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Photoshop advice


Alan_Coggins
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I've been attempting to play with my digital images on Photoshop 5.5 and, yes, you were all correct ... enormous possibilities and a lot to learn. So far my procedure is:

* take photo as jpeg and save as tif

* crop and maybe rotate

* remove background and clean up edges using combination of "select/grow", magnetic lasso and eraser.

* save for web as jpeg at a suitable size.

I am not clear on sharpening though - I have been using the simple "sharpen" function, but should I be using the Unsharp Mask and setting the amount, radius and threshold (???). Are there some "usual" settings for these for violins or does it just depend on each image. And at what stage in the above sequence do you sharpen? Do you sharpen more than once?

Which other features of Photoshop do you find you regularly use for violin pictures? ... so many questions .... I'd be very grateful if some experienced users out there could give me some pointers. At this stage I am only wanting to view on screen, not printing out at all.

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If the background permits it (and you should shoot violins against something white so it does), the magic wand is a better tool to use than the magnetic lasso. After you select, you should select/feather, about 3-5 px. That removes the unnaturally sharp edge from the selection. Sharpening is done the very last, after everything, with the unsharp mask, not sharpening, on the background layer, if you use layers. I use around 150/.6/0. When you sharpen, you should always be at 100%--at any other magnification, fitting the image to the magnification messes with your ability to see what's happening.

If you're not experienced with color, the auto-levels command can be very handy. If you're a geek, learn to use curves for almost all color correcitons. For violins, I use hue/saturation/lightness to lower the saturation of reds so they don't go off the map.

It's best to work in Photoshop's own .psd format and use layers for everything. Every color adjustment, such as levels, h/s/b, etc, can be layered on over the original as a filter. You can work them all against each other, and see how they work, go back and adjust one to tune things up, or even throw out an adjustment layer if you feel you messed up so badly you want to start over. Then you can print and save from that, which is what I do, or if you want to e-mail something, flatten the layers and turn the photo back into a j-peg.

Any questions, ask.

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Alan,

Can you post an image you've manipulated so that I can see where you are with the program and how you're photographing the instruments? I think the best initial advice you could receive is in the photographing itself. You can save yourself much work in the way your pictures are taken.

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Michael is sooooo right (no surprise) about the use of layers. I have taught Photoshop to a number of users.

Lesson One: Choose 'Duplicate layer' from the menu bar. Turn off original layer. Start messing around... If you mess up too much, you can always start over by going back to the original layer, choose 'Duplicate layer', etc......

So many beginning users try to do it all on that first layer. Watch out, expecially with text! Always always always add a layer first.

By manipulating and turning off and on different layers, almost anything is possible with that most useful of programs...

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I can see Michael has 'photoshop hands'...

I would add as a tip when using the wand (and particularly with violin images) is to learn to use the quick mask... making a selection with the wand/lassoo or marquee and switching to quickmask mode (Q) turns the slection transparent with a red mask. Then using brushes/erasers you can 'paint' your mask, and then switch back to normal mode using 'Q' again. So if a wand operation bleeds into the instrument, or anthing causes the selection to miss sections (round the endpin/pegs etc), you can fix it quicksmart.

I also use the 'levels' command religiously for setting... well, levels. I do this before any other colour correction. Here's a quick primer.

And quickkeys you can't live without. 'F' toggles through fullscreen modes, 'TAB' toggles all the palletes on and off. 'Ctrl-0' to fit to screen, followed by a 'Ctrl-+/-' to set a zoom level. I always try to edit at a zoom level which is a multiple of 2. 25%/50%/200% etc..

edit: some other sequences you can't live without, they're not essential for a lot of editing, but I use them instinctively for clean manipulation.

On a layer (not the background), if you have a selection and want to isolate it on the layer (i.e. remove waste). Shift-F7 to invert the selection and Delete.

If you have a transparent layer with something on it and you want to select just the contents or a part of it - i.e. wrap your selection around the image, it's handy to learn the 'shimmy shake'. Select the layer, select the marquee 'M', select all 'Ctrl-A', or select a portion of the image (works with lassoo too), Select the move tool 'V', shimmy shake 'Down-Arrow' then 'Up-Arrow' - the selection will now match the contents of the original selection. This is really handy if you want to use the free transform tool ('Ctrl-T').

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And if nothing seems to be happening when you're trying to do something, make sure you've selected the right layer in the layers pallette, and aren't, for instance, trying to sharpen a levels layer. :-)

As long as we're adding layers of complexity, my two favorite things are zooming with the mouse wheel, and scanning around through the photo by pushing the space bar and holding down the left mouse button and dragging. And let me second llama's quick-mask suggestion for touching up the edges of things.

To photograph violins, I stand them on the edge of a jar, about a foot away from a white background. With a white background, you can use the cloning tool to clone the white of the background over the jar, and make it go away, and you can save a lot of the fuss of selecting and erasing by just nudging the white up to pure white. I use two lights--blue photofloods about even with the scroll, but pointed towards the bottom of the violin, and the lights are pushed around to the side until the reflections go away. That's all there is to it. Make sure you're dead on straight to the violin--not looking up or down, and use the front corners vs the back ones to line things up from left to right.

