Solve photo problems with image-editing tools

Use Adobe Photoshop to liven up gray skies in your landscapes and remove distracting bystanders. Plus: Make high-quality photo enlargements for free with SmillaEnlarger.

  • No More Gray Skies

    It isn't too difficult to transform even the most boring sky into a blue canopy speckled with clouds, like the one you see here. I've already described how to [[xref:|replace the sky with a real photo|Digital Focus: Improve the Background in Your Photos, Part II]] —but you're not limited to Mother Nature. A little-known tool in [[xref:|Adobe Photoshop Elements|Adobe Photoshop Elements]] can generate a fake sky on command. It may be hard to believe, but the sky in this photo is computer generated.
  • Use Photoshop CS to Remove Spectators

    Have you ever tried to take a photo of something specific, but too many people were in the way to get a good shot? Let's say that you need a photo of this foosball table--and shooing everyone away isn't an option. If you own the Creative Suite edition of [[xref:|Adobe Photoshop|Adobe Photoshop CS4]], you're in business. Photoshop can take a series of similar photos and remove parts that don't belong in all of the images, leaving behind only those sections that are identical in every one. You just need to thoroughly photograph every bit of the scene, and then load the pictures into Photoshop and run a script.

  • Color Your Cloudy Sky

    Now it's time to set the color of the fake sky and clouds. Double-click the Set Foreground Color square in the color palette. This will be the cloud color. You can make your clouds any color you like; for this photo, I think a bright gray will look most realistic. Enter 240 in each of the R, G, and B fields, and click OK. To set the sky color, double-click the Set Background Color square and enter R, G, and B values for a good shade of blue (try 110, 186, and 225, for example).
  • Photo Trickery Made Easy

    Sure, you probably know all the run-of-the-mill tools in your [[xref:|photo editor|5 Common Photo Problems, Avoided or Solved]]. You can erase blemishes with the clone tool and adjust exposure with the contrast slider. But have you ever tried adding fake clouds to a plain blue sky, turning a crowded room into a ghost town, or dramatically enlarging a small photo? It's easier than you think.
  • Wave a (Photoshop Elements) Magic Wand

    Let's get started. I'll work with this photo--the sky is uniformly bland, and there's enough of it for you to see what's going on. We need to select the sky but exclude the skyline; that's a job for Adobe Photoshop Elements' Magic Wand. Select the tool, and then open the Options palette and set the Tolerance to about 15. Click the sky, and the tool will select all nearby pixels that share a similar color. If you need to add bits of sky to your selection, choose Add to Selection and then click more of the sky. To remove a little, click Subtract from Selection, lower the Tolerance, and click the unwanted part.
  • Render the Clouds

    Now let's color the sky, which should still be selected. Choose Filter, Render, Clouds from the menu. You'll see a random sky-and-cloud pattern appear. Since it's a random effect, you can apply it over and over again (no need to Undo first) until you get a pattern you like. Then, to fine-tune it, choose Enhance, Adjust Lighting, Levels, and tweak the Levels tool. You might move the rightmost slider a bit to the left to brighten the sky, for example, and then fiddle with the middle slider. As you can see, this effect looks most realistic on small areas of sky, as shown a couple slides back.
  • A Pristine, Human-Free Photo

    As you take pictures, be sure to get at least one shot of every part you want to capture. In each photo, you'll have unwanted people, but they'll move around, leaving the background consistent in every frame. It's best to use a tripod for this; if you're holding the camera yourself, try to keep the framing as consistent as possible in every photo. When you get home, open all the images in Photoshop. Choose File, Scripts, Statistics. Change the Stack Mode to Median, and then click Add Open Files and OK. Photoshop will think for a while and then produce a photo with no people in it, like magic. It took six photos to produce this human-free scene.
  • How Not to Enlarge a Photo

    This photo is blocky and pixelated--yech. What happened? I tried using Photoshop Elements to enlarge a small photo. Though Photoshop Elements is great at resizing photos downward, it isn't adept at blowing them up--it merely duplicates pixels, with unpleasant results. Fortunately, some stand-alone programs on the market use advanced math to infer details when enlarging an image. [[xref:|GenuineFractals|GenuineFractals]] is one example, but it's expensive (US$160). Even better is a free alternative, [[xref:,80366-page,1/description.html|SmillaEnlarger|SmillaEnlarger]].
  • SmillaEnlarger to the Rescue

    SmillaEnlarger is an open-source photo enlarger for Windows. It's easy to install, since it has no setup program: Just drag the folder anywhere you wish and then run the application. To use it, drag a photo into the program window and specify the new size. You don't need to tweak the program settings to obtain great results. Simply click the Preview button to see what the final image will look like. If you're satisfied, specify a name for the image and clickEnlarge & Save. The results can be stunning.
  • Side by Side: Photoshop Elements vs. SmillaEnlarger

    Here is a zoomed-in detail from a Hot Pic winner, [[xref:|"Tomatoes," by Brian Kolstad|"Tomatoes," by Brian Kolstad]]. On the left you can see that the text on the shirt is barely legible. I enlarged this sample in Photoshop Elements. On the right you can see the same detail, tripled in size with SmillaEnlarger. Notice that the same region of the photo is now dramatically easier to read.
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