Illuminating those nightmare snaps

When digital photography first burst on to the scene back in the late 1990s, I found myself salivating at the possibilities -- even though the earliest models weren't very good. Far from being the revolution I might have hoped for, early digital cameras meant I had no choice but to get my hands dirty with an image-editing program, correcting my snapper's errors like an overzealous school teacher.

But as cameras become smarter, pictures generally need less remedial work. This allows me to concentrate on more creative ventures and experiments, such as turning day into night. This may sound like cheating but, while there is plenty of satisfaction to be had from engaging in night-time shooting, it's far from a casual form of photography. You need to plan ahead, making sure you have the right gear handy, such as a tripod and a torch.

Your camera can be a limiting factor. Many compact models struggle in low light conditions without the flash. Certain cameras have restricted slower shutter speeds, meaning the shutter may not be able to be opened for long enough to get the correct exposure at night.

Even if you have the gear -- and the stamina to lug it around -- successful night-time shooting still comes down to a matter of patience and luck, waiting for the right photographic opportunity to come along. However, with a little time spent in a program such as Paint Shop Pro X, it is possible to modify images to get a similar effect -- great for those with early bedtimes.

Turn night into day with Paint Shop Pro X


1. Darken your daytime scene using a subtle lighting effect. From the Effects, Illumination Effects menu select Lights. Reset the light by choosing Default from the dialog box, then turn off four of the five lights by clicking the individual light icons. Deselect the box next to 'On' in the Settings area.


2. Experiment with the settings -- we've set darkness to 75, intensity: 25, direction: 5, horizontal: 10, vertical: -20, scale: 60, smoothness: 28, cone size: 89, asymmetry: 110. Leave the light color as a neutral grey. This will uplight the image, brightening the lower part of the picture while darkening the upper area.


3. Duplicate the background layer, by selecting Duplicate from the Layers menu. Flip it upside down with the Flip command from the Image menu. Ensure the Layers Palette is visible in your workspace. Right-click the duplicated layer and select Rename from the list, call it Reflection and hit Enter to confirm.


4. Reduce the Reflection layer's opacity: drag the slider in the Layers palette to 50 percent. Using the Move tool, drag into position so the door roughly lines up with the original. With the Pick tool use layer tags to non-uniformly scale, skew and distort so that it roughly lines up. The door in particular must be clearly aligned.


5. Restore the opacity to 100 percent and change the blend mode to Soft Light in the Layers Palette. With the Reflection layer still selected, add a layer mask from the Layers, New Mask Layer and choose From Image. In the Settings dialog box select Source Luminance -- do not tick Invert -- and click ok.


6. Select the Reflection Mask by clicking on it in the Layers palette, then select the Paint brush tool, ensuring the foreground color is set to black in the Materials box. With a soft, largish brush, paint away areas of the mask to make the original layer underneath show through, leaving the reflection untouched.


7. Now click Reflection Group at the top of the Layers palette and, from the Layers menu, add an Adjustment layer. From the Menu choose Hue, Saturation, Lightness. In the settings dialog box, ensure Colorize isn't selected and set the Saturation and Lightness Master values to -50 and -20 respectively.


8. Add a Curves adjustment layer. In the dialog box ensure RGB is selected in the list and click anywhere on the diagonal line to plot a point. To the right of this, change the Input value to 142 and the Output to 114. Click a second point below the first, setting the Input and Output values to 80 and 50. But don't hit ok just yet...


9. Select Red from the Channel list and click on the line, entering the input and output to 142 and 114. Repeat for the Blue channel, but with the values swapped: 114 for the Input and 142 for the Output. Now click ok. With the curves layer at the top, your image should have a blue tint. If not, drag it to the top of the layers stack.


10. Select the Reflection Layer and choose Displacement Map under Effects, Distortion Effects. Click the thumbnail under the Displacement Map area and browse to the Puddle Drops thumbnail. Use settings Size: 30 percent, Blur: 25, Intensity: 5 and Rotation: 0. Ensure 3D Surface and Tile map to cover image are selected.


11. Click the top layer in the Layers palette (Curves 1) and make a new Raster layer above the Adjustment layers, changing the Blend mode to Screen. Using the Flood fill tool, fill with black. Because of the blend change you won't see it fill up with color. Go to Filter, Illumination effects, Sunburst to add a flare.


