Photos From Hell #2: Forgot the Flash


There is nothing worse than screwing up a birthday party photo, which is exactly what I did. At my daughter's 11th birthday party, I took this photo of her blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. I forgot to toggle on the flash. Needless to say, the moment can't be repeated and my daughter was pretty unhappy. She really wanted this photo for her scrapbook. You can't even tell there are people in there. Not very promising, is it?

(Photo shown at 20% actual size)

I figured there was nothing to lose with this one, so the first thing I did was choose Format, Tone Map and clicked the Map tab. I selected "Accumulatively" so that edits would be applied multiply. Through a series of trial and error experiments, I ended up selecting the Lighten Midtones Enhancement 2X, and the Lighten Enhancement 2X.

Apply a tone map 

Just lightening the midtones and then lightening the entire image has resulted in a big improvement. Suddenly you can see the children in the photo!

after tone map applied

Because the image was lightened so much, an unfortunate moire pattern appeared. It is particularly noticeable in the lightest areas. However, when I chose Effect, Noise, Remove Moire, the smoothing effect of the filter removed too much detail and made the image look blurry. So I right click and chose Undo. I'm going to have to accept a tradeoff here of some moire patterning in exchange for sharpness.

The image is still very dark. With this one, it's never going to be perfect. However, to help focus on the central figure, I fell back on my old standby, Magic Light. I chose Effect, Magic, Light, skipped the thumbnails and went straight to the Options button for the secondary dialog box. From there I lightened the default bright yellow Light color to a very pale yellow, and increased the Distance from the default of 200 to 250.

Magic Light settings

The light really draws your eye to my daughter in the middle of the image. You can't see her friends very well, but after all, she's an 11 year old who's mainly interested in seeing herself blow out her birthday candles. So this works for me.

magic light added

Finally, to increase the contrast, I clicked the Contrast Quick Color Control's Contrast sun (+) key 1X.

finished image

Well, it's not perfect but it sure beats the original image by a long shot. And I had a happy little girl again.

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