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Almost anything will become easier to select if you adjust it first. Photoshop uses color contrast to make many selections. So, if you increase the contrast in an image you make it easier for Photoshop to make those selections.

Using Photoshop’s adjustment layers you can temporarily increase contrast far beyond what you normally would. Be aggressive. Don’t worry about making the image look good; focus instead on making it easier to select the area you want to affect. After the selection is made, simply delete the adjustment layer and continue adjusting the image to improve its appearance.

There are three elements of color and so three types of contrast to choose from – luminosity, hue, and saturation. Which type of contrast you choose depends on what you want to select.

To increase luminosity contrast, choose Curves.

To increase saturation contrast, choose Hue/Saturation and/or Vibrance.

To increase hue contrast, choose Levels to neutralize a color cast and possibly use Hue/Saturation to increase saturation.

Temporary adjustments in Photoshop can make a majority of selections and masks easier to make.

Read more about masking here.

View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Hue

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After Neutralizing Color

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Mask

Luminosity

Before

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After Increasing Luminosity Contrast

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Mask

Saturation

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After Increasing Saturation

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Mask

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When you want to make a selection based on hue, start with Photoshop’s Color Range. (It’s located in the Select menu.) It’s an invaluable selection tool that’s easy to master.

The heart of this tool is the default setting for the Select drop-down menu – Sampled Color. Once you learn to use it, you’ll find you’ll use it often. For Sampled Colors it’s an oversight to activate the slider for Fuzziness (the number of related hues included) and not Range (targeting specific lightnesses). Hope, no request, that Adobe activates both Fuzziness and Range sliders for all drop down settings. For now, you can overcome this limitation to some extent and customize any range of color with surprising precision by using the icons on the right of the dialog box Eyedropper Tool, Add to Sample, and Subtract from Sample icons as well as the Invert checkbox. It is also the only setting that activates the Localized Color Clusters check box, which essentially adds a radial gradient around the point you sample a color from. You can master this tool in a few minutes.

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You’ll probably find that you’ll use the other settings in Color Range’s Select drop-down menu sparingly, some not at all.

Skip them. The color choices in the Color Range drop-down menu – Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, Magentas – are almost useless. They’re not as accurate as you’d like them to be and they don’t offer Fuzziness or Range sliders to control them with. It’s all or nothing, usually nothing.

Use them occasionally. The Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows options have improved by activating both Fuzziness and Range sliders. Curiously, if you Invert the Highlights setting you get a slightly different result than simply choosing Shadows setting and vice versa. But don’t worry, the Fuzziness and Range sliders will give you all the control you need to compensate and much, much more. Color Range’s selections of luminance yield different results than making luminance selections by loading channels as selections (See my article Masking Luminosity.); for better or for worse, they tend to produce fewer gray values and so they yield more generous selections with quicker less smooth transitions into surrounding values, as if you added contrast to a channel selection.

Consider it. While it offers only the control of the Fuzziness slider and not the Range slider but adds a Detect Faces feature, Skin Tones can be quiet useful – at times. It is clearly biased towards Caucasian skin tones as it picks up whites before darker browns but it does a good job of avoiding very saturated warm hues. If Skin Tones fails, use the default Sampled Colors instead and choose a custom base color you’d like to start with.

Forget about it. Be careful about the Out Of Gamut feature. It works based on the profile loaded for an output device, usually an offset press. It’s designed to help you prepare files for printing by selecting and subsequently desaturating colors that are too saturated to be printed accurately. Using color management and good output profiles is a better way to control gamut compression.

Finally, if you want a larger preview of the selection/mask being generated, the Selection Preview drop-down menu offers four settings that will change the appearance of the image window Grayscale, Black Matte, White Matte, and Quick Mask. In most cases, the generously sized icon in the Color Range window will be all you need.

Photoshop’s Color Range is an indispensable selection tool that continues to improve. When you want to make a selection based on hue, start here.

Read more about masking here.

View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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Original

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Increased saturation in high ranges of saturation only

Incubation X

Red and blue added to high ranges of saturation only

Wouldn’t it be great if you could selectively adjust colors based on how saturated they are in Photoshop? You can! How? With a free plug-in Adobe provides called Multiplugin; it hasn’t been updated since Photoshop CS5 but it still works with current versions.

Why would you want to do this ?

