Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday spirit for the Scrooge in us all

The holiday season is upon us so this post combines image editing comments with links to my favorite Christmas music.  Overall I've got a low tolerance for canned Christmas cheer so today's selections skew toward the offbeat and cynical.

First musical selection: "The Twelve Days After Christmas"

The image at top is a 1904 drawing in pastel and gouache by Everett Shinn, called "Fourteenth Street at Christmas Time".  This is what we'll be discussing today.  Usually the Library of Congress hosts unedited files of its scans.  I can tell someone has fiddled with this, though.  the histogram gives it away.

See those vertical lines across the graph?  That's a dead giveaway the image has been digitally edited.  The lines are evenly spaced, too, so I know what that person did was a straightforward levels adjustment.  This is now it appeared when I downloaded the image and cropped out the border.  It's a shame, really.  Because the histogram wasn't asjusted correctly.  See the gap at the right end of the graph where there's no data at all?  The white point is too far to the right, which gives the image a muddied appearance.

Normally the histogram would be the final edit anybody makes to an image.  It's a point of no return; subsequent editing can't recover the data that gets changed this way.  I played around with this one though, and didn't do anything else to the image.  You'll see how this brings a little more life into it.

And to go with that, here's "Mrs. Claus Wants Some Lovin'"

The difference between this and the earlier version is most noticeable at the shop window and in the snow at the lower right corner.  The downside is that we've lost more data in the meantime.  Here's the new histogram; each of the vertical bars represents a brightness level between 0 and 255 where the image contains no data.

It's sad to encounter a good image that has already been edited in ways that make it impossible to get optimal results from later edits.  This is a good demonstration of why it's best practice to maintain archival copies of digital images without any histogram alteration. Although I'm not against histogram adjustments, I do upload pre-histogram versions of edited files for recordkeeping purposes whenever possible.  That way, if anyone wants to do additional work they don't have to choose between quality loss or completely starting over.

To go with this we have the most somber of today's selections: Simon and Garfunkel's "The Seven O' Clock News/Silent Night"

Just to see what else could happen, I also worked on the histogram with a couple of other tools.  Curves and shadow/highlight allow for more sophisticated alteration than the levels tool.  There are many possible ways to apply them, and I actually don't know what the artist's original looked like or what his intention was.  So these are speculative changes.  Yet it can be a useful exercise to work with different tools and see what one can do with them.  First, the curves tool.
In spite of the somber tone of this scene, I do like the difference.  So here's Shirley Temple singing "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" while we look over the histogram for this edit.

The jagged appearance is a giveaway that this has been edited after a histogram change.  I enhanced contrast toward the darker part of this image, which accounts for the change in its overall curvature.

One other thing we could try is the shadow/highlight tool.  It performs sophisticated enhancements on the brightest and darkest ends of the histogram.

If you're interested in studying the artist's technique this version might be useful, but it brings out distracting information.

The emotional impact of this image seems to be in the contrast between the bright shop window and the poor peddler.  A mass of shoppers cluster near the established stores while he struggles with his small cart of merchandise ankle deep in icy sludge.  If the store window isn't bright enough it doesn't set off his misery.  More than anything else, that hunch was what prompted me to look at the histogram in the first place.  And the straightforward levels adjustment of my first edit seems to confirm that opinion.  The curves and shadow/highlight tool edits were attempts to refine the idea.  I didn't want either the snow or the cart to look too cheerful, but I wanted to keep that bright window looming above his head.  Does it suggest a halo?  Maybe he endures this to support a family.

Of course these are speculations that I wouldn't articulate on Wikipedia.  Yet they're elements I do consider when working with an image.  There's also an argument to be made that fine art shouldn't be restored at all.  Yet this image was already edited before it was put online, and if my opinion is worth anything that edit wasn't done very carefully.

So since we're looking at histograms today, here's the histogram for the fourth version.  I happen to like The Bobs (they're an underrated a capella group), so linking "Christmas in L.A." along with this.

Overall I prefer the third edit for this one, but am not quite sure which way to go.  Seeking opinions and input.  Your voice is welcome.


Graham said...

"I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" was sung by Gayla Peevey, not Shirley Temple. See the linked YouTube video and the Wikipedia article about the song. Also, did you intend to tag the post with "hisgotram" rather than "histogram"?

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Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.
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robert d said...

Anyone who likes The Bobs can't be all bad.

You are rather generous in your moderation considerations given some of the comments associated with this post.

I thought the picture was still off and made a minor adjustment for your consideration:


Snapping out.


Anonymous said...

I like it - although I think scrooge only comes out when other have it in them!

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What's In My Yard? said...

How about the endless cycle of three blogs that i get when i click next blog. I figured since you are the first of teh three and you are getting all teh hits that why not make use of it lol.

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missy said...

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Shameela said...

Did u know you are today's Blog of Note?

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Just me.... said...

Hello Durova...

I came to your blog because of the BON you received. I have to say.. Im dismayed by the comments. You put such thought into your work - the picture you chose to discuss is beautiful, sad, poignant even - and you do it justice with your editing. How is it all the people posting are advertising?? Or most of them anyway?

Anyhow.. just want to say I appreciate your efforts. I'm looking forward to looking at past posts.


Just me.... said...

One more time .. I am having trouble posting comments today...

Durova (I wrote already).. your blog is lovely. I'm dismayed by the comments.. it seems its mostly advertising, and nothing about what you have done.

I wanted to say I appreciate the work you have put into this. The picture you have chosen to work on is beautiful, sad and poignant even. Your editing made it come to life. Thanks for sharing...

Now if this one doesn't post...


Just me.... said...

ooopss.... after blog owner approval.. never saw that!



Dr. Heckle said...

Wow, considering the comments already on here I don't know if I will feel right leaving a message that doesn't have some kind of promo and link to another site in it...

I guess I'll give it a try. :P Really cool stuff you're doing to the images. What kind of software are you using? How did you learn so much about it?

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A Good Moroccan said...

I enjoyed seeing the artwork.....several times !

Shahid Mahmood Butt said...


Being a "Blog of Note"

Butch said...

Just one question. When pointing out that the pointer on the right in one of the picture was off to the right too much leaving a gap, why then didn't you show a rendition of the two pointers pointed to the first extreme change in elevation of the bars? I believe the left side could have been brought in just a littel. I would also try rebalancing the middle pointer to a high mid-range of the bars.

Knocks the unneeded stuff out.

Just a thought when using level controls. Doesn't always work. Sometimes the sharpness is fisrt to be used to get noise into the picture and then clean it up.

The work on the photo is very good.