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 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.   

Let me be Perfectly Clear

By Mark

 

A thousand years ago, last fall, we attended the Kelby training in DC. We had the chance to visit with Levi Sim and Rich Harrington from Photofocus who were demonstrating their new editing app. Perfectly Clear.  Originally developed to automate and speed up batch processing of photo shoots, they have released it as both as a stand-alone program and as plug-ins for Lightroom and Photoshop. The interfaces are very different from either program and are intended to be much more user friendly.

I've been very impressed at how well the results work and have been reprocessing some of my favorite portraits.  I've always liked the way that OnOne’s Perfect Portrait worked, but in some cases it was a bit over processed and looked too “retouched”.  So far, I've found it easier to get more subtle results much more quickly and in far less time.  Here are the “After “and “Before” images of what I was able to do to a photo of my sister.   

These adjustments took less than 2 minutes of work. 

The user interface is much simpler and the Presets Panel is really the easiest place to start. 

 They have 2 beginning points for people, Beautify and Beautify+.  Since I’m focusing on portraits for this one; this is what they look like when they are applied.   

Beautify

Beautify

Beautify+   Looks like a bit too much Botox

Beautify+   Looks like a bit too much Botox

You can tell that Beautify Plus really smooths out the skin, perhaps just a bit too much.

Luckily there is a very easy to use adjustment panel.  

The panel gives you precise control over most of the attributes you are trying to adjust. 

In the “Portrait”  sub-panel you can adjust just how smooth you want the skin to appear, how white you want the teeth to be and it will help you find and treat any pimples or other blemishes.

Face slimming is a smarter and much more controlled way to basically use the PS liquefy filter.  It subtly and realistically narrows the facial features.  It can counteract both camera induced and any natural jowls.

Jawline and collar subtly adjusted

Jawline and collar subtly adjusted

The “Eye” panel brightens the eyes and even fixes the Dark Circles and lines around the eyes. 

Dark Circles effect at 0, or off

Dark Circles effect at 0, or off

Voila--No more circles

Voila--No more circles

The “eye enlarge” helps achieve the popular model effect where bigger eyes are considered prettier.   You can easily go too far.

The SW also automates adding in a “catchlight” into your subjects eyes.   This gives them that extra “pop”, that you see in most magazine shots.

One of the things that make Perfectly Clear stand out is something you may not have noticed in these brief descriptions.  Nowhere along the way are you required to find and carefully select any of these features.   They have designed the algorithms to automatically and very accurately find them and only apply the effects in those areas.   Once you have made adjustments that suit you and your style, then you can save them as your own preset.   The software lets you batch process lots of images in the background, which can really speed up your workflow.     Next time, we will look at the other tools for working on landscapes and the tools for working on really dark images.

Home for Christmas--if I can get this masking done.

By Mark

Amy chose a “fuzzy” vest as part of her outfit.  I should have realized that by giving it a backlight it would make selecting all those very fine hairs more of challenge than I planned.   Extracting very fine details such as hair has always been one of the most difficult tasks to do well in Photoshop.  

There have been a lot of approaches and plug-ins developed to make the process easier.  It is all about making sure that enough of the desired background shows through in the semi-transparent regions, and that none of the old background remains.  There are lots of ways to make it look really, really bad.

Luckily, this has been an area where Adobe themselves have done a lot of work to make it “easier”.  As with most masking projects, the “Quick Selection” tool is a pretty good place to start.  In this image it didn’t matter if I selected her, or the background as a place to start.  Once you have gotten a selection to 95% accuracy, click on the “Refine Edge” panel.

It will open add an overlay showing your current selection with the masked areas in red.  Select the brush and go over the edges of your image and it basically increases the computation power to separate out the contrast between what you want and what should be the background.  

The darker parts show the areas where the tool worked especially hard.  You can keep going over the parts that give you problems until you are satisfied.   

Here is my final mask result.

You can see the areas around her shoulder with the fringe, and the hair on the top of her head now has the right level of transparency.  Next time, we will make the background and bring the whole project to its conclusion.