The TK8 Triple Play in 2022: Status update

Last Wednesday, Dave Kelly and I had our weekly “TK Friday” meeting where he presented a series of images demonstrating what could be done using the Triple Play actions in the TK8 Combo and Cx modules.  He had received questions about using it and created some examples to show how it works.  Comparing the before and after versions of the images, it was clear that the Triple Play could achieve decent results.  The images he was screen-sharing with me looked good, and it was clear that the Triple Play actions were a factor in their success.

The Triple Play is actually two different actions:  Lights Triple Play works on the lighter tones in the image and Darks Triple Play on the darker tones.  Each action creates a series of Photoshop layers masked by either blurred or not-blurred luminosity-mask layer masks.  The blend modes of these layers are set to either Screen or Multiply.  Screen blend mode lightens the areas revealed by the mask and Multiply blend mode darkens them. Visibility is initially set to “off” on all layers, and users create the desired effect by turning layer visibility “on” and adjusting layer opacity.

As Dave demonstrated his process for using the Triple Play to develop each image, we also tried a variety of Triple Play alternatives: turning different layers on and off, adjusting opacity of different layers, and changing the blur radius used to create the blurred layer masks.  We actually spent quite a bit of time testing the different options, and it was obvious that trial and error was a necessary part of the process for finding our way to a good result.  There wasn’t a definitive approach that would work on every image, but we could usually arrive at a satisfactory edit.

With this in mind, I suggest that Dave also try other TK8 methods to try and achieve results similar to what he produced using the Triple Play.  We had spent considerable time testing inside the Triple Play, but was this the most efficient way to develop these images?  For example, what about just using simpler things, like Screen or Multiply blend modes on various layers in combination with Lights and Darks luminosity masks?  Or Dave’s standard maneuver of using the Mids-3 mask in combination with Color Grading to establish overall balance and contrast when he starts developing an image?

Triple Play History

While I don’t recall when the Triple Play was released, the copyright on the Triple Play instructions manual says 2011.  At the time, I was continuing to experiment with what luminosity masks could do, and the Triple Play actions were one of the techniques I came up with that I was using in my own processing.  It provided a way to work with brightness, contrast, and detail all at once—hence the name “Triple Play”—by using the combination of layers and luminosity masks generated by the Triple Play actions.  I originally distributed the Triple Play as an action set that users loaded into their Photoshop Actions panel.  When I switched to distributing panels instead of actions sets, the Triple Play was incorporated into the original panel and continued to be part of the TK panel for few versions after that. 

However, my own use of the Triple Play eventually started to diminish.  I continued to find new ways to use luminosity masks, and the Triple Play became somewhat cumbersome by comparison to the newer methods.  With each Triple Play action there are 12 new layers on the Layers panel when it finishes running.  Once the layers are generated it’s still necessary to turn layers on and off to achieve the desired result.  As the TK panel got faster at making luminosity masks and outputting specific masks on specific adjustment layers, the need for all these Triple Play layers no longer seemed necessary to me.  I could now do the same things with more precisely-chosen and individually-modified luminosity masks, which I could then output directly to different adjustment layers.  It seemed to me that the TK panel was now more capable in many ways, and so, I decided to remove the Triple Play actions from the panel.

Oops!  That turned out to be a mistake.  Even though I had personally moved away from Triple Play and onto using different processing techniques, feedback from other photographers indicated that several were still using it, some in ways I had not originally imagined.  So, I eventually put it back into the TK panel (despite it being a bit of a coding nightmare), where it remains today. It can be found in the “Actions” section of the Combo and Cx modules.

Back to the present

As Dave and I tried different non-Triple Play options available in TK8, it became clear that, in terms of general processing, a similar result could be achieved more quickly using techniques that were less bulky and time-consuming than the Triple Play.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected.  The TK panel has evolved significantly since the Triple Play was originally released.  Masks are easier to generate, review, modify, and output.  There are also new actions like “Soft Pop,” “Paint Contrast,” and “Clarity” that can be used in conjunction with luminosity masks and other masks to target brightness, contrast, and sharpness to specific tones and elements in the image. 

Another consideration is that there’s quite a bit of trial and error when using the Triple play to develop an image.  It’s hard to predict which layers to turn on and off and which combination works best unless you try several, and even then, different parts of an image, like the land and sky, might require separate Triple Plays with entirely different settings.  That’s a lot of layers to juggle even if you delete the ones that don’t get used.

