TKActions V6 and Photoshop CC 2019

I’ve been testing the TKActions V6 panel with the newly released Photoshop CC 2019 on both Mac and Windows computers and everything seems to be working properly. There aren’t any major issues associated with the panel as far as I can tell. However, with every new version of Photoshop some users experience problems and there are almost always new bugs in Photoshop itself. These issues are usually NOT due to the V6 panel, though they can affect its performance. I’ll review a couple of situations below that have been brought to my attention.

Lightroom-to-Photoshop issue (Windows-only)

As some of you might be aware, Photoshop CC 2019 has a major bug. When you open Photoshop by opening an image directly from Lightroom, many functions are grayed-out on the Photoshop menus. This problem appears to be a Windows-only bug. This Photoshop thread discusses it and has an official Adobe recommended workaround. Basically, Windows users need to open Photoshop CC BEFORE opening images from Lightroom. Doing this makes all the functions in the Photoshop menus appropriately available. The V6 panel runs some of these standard Photoshop functions as part of the steps programmed into the panel’s actions. So launching Photoshop CC first insures that these functions are available and can be accessed by the panel.

UPDATE: I have been informed that this problem can also occur when opening an image from Bridge or ACR. So, again, if you’re on Windows and have this problem, it’s important to make sure Photoshop CC is open BEFORE opening images from Lightroom, Bridge, or Adobe Camera Raw. As I mention in the comments below, here’s a test to see if your panel is working properly:

  1. Reboot your computer.
  2. Open Photoshop CC directly from its launch icon on your computer. Do NOT open PS CC by opening an image from Lightroom, Bridge, or ACR. Have Photoshop CC open BEFORE opening any image.
  3. Now open an image (by whichever method you prefer).
  4. Try using the panel.

The panel should now work normally and will demonstrate that this an Adobe bug and not an issue with the panel itself.

Modules missing from workspace

When you install a new version of Photoshop CC, the workspace preferences from the old version usually transfer to the new version including the V6 modules you had open and their placement in your workspace. Unfortunately, sometimes this does not happen and it will look like the V6 modules disappeared and need to be reinstalled. However, re-installation is seldom necessary. Instead, first click the Workspace menu in the upper right corner of Photoshop (red box below) and see if your last workspace is listed there. If it is, click it and it might restore your last workspace including the V6 modules.

workspace menu button

If that doesn’t work, go to the Window > Extensions menu in Photoshop and click each of the modules you want to open.

Windows - Extensions menu

You might need to reconfigure the modules into your preferred arrangement using the information in Sean Bagshaw’s video.

If there are no modules listed under Windows > Extensions, you can check your installation by looking for the installation folders in the “extensions” folder in the following path:

MAC:  Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Adobe > CEP > extensions

Windows:  Computer > C: > Program Files (x86) > Common Files > Adobe > CEP > extensions

This installation path has worked since Photoshop CC 2014 and is correct for Photoshop CC 2019 also. If your V6 modules were installed correctly in CC 2018, then it’s quite likely they’re properly installed in CC 2019 as well, but it’s always a good idea to check. The installation folders have the following names:

com.tk.batchvsix
com.tk.combovsix
com.tk.cxvsix
com.tk.rmtwovsix

If you don’t see these folders in the “extensions” folder, double-check that you have the correct installation path to the “extensions” folder. It’s unusual that the folders would be removed simply by installing the new version of Photoshop CC. If you’re sure the installation folders are missing, contact me and I’ll reactivate your download link.

If you see the installation folders in your “extensions” folder, then your V6 panel is properly installed and will show up in the Window > Extension menu of Photoshop CC if your application is working properly. If you don’t see the modules listed in the Windows > Extensions menu, reboot your computer and check again. That’s always something worth doing when things aren’t working properly.

Another thing to check if the modules don’t show up under Window > Extensions in Photoshop is the preferences. Go to the Preferences > Plug-ins menu and make sure that “Load Extensions Panels” checkbox is checked. This has been a problem for a couple of people. The checkbox needs to be checked in order for panels like TKActions V6 to show up in the Window > Extensions menu.

load extension panels preferences

Corrupted preferences

While the two problems listed above have occurred for a few users, there are also occasionally really weird problems that only happen for one user and can’t be replicated. This is often a sign of corrupted Photoshop preferences files and the only solution is to reset them. This Adobe video shows how to do that. But feel free to check with me first to make sure that I’ve not seen the problem before and have a different recommendation.

In a few cases where the above solutions don’t work, uninstalling and reinstalling PS CC is necessary, but that’s rare. Always try rebooting the computer before reinstalling Photoshop as some odd problems can occasionally be solved with a reboot.

