Monday, September 14, 2009

Deeper And Deeper

Occasionally you get a picture that keeps needing you to dig deeper and deeper into the refinements to finish the image. Today's image is one such case. I kept backing out of the finishing touches to make little tweaks to the image that had to be done before the final two finishing steps. At the very top of the image there were two leaves from the tree I was standing under when I took the shot. The original intent was to provide a frame over the top of the image. The leaves were too far out of focus to make a good frame and would have been a distraction if they were kept in. When I say there were two leaves, I mean (after the crop) the very tips of the leaves hung down into the image by millimeters. It was one of those things where you say "is it worth it" to take two steps backward to make such a small correction. Obviously I came to the conclusion that it was. The big thing is that if you're not willing to make the small nitpicking corrections you're not going to get to that next level. That's one of the reasons finishing your work is a solitary endeavor. If you're teaching a class you have to keep the class going and maintain a pace. Ninety percent of the people in a class wouldn't even see the spot I spent several minutes going back and forth on. If you're interested in what the "last two steps" in my workflow are, hit the "read more".

With every print I make there's the "last two steps". Those two steps change only on very rare occasions. The first thing is to make a composite of what you've been working on without messing with all the layers. Easy enough to do with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl Alt Shift E. It's joking referred to as "the left side of the keyboard". It's easy enough to get the Crtl Alt Shift portion with one hand, but getting to that E typically (at least for me) involves the other hand. I just haven't figured out a comfortable way to get all four with the single paw. The next step is a Ctrl J to make another copy of the composite image. So, now I have two copies of the image with all the crops and corrections made.
First thing to do would be to turn off the visibility of the top layer (click on the eyeball and turn it off). That layer will be used in the final "final step". The lower layer is for sharpening and the top layer is for vignetting. With the lower of the two layer selected in the layers panel make it available for "Smart Filters". Smart Filters (or Smart Objects) are available in Photoshop CS3 and CS4. Each version treats it slightly different, so check out how to make a Smart Object in the version you're using. Now, rather than using USM (Unsharp Mask), select Filters/Other/High Pass. This brings up the High Pass Filter dialog panel. Typically I'll set the value to 10.5. One thing to watch out for would be halos. You might see them when in the Normal Blend Mode. Change the Blend Mode to Overlay to see the effect of this method of sharpening. Click the layers eyeball on and off to see the effect of this type of sharpening. After you've changed the blend is the time to look for halos. The ground or object to sky line is where you might see a halo. First thing to try to eliminate the halo is switching the Blend Mode from Overlay to Softlight. Many times this will take care of the halo issue. If that doesn't work you can always go back into the High Pass Filter dialog box and adjust the value down a little bit. That's the beauty of using Smart Objects. They make Filters adjustable nondestructively. Once you have the sharpening where you want it, go on to the last step.
Select the top layer and turn on its visibility. Get the Marquee Tool (keyboard shortcut M) and set the feathering to some level. There's no way to specify an exact number since we haven't talked about the resolution that you're working at. A general "rule of thumb" would be about 1.3 to 1.5 times the resolution you're working at. Drag out the Marquee from about 10% of the longest dimension of the image to the diagonal opposite corner at about the same distance from the edges. You "should have" a rounded rectangle of "marching ants". Click your delete key. If you look at the thumbnail of the layer. You should see your image with a big hole in it. Click Ctrl D to deselect. the marching ants go away. Looks great, right? No!!! One more step. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply. The image will have a serious vignette. If it's too serious, use the Opacity Slider to set a point where the vignette is there, but not smacking you up along side your head.
The sharpening method gives far greater control than using USM. The vignetting technique gives you infinite control over how dark or light the vignette is. The reason for using an unsharpened layer to make the vignette is to, obviously, darken the edges and also reduce the sharpness of the edges. The viewers eye will go to the brightest and sharpest area of the image. If your vignetted area is darker and softer than the center of the image you automatically draw the viewers eye to the center of the image. You can shift the vignette it highlight the center of interest.