In the end, my conversation with Dave helped demonstrate what I already knew about the Triple Play, which is, that, at this point in time, it’s basically a legacy method when it comes to using luminosity masks to develop images.  Yes, I understand there are photographers that find Triple Play to be a useful tool, and I always advocate for using the tools that work well for you.  However, for someone just starting out with luminosity masks, I don’t think Triple Play would be the easiest or fastest method for incorporating luminosity masks successfully into the workflow.  There are alternatives in the TK8 plugin that achieve a similar outcome (well, usually) that require less effort and yield more predictable results.  I think Triple Play is an interesting application of luminosity masks and maybe worth some experimentation for experienced users, but as Dave Kelly’s weekly series has already demonstrated in numerous editing scenarios, it’s also possible to achieve great results without it.

Wait.  Usually?

While it didn’t come up in my conversation with Dave regarding using Triple Play for general image processing, there is at least one situation where the Triple Play does excel over other TK tools, and that is in extracting details from the shadows.  This is a technique discovered by Dan Anderson, and you can read about it in this blog post.  It’s easy to do, and the results are predictably good.  In my experience it’s usually best to try this as one of the last processing steps.  The extra snap and detail in the shadows can be quite satisfying. 

I’ve included a link to Dave Kelly’s video on this topic below. Dave does a nice job of methodically turning on the visibility of Triple Play layers based on how their blend mode (Screen or Multiply) will affect the image, and then fine-tuning the effect using layer opacity. If you’re looking to experiment with Triple Play, this approach is a reasonable way to start. However, you still may have to try several combinations of layers to get things dialed in, and, as Dave also demonstrates in the video, there are alternate methods that achieve similar results.

Do you have any thoughts on the Triple Play actions? Please leave a comment if you’d like to provide your own status update on this subject.

Trust

From taking pictures, to developing them, to finding my place in the photographic community, I’ve never worked alone.  Everything, I have found, is a relationship.  I sort of know what I’d like to do, but the advice and consent of my “partners” needs to be considered.  These relationships are fundamental in guiding me along an unending path.  My route is perpetually uncertain, but I’ve learned that if I communicate effectively with my partners, I’ll visit some wonderful places and experience things that truly make me happy.  Generally that communication involves a lot of listening and then trusting that I’m being given sound advice. 

However, I should be clear that things like luck, chance, coincidence, and destiny are NOT what I’m referring to here.  Those words and several others like them are used to describe auspicious happenstance.  However, they fall short because they are external and one-sided.  Luck and coincidence, for example, are things that happen to you from the outside.  They are not words that describe an ongoing relationship.  Partners work together for a beneficial outcome.  Yes, sometimes it seems like good luck at first, but once you realize that you’ve been listening and participating in a relationship all along, you’ll see that it was the partnership that actually created the end result.  In other words, you were always part of it.  It was an inside job.

The partnership actually created the end result.  In other words, you were always part of it.  It was an inside job.

These “partners,” as you might have guessed, aren’t exactly real.  At least not in the sense that I can see, touch, and talk to them directly.  Neither are they spirits, ghosts, or even gods.  Yet, they somehow know more about me than I consciously know myself and seem to lead me in the right direction.  These partners solve problems in the middle of the night such that solutions are obvious when I wake up the next morning.  They find good friends for me who eventually lead me on new adventures.  They help me take pictures in places where I didn’t think good light existed.   More than anything, though, they are a continual source of inspiration.  Listening to these partners means I always have something to do and that I’m looking forward to doing it.  It’s a fortunate circumstance.

Every relationship requires a degree of trust, and, generally, the greater the trust, the stronger and more productive the relationship will be.  This is true with your photographic “partners” just like it is with your spouse or best friend.   But “who,” exactly, are your photographic partners?  And what does it mean to trust them?  Let’s take a look at three important examples.

Trust yourself

YOU are likely already the best tool you have for making better pictures.

Many photographers become photographers simply by virtue of owning a camera.  There’s not a lot of formal education, and in our search for better pictures we buy new gear, plan a trip, watch YouTube videos, and install new software.  However, once you know the basics of photography, YOU are likely already the best tool you have for making better pictures.  Your photography might indeed involve travel, different equipment, or additional instruction; however, these things should not be a substitute for the practice, experimentation, and personal dedication that will actually improve your skills and make a difference.  It’s your commitment to learning and the belief you can indeed acquire new skills that creates the desired results.   

