Infinity Color Masks: A closer look

First off, a big THANK YOU for the positive feedback on the new infinity color masks. They seem to have resonated with a large number of photographers. Also a big thanks for the questions that were sent. I can see there is some interest in better understanding these masks and how they work. In this blog, I’ll look at three sample images using well defined colors to explain what’s going on when you make an infinity color mask. NOTE: This gets a bit technical, so I put the main points in bold-face type if you want to just skim through.

Color is defined by three values: Hue, Saturation, and Brightness, which are the three values in the HSB color model, and all three can be extracted using Photoshop’s Color Picker. All three are also part of an infinity color mask. The initial Color Picker selection extracts the Hue from the sampled area and this Hue is the foundation around which the mask is built. The gray values in the mask are then determined using the Saturation and the Brightness of pixels that match the chosen Hue. That’s the basic idea of how an infinity color mask is made.

Of course, the actual infinity color mask provides additional options. For example, it’s not limited to a single Hue value but instead creates a mask that encompasses a range of similar hues around the sampled Hue, and there is also a hue-based transition zone from the defined Hue range into nearby hues. Additionally, I’ve cranked up the mask’s lightness since most “normal” photographs produce relatively dark infinity color masks that would be hard to evaluate on-screen. But the exaggerated lightness adjustment does not affect the relative lightness within the Hue range being selected by the mask, except for unusually saturated colors, in which case the mask’s overall lightness can easily be turned down to properly restore the relative pixel lightness. In all cases, though, the infinity color mask is constantly and accurately adjusting with each image to take Hue, Saturation, and Brightness into account for what was sampled from the image.

In the first example below there are three different blue colors−a light (but unsaturated) blue on the left, a darker (and more saturated) blue in the middle, and a lighter blue on the right (with the same Saturation as the middle square). These colors differ only in Saturation and Brightness. They are all the same Hue: Hue = 206 degrees in the Adobe RGB color space. That means that no matter which color square is sampled to make an infinity color mask, the initial mask will be the same. Hue is the foundation for infinity color masks, and since the Hue is identical in all three color samples here, they all produce exactly the same mask when sampled, and this mask is shown directly below the image.

blue-example

The gray values in the mask are determined by the Saturation and Brightness of the colors that share the sampled Hue. The lightness of the grays in the mask varies depending on the Saturation and Brightness of the underlying color.

I’ve listed the pixel-based Hue, Saturation, and Brightness values for each color. Without going into the math, a color needs to have both Saturation and Brightness values greater than zero to show up as a gray tone in the mask. When two colors share the same Hue and Saturation value (second and third squares in the image), the different Brightness values determines the level of gray in the mask. When two colors share the same Hue and Brightness values (first and third squares in the image), Saturation determines the level of gray in the mask.

The lesson from this example is this: Hue is the foundation for all infinity color masks. These masks can’t exclude colors that match the chosen hue and sampling different colors that have the same Hue (but differ in Saturation and Brightness) results in identical masks. I specifically chose blue for this example since some photographers have been asking about using infinity color masks to select one shade of blue from a sky that is all blue. That’s probably not going to work too well. Remember that all three blue colors in this example have the same Hue and the Hue value is the foundation around which the infinity color mask is constructed. So you’ll get the same infinity color mask regardless of which color is sampled in this image to create the mask. In addition, because these colors share the same Hue value, you won’t be able to use the infinity color mask control window on the RapidMask module (shown below for this example) to alter the mask in a meaningful way. Neither the color range nor feathering sliders will make any difference in this example since all the colors are the same Hue. Bottom line here is that an infinity color mask is great at selecting a blue sky and displaying all the Brightness and Saturation nuances in that sky, but not good for selecting a specific shade of blue from that sky. NOTE: For slightly different hues you can try narrowing the hue range and feathering using the controls on the module (see next example), but for substantially similar Hue values, like in many skies, it might not be possible to successfully select a specific shade of blue exclusively.