Please contact me if you notice other problems with the V6 panel and Photoshop CC 2019. My sense is that CC 2019 is quite buggy yet, so there may be other issues yet to be discovered. If I can replicate the problem, I’m usually able to fix it or recommend a workaround.

If I hear of other problems with Photoshop that are regularly affecting the panel, I’ll post additional information on this blog. At this time, though, the V6 panel works fine in Photoshop CC 2019 and is available to make luminosity masks when you need them.

TK Actions Quick Tip: Developing a quality night sky

Sean Bagshaw’s YouTube channel has another great workflow video using the TKActions V6 panel. This one covers developing the Milky Way in a night sky image. He starts in Light Room with what appears to be a somewhat unremarkable image of the Milky Way, but with a few quick adjustments uncovers the potential hiding in the dark tones. I liked the Light Room techniques for adjusting the colors in the RAW file and the way the blue fringe around the stars can be removed.

The really good stuff happens when the image is opened in Photoshop as a smart object. Sean selects the Blue channel mask to better target the Milky Way (compared with a standard luminosity mask). He then uses classic luminosity painting to create more dramatic contrast. This involves loading Light and Dark masks as selections and painting white and black through these selections to selectively change image brightness. It’s quick and easy since the selection guides the paint to where it’s needed.

For noise reduction, Sean uses the TKActions V6 panel to duplicate the smart object so the noise reduction can be done on a separate layer and later filtered into the image through a luminosity mask. Using the V6 to duplicate smart objects has the advantage of unlinking the duplicate smart object from the original smart object. This is important since Sean reopens the duplicate smart object in Adobe Camera Raw and is able to perform significant noise reduction on it without affecting the original smart object. If the original and duplicate smart objects had not been unlinked, both the original and the duplicate would have been affected the same by the noise reduction in ACR. Instead, by creating an unlinked smart object first, strong noise reduction can be applied to the duplicate smart object to the point of blurring the stars. A luminosity layer mask can then be applied that reveals the noise reduction in the dark areas of this layer while simultaneously preserving the sharp detail of the individual stars from the original conversion. It’s a bit hard to describe in words, but watching Sean do this in the video will make it crystal clear.

The final technique is to make the stars even sharper using the “Clarity” action in the V6 panel, again combined with a Blue channel luminosity mask as a layer mask. This is a subtle change but the type of one that makes the final image look its best.

The video is just over 21 minutes long, but it seems much shorter. Sean covers a lot of territory with a several really useful techniques facilitated by the V6 panel. The change is quite dramatic and shows what’s possible even when the original RAW file looks marginal. If you’re already doing Milky Way photography or thinking of trying it, this video will give you confidence that you can indeed create a stellar image.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Quick Tip: Developing a quality night sky
Quick Tip: Split toning
Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features

The V6 RapidMask2 Module: Any mask, any time

I recently completed an updated video (below) on using the V6 RapidMask2 module. This module is at the heart of the TKActions V6 panel and was designed to be a mask-making juggernaut. Its evolution can be traced to the original luminosity mask concepts, but it’s moved far beyond the confines of those earlier techniques. One compact module can now make any pixel-based mask with just a few mouse clicks. Color, channel, saturation, and vibrance masks are as easily generated with RapidMask2 as standard luminosity masks. The built-in Rapid Mask engine quickly turns pixel values into masks, and these masks are viewed on-screen at near real-time speeds so it’s easy to experiment with different masks and find the best one.

It’s worth noting that all RapidMask2 masks are created using calculations, which provide the smoothest masks of any method to generate them. I experimented with a Curves adjustment layer for generating masks and even created a prototype panel using this method. However, I abandoned Curves when I saw the obvious tonal separation for tones with low pixel density in the image histogram. Calculated masks in RapidMask2 automatically adjust to match pixel density in selected tones by varying mask brightness. This isn’t possible when a static Curves adjustment creates the mask. So I’ve stuck with calculations for making masks in RapidMask2 and am confident it produces the best possible masks.

These calculations also completely avoid 8-bit selections as masks are generated and deployed. While I previously described the calculations process for making 16-bit masks and built it into the Rapid Mask engine, the reality is that calculations always make masks that match the bit depth of the image. Even 32-bit masks are possible with Rapidmask2 if you’re using the 32-bit mode in Photoshop.

The video below walks you through the workflow for using RapidMask2 to create and use pixel-based masks. It’s basically a four-step process:

  1. Choose a data source (luminance/color/saturation/etc) in the SOURCE section.
  2. Click different masks in the MASK section to find the best one.
  3. Optionally adjust the mask using the MODIFY section.
  4. Deploy the mask using the OUTPUT section.

