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Enhancing pics shot through windshield or windows

Pictures taken while flying are generally shot through the windshield, canopy or side windows. Is there a digital post-processing tool capable of removing associated artifacts (reflections, sort of hazy blur, etc)?
Personally, I use my iPhone 5s’ camera and results are far from perfect. I’d like to digitally enhance the “usable” pictures (ie those for which the camera didn’t focus on the window pane ;-) )

LFHV, France

I don’t know if there is a “tool” specifically for this, but there are processes in e.g. Photoshop which are well known to people who do this for a living.

Removing things like spots (in any scene, or on peoples’ faces) is usually easily done, by copying a little piece of the adjacent area and pasting it over the spot. Photoshop has a tool called a healing brush or something like that.

You can also use that method to remove stuff like unwanted people in the photo. Just paste in a piece of the background over them

Reflections are much more work, because they are usually covering an area containing a graduated shade. I don’t know how to do this (it’s not too hard but remembering the methods from one year to the next, in a program which has 1000 functions, is hard) but we have had various threads here on it. This one shows an example of a reflection removal.

The thing which I want to learn (or re-learn) is how to do a graduated de-haze. This is needed because the view into a distance has a lot more haze than the view straight down, and the “Blacks” function (available on Photoshop, Lightroom, ACDSEE PRO etc, if you are working on a RAW image) which normally works pretty well, is not so good. This is the most common issue in airborne photos. For removing reflections, the easiest method by far is to not have them in the first place – by having a piece of hairy black rag in the plane which gets laid over anything bright (the kneeboard, one’s bare legs, etc).

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Thanks @Peter for taking the time to answer. I thought there existed a “magic” program which could do the job in one click ;-).
Your answer is very logical: it’s not a piece of cake.
The solution should be to shoot pictures outside of any window, either using GoPro-style cameras attached to the airframe or by opening a side window…
Let’s wait and see…

Last Edited by Nestor at 25 May 21:26
LFHV, France

De-Hazing is best done with the tonal correction curves, but you really have to know what you are doing.
I have learned Photoshop the hard way – but for photographers tools like NIKON CAPTURE NX2 work much better and quicker.

I have edited thousands of images for print, and what I usually do:
- First I straighten the horizon
- I try to remove distortion (theres special filerts as plug-ins for Photoshop)
- I remove spots and reflections with the appr. tools (but I prefer to use a polarizing filter which can prevet reflections, many times but not always)
- I work on the tonal correction, the contrast and the colors
- I add saturation, but not to the whiole picture
- I sharpen the picture (I do not use in-camera sharpening, or only very little, because software can do that better)
- I crop the picture

This image (from my book “Above Munich”) had some haze before I edited it … (it’s the BMW headquarter in Munich)

Last Edited by at 25 May 21:58

I agree with Flyer59 above. And I would add that it makes a big difference if you have a camera which can shoot RAW (DNG for example) because you have much more room to play with when removing stuff like haze. 100% JPEG is as good as RAW and jpeg is far more future-proof for long term storage (and the filesize is the same!) but no camera will generate 100% quality JPEG; the best you get (with a £1000 body like say my Pentax K3) is a 3x compression, which considerably reduces what you can do with the image before bits get washed out. And nowadays some of the pocket cameras can save in RAW too… just as well since their Jpeg compression is quite vicious. RAW also opens up additional functions in Photoshop and Lightroom. Nowadays, very few photos which you would say “that looks stunning” are natural; almost everything has been Lightroomed (etc).

The solution should be to shoot pictures outside of any window, either using GoPro-style cameras attached to the airframe or by opening a side window…

Sure, but you know the problems…

  • can you pan/zoom the camera remotely, and see what it sees?
  • all the “sports” cams (go-pro etc) distort heavily, which many like, but I think it’s a bit like when Pagemaker came out c. 1985, with 20 fonts, and you could always tell because everybody made sure they used all 20 fonts on every page
  • few semi-pro quality cameras (of the type which could possibly be mounted outside) are waterproof, so it’s only a matter of time before you have an “accident”
  • the grey filters never completely remove the prop, whereas a semi-pro cam with a manual shutter (or a “global shutter”) can really completely remove it
  • the mounting is usually illegal and while nobody worries about this, it is perhaps not a great idea if somebody is out to get you for some other reason; also if a camera falls off and hits the elevator you could be looking at four figures to fix the damage

Basically it comes down to spending some money – over €1000.

