Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Photo Editing: White Backgrounds

For the longest time I was frustrated with images that came out discolored. Especially the white ones. That crispy snow scene or drawing on white paper always ended up gray. This is the one click solution for those who can't or don't want to become involved in more complicated photo manipulation gymnastics.

ArtKitten.Etsy.comFirst, to understand what causes the problem. The camera can only make two adjustments--how long the shutter is open and how wide the aperture opens. Of all the metering and measuring of color and brightness of a particular scene, in the end the camera can only accept one setting for shutter speed and one setting for aperture. Digital camera's are more complex, but either way it still ends up being a game of assumptions and averages. The typical decent photo is assumed to have so much light and dark, which averages a certain amount of gray. To properly replicate this "classic" gray there is one setting for shutter and aperture. The computer in the camera is programmed to calculate the proper setting from its sensor readings of a scene. The game goes awry when a scene is not typical in color or light. In the case of much white, the camera only knows to strive for an average gray, which pushes the white scene into grayness. Light sources cause the same problem. Camera sensors read natural light as cool and light bulb light as warm, but the problem is that the camera doesn't know when it is encountering which kind of light. This is the reason there is daylight and tungsten (light bulb) type films, and digital cameras have settings for inside and outside shooting.

Try to use the camera's adjustments first and use photo editing software for clean up. Most photo programs have an auto adjustment feature, and this feature can solve the majority of problems with one or two clicks. In photoshop I think there is an auto levels, auto color, and auto contrast. In paintshop pro it is called one-step photo fix under the adjustment drop down menu.

Kristin has allowed me to use an image from her recent article as a before/after example of one click editing (in this case one click and one slider push). The image on the top has the gray caused by the camera's confusion of what neutral gray should be. The lower image has been edited and is more like the whiteness of a drawing on white paper.

First the automatic photo adjust corrected the overall black/white/gray confusion and then the saturation slider pushed back the resulting blue shadow that swept across the page. Now try these simple adjustments on your snow scenes, drawings on white, and objects sitting in front of light colored backdrops. Seeing the power of using these quick fixes then makes it easier to play with the other more subtle image controls.

In a real hurry? Try using the camera's built-in flash and see if you can live with the front-on lighting. Colors are usually accurate, because the camera is calibrated to the flash, so it knows what to expect.

submitted by eb, matchboxbook

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