Using Shared Libraries and some new tools in the Creative Cloud

By Mark

As most of you know my wonderful wife is a very dedicated teacher.  This year she took on a new position as the testing coordinator for the school and as she often does, she searches across a lot of blogs, twitter feeds and websites to gather good ideas for her school.  She found a great poster on all the attributes that standardized teaching doesn’t measure and wanted it for her room.   

The source document was provided and is intended for free use, but when we downloaded it, it was a .jpg file.   Trying to resize it back to poster size didn’t really work as the graphics and words looked terrible.  I said I would just recreate it for her.  It proved to be a fun project and the final product turned out great. 

As you can see the overall concept is pretty simple.  Mixed fonts of text and the colored pencils in the corners.  Well I could have just used any font I wanted but decided that I would replicate the original as closely as I could. 

I started by creating a poster sized document 24” x 36” so I didn’t have to worry about scaling it later.  I just filled it with black as the starting point.  I then opened the downloaded poster that Sarah had sent me.  This is where I started to take advantage of the features that Adobe introduced a few versions ago.  They call them Shared Libraries and they are intended to promote portability of design features from one project to another and from device to device.

 Libraries Panel

Libraries Panel

.  Basically you can save colors, shapes, graphic elements, font styles, special brushes, patterns to the cloud.   No longer do you have to try and figure out or remember what the color scheme was, or what typeface did that customer want to use. 

I saved the reference graphic to start building my document. 

Next I wanted to figure out what the various colors were on the poster.  I just used the eyedropper tool and sampled each color.  With that color as the new foreground color, you just click on the square icon on the libraries pane and it adds the color.  Because the quality of the .jpg was what it was, there seemed to be color variations in the samples.  I got them all and then just used the one I liked best.

Then it was on to figuring out what fonts were there.  There are web apps and iphone apps which allow you to snap pictures of text and identify them.  With the latest PS update, that capability is now resident inside the Text menu itself. 

Just highlight the text you want to identify and then select the “Match Fonts” item.  It will provide a prioritized list of the best fits and will also show you what fonts are available in the Adobe Type Kit, which are included in your subscription.

Because I am a fontaholic, I also use other sources such as www.DaFont.com and www.skyfonts.com .  DaFont is almost all free for personal use and has a lot of specialized fonts for download.   Skyfont is a paid subscription where you can buy full families of type with all of the cool bells and whistles.

Because I wanted to keep my layers in some kind of order I created a layer group for each color of text and then made separate layers for each word.  

Once I created the first word in the right color, font and size for each one, I then saved that as a character style into the library.   After the first word, I just had to click that with the word selected and it was done. 

 Character style saves the font, the color and the size info

Character style saves the font, the color and the size info

Since all the words in each color were grouped I could adjust the font size just by selecting the group.  Made the whole thing pretty easy to do.

I was pleased with the final result and much more importantly, so was Sarah. 

 Final Results!

Final Results!

Don’t forget to sign up for the 1 October Worldwide Photowalk with us in Shepherdstown WV.  Here is the link.  http://worldwidephotowalk.com/walk/shepherdstown-wv/

Combining Graphics and Photographs

By Mark

There are times when you want to use other creative elements in your photography. Photoshop gives you lots of tools for bringing in graphic elements and incorporating them.  You can use found images, create them in programs such as Adobe Illustrator or use the tools found in Photoshop itself.   Last week, I wrote about how to find and manage those types of assets, because Lightroom is NOT the best tool for that job.  This week I’m actually going to show you how to create something quick and easy.  

 

While I was browsing my graphics files one evening (yes, I know pretty nerdy thing to be doing), I noticed and liked this abstract landscape image. 

I’m not really a deconstructionist/cubist art fan, but the colors and the general outline reminded me of some of the pictures from last summer’s Ireland trip.

I opened the Ireland Image from LR using the Photo>Edit In>Photoshop command.  Once inside PS, I converted the image into a Smart Object, by right clicking and selecting that from the pop-up menu.  Since I already had Bridge open, I selected the abstract image and used the Place Command.  That opened it up, as a Smart Object automatically in the PS document.  So why am I making such a big deal about Smart Objects?   In this case especially, it is a very important step.  The graphic file itself is not an exceptionally high resolution image.  It certainly is not the same size or the exact dimensions of my underlying high resolution image from my D800.  Since I knew I would have to transform (Ctrl-t) the graphic, I wanted to take advantage special properties of Smart Objects.  If you try to stretch and resize small objects, all you really do is distort the pixels and then you can’t push them back into shape (Don’t worry, this will be the topic of next week’s blog).  A Smart Object doesn’t really exist except as a figment of software in your image, so as you transform it, you aren’t really messing with the original content.  It allows you to change your mind and even replace the content later if you choose.

My intent was to sort of gradually fade the blobs of the abstract into the image and then out again.  I created a layer mask and then applied gradient masks at the top and bottom to achieve my desired final product.  By painting with White, Black and Grey on the mask, I was able to fine tune the boundaries around the clouds and foreground hills

It’s not going to hang in the Louvre, unless it is the basement which is now under water, but it was something fun to play with.  