This video will show you that it’s actually quite easy to make and use pixel-based masks once you have a panel that does most of the work.

More information on using RapidMask2 and the other V6 modules can be found in Sean Bagshaw’s V6 Video Guide series on the Panels & Videos page.

Monochrome 2: Toning with TKActions V6

The first article in this monochrome series dealt with using the TKActions V6 panel to convert color images to black-and-white. This second article looks at another important aspect of monochrome images: toning. Proper toning can enhance the mood of the image. Warm-tones, like sepia, impart a vintage look, while cooler tones communicate a more modern feel. There are a variety of different ways Photoshop can be used for toning. The Solid Color and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers when combined with luminosity masks are two of my favorite methods. The video at the bottom demonstrates both techniques.

Toning Theory

Historically, toning in the darkroom was a secondary development process. After the initial development to reveal the latent image on the exposed paper, the print was immersed in another solution that would chemically react with the silver in the print to produce the toning color. The areas of the image that had more silver (the dark areas) would react more strongly with the toner. Areas with less silver (the light areas) reacted less. This is an important distinction. The entire print did NOT receive equal amounts of toning. Dark areas received more and light areas received less. Visually, this meant that light areas of the image would still retain much of their original whiteness and didn’t change color dramatically in the toner. Very dark grays and pure black toned the most, but a dark shade of any color is hard to distinguish from black, so the color change wasn’t necessarily all that visible in very dark gray and black tones of the image either. However, as the grays in the image got a little lighter and on into the midtones, the toning color became much more obvious in the print. Grays in this range showed a definite color change, but still in proportion to the amount of silver in the print. A Zone 4 gray, for example, would show more intense color than a Zone 6 gray, and this was important to maintaining the tonal separation that created the image in the first place.

untoned image

toned image

This concept of applying toning to the silver-rich areas of a monochrome image (the dark areas) is where luminosity masks really come in handy. The Darks-series masks do exactly this. They select dark tones in the image in proportion to how dark the tone is. The darker the tone, the more it is selected. Using Darks-series masks as part of the digital toning process simulates what happens chemically in the darkroom. However, I’ve also found Midtones-sereies masks quite useful for digital toning. Since the midtones are often where toning is most obvious in chemically-toned prints, using them in digital toning also makes sense, and the results often look good. Which mask works best depends on the image. It’s helpful to try several different luminosity masks to find the best one. One more corollary to all this is that the best monochrome images for toning generally have some good gray midtones. Images with strong contrast where most tones approach black and white won’t show the toning color as well as images that have a lot of gray midtone values.

Toning vs. Tinting

As described above, toning was a chemical process that was strongest in the silver-rich parts of monochrome images. The effect is generally most obvious in the dark and midtone grays. The whites are largely unaffected due to their lack of precipitated silver. Tinting, on the other hand, can be thought of as a staining process that affects the entire image, not specific tones. With tinting, it’s the print substrate (the paper or emulsion) that is experiencing the color change. The midtone grays will still exhibit the color change, but so will the image’s whites. Both toning and tinting are ways to add color to the monochrome image, and in the digital darkroom, it’s possible to specifically target light tones as well as the darks and midtones. So in the digital realm, the distinction between toning and tinting is a bit less clear as it was in the traditional darkroom. One distinguishing characteristic is whether the color is applied uniformly across the image (tinting) or whether it’s restricted to specific tones (toning). The Photo Filter adjustment layer, for example, tends to be more of a tinting technique since it’s applied evenly across most tones in the image. For toning, Solid Color and Hue/Saturation adjustments tend to work best. The left image below shows toning accomplished with a Hue/Sat adjustment layer and a luminosity mask. The image on the right is a tinted image made with a Photo Filter adjustment layer.

tone vs. tint

Additionally, toning should be proportional within the selected tones where it is applied. The more selected tones should exhibit the most color change which then tapers off in tones that are less selected. Again, this is where luminosity masks really shine as they are able to isolate the color to specific tones in the image and in proportion to how much each tone is selected.

“Color” Blend Mode

Using the “Color” blending mode for the adjustment layer that adds the toning color is an additional technique that makes digital toning work well. It’s actually essential when using a Solid Color adjustment layer for toning, where it makes for a very nice toning effect when combined with a luminosity mask. It also provides a bit of a contrast boost when a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer is used for toning, so it’s definitely worth trying.

Summary: Toning is a way to add color and mood to black and white images. Solid Color and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers in combination with luminosity masks are a great way to digitally tone photographs that mimic the traditional darkroom process.