Trusting your inherent human ability to change, adapt, and grow at any point in your life is the real key to improving your photographic IQ.  The trust relationship with yourself—the partnership, if you will—means you’ll seek, find, and understand photographic subjects and techniques that interest you.  You’ll acquire the equipment that suits your shooting style and be able to use it effectively in a variety of settings.  You’ll discover what interests you most about photography and find the right resources to improve your skills and share your creativity.  Trusting yourself, if you work at it, leads to new knowledge that is both practical and meaningful.  As you learn more about photography, you’ll also be learning more about yourself and what you are capable of doing.

Trust the light

By treating light as your partner and not your prey—as your collaborator instead of something to be captured—you are able to create images with more personal meaning that have a stronger sense of connection. 

Light.  There is no photography without it.  Understanding and learning to control light seems essential to becoming a good photographer.  And, indeed, familiarity with f-stop, exposure, ISO, and focal length are basic skills that most photographers acquire.  However, this aptitude only controls how the camera reacts to light; it doesn’t control the light reaching the camera.  Fortunately, we now have tools and technology that can help us predict and control light: a plethora of artificial lighting, apps that predict the movement and location of sun, moon, and stars as well as weather apps that predict what natural lighting to expect. However, even with all these modern conveniences, light remains forever wild.  What we expect and what we actually get may still be considerably different.

Approaching light with an open mind makes you ready to respond to whatever the light might have in mind.  Over time, being responsive to the light—listening to it—helps alleviate the frustration and repeat visits that come with trying to take a specific, pre-imagined picture.  Once you learn to trust the light, you’ll understand that it will always be there for you.  Maybe not in exactly the way you envisioned in, but rather in the way the light wants you to see it.  And this is where trust really pays off.  By treating light as your partner and not your prey—as your collaborator instead of something to be captured—you are able to create images with more personal meaning that have a stronger sense of connection.  You’ll never forget the places where the light gave you something unexpectedly beautiful, and there will be many of these unforgettable, special moments once you learn to trust the light.

Trust the world

Does the world really need more photographers and photographs? Well, yes, it does. In fact, that’s exactly what it needs.

There are millions of photographers, billions of photographs, and the number of each is increasing rapidly.  Does the world really need more of either of them?  Well, yes, it does.  In fact, that’s exactly what it needs.  That’s because the capacity of the world to absorb creative individuals passionate about what they do is infinite.  The world only gets better for all of us when people discover what really excites them and then strive to make it part of their everyday life.  Passionate people are the ones who give us something new and unique.  They teach us how to see things differently and show us what’s possible.  If you’re passionate about photography, the world will find a place for that enthusiasm to be expressed in a way that makes the world a better place. 

However, you still need to be alert for what the world is telling you; you need to listen to your partner.  The world will help you find the people you need to spread your ideas, and it will provide you opportunities that are available to no one else.  But you need to be open to the changes and compromises this relationship might entail.  Perhaps your goal is to sell your images in art galleries.  However, the world is currently looking for someone to lead photo treks to exactly the places where you’ve been taking pictures and offers you that job instead.  Or maybe you want to take glamour images of pretty models, but the world also sees your ability to teach and asks you to teach portrait photography.  Or maybe you just take pictures as a hobby, but your online gallery attracts lots of views and before long you’ve created a new community that wants to learn from you.  The point here is that in a world already crowded with photographers and overflowing with photographs, we don’t always get our first choice of assignments.  But that’s OK. Landing where the world wants you to be as a photographer, instead of where you thought you’d be, eventually feels like winning the lottery.  You’re happy with what you do, you’ve positively influenced the lives of others, and you eventually come to realize that you got lucky.  This was your destiny all along. 

Except, of course, that luck and destiny really weren’t involved.  It was you pursuing your passion, learning to trust the world, and then simply following the path that this partnership created.

Summary

Creating pictures that come from your desire to express yourself as an individual simultaneously creates partners that want to see you succeed.

Learning to trust is not always easy.  It requires some effort and perhaps some actual labor.  Fortunately, photographers have already developed their awareness and observational skills, and so, they are prepared more than others to recognize those moments when their partners show up and the relationship begins to grow.

Every worthwhile relationship has trust as its foundation, and a strong foundation is the basis on which new ideas and concepts can grow and spread out into the world.  Your photographic relationships, when they have trust at their core, will guide you in many different ways.  Creating pictures that come from your desire to express yourself as an individual simultaneously creates partners that want to see you succeed.   You just need to trust them.  They’ll keep you headed in the right direction on a path that never has to end. Enjoy the journey!

Your turn

I would enjoy hearing who your partners are in photography, and how have you learned to trust them? If you have any thoughts on these topics, please leave a comment or simply respond to the email containing this article.

A big thanks to Bob Hills and Jim Hill for providing feedback and editing for this article.

