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Thread: Aviation Post Process: Step-by-Step with Screenshots

  1. #1
    Senior Member tlabranche's Avatar
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    Nov 2011
    League City, Texas, United States

    Aviation Post Process: Step-by-Step with Screenshots

    I was asked by a good friend, who is just starting out with spotting, to help him with some post processing. I figured I would share the screenshot tutorial that I made for him. I included every step that I take when processing an aviation shot. I hope it helps others as well, as there are always folks who want extra tips.

    The programs I am using are: Adobe Camera RAW 8.1, Photoshop CS6, and Topaz Labs DeNoise V5.

    The first step I take is to open the image up in Adobe's Camera RAW. This is where I make my initial adjustments as well as batch edit if the lighting was the same in each shot. To get into Camera RAW, you can do it one of two ways. The first is if you shot your photo in RAW, simply click the image in your folder. Photoshop will automatically open it up in Camera RAW. The second is through Adobe Bridge or Mini Bridge. Right click the thumbnail and click "Open in Camera RAW."

    Step 1: Here is the image, right off of the camera. Overall, it came out pretty good. I always use single point focus and try to expose for the brightest part of the fuselage. It needs massive leveling, but otherwise, the histogram shows a pretty decently exposed photo. If you have never used Camera RAW before, below the image is a small description of the sliders, and what they do.

    White Balance: This is where you can make your image look cooler by adding more blues or warmer by adding yellows. Most cameras do a great job of accurate white balance by default. I never touch this for aviation shooting.

    Exposure: This will slide the histogram to the right. Make sure you have the two triangles on either side of the histogram checked. This will show you red and blue clipping. Red is for overexposed, and blue for underexposed. Right out of the camera, you'll notice that I have some overexposed pixels on the leading edge of the wing.

    Contrast: The image is a tad flat. Meaning, the blacks aren't as black as they could be. Adding more contrast will make the blacks blacker and the highlights brighter. You want to be careful how much contrast you add.

    Highlights: If you have red clipping on your image, pull the highlight slider to the left. It will try to recover the lost textures if there is information in the file. This will cause a flattening effect of colors.

    Whites: This will allow you to set your white point. I rarely touch this slider in my aviation photography. I do use it a lot in other types of photography.

    Shadows: If you notice your shadow areas are lost, slide this to the right. Photoshop will do a great job of filling in the shadows. This was 'fill light' in older versions of PS; however, it has gotten far better at only affecting the shadow areas.

    Blacks: If you want to give your blacks (tires, engine cowlings...) more contrast, slide this to the left. If you have the blue clipping on, slide it left until you barely see blue clipping appearing.

    Clarity: This adds micro contrast. If you slide this too far to the right, it will give it a semi-HDR effect. Use it very carefully for aviation shots. It will bring out small details like fuselage dimples and dirt on a white fuselage.

    Vibrance and Saturation: I will tend to give my images just a touch of vibrance depending on what lens I used. I never add saturation.

    Step 2: Here is my image after I made some initial adjustments. I bumped the contrast to 30, pulled my highlights down to -54 to recover the nose, slid my blacks just until the main gear had a tiny bit of clipping, and bumped up the shadows on the fuselage and vibrance.

    Step 3: Time to level! Click on the top of the bar for the ruler tool. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CAPS LOCK ON. This will allow you to fine tune where the ruler starts. Draw your line along something you know to be horizontal and level. I chose a railing on top of the terminal building.

    Put your curser on the corner of the box. You'll get a curved arrow. This will allow you to finely tune your leveling. Here, I am making sure that both my vertical lines are horizontal lines are level.

    Press 'Enter' or 'Return' when you're done and your image will automatically level itself to your specifications and it'll crop away the excess that was lost - if any.

    Step 4: The last step in Camera RAW is noise removal. Click the triangle icon to bring up the noise sliders. Zoom in to 100%. Noise amount is based on your ISO number and your camera type. Full frame cameras will have a lot less noise than a crop body. I shot this at ISO 250. I typically start at sliding the luminance to 20 - 25 and see what that gives me. I will do one final noise removal in the last step, so I don't want to go crazy here. I only mess with the luminance slider here. Click the Preview box to see what the effect is doing. Click Open Object when ready.

    Step 5: The main Photoshop workspace will open your image. The first thing to do is to duplicate your layer. Press Control + J to do this. If you screw up, you can just delete the layer copy, and not the original image.

    Step 6: Crop your image. Press the C key, or click on the side to bring up the crop tool. I always crop my aviation shots at 1600x1067 if I am uploading to a database or my Flickr page. I set the crop to Custom and set the pixels I want. Make sure the View is set to 'Grid.' You can now crop your image. Use the grid to center your photo in the frame. For this shot, I will place the center horizontal line on the nose of the plane.

    After I decided how close to crop to the plane, I adjusted the height of the crop box. Press Enter or Return when finished.

    Step 7: Setting the image size. You can press Alt + Ctrl + I, or go to Image, Image size. In the pop up box, type the dimensions of the image you want. Again, I always size down to 1600 x 1067.

    Step 8: Searching for dust spots. Go to Image, Adjustments, Equalize on the duplicated layer. This will add a ton of contrast to the image. Dust spots will show up easily in the sky.

    I noticed I have some dust spots, birds, or high flying planes in the upper right side of the image.

    There are many ways to do the dust spot removal, but this one works for me. I click the eyeball on the duplicated layer. Press the J key and get the spot healing brush.

    With the duplicated layer still turned off, paint on the original layer over the dust spot. If there are multiple spots, turn on the equalized layer to see the dust spot, turn off the layer and remove them off the original layer. When you are done removing dust spots, delete the duplicated layer. Press Control + J again to add another duplicated layer for the next step.

