disappointing because I cut off the tang's tail, but we'll go with it anyway.

I've resized the photos for Web presentation, obviously, as the Canon 20D I took these with takes 8.3mp photos.

Here's the raw, unedited original. This was taken with a few standard steps I always use.

1: Shoot perpendicular to the glass. Always. Glass distorts.
2: Underexpose just a little bit. -2/3 EV
3: Use a tripod.
4: Fire away with TONS of shots, this is digital, you're not wasting film. This same afternoon I took about 100 shots of a rose-headed wrasse, and still didn't come out with anything good. I probably took about a dozen shots of this tang, but he wasn't moving around much. This one was the sharpest.


So then, the first steps I took was to crop the image. I'm generally looking for a good balance, and a focal point. In this case, it's the eye. I also use Photoshop's AutoBalance feature, which is pretty accurate about 99% of the time. I'll tend to tweak the colors just a tiny bit later, but AutoLevels is usually a pretty good place to start.

Crop and AutoLevels:

Next, I "Clean up the junk." I use the Heal Tool primarily, but also some Blur and Stamp Tools. I rub out all those little specks and water debris. On this shot, the owner had a little bit of coralline on the glass, also, which I removed. The differences are subtle, but you can find them. Removing the specks and scratches helps eliminate visual distractions.

Clean the Junk:

Once I have a clean image, I go through and make color corrections. Here, I brought just a hint of the blue back (to help with the underwater look), as well as a slight overall brightness bump, to make up for the underexposure. I also do some dodging/burning here, though I never use those two tools. I'll select dark areas and bring them up a little, or bright areas and bring down the brightness a little. You have to be very careful here, as you can create a lot of grey and washed out areas very quickly.

Color and Brightness:

Finally, I resize the image (I tend to use 800 pixel width for Web), and sharpen and add a border. I sharpen with the Unsharp Mask dialogue (Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask). There are three sliders here: Amount, Radius and Threshold. Two of these are *ALWAYS* the same, radius and threshold.

Radius is always 0.3 pixels. Any more, and the halo/glow effect gets out of hand. If you can't sharpen enough with a 0.3 pixel radius, the image didn't have enough to work with in the first place.

Threshold is always 10. This just gives a little room for error (overuse of the tool) and helps remove the harshness out of the tool.

The other slider, Amount, is in percentage. I find myself in the 200-400% area most often (range is from 0-500%). This particular photo happened to be 382%.

Then I add a border to help with the focus of the subject. Different people have different methods and colors. I use straight black and white. I Select All, then go to Edit/Stroke and use white with a pixel width of 7 pixels, on the inside. Then I go back to Edit/Stroke and use black with a pixel width of 6 pixels. This creates a 1 pixel wide white stripe surrounded by a 6 pixel wide black. It's just what works for me. Totally preference.

Sharpened and Border:

11-15-2005, 10:49 PM
very nice tutorial ... I probably do 80% of what you do with my photoshop :)

What version of photoshop do you use? I have version 5, not sure it accepts RAW images though.

11-15-2005, 11:36 PM
Nice tips, I will try the ones I haven't used yet.

11-16-2005, 02:01 AM
I have PS7. Oh, and I'm not pulling in RAW files, I'm sorry. They're just the unedited jpgs. When I used raw, I was thinking more along the lines of "uncooked, not done." :)

11-16-2005, 02:30 AM
Finally, great thread! Do you have some more info to share with dummies like me?

11-23-2005, 12:32 PM
Great thread man! Which camera do you use? I'm in the market for a new camera and there is someone on RC that uses a Kodak with amazing results. I've never really been into photography until I started to try and take shots of my tank, it's tough to do. Great write up!

11-23-2005, 12:38 PM
Really good info. I've never used photoshop before and I may give it a shot. My camera definately has to change, but I will try your tips with my current camera just to see how much better I can get some pics to come out. Thanks for the info...

spongebob lover
11-23-2005, 01:05 PM
wwoou dood

Underexpose just a little bit. -2/3 EV
3: Use a tripod.

could you just explain me what does that mean?, please.
i have a cannon 4.0 pixels and well i used to have the photoshop in my computer but right now my computer is down :( and well my sweet heart:mad: lost the cd program :( .
I'm gonna try finding it :) , but this is a great thread dood because i was always wondering how people take those awesome pictures.

