Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kent and Adobe Photoshop CS5 Adjustment Layers Revisited

Today’s image may look fairly familiar.  We were out shooting over the weekend in northwest Connecticut and the car sort of automatically steered toward Kent.  Kent has to be one of the great strolling towns in New England, if not the world.  There’s always a lively street scene going on and several sidewalk cafes are typically abuzz with folks socializing.  As I walked down Main Street, a young couple stopped me to talk about cameras.  It’s just that type of place, friendly, social, pretty, quaint, urbane and just a plain neat place to visit.  Today’s visit might be thought of as a revisit of the image that appeared here on June 2nd.  It’s the same cafĂ©, with the same umbrellas, but a different cast of characters.  Other than the people in the shot and the date the shutter was snapped, the reason for the revisit is to show the Layers Panel used to make up the final image.  One thing frequent visitors may notice in the Layers Panel is that there is no Threshold Adjustment Layer to correct any color cast.  There a couple reasons for that.  I’ve probably done more than one hundred different HDR images now.  The first reason for no color correction sequence is that, after creating the baseline HDR image, all the Curves Adjustment Layers seem to have a curve that’s zero, zero, zero.  No Changes.  The second reason is: who’s to say what “correct color” is on a pushed HDR image.  You certainly can’t look at today’s image and say “the colors look so natural”.  HDR can go one of two ways.  To make a scene look “very natural” or to make it look “hyper-natural”.  If you go for the “very natural”, surely you want the colors to look as correct as possible.  If the “intent” (we’ve discussed “intent” several times here on the blog) is “hyper- natural” the end colors can be a wild as you like.  To see the discussion of today’s Layers Panel, hit the “read more”.

Today’s Layers Panel is sort of an intermediate step between Monday’s pretty extreme panel and a plain vanilla panel that might have little to no masking of the individual Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. The biggest difference between Monday and today is the number of individual Adjustment Layers. Today we have one of each color (Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue and Magenta), where Monday’s had three Red, three Cyan, two Green and one each of Yellow, Blue and Magenta. One of the other things of note is the amount of masking in the Magenta Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. Monday’s image had none and today’s looks like some sort of Morse Code pictogram in the top half of the mask. Lots of little pieces. The Magenta is cranked up high, giving good color to the flowers in the hanging baskets, but also producing stray bits of color in unwanted spots. Magenta, at high levels, gives a lot of edge casts around a lot of Cyan and Blue. Each case had to be addressed, does it stay in because it gives an interesting line, or is it a distraction and have to go? Hence, all the dots and dashes of the Magenta Mask.

There’s a couple “extra”, blank layers, just above the Adjustment Layer stack. If you compare the June 2nd version to today’s image you can see the wooden posts have changed. The earlier posts look like green, pressure treated wood. Today’s appear to be a more natural wood. The trick here is a Blending Mode change. A dark brown was selected from the Swatches Panel (Darker Warm Brown specifically). A quick selection was made using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and filled with the brown color. Without the Blend Mode change it looks really bad. Just a plain brown blob on the image. Changing the Blend Mode to Color keeps the color, but allows the texture of the wood to show through. The same goes for the terra cotta pot out by the edge of the road. The pot was selected using the Quick Selection Tool (W) and filled with “Dark Red Orange”. Two Layers were devoted to those two changes. That’s it, that the only thing on each of those two layers. Could it have been done on one layer? Sure, but then the ability to make choices about the colors would be lost. Did one color need to be lower in Opacity? At some point (on a different image) there may be a need for a mask for one of the colors. Flexibility is the key to using Layers. Don’t do anything that might limit what you can do. Keep things as fluid as possible.

A composite Layer (Ctrl/Alt/Shift/E) was made to create a platform for Dodging and Burning (O) individual pieces. Before CS5 the method to use was to create a new Layer, fill it with 50% grey (Shift/F5), change the Blend Mode to Overlay and paint (at a low percentage on the Brush) with black or white to dodge or burn. Photoshop CS5 eliminates the need to go through that. The Dodge and Burn Tool (O) has a check box that says “Protect Tones”. With that box checked, the problem of everything turning sickly grey has been addressed. The D&B Tool works as it should. The blond hair of the woman on the left of the scene has been Dodged, along with the Harley Davidson logo on the back of the man’s jacket. The creases of the T-shirt on the man was Dodged and Burned on the Highlights and Shadows, as was the creases on the jeans of the blond woman.

Another blank layer is used to eliminate a pretty severe glare off the rear window of a car far in the background. It showed up as a starburst on the shoulder of the women on the far right. A simple swipe of the Clone Stamp Tool (S) is the only thing on that Layer.

The image was “finished” with the “normal” sharpening and vignetting. Adobe Photoshop CS5’s HDR Pro and HDR Toning provide starting points for finishing an image, not the final product itself.