blue-example

This next example was sent to me by a photographer who was trying to create a mask that selected a somewhat unsaturated orange element in his image that was sandwiched between highly saturated red and yellow elements. The image below isn’t the actual image but represents the situation. Below the image is the mask that is created when sampling the middle tan color, which is actually a desaturated orange color with a Hue value of 30 degrees.

blue-example

The mask generated shows a gray value for the middle square in line with the Saturation and Brightness of the sampled tan color with a Hue of 30 degrees. However, the transition zone colors for orange, red (Hue = 0 degrees) and yellow (Hue = 60 degrees), are much more saturated and brighter than the sampled color. Since red and yellow are in the initial transition zone for this tan color when it’s sampled and, because they have such higher Saturation and Brightness than the sampled color itself, they end up brighter than the sampled color in the mask.

Unlike the blues in the previous example, this is a situation that infinity color masks can handle. Because there are different Hue values for the three colors, the color range and/or the hue-based feathering can be contracted using the infinity color mask control window to exclude the adjacent hues, even though they are much more highly saturated. In this case I collapsed the color range to its smallest width and nudged the feathering slider just a bit to the left as shown in the image below.

blue-example

After I did this, the infinity color mask preview looks like the image below.

blue-example

The gray value of the unsaturated orange sample has not changed, but the red and yellow transition colors are now properly excluded from the mask. And even though the sampled color isn’t white in the mask, it’s still light enough to be useful for revealing an adjustment in this image. NOTE: The gray in the mask could be made even lighter using the MODIFY section of the TK7 RapidMask module.

There are two lessons from this example:

1) To make a good infinity color mask, sample a good color. And by “good color,” I mean one with a decent amount of saturation. The tan color in this example is a desaturated orange. It will never be pure white in an infinity color mask, but can still make a useful mask. As colors increase in saturation they get lighter in the mask (like the red and yellow here), and it’s generally easy to look at an image and identify which colors are saturated and which are unsaturated. A good rule to follow if you plan to use an infinity color mask is to sample colorful pixels. Black, white, and gray are “colors” with 0% Saturation. They always render as pure black in an infinity color mask, and colors approaching black, white, and gray will be very dark gray in the mask. So if you want to make good infinity color mask with plenty of light gray values indicating selected pixels, be sure to sample colorful colors.

2) The color you sample in your image will NOT necessarily be white in an infinity color mask. It might be white if it has enough underlying Saturation and Brightness, but the sampled color might also be a shade of gray in the mask, like it is here, when Saturation and Brightness are lower. And that’s OK in many cases. The mask is still properly displaying the pixel-based values for the selected color in your image, and the gray values in masks insure seamless blending when the mask controls how an adjustment gets applied to the image.

The final example image below has two unsaturated colors, dark gray and light gray, and a saturated red. The mask underneath the image shows what I got when I clicked on either of the gray squares to sample for an infinity color mask. Can you explain this?

blue-example

The two gray samples, lacking any saturation, should be black in the infinity color mask, and they are. But why is the red color square white in the mask if I sampled a gray color to make the mask?

The answer lies in the Color Picker when I sampled the gray color from my image. It’s shown below with the arrow pointing to the spot on the Color Picker chosen when I sampled the light gray square.

blue-example

Even though the sampled color has 0% Saturation (it’s a light gray and S = 0% in the Color Picker), Photoshop still requires every sampled color to have Hue, Saturation, and Brightness values in the Color Picker window. When the Color Picker opened, the Hue was set at its default value of 0 degrees. IMPORTANT NOTE: A Hue value of zero does NOT mean there is no hue. It means that the Hue is set to a value of “0 degrees,” which corresponds to the color red. Remember, infinity color masks always use the Hue of the sampled color as the foundation for building the mask, and, in this case, that Hue happened to be red (0 degrees). So for my image of two gray squares and a red one, the red square matches the sampled Hue, and because it is also bright and saturated, it ended up white in the infinity color mask of this image.

