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Enhancing Drone Panoramas and Removing Noise

Image credit – Jag_cz on Adobe Stock.

These two videos are from my new class over at LinkedIn Learning… I’ll share with you in a six-part article the entire part of the course about aerial panoramic images.  You can see the series here as it’s released on Photofocus or watch the whole class here.

Enhancing images with filters from Learning Aerial Photography with Drones by Richard Harrington and Francis Torres

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Noise reduction and sharpening for panoramic images from Learning Aerial Photography with Drones by Richard Harrington and Francis Torres

Enhancing images with filters

You’ve seen the benefit of filters earlier when working with raw files, let’s explore some filters that are useful to really fix a panoramic photo. All right, well let’s take a look at another panorama. This one’s already been merged, using the same techniques as before, and we’ll drag that newly merged file into Photoshop. And this is one that we shot when we were out at the park up in Maryland, and the skies were great that day. – [Guest] Oh yeah. – [Host] I really like the details here and the raw file looks good, this is the DMG raw file.

I think we’re in pretty good shape. I’m gonna put a little bit of a gradient there, on the sky, let’s cool that temperature down just a little, it’s feeling pretty good. And we’ll open that up as a smart object. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this image. It’s got good depth, good detail, but filters can sometimes help. There’s a lot of filters, one of the ones I sometimes use that’s built in is called find edges, and when you first run it Frances, it’s awful.

It makes everything look like a pencil drawing. And that’s kind of useless like you would never develop your photo that way. – [Frances] It almost looks like a negative. – [Host] But if we double click here on the blending arrow, what happens is we can change the blend mode. So we can drop that in the multiply mode to get rid of the whites, and now it’s leaving just those edges that it detected as sort of an overlay. So let’s apply that, and punch in, and what you’ll see there is that it basically acted like tracing.

So it went around the edges, found the details, and layered them in. Now it’s a little bit strong still, so you can double click on that opacity blending arrow, and not just change the blending mode but also lower the opacity, but there at a lower value, what that does is kinda cool. It essentially helps find the edges and almost puts a light, thin ink outline around everything to help get some of the detail.

Yeah, it looks nice.So that works well. Let’s turn that filter off. Another one that I like to use is from a company called Athentech. And they have a free product called Perfect Exposure, you can also use the trial version of Perfectly Clear Complete to get their tone adjustment, and this allows for some pretty cool things. So let’s start with tone. So first up, their perfect exposure algorithm analyzes the exposure and automatically calculates the value. And you can see there it made the whites white, the blacks black, and sort of fixed everything in between and got a more even exposure.

So that works well. Let’s turn that filter off. Another one that I like to use is from a company called Athentech. And they have a free product called Perfect Exposure, you can also use the trial version of Perfectly Clear Complete to get their tone adjustment, and this allows for some pretty cool things. So let’s start with tone. So first up, their perfect exposure algorithm analyzes the exposure and automatically calculates the value. And you can see there it made the whites white, the blacks black, and sort of fixed everything in between and got a more even exposure.

Which the camera couldn’t do. The camera had to measure the whole scene, and it couldn’t expose the trees differently than the sky. So that helped. Then we can move that black point to force the blacks to be darker, we can use a little bit of depth here, and they have high contrast or high definition. And this is an alternative to what Photoshop or Light Room would call clarity, and I think if you look at that, it’s really helping bring out the details and the blacks. We’ll do a little bit of light diffusion to soften the light, and now add some color.

And their color adjustments allow for what they call color restoration, which brings back the colors very richly, and it does it not based on saturation, but it deals with the intensity based on the black point. So it’s a totally different way of getting rich colors. So if you look at the before and the after, we just have better exposure and better color. Those two working together, it just feels richer. Yeah, it looks really nice, it almost looks like you shot during low sunset.

Yeah, it looks really nice, it almost looks like you shot during low sunset.

And that was not when we were there. It was the middle of the day and it was awful lighting, wasn’t it? (laughs) We could put a little bit of fidelity in here, and that helps get the blues and the greens back to a more natural state, and then we also can deal, if there’s tint, it will help remove any color cast issues. And then we can do a little bit of enhancement on the blue sky, and a little bit of enhancement here, either brown or green boost, to bring out the forest a bit. I gotta be careful there, it’s getting a little bit on the clouds, so I’m gonna skip that one.

But I think that’s a nice enhancement. It’s got its own sharpening built in, but I think that’s a good overall adjustment, so I’ll hit okay, and what it does is it’s gonna calculate the new image. And so if we pop out there, we can look at the before and the after, it definitely got more detail, and I’m gonna put that find edges back on as well, for a little bit of that line edge, and that looks good to me.

I think that’s a good solid image. All right, well now that we got that idea down on using filters, let’s go back to that first example, and we’ll do a little bit of enhancement with noise correction.

Noise reduction and sharpening for panoramic images

So when you’re shooting a panoramic image, even if you have a locked exposure, you might get some lights and darks that vary when you’re shooting your panorama. So on those dark edges especially, you can get some noise in there. – Yeah, and this is something that’s pretty easy to fix in the raw file, or even after the facts. Let’s explore a few noise reduction strategies. Now Francis, most people think of noise in nighttime images, but these smaller cameras often produce noise.Why is that? – Well they produce noise because the sensors are so small. And usually smaller censors add up to new noises because they have to shoot with higher ISOs because less sensitivity.

