Help me see my brother's smile again
July 9, 2007 6:13 AM   Subscribe

FuzzyPictureFilter: Is the entertainment industry lying to me? Is it really possible to get a clear image from a fuzzy picture?

I have several digital photographs of a deceased love one - these pictures are unfortunately fuzzy. I would REALLY like to get a nice picture of his smile - I know there is a great shot behind the fuzzy, but how can I get to it? My only other option is to use a picture from when he was about 6, but obviously, I want to remember him in all his grown-up splendor. The fuzziness is due to both slight movement as well as a not-completely-focused digital camera + hand shaking.

Is this something that can be fixed with photoshop/gimpshop? I've never had much success with un-fuzzying pictures, even using instructions listed in a book of photoshop tricks. Any help offered would be graciously and appreciatively accepted. I can post a link to the pictures if you guys think that would help.
posted by to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Eh, no, not really. As long as you don't care about accuracy, they can make educated guesses. "These dots are probably teeth, so let's make what looks like a mouth here." Et c. For instance, if the subject has freckles, then those are lost in the data, and makes him look like he has a tan. Variation beyond the average is lost.

However, if you have several nearly identical photos, e.g., taken rapidly in succession, then one can use the variation to fill in the gaps. One's using a third dimension, time, and collapsing the information along that dimension to get a finer other-two-dimensions.

The former is artistic and requires a human brain who knows what the subject is supposed to look like. The latter is real math and actually works correctly.
posted by cmiller at 6:30 AM on July 9, 2007

The are various filters around that are quite good at processing pics. I only know scientific ones (deconvolution, high pass, low pass, sigma, etc.), but plugins for photoshop are pretty easy to find. Photoshop's standard set (sharpen, sharpen edges, etc.) are pretty ordinary.

Sorry, but I don't know the specific filters you should look for.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:47 AM on July 9, 2007

Photoshop CS3 has a slightly smarter than average sharpen filter that can help when the fuzziness is due to camera movement in a single direction.
posted by Merdryn at 6:58 AM on July 9, 2007

"I can post a link to the pictures if you guys think that would help."
I'm sure a few people would have a go at improving the pics if they could.
posted by malevolent at 7:02 AM on July 9, 2007

If by 'entertainment industry' you mean CSI technology where one can zoom in and 'process' a pixelated screenshot, yes, they are lying to you. You cannot get MORE detail from an original which did not capture the detail in the first place. Your only options are as cmiller said above. Try having someone savvy with editing software try to fix it but if the photo is REALLY fuzzy, it may be difficult.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: Here's the album. The 3rd and possibly 4th pictures seem to have a decent smile behind the fuzz.

I've included the other pictures as a reference for anyone willing to give it a shot, as malevolent suggests.
posted by at 7:14 AM on July 9, 2007

I know I've seen an article on new technology in the works to fix blurry photos. It looked pretty promising. Sorry I don't have a link for you, but the main point I wanted to make was: Keep that original in good condition, because you will be able to fix (or at least improve) it someday.
posted by SampleSize at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2007

Found it:
posted by SampleSize at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2007

I don't know if you'll be able to get much more out of those photos. Really, your own eyes can pull more detail out of them just as they are than photoshop ever could. You might look into having an artist paint a portrait from them though. The first and third shots are nice, despite the blur.
posted by DarkForest at 7:32 AM on July 9, 2007

I think you'd be better off hiring an artist to make a good picture than trying to spend $45 on a product that make a semi-decent picture. An good artist can always make a better image than technology.
posted by JJ86 at 8:24 AM on July 9, 2007

The problem that you have is that the data simply isn;t there - there are only a limited number of pixels (and a corresponding number of bits) that make up his smile if you want a sharper image (more pixels) then you need more information (more bits). If you don't have that information then you can guess, but that's all it will be: a guess.
posted by alby at 8:43 AM on July 9, 2007

People used to laugh at these scenes in science-fiction movies, thinking the feat was impossible. It isn't so clear anymore. Making sharp high-resolution images from lower quality sources is a very active research field of computer graphics, called super-resolution. The techniques involving training sets, such as example-based super-resolution are particularly spectacular.

But for your purpose, you would get the best results by hiring a graphic artist to manually repair your pictures in Photoshop.
posted by gmarceau at 8:45 AM on July 9, 2007

I tried fiddling with the 3rd image. Right off, I noticed it exhibits more than one kind of blur. There's a 6 -7 pixel motion blur of about 45° (right from the vertical). If that were the only blurriness, it wouldn't be hard to remedy. Indeed, applying the Smart Sharpen filter with those parameters brings out quite a bit more detail; however, the remaining blur is of the ghosting variety, which is much harder to remove. Basically, you've got a fainter duplicate of the image superimposed upon itself but offset by the same amount as the motion blur.

As mentioned above, your brain is a much better "defuzzifier" than the various computer algorithms currently (cheaply) available.
posted by pmbuko at 8:56 AM on July 9, 2007

I'd like to modify my previous comment. Someone with real photoshop skills could probably improve the photos quite a bit. The background could be further blurred (see lens-blur) and some facial details sharpened a bit. The colors and lighting could be brightened up a bit. Reducing the photos to cameo sized portraits might reduce the appearance of blur.
posted by DarkForest at 8:58 AM on July 9, 2007

Do you have other pictures? It's totally possible to create a clear composite from different pictures and cleanly lay it into the original. If done right, you wouldn't be able to tell that it's a composite.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I don't have any other recent pictures besides those. My family isn't very picture-oriented. I am fortunate enough to have these simply because of the new kitten who also appears in the fuzzy pictures :)

It looks like my best bet will be to either imagine the sharp picture, or find an artist to recreate one of the photographs. Curses upon Hollywood for giving me a small inkling of hope!
posted by at 10:01 AM on July 9, 2007

I work in compositing and VFX for "the entertainment industry", and there is a plugin package for Apple's Shake software called Furnace, one of which includes a filter called "DeBlur", which can yield some absolutely amazing results.

It's not a magic bullet, though. It's success is highly dependent on the nature of the blurring.
posted by melorama at 10:25 AM on July 9, 2007

My take on the 3rd image. As pmbuko said, the image has ghosting which is almost impossible to remove by software as it can't distinguish between theghosting and the real image.
I guess that someone with a lot of patience could restore the image by redrawing it after applying filters but it would have to be really meticulous work.
posted by Memo at 1:52 PM on July 9, 2007

I think image 1 in the group is pretty salvageable. If these are the only ones you have, then it would be worth taking one to a photoshop pro who can manually sharpen up some of the edges (or may have access to better sharpening tools than the rest of us). Something like this, but with a lot more skill. Combining lens blur with some local sharpening can help.

Also make sure to keep archived copies of all your original images. In 5 years the image processing tools are likely to be much better.
posted by DarkForest at 6:29 PM on July 9, 2007

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