The best way to remove halos from your pictures

Have you ever noticed a white glow along the edge of a building, tree or mountain in your pictures?
Welcome to the club. It is called haloing.

Halos are artifacts that thrive undisputed in over-processed HDR pictures, whenever tone mapping is pushed over the limit. They are also produced as a result of too high a value for clarity or over-sharpening.
However, sometimes haloing also affect images that would look very clean and natural otherwise.

No matter what their origin is, in today's digital photography halos tend to be perceived as a result of over-processing and, for this reason, I always try to get rid of them.

I made a quick video tutorial to show you my favourite technique to remove halos in Adobe Photoshop.
You can watch it or, if you prefer, just go ahead and read the text. They both illustrate the same concept. 

 

In general, haloing is found in high-contrast scenes. Therefore, you should give your images a careful check for halos whenever you have a dark foreground against a bright background.

Here is my favourite technique to remove halos in Adobe Photoshop:

  1. Create a stamp visible layer, so that whatever you did to your image so far will not be affected by what you do next. If things go wrong with halos removal, you will just delete the newly created layer.
    (PC: Control + Alt + Shift + E, Mac: Command + Option + Shift + E)
  2. Select the Clone Stamp tool.
  3. Set the mode of the Clone Stamp tool to Darken.
  4. Set the opacity of the Clone Stamp tool to about 80%.
  5. Sample a bright area next to the halos.
    (PC: Alt + Click, Mac: Option + click)
  6. Brush the halos to remove them.

For better results, I suggest you zoom in between 100% and 400% before you start brushing. How much exactly you need to zoom in depends on your image.
Try it and let me know your results. I am pretty sure you will be impressed!

This is all you have to know to apply the technique. However, if you are like me, you may be interested in knowing why this technique is so efficient at removing halos. Should it be the case, please keep reading the explanation below.

The secret of the technique resides in setting the Clone Stamp tool in Darken mode.
In Photoshop, modes can be applied to lots of tools and also elements, such as layers.
In particular, the Darken mode compares two sets of pixels in a pixel by pixel fashion, keeping the darker pixel in each pair and discarding the brighter one.

In the Clone Stamp tool case, one set of pixels is what you sample (PC: Alt + Click, Mac: Option + Click) and the second set includes the pixels you brush over.

Consider the picture below. It is a shot of Bled Castle (Bled, Slovenia) I took in December 2016 at blue hour. 

Zoom: 150%. For the sake of the tutorial, I unreasonably increased the clarity to accentuate the halos


The image includes the following elements:

  1. Sky
  2. Roof of the castle + tree
  3. Halos along the roof of the castle and tree

The sky is a lot brighter than the roof of the castle and the tree, but the halos are even brighter than the sky.

Remember: the Darken mode compares two sets of pixels in a pixel by pixel fashion, keeping the darker pixel in each pair and discarding the brighter one.

Since the sky is brighter than the roof, no pixels will be replaced in the roof. On the other hand, since the sky is darker than the halos, the pixels from the sky will replace the pixels where halos are present.

This is how it works. Try it on your pictures and let me know how it goes!

Cheers,

Enrico

My Grand Teton shot exhibited and featured in an article

I visited Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming, USA) in 2011 and, not surprisingly, I was absolutely blown away by its beauty. Unfortunately, at that time I did not know anything about photography and the very few nice shots I got were the result of pure luck.

The picture below is one of the lucky survivors of that trip.

Grand Teton National Park
Click the image to access my Portfolio website

After returning from Grand Teton, I looked at the picture and felt there was something special about it, although I did not know what that was.

Now the reason is pretty obvious to me: the composition is pleasant and the photo is well exposed. Once again, that was very fortunate, as back in 2011 I had no idea what composition and exposure were about.

I should call this shot "The sum of all lucks" and the result of that sum was me being able to post-process the file later on and produce a very decent final image. 

Look at the Before and After:

 

Don't get me wrong. If I go back tomorrow, I am sure I will get a much better shot. In particular, this is what I would do differently:

  1. Shoot RAW rather than JPEG.
  2. Use my Sony A77ii, rather than the old Nikon D200 I had in 2011 (the former has  much better dynamic range).
  3. Capture the scene during the Golden Hour (sunrise or sunset).
  4. Frame my composition better to avoid cropping in post (something I had to do to produce the image above).

Am I still pleased about the shot? Sure I am.
In December 2016, GuruShots launched its Best of 2016 challenge and my image of Grand Teton National Park was selected to be showcased digitally in an exhibition at the Thessaloniki International Contemporary Art Fair in Greece.

A few days ago, my picture was also selected to feature in the article Take A DEEP Breath And Hold Onto Your Shoes. These 36 Landscape Photos Will Knock Your Socks Off.
I find some of the pictures very inspiring and I hope you will like them too. My Tetons shot is number #35.

I reckon there is an important take-home lesson here: once you become a photographer, you will be able to revisit some of your old shots and turn them into successful images!

For another example of old picture revisitation, read about my Yellowstone Bison calf.

If you enjoyed reading, please pick a time to like and share.

Cheers,

Enrico

Somebody ripped my picture


Camera: Sony A77ii - 1/125s, F/4.5, ISO 100, 120mm
Lens: Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD

Truth be told, I cannot blame anybody but myself. While it looks like somebody ripped my picture, the effect merely derives from a choice I made while shooting the scene, as I decided to underexpose my image by 3 full stops to avoid clipping the highlights in the sky. 

The part of the picture you do not see was neither ripped nor deleted. Rather, the lava rock of Capelinhos Volcano (Faial, Azores, Portugal) sucks light like crazy, to the extent that it appears almost completely black in my underexposed, backlit and only partially post-processed image.

Photographers know that the shadows in a picture are sometimes so dark that opening them up in post-production is equivalent to opening a noise-filled Vase of Pandora, with very little details. 

It is exactly what I expected with this photograph. However, much to my surprise, when I opened the shadows by 100% in Adobe Lightroom, I found out that my camera had actually captured a fair amount of details in the very dark part of the image.

Non-photographers would probably simply look at the picture and delete it right away. That is unfortunate! Nowadays, consumer and prosumer cameras are often just as capable as the so-called professional ones. Result? They will throw away potentially great shots just because they do not know how to edit them. 

Check the before and after below and feel free to use the slider. 

 
If you are a photographer, I am pretty sure you have been looking for strong halos in the 'After'. 
There aren't any, right? Pretty remarkable for such a high contrast scene!

To be honest, I actually did get some halos, but I fixed them in Photoshop using the absolutely best technique currently available for this purpose. I will write a post about it in the very near future.
 
This is the most extreme case of successful shadow recovery I stumbled upon so far and that's why I am sharing it with you.
To see my very best image of Capelinhos Volcano, click here.

Cheers,
Enrico
 
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