Advice on improving a badly lit photo

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Daniel Silevitch, Aug 8, 2005.

  1. This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    lines of "next time, how can I do this better".

    Last week, I tried to photograph the new (5 day old) baby gorilla at the
    Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago. The problem was that mom and baby, two
    black animals, were sitting in a dark nook, giving very little contrast.
    In addition, there was a thick layer of glass or something between them
    and us, which meant that the camera flash had a tendency to produce
    nasty reflections.

    Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg

    Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg

    The camera was a Panasonic FZ5, so a decent stabilized lens, but I'm
    pretty much stuck at ISO 80 or 100. Shutter 1/60, aperture f/3.2, 95 mm
    focal length (35 mm equiv), flash turned on. Unfortunately, there wasn't
    enough space in the niche that we were standing in to use a tripod,
    especially given the crowd of people.

    Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    tended to her baby.

    Thanks for any advice.

    -dms
    Daniel Silevitch, Aug 8, 2005
    #1
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  2. Daniel Silevitch

    Martin Brown Guest

    Daniel Silevitch wrote:

    > This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    > lines of "next time, how can I do this better".
    >
    > Last week, I tried to photograph the new (5 day old) baby gorilla at the
    > Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago. The problem was that mom and baby, two
    > black animals, were sitting in a dark nook, giving very little contrast.
    > In addition, there was a thick layer of glass or something between them
    > and us, which meant that the camera flash had a tendency to produce
    > nasty reflections.
    >
    > Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >
    > Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg


    You can actually improve on this subjectively by simultaneously
    increasing brightness and contrast and allowing the bamboo pole to burn
    out. The gorilla fur then looks better and although you lose the
    foreground detail the main subject is rendered more effectively.
    >
    > The camera was a Panasonic FZ5, so a decent stabilized lens, but I'm
    > pretty much stuck at ISO 80 or 100. Shutter 1/60, aperture f/3.2, 95 mm
    > focal length (35 mm equiv), flash turned on. Unfortunately, there wasn't
    > enough space in the niche that we were standing in to use a tripod,
    > especially given the crowd of people.
    >
    > Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    > that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    > of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    > tended to her baby.
    >
    > Thanks for any advice.


    Always worth trying a few longer than normal exposures if you can find
    something to brace the camera against. Not as if film is wasted.

    Regards,
    Martin Brown
    Martin Brown, Aug 8, 2005
    #2
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  3. Daniel Silevitch

    Jim Townsend Guest

    Daniel Silevitch wrote:


    >
    > Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >
    > Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg
    >


    One trick to save washing out the highlights is to
    use GIMP's 'magic wand' to select the dark area then
    do a partial level adjustment on the dark area.

    In this image it's easy because the dark area
    is well defined.

    Once you've level adjusted the dark area, select the
    whole image and do one final level adjustment. You
    can bump up the contrast and saturation slightly to
    reduce the 'washed out' look.

    You can probably pull a bit more detail out, but
    the noise and streaks will become too prominent.
    Jim Townsend, Aug 8, 2005
    #3
  4. Daniel Silevitch

    Plonker Guest

    "Daniel Silevitch" <> wrote in message
    news:...
    > This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    > lines of "next time, how can I do this better".
    >
    > Last week, I tried to photograph the new (5 day old) baby gorilla at the
    > Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago. The problem was that mom and baby, two
    > black animals, were sitting in a dark nook, giving very little contrast.
    > In addition, there was a thick layer of glass or something between them
    > and us, which meant that the camera flash had a tendency to produce
    > nasty reflections.
    >
    > Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >
    > Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    > http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg
    >
    > The camera was a Panasonic FZ5, so a decent stabilized lens, but I'm
    > pretty much stuck at ISO 80 or 100. Shutter 1/60, aperture f/3.2, 95 mm
    > focal length (35 mm equiv), flash turned on. Unfortunately, there wasn't
    > enough space in the niche that we were standing in to use a tripod,
    > especially given the crowd of people.
    >
    > Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    > that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    > of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    > tended to her baby.
    >
    > Thanks for any advice.
    >

    You should have used spot metering in this case instead of evaluative and
    high iso.
    Plonker, Aug 8, 2005
    #4
  5. On Mon, 08 Aug 2005 15:24:29 +0100, Martin Brown <|||newspam|||@nezumi.demon.co.uk> wrote:
    > Daniel Silevitch wrote:
    >> Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    >> http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >>
    >> Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    >> http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg

    >
    > You can actually improve on this subjectively by simultaneously
    > increasing brightness and contrast and allowing the bamboo pole to burn
    > out. The gorilla fur then looks better and although you lose the
    > foreground detail the main subject is rendered more effectively.


