Faded and Broken: A Photo Tutorial

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This post was submitted by Phillip Munafo and you can check out more of his work here and here.

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Before

For this tutorial I have chosen a photo that was taken at the Neon Museum’s boneyard in Las Vegas, Nevada. I recently traveled to Las Vegas from Florida to get married and this photo was taken in the late afternoon. The light was very nice as it was close to the golden hour right before sunset.

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After

I chose this photo for the tutorial because when I saw this opportunity for a shot I knew exactly what I had in mind and just what I wanted to achieve. As far as the camera technique goes, I chose aperture priority (Av) mode so that I could choose a large aperture (f stop number) to get a shallow depth of field (blurry foreground). Unfortunately, the only lens I currently own is the Canon 28-135mm IS USM f/3.5-5.6 lens that came in the kit with my Canon EOS 40D. If I would have had a lens with a shallower depth of field such as the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II I could have seen drastically different results. I have a hunch that Santa is bringing me this lens for Christmas! I also zoomed in a bit with my lens because when you zoom in on an object that is close to you this will also create a shallow depth of field. Even though while zoomed my lowest f stop number was 5.6 I still achieved a good result. I set the focus point manually so that I could frame the shot how I wanted to and be sure my focus would be on the light bulb that I wanted in focus (the one further back and colored differently). The reason I chose a focus point manually was so that I could set my metering system to evaluative and not have to focus and recompose the shot. This may have thrown my metering system off. Since I was in aperture priority mode (Av) an appropriate shutter speed was chosen automatically by the camera to get a proper exposure. As you will see in the Photoshop section this was just a little bit off and I adjusted this slightly.

Now on to what I did in Photoshop… I shot this image in RAW so that I would have more of an ability to make corrections and adjustments once I got to the computer for post-processing. I shoot most of my images in RAW unless I know that I will not be doing much post-processing to them or they are just snapshots. With my clients I always shoot RAW because I can make fixes to shots that otherwise may have been lost due to various factors. I love the flexibility RAW gives me and I can’t say enough about what you can do with the proper software and a bit of time to play around with settings. I first started by opening the folder with my images in Adobe Bridge so that I could find the image and open it in Adobe Camera RAW.

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Fig 1.

Once opened in Adobe Camera RAW I adjusted various levels as you can see in Fig 1. Of special note is the exposure, contrast, and clarity sliders. I had to raise the exposure as the image straight from the camera was a bit dark for my tastes. I also boosted the contrast to make the colors pop a little more. I also made them pop by raising saturation and vibrance. By raising the clarity I achieved a bit more detail in the photo. My general rule of thumb is that for portraits I will lower clarity a bit to give a softer feel and for objects such as these light bulbs I will raise clarity to strengthen details. It all depends on what you are going for though and these general rules are definitely not set in stone.

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Fig 2

In Fig 2 you can see that I applied a quite a bit of sharpening and also applied some noise reduction. I usually base how much noise reduction I will apply by the ISO I shot the image at. Since I shot this image at the lowest ISO I could set my camera to (100) I didn’t apply overly strong noise reduction. I only applied enough to smooth the image out a little.

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Fig 3

In Fig 3 you can see that I applied a bit of a vignette to the image. I like the look of a vignette on many images so I usually apply either a weak or strong vignette to most of my images depending on the effect I am going for. For this image I applied a relatively weak vignette.

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Fig 4

In Fig 4 you can see that I have now opened the image into Photoshop CS4 itself and the final step I applied was the Auto Tone adjustment. This quickly and easily corrected my colors but it doesn’t always work perfectly. I find that for some images it gives me a result that I do not like. I usually try it to see the results and then choose to keep it or undo it. There is also an option in the edit menu to fade either Auto Tone, Auto Color, or Auto Contrast. This can be useful as it gives you a slider which allows you to choose exactly how much of the effect you would like to apply. As you can see in the final image it looks quite a bit different from the before image and I have achieved the result I was looking for.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday!

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