If you go to the curves menu, you'll see three eyedroppers to choose. Click the left one and click the darkest black spot inside the f-hole. That simultaneously corrects the shadow colors, and sets the black to black. Then go to the right one, click on it, and click on one of the light grey shadows on the white background, and the whole background is set to white, and that end of the scale is color corrected. Then click on the middle one, and find a medium toned area of the fingerboard and click on that. This corrects the mid-tones (how fortunate we are to have a good clean grey in the middle of the photo!). Click on the middle of the diagonal line in the graph, and drag up or down to correct overall brightness and close the window. Then go to hue/saturation/brighness, pull the saturation down about four points, go to red (there's a drop down window at the top) and pull red saturation back about 10 points. If you're lucky and done a good job with the photography, you'll be very close to the right color of the violin after all that. That's my quick and dirty method to quickly get things close to right, and then I'd start making prints and adjusting more closely, since my system is nothing like calibrated. :-)

Here's an example of a violin done just that way, without the jar retouched out at the bottom. This was a quick shot for a friend who wanted it e-mailed to a prospective customer, so I didn't spend a lot of time with it.

CONTROL-Z (undo) IS YOUR BEST FRIEND! :-)

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Thanks everyone - a lot of ideas to try! I'll read through all your advice and come back in a year or two with more questions.

Japes - I have put a couple of images on my website:

Before: http://www.abcviolins.com/adams1.jpg

After: http://www.abcviolins.com/adams2.jpg

It's a Lloyd Adams violin that I quickly snapped in someone's lounge room using the Auto setting on the camera (about one week after I got it!) I am just taking photos in homes, museum basements, etc as I come across interesting instruments, but I will obviously need to get myself more organised with a white sheet, portable lights and a tripod if I am to get better results.

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For a background I use a piece of foam-core matte board. When I had to shoot violins on a trip, I cut a piece to fit the inside of the trunk lid I was packing my gear in--I think about 12x32 inches, if I remember correctly, was enough. You could even cut it in half or thirds, even, and make a tape hinge for it, since digitally it would be very easy to remove the tape--say, a 12x11 times three panel would pack nicely. Just that piece of board and a jar will make things a lot easier for you. I made a weight with a wire hook on it to pull down on the tailgut and the violin more securely into the jar to make the jar arrangement a little less scary.

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Alan,

You've done a pretty good job removing the background, but with a few simple considerations, you can reduce the time you would have spent on this significantly. The tips Michael and llama have provided are very good. I personally use nothing more than quick mask for the violin selection. I've created a number of custom-sized brushes that allow me to achieve the desired result very quickly. The natural shape of the violin and its components lends itself well to the photoshop brush palette and its customizable properties.

I think the two most important considerations for good DIY violin photos are stability and background. A tripod is a must-have, as is a good, even-toned background. You'll always want to use a similar valued background to the desired tone for your photoshopped image. Failing to do this will result in unnatural shadows and reflections on the subject.

Good photographs can actually be taken without good lighting, but a tripod or some other solid surface must be used to stabilize the camera. In the absence of good lighting, it's best to use what daylight is available in the best lit room of the house. All other lights within the room should be off in order to reduce any glare the camera will pick up on the subject. Any white or off-white wall will work as a background. Michael's tip to use a piece of white foam-core is a good one. Better still, a piece of black foam-core is great, as the opposite side is generally white, giving you the otpion of a light or dark background. Even in a relatively dark room where the background to your eye appears grey, using the appropriate shutter speed (a slow setting) on your camera will result in a photograph that appears to have been well-lit, without glare and unwanted shadows. Use a glass or jar, as Michael suggested, as a stand for the violin, but be careful. If it's not a controlled environment, lay a doona (duvet or comforter for the North Americans) down in a clump just in case the violin were to fall. I like to position the violin, at least, a foot away from the background. It's imperative that your camera remain absolutely still. I use the built in timer with my camera. The shot isn't taken until 5 seconds after I've been touching the camera. This way, there's absolutely no movement whatsoever.

In many cases, no selection will be necessary within photoshop. The bulk of your adjustment can be done with levels, colour balance and brightness/contrast. Before beginning any manipulation within photoshop, I like to increase the size of my image by, at least, 50%. Apply whatever adjustments you'd like to make along with any sharpening then shrink your image back down again. This will result in a softening effect that should rid your image of any resulting jaggies. You can then apply another light sharpen to crisp everything up if need-be, but I usually find this isn't necessary.

Play with your camera and become familiar with the shutter speed settings. See how this affects the resulting image in various lighting scenarios.

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Thanks again Michael, Japes, Henry and Llama. I have got a big piece of foam-core that would be perfect to throw in the back of the car. And the tip on using the timer - great idea! I had been lamenting the absence of a fitting for a remote shutter release but it never occurred to me to use the self-timer.

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  • 2 weeks later...

... while cutting out some instruments for my scrapbook, I discovered a neat way of getting nice edges on an instrument. For years I have blurred masks to get even edges on troublesome regions, but that tends to leave a ghost edge around an object. This method was something of a 'eureka' moment.

Take the image and place it on a layer, then duplicate the layer. Apply a 0.5 - 1.5 pixel gaussian blur to the bottom layer, then use the the magic wand on that layer. The selection is much smoother and any artifacts like jpeg mosquito noise are averaged out. Use the resultant selection to perform operations on the top layer, and hide or delete the blurred layer.

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