So if we zoom in to 100% here, it’s going to be easier to see the noise. And that’s important. And I’m going to toggle this on and off for a second, so we have to deal with this here. And we’re going to start with the noise and the sharpening. So first up, it says that noise has been detected. So if I turn that on, I’ve got a couple of different options here. And there’s different methods for removing the noise. Now I find that the camera phone one is better for the drones because it’s similar.

But we can look at that, and if we look in some of the areas here that have the trees, I can definitely see that it’s picking up that noise. You can also see noise at 200%, usually pretty easily, and if we toggle that on and off, you see that little bit of color noise and splotchy-ness. That’s cleaning that up a little bit. And you can also sharpen, which is going to put in some more details and bring the edges back.

So noise reduction can lose details, plus the small sensors need some sharpening. So without…And with. And the details are improved and the noise is reduced. Now I’m going to turn this off, in case people aren’t using the plug in. We’ll apply that. And I want to show you the built-in one with Photoshop. Now we skipped the noise reduction here because people might not have access to a third party filter. You’ve got a couple of tools, and you’ll find sharpening, and you’ll find noise reduction.

But I actually find that it’s better off to just run camera raw as a filter. Now when I run this as a filter, we’re not using a raw file, but we have the same controls that we did back in Lightroom. So we’ll just zoom back to a tighter magnification. And you can see the magnification level there.Why is it important to view at 100 or 200%? – When you zoom in, you have the capability of seeing the noisy pixels. – Yeah it’s kind of hard when you’re less, it’s just doing sub-sampling and they sometimes disappear.

So if we go to this tab here, I first see sharpening. And so the amount is going to be kind of global.And let’s start with it obnoxiously overdone. And what that’s going to lead to, let’s do a little split screen here, it leads to too much detail. You see how the buildings are really sort of popping there, but we’re getting a lot of artifacting. And so while things look sharper, it’s not actually working, it’s too much.

Yeah it almost looks like a painting. – It’s still good to go too far and then back off. And part of the problem is that it’s applying sharpening to everything. So if we adjust the masking controls, it’s going to apply less. But it’s hard to know what that’s doing. So if you hold down the option or the alt key, as you drag, you start to see what’s being sharpened. So now, that looks a lot better. Like I could still go with a high sharpening value, but it’s not overdoing it. So the flat areas that were looking like a painting, and starting to get like a stucco texture, are back.

And the trees have details now that were lost. Now you’re camera wasn’t out of focus, so why do we sharpen? – We sharpen because again, the sensors are small, and they’re not always the sharpest sensors. – Yeah, so even though the cameral and the lens was there, by the time it compresses the image and it writes that raw CDNG file, some detail can be lost. And so that really brought it back, and this is normal. Like when you make a JPEG file, the camera in camera applies sharpening. But when you have a raw file, it skips that step, but it expects that you do it later.

So the reason why the raw file looks soft, is the because the in-camera sharpening hasn’t been applied that gets applied to the JPEG. So this is a normal part of the development process. If we hold down the option key, we can also adjust the radius. And what’s happening there? – Well, it looks like a broader area is affected. – So if we take that up really high, it kind of gets glowy. Which is not good, but there, it’s just being a little more aggressive on the edges, and same thing when I drag the detail slider.

What’s that doing? – So the detail slider is actually bringing a little bit more detail back. – And it’s possible to have too much, so we have to balance that. But I like to hold down that option key,cause it makes it easier to see. You’re looking at a grayscale image. So that looks a lot better. Once it’s sharp, sometimes the sharpening will emphasize the noise, so this is when we’ll bring the noise correction in. Now if I hold down the option key and drag the luminance slider, I can see what’s happening. And if we overdo noise correction, what happens? – It looks really soft again.

Yeah because we just destroyed all the detail we put in. So we’re going to back that off, and put it about there, it’s not bad, somewhere in the middle. And the same thing though, sometimes we have color noise, so noise can be grayscale, but sometimes you get color noise. And I see a little bit of splotchy-ness, like you see in this area here, how there’s variations in the color? And it’s very subtle, but it’s not natural. It’s just kind of splotchy, like there’s little variations in the black. So if we increase the color noise, that removes some of it.

So you see how there’s blue in here, and all these strange little colors? If we increase that, what happens is it kind of makes those pure and gets ride of it. Now at 1800% magnification, it’s kind of hard to see things but let’s go back out to 100%, and that’s noticeably better. – Oh yeah, it looks a lot better. Very sharp. – So now, I feel comfortable hitting okay, and that sharpening will update, and it’s definitely there. You can toggle that camera raw filter on and off, and it’s a lot easier to see, again, if we zoom into 100%.

So we’ve got great details here on the stairs. I’ll turn the sharpening back on. It takes a second to process. Yep, visibly different. So the key there is to make it better, but not overdone. You’ve got a great depth of field there, you can really see a lot in that picture, it’s a very interesting panorama.So let’s pull that back out, and I think that’s looking pretty good.

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