Here is the photo I'm trying to work with.

The background is heavily pixelated and I want to polish them up. I already polished the top part of the sky using gaussian blur. I want to do the similar on the lower parts of the image but I've found further applying gaussian blur on the lower areas ruins the image with smudged black and etc, and working around the areas between the utility poles and wires seems extremely difficult for me.

What would be the best way to go about this problem? Thank you very much in advance!

  • 1
    er... make a selection..... – Scott Feb 3 '18 at 1:49
  • @Scott I've tried using color range selection but it seems like it will always either come a little bit short or over-select.. Maybe I'm just dumb.. – Choice Feb 3 '18 at 1:53
  • .. select the black and inverse... and use a mask or quick mask to refine. Nothing is ever 1 step and done. – Scott Feb 3 '18 at 1:58
  • @Scott Is gaussian blur the best way to do this though? How can I do it without creating the "smudge-like" appearance around black edges? – Choice Feb 3 '18 at 2:04

Actually this is not pixellation due too low resolution. This is a result of strong JPG compression and heavy noise removal & sharpening in your camera or photo editor.

If you have the raw image (not *.JPG, but *.RAW or *.CRW), you should learn how to develop them properly. I think you have only the JPG, but something can still be done i.e. your case is partially solvable. The idea shortly:

  • Make a clean BW copy of the image where the sky is white and the wires, stakes, houses etc. hard things are black, the grey areas are minimized
  • Blur the colored image without trashing the edges of the objects (see it later!)
  • use blending mode multiply to make black solid

The key is Smart Blur. Gaussian blur makes everything fuzzy. Smart Blur leaves local contrasts which are stronger than the selected treshold. That function hasn't unfortunately in my old Photoshop full screen preview, only a small preview stamp in the dialog => I cannot show the under construction screenshots with the result. I show only the results.

Make some test to understand the settings of the Smart Blur. Note: Blur radius and Treshold interact, they aren't independent. That makes the setting tricky. You must test many combinations!

So, after you have the copy in the top layer, goto Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and with quite wide selective adjustments make cyan-blue-magenta-red as light as possible:

enter image description here

Increase the contrast with the curves. Beware making the grey between the lines dark, but reach as white sky and as black solid things as possible. Some grey is unavoidable.

enter image description here

Then apply Filter > Blur > Smart Blur. Play with settings to make the clouds soft, but not fading the thin wires.

After blurring smartly: Fix the mid sky grey area. Paint white onto the grey. Leave the near horizon greyness or remove it all (a hefty job between the wires and stakes, needs small steps and much patience).

Here's the result:

enter image description here

Apply Smart Blur to the colored image layer. Give to the BW layer blending mode = Multiply.

Here's the final result:

enter image description here

If the sharpening (it's already in the original image) starts to look out painful, you can wipe it off with the clone brush. Do it in the colored layer, the BW layer save the sharpness. To remove the remnants of the sharpening in the area where the BW version has grey (=mid bottom)unfortunately needs also removing the grey.

An opinion: You can as well let the image be as is or apply even some arty filters. My receipe nor other heavy processings do not change technically weak material perfect. High technical image quality is born (or killed) already when the shot is done.

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  • This is a very kind and competent and detailed answer. Is there an "answer of the month" or something where I could nominate this? You give the technics, but also a friendly and personal advice for "next time", nice touch. – Martin Zaske Feb 3 '18 at 11:32

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