Monday, March 14, 2011

Using Adobe Photoshop To Add Really Subtle Details

Adobe Photoshop CS5 (or any version) can be used to make big, sweeping, sledgehammer changes to images or small, intimate, subtle changes.  It's such a versatile tool.  Today's image is a combination of the two.  The bridge itself is an HDR image made from three exposures.  The attempt was to keep it reasonably real.  Then it was pushed and pulled with individual Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers ( 1 Red, 1 Yellow, 1 Green, 2 Cyan, 1 Blue and 1 Magenta).  I always find it easier to use multiple H/S Adjustment Layers rather than try to apply grades of gray to sculpt areas.  My preference is to do the sculpting with either the Masks supplied with the Adjustment Layers or add a Layer Mask to the Adjustment Layer.  It all depends on what the effect is supposed to be and what's to be changed.  Today's image needed to have the Cyan brought up in the sky and sucked out of the bridge.  You can't have it both ways on the same Adjustment Layer.  Therefore you have to Mask the parts you want to work on and treat them separately.  I always name the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers.  I try to keep things simple, so I name them Red, Yellow, Green etc.  When it comes to multiple Adjustment layers it goes Cyan, Cyan 2, Cyan 3, etc.  It's easy enough to turn off and on the visibility of the A. L. to identify which one is being worked.  The Masks are another giant clue.  In today's image it's easy to see the outline of the bridge in one Mask and the sky in another.  It does get a little dicey when the number of one colors Adjustment Masks gets beyond three or four.  To find out about the subtlest change in today's image, hit the "read more".
There's a couple bright spots in the lower left of the image. It's the sun coming through the trees, shining on leaves and water. I thought that a good way to tell the viewer that the bright spots were consciously left bright would be to add some "god beams" pointing to them. Matt Kloskowski, one of the "Photoshop Guys" over at NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) recently did a short tutorial on making a spotlight beam. Figured if it could make a spotlight beam it could probably make some "god beams". It's a very clever, fairly quick, trick involving out favorite - an Adjustment Layer. The "trick" is actually independent of the Layer.

First thing, get a Gradient Adjustment Layer (not Image/Adjustments/Gradient). Set the Style to Angle and the Gradient to Black & White (Click on the Gradient Frame to bring up the Gradient Editor). In the Gradient Editor set the Gradient Type to Noise. Switch the Color Model from RGB to HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness). Bring the Hue sliders to the color you're interesting in portraying. In the case of lights or "god beams" you'll want to bring both sliders (left hand and right hand) almost together over the color you like. The two adjustments you have at this point are Roughness and Randomize. The Roughness is a numerical value from 0 to 100. Play with it. Randomize is strictly a pushbutton. Repeatedly click on it until you see something you like. You can play with the Options of Add Transparency and Restrict Colors to get more variety.

Once you have something you like, Click OK. This will bring you back to the Gradient Fill dialog box. While there you can move the center point of the beam where ever you need it. To accurately move it, reduce the Opacity of the Adjustment Layer. Once you have it in place, return the Opacity to 100% (for the moment). Click OK to get you back to your image. Now play with the Blend Modes. This is one case where some of the more esoteric Blend Modes create interesting effects.

The last step is to bring the Opacity of the Layer down to create the effect you can actually use. As an added "bonus", you can repeat the effect as many times as you'd like on the same image. Just make sure you have a Layer Mask to have the effect wrap around (or whatever your objective is) your subject. You probably will want to check out Matt Kloskowski's video of how it's done on Episode 258 of Photoshop User TV.