Now Available: TK8 version 1.2.2

NOTE:  During the launch of the updated version of TK8 there is a 20% discount available on everything on the Panels & Videos page, including the TK8 plugin and Sean Bagshaw’s videos.  Add the code JulySale in the shopping cart to get the discount.  This sale ends on July 31.

The TK8 plugin has been updated to version 1.2.2.  This is a major update that incorporates new code for Adobe’s UXP architecture for plugins.  Previous TK8 customers have been sent an email via MailChimp telling them how to update for free.  Please check your email (possibly the junk/spam folder).  The latest update information was sent on either July 16 or July 18.  Contact me if you are a licensed TK8 customer but did not receive the update information. New customers can use the discount code listed above to get 20% off for a limited time.

You can check your version of TK8 by clicking on the “TK” button on the Multi-Mask module to open the preferences interface and then looking in the lower right corner. If you do not have version 1.2.2, please get it now.

Importantly, TK8 version 1.2.2 only works in Photoshop 2022, version 23.2.0 or later.  The new version of TK8 will NOT work in Photoshop 2021 or older versions of Photoshop 2022.  So, the best practice is to make sure Photoshop is updated using the Adobe Creative Cloud app before installing TK8 version 1.2.2.

There are several new features in TK8 version 1.2.2, but the biggest is the introduction of the “My Actions” module.  It’s an improved alternative to the “User Actions” section of the Combo and Cx modules. Most of us have lots of Photoshop actions scattered around our Photoshop Actions panel.  The My Actions module helps users dynamically organize the actions they actually use into a single list.  This, in turn, provides easy, one-click access to these frequently-used actions.  The video below shows how the new module works.

This video provides a quick look at how to use the TK8 My Actions plugin.

In addition to their personal actions, the My Actions module provides a place where users can list actions that contain menu items, keyboard shortcuts, and even Photoshop scripts.  As long as these are first recorded into actions, they can be added to the My Actions module.  Sean Bagshaw shows how to do this in the video below.  This ability to completely customize the My Actions module means users can now essentially create their own Photoshop plugin.  Simply record whatever Photoshop features you use most into Photoshop actions, and then add these actions to the My Actions module.  From there they can be rearranged and color-coded in whatever way works best for your workflow.

Sean Bagshaw demonstrates how to customize your My Actions module with actions, Photoshop menu items, and keyboard shortcuts.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Button clicks in the TK8 plugin, like when making luminosity masks or other masks, cannot be recorded into Photoshop actions at this time. They can only be called directly using the buttons on the TK8 plugin.

Additional changes in TK8 version 1.2.2 include:

  • Most button clicks create a single history state.  This makes it possible use CTRL (Windows) / command (Mac) + Z to undo most TK8 button clicks.  Note, however, that using CTRL/command + Z does NOT reset the TK8 user interface to what it was at the previous history state.  So, only Photoshop is reset to the previous history state, not the TK8 plugin.
  • Occasionally, a green progress bar will display if the run time for a TK8-called process exceeds two seconds. This is part of Adobe’s new UXP code. Sometimes the progress bar will flash only briefly when a process completes.
  • A green outline now appears around the Lights, Darks, and Midtones buttons when they are clicked in the Layer Mask mode interface and the Edit Selection interface. This makes it easier to track which button was clicked and which mask was created.
  • For the Burn, Dodge, and Paint Color output options in the Multi-Mask module, CTRL (Windows) / command (Mac) + click on the respective output button creates a layer mask of the on-screen mask on the newly created layer instead of creating a selection of this on-screen mask to paint through. The layer mask then controls where the subsequently-applied paint shows through in the image.
  • The “png” save option in Web-Sharpening output has been updated to embed the color profile in the saved document. Other output file types already do this.
  • The ability to choose a color using the Color Picker is now available when running the Color Clone action found in the Combo and Cx modules.
  • Several other bugs were fixed and changes were made to make user interaction more efficient.

Known issues that remain unresolved at this time:

  • Adding the menu item “Edit > Fade” to an action and then adding that action to the My Actions module doesn’t work.  There will be an error alert indicating that the Fade command is not available.
  • Nik filters played as actions do not work when the actions are called from the My Actions module. However, invoking Topaz filters from the My Actions module DOES work.
  • Actions that contain Adobe ExtendScript code cannot be run directly from the module. To play an action that contains ExtrendScript code it is necessary to first create a separate action on Photoshop’s action’s panel that plays the action with the ExtendScript code and then add this new action to the module’s actions list.

