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How can you change the appearance of a digital image without changing the numbers that assign the color values? Change what those numbers mean by changing the image’s ICC profile. Using abstract or synthetic profiles, you can make massive changes to an image with little to no cost, changes that ordinarily would cause big problems using standard methods, such as posterization and noise. It’s a practice known to color geeks and few others. When you’ve got a big job to do, it can get you out of a pinch in a hurry.

In most cases, we think of using color management to accurately match colors when moving between different color spaces; ICC profiles are used to describe different color spaces and to make precise transformations to values moved from one to another to maintain consistent appearances. In very rare cases, when profiles are assigned to image files without a color conversion, the appearance of the image changes; values stay the same, but their meaning changes, so the image looks different. So when you use this unorthodox method of color adjustment, you get a change in appearance without changing the values in the file, and this is particularly useful when you want to pay a very small price for making very big changes.

Am I saying that ICC profiles are used to change values so the appearance stays the same? Yes. Am I saying that a color space is just a recipe for color, and that there are many different RGB recipes? Yes, but while they’re the standards, sRGB, ColorMatch RGB, Adobe RGB (1998) and ProPhoto RGB are just a few among many.

With just a little experimentation, you’ll find you, too, can make big changes to your images and pay a small price using synthetic profiles. Using synthetic profiles is color adjustment without editing values; they change no values, but they do change the meaning of those values—and thus their appearance. Don’t believe it? Check your histogram when you assign a profile. You won’t even see it move! It’s kind of unbelievable. Try it. See it with your own eyes. You’ll quickly become a believer, too.

Learn the steps you need to take to make your own synthetic profiles …

Read more on Digital Photo Pro.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

Originally designed for color grading film and video, Photoshop’s Color Lookup feature offers novel ways to adjust color that will quickly reveal new possibilities in your images. Capable of performing extremely complex calculations extraordinarily efficiently, color lookup tables (LUTs) work by looking up a source color in a table and using the replacement color specified in the grid to transform it for the final destination.

Like Match Color and Gradient Map adjustments (See my last two articles for Digital Photo Pro.) the color effects Color Lookup generates are so complex they are not easy to previsualize. Like anything new, this takes practice. And these are new! Experiment and you’ll find many rich possibilities. Unlike Match Color, Color Lookup is loaded with presets that will allow you to quickly explore many different effects, ones that are far more sophisticated than Gradient Map presets. In this way, using them can be as easy as using many smartphone app effects.

You can also generate your own Color Lookup presets. To do this create a color effect you like with any with any combination of adjustments layers, Opacity and Fill, Blend If sliders, blend modes. (Layer masking and transparency will not be included, because alpha channel information in alpha channels is not included in the recipe.) Then go to File: Export: Color Lookup Table, name the file, and click OK. (I recommend the titles you give your presets include the color space you created them in.) These files are stored in Photoshop’s Presets folder or if they’re saved as ICC profiles in your operating systems Profiles folder. You can now use your custom preset at any time on almost any file by making a Color Lookup adjustment layer and choosing your preset. You can share your custom Color Lookups with others by giving them these exported files. Color LUTs created in Photoshop can even be used in other programs such as After Effects, Premiere, SpeedGrade and other applications that use color LUTs.

Using Photoshop’s Color Lookup you can choose to create color effects as subtle or dramatic as you like. This game-changing color adjustment tool may seem exotic at first because it offers a new way of thinking about and seeing in color. Once you become more familiar with this mindset you’ll truly begin to see with new eyes. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Read more on Digital Photo Pro.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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Whether used subtly or dramatically, Photoshop’s Gradient Map color adjustment tool can open up new ways of seeing and working with color for any artist. Photoshop’s Gradient Map assigns new colors to existing brightness values. With it, you can enhance existing colors, transfer colors from one image to another or create entirely new color relationships. It can be wild!

The Gradient Map interface looks difficult to use, but with a few pointers, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to use. While you can apply a Gradient Map directly to a layer (Images > Adjustments > Gradient Map), I recommend you apply Gradient Maps as adjustment layers (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map) to take advantage of both the greater flexibility and control you’ll gain over the final effect.