The video below demonstrates two good methods for using luminosity masks and adjustment layers to make digital toning easy and natural-looking with plenty of options for customizing the effect. If you want to practice along with the video, jpeg versions of images can be downloaded here.

NOTE: With the release of CC 2019 in October 2018, there is a blending mode bug on Windows computers. It can cause the wrong toning colors to appear and can also cause PS to crash. The workaround to fix this is to go to Preferences > Performance and make sure there is a check mark in the checkbox for “Legacy Compositing.” This post has more information about this bug and its current status.

Monochrome 1: Black and white conversions with TKActions V6

Monochrome is at the heart of the photography. Early photographs had one color, black (from precipitated silver), and, in combination with a lighter printing substrate (a copper plate initially, but eventually paper), created the classic black and white look that was the signature of photography. Monochrome images have evolved significantly since their origin in the 1800s, but they’re still widely appreciated and are a great way to interpret and view the light captured by a camera.

Masks in Photoshop are monochrome (black, white, and gray) by default. Luminosity masks opened the door to pixel-based masks where the monochrome tones in the mask have a direct correlation to the underlying luminance values in the image. Luminosity masks are not blobs of paint applied with a paintbrush run by a mouse. Their pixel-based nature means that the image itself can always be seen in the mask, at least to some degree. So there’s a definite connection between a luminosity mask and the image. And once you start working with luminosity masks, it’s hard not to notice that some of them could make good black and white images on their own.

As I coded the TKActions V5 and V6 panels, I made sure to include the option of utilizing masks as actual images. You never know when a surprisingly good mask (or at least interesting one) might show up, and only then realize that a monochrome interpretation of the image might be worth exploring. The V6 panel makes this easy to do with dedicated output options that preserve promising masks. The panel essentially functions as a color to black and white converter in this situation. While this isn’t the primary use of either luminosity masks or the panel, it does provide a convenient method to start experimenting with monochrome since the RapidMask2 module can quickly generate so many different masks. This article will focus on ways to use the luminosity masks generated by the V6 RapidMask2 module as the starting point for great black and white images.

Method #1: Mask To Pixels

The “Layer” button of the RapidMask2 module has a menu item for creating a pixel layer from the Rapid Mask. It’s called “Mask To Pixels” and is a direct 16-bit conversion from Rapid Mask to pixel layer in RGB Color mode. No image quality is lost in the process. The 16-bit pixel layer is an exact duplicate of the 16-bit Rapid Mask since there is no intervening 8-bit selection involved.

Mask To Pixels menu option

If the intention is to purposely convert the image to monochrome using the RapidMask2 module, it’s usually best to start with one of the “Lights” masks. Then you can optionally use the MODIFY section to further adjust the mask in order to optimize it before triggering the pixel layer output. In the cactus blossom image below, a Lights-1 mask was modified with a Levels adjustment to produce the final conversion.

lights mask to black and white

Alternate Method #1: Start with zone masks
One rather interesting way to use the “Mask To Pixels” option is with Zone masks. Zone masks are narrow slices of the tonal spectrum, but they’re still monochrome, and they are calculated to have smooth blending into adjacent tones. So there is a smooth tonal gradation as they transition from lighter grays of selected pixels to dark grays and eventually to black for unselected pixels. For simple compositions, like the cactus blossom shown here, try different zone masks or combinations of zone masks. Then use the “Auto” button in the MODIFY section of the RapidMask2 module to normalize the mask so that it has a full tonal spectrum from black to white. This can lead to some slightly more abstract but appealing black and white images. The strong contrast of the “Auto” command creates a wonderful silvery quality in the narrow range of tones selected by Zone masks. This shiny effect is difficult to achieve when working with images with a wide range of tones, but when working with a narrow slice of tones, it happens quite easily. For the conversion below, I added a Zone-7 and Zone-7½ mask together, modified the result with a Levels adjustment, and then used the “Auto” option on the result to obtain the silvery shimmer in the flower.

zone masks to black and white

Method #2: SOURCE > Color > Create

The “Create” option in the “Color” menu was intended as an easy way to make individual colors either lighter or dark in the mask that was being created.

color-create menu

The set-up for doing this requires a few different layers on the Layers panel. This set of layers also easily lends itself for converting images to black and white. So this “Create” option can serve a dual purpose. It can be used to create a Rapid Mask, which is output using the “Rapid Mask” button on the panel, or it can be used to convert an image to monochrome, in which case the correct output choice is the “B&W” button.

black and white button

The “B&W” option keeps the layers used to create the mask intact and simply renames the group that contains them. This provides a completely non-destructive way to do the conversion. At any future time, it’s possible to tweak the conversion by returning to these layers and making additional adjustments.

black and white conversion layers

Below is a color image and its black and white conversion using the Color > Create option.

color image
black and white image

Summary: Luminosity masks, because they are based on pixel-level data, embed the actual image in some manner in the mask. And because masks are always monochrome, luminosity masks have the potential to be a conversion tool for creating black and white images from color files. The TKActions V6 panel includes dedicated output options (“Mask To Pixels” and Color > Create) for using luminosity masks as actual black and white images. The video below demonstrates these techniques.