12. Go to Settings and enter these values. Under 'Light spot': brightness 70, horizontal 47, vertical 35. For 'Light rays': density 20, brightness 20. 'Circles': brightness 80. Click the color swatch and choose a pale yellow color (try RGB values around 255, 255, 235). Scale and move into position over the left street light.


13. Repeat the past two steps to create a second lens flare for the light at the back -- make sure it's on its own raster layer and above the adjustment layers. This time set the Horizontal and Vertical values to 64 and 39. Decrease the brightness of the light spot to 50 and the circle to 60.


14. Select the original background layer. Using the Dodge tool and a soft brush, paint sparingly to subtly lighten areas. Use the Limits list for tonal ranges and the Burn tool for darkening areas. Vary the opacity and brush sizes. Duplicate the original background and switch the blend mode to Multiply. Add a layer mask from the Layer menu (Show All) and, with a black paintbrush, paint on the mask to reveal areas of the original image that should be lighter, such as the walls around the lamps.


Tips & tricks

Make it rain

To alter the weather you could add falling rain and subtle flares on the road's surface, reflecting the street lights. A quick way of creating rain in PSP X is with a raster layer, filling it with black and changing the blend mode to screen.

Add some noise from the Adjust, Add/Remove Noise, Add Noise filter. Experiment with the values. We opted for Gaussian type, turned on Monochrome and added 25 percent.

Next we added a Pencil Filter from the Effects, Art Media Effects menu, setting the Luminance to 0, Blur to 5, Color to white and Intensity to 100 percent. Finally, we added a Motion Blur filter from the Adjust, Blur menu, setting the Direction to 0 and the strength to 100 percent.


HELPFUL DOWNLOADS

ADD SPARKLE
Alien Skin specialises in plug-ins for Adobe's Photoshop and Elements, as well as Corel's Paint Shop Pro. The Eye Candy 5 sets are perfect for giving your images that bit of missing sparkle. Whether it's adding one of the realistic smoke or icicle effects from the Nature set, or the brushed metal effects of the Impact set, there are loads to play with. http://www.alienskin.com or www.xclusive.com.au/alienskin

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
Sites such as Adobe Studio Exchange offer users a place to share uploaded freeware effects and resources. These include home-made Filters and Actions. There's a few downloads to be found on the Creative Downloads page of Corel's website (www.corel.com) for Paint Shop Pro users, but it lacks the community input Adobe has. share.studio.adobe.com

MORE PLUG-INS
This site is yet another good resource for plug-ins and filters intended for the use of both Adobe and Corel fanatics. You will find plenty on offer at GraphicXtras.com, with costs varying as much as the complexity of the effects themselves. www.graphicxtras.com


TAKE SHARPER PICTURES STEADY HANDS

The single most important thing you can do to improve your pictures - especially if you're new to photography - is to keep a steady hand. Specifically, press the shutter release more gently. Try this: look in a mirror while you take a picture and watch what happens when you press the shutter release. If you see the camera wobble or jiggle, you're pressing it too hard. The camera should not move at the moment of exposure. Practise in the mirror until you can shoot pictures with minimal camera shake.

SOMETHING TO LEAN ON
I am a huge fan of tripods; I recommend using them whenever possible to take sharper pictures. The more megapixels your camera is capable of, the more important it is to use a tripod to get sharp photos. New 10-megapixel cameras have problems with camera shake a lot more often than 4- or 5-megapixel models because they record much finer detail. If all else fails, just brace yourself against something, like a door frame.

TWEAK YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS
In general, the faster your shutter speed the better, so use your camera's shutter priority mode (if it has one) and set the fastest shutter speed possible. If your camera doesn't have a shutter priority mode, then dial in its Action or Sports setting. You might also be able to choose Program mode and then use the camera's adjustment dial to increase the shutter speed while the camera keeps the aperture setting in sync.

Of course, a fast shutter speed means you'll have less depth of field in your photos, but depth of fi eld doesn't contribute much to sharpness unless you're taking extreme close-ups (macro photos) of tiny objects. In lower light conditions, when the shutter speed is too low to generate sharp prints, you should increase the camera's ISO setting. As you increase the ISO from, say, 100 to 200 to 400, the best available shutter speed increases from 1/15 to 1/30 to 1/60 second, for example. Remember that higher ISO settings add digital noise to your photos, so return the setting to the lowest position when the lighting improves.


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