Sunday, October 7, 2012

Salvage A (Nearly) Great Shot Using Layers

Eventually it’s going to happen. You find yourself faced with the “perfect” shot and you reach down deep and blow it. The moment passes and you don’t get a second chance. Such was the case when I took the shot below. The subject was perfect, the light was just right and I managed to get the shot crooked. To be honest, I was lying on my back in a wet parking lot and I took this shot from underneath my truck. I was lucky to get anything at all, so a crooked shot was OK considering the circumstances. Here's my original shot:

I was so close and the owl in the picture filled the frame so well that simply straightening the picture in Photoshop was going to cut too much out. One option was to add a lot of canvas to the shot, clone in a bunch of stuff on the sides, then use the Straighten Tool. The problem is that this leaves a lot of evidence behind and takes a lot of work. There is another way to approach this problem using layers. I’ve choses a photo that is very busy (providing a lot of opportunities for mistakes). Shots with less going on are FAR easier, but even this shot is not that difficult. THIS is what happens when you use the "Straighten Tool" to try to fix the shot - my little owl is moving out of the frame:
So, we need to fix this photo using layers instead of the "Straighten Tool."

Step One – Create a new layer and drag the top layer so that the subject (the Owl) is positioned in approximately the right place – you can adjust this a bit later if necessary. If you look closely, you can see parts of the bottom (original) layer on the left and bottom edges of the photo.
Step Two – Rotate (straighten) just the top layer to get the subject where you want it. If necessary, you can move the top layer to reposition the subject. Using “Free Rotate” saves more canvas than “Straighten” and gives a little more flexibility, but either tool will work.

Now the subject is straight, but there are obvious lines around the edge of the top layer from rotating/straightening the photo. I have hidden the bottom layer so that you can clearly see this in the photo below.

Step Three –  What you want to do now is to blend the top (crooked) layer into the original layer below. With both layers showing, apply a mask to the top layer, choosing a mask that makes the top layer visible. Use a black paint brush on the mask to hide the edges of the top layer to blend the top layer into the layer below.
You can spend a lot of time blending with a small brush to make the photo perfect – I spent about 1 minute on this shot. The main evidence of my handiwork is a duplicate of the large blade of grass to the left of the owl, so I went back and cloned it out. All done and ready to move on to the next masterpiece.

Steve Byland is a wildlife photographer living in suburban New Jersey. His photos can be seen at . You can email him at

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!
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