Fun with Cameras and Photoshop

Here are some samples of how I've applied photography techniques to get a good picture, and how I've applied Adobe Photoshop to get an even better picture. It's a gentle reminder that you can never believe what you see anymore.

Favorite Photoshop Features for Fixing Photos

Even the most basic cameras allow the user to change the flash from automatic to always off or always on. Here's an example of why you might set the flash to "always on," which is otherwise known as a "fill flash."

Option 1: Trust the camera

In this example, the flamingo is in the shade. When set to automatic mode, the camera judged the scene to be bright enough, and did not deploy the flash. The result in Photo 1 is an undesired silhouette. Conclusion: Don't trust the camera.

Option 2: Trust the software

The "AutoFix" function of Photoshop can improve a lot of pictures with lighting problems. However, in this difficult case, it thinks the exposure is acceptable, so it makes no noticeable improvement (Photo 2). Conclusion: Don't trust the software.

Option 3: Misuse the software

One might think that adjusting Brightness would solve the problem. But brightness adjustments apply equally to the dark parts of the photo and the parts that are already bright enough. The result is a washed-out look to the picture (Photo 3). After adjusting brightness, the part of the sand that is in the sun has lost all texture. Though you can now see the pink color of the flamingo, it's still dull. Conclusion: Don't misuse the software.

Option 4: Carefully use the software

Photoshop has a Fill Flash function that simulates what might have happened if the picture were taken with a flash. It brightens the dark parts of the photo without washing out the parts that are already bright enough. In Photo 4, you can see the difference that I achieved using fill flash. Clearly the "Fill Flash" effect makes the best improvement. Conclusion: Fill Flash is great for partially underexposed pictures.

1. The Original Photo

2. After Applying "AutoFix" to the original

3. After Adjusting Brightness on the original

4. After Applying "Fill Flash" to the original

Option 4: Carefully use the camera

Now compare the Photoshop'd picture to one where I used the real flash on the camera for a genuine "Fill Flash" effect, resulting in a properly exposed photo.

4. After Applying "Fill Flash" to a poorly exposed image (larger image). This was the best I could achieve with Photoshop.

5. Photo taken with the flash turned on on the camera to get proper exposure (larger image). This photo has not been touched up.

At a quick glance, it appears that fixing the lighting with Photoshop produced a result just as nice as using the camera's fill flash. But the texture of the sand that's in the shade is more visible in the properly exposed photo. Unfortunately, the opposite is true of the sand in the sun. If you look closely at the flamingo's neck, you can see that the properly exposed photo shows more texture, and that the photo that was adjusted with Photoshop has an artificial shadow at the edge of the flamingo's neck.

Conclusion: Photoshop did a nice job at improving the photo, making the lighting look as good as the photo that was taken using the camera's flash. But the best quality was achieved by correcting the lighting at the time the image was taken.


I also decided to use this flamingo profile for other purposes, so I removed the background and converted it to a transparent GIF file. Now it's ready to be used as a logo or clip art.

Don't believe everything you see on the web

Job 1: Make me look better

Did you notice that nice photo of the happy couple on the home page of www.ericjung.com during 2004? Did you suspect it might be a little enhanced? It's been cropped (Crop Tool), the background was cleaned up (Clone Stamp Tool), and a tooth was added (Clone Stamp Tool).

Job 2: Make the tropics more tropical

When we selected this photo for the front of our Christmas card, we were distracted by the one dead leaf in the background. So I took the liberty of making it green again. This changed the color of the leaf but left the texture and structure intact (Magic Wand Selection Tool and Paint Tool). I also performed some overall color balance.


Job 3: Make Alaska more scenic

The cute little Fritz Creek Post Office near Homer, Alaska had a blue sign for a pay phone that distracted from the scene, so I had it removed (Clone Stamp Tool). I admit this was a sloppy, unnecessary job but it was fun.