How to transform an ugly image into something presentable

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My first Photoshop tutorial

The picture of the day is a bit ugly. ;-) It was just a snapshot in the subway station U1 Kaisermühlen/Vienna International Centre (at ‘Donaustadt‘, the 22nd district of Vienna) just a moment before my train arrived. It’s too dark (as I had to adjust the shutter speed because of camera shake) and not very sharp.

Subway U1 Kaisermühlen - Vienna International Centre

But it’s not useless as I am going to show you. ;-) Here’s how to transform an ugly image into something useful. Let’s create a security camera image!

Before / After

U1 Kaisermühlen Vienna International Centre on a security camera screen

I am using Adobe Photoshop CS2. Unfortunately I just have a german version at hand but I have translated the menus with the very handy Photoshop-glossary of Oliver Weiss.

Confused by some of the expressions used in your version of Photoshop? Match English-language and German-language termini with the help of this glossary.

I added the english and german expressions so it doesn’t care if you have an english or german version, you should be able to use the tutorial anyway.

Enough jabbering, here we go:

1. Open the image in Photoshop

2. Menu Image (Bild) –> Levels (Tonwertkorrektur) [Shortcut: Strg + L] –> Click on “Auto” or adjust the Levels at your own taste. This is – in this case – to brighten the image. You could also use Brightness/Contrast (Helligkeit/Kontrast) or Curves.

photoshop tutorial - levels

3. Menu Image (Bild) –> Hue/Saturation (Farbton/Sättigung) [Shortcut: Strg + U] –> Change Saturation (Sättigung) to -100. This is to greyscale the image. There are other ways to greyscale it, but in this case and for my taste it works best. Of course this can vary from image to image.

photoshop tutorial - saturation

4. Menu Filter –> Texture (Strukturierungsfilter) –> Grain (Körnung) –> Intensity (Intensität) 45, Contrast (Kontrast) 0, Grain (Körnungsart) horizontal (Horizontal) – or adjust the settings to match your own taste

photoshop tutorial - filter grain

5. Menu Image (Bild) –> Image Size –> Width (Breite): 400 pixel, Height (Höhe): 300 pixel

photoshop tutorial - image size

6. Menu Select (Auswahl) –> All (Alles auswählen) [Shortcut: Strg + A]

7. Menu Select (Auswahl) –> Transform Selection (Auswahl transformieren) –> Change Width and Height to 90 %. Press Enter.

photoshop tutorial - transform selection

8. Menu Select (Auswahl) –> Feather (Weiche Auswahlkante) [Shortcut: Alt + Strg + D] –> Radius 7

photoshop tutorial - feather

9. Menu Edit (Bearbeiten) –> Copy (Kopieren) [Shortcut: Strg + C]

10. Open the monitor image (’490900_93566429.jpg’ if you use the image of Leo Cinezi at stock.xchng – see the Notes at the end)

11. Menu Edit (Bearbeiten) –> Paste (Einfügen) [Shortcut: Strg +V] – you should get a Layer (Ebene)

photoshop tutorial - paste + layer

12. Menu Edit (Bearbeiten) –> Transform (Transformieren) –> Distort (Verzerren) –> Grab the greyscale subway picture at the upper left corner and drag and drop this corner to the upper left corner of the monitor display. Do this for all corners (upper right to upper right, lower left to lower left …). Try to position it in a way to make it look natural.

photoshop tutorial - distortion

To close ‘Distortion’ just press Enter or click the check mark. If you want to change/reposition something just choose ‘Distort’ again from the Edit-menu.

photoshop tutorial - distortion

If you are satisfied with the result:

13. Menu Layer (Ebene) –> Flatten Image (Auf Hintergrundebene reduzieren)

14. Now you can save your image –> Menu File (Datei) –> ‘Save’ (Speichern), ‘Save As’ (Speichern unter) or ‘Save for Web’ (Für Web speichern)

a monitor observing the U1 Kaisermühlen-Vienna International Centre

Tell me what you think

If you have any questions or difficulties, please feel free to post them in the comments-section below. As this is my first tutorial, I would be very thankful if you could let me know if there is anything that could be improved to make things clearer. If you just want to drop me a line telling me that the tutorial is great or you think it sucks, you’re welcome too. I am open to constructive criticism. Just always stay polite! :-)


For this tutorial I used an image by courtesy of Leo Cinezi at stock.xchng. On stock.xchng by the way you can get royalty free stock images. They are free to use but there are some restrictions you have to follow. And it’s an act of politeness to drop the creator of the image a line to say thank you. :-)

If you want to try this tutorial with the same images I used, just register at stock.xchng and download the monitor image then register at Flickr and download my subway station image. If you have a PRO-account at Flickr, you can download the original file. Of course you can use your own image(s) for this.

This is a beginner tutorial

I am aware of the fact that there are a lot of different ways to get the same (or a better) result, but as this tutorial is for beginners, I tried to make it as easy and straightforward as possible. This way anyone can see first results very fast. In my experience a beginner in Photoshop/image editing often has difficulties with using and understanding layers so I tried to avoid them as far as possible.

Pizza at the Schwedenplatz

The following is my image of January 8th (Vienna, Schwedenplatz), transformed into a security camera image. The Schwedenplatz by the way is really kept under surveillance with security cameras. So watch out what you’re doing when you walk around there! ;-)

a monitor observing the Schwedenplatz in Vienna

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5 Responses to “How to transform an ugly image into something presentable”

  1. 1 Xenon

    nice tutorial…got a lot of ugly images to try it out :-)
    got to get cs2…

  2. 2 vizzzual

    Hey Xenon, you can do the same with CS or I think even with version 7. Have fun! :)

  3. 3 Xenon

    hmm…need version 7…
    At the present moment i dont have any version installed and version 4.3 (!!!) somewhere as backup.
    …should bring this version to the museum, should I… ;-)

  4. 4 vizzzual

    4.3? That’s cute! ;-) Did it already have layers back then? ;-)

  1. 1 Nice Vienna Pictures photos

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