Once activated, there are a number of default presets you can experiment with, but it’s most likely that you’ll want to create your own. Simply click on an existing gradient in the Properties panel to activate the Gradient Editor. Click New. Click at the bottom of the gradient to add new colors. A pointer will appear; double-click it or the Color box to choose a color. You can move the pointer to direct the color into different tonal values. (Move left to target darker values and right to target lighter values. Alternately, enter a new number in the Location field.) The diamonds left and right of it will control how each color fades into surrounding colors. You can add dozens of different pointers/colors, but for most applications, I recommend you restrain yourself to as few as possible. You can delete a pointer/color by clicking on it and clicking Delete or by pressing the Delete key. When you create an effect you’d like to use more than once, type a Name and click Save; you can easily store, retrieve and share these GRD files.

The color effects you can generate with the Gradient Map are so powerful and so varied, you simply must spend a little time experimenting with it to truly understand both how far you can go and how subtle you can get. Consider this kind of visual research time well spent.

After you’re done experimenting, then it’s time to deliver. Working with the Gradient Map often takes a little finessing. You’re likely to be a little disappointed if you try and get the perfect colors with the Gradient Map alone. You can spend a great deal of time picking and re-picking colors until you get it just right. Instead, try working more broadly, getting close to a desired effect and then fine-tuning the results.

Read details on how to do this on Digital Photo Pro.

Once you’ve mastered the interface, the real challenge begins—visualizing color possibilities. Previsualization can only go so far; instead, use software as a tool for visualization. Instead of rushing to a single finished result, I prefer to work on multiple copies of an image to make side-by-side comparisons of a set of variations. The possibilities are seemingly so limitless that you must perform experiments to find the best solution. If your experiments are both targeted and iterative, you’ll generate many solutions that are more likely to be optimum.

Here, a little color theory can be useful. Use dark colors in shadows and light colors in highlights; otherwise, you may posterize or solarize. Use analogous colors (similar color families) to create transitions; transitions between complementary colors tend to get muddy. Variations on earth tones work well for both realistic and antique effects. Variations on warm colors can add intensity, even fire. Variations on cool colors can generate nocturnal and even aquatic effects.

Photoshop’s Gradient Map is an exotic color adjustment tool that can be a real game changer. If you truly understand the possibilities this tool opens up, you’ll have learned to see in new ways. What could be more valuable?

Read more at Digital Photo Pro.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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Smart Objects are smart layers, and they have been in Photoshop for years. They have been evolving, but few people truly understand them and fewer still take full advantage of them. There are major benefits to learning what Smart Objects offer you and how they can change your workflow. Here are four things Smart Objects can do for you.

1. Change Or Update RAW Conversion Settings.

2. Apply Filters Nondestructively.

3. Apply Nondestructive Scaling And Distortion To Layers.

4. Blend Multiple Exposures Or Layers With Stack Modes. 

The first benefit, Change Or Update RAW Conversion Settings, is the most essential; something every Photoshop user should know how to use. Here’s how to use it.

Whether you’re using Lightroom or Bridge/Photoshop, if, and only if, you acquire a RAW file as a Smart Object, by double-clicking it, you’ll be able to change conversion settings and even update the RAW-processing algorithms to the latest version. Forgot to adjust a setting? Found better settings? Want to take advantage of advances made in the latest process version of ACR? All of these are reasons to use Smart Objects.

To acquire a RAW file as a Smart Object in Lightroom, go to Photo > Edit In > Open As Smart Object In Photoshop. With Adobe Camera Raw, click the blue underlined line at the bottom of the window to access Workflow Options and check Open In Photoshop As Smart Objects, which will set this as a default for opening files. The Open Image button will change to Open Objects. Notice that in Photoshop the bottom layer uses the file name instead of Background, and it contains a small rectangular icon that indicates it’s a Smart Object.

But wait, there are three more reasons to use Smart Objects. You’ll find the steps for the other three benefits detailed in my column on Digital Photo Pro.

