Managing Your Layers

Good news, we have reached the last topic in the introduction to layers.  There have been books written about the topic that are definitely worth reading, but you should have enough of the basics to go off and experiment.  When you start doing complex restorations or really creative graphic creations, you can soon wind up with hundreds of layers.  Luckily Adobe provided a couple of very handy tools which allow you to keep track of them. The first is the simplest and one we introduced back in lesson one—the ability to name your layers as you create them.  Take the time to do that and a month from now, when you really want to adjust the layer where you fixed the bride’s skin tones, it will be much easier to find that name, rather than Layer 27. As you work on similar segments of layers, Adobe lets you create a group folder which where you can put them.  Amazingly, it is the folder icon at the bottom of the layers menu.  As you can see, I created a wooden board as a background.   It is composed of three different layers.  The first is just filled with a decent brown color, selected from the color palate.  I then created two layers with filters (Warning-foreshadowing of an upcoming set of blog topics), a Cloud filter and then a Fiber filter.  Once I was happy with how they looked, I created a layer group and titled it with the very clever name of “Wood board”.  Then, just select the 3 layers and drag them onto the Wood board icon.

You can also color code the layers and layer groups which can help provide a visual cue as to where you are.   All you have to do is select the layer group, right click and go to Group properties at the top of the menu.  You can choose your color right there.

I just repeated the process for the two other elements in the picture, the text and its effects and the picture.

You can see that your layers palate can get fairly full, so you can just collapse the groups and ge a much clearner interface. It probably is a bit of overkill for a simple project like this, but if you establish your good work habits early, it will pay off when you are working on really complicated efforts. 

Once you have layers in a group, you can change the opacity and the blend mode of the entire group.  You can also apply filters to the group as well.  Fun stuff indeed.

We are awaiting the great spring snow tonight, so hopefully we will finally get some snow pictures this winter after all.

Adjusting Your Layers

Last week I started discussing the basics of working with layers.  This week we are going to continue by discussing what Adjustment Layers are and how you can use them.  Sometimes despite all the good work we did in taking our photographs, there are universal things we want to change. Before Lightroom and Camera Raw let us change the math of the image and correct exposure, contrast and brightness, adjustment layers were the only game in town.  Right above the Layers palette we looked at last week, is the Adjustment Panel.  There are 15 different effects which can be used to change your image.  It is important to note that as a general rule, layers impact everything visible below them.  Just like any other layer, adjustment layers can also be changed via opacity or blending modes—don’t worry we will talk more about those soon enough. Here once again is the layer model we started with last week.  I decided that I wanted to brighten up the green layer, so I added a curves adjustment.  Curves give you very precise control over the shadows, midtones and brights in your image.  By changing the normal flat line to an S curve, you can see the impact on the color of the green. 

If you want to mess with all the colors you can add a Hue and Saturation layer.   As you can see from the panel, just by changing the hue slider to -57 and pushing up the saturation to +20, all the colors on the image were changed.  In reality, the underlying image is still there—untouched.

So these were just two examples of what they can do, how do we use them in real life?  Here is a church down in New Orleans.  I think the sky should be a little more dramatic. Add a quick Levels adjustment layer and move the midpoint slider to the right and bring the shadows and bright sliders on either end in towards the center and voila. 

Take an image and apply the adjustments to it and play with the various options.  That is the best way to see what these powerful but non-destructive tools can do.

Layers of Goodness

I was asked “why do we still need (Photoshop/Lightroom) if we have (Lightroom/Photoshop)?”  The bottom line is that while both are incredibly powerful software tools, they really have very different uses.  There are some definite overlaps, but the programs are really designed to be complementary, and fully integrated into your workflow. As a reminder Lightroom (LR) is first and foremost a tool for photographers.  It helps you manage your images, and non-destructively edit and print them. LR always has a complete record of your image and what you have done to it. Photoshop (PS) is a full-featured pixel based imagery program.  You can create graphics, add text, manipulate and combine images.  PS will let you completely destroy your original image and, if you are not careful, you will lose all trace of the original.  It does provide you a complete range of compositional tools, creative effects and exceptionally precise control over every single element of your finished image.

This blog is the first of a series on some of the features that help make PS so powerful and to many, so confusing.  The basic structure of Photoshop is based on the concept of layers.  Layers are stacks of information that, when seen from the viewer’s perspective, reveals the final image.  As the creator, you have control over what information is on each layer, how the layer interacts with the ones above and below it.  You can make the layers fully transparent or fully opaque; add textures, and you can choose to hide or mask parts within each layer.

The layers palate keeps track and allows you to navigate among them all.  As you create new layers, it is a really good practice to take the time and name them.  Just double click on the  text to the right of the layer icon and give it a good descriptive name.  Believe me it is much easier to find the “facial skin tones adjustments” layer than it is trying to remember was that on Layer 15 or Layer 17, especially, when it might me weeks or months later when you come back to it.

One of the most important keyboard shortcuts to remember is the “Create New Layer”.  Use Ctrl-j or Command-j for a Mac.   Well, that is enough to get us off to a good start.

Restoring in detail

Wedding photos_0000_Final ResultsA dear friend of mine wanted to do something special for a couple’s upcoming 50th anniversary.  The two surviving photos from their wedding were in pretty rough shape. She wanted to take lots of their photos and put them into a book.  I got to help.  Photo restoration takes infinite patience and attention to detail.  But you can get pretty decent results. Here is the original as scanned with my high resolution scanner.  You might notice a few “issues”.  Faded yellow, cracked, stained and oh, yeah missing a top right corner which cuts a lady’s face in two.

Wedding photos_0001_OriginalThe first challenge is picking a place to start.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, I should have immediately restored the whites to white and the blacks to black.  I did it later and it worked out, but that wasn’t smart.  I divided the picture into large areas; the groom, the bride, the background, and the big tear.  Both the bride and groom were further divided into clothing, hands, face and hair, while I took the background into regions.  As I worked on each of these, I did so on separate individual layers.  That way when I messed up, and I did, I could a. not ruin the entire picture, and b. see and correct small manageable chunks.  In Photoshop, you can also adjust the opacity of each layer separately, which is nice.

So I looked at the picture and chose to work on the groom’s suit.  Broad surfaces, not overly detailed.  In restoration, the clone stamp tool, the healing brush and layer masks are your standard weapons.  In follow on blogs, we will drill down into the right ways and point out some “less right”—ok, wrong ways these can be used.  Carefully masking out his outline, in order to prevent spill over, I reached the first signs of progress. Wedding photos_0002_Groom suit

I wasn’t ready to tackle the detail in the bride’s dress or hair yet, so I fixed the background.  Matching random wall paper is harder than it looks, as is making the details in columns, lights and mirrors look “natural”.Wedding photos_0003_Background

After a few weeks, I felt my technique had improved enough to be ready to take on repairing the bride.Wedding photos_0004_Bride

I left the missing corner for last as I had to decide what to do about the half a person in the picture.  I finally made the hard decision that I didn’t have enough information to try and create all her missing features, so she disappeared into the wall paper. Wedding photos_0005_Missing Top right corner This is where the details become important and where the human eye can reveal more.  We notice shadows, when they are out of place.  So I had to create a suitable shadow of the bride on the now restored wall. The ability to use that layer opacity was very important here.Wedding photos_0006_Fix the shadow

Finally, using curves and levels I fixed the overall tone of the picture and slapped on a new white border.Wedding photos_0007_Curves and a border

It took quite a while, but that was because I was learning as I went along.  It gets faster and is worth the effort.