The Art Of Distortion

January 10, 2019 | Leave a Comment |

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1          Correct lens distortion

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2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions

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3          Modify proportion globally including the aspect ratio of the frame

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4          Modify proportion locally within the frame

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5          Change proximity

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6          Enhance gesture

We accept the distortions angle of view and lens choice create without a second thought yet rarely do we give a second thought to the possibilities of expressively distorting our photographs during post-processing. The dazzling array of new tools at our disposal begs us to reconsider this. You need to know what’s possible, whether your goal is to correct the distortions introduced by the tools you use or to aesthetically refine or expressively enhance your images, a little or a lot, or to simply know what other photographers have done so that you can understand their creations better. Learn to see with new eyes and a vast new horizon of possibilities will reveal itself to you.

Awareness of the distortions produced by an angle of view and lens choice is the beginning of using them creatively. Curiously, permission is the beginning of using distortion in post-processing creatively. Many people have been told that it’s inappropriate to do so. Why? Why accept an unintended mechanical bi-product but not a consciously intended effect? Why take such a powerful tool for expression off the table? While you can, you don’t have to distort your images to the point that they look like they’re being seen in a fun house hall of mirrors. Even the subtlest applications of distortion can produce powerful results. Once you understand what kinds of distortions are possible in post-processing you’ll frequently find yourself changing your angle of view or repositioning yourself during exposure.

6 Strategies For Using Distortion In Images

Here’s a short list of six strategies you can use when considering distorting your images creatively.

1          Correct lens distortion; straighten a horizontal or vertical while correcting barrel or pin cushion distortion.

2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions; undistort edges or smooth out uneven horizontals or verticals.

3          Modify proportion globally including the frame; make images more or less horizontal or vertical or even turn one into another.

4          Modify proportion locally within the frame; adjust the height and width of both objects and areas.

5          Change proximity; push together or pull apart items.

6          Enhance or change gesture; make a leaning object more tilted or straighten it out.

Photoshop's 11 Weapons Of Mass Distortion


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Colin Smith of PhotoshopCafe demonstrates how to make new color profiles for Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw.

Learn more about new Color Profiles here.

Check out Matt Koslowski's Q&A on Color Profiles.

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Julianne Kost shows the new Profile feature in Lightroom and Camera Raw.

Find more from Julianne Kost here.

Matt Koslowski tells you why he thinks Profile is one of the biggest things in years.

Find more from Matt Koslowski here.

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Matt Koslowski details the new features in Lightroom Classic CC 2018.

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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.


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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

 

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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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