Before-After : Norwegian beach

Did you ever happen to tell yourself “I like that photo, really. I loved the place, I like the angle I got to shoot, but… I don’t know, I wish it were more… dramatic“. Well that’s what I thought when developping this photo. I loved the hike on the wonderful beach of Bunes, in the Lofoten Islands, and I was glad to have thought of climbing up the stream that flows straight to the bleach ; but something was off.

I would have liked to shoot this place during the golden hour, but our return boat was scheduled, so I just went with it and “golden-hourized” it myself!


I needed an evening sky, so I fetched a photo taken during the same trip and applied the technique I described in this tutorial.


I took also care of the light reflections in the ocean and extended the sky patch to that area.

Changing the ambiance so that the photo would take place in the evening also meant that the light casted on the land would have to be modified likewise. I used a burn tool brush with a 10% exposure to soften the ray of light across the cliff and darken its edge.

The water flowing down the beach was also too bright, and now had to match the ocean colour.

I then took some time (a lot actually) to erase the many footsteps visible in the sand using the clone stamp tool.

And I finally added some saturation and contrast to make the ground pop a little bit.

Here we are! I think this photo has now much more character.

Before-After : Gojira

Metal concert photography requires speed, reaction, preparation, skill, and luck. Sometimes the shot we intended to take is a millisecond away from the shot we actually get. That’s how you get a mic stand in the way !


This shot was taken during a Gojira concert in Paris in 2013. I like this photo, so I decided to give it a go and relocate the bassist a little bit.

I obviously need to do is find a way to remove the bassist’s head from behind the mic stand. To do this, I call to the rescue another photo, taken a few seconds later, in which the bassist’s position is correct.


I open both photos and copy the left part of the second photo to paste it on my first one.


I rotate and slightly enlarge the “band-aid layer” so that the mic stand appears aligned and about the same size as in the layer below. You can play with the layer opacity to check weather the alignment and general superposition are correct.

The mic stand is kind of a point of reference for the whole superposition : if this single well-delimited sharp object matches in size, orientation and perspective, chances are all the other still objects will, including the light beams. This will greatly ease the following blending.


The tricky part comes here, as I have to seamlessly blend both layers into one.

I erase part of the upper part of the “band-aid layer” by using a very soft and very large brush.
The white back spot has not quite the same intensity nor the same orientation between the two layers. A brush too hard or too small would not ease the differences enough.


with large soft brush


with smaller harder brush

I then erase the lower part between the guitarist and the mic stand, but with a smaller and harder brush this time. The cut must be smooth although contained within the stand’s sustaining part, which kind of cuts this part of the image in halves.


The blue spots’ light coming through both parts is sufficiently consistent, so I consider the merging successful.

The balance between the two musicians was a bit changed though. The bassist is now too far on the left.
I increase the canevas size on the left so that the rest of the upper layer appears.


Argh! The previous erasure propagated to the hidden parts too. It’s okay, I will just copy the missing part from the original image and paste it again!


I then blend this third layer into the second, keeping in mind not to brush over the second layer’s missing part.


Finally I can crop back to a 2:3 ratio with a better balance.


Before-After : Scottish bridge

Here is a picture of Sligachan Bridge, on the Isle of Skye. The photo was taken during summer, on a warm sunny day. Unfortunately, the sun was a bit too high and -what did I expect- I wasn’t alone.


The sun right above the camera generates lens flare. The light is too hard, and the bridge is dark because of the back-lighting.

I first remove most of the details that dispute the fact that I am alone in the scenery.  With the clone stamp tool, I remove the people behind the bridge, the car and the electric pole on the right.

B_A-ScottishBridge_p1b B_A-ScottishBridge_p1a

B_A-ScottishBridge_p2a B_A-ScottishBridge_p2b

I then reduce the lens flare using the techniques I described in another article.

B_A-ScottishBridge_p3a B_A-ScottishBridge_p3b

B_A-ScottishBridge_p4a B_A-ScottishBridge_p4b

Then I get started on the exposure levels.


The bridge suffers a lot from back-lighting, so I increase its exposure using a Levels adjustment layer coupled to a layer mask of which I kept only the bridge itself.

I then simulate a graduated ND filter (which I did not own at the time) to decrease the sky exposure, too bright because of the sun orientation. I do this by coupling a Levels adjustment layer with a layer mask in which I painted a black gradient.

I am not quite pleased with the gradient-only solution, so I add another mask to reduce the exposure in the upper right corner.

Et voilà !

Remove lens flare

Lens flare are unwanted artifacts caused by internal reflection and scattering of sun rays inside the lens. It appears when the sun is near or within the shot angle.

How do I remove it ?

Please note that the techniques I suggest should work for limited-sized flares. Widespread or nested flares usually are beyond help.

Lens flare can be observed in two shapes : small colored bright artefacts, and low-contrast circles or hazes.


The small artefacts are better removed using the clone stamp tool.