11-23-2005, 01:13 PM
I'm trying to learn and how to mess with my digital camera myself. This helped me out,

spongebob lover
11-23-2005, 01:38 PM
sweet !! thanks so much Blazer dood :)

11-23-2005, 01:42 PM
I keep running into the problem that I can't get a sharp picture without the flash. My camera doesn't have a manual shutter control, but I can control the EV and a few other minor adjustments. Any tips on how I can get a sharp picture without the flash?

11-23-2005, 02:13 PM
Gabby - check out this thread, too: Reef Photography Workshop (http://www.reeffrontiers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8990).

I use Photoshop Elements, as the regular Photoshop programs were out of my price range. Now...if I could take a decent photo.... :). Great thread!

spongebob lover
11-23-2005, 02:16 PM
Thanks Nikki,
i'll start reading the thread :)

12-02-2005, 08:04 AM
And this had the possibilities to be a Jiddy thread *lol*, i can tell from your guy's pcitures compared to mine that you are hoarding the secrets, come on, out with the techniques

03-20-2006, 11:38 AM
This thread needs to be updated daily. I need a lot more help with PhotoShop....

big t
03-20-2006, 11:57 AM
Check out this sight Jid. They have loads of video tutorials that you can download and view. www.photoshoptv.com

03-20-2006, 03:34 PM

It's a "pay for" type site but you'll get alot out of it, might want to check it out as well. They also have a CD for specific programs that might be a much better value.


03-20-2006, 08:22 PM
Alright, here's another. I picked this one because it needed color correction, and I feel that's probably the most important part of why I use Photoshop.

Here's the unedited shot.

First things first: Crop and Auto Levels. I attempted to bring the hermit further toward the bottom of the frame, to give him some "weight." It also helped show how the Rule of Thids can help an image look so much more balanced.

Photoshop's Quick Mask is highly misunderstood and underestimated. Imagine you have a particular area you want selected. In this case, I wanted the background selected, and not the hermit. I used the largest brush, so it would have the softest edges. With this brush, I simply painted on the areas I wanted to have as the selection later.

When I exit Quick Mask, the area I painted is the area that's NOT selected, so I simply do a Ctrl+I (select inverse) and I've selected the area I painted. I selected this area because I wanted to mute it down, to help the hermit stand out as the main subject. I brought down the brightness with the Levels toolbox (Ctrl+L). In the image, I showed what happens when you slide the slider way down. In the end product, however, I only brought it down to 0.88, not 0.52, as shown.

Then I tweaked the levels just a little more, to make things seem a little less "purple." This is also done with the Levels toolbox. Occasionally, I'll use selective saturation controls, shown here. Open the Hue/Saturation toolbox (Ctrl+U). In this case, I wanted to pull some of the magenta out of the hermit's legs, and make them more red. In the drop down menu up top, select the appropriate channel (in this case, Magenta). You'll notice that as you move the cursor over the image, it becomes the Eyedropper tool, for selecting colors. To be more specific, as I did here, you can select a specific color and tweak that color. In this case, I used the eye dropper to select the upper right area of the legs, which appeared more blue than the rest of the legs. Then I slid the hue slider over to make the legs the appropriate red.

Finally, there's the unsharp mask. The most important part of the Unsharp Mask is not to overdo the radius. I never, ever, ever (ever) go beyond 0.3 pixels. Any more, and you start creating false halos and weird effects. If the image can't be sharpened enough with 0.3 pixel width here, it's not a good enough photo to begin with. I also make sure I set the Threshold to somewhere between 5 and 10, so eliminate freaky anomolies from sharpening. With those two sliders set, use the Amount as much as you'd like.

Add a border, resize to 800 pixels wide, and you're set!

big t
03-20-2006, 09:24 PM
Cool update.

03-20-2006, 09:29 PM
That's really bad "A" Sherman!

04-04-2006, 11:40 AM
Very cool thread! By the way I agree 100% with you r choice of radious, you can't bring an out of focus picture INTO focus using USM.

