Since Adobe Lightroom 6 CC introduced the “Dehaze” slider, there is a new dehaze-craze. The slider has gained the status of Merlin’s wand to cure many ailments. Like all the other adjustment tools, “it is a tool” and not a particularly new one. A process that I will outline in this two-part post and its countless variants have been used for the same purpose and perhaps with greater flexibility.
First thing first, what is wrong with haze? You were at a location, looking out through the haze, and brought your camera to your eye (or stretched your arms) to take a photograph. It was your choice to take the photograph of the hazy scene, presumably because you liked it. Haze adds certain qualities to a photograph, weather, atmosphere, depth, distance, tonal structure. All these can actually improve an otherwise dull scene. Now that there is a tool to remove the haze, you rush to chastise yourself for taking such a hazy photograph and jump to the Dehaze slider. OK, I got it, be it! Now, you changed your mind, the seduction of the slider was too strong. Or, you had no choice in the matter, you took the photo and hoped for the best, now is the time to fix that.
I have the full Adobe CC collection but have long decided not to get sucked into the subscription model. So far, I have managed perfectly well with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6. A day may come when I may not have a choice to be corralled into the world of subscribers but I will hold out for as long as I can, and will help those who are on a similar path of not becoming Adobe Captive Consumer (CC). So, let’s get on with the dehaze, the old-fashioned way.
How to remove haze from your photograph?
To remove haze from your photograph you need to fully understand what it does to the image. Then, we can take the necessary actions to counter those visual changes.
- Haze reduces contrast, from mild to serious
- Haze also reduces color saturation
- As a result of some combination of the above, the haze will also hide detail
A simple approach for mild to moderate level of haze
When I ran a workshop at New England Camera Club Council conference a couple of years ago the topic was Photoshop Blend Modes. One of the things I offered to the workshop attendees was to use the blend modes to adjust the contrast and help reduce haze in a scene. It is really very simple:
- If you have multiple layers in your Photoshop document, target the top layer by clicking on it and press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E to create a merged layer. If you only have the Background, press Ctrl-J to create a duplicate layer.
- Click on the Blend Modes drop-down on the top left corner of the Layers palette. It should be reading “Normal” now and change it to “Soft Light”. This should provide a good level of improvement.
- If Soft Light is not strong enough, change it to “Overlay” blend mode and see if you like it. After that, you can get progressively stronger results from “Vivid Light” and “Linear Light”. With any of these blend modes, you can adjust the strength of the adjustment by reducing the layer opacity from 100% downward.
- Hint: This process may be useful even if you don’t have haze in your photograph but it may lack the desired level of contrast due to other factors and is totally non-destructive.
Here is a series of photographs I took from the air around Newport, RI. I had no choice in the weather and I was shooting behind the window glass or plastic. In this instance, I had a choice to shoot or not to shoot and I chose the former to deal with the haze later.
The second part of this series will present a more complex (don’t worry, I will provide a Photoshop action) yet more flexible method of dealing with removing the haze. But, for goodness sake, don’t remove haze from all the photographs as I see many tutorials on the Internet show in their tutorials. That deep haze, fog, is hard to capture right and it adds depth, abstraction, and a sense of mystery to your photograph.
Stay tuned …
Addendum: August 2, 2015
My friend Haluk sent me a couple of photographs, before/after versions of an aerial photograph to share. As I understand, he used the “Dehaze” slider in Lightroom, but similar results can be achieved in Photoshop with the action I will provide in the second part. I am adding a comparison file, but please keep in mind that I used an already compressed and reduced file to process, there are artifacts magnified. However, it will give you a general idea, in fact, I might have gone over the top while trying to match Haluk’s version.