HowTo_Flare_tech1_p1 HowTo_Flare_tech1_p2

HowTo_Flare_tech1_p3 HowTo_Flare_tech1_p4

Circles and hazes are a bit more tricky but can usually be managed by retrieving the right color and contrast within the damaged zone.

In order to do this, select an area a bit larger than the flare. Copy the area in a new layer.


Bind a color-balance filter to this new layer and try to adjust to the color to find back the surrounding tones. Then add a contrast filter layer on top of that and adjust it to find back the surrounding contrast.

HowTo_Flare_tech2_p4b HowTo_Flare_tech2_p4a


Then choose a soft brush approximately the size of the artefact and carefully erase the outer edge without revealing it.

HowTo_Flare_tech2_p5a HowTo_Flare_tech2_p5b

A few adjustments may be necessary to get the maximum blending, but in the end the original artefact should be barely noticeable.


Some prevention

– Beware of the sun orientation
If you can, regarding your desired composition, avoid shooting facing the sun. It will protect your gear from potential damage and prevent you from dealing with back light.

– Use a lens hood
For each lens, constructors provide with a hood to be mounted to your front lens. It is specially designed to reduce flare caused by light coming sideways. It cannot stop you from shooting facing the sun though !

– Invest in better lens
The cheaper the lens, the cheaper the materials composing it. A better quality lens is built with improved glass and special coating which greatly reduce image aberrations.


Remove dust specs

That’s it, have you been wandering in wheat fields during harvest? Or was it hiking on windy cliffs? Or you just use your gear a lot, and it gets inevitably dirty? Anyway you got visible specs of dust on your photos, and here are a few steps to get rid of it.

Where is it?

The dust you see can be in different places in your camera. Where it actually is depends on a few observations:

– Is the dust spec visible from the viewfinder, but not on the photo? Then it must be either on the internal mirrors or directly on the viewfinder lens. Cleaning the viewfinder usually sorts it out.

– Is the dust grain visible on the photo? Are your front lens and filters clean? It is always useful to clean those once in a while with a microfiber cloth or a blower.

– Your gear was pretty much clean on the outside, but the dust is still visible? You sensor might be in cause.
Do a quick test to spot dust on your sensor: take a photo of a bright and clean zone (like the sky or a white wall) at the lowest aperture your lens provides (i.e. f/22). Low aperture is needed because of the lens optical properties, which will blur sensor dust specs to the point of hiding the smaller ones at high apertures. Carefully look at the resulting photo. Any dark dust specs should pop up pretty easily on the bright background.

How do I remove it from my photos?

You will need a tool that allows to cover the dark spot created by the dust blocking the light from being captured by the sensor. The most natural method to remove the spot is to blend it by covering it with the surrounding color and texture.

In Photoshop, tools capable of doing this are either the clone stamp or patch tools.

Patch tool retouches an image using sampled pixels or pattern.


First, select with the tool one or several zones you wish to retouch, then grab the selection to an area that matches the content you wish to overlay.




Once you release the selection, Photoshop runs the tool algorithm that will try to blend the selected areas as well as possible, using the matching area you provided as an input.


This tool can come in handy but it is not flowless.  For example, it generates artefacts near the selection border, especially on noisy pictures (see below). It also does not blend delimited high contrast zones when the contrasted area is near the selection edge.


That’s why I often prefer using the clone stamp tool for this task.

Clone stamp tool allows you to copy from one area of a photo to another using any type of brush.


Start by sampling the area you wish to copy by maintaining the Alt key pressed (a target cursor appears), then click.


Adapt the size and hardness of your brush to the size of the spec to cover. Edges may be too visible with a brush too hard. I usually use a brush somewhere between 0% and 50% hardness.


Photoshop shows you a preview from the previously sampled area inside the selected brush so you can appreciate whether the color and texture would fit.




The result is much more seamless in this case.

Some prevention

Keep in mind that a camera in use will anyhow naturally get dirty. However, a few things may prevent you from having to deal with unwanted dusty shots:

– Clean your gear !
Take the time to thoroughly clean your camera and your lenses before any travel. While on the road, check your gear every day, especially if you shoot in difficult conditions, and do some more cleaning if needed.

– Be careful of your gear in difficult conditions. Avoid changing lenses near places that produce dust (dirt paths, barns, you name it). Try to do so when the wind is low, or at least make the back of your camera face the wind so it won’t blow in the opening.

– For the most wealthy of you, invest in seal-weathered gear. Seal-weathered means hermetic. It is not only useful when it comes to wet weathers, it also works to prevent dust from entering your camera, though it will not prevent it from getting covered.

Enhance a boring sky

An empty or dull sky, whether white or blue, in a large part of an image is a vaste of space in a composition. You can’t necessarily wait on site for clouds to come or go, though ! One of our modern-days solution is to artificially replace parts of the sky.

Shoot “stock” skies

During a photo trip, we often focus on the landscapes around us, and less on the skyscapes above us. However, wonderful cloudscapes could happen while the land under might not be as interesting. Be sure to shoot some of those clouds, for they might be useful later. In other terms, build a cloud photos stock.

