Focus Area Selections

By Roger (24 July 2014)

Last month, I gave an overview of some of the new features in Photoshop 2014, including a new selection tool for focus areas. The new tool is located under the SELECT menu (Select>Focus Area). I really liked the idea, but I already knew several ways to make selections and didn't spend much time with it. Well, now that I've investigated it a little further, I think I'll be using it fairly often. On the correct type of photo, it works really well. It is fast, accurate, and easily learned.

The tool searches for areas in sharp focus and creates a selection. Like most tools, you can make adjustments to the strength of selections. You can create a mask of the areas you select, and then use the result for further post-processing as you wish.

You can use the other selection tools – the quick selection tool or color range or calculations – to accomplish this same effect, but. for my portraits with lots of bokeh, this tool is faster.

Let me show you two examples.

Young Gettysburg Soldier

Young Gettysburg Soldier

This photograph is from the Gettysburg re-enactments, last year. The young re-enactor is in focus, but the background is definitely blurred. Once in Photoshop, I bring up the Focus Area selection tool. Photoshop will bring up the tool and, automatically, do a first pass. You can see it has already masked the sky and woods from the photo. I have it on a white background, but there are several different ways to view the masked portion of the photo. You can see the pull-down menu in the thumbnail of the View Mode.

Photoshop's Focus Area Menu

Photoshop's Focus Area Menu

You can move the slider in the Parameters section to vary the amount of selection, but I like the Focus Area Add and Subtract brushes to the left on the menu. The slider just doesn't seem as effective. In the Output section, you can determine how you want the selection to be saved: Layer Mask; New Layer; New Document; etc.

You can see there is a little bit of sky left around his ear. I can take care of that with the Focus Area Subtract brush or the Refine Edge tool at the bottom of the menu. In the Refine Edge menu, you have further tools to improve your selection. I rarely needed to go to this menu in my Focus Area selections, but it's there for you if you need it. Now, I have the soldier with a transparent background.

An easy selection in less than one minute

An easy selection in less than one minute

If I put him in front of the Burnside Bridge from Antietam, I can make the bridge photo a little more interesting. (For me, adding a person or two almost always improves a scene.)

For times when you're happy with the content of your background but want to make some changes to just the background, you can, again, use the Focus Area selection tool.

One of my favorites, but the background is a little bright.

One of my favorites, but the background is a little bright.

In this picture of Drew, I felt the background was a little bright. When I use the Focus Area selection tool, it masks the out of focus area. There is no way to invert the mask. This is only slightly annoying because I can save the output as a new masked layer. When I am back in the layers of Photoshop, and I can activate the layer and invert it. You can see the mask below.

reverseselect.JPG

I added a new Curves Adjustment Layer and clipped it to the masked layer below. Now, whatever adjustments I make will only impact the out of focus background. I want Drew to be just a little brighter than the background, so the viewer's eye will zero in on him. It's just a natural reaction of the eye to go to a brighter part of the photo before looking into the darker area. It doesn't have to be a dramatic difference; sometimes, a little is all you need to make the photograph better.

Much better, with a small adjustment.

Much better, with a small adjustment.

This tool isn't right for every photo. Most landscape photographers want to get their photo in sharp focus from edge to edge, so the Focus Area Selection Tool wouldn't be my tool of choice. However, there isn't one tool that I can think of that is right for every situation. You should give this tool a close look the next time you want to select the bokeh in your photo. Have some fun with this great, new selection tool.

Whales, Puffins, and Family

By Mark

 

Last weekend we helped my dad fulfill one of his bucket list items.  He wanted to visit Maine and do his part in combatting the great lobstah invasion.  It had been about 50 years since he had visited.

The adventurous travelers

The adventurous travelers

 Sarah, my sister Donna and my daughter had never visited.  This was my third trip so my sister put me in charge as "the minister of fun".   My first victory was scheduling the perfect weather for the trip.  We had clear blue skies, 75 degree days and cool nights. 

We choose Bar Harbor as our destination. It is quite a scenic little town and offers a lot of things to do and see.  

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor

Since my dad is getting a little bit mobility challenged, we spent the first day driving through Acadia National Park. I believe it is one of the prettiest wilderness areas in the country.  Cadillac Mountain is also the highest point on the East Coast. 

