The One Simple Trick I Use To Improve All Of My Images With Photoshop

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Curves offers more precise tonal control than any other tool. So when I need precision dodging and burning (about 80% of the time) I use Curves, which means I use Photoshop (PS).

I look forward to the day we can make local adjustments with Curves in Lightroom and Camera Raw. But currently, Lightroom (LR) and Camera Raw (ACR) don’t have this feature, yet. But can’t you do something similar in Lightroom (LR) or Adobe Camera Raw’s (ACR) using the six Basics sliders (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks), in combination with the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, or Radial Filter, even in combination with Color, Luminance, or Depth Range Masks? If close is good enough, yes. If you want to make your images really shine, no.

 

Is it hard to dodge and burn with Curves in Photoshop? No. It’s easy.


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My Top 12 Photographs Of 2018

01

Constellation

02

Constellation

03

Constellation

04

Constellation

05

Constellation

06

Constellation

07 (1)

Antarctica

10

Land In Land LXXIX

09

Land In Land LXXXIX

08

Land In Land LXXVI

11

Land In Land LIII

12

Land In Land LXXVI

This is a selection of my top 12 images of 2018. This selection doesn’t reflect sales, publication, or activities on the web. It simply reflects my opinion. Click on the titles to find out more about each image.

Geography

The locations include Antarctica, Spain, Arches National Park, Scoresbysund Greenland, and Maine.

Process

Continuing the momentum from the previous year I completed my first seriesof finished works with my iPhone – Land In Land. Processing images on location, sometimes seconds after making exposures, is a gamechanger. Even more interesting is the sense of seeing the image better at arm’s length, allowing me to see the composition and the subject simultaneously.

I was pleasantly surprised when another experiment worked as I combined images in the public domain from the Hubble telescope with my own exposures, expanding the images in my series Constellation to add images of deep space to those of stars observed with the naked eye.

Concepts

I continue to explore presenting many moments in time simultaneously to see one aspect of land through another. In more recent work, the detail and the overview are united in a single integrated experience. As ever, what’s behind and beyond shows through.

My use of abstraction has expanded from minimalism to include more complex maximal patterns.

Magic Moment

Perhaps the most sublime moments were found in Greenland’s, Scoresbysund, as the weather shifted to winter conditions creating dramatic katabatic winds and unusual ice conditions found only at the beginning of the season. Being on the only boat (a three-masted schooner built in the early 1900s) in the fiord system heightened the sense of adventure.

It was a very productive year; more than 75 new works released; more than 150 new studies made.

It’s challenging to choose so few images from so many – but it’s insightful. Try selecting your own top 12 images. Try selecting the top 12 images of your favorite artist(s).

View more of my Annual Top 12 Selections here.
View more images in my ebooks here.
View my full Works here.
View my Series videos here.
View new images in my newsletter Collectors Alert.

Photoshop’s Need To Know Lasso Selection Tools

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The Lasso tool is best for defining highly irregular selections manually.

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The Polygonal Lasso tool is best for defining rectilinear shapes.

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The Magnetic Lasso tool uses pattern recognition to define existing contours.

Photoshop’s Lassos (Lasso, Polygonal Lasso, and Magnetic Lasso) are go to tools for drawing irregular selections.
Which Lasso tool you choose depends on the job you need to get done.
The Lasso tool is best for defining highly irregular selections manually.
Just click, hold and drag to define a selection. Draw selections in closed loops from beginning to end; if you let go of a selection half way through a shape you’re drawing a straight line will automatically be drawn from where you let go to where you started; on rare occasions this can be useful.
The Polygonal Lasso tool is best for defining rectilinear shapes.
The Polygonal lasso tool differs in that it only draws straight lines. Click, don’t hold, drag to the point you’d like to draw a straight line to and click again, then repeat until you define a closed shape. While drawing a selection, you can alternate between the Lasso and Polygonal Lasso tools by holding the Option key.
The Magnetic Lasso tool is best for taking advantage of pattern recognition to define existing contours.
The Magnetic Lasso tool is different; it uses edge detection to draw. You simply guide it roughly along a contour you’d like to define and if the contour has enough contrast the tool will find it. (Using an adjustment layer, you can temporarily boost the image’s contrast, while making a selection to help the Magnetic Lasso tool find edges more easily … and then delete the adjustment layer after the selection is complete.) If you draw too quickly with the Magnetic Lasso tool it becomes less accurate. If you find you’d like to refine the line it defines you can press the Delete key to eliminate the anchor points it makes along the way, one at a time, in the order they were made.
Remember, if you plan to feather a selection substantially you don’t need to be precise; close enough will do, so don’t waste your time making perfect selections for very general applications.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Two Powerful Keys That Will Help You Combine Photoshop’s Selection Tools

