Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Targeted Adjustments for Creative Results" by Bob Marin

There are several excellent image-editing programs that can be used to produce great images.  When I want to go beyond the usual image editing, I want the more powerful features of Photoshop.  For this article, I will describe my workflow - how I use Camera RAW and Photoshop CC to edit images.

Since I shoot exclusively in RAW format, my workflow starts in Camera Raw where I click one of my saved presets that I have created.  These establish the starting values for the following:  White Balance (As Shot), Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation, Point Curve, Sharpening, Noise Reduction, Lens Profile, and Dehaze.  Then I evaluate the image to see if the chosen preset gives me a good starting point.  Next, it  is the time for critical adjustment of White Balance and tonal balance - Whites, Blacks, Highlights and Shadows adjustments in that order.  I usually leave the Exposure and Contrast slides at zero.  I am disciplined to use the right meter mode and compensation when needed so I rarely need an Exposure adjustment and I prefer to leave Contrast adjustment for a later Curves adjustment.  Once I am satisfied with these basic adjustments, I move on to more exact adjustments of elements within the image.  For these edits, I’ll use Photoshop.

One of the most valued Photoshop features is the ability to use layers.  This yields a non-destructive workflow that can be altered at any time without any destructive effect on the original image.  A layer can be the original image (the actual image pixels), a duplicate of the image, a different image, a “Fill” or “Gradient” layer, or an “Adjustment” layer.  Each layer can also have a layer mask – some are added as soon as the layer is created or you can add a mask later.  Layer masks allow one to make minor or very sophisticated and targeted adjustments.  A layer mask can also be used to block image ingredients that are not wanted.

This is a good time to mention some restrictions.  If you are preparing an image for a Creative competition, you can charge on – there are few restrictions.  Just make sure that all the image ingredients are your original captures.  Most applies equally to a Pictorial competition with, perhaps, holding back on wild extremes (for example use of unnatural or abnormal colors).  If you are considering submitting your image into a Nature competition, the story is quite different.  Only very basic adjustments to a nature image are allowed.  Know where your image is headed and know the rules.

To demonstrate a layer mask, let’s use this image of a tiger.
We can add a “Black & White” adjustment layer to extract the color and convert to a monochrome image.  This also automatically adds a “Reveal All” layer mask.  The mask is filled with white.  When working with masks the saying is: “White Reveals and Black Blocks”.  To demonstrate, let’s turn our tiger into part white tiger and part normal tiger – think of it as a tiger with a split personality.  By painting with a black brush ON THE MASK, we restrict the adjustment layer to only those areas where the mask is still white.

Here is an image of the layer mask and the effect it has on the image.

Looking at the mask, you can see some important attributes.  The white area allows the adjustment layer to be active while the black areas restrict or blocks the adjustment and the image remains in full color.  Note the fuzzy edges where the use of a soft brush allows a more subtle transition.  Also note the circle of black that allows the natural eye color to show.  The same is true for the tiger’s mouth.

Here is another example (and its layer mask) where the background layer (the actual image) has been made an active layer by double clicking on the image layer in the layer window.  This allows you to add a new background layer below the image layer.  In this example, I filled the new bottom layer with a subtle dark green color. Next, I added a “Reveal All” layer mask to the image layer.  Now when you paint with a black brush on the mask you will block (or rather, eliminate) the distracting elements in the background and leave a cleaner image with higher impact.


You can also use this approach in another way.  For example, let’s sharpen the butterfly but nothing else.  Start by duplicating the image layer and then apply the desired degree of sharpening to the new duplicate image.  Now apply a layer mask to the sharpened layer.  If you use a “Reveal All” layer mask, paint everything black except the butterfly, or use a “Hide All” layer mask and only paint the butterfly using a white brush.  Here is an image of the “Hide All” layer mask that was used above to reveal the sharpen butterfly.

Once you have created a working layer mask, you also have a selection.  Just right click the layer mask and choose the option “Add mask to the selection”.  If there was no selection active before you took this step, you will now have an active selection of the image that is ‘revealed” by the white area of the mask.  Since you needed the layer mask to creative the desired changes to your image you can appreciate the fact that the selection comes virtually free.  And, you do not have to save the selection for as long as you retain the mask, access to the selection is still there.  Now the question becomes “What can I do with it?”

We have been using layer masks to achieve targeted adjustments.  You can also use a layer mask to add an additional image element to another image, or you can use the selection to copy an image element to paste it into a different image.  These are just different ways to achieve the same result.  In some cases one or the other method will be best – it depends on what creative result you are trying to achieve.  Also, there will be times when a more accurate, tighter selection may be required.  We’ll end this discussion with a final example of where you can go from here…

Bob Marin started his photographic hobby at an early age right after earning a few dollars and visiting a pawn shop that had an Argus C3 in the window.  Serving the government led him to Germany (land of Leica) and the hobby got a lot more serious. Earlier years, as well as now, were spent mainly on strict Nature photography.  However, creative allows one to strike a balance.  Bob had early influences through CACCA and a friend, a Lithographer, who introduced him to Kodalith, Diazachrome and 3M Color Key ... the magic began.   This may all sound foreign in today's digital age, but Bob has dug into the depths of Photoshop, and the Creative Life got easier!!! No more toxic and smelly chemicals. 

Bob Marin will be teaching "Techniques for Creative Images" on Sunday, November 19th.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

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