Sunday, July 18, 2010

Photographing the Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

I guess I should start this off by saying what a great time we had at the park. Beautiful place full of friendly people and lots and lots of interesting things, animals, places, landscapes and people to photograph. This is definately one of my favorite State Parks in Florida.

Now, on to the tutorial.

Here's the original photo right out of the camera.

Looks pretty horrible, doesn't it? Don't worry, it's fixable and I'm going to show you how. When you look at a photo like this, the first thing that jumps out is all the blue. There's a ton of blue in this photo and you know what, it really couldn't be helped. This is taken from a very dark room without the use of a flash (flashes are prohibited during the shows and I am always very respectful of the rules when I am visiting a place and want to use my camera). I always shoot in RAW and this is a prime example why, the white balance is way off but that's not really an issue when you shoot in RAW.

Here's the adjustments I made in Adobe Camera Raw.

To set the white balance, I studied the photo for a few moments and then thought back to what I saw with my eyes (not what my camera captured). The rocks in the background were a medium to medium light grey which ended up working well for the white balance, so I used the White Balance tool (the eye dropper that is located next to the hand on the top row of tools in ACR). This gave me a great starting point. Next I started working on adding some much needed contrast, I used the "Blacks" slider and the Tone Curves panel to achieve that. (See the tone curve screen shot below). I then added some clarity and some vibrance and drug the recovery slider to the right until my histogram looked good and the photo started to come to life.

Here's the Tone Curve panel.

Since I shot this at ISO 800, my next step was to do some noise reduction (Thank you Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Camera Raw 6.X for the great noise reduction!!!) and a bit sharpening before opening the file up in Photoshop.

So now we're ready to take the plunge into Photoshop.

First order of business is to make a copy of the background layer, hold down the +shift+ key and drag the background layer down to the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers panel (it's the icon that looks like a turning page , between the folder icon and the trash can icon).

Now that I am working on the copy of the background layer and not on the orginal, I'm all set to really mess this photo up....I mean to clone out some of the distractions in the photo.

I'm mainly concerned with the red spots in the photo where light was bouncing off of the bubbles at an odd angle. So grab the Spot Healing Brush (looks like a bandaid) , click on content aware fill and start eleminating those red spots.

Now that you are done cleaning up the image, go ahead and drag that layer down to the new layer icon (the one that looks like a turning page) with the +shift+ key held down. (make a copy of the layer).

It's now time to try and get rid of some of that nasty blue tint the whole image seems to be suffering from.

Select the top layer (which should be the copy of the layer we used to clean up the image) and go to Image>Adjustments>Match Color (see the screenshot below).

Once you have selected the Match Color option in the Image Adjustments panel, you'll see a screen like this.

Click on the Neutralize box and watch most if not all of the color contamination disappear. When I use this option on a photo like this, I want to make the viewers eyes go directly to the Mermaid, which is the focal point of this photo. I might stop here or if I feel I can get closer to what she really looks like, I might try a few things like Levels Adjustment Layer, Sharpening or even a mask so that the sharpening and levels are only applied to her instead of the entire photo. I really like the color and tones of the blue background, I just didn't want those colors and tones on my main subject.

Here's what my final image looks like and a screen shot of the layers that I had at the end (I merged some layers since I was satisfied with the results of the levels and cloning I had done earlier).

As always, I hope you found this beneficial, if you have any questions please don't hesitate to leave a comment or email me at (I answer all the questions posted here but if you would like, I will also answer them in email).

As always, if you are looking for an image to hang on your wall at home or in the office, please don't hesitate to head over to and check out some of my photography that is available for sale.


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My name is Michael White and I'm a Fine Art Photographer based out of the Tampa Bay area.   I enjoy photographing various landscapes and wild life that can be found in the US.  I am also the creator of a new process called High Key HDR. 
You can find my website at and I can also be followed on Twitter at @rorymadstudios .