Photoshop Disasters: The Home Game ANSWER!

The line “…I wonder if you can spot it, too” in Saturday’s post was a spontaneous thing but boy, did I enjoy all of the responses. Here’s the original photo again:

A lovely photo of Boston's Public Garden, with two swans sliding into a calm lagoon and a 140-year-old iron footbridge in the background.

I’ll show you the original, untouched imagery. But first, let’s roll through some of the guesses:

  • “The debris in the water looks like dust on the bed of a scanner.” Nope…this was shot digitally. I did momentarily consider erasing all of those little bits, but that would have been overkill.
  • “Is it the unexplained circle of water ripples?” Oddly enough…nope. I myself have been trying to think of why the ripples look a little out-of-place. Maybe the swan entered the water at one angle, and then changed course? Midway through the edit, I thought “Damn…I must have made a clumsy, square selection at some point.” This is why I sometimes find myself returning to the original image to make sure I’m not “fixing” something that’s actually a natural feature.
  • “Oversharpening of the trees?” Nope. Or at least I didn’t give the trees any special attention. I don’t think I applied any sharpening to this image. I might have done it to the whole thing by reflex.
  • “A little quaint for my taste.” Point taken. I think it’s more photographic and stylish than hotel room art, but the image would still be alarmingly appropriate for the title screen of a wedding video. The main focus of my attention was the bridge, which I think is one of the prettiest public structures in Boston. Other shots of the bridge in this series use angles that are more dynamic. I liked that I caught one of the swans just as she was about to jump into the water.
  • “It has to be the light on the left. It looks like it is behind the tree at its base, but the post and light are in front of the tree.” Nope, I didn’t do anything to the trees or the lights on the bridge. I think the trees behind and in front of the light are just sort of compressed together in the image. But yeah, I see what you mean.
  • “My untrained eye keeps coming back to the lights on the bridge. They appear to be lit, even though daylight has arrived.” This was shot at about 6:30 AM. The sun was up but the timer on the lights hadn’t tripped yet. I’m grateful that there’s a little color and texture in the lights.
  • “the bit of sky in the top right hand corner. I keep looking over there and there is nothing to see.” Interesting. That wasn’t the “mistake” I was thinking of but maybe I’ll just see what it looks like with some cloned foliage filling the gap.
  • “Ok, I’ll go with ‘Something seems wrong with the water in the extreme lower left corner, just to the left on the standing bird’s reflection.’ Hard to tell at iPad screen resolution, but the ripple and reflection patterns look like they’ve been modified.” OooOOoooh…very close. I had to look carefully and compare the source to the final photo to check. No, but you’re verrrry close.
  • “Maybe too much cloned tree by the rightmost lamp.” Nope, I didn’t clone any trees.

Nobody got it. One of you would have won the $30 Outback Steak House Gift Card (had I offered one as a prize) for coming closest: Jay Horsley sensed that there was…something…going on with the reflection of one of the two swans.

I actually did two different major edits to this piece. It’s a composite of not one, but three photos.

Firstly, there are two swans in the Public Garden but only one of them is represented in this photo. The other one was minding the nest on the opposite shore of the lagoon. I shot a multiple-image sequence of the swan jumping into the water and paddling off. After Photoshop automatically aligned the two shots I’d selected, it was easy to “paint in” the swan on the shore.

I used the “swan in the water” shot as my main image; it saved me the trouble of removing the woman from the bridge.

Jay’s comment encouraged me to examine the Before and After images side-by-side and see if I should have painted more of the “shore” swan’s reflection into the water. The only thing missing is its head; I think it should be obscured by the ripples of the water. But maybe I’ll play with it some more.

That edit was easy. The tricky one was cleaning up the bridge abutment. “It’s a focal point of the photo and it’s covered in bird s***,” an art critic might say.

I thought that’s what it was, too. But actually, it’s just lime scale seeping through the cracks in the mortar.

“Uh-huh. But it still looks like it’s streaked with gallons and gallons of bird s***.”

Critics!

There was just way, way too much of this stuff to “fix” the stones via the usual Photoshop tricks. So on a later visit to the Public Garden, I shot a closeup of the opposite abutment, which (praise Tarim) was much, much cleaner:

Photo of bridge abutment.