There are a couple of lessons here also:

1) The first is one I’ve already mentioned. Colors with zero Saturation (white, gray, or black) are always black in an infinity color mask. You cannot select colorless colors and expect them to be white or even gray with this type of color mask. Both Saturation and Brightness need to be greater than 0% to show any degree of selection in an infinity color mask.

2) The second one is that if a neutral color (white, gray, or black) is sampled to make an infinity color mask, the Hue that shows in the Color Picker will be the foundation around which the mask is built. If there are any colors in the image that are within range of that Hue, they will be selected in the resulting mask. This often comes as a surprise the first time occurs, but hopefully it now makes sense why this might happen.

Conclusion: Infinity color masks are a great way to generate masks using pixel-based Hue as the foundation. Colors with similar Hue value will all be selected by the mask. The other two components of color, Brightness and Saturation, determine the final mask. Bright and saturated colors will be lighter shades of gray or even white in the mask. Dark and unsaturated colors will be dark gray or black in the mask. Remember, infinity “color” masks are selecting COLOR. Objects without much color (unsaturated colors) will always be dark in an infinity color mask. So bright, saturated colors are what can be best selected with these masks. Or, to put it another way, a “color” mask is a poor choice for trying to select parts of an image without color. If you have a dark element or dark area in your image, or an unsaturated color, and need to select it, use a luminosity mask or a saturation mask. These types of masks are better at selecting pixels based on Brightness and Saturation.

OK, I know that’s a lot to absorb, but there’s quite a bit happening in the background when the TK7 panel makes an infinity color mask. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions.

TK Quick Tip: Mask-the-Rapid-Mask

In the video below, Sean Bagshaw reviews the new blur features in the Mask-the-Rapid-Mask option in the MODIFY section of the TK7 RapidMask module. This addition is a request I received from a users who wanted more control over this process. Mask-the-Rapid-Mask lets you localize the effect a luminosity mask has on an image while the mask is being created.

The Lasso tool is a common starting point for choosing the specific parts of the image where you want the luminosity mask adjustment applied. In order to avoid a hard edge to the selection (that might be visible in the image), the Mask-the-Rapid-Mask action now opens the Feather Selection dialog. The panel calculates a generous feather radius based on the size of the image, but users are given the chance to adjust this. Unfortunately, Photoshop doesn’t preview feathering, so you might want to experiment when you start using this feature to get a sense as to whether you prefer more or less feathering than is suggested. Clicking “OK” in the Feather Selection window completes the action and applies the selection as a mask to the Rapid Mask.

At other times, users already have a dedicated selection they want to use and would prefer no feathering at all. The action also accommodates this. Simply click the “Cancel” button in the Feather Selection dialog and the selection mask is applied with no additional feathering.

Sean covers both possibilities in his video.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Mask-the-Rapid-Mask modification
“My Channels” masks
Infinity color masks
Linked vs. unlinked smart objects
Three ways to use Levels and Curves
Reusing saved luminosity masks
Developing a quality night sky
Split toning
Cloud sculpting
Exposure blending

TK Quick Tip: “My Channels” masks

Sean Bashaw has another great quick tip on one of the new features in the TK7 RapidMask module. “My Channels” allows any selection, layer mask, or alpha channel to become a Rapid Mask. Previously, the RapidMask module only supported masks created by the module itself. Now, “My Channels” allows user-created masks and selections to be quickly brought into the Rapid Mask process. Once incorporated, they can serve as the starting point for making Lights, Darks, Midtone, and Zone masks. These personal masks can also be modified using the module’s MODIFY section, and output using any of the buttons in the OUTPUT section. So if you want to make a luminosity mask, color mask, saturation/vibrance mask, or use your own mask or selection, the TK7 RapidMask module now handles all these different options with ease.

To start using “My Channels” simply click the Channel > My Channels option in the SOURCE section of the updated RapidMask module.

3-D Color Model

Your document is scanned for available masks and selections and the results are displayed in a new window that appears on the module.

3-D Color Model

Then just click a button to turn that item into the new Rapid Mask. From there, all the other features in the RapidMask module, including the mask calculator, can be used with it.