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A simple Rectangular Marquee selection.
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A second selection is added using the Shift key.
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A second selection is subtracted using the Option key.
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The intersection of two selections is created using both Option and Shift keys.
There are so many times when you make a selection in Photoshop and it’s not quite right. But if the selection just needs a little more here and/or a little less there, there’s an easy fix.
You can press the Shift key to add or the Option key to subtract a new selection to any existing selection, no matter how the existing selection was made or what tool you’re making the new selection with (Lasso, Marquee, Magic Wand, Quick Selection). Hold both the Shift and Option keys at the same time and you’ll get the intersection of the new and old selections. You can do this as many times as you like.
It’s that simple.
Sure, you can use the Add to selection, Subtract from selection, or Intersect with selection options in the top toolbar, but these key commands are easier.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Photoshop’s Marquee Tools Make Surprisingly Useful Geometric Selections

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Photoshop offers two Marquee tools (Rectangular or Elliptical) for making simple geometric selections. They’re easy to use.
Click hold and drag to define a selection.
Hold the Option key to draw from the center of the shape.
Hold the Shift key to constrain the shape to a perfect square or circle.
You might question how often you’ll use simple geometric selections, particularly in complex photographs, but you’ll be surprised. They’re excellent for quickly selecting large areas of a canvas, which can be further refined with any of the other selection tools. They’re extremely useful if you feather them heavily; targeting the center of an area then fading off gradually to create vignetting effects, either for the entire image frame or a small portion within it.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How To Choose Which Photoshop Mask Color To Start With

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Image before selective adjustment.

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Image after selective adjustment (dodging).

Mask

It takes fewer white strokes than black strokes to make this mask.

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So, instead of starting with a white mask, start with a black mask.

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The layer stack.

When you’re making masks in Photoshop, you can get the job done more quickly and easily by starting with the right color mask. When you make a mask, you can start with one of two colors – white or black. What’s the difference? A white mask shows everything on a layer as if it were at 100% opacity. A black mask hides everything on a layer as if it were at 0% opacity.
So use this simple strategy when you’re brushing in image adjustments with masks.
If you want to affect most of the image, start with a white mask and add a few black brush strokes to reduce the effect in smaller areas.
If you want to affect just a few areas of an image, start with a black mask and add a few white brush strokes to show the effect in only the areas you paint on.
For even more control, you can vary the opacity of the brush strokes you make to reveal or reduce effects partially. (Keep the Opacity of the layer being masked at 100% and then you can make the opacity of different areas vary based on the brush strokes you make.)
How do you make choose the color of the mask when you make it?
You can get a white mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. Or, simply click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Alternately, you can get a black mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Or, hold the option/alt key before you click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
A mask is automatically created when you make an adjustment layer. By default an adjustment layer mask is white. If you want to start with at black mask instead, hold the option/alt key before you make an adjustment layer.
To make masking even more efficient, you can start with a simple selection (made with any selection tool, including the Lasso, Marquee, Magic Wand, or Quick Selection tools) and then, while the selection is still active, make a mask. If you do this, the selected areas will appear in white and everything else will be blacked out on the mask. You can then brush the mask to refine it further.
But wait, there’s more! Remember, you can always invert a mask (making black white and vice versa) by going to the menu Image > Adjustments > Invert or pressing the keys Command I. So if you forget to start with the right color mask, just invert it.
These simple techniques will save you a great deal of time.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Photoshop’s Quick Mask Combines All Selection And Brush Tools

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Edit In Standard Mode (Press Q) shows selected areas inside an active selection outline.

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Edit In Quick Mask Mode (Press Q) shows masked areas with a red overlay.

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Quick Mask Options can be activated double-clicking it.

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Quick Masks appear temporarily in the Channels palette.

Consider Photoshop’s Quick Mask feature as an easy to access nexus point that allows you to make and modify selections by efficiently moving between all selection and brush tools.
In addition to being fast and flexible, Quick Mask makes it easy to see both the image and the mask at the same time – and this view can make it easier for you to make more precise selections and masks. When you’re in mask mode, you’ll see the mask as a transparent red overlaying the image. You can change the color of the overlay and its opacity with the window activated by double-clicking on the Quick Mask icon. This is particularly useful when masking images with red colors.
When you use Quick Mask you can start with either a selection or a mask.
To start with a brush tool, click on the Quick Mask icon and you’ll see a temporary (It’s title will be in italics.) alpha-channel appear in the Channels palette. Use a black brush and you’ll see the masked areas appear over the image in a transparent color. When you’re finished brushing, click once again on the Quick Mask icon and the mask will become a selection; the temporary alpha-channel will disappear, so if you want to save your work click the Save selection as channel icon or use the menu item Select > Save Selection; you can tell the resulting alpha-channel is permanent because its title is not italicized.
Or, you can start with a selection before clicking on the Quick Mask icon and using a brush to make modifications. When you’re done click on the icon again to return to selection mode and save the results.
You can move back and forth as many times as you like between selection tools and brush tools to create any result you desire. That’s the beauty of Quick Mask feature. When you hit the limits of one tool you can move to another.
Just remember, after you finish refining a selection, if you want to use it later, save it. And if you save many results along the way to a final solution, delete the ones you don’t plan on using again, so that you don’t get confused with too many choices.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Select And Mask Hue With Photoshop's Color Range

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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.

Easily Select Edges In Your Images Using Photoshop's Contour Masks

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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.