Using the Dissolve Blend Mode to Clean Up Noisy Images

Using the Dissolve Blend Mode to Clean Up Noisy Images

Of all the blend modes that Photoshop has to offer, the dissolve blend mode is probably used the least, since it creates a scatter of hard, ugly pixels. After using Photoshop to edit my images for over a year now, I’ve finally come across a useful technique which utilizes the dissolve blend mode to save time and frustration. And today, I want to share it with you.

Before I begin, note that this technique is only suitable for noisy images.

For this example, I will be using an image I shot earlier this month with my Canon 6D and 24-105mm lens. Since there was very little light in the room, my ISO was set to 5000, which enabled me to maintain a shutter speed of 1/250 to freeze the garter in mid-air.

After converting the image to black and white, I noticed a number of distracting objects in the image, such as the projector hanging from the ceiling, and the white patch of light on the dance floor (see objects circled in red below). Usually, a combination of cloning and patching works fine, but because of the noise in this image (which I wanted to retain), these techniques weren’t working for me. For instance, if I decided to use the clone stamp at 50% opacity, enabling me to blend better, I would have left noticeably soft areas.

Joanne & Tony 172 red circles © 2014 Jenn Lin

So it occurred to me that if I used the dissolve blend mode when cloning, I could re-create noise as I was painting, and darken or lighten areas to my liking by sampling from darker or lighter parts of the image. I also found that painting at 15% opacity while using the clone stamp on dissolve gave me the best results.

Here’s my technique step-by-step:

1) Create a new layer.

2) Paint or clone out the problem areas (i.e., the projector or white patch of light) at 100% flow using a softer brush.

3) Select the Clone Stamp and change the blend mode to Dissolve, lowering your opacity to 15%.

4) Alt + Click to sample and paint as necessary.

See the image below for a comparison of patching, normal cloning at 100% with a soft brush, and dissolve cloning at 15% opacity with a hard brush. Pay attention to how the Patch tool leaves edges, and how normal cloning can still leave spots that don’t blend well together.

Projector comparison © 2014 Jenn Lin

My friend Vlad pointed out that I could have de-noised the image first, did my patching and cloning, and then added nicer-looking noise back in—but if you’re like me and you’re afraid of stripping the image of detail and/or just want to avoid extra steps, this method will do fine.

So there you have it. Finally, a useful function for the dissolve blend mode!

If you liked this tutorial, let me know in the comments section or follow my blog/like my Facebook Page for future posts and updates.

Thanks for reading!


How Do I Make Photos Look Dreamy?

How to get the dreamy effect in Photoshop

The original photo was mostly blue and yellow, but after experimenting with a colour balance adjustment I found a colour combination of purples and yellows that I liked. I then did some more tweaking for contrast, lightened the sky, performed a little noise reduction and sharpening… and then I realized I didn’t like how sharp the whole image was! See below for what I mean.Boats docked along False Creek at night in Vancouver, BC

I figured that the image would look a lot nicer if the boats were a bit “dreamy” looking. So, I duplicated the image onto a new layer and added enough gaussian blur just so that the fine details were no longer present. (If you want the effect to be more dramatic, increase the blur until the image is unrecognizable.) I then changed the opacity of the gaussian blur layer to 50%—this will allow you to see the sharper details of the layer below, while seeing a kind of ghost-like layer over top. I then masked only the top and bottom of the image using my gradient tool with black as the foreground colour, so that only the boats would look dreamy (which makes sense, since this is where the light would be traveling from). Below is an image with a layer of gaussian blur set at 40px, which was then scaled down to 50% opacity.

False Creek 91 v3 © 2014 Jenn Lin

Generally, to pull off the “dreamy” effect, you also need some sort of light source in your image. You can create a fake one if you don’t have one by painting white on a new layer and changing the blend mode to screen or some other variation and lowering the opacity until you get something of your liking. Positioned in the right place, the light in addition to the blur usually does the trick, but the subject and composition of the photo is also important. You also don’t want your whole image to be blurry, and so you should leave some areas relatively sharper. Otherwise, it runs the risk of just looking like a blurry image.

False Creek 91 v4 before after © 2014 Jenn Lin copy

To recap, you need:

1) a sharp image with a visible light source to begin

2) to duplicate the image onto a new layer and add a gaussian blur

3) reduce the opacity of the blurred layer

4) mask out any areas you want to keep sharp

Seen any images that pull this effect off quite nicely? Feel free to share below! :)


How To Make Your Images Pop in 3 Easy Steps

Vancouver Family Portrait Photographer

Here’s an edited picture from my recent family portrait session at a pumpkin patch. I wanted to use this image as an example of how a perfectly good picture taken on an overcast day can be enhanced in 3 easy steps, to give it that extra pop of eye-catching vivid colour.