    I'll give this a shot the next time I have a chance to play with the
    image. Of course I have a large-and-growing backlog of photos to mess
    with in post-processing. Yesterday, I took 80-odd architectural shots of
    various Chicago skyscrapers, which just makes the to-be-processed pile
    grow larger.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

    >
    > Always worth trying a few longer than normal exposures if you can find
    > something to brace the camera against. Not as if film is wasted.


    That's what I was thinking. Blow the highlights on the bamboo, who
    cares, it's not the focus of the shot anyway. Though the bamboo does
    do a nice job of framing the main subjects.

    -dms
    Daniel Silevitch, Aug 8, 2005
    #5
  6. Daniel Silevitch

    Hunt Guest

    In article <>,
    says...
    >
    >This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    >lines of "next time, how can I do this better".
    >
    >Last week, I tried to photograph the new (5 day old) baby gorilla at the
    >Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago. The problem was that mom and baby, two
    >black animals, were sitting in a dark nook, giving very little contrast.
    >In addition, there was a thick layer of glass or something between them
    >and us, which meant that the camera flash had a tendency to produce
    >nasty reflections.
    >
    >Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    >http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >
    >Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    >http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg
    >
    >The camera was a Panasonic FZ5, so a decent stabilized lens, but I'm
    >pretty much stuck at ISO 80 or 100. Shutter 1/60, aperture f/3.2, 95 mm
    >focal length (35 mm equiv), flash turned on. Unfortunately, there wasn't
    >enough space in the niche that we were standing in to use a tripod,
    >especially given the crowd of people.
    >
    >Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    >that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    >of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    >tended to her baby.
    >
    >Thanks for any advice.
    >
    >-dms


    I don't know the Gimp program, but have heard good comparisons between it and
    PS, especially based on the price difference! I took the image into PS CS2,
    and masked the bamboo (two different masks, as the foreground cane is much
    brighter, than the middle-ground canes. Next,
    Image>Adjustment>Highlight&Shadow, did a fair job at default, and with some
    tweaks got me really close, while leaving the bamboo canes virtually
    untouched. Same mask was used to do an Adjustment Layer>Levels (but one could
    use Curves, as well). Good shot of mom and baby, though a bit noisy. I'd also
    run Neat Image on the final, especially the gorillas, if not the bamboo canes.
    Not fit for a double-truck mag image, but I was working on the JPG from the
    site, not your origianl RAW, or TIFF. With more careful masking (I just used
    the Polygon Lasso, so it was rough), the image would be fine for small
    printing and definitely viewing on a monitor. It took all of about 1 min. to
    do the whole thing, and would only have required about 1 min. more to tidy up
    the masks.

    I'd suggest not blowing out the bamboo, as that will draw the eye away from
    the gorillas. Though I didn't study the image really closely, it looked like
    you got a pretty good hand-held from your camera.

    Hunt
    Hunt, Aug 8, 2005
    #6
  7. Daniel Silevitch

    Hunt Guest

    In article <>,
    says...
    >


    [SNIP]
    >In addition, there was a thick layer of glass or something between them
    >and us, which meant that the camera flash had a tendency to produce
    >nasty reflections.


    [SNIP]
    >-dms


    With the glass/plexi/whatever, if you can get right up to it, or shield your
    camera, so that no light strikes the surface in front of the lens, you can
    still use the flash, without the reflections. Unfortunately, if the space is
    crowded, and you hold a jacket over your rig, someone might think you are "
    flashing" the gorillas, and I don't mean in a "strobe" sense.


    For shooting through the "glass" in hockey, I've used a device that looks like
    a small rectangular softbox, that attaches to the lens front, and rests
    against the plexi to keep reflections out. It has the advantage of being
    somewhat flexible, so you can pan and tilt, though tilt is limited because of
    the rectangular design.