It truly is the spot where the first rays of the sun hit the United States. This is great, until you realize that takes place at 0430.  The road offers great scenic views of Jordan Pond and outwards towards the horizons.  

Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond

Making our way down to the pond itself we got to see little streams of sunlight highlighting things which we might otherwise miss.

On Saturday morning we got up early and headed down to the docks for the early morning “Puffins and Whales” tour.  

We headed out into the Gulf of Maine and cruised north, heading past Winter Harbor until we reached the lighthouse on Petit Manon Island. 

We could see lots of birds—terns, razorbills and puffins. Even though the captain took the boat in pretty close to the shoreline, the birds are pretty small.  Good thing the D800 has got such great resolution which enables us to actually see their bright orange bills. 

Did you know there is a Puffin song?

Did you know there is a Puffin song?

We turned South by Southeast and sped out about 20 miles off the coast.  Folks, even though it was July, when you combine the sea air and the fact that you are traveling about 30kts, it gets darn chilly out there.  Luckily we all were dressed warmly, but some people around us were wearing shorts or sun dresses and looked frozen.  The boat has a naturalist onboard and she clearly loved her job.  She led the way in searching for the whales in the old fashioned way—spouts and tails on the horizon.  We first spotted a pair of Finback whales.  

This species is very fast and sort of thin, I mean for whales at least.  They don’t have to come out of the water to dive, so what you observe is in fact their backs and their fins. 

After a while, the captain heard from some tuna fishers that they were seeing humpbacks, so we headed further out to sea.  When most people think of whale watching, these are what they have in mind. Tails, spouts, fins and magnificent rolling backs as they feed.

.  I am happy to report that the Minister of Fun was fully successful and all of us enjoyed the expedition.  Oh, between Dad, Cassie, Donna and I, we dispatched our fair share of lobsters.  Sarah ensured that the bovine population didn't get too overconfident.   

Lobster boats waiting to refill our plates. 

Lobster boats waiting to refill our plates. 

 

Join a Photo Club

By Roger (18 July 2014)

I've been absent for a couple of weeks, but I'm back. Maybe, I should try to write the blog prior to Thursday night, so I don't get behind. Naw, that would never work. ;-)

I've met several new photographers, this week, and most seem to be trying to figure out how this “photography thing” works by themselves. I believe photography is more enjoyable as a social activity. I have mentioned many times that it is much more fun to go out making photos when you have someone with you. One of the best ways to find a shooting partner is through a local photography club.

Photography clubs have been around since the camera was invented. Besides the social benefits, they are great places to share your work; learn faster; take field trips; and get advance opinions on gear before you spend your money. They can keep you motivated in your quest to improve your skills and vision.

Look for the club that best fits your personality. You should try them out for a few meetings to see if the group is right for you. I'm lucky because there are several clubs in my area for me to choose from. I travel 20 miles to get to our club, the Fauquier County Viewfinders, when there is another one only five miles from my house. Our club is more about fun and learning than competition, and that is my preference. The closer club is larger and more organized, full of great folks. They have monthly competitions, with expert judges they invite. It wasn't my cup of tea, but it might be what you want.

Big. rodeo smile on our flag girl

Big. rodeo smile on our flag girl

Here are some things to consider when you look for the right club for you:

Diversity. For me, I wanted to be around people with varied backgrounds. There are many clubs built around unifying themes – single photographers; landscape only; church groups; etc. – and I'm sure they're fine. But I like to be mixed in with people whose life experiences and interests are different than mine. Diversity includes skill level. Beginning photographers bring excitement, new visions, and challenges to a club.  I wouldn't choose to be in a club with only experienced photographers.

Longevity. There is nothing wrong with a new group, but, without knowing anything else about a club, you know there must be something that keeps a long-organized club going. If they've been going for years, I'm interested in finding out why. However, newer clubs may be more attractive to you if the older club has worked themselves into a routine that doesn't fit your needs.

A cowboy in northern Virginia?

A cowboy in northern Virginia?

