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!


Ringlight Portraiture

Studio portraiture by Jenn Lin

I truly love this shot of Thomas. You may remember him from one of the first headshot sessions I’ve done… which was almost a year ago! It feels really nice to see someone familiar and be able to offer them something different with my photography the second time around.

A funny story about the background I used for this image: there was this projection screen that was lying around my house for the longest time, and it finally occurred to me to use the back of it as a black textured backdrop. It was one of those “out of sight out of mind” situations, and I was actually considering going out and buying some black paper and stands and everything or going out and painting a piece of thin plywood black, when I was like “wait a minute… ah hah!” The texture it provided worked out well and I saved money! Hooray!

For this photo specifically I merged two images together (one under and one over exposed using the File > Automate > “merge to HDR pro” option in Photoshop CS6. When you use this option, a dialogue will pop up giving you options to adjust the merged file. You can use this, but I found that working in 32bit (rather than 16bit), saving it as a .tif or .psd, then reopening that file and adjusting the settings using the Camera Raw plug-in worked a lot better. I tend to dislike the over-the-topness of most HDR portraiture, but using this “HDR method” gave me a greater range of detail or data to work with.

You can find a great YouTube video tutorial by JJDPhotography on how to do this here.

Thanks for stopping by and viewing my work :)


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.

Your Back-up Light: the Screen Blend Mode in Photoshop

"Bride's Wedding Bouquet", © 2013 Jenn Lin Photography

Pictured here is a before and after shot of an image of mine. Although I like the first image just as well, the second image provides a clear illustration of what you can do in photoshop with a few adjustments; the second image looks as if I had more than one light source (the window).

© 2013 Jenn Lin Photography

The photo was taken at my cousin’s house on the morning of her wedding. I placed the bouquet on the window seat knowing that the window would provide a nice side light. Since I didn’t quite like how short the ledge was, I extended it in post-production using the Patch tool, then I quickly used the Dodge tool to lighten the areas that were noticeably darker than the rest of the ledge.

Next, I added a new curves adjustment layer and selected “screen” for the blend mode. You’ll notice that it’s a bit overpowering at 100% opacity, but you can scale this down to your liking. In this photo, because of the difference of light and dark areas, I also used a Mask to hide the areas I didn’t want to be affected by the Screen adjustment layer. Using the colour black at 50% opacity, I painted over the left side of the image while leaving the right side affected by the Screen.

I then added another adjustment layer to increase the overall highlights a tiny bit, as well as an “S” curve adjustment layer at 50% opacity to quickly add some contrast back into the image.

Finally, since I wanted the eye to focus on the bouquet and not other parts of the image, I created a new layer, which merged all my visible work up to that point, and added a Smart Sharpen filter, using the Masking tool to make it apply only to the bouquet. I was careful not to exceed 0.3 pixels so as to avoid over-sharpening this particular image, but if you ever overdo it you can always scale down the effect by adjusting the layer’s opacity, or, just simply undo the effect and do it again.

The key to pulling off this technique is being careful not to overexpose the image; this means leaving detail in the areas with the strongest highlights; this prevents the image from looking excessively photoshopped. One thing to also keep in mind is that this technique will not work for images with shadow areas that are too extreme in comparison to the highlights you’re trying to bring them up to.

Thanks for reading! Follow my Facebook Page to get updates on posts like these.

Until next time,