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Photo retouching replacing a background

This article is not about the actual technique used to replace the background but the complications that comes with the idea in the first place.

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It always makes me chuckle a little inside when someone says “just replace the background”…

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Replacing a background is simple enough providing several but rather critical and sometimes complicated criteria are met. Normally backgrounds are replaced with the scene already in the art directors mind. The models are shot and lit in such a way to match the background, or vice versa. The models will be shot on a neutral background making it easy to cut out and replace onto the new backdrop. All assets with be with the commercial photo retoucher.

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In an everyday situation this is not the case. Often a client will ask for a “background replacement”.  With what kind or background? where from? who is going to shoot it? find it and buy it?

Sourcing a background requires some criteria to be met.

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1. The new image background must be in the same lighting as the original

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It is of little use if the new background image has dull lighting with no strong shadows if the original was shot in bright sunshine. Likewise if the original was shot with a softbox or in dull lighting and the background was shot in the mid day sun. Care has be to taken to match them as if they were both taken on the same day or in the same conditions. Sun position in the sky must be noted if the shots are outside, long shadows mixed with over head sun light will be a retouching Fopa.

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2. Height of camera

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Camera height is also important especially for near objects or when shooting backgrounds. If the subject was shot at eye level but the background shot at waist level criteria 3 can easily look wrong. Angles start to look wonky or incorrect. Height of camera is most important when positioning a person into a line up. Waist level positions mixed with high or eye level positions can lead to looking up the nostrils of the person being dropped in,  where the rest of line up have noses where you cannot see their nostrils at all.

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3. Perspective.

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Trying to insert a person or object into a scene where the scale or perspective does not match that of the original will have you messing with an image for hours only to give up, it will never look right.

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4. Focal length of lens

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The focal length of a lens can also have an effect on if two images will blend together. A person taken from an image shot with a long lens will look odd in an image shot on wide angle unless 1 2 and  3 can be met perfectly. Long lenses compress depth of field and facial features.  A very flattering portrait can be made with a long lens. A wide angle lens produces very enhanced features and the two will not mix.

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5. Licensing  and cost.

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Probably the most important when it comes to replacing a background is the licensing.

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Each image has set licensing that the image can be used for. These terms must be met when the image is reproduced. It may be that the image can be used for website advertising but not be sold on for profit or gain. It’s important that you as the client, understand the implications should be handed over to your legal department to ensure no breaches will be made.

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Ideal images are not free, they come from stock agencies. Not all stock agencies have the same images. We retouchers cannot have an account at every single stock agency so we will end up paying the same you do for the image. The only difference being is that we have to find the image in the first place. If it is to meet the above 5 criteria then it could take a while. There is this search time to pay for.

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When it is asked “can you replace the background” these many factors have to be considered even before the retouching begins.

Photo restoration equipment

So what do think you need to get by in photo restoration?

For ages I thought I had what I needed to do my job, I had a computer and a scanner that’s all you need right? Well that’s what I thought …

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That was until images started getting bigger and the orders started getting more frequent.  What was my fix for this? Work smarter of course but the budget doesn’t allow me to spend any money on hardware, times are hard. I had to implement better work flow and have better organization, tune my techniques etc. When I couldn’t work any smarter I had to work faster. Sometimes working smart doesn’t help when you have more work to do! When I couldn’t work any faster I was held up by my equipment, such as waiting for images to open or filters to process, scans to run or applications to open and so the cycle goes round again.

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My first sensible move was to a dual core processor and a good graphics card. This helped to increase the speed of opening and saving large files. But as cameras got bigger CCDs and higher resolutions, I had bigger files to deal with! The next step was to buy a tablet which i blogged about here. “photo restoration with a tablet and pen” Being from an art background this was the most significant move i could have made to speed up my work and add to the quality produced. However since then, images started getting even bigger and I’ve just had to upgrade again to an Intel i5 latest revision chip and an SSD disk and loads of ram. These SSD disks are solid state like a big memory card and don’t move, which means a saving on power and noise but the biggest difference is speed. Running on the latest cables and supper fast data transfer rates saving and opening large files for photo restoration is a breeze.

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A new graphics card also topped off the cake so I ready for the world once more. Photoshop uses GPU or graphics acceleration to help process some processor hungry tasks especially the filters on larger images, so getting the right card will help. To keep up with the ever increasing file sizes for photo restoration this looks like something ill have to do more often.

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Speed up photoshop with an SSD

Speed up photoshop with an SSD

Restore a major colour fade – (image)

An example of photo restoration

Major photo restoration of a colour fade. A lengthy process that can be challenging but most rewarding.

Major photo restoration of a colour fade. A lengthy process that can be challenging but most rewarding.

For more on hand colouring and see our photograph colouring tutorial

The above image created a few restoration challenges…

  1. Even the tones to allow the colour to “stick”
  2. Reduce the texture and grain from 1
  3. Adding a texture to the jacket which was a tweed.
  4. Colouring as per this photograph colouring tutorial

1. The tones were normalized with an “apply image” and some selective burning in using the dodge and burn tools and applied using a Wacom Pen and Tablet

2. The texture and grain was so random and lumpy i had to go through the image and selectively “spot out” the biggest and most distracting clumps to make it more uniform. The normalizing of the tones also revealed damage that was restore.

3. Texturing the jacket. This texture was simply borrowed. I found a photo of some tweed and used the texture to map onto the jacket shape. Dodging and burning added shape.

4. Colouring was performed in the usual fashion. See above. What was interesting is that it is usual to see that most coloured overlay layers are set to the blending mode “colour” but in this image the mode “colour” did nothing to bring out the image so others were used to give richness and depth, such as “colour burn” or “overlay” or “darken”

 

 

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