“My Channels” means that ANY mask or selection can now power the Rapid Mask engine. Or, to put it another way, every mask and selection is now a Rapid Mask waiting to happen. Some wonderful new masking options are available as a result. Sean provides a good overview of what’s possible in the video below.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
“My Channels” masks
Infinity color masks
Linked vs. unlinked smart objects
Three ways to use Levels and Curves
Reusing saved luminosity masks
Developing a quality night sky
Split toning
Cloud sculpting
Exposure blending
Favorite new V6 features

Infinity color mask magic

As I was adding infinity color masks to the TK7 panel, Sean Bagshaw was busy recording his Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2 series. The download folder for that series contains lots of good color images, and I experimented with some to make sure the new infinity color masks offered something useful and unique for other people’s images, not just my own. They do, and I sent some quick edits to Sean to show him how I’d used the masks on his images.

Sean took these tests and incorporated them into the Quick Tip video below. And, not surprisingly, he’s gone well beyond my own attempts at using the masks and came up with some innovative ways to take infinity color masks to the next level.

This video is a little longer than the other Quick Tips, but it moves fast. Sean covers the basics of using infinity color masks and then demonstrates using them on six different images. Here are some things to pay close attention to as you watch the video:

  • Try to choose a color that actually has some decent color. Remember, these are color-based masks, and if you choose a weak color (low saturation), you’ll get a weak (dark) mask. When creating an infinity color mask, the Color Picker eyedropper extracts the hue value of the selected pixels to build the mask around. The saturation levels of that hue in the image then determines the brightness of the mask. This means that low-saturated colors will still be dark in the mask. So, as much as possible, click on colorful colors to make the best and brightest masks.
  • The initial mask preview is extremely accurate, but modification can sometimes create an even better mask. One of the great features with for infinity color masks is that you get to choose the color from the image and the mask is built around that selection. As such, the original mask preview is always on target, and in several of his examples, where this initial mask is essentially perfect, Sean just uses it as is to adjust the image. At other times, though, he first experiments with adjusting the color range or modifying the mask using the tools in the MODIFY section of the RapidMask module. MODIFY is especially helpful for darker masks where a less-saturated color was the target for generating the infinity color mask preview. The key to success in all cases is to start with a mask properly focused on a specific color selected from the image. And since this is the core process for generating an infinity color mask, the initial mask is always a great starting point. Once it’s available, there are lots of opportunities to customize the mask depending on what you’d like to do to your image.
  • Infinity color masks aren’t just for color adjustments. One of the things that really comes through in watching Sean work on these images is the variety of different techniques he employs. Infinity color masks are used to adjust color, saturation, brightness, and contrast. And he uses them with Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, Brightness/Contrast, and Solid Color adjustment layers to achieve the desired effect. This illustrates a good point, I think. To really get the most out of these infinity “color” masks it’s necessary to let go of the “color” concept and simply start seeing them as new precision masks for making targeted adjustments. Just like luminosity masks can be used to make adjustments other than brightness, infinity color masks aren’t restricted to adjusting color. When you start seeing these different types of pixel-based masks as a continuum of masking possibilities, the full power of what they can do really starts to take shape.

If you have Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2 video series, you might want to go into the practice images folder and follow along with what he’s doing here. Working along with Sean will help you see where and how you might be able to apply infinity color masks to your own images.

Finally, just a quick reminder that everything on my website’s Panels & Videos page, including the TK7 panel with infinity color masks and Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2, is 20% off through the month of September with the following discount code: Update20

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Infinity color masks
Linked vs. unlinked smart objects
Three ways to use Levels and Curves
Reusing saved luminosity masks
Developing a quality night sky
Split toning
Cloud sculpting
Exposure blending
Favorite new V6 features

TK7 Update: Infinity color masks and more

I’m happy to announce that the first update to the TK7 panel has just been released. If you already have TK7, check your email for a free download link. It was sent to the email address you used when purchasing. Be sure to check the spam/junk folder as in many cases it ends up there. Also, be sure to add the download server as a contact. That will insure you get these updates in your inbox. The download server’s address is: client@e-junkie.com