    Step 9: Adjust the exposure one last time. After you've duplicated the layer again, press the levels button above the layer pallet.

    Notice that the curve stops just short of the end of the histogram. By sliding the right arrow to the end of the curve, it will add just the tiny bit of exposure that is needed. The left side is all the way to the end of the histogram, so there is no need to bump the contrast.

    Step 10: Removing haze with a curves layer. Click on the curves button. Do not adjust the channels of the curve.

    Change the blending mode from Normal to Soft Light.

    Change the opacity until the photo is clear. Use your best judgement here. I went up to 26%. Click the eyeball on the curves layer off and on to see the change it makes. It clears that atmosphere haze out of the image.

    Step 11: Sharpening. Next, you are going to want to take all of the changes you made and put them onto one layer. To do this, press Control + Alt + Shift +E on PC and Command +Shift+Alt+E on a Mac. This takes every layer and makes it into one.

    Go to Filter / Other / High Pass: ALWAYS DO SHARPENING AT 100%. CHANGE THE IMAGE SIZE AT THE VERY BOTTOM. Anything less than 100%, and you'll think everything is over sharpened.

    Set the radius to 0.3 pixels.

    Change the blending mode to Linear Light. You may think that it is too much sharpening. Depending on your monitor and camera gear, it may be. If that is the case, simply slide the opacity down to about 50%, and then start the next step.

    Next, it is time to brush away all of the areas that may be over sharpened. Add a layer mask. Click the bottom button to add this mask. It will put a white box next to the sharpening layer. Press the B key to bring up your brush tool. You can change the size of your paint brush by pressing the [ and ] keys. On the left side, you'll notice a black and white box Make sure black is on top of the white. This will allow you to paint on a white layer mask and get rid of the effect where you paint. The original texture will shine through. If you want to see where you are painting, press the \ key. The default color is red, so you'll see red lines where you painted.

    I have finished painting where I noticed some jagged lines.

    Step 12: Final noise reduction. Sharpening will add more noise. Although I already removed noise from the exposure settings, the adjustments I made made their own noise. I highly recommend getting Topaz Studios DeNoise. You can use Noise Ninja if you desire. The noise removal in the main PS work space isn't very good. I am using Topaz. Once again, make all of the layers into one layer by doing the Control+Alt+Shift+E or Command+Alt+Shift+E. Bring up Topaz DeNoise.

    I like to click on JPEG Light. The preset slider will adjust your image based on the exposure.

    I dropped the strength to 4. Each time you make a change, the program will apply it. Press the spacebar to tab between the original and the adjusted result. The image will default to 200% zoom. I adjust the strength until there is barely any noise visible at 200%, because at 100%, you won't see it.

    Step 13: Flatten the image and then save as a JPEG. That is it, you're finished! After you flatten the image, you can then save it as a JPEG with maximum quality.
    Last edited by tlabranche; 2014-08-06 at 07:48 PM.
    Timothy LaBranche

    See my photos on:

  2. #2
    Senior Member MarkLawrence's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    1 Miles NNW of NOVAE - KFLL - Davie, FL
    To all - this excellent tutorial was buried in posts for a long time - but - having seen it posted in other places recently, it was definitely worth the revival!!!

    Thanks Tim for all the hard work in putting this together!!!

  3. #3
    Senior Member tlabranche's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    League City, Texas, United States
    **26 Feb 15**

    Here is another part I wanted to add to it, regarding white balance. I made a YouTube video not too long ago, but it was just a screen recording, and it moved a bit fast. These are the screenshots and a bit of an explanation along with them. The process takes less than two minutes to complete. This is usually the very last thing I do after all of the other post processing steps.

    While the plane may say "Yes, I'm a natural Blue," the plane is naturally white. For the most part, DSLR cameras do a great job at capturing accurate colors. There are times, however, when the sensor can be fooled. The image below is a typical image where this happens. On a cloudy day, your white balance will typically have an awful color cast. Unless you are shooting with a grey card to set the perfect white balance, you will have to correct this in post-processing.

    Click the Add New Layer icon.

    You will need to fill the layer with 50% grey. Go to Edit / Fill.

    Set the following settings and press OK.

    The screen will turn completely grey. Change the blending mode of the grey layer to Difference.

    The screen will turn into a digital negative effect. Next, add a Threshold layer adjustment.

    When you first click on the Threshold layer, the screen will actually be predominately black. Slide the arrow all the way to the left.

    Slowly slide the slider to the right. You will start to see black blotches appear. Stop when you see the black clusters. Usually, you won't slide it more than 7 pixels. These black areas are spots that are naturally 50% grey in the image.

    Next, choose your color sampler tool.

    Zoom in on one of the black areas. You may have to zoom in quite a bit, because you will be setting a sample point.

    After you click on a black area to sample, add a curves adjustment layer.

    Now, delete the Threshold adjustment, and the Difference layer that you filled with 50% grey.

    The regular image will appear once you delete those two layers above. The are you sampled is the ramp area that is 50% grey. You will need to bring up the curves adjustment layer again. Double click on the small circle on the adjustment layer. When the curves appear, click on the second sampler down, the grey point sampler.

    With your grey point sampler selected, and still zoomed in, click on the center dot in the sample area.

    Your blue color cast is now gone!

    Zoom back out to see the adjusted image. The blue color cast that was on the fuselage is now gone. The white paint on the plane is now white again, and the concrete is not purple anymore.

    To compare the two images, click on the layer eyeball on the curves layer. Just keep toggling the eyeball on and off to see what changes were made to the white balance.
    Timothy LaBranche

    See my photos on:


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