This is the before:

Pumpkin Patch by Jenn Lin Photography_5300

Things I did to get the “after” shot:

  1. Applied a brightness adjustment layer, set to 15
  2. Added contrast
  3. Added a vignette (darkening the edges of the photo)
  4. *Extra step: Cloned a pumpkin to remove distracting plastic bag

While getting rid of distractions in your photo may help focus your viewer’s attention on the subject(s), what really makes this image pop is its range in tonality and vivid colour. The first image looks a bit flat—it’s all one greyish kind of middle tone. In the second image, we can see that there are brighter parts (centre, where the subject is) and darker parts (edges). The colours are also more noticeably saturated in the second image than in the first image.

That’s it for this how-to post. Keep an eye out for images that pop out at you, and see if they include a (subtle) vignette, bright and vibrant colours, and a range in tone. Thanks for reading!


Fall Fast Forward: Selective Colour Adjustment

Ever wanted to know how to get from this:

Fall Foliage © 2013 Jenn Lin Photography_4037_Green Version_1800px_WM

To this in photoshop?

Fall Foliage © 2013 Jenn Lin Photography_4037_Red_Green Grass_1800px_WM

Read More

What You Can Do with a 115cm-wide Reflector

A photo of Melody Tymm taken during the 11th annual Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival at Slocan Park, Vancouver, BC.

Shown here in costume is Melody. One of the entertainers I met at the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival last month, she agreed to let me do a little experiment! Below is a comparison I made to illustrate the difference between natural light portraiture (without any modifiers) and natural light portraiture using a modifier (a 115cm-wide silver-sided reflector to be exact).

Melody Tymm at the 11th annual Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival © 2013 Jenn Lin Photography

Natural light alone vs. natural light with a silver-sided reflector

With the sun shining to the west at around 5:30pm, I had my assistant for the day stand south-east of Melody and hold the reflector in the direction of the sun, tilting it until the light was bounced onto Melody. Had we had spent more time playing with the angle, we probably could have eliminated the shadow which is appearing between Melody’s right cheek and nose. Yet it’s the shadow which gives her so much dimension. IMO, the silver side of the reflector gave Melody a nice glow and made her really pop out from the background. (I would advise using the golden side unless you want to give your subject an orange tan.)

Reflectors are relatively cheap, they’re effective, they keep working until the sun sets, and they can make your photos/subjects look more interesting. (See “Working with Thomas” and “Darren’s Headshots” for more examples of photos I’ve created with a reflector.) The only thing is that they take a bit of work to get them back into the little circular pouch they come in—but other than that, they’re an awesome tool to use (if you’re not in a hurry).

Hope you enjoyed reading! Until next time,


Lantern Installation

"Moon Festival Lanterns Hanging from a Tree" © 2013 Jenn Lin Photography

I shot this image inside the Renfrew Ravine in Vancouver, BC during the 11th annual Moon Festival. This is one of many installations that were set up in the ravine that night. The lanterns were hung from tree branches above our heads, reminding me of Christmas decorations. I really like how the dried leaves were incorporated into the lanterns themselves, giving them that autumn look.

I could not have gotten an image like this if I hadn’t shot in RAW mode. Having the extra 8 bits in bit depth that RAW provided meant that I could decrease the shadows with little damage to the overall quality of the image. In general, images shot in RAW look more detailed, feel alive rather than flat, and in general more capable of taking adjustments, especially when it comes to reducing highlights and shadows. Take away lesson: never shoot JPGs when you can shoot RAW, even in the day time. 

Shooting in Bulb mode means you kind of have to experiment with how long you need to keep the shutter open for; luckily because the lanterns were static, I could take my time (unlike with fireworks). I could have probably shot this at ISO 320 and left the shutter open for half the time, but in some cases ISO 320 would have overexposed the lanterns; and although I could have reduced the highlights in post-production, it’s not an adjustment I want to make if I can help it.

Also, a really useful trick that my boyfriend taught me when it comes to manual focus: zoom in digitally on the camera’s LCD screen at a place in the image you want to be sharp and in focus, and turn the focus ring until you’ve achieved the focus that you want. Then zoom out, get out of live shooting mode, and be careful not to touch the ring. This way, you know exactly how your image will turn out. The image will be a little dark in the shadow areas, but that’s to be expected, and you can always increase those slightly in post-production.