Thursday, December 11, 2014

Using Curves Adjustment Layers In Photoshop (or Elements) To Enhance Shading

Click image to enlarge.
Today's image is my take on one of the iconic shots of a Maine lighthouse.  It was taken at about 6:30 AM with the sun just about to come over the horizon.  I did a post about the actual sunrise a while back (Link) that was a much darker image.  Today's was taken earlier (sunrise was 6:54 AM), but is considerably lighter.  You can infer a couple things from that fact,  One, I got up way too early for being on vacation, two the detail is there in your digital image, and I changed location for the sunrise shot (went further out on the rocks).  To find out what was done in post, hit the "Read More".

The most obvious thing is the crop.  It's a 1:3 crop and can be printed one foot by three foot at your local Costco for $4.99.  Not bad if you're just playing or want some cheap "art" for your walls.  They can also print it at two foot by six foot for not too much more. 

But, the focus of the discussion is using Adobe Photoshop's (PS) Curves Adjustment Layers to enhance shading.  I've written about the subject before and keep getting asked about the detailed shading in my images.  It's a trick I heard Scott Kelby talk about one time (and have never heard him mention it again) and it sort of stuck.

First thing to do is (by whatever means you'd like) make two Curves Adjustment Layers.  Just for my own workflow I make the top Layer my Highlights Adjustment Layer and the one for the Shadows.  On the Highlights side I make sure the Histogram goes to full white.  To do this, bring in the top of the curve until it touches the white point.  Then grab the curve about one quarter of the way in from the right and pull it up creating a high arc.  You'll see your entire image getting lighter.  Highlight the Mask and Invert it to Black.  Your image will return to looking "normal".

Do the opposite to your Shadows Adjustment Layer.  Find the white point as above.  Grab the curve about a quarter in from the left this time and drag down creating the opposite curve compared to the Highlights.  Invert this Mask.

Get the Brush Tool (B) and put in the settings of ten pixel diameter and ninety five percent Hardness.  Insure your Foreground Color is white.  I typically start with the Shadows.  With the Shadows Mask selected start putting in strokes where ever you have or want to have something take on some depth.  Your image will look like you're just marking it up.  Keep going.

Next, with the same Brush (B) settings, put a Highlight stroke next to each Shadow stroke.  Look at your image.  You should be able to see the lighter area next to where you put the Shadows stroke.  That's where the Highlight stroke goes.

Once your image looks like you just tagged it with graffiti you're ready for the magic step.  The Layer Mask has attributes associated with it.  What we're looking for is the Feather attribute.  As you bring up the feathering, your line (in either Highlights or Shadows) will become blurred.  I usually start at thirty and adjust up (not often) or down (more often) until I get what I'm looking for as far as shading goes.  Click off and on the Visibility Icon on the Layer to see what you're getting.  Adjust to taste and you're set.

Here's another example of what you get using this technique.