NOTE: Converting a color image to monochrome is usually not the same as actually finishing it. After converting to monochrome, most images will still require additional processing to achieve their best potential as a black and white photograph.

TK Actions Quick Tip: Split toning

Sean Bagshaw posted another great Quick Tip video on his YouTube channel. Split toning is the topic this time and the new video shows how to customize the technique using luminosity masks. It goes well beyond the split toning capabilities of Light Room and highlights how the TKActions V6 panel and Photoshop provide a more refined approach to this process. Sean covers a lot of territory in this one. Here are some key steps to watch for in the video below:

  1. Separately tone two copies of the same image in Light Room/ACR−one warm, one cool.
  2. Open them as smart objects in Photoshop and stack them as one document.
  3. Use Layer Mask Mode in the V6 panel to make a luminosity layer mask for one of the images that correctly reveals the desired toning in that image.
  4. Modify the layer mask using things like a Curves adjustment and the Paint Brush tool.
  5. Use the smart objects to take the images back to LR/ACR to enhance the effect as needed.
  6. Fine-tune the split toning even more in Photoshop by adding adjustment layers specific to each images’ toning.

There’s an incredible amount of control possible with the steps Sean demonstrates here. I was impressed how the whole mood of the image changed as a result of the split toning process. The sun was above the background mountains in the original image, but not low enough to be casting a lot of warm light into the scene. However, with split toning, Sean essentially took this light and created an image that in the end has a strong golden hour feel to it, even creating some warm backlighting for the trees on the ridge. It’s a very pleasing transformation. I’m sure you’ll enjoy seeing how Sean does this.

Quick Tip: Split toning
Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features
Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more tips on photography and post-processing.

TKActions Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting

Sean Bagshaw’s back and he’s posted another great Photoshop tip, this time on creating dramatic skies. He calls the technique “cloud sculpting” since its net effect is to bring improved texture and contrast in cloudy skies. Basically, it involves luminosity painting (painting through luminosity selections) to burn the darker parts of the clouds darker and to dodge the lighter parts lighter. The process is done on burn/dodge layers in order to non-destructively use black and white paint to accomplish this. Painting black through a “Darks” luminosity mask to darken and painting white through a “Lights” luminosity mask to lighten guarantees improved contrast since the further tones are from middle gray, the more paint they receive during luminosity painting. It’s just necessary to choose a luminosity mask that properly targets either the light or dark tones in the image.

Sean makes quick work of the image he demonstrates in the vid, but I took my time trying this as I definitely wanted to get a feel for how it worked and experiment with some variations. Below is the result of my first effort for an image I’m currently working on. You can roll the mouse over the image to see where I started from before employing this technique. NOTE: The image and the rollover might not be visible on the email feed. You may need visit the blog site if you want to see both images.

I had already worked to get a lot of drama in the storm cloud in my initial version, but cloud sculpting seemed to offer the promise of making it even better . . . and it did! There is certainly a better sense of the lightning lighting the cloud internally after cloud sculpting. I also learned a few things along the way.

  1. Zone masks are worth a try. I used “Zone” masks selected with the “Pick” button along with a higher opacity brush for burning (instead of “Darks” masks) and felt it gave me good control. I used a “Lights -3” for dodging, and that seemed to work well for me.
  2. Don’t modify the masks. While it may be tempting to modify the mask to make it more specific for either light or dark areas, clouds have a lot of softness that needs to be maintained. The straight masks generally will do a good job of keeping the clouds properly soft since they’re perfectly feathered based on the underlying tones in the image. So just try this technique first with a straight Lights, Darks, or Zone mask and don’t crank up the mask contrast before turning the mask into a selection.
  3. Smaller brushes can really target the effect. Sean used a large brush in the vid, but adding successive brushstrokes using a smaller brush worked best for me. That’s possibly because I was already working with a developed image and really wanted to “sculpt using a finer chisel.” It might make sense to start with a big brush but then decrease the size as the sculpting takes shape. The small brush also offered finer control than I could have ever achieved with an adjustment layer.

I was pleasantly surprised at what I was able to pull out of these clouds once I got started. Definitely a fun technique and worth a try.

Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features
Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more tips on photography and post-processing.