Do you have images where semi-neutrals not saturated enough, but you don’t want other colors to get too saturated? Select the less saturated colors before adjusting them. Do you have images where you’d like to reduce the saturation of very saturated colors without affecting other levels of saturation? Select the more saturate colors before adjusting them. You can even select colors with medium saturation, separating them from both the high and low range of saturation. Using this technique, you can produce subtle color effects that aren’t possible with any other method.

You might ask yourself, “Isn’t relative saturation adjustment what Vibrance does?” Yes and no. Yes. Vibrance does saturate the less saturated colors more than the more saturated colors and it prevents clipping in the most saturated colors. No. Vibrance offers no control over which ranges of saturation are affected; it can only adjust saturation but not lightness or hue; and it limits how strong an adjustment you can make – it won’t produce effects as strong as Hue/Saturation.

Saturation masks aren’t for saturation adjustments only. This simple selection / mask can be used with any color adjustment tool in Photoshop, greatly expanding your ability to adjust color. Imagine adjusting the lightness and/or hue of high, medium, or low ranges of saturation independently of one another.

Semi-neutrals not interesting enough? Try selecting the low levels of saturation and shifting their hue. Cool them with cyan and/or blue. Warm them with yellow and/or red. Or, try a Renaissance painting technique and add brown.

Throughout the history of photography, most people didn’t think about color this way because they didn’t have the ability to do it. Now you can. It’s well worth your time to explore this new way of seeing, thinking about, and adjusting color.

Read more

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Image adjusted selectively with a gradient

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Warm exposure

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Cool exposure

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Two exposures blended with a gradient mask

Smooth transitions. They’re the essence of continuous tone images. In most cases, you want to preserve them. On occasion, you want to modify them. Sometimes, you want to create them.

While gradients can be used as image layers, they are more frequently used as layer masks. Gradient masks can be used in two central ways, ways that differ from one another significantly. First, gradient masks can be used to selectively reduce the effects of any correction made as an adjustment layer. Second, gradient masks can be used to selectively reduce the opacity of any image layer.

Digital correction with gradient mask techniques replace and surpass using traditional graduated filters. Not only can you make more precise corrections digitally, with gradients you can control the placement of the gradient and transitions within it more precisely. The gradient is uncoupled from the exposure and is indefinitely and infinitely modifiable.

You can do much, much more with gradients. Here are a few of the things you can accomplish using gradient masks.

Transition between stronger and weaker settings of a correction – enhance contrast and color balance selectively, reduce fall off, neutral density filtration, color filtration, add or remove vignetting, etc.

Transition between dark and light exposures – extending dynamic range.

Apply filtration selectively – sharpening, blurring, noise, etc.

Transition between exposures with different points of focus – increasing depth of field.

Transition between adjacent exposures of the same subject – increasing format.

Transition between more saturated and less saturated renditions of an image – accentuating atmospheric perspective.

Transition between the same image with two different white point settings – accentuating or creating the appearance of mixed light sources.

Believe it or not, this is only the beginning of the possibilities gradients offer. Mastering gradients is an essential digital skill.

Although gradients can be extremely complex and can yield extremely sophisticated results, once the basic principle behind them is firmly grasped, they are actually quite simple to create and use.

Gradients are easy to create. You’ll find the Gradient tool (essentially a brush) midway down the Toolbar, below the Eraser and above the Blur tool. With the Gradient tool active click hold and drag a vector across an image, either on a layer mask or less frequently on a new blank layer. A gradient will be created between the start (where you click first) and end points (where you drag to). The start and end points may be placed anywhere on the canvas. Gradients can be drawn for any length at any angle. The shorter the distance between the two points, the tighter the gradient will be with more abrupt tonal transitions. The longer the distance between the points the softer the gradient will be with smoother tonal transitions. Favor longer gradients with smoother transitions. They can always be tightened and repositioned by adjusting contrast. (Reducing contrast will not produce the opposite effect; it will posterize the gradient.) There may be times when you want to place a start or end point outside the border of an image. You can do this by expanding the window around the image. Click and drag on the lower right hand corner of the window. Gray will be seen surrounding the image but inside the window. A start point, end point, or both may be placed anywhere within the window.

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Linear gradient

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Reflected gradient

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Radial gradient

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Star gradient

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Angle gradient

There are five types of gradients to choose from. Two, Angle and Diamond are of limited use. Three, Linear, Radial, and Reflected are very useful. Linear uses the start and end points to define a gradient along a line. Radial uses the start and end points to define the radius of a circle. Reflected uses the start and end points to define the center (foreground color) and outsides (background color).