04-09-2006, 03:43 PM
this was a much needed thread. My camara skills suck so bad even with a $800 sony camara I still cant take any good pics. but with this thread explaining the balance levels I feel you will start to see some great shots very very soon. The program I have now is microsoft picture it 9 suite edition. will see if it will work the same or not. Thanks sherman!!!!

12-22-2006, 12:10 AM
I think an update is due

spongebob lover
12-22-2006, 11:06 AM
i agree :p .

Finally for the love of my life i figured out i don't have photoshop in the computer we have right now... i used to have it on MY computer :p .

12-23-2006, 01:54 PM
Alright, alright. Christmas weekend makes my free time a little limited, so... next week or later. I think I'll do a full tank shot, for something different.

12-23-2006, 05:01 PM
Hey thanx for the bump on this, much appreciated.

spongebob lover
12-24-2006, 01:12 AM
you should take a pic of the monti with the blue little polips :D

12-28-2006, 01:17 AM
Alright, full tank. There's a lot of preparation in these shots. Before I even begin, I've typically scraped all the glass free of coralline and have pulled off my Mag-float off and set it aside. I also turn off all the lights in the room, and only shoot at night, to eliminate reflections from the glass. When the tank looks good (clear water, etc.), I line up the camera squared up with the center of the tank, then sacrifice a tiny bit of sharpness by bringing the camera up vertically just a few inches. This allows just an ever so slightly more "top-down" view of the corals, rather than actually looking UP at some of them. The camera is set to its widest zoom, so I can get as close as possible. In my case, this is about 4 feet away, so the 6-8" vertical adjustment is relatively not that large.

I set the camera on a tripod, and set the timer and mirror lockup (most people don't have mirror lockup, and I don't know how huge of a difference it really makes). I set the ISO to 100 (as low as it goes). I set the exposure to slightly underexpose (slightly too dim) by -2/3 EV. This helps avoid blown out highlights (especially SPS tips), as well as potential oversaturation problems.

Then I take several shots and use the one that has the least amount of motion in the moving corals, as well as the most visibility of the fish. I'm completely fine with blurry fish, that's just the way it goes. I also don't turn off powerheads, because it's not worth it to me.

Here's the RAW shot.

Next I crop the image down. Notice how it's actually not square. That will be resolved in the next step.

Using Photoshop's "Perspective" toolbox, I stretch the corners of the tank to touch the corners of the image. This way, the image is all square when I'm done. Here's where to find that toolbox:

And here it is afterward. Compare to the cropped shot to see the minute difference.

Next I'll do some color correction. This is fine tuning for white balance. The lights on my tank are too blue, in my opinion, but I try to match that anyway. Honestly, I shoot for realistic (that sounds funny after you see all I "alter" to keep the shot "real"), rather than ultra-cool.

The next step is to clean out all the debris and distractions. I'll use the Heal tool to wipe out all the specks in the water, stray snails, and stuff like that. My goal is to make the corals the subject of the photo, not all the junk. Without a doubt, the greatest amount of time is spent here. I'll scan through the entire image at full size (maybe 12x the size of my 19" monitor) and pick out all the specks and stuff. Also, the greatest liberty is taken here when I even remove equipment, such as the HOB filter tube and the skimmer pre-filter. The skimmer pre-filter is actually there, I just wipe out the two adjustment knobs and darken in the bright areas under the light.

Next step is fine tuning color. I'll select corals individually (I prefer QuickMask and the brush tool) and bring up their colors. Again, I'm honestly shooting for realism, not eBay-ism.

The last step is resize, sharpen and add a border for presentation. I typically display my images for the Web at 800 pixels on the long side. Width, in this case. For sharpening, I have upgraded to using "Smart Sharpen" instead of Unsharp Mask. In this case, I did a percentage of 500% with a radius of 0.1 pixels. Sometimes I'll bump it up to 0.2 pixels, and significantly drop the amount. I also adjust the type of sharpening from Gaussian Blur to Lens Blur.


12-28-2006, 01:37 AM
wow1 that is very nice,,just can't wait for the CS2:)

05-19-2008, 11:02 PM
WOW, just found this thread, thanks to someone posting a link to it. Very informative!!! Hopefully this bump will revive it and we'll get even more advice!!!