This is a really exciting update. It adds two new mask options to the RapidMask module: infinity color masks and “My Channels” masks. Infinity color masks are a huge step forward. They offer a novel way to generate masks based on ANY color found in the image. You’re no longer limited to Photoshop’s Color Range command (bad blending edges) or color sliders (R,G,B,C,M,Y) for making a color mask. You can now select a color directly from the image and the infinity color mask is constructed precisely around that selected hue. Pixel-based hue values are the foundation for these masks, and hue opens up an entirely new dimension for creating masks. It’s all 16-bit and it’s all pixel-based, so the blending through these new masks is awesome. Infinity color masks are essentially a Magic Wand tool for color. You’ll be amazed at what they can do.

The new “My Channels” option allows you to bring your own masks and selections into the Rapid Mask process. This means that user-generated masks can be easily combined with the module’s native luminosity, channel, color, and saturation masks to better target specific elements in the image. So the Rapid Mask engine can now be powered by ANY mask. There are no limits anymore. With “My Channels” every mask and selection is a Rapid Mask.

Infinity color masks and “My Channels” masks offer a significant expansion of the already considerable masking capability of the RapidMask module. There are also some minor updates in a couple of other RapidMask functions. The video below reviews everything in detail.

If you don’t have the TK7 panel yet, you can use the following discount code for 20% off the updated version and anything else on the Panels & Videos page through the end of September: Update20

Infinity color masks are the most significant new feature in this update and possibly best thing to happen to masking since I pioneered the now ubiquitous luminosity mask techniques in 2006. Luminosity masks are excellent if you’re trying to create selections based on pixel brightness, but not so good if your primary selection criterion is color. Completely different colors can have the same level of brightness, and luminosity masks can’t differentiate between them. Adobe’s Color Range command can be used as an alternative to select specific colors (and it’s the basis for the single-color selections in the RapidMask module), but the edges of Color Range selections aren’t very good. I frequently find it hard to get good blending using standard Color Range selections in many situations. That’s why I added the calculated Color Zones to the TK7 panel. Much better blending at the edges than Color Range masks, but they are still limited since there are just six Color Zone masks that can be calculated.

Infinity color masks completely eliminate both these shortcomings. They can be built around ANY color and the blending edges are excellent. In fact, you get to choose both the color AND the edge feathering as you create the mask. Infinity color masks add a whole new dimension to the masking experience because they indeed work in a completely different dimension in the 3-D color model compared to luminosity masks.

3-D Color Model

These new masks are dead-on accurate, have perfect blending edges, and are programmed with an amazing level of intuitive control so they are easily customized. They’re also true 16-bit masks (of course). No 8-bit selections are involved anywhere from creation through deployment. Infinity color masks are definitely better than luminosity masks when you need to make a color-based mask.

Once you install the update, to generate an infinity color mask, go to the SOURCE section of the TK7 RapidMask module and click the Color > Choose menu item.

Choose color option

This opens the Color Picker where you select a color from your image to build the mask around. The RapidMask module then calculates a starting mask and displays it on-screen while the new Infinity Color Mask control window opens on the RapidMask module.

Infinity Color Mask window

While infinite control is possible with these new color masks, you’ll likely find the initial mask generated from the Color Picker selection to be quite good. It properly isolates the selected color and provides the correct feathering for most adjustments and selections. Once you’re satisfied with the mask, clicking “OK” outputs it as a Rapid Mask and then all features in the MASK, MODIFY and OUTPUT sections of the RapidMask module can be used to adjust and deploy it. Infinity color masks are amazing and quite possibly the next masking revolution. They will quickly find a place in any workflow.

“My Channels” is another new masking option and it’s found at the bottom of the SOURCE > Channel menu.

My Channels option

This feature was recommended by another user and I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of it sooner as it makes perfect sense for a full-featured masking panel like the TK7 RapidMask module. However, the coding for it is somewhat complicated, so waiting this long has likely resulted in a better overall implementation.

