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.
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.