You may want to shoot skies from a variety of focal lengths and sun orientations. Any composition will look way more natural if all parts of the photo were shot with about the same light and focal length.

Boring_skies_ex1(16mm, sun from the left side)

Boring_skies_ex2(24mm, sun from above)

Software editing

Here is an example of a photo I like a lot, except it was taken under a light rain. Correct ground exposure required to over-expose the sky, but the clouds were quite uniformly grey and shapeless anyway. I decided to add a few strikes of blue and grey shades to fill the white void left.


I chose to compose from a photo I shot earlier under grey-but-not-as-grey skies :


First open both photos, then select the sky area you wish to move and copy it from the cloud reference photo to the base photo. Carefully align both horizons, so that the perspective won’t look unrealistic.

With a layer mask, smooth down the clouds layer lower edges to have a glimpse of what the result would look like. You can reduce the clouds layer opacity to better see what you are erasing. Use a soft edge brush to smooth the erasing.



If you are still confident with the outcome, continue erasing the parts that overlay with the base photo. Don’t hesitate to shrink your brush when it comes to detailed areas, but in the end you may need to sacrifice some parts of the clouds layer if some details are too difficult to extract, like branches or grass.


To correct this you can either adjust the levels of the under layer, adjust the levels of the clouds layer, delete more of the clouds with a large brush to ease the gray scaling, or a little bit of all that :


I actually darkened the sky in the base layer, lightened a bit the cloud layer, and erased some of the clouds in the upper corners.

Boring_skies_ps4a  Boring_skies_ps4b


What about blue sky ?

This same technique also applies to fill a rather completely empty sky !

Boring_skies_ps5b  Boring_skies_ps5a


Simple exposure compositing

Did you know the human eye roughly has a 24-stops dynamic ? Well, that is about 2 times more than the best professional camera.

This explains why you are able to see more of a place where darkness and light combine with the naked eye than when you attempt to photograph it. A camera will require multiple exposures at different exposition parameters to render a highly contrasted scene. This is what HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is all about.


Many software components, internal to your device, or part of a post-processing tool, allow you to automatically combine multiple exposures into one HDR picture.
I personally prefer to control the whole process, judging by myself what zones need enhancement, adding in my own sensitivity to the result. Besides, some pictures are very easy to combine with a simple layer technique.

Tips to get the shots

– Use a tripod, or at least stabilize your camera so that the shots will be stackable.
– If available, use the multi-exposure function of your camera. Otherwise select the semi-automatic aperture priority mode and manage the exposure scale manually.
– Choose the average metering mode (“[  ]”), so that the metering will not favour any zone in the frame.
– Take as many shots as necessary to cover all the exposure range (a multi-exposure function may limit to 3 or 5). No over- or under-exposed zone must be left. Each shot should be separated by a same exposure value (EV), ideally comprised between 1 and 2EV

Post processing

In this example I got 3 separate photos, taken at -2, 0 and +2EV. This means the first shot was under-exposed by 2EV, the second one correctly exposed, and the third one over-exposed by 2EV.

 Exp_compositing_basethumb1 Exp_compositing_basethumb2 Exp_compositing_basethumb3


You can see the multiple-exposure was necessary, since the camera could not expose the inside of the cave, too dark, and the outside, too bright, within a same shot.

Start by opening all the photos as layers within the same project in Photoshop. Stack them from the more exposed to the less exposed.



I am going to work with layer masks. This will allow us to discard specific parts of the layers. In this example, I wish to discard incorrectly-exposed parts.
Select the less exposed layer (the first one), and create a mask.


One of the primary properties of a layer mask is that it links the layer to a transparency scale based on shades of grey : any “white” part will show the corresponding zone with 0% transparency, any “black” part will make it 100% transparent, letting the layer from under show.

Exp_compositing_ps3a    Exp_compositing_ps3b


A selected mask can be painted with any painting tool (brush, gradient, paint bucket…) but only accepts greyscale (white – grey – black) colors.

I will use these mask shades to select what zones of each layer to keep.
This first base image has the right exposure towards the outside of the cave but the inside is too dark, so I’ll use a black brush to exclude any under-exposed zone. The brush hardness must be low, so that the excluded zones won’t clash with the non-excluded ones.


If I disable the other 2 layers’ visibility, you can see what is left of my first layer :

Exp_compositing_ps4b     Exp_compositing_ps4c

The cave entrance and the area surrounding it are now just fine, but the inside of the cave is still too dark, so I will mask the second image to reveal parts of the third layer.

Exp_compositing_ps5a    Exp_compositing_ps5b


And voilà !

Some adjustments regarding levels and colors may be necessary, but the base composition is now complete.


This technique is just fine for compositions where the different exposure zones are easily distinguishable.


If the different zones were too intertwined, the masks would be a lot more complex to detail subtly.