Thursday, June 23, 2011

Exaggerated Colors With Adobe Photoshop CS5

Here's one more view of the Times Square area in New York City.  It, like Monday's post (below), is an eight shot panorama of NYC.  The shots were taken with a Nikon 3000, held in a vertical position, and is four shots wide by two rows of shots high.  The Times Square area is so bright with color that it's almost Las Vegasesque and lends itself to pushing colors past the limit of normal.  As is usual with my images that are either HDR or exaggerated, a "normal" sky was popped in to try to do a little trompe l'oeil (fool of eye) action and make the viewer wonder just what is real and what's over the edge.  To most people who have seen today's image, the first thing that comes to mind is HDR (High Dynamic Range).  There is no HDR applied to this image.  The illustrative look it the image comes from a completely different technique.  To find out how the effect was achieved and how the bright colors pulled out of the image, hit the "read more".

There's basically three parts to How today's image came to life.  The first is the Mask used to put in the sky, the second is how to get the look of an illustration and the third is the method used to kick the colors up.
The first thing I tried with the Mask is the Quick Selection Tool (W).  I figured a quick swipe between the buildings, do a Save Selection and just paint in the wires and arm of the traffic light crossing the sky.  What a pain in the butt that turned out to be.  Instead, it wound up being much easier to go back to the tried and true method of using the Calculations (Image/Calculations) function found in the last several iterations of Adobe Photoshop.  What was painful became quite easy.  Calculations is not available with Adobe Photoshop Elements, so if you're a PSE user you'd need to go back to a more difficult method.  First thing to do is to take a look at the RGB Channels (Channels Panel - usually clustered with the Layers Panel).  Typically, because we're looking at the sky, the Blue Channel will have the greatest amount of contrast between the sky and whatever else is in the scene.  In the case of today's image, don't worry about the street and the bulk of the buildings.  Take a look at the separation  of the sky and the edges of the buildings.  Don't worry about making a copy of the Blue Channel.  The output we'll end up with is a new Alpha Channel, so copying a Channel doesn't buy us anything.  Open the Calculations dialog box.  Don't get scared, it's not as bad as it looks.  It'll already be populated with two copies of the Blue Channel.  Highlight the Blend Mode dropdown and use the up and down arrows to flip through the possible blending combinations.  Today's image had the biggest contrast in either the Hard Light or Vivid Light modes.  There will be gaps in the street and buildings.  The big thing you'll be looking for is the sky to building edges.  Once you've determined the best contrast click the OK button.  This makes a New Channel (with the "Result" option set to New Channel) and this Alpha Channel can be filled in using whatever tools you feel comfortable with.  Now that we have a finished Mask, we can use any sky we like and put a Mask on the sky revealing the buildings.
The illustration look to the image comes from making a copy of the composite image Layer.  Make sure it's a Smart Object (Filters/Convert for Smart Filters) and use the Find Edges Filter (Filters/Stylize/Find Edges).  Once the Filter is applied, add a Levels Adjustment Layer and bring both the black and the white tick marks toward the center, increasing the contrast.  When you have fine, sharp lines, change the Blend Mode to Overlay to outline all the major breaks in tones of color.  Any lines will become very defined and create the look.
The third thing used to create today's image was multiple Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers.  Each color (Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, and Magenta) had the Saturation level pushed to the maximum without getting neonish .  The easiest method I have for doing this is to move the Saturation slider to 100% and then back it down until the garishness (in the area you're concentrating on) is just below the point of going neon.  I use the Shift Key and either the down arrow or the Scroll Wheel on a mouse to move the increments by ten points at a time.  The difference between 60 and 50 can be seen.  The difference between 54 and 56 can't.  The sky is not included in these adjustments.  In today's image the billboard of the Green Lantern movie (to the left of the image, just to the right of the red car billboard) needed a heavy dose of Green.  That much Green resulted in specks of Green being scattered throughout the image.  The Mask that comes along with Adjustment Layer was used to remove any stray Green splashes.  Once all colors were max'd out another set of Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers were used.  This time the Saturation and Lightness sliders were used to increase the brightness of individual colors.  In this case the Mask that comes with an Adjustment Layer was inverted (CTRL I [eye]), filling it with black.  A white brush was used to brush in the brighter colors.  The Reds, Yellows and Greens benefitted most from this technique on this image.
There it is.  The method of building today's image.  Play with similar image in your own files.  You may come up with a unique image of a place you've visited.