Of the sixty-six gradient presets you can choose from, the first two serve most purposes – Foreground to Background and Foreground to Transparent. (Most people can pretty much forget about the other sixty-four presets.) Classically, black and white or shades of gray are most frequently used.

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Curves gives you more control

Gradients can be extraordinarily flexible. You can alter the characteristics of a gradient by checking the Edit button under the gradient Options palette. If you don’t get the precisely the effect you’re looking for, you can try again. Or, if you’re fine-tuning a monochromatic gradient there’s an easier way. After creating a gradient, slightly longer than you think you need, apply a Curves adjustment to the gradient (Image > Adjustments > Curves). Move the midtones; shift the midpoint. Move the highlights left and/or shadows right; shift the end points – quickening the transitions in between. Move the white point down and/or the black point up; change the end points to gray. Move the white point down to the black point and the black point up to the white point; invert the gradient. That’s control!

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Linear and Reflected gradients combined

You can combine multiple gradients with one another in a variety of ways. Here are two. One, start with one gradient and use the Foreground to Transparent option to add a second. Two, start with one gradient and change the Gradient Tool’s blend mode to Darken or Lighten to add a second. The two methods sometimes yield different results.

Blend modes can be used to modify how a gradient interacts with the image it is drawn on in a variety of ways. For the most control, don’t use the blend mode with the brush; instead, draw the gradient on a separate layer and use the blend mode of the layer to achieve the same effect with more flexibility and control.

You can reposition any gradient using the Move tool. Moving a gradient mask on an adjustment layer presents few problems. You can easily tell if you are working on the image or the mask – its icon will be highlighted. Because and image layer and its mask are linked, to move a mask separately you must first unlink the two by checking off the link icon between them and then targeting the mask to move it separately. It’s likely you will want to relink the two when you are done.

Gradients can be transformed substantially (Edit > Free Transform).

Gradients can be created within active selections to affect only selected areas.

Some gradients suffer from banding. To reduce the effects of banding, add a small amount of noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise); this will often break up the effect of banding. Be careful not to overdo it or you’ll simply trade one distracting artifact (lines) for another (dots).

But wait, there’s more! Here are three more ways to create extremely useful gradients.

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Use a soft-edged brush to create a gradient

One, use a soft-edged brush; the feathered edge automatically creates a gradient.

Two, make a selection, then make an adjustment layer, double click on the mask to activate it’s properties, and use the Feather slider. I don’t like automatically feathering selections. I prefer this method over automatically feathering selections: you get a better preview; you get more precision; and you can modify the gradient by reactivating a masks’ properties.

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Blur a shape to create a gradient

Three, blur a hard-edged shape and you can create a gradient. By the same token, if a gradient does not have sufficiently smooth transitions it may be blurred, in whole or in part; watch for posterization if you do this.

Remember, masks are black and white images. Anything you can do to a Grayscale image you can do to a mask – adjust it’s contrast, filter it, transform it, Liquify it, clone it, paint it, etc.

Learning to make good gradient masks is an indispensable skill for adjusting digital images. They’re power and versatility is simply unrivaled.

Read more about masking here.

View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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It helps to be able to see what you’re doing while you’re doing it. When you’re refining masks in Photoshop, if you can see them better, you can make them better. There are a number of useful ways you can see masks in Photoshop.

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In the Layers palette, Option click the mask to display it in black and white.

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Option Shift click the mask to display the mask and the image at the same time in the same window.

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The overlay’s default color and opacity are red and 50%, but you can change these defaults by double clicking on the mask in the Channels palette or by double clicking on the mask icon in the Layers palette and using the mask’s Properties.

You can see an image and a mask at the same time.This is ideal for checking the placement and quality of contours carefully. Go to the Window menu and navigate to Arrange > New Window. (This creates a new window for the same document not a duplicate document.) While you’re on the new window, Option click on the icon of the mask you’d like to view; you’ll find this in the Layers palette. The first window will still display the image. The second window will display the mask. You can also choose Window > Arrange > Match Zoom and Location to have both windows zoomed into the same location at the same magnification.

Sometimes seeing a mask gets in your way. Shift click a mask to disable it.

Once these moves become second nature to you, you’ll work more freely and have more mental energy for your images.