I would not shoot with an Iphone, if I was spending €100/hour on the avgas and flying somewhere nice. I would get a proper camera. For stills, they start at a few hundred € and probably the best compromise which will give you great pics is the micro 4/3 size. If you want a pocket camera then there are good ones for about €300 e.g. the Canon S120 which does RAW. No phone does good pics except in easy conditions (good light, easy subjects i.e. no people unless they co-operate ) and then my old Nokia 808 is way out in front although the very new and pricey Samsung S6 (I looked it in Germany) is probably close to it. No other phone comes even close IMHO. For movies, get a camcorder which has a manual shutter; I am not sure which one is the cheapest these days.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Interesting, what you write, Peter – but my opionion is a little different. The iPhone, for one (;-)) has a terrific camera, I really love it. And I have the choice: I own six digital cameras (at the moment …) from the iPhone 6 to the Nikon D4 and while (of course) there’s nothing like an edited image from the D4 (which i mostly shoot in JPEG) … you have to be aware of one thing: Without proper technique and Know-how an amateur can hardly produce a better picture with a D4 than with the iPhone. You really have to know what you are doing when you use a professional camera – or in the extreme case the iPhone picture will be nicer …

I rarely use RAW. Even with the D4 JPEG fine is of such high quality that I would only use raw if my intention was printing posters.

Two examples, both D4, JPEG fine, 17-35 mm lens, edited in Nikon Capture NX2

Last Edited by at 26 May 09:00

Well, yes, there are shades of grey. Who was it that said the best camera is the one you have with you? And that is true. But one gets spoilt, which is why I would never downgrade my phone camera because that’s the one I always carry.

I also agree that jpeg (from a good camera) is really good. Comparing a say 90% jpeg against a raw file, it is very very hard to see the difference even at pixel level. And that corresponds to a ~3x compression on the jpeg. But raw scores massively when it comes to removing haze, which is the perpetual aviation problem, unless you specially seek out post-heavy-frontal conditions when the air is clean for some hours. And Lightroom, whose features are largely suppressed unless working with raw files, is the best way to reduce the amount of one’s life wasted in cleaning up trip pics

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

This is an iPhone picture, almost un-edited.

By the way, here’s a good review of your phone/camera. Impressive!

This is an iPhone picture, almost un-edited.

That’s quite impressive I must say! I have also tried a couple with the iPhone, but never with this kind of result.

Regarding the original questions:

  • Reflections: In my experience, there is no proper way to remove reflections afterwards apart from very tedious manual work using Photoshop or similar software. Usually not worth the effort. So all one can do is avoid the reflections when taking the photo. Try a different position, try a different angle, try to cover whatever causes the reflection. I have experimented with polarizing filters (but I don’t think they can be used with mobile phone cameras) and they can suppress some reflections, but usually result in some very strange colour effects in combination with the curved plastic screens of our windscreens.
  • Haze: For that, I have a fairly easy workflow which I apply when converting the raw data from my camera to .jpg. My everyday point&shoot camera is a Panasonic micro four thirds model that I use with a wide angle lens most of the time, a setup similar to most mobile phone cameras. It came with a software called “Silkypix” (which is not my favorite image processing tool but one has to take what one gets) which has more or less the same functions as every other image processor.

My three steps for removing haze and adjusting white balance (almost always off in airborne photos):
- Pull down the gradation curve towards “low key”. Or use a “low key” preset. This removes most of the haze at once. (My software is localised in Germany so the screenshots show german labels I’m afraid)

- As the “low key” setting will darken the image a lot, oevrall exposure has to be pulled up somewhat:

- And lastly, the colour temperature will have to be pulled from blue towards red slightly:

- And finally, don’t forget to straighten the horizon and crop away unnecessary or blurred parts of the image.

Below a few examples in very different lighting conditions and taken from very different altitudes, where I applied almost identical corrections as described above. Takes less than a minute for every photo. First the unedited .jpg picture that comes straight out of the camera and below the processed raw image.

One remaining problem is that the pictures look different on every screen – what works best for the MacBook Pro that I am using here might not be the best setting for everybody else’s computer…

Somewhere in Bavaria:

Somewhere in Switzerland:

Approaching Milano Malpensa:

On departure from Malpensa with Lago Maggiore, Lago di Monate and Lago di Comabbio

Those of you who went to Dreden did the right thing, this is what the Mediterranean looked like last Saturday:

Milano Malpensa again from FL380 or so:

Last Edited by what_next at 26 May 13:14
EDDS - Stuttgart
34 Posts
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