A Graphics Bridge to the Past

By Mark

I started experimenting with combining graphical elements and photographs and am going to share a little of what I have learned/created.  As I planned out the next few blogs, I realized I needed to address an underlying issue first.  It is no secret that Roger and I are huge fans of Adobe Lightroom as a management tool for our photographs.  It was specifically designed to catalog, manage and help you find the photos you took.  Included with Photoshop, Adobe has long had an also-ran program called Bridge which was the subject of a lot of jokes.  “There is a reason it is free”, was a typical example.  However, as Adobe has moved into the cloud, they seem to have spent a lot of time rethinking and reengineering of the program.  It really does provide the “bridge” between all of the Creative Cloud programs and is as integrated with Photoshop, Illustrator and their other design tools as LR is with Photoshop for photography.  It handles the graphic files where LR doesn’t really deal well with those.

Long ago I had gotten a large collection of clip art/graphics files covering everything from A to Z.

 Bridge Top Level Menu View

Bridge Top Level Menu View

They came on 19 CDs and aside from the fact that some of the graphics were in the old potentially harmful .wmf format, they had some good stuff.   I found a program called XnView which converted all of the .wmf images over to the modern standard .png as I imported them onto my computer.

Bridge provides a lot of options for displaying your image files.  Grid Views, both large and small; as details or reduced to a simplified listing

 Large Grid View

Large Grid View

 Simple List

Simple List

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bridge has gotten much smarter, and here a few examples.  It now has the ability to share the keyword list you created in LR.  It also recognizes any embedded keywords already on your files.

The metadata tab provides a lot of detail on the technical specs of your file and can be edited as required.

 Metadata

Metadata

Bridge also gives you a variety of filtering and search tools to help narrow down and find what you are looking for.  I don’t think they are as user friendly as LR, but I haven’t spent a lot time using them.

I confess, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to browse a large volume of graphic files and find the ones I wanted to work with.  Next time we will actually start doing that “artsy” stuff.

A Gorge-ous Hike

By Mark

While we were at the Homestead Resort, one of the other fun activities we went on was their Cascades Gorge Hike.  There is a unique rain forest area nearby, which the resort also owns.   We were very fortunate, in that it rained all night and only stopped an hour before our group was scheduled to go out, which meant that we had a relatively small group.  Each hike is led by a naturalist and professional cat herder.  We were very fortunate to get Brian La Fountain as our guide and master level bad joke teller.   His puns, Sarah said in amazement are worse than mine.   He has been doing this for 30 years and you can tell totally loves his job.   You can read a bit more about him here; http://bit.ly/1Yxtlhy.

Anyway, the hike goes past 12 beautiful small waterfalls along its three mile path.  Each cascade has a very unique look.  This blog is about how I tried to process the images to capture what I saw there. 

When you go out chasing waterfalls, you have some key choices to make.  Are you trying to capture the energy of the rushing water, or are you trying to show the silkiness of the water that comes with the passage of time?  Normally, I shoot with my camera on Aperture priority.  I like choosing what elements of my image are going to be in the sharpest focus and then letting the camera figure out the right shutter speed to deliver that.   Waterfalls, like sports are best shot in Shutter priority mode.  You decide how much of the activity you want to freeze.   The longer the exposure, the smoother the water appears.  Since we were on a group hike, I didn’t have the luxury to really stay and linger, so I couldn’t do any true “long” exposures.   

I’m going to walk through three representative images from the hike.  I processed each of them slightly differently to try and experiment a bit.  Each image was initially processed in LR, but then sent them all over to Photoshop were I took slightly different approaches towards finishing each one.  

 Image 213 Initial

Image 213 Initial

Image 213 wasn’t slow enough to get the really silky water, but also not crisp enough to capture the spray.   After opening the image in Photoshop, I used Nik Perfect Effects and applied the Dynamic contrast filter.  That filter made the image look too “crunchy”, so I reduced the opacity of that layer down to about 75 percent which made it look more natural.  I then returned it to LR and used the brush adjustment tool only on the water.  I applied negative Highlights and fairly strong De-haze and Clarity along the path of the waterfall.  I finished the image by applying a slight edge vignette to help draw the viewer’s eye towards the now visible details.

 Image 213 Final

Image 213 Final

For image 218 I went strictly old school Photoshop, using a combination of luminosity masks and targeted adjustment levels.  

 Image 218 Initial

Image 218 Initial

Under the Channels palette, I made copies of the blue and Green Channels and then made them into a selection.  

That creates a mask for applying a curves adjustment layer.  For each channel I applied the same method.  First I used the eye droppers on the side of the Curves panel to set the black and white points for the image.  I then dragged the shadows curve downward on the left and slightly raised the highlights into a gentle “S” which increased the contrast on both sides of the scale.

I repeated this for the blue Channel as well.  Finally I added a Vibrance adjustment layer to make the greens “pop” just a bit more. 

 Layers Palette

Layers Palette

 218 Final Image

218 Final Image

For image 228, I liked the silkiness, but thought the background was pretty blah.  Again I used the Nik Perfect Effects filters starting with the Dynamic Contrast, this time though I added a slight bit of Tonal Contrast as well to brighten and sharpen the overall image.   

 228 Initial

228 Initial

You have to be careful, because some of those effects can rapidly take your image to cartoon land.  Because the Nik tools get added as a separate layer in PS, you have the option of using the masking tools on top of the effects.  The Dynamic contrast added too much detail into the water and so this time I used very soft brush set with about 10% flow and slowly painted out about half of the filter’s impact over the water.  Exactly the reverse of what I did on the very first image. 

 228 Final

228 Final

The final images show how you can use the tools available to get the image you shot in your mind, and that there is always more than one way to accomplish an effect.