Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some People's Free Advice Actually Is Worth More Than You Paid

I don’t know of any photographer who doesn’t think he/she’s done the absolute best treatment of an image that can be done. Every image is a ten. Last night I got a little comeuppance. I showed a photographer a print of one of my images (click this link to see the original). He said he loved the image, but the sky was kind of dull. He did say he’d rate it a nine, but nine ain’t ten. Since the key to the image was a mask of the trees and the fine detail of the branches I told him he could pick a sky that would be better and I’d have a go at it. He said he’d like to see bigger, fluffier clouds and not have the image look so sullen. The original intent was the sullen, slightly dark look of a cove with a storm approaching. Bigger, fluffier clouds would change the tenor of the image from foreboding to inviting. Not a bad change. The shot could go either way. Today’s image is the result of about fifteen minutes of tweaking. The hardest part of the transformation was the sharpening. I was attacking it from the wrong position. I figured I’d be quick and clever about the sharpening and it wound up that I was neither. It had me stumped for several minutes. Since I had the mask saved as an Alpha Channel I could call on it whenever I needed to mask the trees against anything that came up. Because Smart Objects come with their own Layer Mask I figured I’d take advantage of that to skip one step and sharpen the Smart Object after applying a couple of Filters (filters on Smart Objects become Smart Filters). Before converting the Layer to a Smart Object I selected the Alpha Channel Mask (CTRL click on the Alpha Channel icon). I put a slight blur on the upside down copy of the sky and added an Ocean Ripple filter. That’s where the problems started. To find out what the solution to the problems was, hit the “read more”.

With the Smart Object Mask, as soon as I did a typical High Pass Filter sharpening everything went dark. First guess was that the mask needed to be inverted. That just muddied up the clouds rather than darkening the trees. I went back and forth several times, trying different combinations with no luck. The purpose was that I didn’t want to sharpen the clouds. Sharpened clouds tend to look a little phony to me. After messing with it a time I figured I go back to the “old fashioned” two step process and put the Mask on the Layer itself. Duh! That worked fine. Trying to shortcut the process didn’t speed things up, but it did provide a valuable lesson. If you use the mask that comes with a Smart Object you’re applying the Mask to the Smart Filters. If you use a normal Layer mask, you’re applying the mask to the entire image. It’s always the simple things that can trip you up.

Speaking of Smart Filters, two were used on today’s version of the image. They both come in on the same layer, so talking about the layer should probably comes first. It’s pretty obvious, comparing the “old version” and the “new version” that the cloud Layer was imported. In order to give a more realistic impression a copy of the clouds was made, Free Transform (CTRL T) was begun and Flip Vertical was selected. Since it had the mask that went along with the cloud Layer it was unlinked from the Layer itself. The Layer was then slid down to serve as a reflection in the water. Well, reflection can’t be as sharp (in water) as what they’re reflecting, so a Blur Filter was used and blurred to taste. Flat water with the older, dull sky worked. Flat water with the new and improved (?) sky doesn’t. So, I put in an Ocean Ripple Filter. In the Filter Gallery that comes up with that and many other filters the Size and Magnitude were adjusted to give just a hint of movement.

Is the “New Version” better than the “Old Version”, or just different? Let me know what you think.


Unknown said...

The new version is definitely better. I like it lots. Your process confirms that I need to take a course in photoshop. I wonder how many of my tens are really lesser?