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The Big Fixx: digital-camera image probl... > Fixing Photos Where You Wish You Had...

Fixing Photos Where You Wish You Hadn’t Used Your Flash

There’s a natural tendency for some photographers to react to their immediate surroundings, rather than what they see through the lens. For example, if you’re shooting an indoor concert, there are often hundreds of lights illuminating the stage. However, some photographers think it’s one light short—their flash, because where they’re sitting, it’s dark. When you look at your photos later, you see that your flash lit everyone in front of you (which wasn’t the way it really looked—the crowd is usually in the dark), which ruins an otherwise great shot. Here’s a quick fix to make it look as if your flash never fired at all.

Step One.
Open a photo where shooting with the flash has ruined part of the image (like the image shown here taken during the PhotoshopWorld opening keynote, where the back ten rows are lit by the flash, when they should be dark. Just the stage lit by the stage lighting should appear out of the darkness).


Step Two.
Press the letter “m” to get the Rectangular Marquee tool, and draw a selection over the area where the flash affected the shot. In the image shown here, the selection encompasses a number of rows in the back of the theater.

Step Three.
In the next step, we’re going to adjust the tonal range of this selected area, but we don’t want that adjustment to appear obvious. We’ll need to soften the edges of our selection quite a bit so our adjustment blends in smoothly with the rest of the photo. To do this, go under the Select menu and choose Feather. When the Feather Selection dialog appears, enter 25 pixels to soften the selection edge. (By the way, 25 pixels is just my guess for how much this particular selection might need. The rule of thumb is the higher the resolution of the image, the more feathering you’ll need, so don’t be afraid to use more than 25 if your edge is visible when you finish.)

Step Four.
It will help you make a better adjustment if you hide the selection border (we call it “the marching ants”) from view. Note: We don’t want to deselect—we want our selection to remain intact but we don’t want to see the annoying border, so press Command-H (PC: Control-H) to hide the selection border. Now, press Command-L (PC: Control-L) to bring up the Levels dialog. At the bottom of the dialog, drag the right Output Levels slider to the left to darken your selected area. Because you’ve hidden the selection border, it should be very easy to match the surroundings of your photo by just dragging this slider to your left.

Step Five.
When the photo looks about right, click OK to apply your Levels adjustment. Then, press Command-H (PC: Control-H) to make your selection visible again. (This trips up a lot of people who, since they don’t see the selection anymore, forget it’s there, and then nothing reacts as it should from that point on.) Last, press Command-D (PC: Control-D) to deselect. The original and “flash-free” photos are shown below.

Before: The flash is obvious and falls quite short of reaching the stage.

After: The effect of the flash is hidden, saving the shot!

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