Read more about masking here.

View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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A complex contour mask – made one minute.

Digital imaging offers the ability to define complex contours efficiently and precisely, enabling users to affect an image in very specific areas. What was once extremely tedious and challenging is now quick and easy. Once you learn a few essential selection and masking techniques, few contours will elude your grasp.

Before I continue, let me caution you against always defining contours precisely. Remember, contours in continuous tone images are often quite soft. What’s more, many times, photographers simply need to define broad areas to work in with smooth transitions into surrounding areas. Just because you can define contours precisely, doesn’t mean you should. But it’s highly advantageous to have the option of doing so when you need to.

Besides defining an area by hand, either with a selection or brush tool, there are a number of more efficient and precise ways to isolate contours; the Magic Wand Tool, the Magnetic Lasso Tool, the Color Range feature, and deriving a contour mask from a contrast mask. Try these first.

Keep in mind that all of these techniques use contrast within an image to isolate a contour. Contrast in any one component of color can be used – luminosity (light and dark), hue (warm and cool), or saturation (intense or desaturated). If contrast helps define a contour then you can accentuate the contrast of any one component of color within an image to make it easier to define a contour, using an adjustment layer. Once the contour has been defined, you can throw away the adjustment layer that was only intended to be used to make selection easier.

The Magic Wand, found in the Tool Bar, is ideal for selections of broad areas of color. Two check boxes give you control over how the Magic Wand tool behaves; Tolerance (which defines the range of related values away from the sampled color that will be included in the selection – based on 256 levels) and Contiguous (which limits a selection to areas of similar color that abut one another). In the same location in Tools, the Quick Selection Tool offers fewer controls but does an even more intelligent job. Try it before you move on to other options. Many times it does a surprisingly quick good job with little or no fuss.

The Magnetic Lasso, also found in the Tool Bar, tool can be used for slightly more difficult contours. Using it, you can add an extra degree of discrimination manually. The tool will define the majority of the contour for you, if there is adequate contrast between it and surrounding areas. While the default settings often provide excellent results, Width (the distance from the path drawn where contours will be detected), Edge Contrast (the amount of contrast required for a contour to be detected), and Frequency (the number of points placed while defining the contour) can be used to modify the sensitivity of the tool. Drawing a contour too quickly will reduce the accuracy of the tool. While defining the contour, if points are placed that are undesirable you can hit the Delete key to eliminate previously placed points, one at a time. When using Lasso and Marquee tools, practice drawing selections in closed loops. If you define only part of a contour and then let go, a straight line will snap between your start and finish points. All selection tools can be used multiple times to define a selection and can be used in combination with one another; hold the Shift key to add to and the Option/Alt key to subtract from an existing selection.

The Color Range feature, found under the Select menu, is very useful for defining complex contours involving multiple areas. Color Range has predefined settings to automatically detect Reds, Greens, Blues, Cyans, Magentas, Yellows, Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows. In addition, it has a Sampled Colors feature that can be used to define a custom range of colors that can be increased or decreased by using the Add to Sample (+) and Subtract from Sample (-) droppers. Selections can be expanded and contracted using the Fuzziness and Range sliders for Sampled Colors, Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights but not predefined hues.  The selections Color Range makes are often more sophisticated than the previous tools mentioned, defining areas not just with black and white but also shades of gray.

Contrast masks can be turned into contrast masks, for the most challenging selections with very fine detail and/or transparency. Based on the luminance values of individual channels (R,G, or B), a contrast mask can be used to define a contour by accentuating it’s contrast so dramatically that all shades of gray are eliminated leaving only black and white values. Duplicate the channel with the best contrast in the area you wish to isolate. Or, load it as a selection by dragging it to the selection icon in the Channels palette and then create a layer mask. Then, accentuate the contrast of the alphachannel or layer mask, using Curves. When accentuating contrast, pay particular attention to using increased contrast to define the contour you are concerned with. Avoid the temptation to use contrast to drive broad areas to white or black, if doing so will adversely affect defining the contour precisely. On occasion, you may want to select a specific area of an alphachannel or layer mask to accentuate contrast locally. Where unwanted values remain, select and fill or use a brush to paint an area with the appropriate value (black or white).

Using these tools and strategies few contours will elude your definition. You’ll be able to define very complex contours efficiently and precisely.

Read more about masking here.

View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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