Clicking “My Channels” scans the immediate document environment for user-created masks and selections. This includes:

  • User-created alpha channels on the Channels panel
  • The layer mask of the active layer on the Layers panel (if it has a layer mask)
  • An active selection (if one exists)

It then lists all these options as individual buttons in a new window on the RapidMask module.

My Channels list

Clicking one of these buttons turns that “channel” into the new Rapid Mask. From there, all the buttons in the MASK, MODIFY, and OUTPUT sections of the RapidMask module can be used with it. “My Channels” makes it possible to bring any masks you’ve created and/or saved into the Rapid Mask process, and this includes using them with the mask calculator. So the RapidMask module now not only works with the masks it generates, it also works with any of the user’s own personal masks and selections. This greatly expands the possibilities for making highly custom masks that combine pixel-based masks from the module with detailed masks of specific elements the user has already created. The video above explains how “My Channels” masks work.

In addition to the new mask options in this TK7 update, there are also a couple smaller changes. One that improves workflow efficiency is the new “I/M” buttons.

Image/Mask toggle button

These are simply single buttons that toggle between viewing the composite image and viewing the current mask. You don’t have to move your mouse between separate “Image” and “Mask” buttons anymore to do this. You can just keep your mouse in one place and click repeatedly to check your mask against the actual image. The new I/M buttons are available in the main Rapid Mask interface (above), in Layer Mask mode, and in the new infinity color mask control window.

The last update is the addition of a “Feather Selection” step in the Mask-the-Rapid-Mask MODIFY option.

Image/mask-the-rapid-mask

The action now stops with a suggested feather pixel radius for the masking that will be applied with the user’s active selection.

Feather option

This feather selection blurs the edges of the selection mask to help insure smooth blending. In the original version of the TK7 RapidMask module, this automatically occurred using a calculation based on the size of the image. Some users preferred a different amount of feathering or none at all. To accommodate the different possibilities, the action now stops and lists the calculated pixel radius for the feathering. The user can accept this, adjust it if they choose, or, if they want no feathering at all, click “Cancel,” in which case the action completes without adding any additional feathering to the user’s active selection.

I’m pleased that the TK7 panel is able to continue to evolve in a positive fashion. Infinity color masks are a big improvement, and “My Channels” offers a new level of masking control. And I’m happy to be able to provide these new features as a free update to customers who already have the TK7 panel. If you don’t have the TK7 panel yet, you can get a 20% discount on the updated version for the next couple of weeks with the following discount code: Update20

This code takes 20% off anything on the Panels & Videos page, so it’s a good time to shop for both panels and videos.

Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2

Last week, Sean Bagshaw released his second video series of Photoshop techniques, and, no surprise, it’s really good.

Sean's Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2

There are three main areas covered in the new series:

  • Exposure blending
  • Fixing problems
  • Artistic enhancement

While exposure-blending is a favorite technique for lots of photographers, Sean demonstrates that luminosity masks aren’t the only approach. His focus is on creating the proper transition zone, and while luminosity masks can be used in this regard, he convincingly shows that it’s actually some of the areas outside those most revealed by the mask that really need attention. He uses selections, gradients, feather-painting, and Camera Raw adjustments in addition to luminosity masks to make the perfect transition zone, tailoring his approach to what works best for each image. Exposure-blending always takes a little extra effort. Sean is a master at this and his transition-zone approach offers some new ideas to make the process accessible, reliable, and results-oriented.

The art of making a fine photograph also requires attending lots of small details, and often this means fixing problems that happen either during image capture or as a result of image processing. In one of my favorite chapters, Sean reviews how even the initial Lightroom/Camera Raw adjustments can be detrimental to edges within the image and makes a case for avoiding heavy adjustments during RAW file conversion in favor of the more focused adjustments that can be accomplished in Photoshop. A perfect image almost always requires some level of clean-up, and Sean offers lots of great suggestions. The Frequency Separation chapter, in particular, is pure magic. If you’re not already using frequency separation for your images, you will be after watching this video.

