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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity Apps
While on last week's MacMania cruise, my wife and I had two scuba dive days. (We're both occasional (at best) divers, and took a refresher course before leaving Portland.) I took along my aging-but-still functional Canon PowerShot S30, mainly because we have a 100' underwater case for it (there's a picture of the case in the linked review). Now, I'm far from a good underwater photographer, as the evidence will show -- this was actually only the second time I've been able to take our Canon out diving, so maybe I'll improve with experience.

One thing about shooting underwater is that you lose a lot of color -- red, in particular, gets filtered out, even with a flash. So there's lots of post-processing involved using the tool of your choice. I switched between iPhoto and Photoshop, but it's a tedious job. It seems you have to play with the color balance, saturation, brightness, contrast, etc. in every image to make them look their best.

Then, on the last day of the cruise, during the last session of the day, O'Reilly's Derrick Story passed along, almost in passing, an amazing tip ... one that I wish I had known many editing hours earlier. Derrick takes a lot of photos while snorkeling, and admits to having tried just about every kind of post-processing tool he could find to work with the images. Through all of that, he's discovered the best way to fix underwater images is to do this:

Click the Enhance button in iPhoto!

That's all there is to it. I tried it on the 200ish images I shot during our dives, and it really does a great job, as you can see by the before/after image to the left of this hint. (If you prefer, I created 800x600 versions of the before and after images, so you can see just how the image was adjusted.)

As Derrick pointed out, it seems that the author of the Enhance feature is an underwater photography buff. Note that there were a few images where this worked very poorly, but those were the rare exception rather than the rule. Thanks, Derrick, for the wonderful timesaver!
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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: BMarsh on Nov 07, '06 10:49:06AM

unless my pictures are very low light, I usually try Enhance Photo first
it's an easy "Undo" if it doesn't look right, then go to manual options.

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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: mblase on Nov 07, '06 11:08:35AM

While this isn't immediately helpful, it might be worth pointing out that many, if not all, of Canon's current offerings have an "underwater" mode with automatic color correction.

We've never actually used it underwater, but my wife uses it to take pictures during our daughter's dark-room-bright-stage theater productions and swears by it in those conditions.

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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: merlyn on Nov 07, '06 02:04:40PM

I think photoshop's "auto color" does a far better job at removing odd color casts. I've just done a bit of net searching and found that iPhoto "enhance" is often viewed by experienced shooters with the same disdain as the "brightness/contrast" sliders of photoshop.

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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: sgasp on Nov 07, '06 02:27:04PM

I agree the "enhance" of iPhoto for diving pict"ures do it very well but not always.

For those ones where the result of "Enhance" is not good enough or weird, revert to original and using adjust function just play with the Levels cursors.

Usually move the right cursor to the left until you get a good picture.

You can play with the left cursor as well.

With this two way of doing I was able to improve Diving pictures very quickly and without any pain.

I'm not able to compare with Photoshop, I do not own it. Quite an expensive software for my needs.

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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: underwater on Nov 09, '06 03:41:45PM

I find the in Photoshop "adjust auto levels" does a better job in general.

However as a really good tip for photographers, use URRPO filters on your camera which will make it much easier for the camera to adjust to the loss of much of the colour spectrum the further you descend.

Worth every penny.

See you underwater ...


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Easily adjust underwater photos' color and clarity
Authored by: billy.kessler on Nov 19, '06 09:08:44PM

There is an easy, non-tedious way to recover realistic colors from underwater photos in Photoshop. It's only a step or two harder than clicking "Auto-whatever", and the results are much better (and are controllable). The following are commands from Photoshop Elements 2.0:

Pull down Enhance => Adjust Brightness/Contrast => Levels
(Or get there directly with Command-L)
One after another, switch the Channel selector to Red, Green, Blue.

In each of these, you will find a histogram showing a narrow peak with zero values outside the peak (as opposed to the broad peak in a typical in-air photo). In each of RGB windows in turn, drag the endpoint sliders below the histogram to more closely enclose the peak. After having done all three, you will be amazed to see a photo that looks like it did when you were there, not the typical washed-out photo like robq's first example.

The reason this works is that water, and the stuff floating in it, dramatically reduces the dynamic range of a photo. That's why the histograms show only a narrow peak. By getting rid of the zero values in the histogram, you have in effect broadened the range, and the results are much more realistic than the often wierd effects you get by the canned Auto-x commands (in either iPhoto or Photoshop).

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