I was stuck with a bad photo of a subject I loved and was trying to figure out some way to rescue it. While walking on the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta some years ago I was fascinated by the sculptures I saw there. On the beach are life-size bronze sculptures of fanciful creatures like something out of the famous Star Wars cantina scene.
These fantastical sculptures caught my eye and captured my imagination. I took quite a few photos but I had only a short time in Puerto Vallarta and the lighting was not ideal. So, unfortunately, the photos didn’t portray these enchanting sculptures as attractively as I had hoped.
The Problem Photo
One of the more down-to-earth sculptures featured two human forms posed in a way that suggested intimacy to me. I decided to work with one of these photos in Photoshop to see if I could make something of it. In addition to the suboptimal lighting, these photos are from 2005 and were shot in JPEG back before I was aware of the advantages of shooting raw. With JPEG my processing options were limited and there was not a lot I could do using only normal photographic adjustments. So, I decided to try to find a more artistic interpretation.
The first thing I did was to make a selection of the two sculptures and remove the sky & cloud background. In its place I dropped in a neutral gray background. I also added a levels adjustment layer to increase the contrast in the sculptures.
Beyond that, I didn’t have any particular approach in mind so I started by experimenting with some of the filters in Color Efex Pro. I tried quite a few of the Color Efex Pro filters without getting anything that excited me. Eventually I tried the Monday Morning filter which I kind of liked but I felt it was still lacking something. I gave the Midnight filter a try. It imbued the image with a much different feeling, darker, naturally, almost sinister. Definitely not the intimate feeling which I originally had in mind. I also played around with Low Key and Glamour Glow. Low Key didn’t do anything for me but Glamour Glow wasn’t half bad.
I continued experimenting and eventually worked my way to the Brilliance/Warmth filter and the result was pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Brilliance/Warmth filter even had a nice effect on the plain gray background. What was surprising is that the effect on the background was not to alter it uniformly as you might expect given that the background started out as a single solid gray color. Instead, there’s a nice color gradient from one side of the image to the other. (This doesn’t come through as well in the PNG above as it does in the original PSD.) I’m pleased with the result and happy that I was able to salvage something from my original poor quality photo.
As I was experimenting with the various Color Efex filters I created a new (duplicate) layer in Photoshop for each one. That way, I could quickly compare the effects and decide which ones I wanted to keep or maybe blend together. Also, before going into Color Efex Pro, I converted each layer into a Smart Object. That way, each filter would be applied as a Smart Filter which meant that I could later go back and adjust the filter settings if I chose to.