Organization. I want just enough of this to beat back the chaos of too many creatives in one room, but not so much that I feel I'm part of some political party. Somebody has to run the meetings; organize the education topics; put out information emails; and collect the dues. I just don't want to deal with a 30-page rule book and a three-hour entrance exam, followed by a closed-room membership vote on whether I'm worthy enough. Pick which end of the spectrum makes you most comfortable. Every club suffers from those who don't participate enough and those who think the club is their personal property. Look for the club where this suffering is minimized.

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Bull riding in Fauquier County can be rough

Bull riding in Fauquier County can be rough

Cost. The membership dues for photography clubs vary widely. There are clubs that are really corporations, with their own studios and meeting rooms. That is great, but comes at a cost. Our club just raised membership dues, last year. We now cost $10 a year! We meet in a local hospital meeting room. You can find many choices between these two extremes, but you should expect to pay something. Dues help cover expenses like meeting rooms, websites, libraries, and many other legitimate costs to your club. They also help you keep track of active members and those who have left.

Activities. I saved my favorite for last. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog and countless other times, I like to get out and about to practice my photography. Active clubs make it a point to canvas their membership for photo excursion ideas. You can find “photo buddies” in every club. People who are making photos for just the fun of making photos. We invite each other to locations the other might never think of.

Those barrel racing riders are crazy fast.

Those barrel racing riders are crazy fast.

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All of the photographs in this blog are from our latest outing. Just this past Thursday, we met at the Fauquier County Fair, specifically the rodeo. (You know, when I was supposed to be blogging.) I had never been to a rodeo and, probably, wouldn't have gone by myself. It was an interesting photo challenge: fast-moving subjects as the sun was fading. The fair gave me lots of subjects for my people photography. Where else in northern Virginia can I get a shot of a prize-winning calf and its proud owner?

Very proud of her blue ribbon calf

Very proud of her blue ribbon calf

Look for a club in your area (a simple Google search will probably turn up many) or start your own. There are lots of benefits to being in a club, regardless of your skill level. You can share tips and find new subjects for your camera, with kindred souls who just want to enjoy photography with you.

Our new club website has a calendar we will use to post organized and ad hoc photo trips. (You can see our website here.) Feel free to stop in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

A Fresh Look at Familiar Places

By Mark

One of the challenges in travel photography is moving beyond just "I was there", to making interesting images from scenes everyone already knows.  There are a variety of tools and choices that you as an artist can make.  Some choices are in composition, moving around to get a different point of view.  Other choices require post processing but the pieces need to be taken before you sit down in front of a computer. In NYC, there are familiar scenes everywhere you turn.  Movies, TV shows and a century of photographs make it as familiar as our own neighborhoods. One of our merry band and I got up at dawn and hiked across the Brooklyn bridge. Built in 1883, the bridge represented a display of engineering and national confidence. Visually it soared above the river and the cities it joined.  It has been a symbol of the city itself.  Stone and steel provide good choices for black and white conversions. When I shot this image I had that already in mind. 

 After using Silver Efex pro's High Contrast preset as a starting point, I considered a few creative options.  

Brooklyn Black and White

Brooklyn Black and White

I thought should I use a layer mask and bring out the pink jersey of the jogger to highlight the blend of modern and history?  

B&W and Pink

B&W and Pink

The next day we went to visit a famous lady in the harbor. 

Great tourist shot

Great tourist shot

I hadn't been out there since I was a kid and found the museum fascinating.  It is hard to imagine that the whole copper skin was hammered out by hand by men using wooden forms. Such craftsmanship and artistry are rarely seen today. 

Here I wanted to take advantage of the just how recognizable she is.  How much of her do you really need to see in order to be able to put the rest of the pieces together in your head?  

I sort of liked this one of the tablet.  

Of course you can make them even more artsy just by applying a few of the filters available in Photoshop.   Here are a “High Pass Filter”, a “remove all of the green saturation adjustment” from the statue treatment, the “pointillist filter” and the “find edges filter” applied to the base image.  

After we left Liberty Island we went over to Ellis Island.   They now have a memorial wall where you can have the names of your immigrant ancestors carved.  My dad purchased one in memory of his parents who arrived here in December 1941.  Pretty cool. 

Marek Segal and Family

Marek Segal and Family