Using Photoshop with Underwater Photos lesson 01Return to MainReturn to Scuba

This short tutorial is designed to help you learn basic processing of underwater photos in Photoshop.  The version of Photoshop used here is Photoshop Elements version 7.  However, you will find great similarity in other versions.  The reason for using the "Elements" edition is based in price and simplicity.  You can purchase Elements for around $50.00  Compared to the Lightroom Edition which is around $500.00.

Why Photoshop Your Underwater Pictures?
Photoshop is more than a program.  It has become a term used to describe both a positive process and a questionable result.  To some people to "Photoshop" a picture means to "fake" an image.  To others it means to process a picture to it's true image.  Sure, you can superimpose a mermaid, but that's not what this lesson is about.  In actuality, if you were using film instead if digital you would have the film processed.  Professional photos whether film or digital are even more individually meticulously processed for color, tint, sharpness etc.  To process your digital photos is both appropriate and necessary.

Photoshop can process your photos to reflect the true underwater colors and beauty.  However, photoshop can't "make a silk purse out of a sows ear", as the expression goes.  It is essential to start with good quality pictures.  Having good lighting such as strobes is necessary to incorporate into the data the foundational characteristics that photoshop depends upon.  The best images to work with are in "RAW" format as they contain the most data.  JPEGs are compressed and the data is threrefore more limited.  Most point and shoot digitals only save in the JPEG format.  However, some are beginning to make the RAW format available just like thier DSLR cousins.  As memory space is no longer an issue I expect this will become the norm in the next few years.

Processing with Photoshop

The image I am using here is from the Intova IC10 and is presented here in the full size so you can also use it to practice.
First the scary part you should ignore; Photoshop is a very powerful and complex program that can take years to master.
Second, the good part; Photoshop has automatic features that can do most of the work easily for you.  So let's get started and seize the magic.

Demo Picture 1
This is a picture taken in Grand Turk 2010 with the Intova IC10, Taken in the automatic mode with
standard flash the picture ISO was 128, F2.9.   Like most underwater photos lacking sufficient
flash, the picture is almost completely blue.  Right click on the above picture and download it.
Use this picture to practice as we walk through the simple steps.

Step One: Open the picture in Photoshop (but you already knew that).
Step Two: In the "EDIT" tab Select "Quick"

screen 01

Step Three: Move the Smartfix slider from left to right.  You will notice the instant improvement as this adjusts
light, contrast, color and tint and more.
Screen 02

Step Four:  Watch as we do the next step of "Auto Contrast."  You will see the
picture become sharper with better definition.
Screen 03

Step Five:  Next we will use "Auto Color" to help further restore the natural colors which you would
see with proper lighting.
Screen 04

Step Six: Underwater the color temperature is "cool" which is part of the reason for the blue effect.
We need to "warm" temperature slightly.  Experiement with different levels.  Don't overdue processing.
Sometimes adjusting the tint warmer (to the right will also balance the process).
Screen 05

You can also go back and again "Auto Contrast" or "Auto Levels" under "Lighting" and then alternate
again with "Auto Color" or adjusting the temperature.  Experiment with the processing. 
Although you can and should experiment with all the features, remember each time you process the
picture there is slight degradation in data. However,can always go back and click the "RESET" button
just above the picture to start over, or "Ctrl z" to undo the last step.

To save the picture, switch from "Quick" to "Full" and and click on the "File" tab on top of the page,
select save as and you know the rest.
I recommend....
1. Of course always take the highest resolution photos.
2. Save a copy as a PSD or Photoshop document.
3. Also "save as" your preferred format JPEG etc.  Unless you need to create a reduced
size, save it in the maximum quality.
4.  Save the file as a copy instead of overwriting your original.

Lets compare the current results
Before and After
Demo Picture One Reduced in Size for ComparisonDemo Picture 01 after initial processing

The picture is significantly improved.  However, it isn't perfect.  The right side of the picture needed more flash.
Of course, the processing time helps you analyze what is good, as well as what can be improved. 
I have since added double strobes to help in lighting.  But I can also see, when zoomed in, the picture
is more grainy than I would like.  Locking the ISO at 100 would also be a good thing to do.  You may have
other ideas to share and of course I welcome them.  I'm not claiming to have all the answers just trying
to help the process along and inspire some others along the way.   

Congratulations on processing your first image.   Practice these skills on a dozen or so pictures to get ready for the next lesson.
Dr Mark

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