One of the much ballyhooed features of Adobe Photoshop CS5 is the ability to take one image and create an image showing some HDR (High Dynamic Range) attributes. Typically, HDR Toning is a one and done technique. It can only be done on a single layer image and once the effect has been applied it’s over. I’m not going to take create for coming up with this “amazing” workaround for this limitation of HDR Toning. For that I’ll differ to Dave Cross, one of the Photoshop Guys from NAPP. His blog of November 26th brought it to my attention and in it he credits his fellow PS Guy Matt Kloskowski for coming up with the idea. Once I saw it I couldn’t wait to give it a shot. I opened Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and picked a folder almost at random. I was looking for something with both bold shapes and defined areas. I chose today’s image because it’s something that is a fairly drab record shot and thought it could use some HDR Toning. Funny thing is that it was shot as a bracketed group with the idea that it might be a candidate for running through CS5’s HDR Pro. Cross/Kloskowski’s method of making HDR Toning flexible is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” type of techniques. It’s an arrow every pixel pusher should have in his/her quiver. To find out about my take on the subject, hit the “read more”.
The whole key to the technique is Smart Objects. It can even be Smart Objects within Smart Objects. One of the ways to make a Layer (or set of Layers) into a Smart Object, and the way that actually popularized Smart Objects, is to use Filters/Convert for Smart Filters. Smart Objects were introduced in CS4 (I believe), but suffered from two tragic flaws. One, no one knew what they were and two, they weren’t the easiest thing to find. Another way to make a Layer (or set of Layers) into a Smart Object is to right click on the Layer in the Layers Panel and select Convert to Smart Object. Either way, with either nomenclature, you end up at the same spot.
Once you’ve made a Layer a Smart Object a small rectangle appears in the lower right corner of the Layer Thumbnail with a tiny icon in it. Clicking on the Layer Thumbnail brings up the root image of the Smart Object as a single Layer. It can be treated just the same as any single Layer image. Therefore, HDR Toning can be applied, along with anything else you may want to do. In today’s image, in addition to HDR Toning, a couple Adjustment Layers were applied. Once you’re satisfied with whatever you’ve done to that based Layer you simply Save and Close (File/Save and File/Close) the image and the Smart Object updates. (Add something or fiddle with the Adjustment Layers, etc.) This way you can edit whatever you did with HDR Toning. One caveat, you’ll only be able to add to the HDR Toning, not reduce the effect back to the Layers original state. That’s not to say you can’t put negative compensation on what you’ve already done, it’s just that you can’t get back to square one.
As anyone who is a regular reader know, I don’t particularly like an HDR effect when it comes to clouds. On today’s image the Smart Object is a copy of the background Layer. Once I was finished playing with the HDR Toning I made a simple Selection of the towers and did a Save Selection to create an Alpha Channel. With the Alpha Channel in place it could be recalled (CTRL Click on the Alpha Channel’s Thumbnail) at any time. With the Alpha Channel selected, the Add Layer Mask icon (third icon from the left at the bottom of the Layers Panel) was clicked and a full mask of the towers applied to the Smart Object. The result was that the original clouds from the non-HDR Toning Layer shown through and I had my nice fluffy unHDR’d clouds.
This technique opens a host of ways to go with HDR Toning. Thanks again (and again and again) to the Photoshop Guys for putting out some of the most advanced tips on how to push Photoshop to (and past) its limits.