There’s more than one kind of Smart Object; those that reaccess Raw file data and those that don’t. Smart Objects have limits; the list is steadily diminishing. Smart Objects come at a price; larger file sizes. While Smart Objects aren’t simple, but they’re extremely powerful and flexible. For this reason, I consider them essential components of an optimum Photoshop workflow. Exactly how and when you implement Smart Objects will depend on the specific challenges you face with a given image. While everyone needs to be aware of the possibilities Smart Objects offer, make your use of Smart Objects as simple as possible, but not simpler. You’ll find that even the most minimal implementation of Smart Objects will be extremely helpful.

Read more on Digital Photo Pro

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

 

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Layer Styles

Blending channels is a powerful color adjustment strategy that can handle even the biggest challenges. It takes information from one channel and combines it with information from another. It’s great for repairing clipping in one or even two but not three channels. Rather than simply enhancing existing tonal values, blending channels reshapes one channel’s tonal structure with another’s. Consequently, in most cases, blending channels calls for a substitution of information by percentage, not a wholesale replacement of the deficient channel. You usually blend channels from different versions of the same image because blending channels from different compositions produces a highly altered effect.

Blending channels is complex. It often produces additional unintended color effects that may require further correction, such as shifts in hue that aren’t uniform across the tonal scale. Blending channels is neither the simplest nor the most direct path to color adjustment, but in certain situations (files that are exceptionally problematic), it may be the best path. The resulting benefits can be dramatic.

There are several ways to blend channels: Channel Mixer, Apply Image, Calculations and the most robust using channels as layers.

How do you do it? Duplicate a layer. Double click on the layer to activate Layer Styles (rasterize copies of Smart Objects to get this). Then check the channel you want to use, select a Blend Mode (typically Darken or Lighten and sometimes Multiply or Screen), adjust the Opacity, and use the Blend If sliders to constrain the effect or alternately a mask.

Read all the details on Digital Photo Pro.

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Part II 

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The four most important lines of any image are the ones that are often least recognized consciously – the frame. Second only to these are the lines that divide the frame, creating frames within the frame. Becoming more aware of how the frame can be used and how it can be divided will help you make more successful compositions.

There are many ways the frame can be divided. You can divide the frame horizontally, vertically, or diagonally; in each case the layers included define the virtual space presented. Different areas in an image can be divided differently. You can divide the frame (or a frame within the frame) multiple times; the more times the frame is divided the more packed and dynamic it becomes, progressively growing more design oriented and finally being reduced to pure texture. Each operation has significant consequences.

One of the most significant results of dividing the frame is the creation of specific proportions. (The combination of the individual aspect ratios of each element creates a new unified aspect ratio.) Much has been made of the ‘rule of thirds’. Dividing the frame into three parts (left/center/right or up/middle/down) is a simple and often useful strategy for making images more directed, by prioritizing one element over another, and dynamic, through imbalance. Too little has been made of other ratios. What of fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, or eighths? No musician would be content to only divide an octave into halves and thirds. Every proportion produces particular effects, which are further modified by placement (high/low or left/right) and content. Rather than a rule to be adhered to, proportion is a force to be explored expressively.

When it comes to controlling the division of the frame in your images, you have more options available to you than you might think. You can crop, retouch, distort, or composite. These four operations can be used in combination with one another. For instance, you may decide to first crop an image and then distort it to a standardized aspect ratio. Or, while maintaining a frame of the same aspect ratio, you might increase the scale of a selected area only and in the process crop a portion of it. Many other permutations are possible.

If you find these many new possibilities dizzying, you get it. The only way to understand this intuitively is to explore your options. The development of new possibilities encourages us to ask new questions and develop new habits. For what effect are you dividing the frame? To that end, how many different ways can you think of dividing the frame? My advice? Develop the habit of exploring your options before settling on final solutions, ones that help you create your strongest statements.

Read more at Digital Photo Pro.

See my related post Exploring The Expressive Possibilities Of Aspect Ratio.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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