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Using Frischluft Lenscare and Hand-painted Z-depth to Fix Photos

When you work on a magazine that does a lot of stories about real people – not celebs who have nice photos – you often have terrible photos that you are forced to deal with. The current magazine contract I’m on has one of these cases; there is a story about a man who ran a marathon to raise money for cancer research and all the photos are pretty rough looking and we can’t shoot him because he has unfortunately passed away. The best (meaning the least terrible) option was one shot that still had big problems: it was an over-compressed JPEG and it wasn’t clear who the subject was, since everything was in focus.

After jacking up the saturation to give the photo more life, the solution to the subject and quality problems was to hand-paint a Z-depth pass to simulate the depth add then apply a depth of field blur (I’m using the amazing Frischluft Lenscare). This served two purposes: you get to decide what the subject matter is by focusing on it and the high-quality bokeh blurring makes the photo sleeker and more film-like. Our terrible photo, while still no Cartier-Bresson, has graduated to publishable. The Z-pass:

The final comp:

Probably easier to see the focus if you look at it animated in Nuke:

If you look closely, you can see there are some edge halos that require touch-ups but that was pretty straightforward.

If you don’t have the money for Frischluft, Photoshop’s Lens blur has similar features. It’s not as nice as Frischluft and requires more touchups but the same technique can be used by pasting the Z-depth into an alpha channel and it will be picked automatically as the depth source when you open the plug-in:

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