    Hope some of this helps for next time,
    Hunt
    Hunt, Aug 8, 2005
    #7
  8. On 8 Aug 2005 21:31:27 GMT, Hunt <> wrote:
    > In article <>,
    > says...
    >>
    >>This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    >>lines of "next time, how can I do this better".
    >>
    >>Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    >>http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >>
    >>Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    >>http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg
    >>
    >>Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    >>that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    >>of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    >>tended to her baby.
    >>
    >>Thanks for any advice.
    >>
    >>-dms

    >
    > I don't know the Gimp program, but have heard good comparisons between it and
    > PS, especially based on the price difference! I took the image into PS CS2,
    > and masked the bamboo (two different masks, as the foreground cane is much
    > brighter, than the middle-ground canes. Next,
    > Image>Adjustment>Highlight&Shadow, did a fair job at default, and with some
    > tweaks got me really close, while leaving the bamboo canes virtually
    > untouched. Same mask was used to do an Adjustment Layer>Levels (but one could
    > use Curves, as well). Good shot of mom and baby, though a bit noisy. I'd also
    > run Neat Image on the final, especially the gorillas, if not the bamboo canes.
    > Not fit for a double-truck mag image, but I was working on the JPG from the
    > site, not your origianl RAW, or TIFF. With more careful masking (I just used
    > the Polygon Lasso, so it was rough), the image would be fine for small
    > printing and definitely viewing on a monitor. It took all of about 1 min. to
    > do the whole thing, and would only have required about 1 min. more to tidy up
    > the masks.


    Thanks for the suggestions. I think the main problem I had in
    post-processing was a mental leap. I'm quite new to the art of
    photo-editing, and I'm still stuck in the mindset that adjustments of
    contrast or other curve editing should be done on the entire image. I
    haven't yet internalized the concept that it's much much better to use
    masks to apply different corrections to different areas.

    I don't think that GIMP has a Highlight&Shadow tool, or at least not by
    that name. I've done most of my experimentation using the Levels dialog,
    and occasionally the Curves. Oh, and the original was a JPG, at about
    double the resolution of what went up on the web. The FZ5 doesn't have a
    RAW mode, and there isn't enough difference between Fine JPG and TIF for
    me to justify the x7 increase in file size.

    > I'd suggest not blowing out the bamboo, as that will draw the eye away from
    > the gorillas. Though I didn't study the image really closely, it looked like
    > you got a pretty good hand-held from your camera.


    Thanks.

    -dms
    Daniel Silevitch, Aug 9, 2005
    #8
  9. Daniel Silevitch

    Hunt Guest

    In article <>, says
    ....
    >
    >On 8 Aug 2005 21:31:27 GMT, Hunt <> wrote:
    >> In article <>, dmsilev@uchicago

    ..edu
    >
    >> says...
    >>>
    >>>This is sort of a post-mortem request for advice, so it's more along the
    >>>lines of "next time, how can I do this better".
    >>>
    >>>Original image (cropped & downsampled)
    >>>http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas_orig.jpg
    >>>
    >>>Shadows pulled up (a lot) in GIMP
    >>>http://home.uchicago.edu/~dmsilev/gorillas.jpg
    >>>
    >>>Any suggestions on how I could have improved the exposure? It's a shame
    >>>that the lighting was so bad, because I did really like the composition
    >>>of the shot, especially the expression on the mother's face as she
    >>>tended to her baby.
    >>>
    >>>Thanks for any advice.
    >>>
    >>>-dms


    In the days before Highlight&Shadow in Photoshop, pre-CS, one could do about
    the same by masking the "shadows", inverting the Selection, then working on
    that with Curves, or Levels. Often, you had to do another mask for the mid-
    tones, and another for the highlights. Curves gave one more control in these
    respects, but now H&S does it rather automatically, and has enough tweaking
    capacity to get you close. Then, if you feel you've overdone it, and immediate
    Fade H&S can let you tweak some more. One caveat with H&S (CS & CS2) is that
    it cannot be used directly on an Adjustment Layer, but one can dupe the image
    Layer, run H&S on it, then either use that as the image Layer, or work with
    the Opacity to get the correct effect.

    I believe that the Gimp has masking, but I really do not know. Start thinking
    about adjustments on just the area, where you want them, like dodging/burning
    a print in the darkroom. Masking allows you to get it perfect, unlike cupped
    hands, dodging skrims, and cardboard with all sorts of holes in it.

    Hunt
    Hunt, Aug 9, 2005
    #9
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