Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bringing New Life To Old Photos

I have a different kind of metamorphosis to share today.  It's not a room renovation or a landscaping improvement.  It's a photo metamorphosis -- and a tutorial.  I want to share some things I've learned about editing pictures using Picasa.  These editing techniques can be used on your new photos taken with a digital camera, or on older photos taken on film.  For those of you who read my blog, you know I'm not a professional photographer.  But I enjoy making my photos look as good as possible for my blog posts.

Blog Land is full of really talented photographers.  I'm constantly amazed and impressed with the quality of pictures I see in your blogs.  But for those few people out there (like me) who often need to improve the look of their pictures, you might find something helpful in this post.

Mr. Forest Manor and I took a class in Adobe Photoshop Elements, and there are a lot of things one can do with Photoshop.  The watermarking feature is really efficient and easy to use, and the other editing features are very professional and varied.  For instance, you can remove people from pictures (ex-spouses for example) and you can move people around in a picture.  You can smooth out lines on people's faces and whiten teeth.  These are not things I need to do often (if ever), but you can see how professional photographers might use these tools a lot.

When we signed up for this class, I had been using Picasa for about a year; it was familiar and I was comfortable with it.  I predominantly used Picasa for storage and transferring pictures to my blog posts.  I rarely used the editing features.  The Photoshop class we took actually helped me to make better use of the Picasa editing features.

If you already know how to do all these things, you won't need to read this and be bored by my explanations.  And if any of you know a better way to do these edits in Picasa, I welcome suggestions. :)

In this post, I'm focusing on the editing I did on some photos of our trip to Ireland in 1999.  You can see more pictures from Ireland HERE and HERE.  These pictures were taken on film, and they're 13 years old.  The first thing I did was to scan the pictures to our computer using Picasa.  Then I watermarked them in Photoshop.  Picasa and Photoshop Elements will work together on the computer, which is helpful if you have both applications.

As you can see below, some of my pictures have faded over the years, and some of them look dull because of that all-important factor in photography -- light.  We had very little sunshine during the time I was in Ireland, which made a lot of the pictures look dull and dark.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Everything just seems to have a gray, dull cast to it, doesn't it?  Even the grass, which is famously green in Ireland, looks blah.  And the sky -- well, it just disappears into the background.  Now here's the same photo after I enriched the overall colors and added some blue-gray to the washed-out sky. 

A professional photographer could still find ways to improve this picture, but to my eyes, it looks so much better.  I like to say it's been brought back to life.  The colors are richer; and even though you can still tell the picture was taken on a cloudy day, we do have a distinguishable skyline now.  In addition, the grass is a true green, and if you look closely, all the other colors stand out more.  The gray of the church steeple is more pronounced, the red building in the background on the left looks more "alive, and even the black pops more than in the unedited picture.

This is the process I used to make these pictures look better.  Here's how your Picasa basic tool menu appears...

Before I took the Photoshop class, the only tools I ever used were the Crop, Straighten, and Auto Contrast features.  It's great to know what else is available on Picasa editing.  I brightened the above photo by using the Boost feature in the tool menu.  To get to the Boost feature from the basic menu, click on the paintbrush with the blue square on the top, far right.  When you click there, this menu opens --

This menu offers twelve tools for editing your pictures.  Of these twelve applications, I've used Boost, Soften, Vignette, and Museum Matte.  All are good tools, depending on the effects you want in your pictures.  If you hover your mouse over the Boost icon (top row, far left), you'll get a message that says "Bring out colors and increase contrast," and that's exactly what it does.  When you click on the Boost button, this screen appears...

...and the colors in your picture will almost pop off the screen (the photo you're editing will be beside this screen on the right).  At this point, you can adjust the color brightness, or boost, by using the slider button under the word "Strength".  Once you get the colors and contrast like you want them, just click on apply.  At this point I usually go to the main toolbar and save. This just saves your edit.  What I like about this is that you can go back anytime and Undo Save, after which you can Undo Boost or whatever edit process you've performed.  I've used the "Undo" key many times while I'm trying to get exactly the look I want in my pictures.

The next improvement I made was to add some sky color.  You can add color to your washed-out sky by using the Graduated Tint feature.  Once again, you start at the basic tools menu, but this time you'll choose the plain paintbrush, third button from the left, top of the screen.

You'll see the Graduated Tint button in the bottom right corner.  Click on that and the following screen appears --

Now click in the multi-colored box beneath "Pick Color".  Then this screen appears, with what looks like a honeycomb of color samples --

There will be a little eye-dropper icon in these color samples and you move the eye-dropper over the color you want and click.  For this picture I chose the gray at the end (far right) of the top row of hexagonal color blocks.  I placed the eye-dropper over the gray block, clicked and this screen appeared --

You can see the small circle to the left of the multi-colored box is now gray to designate the color you've selected.  Then click and drag the cross-hair, as depicted in the center of this photo, up into the sky area of your photo.

Let go of the mouse button, and you've got color in your sky.  I had to practice moving the cross-hair and clicking in different parts of the sky until I learned to achieve a natural look.  I also wanted to show this menu screen one more time... order to point out the two slider buttons, "Feather" and "Shade."  The Feather button is nice to use once you've selected your sky color and have used the click-and-drag process with the cross-hair to apply that color where you want it in the sky.  You can slide the Feather button to the right to distribute your sky color and give it a subtle, "feathered" effect.  The "Shade" slider button can lighten or darken the color you've chosen for your sky.

This was really a challenging post to do, so I hope it's not too confusing to follow.  I tried to make the steps and examples as clear as possible.  These editing features really are easy to use because you can practice and play around with a photo, and if you don't like the way the edit looks, you can just press the "Undo" button, and you're back to your original picture.

Here are some more before and afters where I used the Boost feature to make my photos pop and the Graduated Tint feature to improve those bland, colorless skies.

As you can see, the Boost feature even brings out the subtle colors in the old stone of these churches.  It takes them from flat and dull to looking more alive and interesting.  My favorite pictures that I've worked on so far are the pictures from our trip to England in 1999.  I'll be doing a post about the trip at some later date, but here are a couple of before and afters to finish this post.

This is probably one of the most photographed cottages in England -- Anne Hathaway's Cottage just outside of Stratford on Avon.

If you have Picasa installed on your computer, I urge you to try some of these applications.  You have nothing to lose, and you might discover that even a good picture can be made to look better.  Do you have a favorite editing tool, and do you prefer to use Picasa, Photoshop, or another kind of software?

Thanks for visiting my blog; your visits and comments really do make my day!  I'm joining Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Metamorphosis Monday.  I hope you have a great week.

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