About half the chapters in the series are still devoted to artistic affects, and rightly so, since this is where a photographer adds their personal touch to the image. Clarity, texture, haze, and glow are the major themes this time, but there is plenty of variation on these topics. I’ve been working with Sean for many years, and not surprisingly, the TK7 panel has several of his methods already programmed in to specific buttons and actions. While he demonstrates how to do everything from scratch, it’s also obvious that the panel provides a nice boost not only to the efficiency of using Photoshop, but also the speed at which creative ideas can be tested and modified. Even I learn new ways to use the panel from watching Sean.

As always, I’m pleased to be able to offer Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 2 on my Panels & Videos page, and right now there is an introductory 20% discount that automatically activates when you add it to the shopping cart. There’s also a matching discount on the Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Volume 1 if you don’t have that yet. (NOTE: Previous customers should be sure to check their email from August 21 for additional savings.) Please contact me if you have any questions.

I’ve posted some sample videos on my website so you can get an idea of the content and quality of this series. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Watch samples!

Make-It-Glow: A favorite TK7 action

The TK7 panel isn’t just about luminosity masks. There are also several actions to enhance images during processing. One of my favorites is Make-It-Glow.

The Make-It-Glow action is like the Orton effect in some ways except that it produces no noticeable blur. The color is blurred a little to help create the glow effect, but the detail and texture in the image remains unchanged. In addition to the more diffuse color, saturation is also enhanced, like with the Orton effect, so it’s important to use Make-It-Glow on images that can handle a little extra color saturation. I often use it near the start of the Photoshop workflow. This is often a time when the image can use a little boost in color saturation. The effect generally looks quite good, so it can help set the tone for further development. Below is an image before Make-It-Glow was applied. Roll the mouse back and forth over the edge to see the difference running the Make-It-Glow action can have. NOTE: The image is not visible on the email feed, so please visit the blog to see this. Also, the rollover image might take a few seconds to load.

Make-It-Glow actions

It’s not an overly dramatic change, but it works extremely well on this image to saturate the existing colors in way that looks natural. Photoshop’s Vibrance adjustment layer can have a similar affect on color saturation, but it tends to add saturation to cool colors more than warm colors, and this is the opposite of where glow usually looks best. Make-It-Glow has no color preference; it just works with whatever colors are present in the image. So compared to Vibrance, warm colors get a better saturation boost with Make-It-Glow. In addition, Make-It-Glow blurs the existing color a bit, and this provides a better sense of glow that a Vibrance adjustment layer can’t replicate.

Still, it’s important use Make-It-Glow in the right situations. Here are some that I’ve found useful:

  • Low-saturation images.
  • Intimate landscapes−those with land but no sky.
  • Autumn foliage.
  • Rocks, like sandstone and slot canyons.
  • Grand landscapes with lots of clouds, like stormy or overcast skies. NOTE: Clear skies sometimes get over-saturated with this technique.

The Make-It-Glow action is found in the “Color” section of the menu opened with the “TK►” button on the TK7 Combo and Cx modules. It has only one user input, and that’s a Gaussian Blur pixel radius. This blur radius determines the color diffusion for the effect. A radius that equals the megapixel count of the image is a good starting point, and this is what is calculated and suggested by the panel.

Gaussian Blur window

In addition to the blur radius, there are ways to customize the effect after the actions completes.

  • Run the action a second time to enhance the effect.
  • Adjust the layer opacity if it feels too strong. This is potentially useful if running multiple Make-It-Glow actions on the same image (which sometimes works quite nicely).
  • Add a layer mask to the Make-It-Glow layer to fine-tune the effect. The video below shows several methods to do this.

Of the various techniques that help improve the color in my images, Make-It-Glow is at the top of the list. It plays a role−sometimes a very large role−in determining where the image goes color-wise. It’s also a bit of a safety valve when I’m creatively stuck. Once I see what Make-It-Glow does, I can often find a way forward with the image.

Watch the video below for additional tips on using the Make-It-Glow action. View it full-screen in order to see the subtle changes from the action and the masks.