There is a lot of new code in TK8 version 1.2.2, and, as such, there may be additional problems that surface and additional updates might be needed to fix them. If you contact me when you see a problem, I can take a look and see if there is a workaround that can be implemented and will post new versions of TK8 if needed. Hold onto the email containing your download link as it will always allow you to get the latest version of the TK8 plugin.

A Shout-Out to Dave Kelly

Dave Kelly is well into his second year producing his weekly “TK Friday” videos for his YouTube channel, and I think it’s time to provide a well-deserved shout-out given the difference this series has made for me and other photographers.  Dave and I collaborate on these videos to some degree.  He sources the images and processes them using the TK8 plugin, and we then run through the various steps on a weekly Skype call.  I add a few suggestions here and there, but, for the most part, Dave is in charge of the content and decides how the image gets processed.  I’m just a consultant; Dave is the creator who makes it all happen.

I think of Tony as the scientist creating something new and I think of you as the engineer showing us how to use this new creation. Always learning something new from you, Dave.

–David Bee

At its core, the TK8 plugin is a collection of Photoshop techniques useful for processing images, and it’s not limited to just luminosity masks.  It’s sort of like the letters of the alphabet.  Users can apply the techniques in whatever order suits their needs to develop an image in the same way the letters of the alphabet can be arranged to create a useful vocabulary.  In this analogy, the TK8 plugin is an alphabet of processing techniques and the resultant vocabulary is creativity.  After over a year of recording content based on the TK panel, I think it’s fair to say that Dave Kelly is an accomplished TK8 “wordsmith.”

This edit was fantastic! I followed it to the end, and it convinces me that the TK8 panel is such a powerful tool where the possibilities are endless. Your explanations are so easy to follow. Thanks again, Dave.

Jose A De Leon

However, it wasn’t always this way.  In the early days of the “TK Friday” series, I could tell Dave was still working to learn what the TK panel could do.  Still, it was obvious from the start that he was 1) good at figuring things out, and 2) was able to share what he learned with others.  It didn’t take long before Dave started challenging my own concept of what TK8 could do.  He was employing the masks in ways I had not envisioned.  He started using color grading and the mask calculator more effectively than I had.  He questioned whether the plugin could do a new task, and I had to think of a way to accomplish it.  He pioneered using Photoshop tools in combination with the plugin and found new uses for several of the panel’s functions.  Dave’s relentless experimentation has helped even me to better appreciate the potential and possibilities that TK8 has to offer. 

How you figure out the amazing techniques you demonstrate is beyond me. Very impressive and very creative. I learn so much from you. Because I faithfully watch all your videos, my post processing skills have greatly improved. Thanks, Dave!

Stephen Ehrlich

Not surprisingly, the way I process images has improved because of this series.  Seeing someone else use TK8 has always been educational for me.  Seeing someone use it every week is an absolute gift.  I’m able to see the panel through the eyes of an experienced user and learn to use it better myself.  “What would Dave do?” is a question I now ask myself when I get stuck developing an image.  It usually provides an idea of something to try that often works.

Your knowledge and enthusiasm are always motivating and enjoyable. I’m off to try some new and fun techniques!

Hali Sowle

It’s also worth mentioning that while Dave Kelly has undoubtedly influenced many photographers using the TK8 plugin, he has likely influenced the plugin itself even more.  His in-depth use has uncovered several bugs I missed when writing the original code.  He’s also shown me better ways to execute several of the actions to make the panel easier to use.  All updates issued since TK8 was released last September have contained things Dave Kelly helped correct and improve.  And, going forward, I’m looking to incorporate several features that Dave has suggested.  So, while I love learning new ways to use TK8 from Dave, I’m even more excited by how he’s helping to drive its development.  My images are getting better, and TK8 is getting better as well.

Like you, I enjoy going back to older images and reprocessing them based on my new understanding of post-processing via TK-8 panels.

Keith Pinn

I hope you’ll take time to watch some of Dave Kelly’s TK8 videos and perhaps subscribe to his channel.  He has an excellent eye for knowing what can be improved in an image and is also very good at finding ways to use Photoshop and the TK8 plugin to fix problems.  The images he works on contain a variety of subjects.  Watching him work convinces me to NOT give up on my marginal images, and indeed, I’ve resurrected several by applying a Dave-Kelly mindset as I develop them.  I have a feeling I’m not alone in this regard.   Dave has shown a lot of photographers what’s possible with TK8.

This is Dave Kelly’s latest video from the “TK Friday” series. It provides an excellent review of TK8 techniques Dave incorporates into many images as well as new techniques and new ways to use the TK8 plugin.