Damn and blast, I didn’t have a copy of the photo with me at the time. I had to guess at the right angle and I wasn’t even close. But it’s a tiny part of the final image so I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I mashed and distorted it until it was the same shape and size as the one covered in bi…in lime scale. Then I used a mask to knock a hole in the master image and lined up the replacement abutment under the hole, flipping between the “Before” and “After” to make sure that the blocks matched the original.

But look what I forgot to do:

Detail of image, showing the "fixed" abutment of the bridge, with the original "messed up" abutment still reflected in the water.

Yup…I forgot to fix the reflection of the original streaked-up abutment.

I was pretty proud of the replacement job (though I think I’ll fine-tune the edges a little) and I stopped working without thinking about how The Thing Wot I Changed had influenced other things in the image. That’s a common mistake. You see it all the time on the “Photoshop Disasters” site. You might have done a great job fixing the whatsit. But before you move on, you need to look back at the original image. Is the whatsit reflected in something else? Does it cast a shadow? Is it supposed to be reflecting light on something else? If so…what color is that light? Do any of these things need to be updated?

Thanks for your comments about the photo. I wasn’t actually fishing for reassurance but hey, who doesn’t like reassurance and encouragement?

Some people like to unwind with a game. I tend to sublimate that kind of adventuring into creativity apps. When I run into a problem, it rarely really frustrates me; I actually enjoy trying to figure out how to get the Babel Fish. I keep getting killed on the “replace the background without leaving a color halo around the foreground figures” level. But I keep at it, or I buy a cheat guide, and I figure out how to beat it. Hoo-rah!

…And then I start getting killed on the “intensify a specific color without compressing the image’s dynamic range” level instead.

Speaking of cheat guides: my pal Lesa Snyder has a new edition of her fab book, “Photoshop CS5: The Missing Manual” It was within reach throughout most of this little job.

I really do use it as a cheat guide. The table of contents doesn’t actually read

  1. Man, Andy…you’re such a dumbass about layer blending
  2. I guess you owe that print service an apology…you’ve had the color management settings set wrong all this time
  3. How on earth did you get through several decades on this planet without ever knowing how the Histogram tool works?
  4. …Or you could fix that sky in about three seconds by doing it the right way, but what the hell do I know, I’m just a Photoshop book

…but it might as well. I have a problem, I open the book, I find the solution.

10 thoughts on “Photoshop Disasters: The Home Game ANSWER!”

  1. There now I feel like a real “clutz” as you chaps tend to say! I was under the impression you were talking about a photo, you know, a single photo, a frame, a shot – not one from a squirt of 16 a second and then to modify a combination of several over a couple of days!

    I’d been under the impression that you had waited for exactly that second to achieve a moment of photographic greatness. Now I know I really can’t compete when “a photo” ceases to be just that as anything could have changed within the frame.

    You win!

    However, thanks for all the tips……………….!

  2. Amazing how clear the reflection is when you know what you are looking for, but onlybwhen you know what you’re looking for! Wall looks great and didn’t spot the swans.

    Cheers

  3. I did a similar thing recently with a photo. It was a picture of my son playing in a fountain. I managed to remove another kid from the shot with the new content aware fill, but there is a reflection of the now-absent boy in the wet ground. I’m not really sure how I’m going to get rid of that.

  4. What about the fact that you cut off the diving swans reflected head with the swimming swan’s refection. There is room for it, but you let the swimmer win.

    Also, your shadows under the bridge are pretty plugged up (or is it my eMac screen?)

  5. Andy – what’s the sharp vertical line below the diving swan? I don’t see precursors to it in either source photo.

  6. Andy, I’ve recently moved over to Lightroom for tweaking my photos and I’m finding solutions I used to use don’t work the same. Eventually I’ll work out the equivalent steps. E.g. for:
    . Wait for Ford Prefect to go to sleep.
    . Pick up Ford’s satchel and put it in front of the panel.
    . Take off your gown and put it on the hook.
    . Put your towel on the drain.
    . Put the junk mail on top of the satchel.
    . Press the dispenser button.

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