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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

Before

ClearColorCast

After Neutralizing Color

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Mask

Luminosity

Before

IncreaseContrast

After Increasing Luminosity Contrast

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Mask

Saturation

Before

IncreaseSaturation

After Increasing Saturation

 Mask_Ladder

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.

Incubation X

Original

Incubation X

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.

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Lightroom and Photoshop offer an impressive array of tools for adjusting an image’s contrast. At some point luminosity contrast adjustment tips over to affecting image detail (contour and texture) more than overall lightness. Deciding exactly how you want to affect lightness, contour, and texture is the key to deciding which tool to use and how to use it.

The following progression moves from the smoothest to edgiest tools – Curves, Clarity, Dehaze, High Pass, and Sharpening. The differences between these tools can be found in the way they handle frequencies of detail; low or smooth, medium or broad lines and moderate texture, and high fine lines and grain.

01_Curves

Curves creates the smoothest effects. It simply affects light and dark values. With it you can fine tune the relationships between different values with unparalleled precision. Curves ignores texture and contours. If either is affected it’s simply because those areas are lighter or darker, not because they have been targeted. Along with contrast, Curves also boosts saturation somewhat. (If Curves is applied in Photoshop, this saturation shift can be removed by using a blend mode of Luminosity.)
02_Clarity

Clarity offers the second smoothest effects. It pays significant attention to contours. The contrast it adds to contours is smoothed or broadly feathered. Think of it as a local vignetting, not for the frame, but for areas within contours. To make the effect more realistic, it darkens the dark side of contours more than it lightens the light side of contours edges, greatly reducing visible bright halos. Clarity makes images look clearer for two reasons; one, because the overall contrast appears to remove haze; and two, because the edge contrast makes images appear better focused or sharper. Clarity, particularly strong applications of it, will accentuate texture affecting medium frequency detail even more than high frequency detail. Strong applications of Clarity will boost saturation significantly, which can be removed with the Saturation slider. Clarity does not exist in the Photoshop Image > Adjustments menu but can be applied in Photoshop with the Camera Raw filter.

03_Dehaze

Dehaze offers the third smoothest effects. It creates effects that are similar to Clarity, only stronger. Dehaze darkens shadows and rather than brightening the highlights it simply pulls out more separation by darkening the lower values in these areas. Strong applications of Dehaze may even reveal detail you can’t see with the naked eye. Dehaze affects larger areas of contrast, sometimes losing the ability to distinguish between smaller areas. While Clarity boosts saturation somewhat, Dehaze boosts it more and often creates color non-uniform shifts. (There is a cure for this, which I cover in a separate article.) Dehaze does not exist in the Photoshop Image > Adjustments menu but can be applied in Photoshop with the Camera Raw filter.
04_HighPass_HighHigh Pass High
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High Pass Low

High Pass filtration drives contrast into edges. It produces significantly different effects at low and high settings. At low settings it affects contours most, only slightly affecting texture and having little or no effect on overall contrast. At high settings it produces localized vignetting similar to Clarity but with less feathering, making it an excellent tool for emphasizing planar contrast. Be careful, it does not have the halo suppression built into Clarity. Only high settings create saturation shifts, which are localized not uniform. Remove this by desaturating the layer you apply the filter to. The High Pass filter is only available in Photoshop and is usually applied on a duplicate layer set to a blend mode of Overlay.

06_Detail

The Detail Panel’s Sharpening sliders aggressively target edges. It offers four sliders – Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. Amount determines the increase in contrast. Radius accentuates contours in thinner (lower setting) or thicker (high setting) areas. Detail targets the effects of the previous two sliders into lower (less texture) or higher (more texture) frequencies of detail. Masking creates a mask that removes the effects of the other sliders from smooth areas at low settings and from all areas but contours at its highest settings. These sliders produce no overall contrast effects and little to no saturation shifts. (These detail sliders don’t exist in the Photoshop Image > Adjustments menu. Photoshop’s filter Unsharp Mask offers identical Amount and Radius sliders but it lacks the Detail and Masking sliders. Instead, it offers a Threshold sliders that allows you to remove the effect from adjacent areas that have less contrast than the Threshold you set.) These tools are the ultimate tools for accentuating texture and contour.

Experiment. Develop your eye for all of the possibilities these tools open up for you. You’ll be amazed what they can do. And when you master them, your viewers will be amazed at how good your images look.

Read more on Color Adjustment here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

View test files with maximum applications of these tools below.

Read more

Dehaze_Color_Off

Without Dehaze

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Dehaze may create color artifacts

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Color artifacts removed

Color without Dehaze blended with luminosity with Dehaze

 

Dehaze_Color_Layers

The top layer is set to a blend mode of Color

When you’re using Lightroom or Camera Raw, you’ll quickly find the Dehaze slider can produce marvelous contrast effects. Dehaze can dramatically exceed the contrast that can be produced with either Curves or Clarity. Sometimes it will reveal detail you couldn’t see with your eyes!

Often, there’s a price to pay for these great effects – color shifts. Neutral areas may turn magenta. Shadows may pick up strong blue or green casts. To make matters worse, these unwanted artifacts are rarely uniform, which makes them harder to fix.

If you’re lucky you can compensate by reducing Saturation after using Dehaze. When you do this, it’s likely that you’ll end up choosing the least objectionable version or making a compromise you’d prefer not to. Frequently, to avoid these side effects, you’ll be tempted to not to push Dehaze as far as you’d like to.

There is a cure that will help you go as far as you’d like, without producing color shifts. Render your image twice. First, render it with as much Dehaze as you’d like. Second, render it without Dehaze.

Then place the version without Dehaze in a layer on top of the version with Dehaze. Change the Blend Mode of the top layer to Color. This will give you a combination of the color of the top layer (without Dehaze’s color artifacts) and the luminosity of the bottom layer (with Dehaze’s contrast).

How do you make two layers from one Raw file?

If you’re using Lightroom, make a virtual copy and then double click on the Dehaze slider. Highlight the original file and the virtual copy and select Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. Now in Photoshop, make sure to change the top layer’s blend mode from Normal to Color.

If you’re using Camera Raw, open your Raw file as a smart object, then select New Smart Object via Copy in the Layer menu, and finally double click on the top layer to return the Dehaze slider to 0. Remember, change the top layer’s blend mode from Normal to Color.

The technique of using the color of one layer to overlay another layer can be used for many applications. Here, it makes Dehaze even more useful.

Read more on Color Adjustment here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

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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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