Now Available: TK8 version 1.1.1

Over last few months I’ve continued to refine, fix, and update the TK8 plugin based on my experience using it as well as from feedback from other users. There are now enough changes and bug fixes to release an update to insure everyone using TK8 has access to the latest improvements. This update has been available at the download server since late in the day on January 6, 2022. So, if you’ve downloaded since then, you may already have TK8 version 1.1.1. You can always check your version of TK8 by clicking the “TK” button on any module to open the preferences and checking the lower right corner, which lists the version number.

This TK8 update is free to current TK8 customers. There are two ways to get it.

  1. The easiest and preferred method is to use your original download link. Search your email for “client@e-junkie.com”. This is the download server’s email address. Once you find a match, make sure the email includes a download link for the TK8 plugin and then use the link to get a fresh download. Running the installers in a fresh download will overwrite your previous TK8 modules with the latest TK8 version 1.1.1 modules.
  2. Update emails have also been sent to all TK8 customers via a MailChimp campaign. This email will tell you how to get a new download link if you can’t find your original link or if your original download link has expired. Be sure to check your junk/spam folder if you need to find the email. It was sent to the email address you used to purchase TK8. NOTE: Sean Bagshaw, André Distel (Germany) and Roy Yuan (China) have their own lists and will be contact customers independently. Please be patient until you hear from them.

Photoshop and the Adobe’s architecture for plugins (UXP) continue to evolve. There will likely be additional TK8 updates in the future. Be sure to hold onto your download link. It will always provide the latest version of TK8.

Most of the changes in this update are on the back end to make the TK8 plugin function better. The one thing some users will notice is that the My Channels interface has a list of available channels instead of buttons for these channels. This allows for an unlimited number of channels to be displayed as a scrollable list in the My Channels interface and is no longer limited to just the nine buttons in the previous version.

While not complete, the list below details some of the other changes included in TK8 version 1.1.1:

  • Mask-painting buttons in the Multi-Mask module (White Brush/Black Mask and Black Brush/White Mask buttons) have a bug corrected that affected when the active layer’s visibility is toggled off.
  • Mask-painting buttons also now work correctly when the “Auto-Select Targeted Adjustment Tool” option is toggled on in the fly-out menu of the Properties panel.
  • Brush tool blend mode defaults to Normal when clicking any of the plugin’s Burn/Dodge buttons or the Paint Color button.
  • Corrected a problem causing the error message “The command delete is currently not available” to sometimes display when making luminosity masks on the Multi-Mask panel on some computers.
  • Mask Calculator keypad is managed better (temporarily turned off) in the My Channels and Edit Selection interfaces when using these sections as part of a mask calculation.
  • Added more descriptive messages as to why Select Sky and Select Subject buttons might not work i.e. the active layer’s visibility is toggled off or the active layer is a group layer.
  • Fixed the My Channels “Layer Mask” option so that it now creates the correct layer mask preview even if multiple layers have the same name.
  • Corrected a bug when switching between multiple Color Grading layers to readjust the color grade. The Multi-Mask module now properly reads the color grading of the chosen layer when clicking its color grading square on the color wheel.

Reading through this list I realize that some of these changes might not make a lot of sense, but they will make for a smoother functioning TK8 plugin, especially as you explore the more advanced features it has to offer. It’s also worth noting that Dave Kelly was helpful in uncovering about 75% of the items in this list. His TK Friday video series on YouTube tends to be a bit of a stress test for the TK8 plugin. As such, he unearths problems that would probably never surface in casual use. I’m impressed at Dave’s ability to not only detect problems, but to also figure out the Photoshop intricacies that contribute to them. This update owes a lot to his use and understanding of TK8, and his tenacity in bringing potential issues to my attention.

If you spot a problem with TK8, please be sure to contact me. If I can replicate the problem, there’s a decent chance I can adjust the code to fix it.

Water Droplet Photography: Small drops that make a big splash

Possibly the best thing about photography is that there are pictures everywhere. The only requirement is light and a device to record it. Many photographers enjoy exploring the world searching for subjects and light that appeal to their aesthetic sensibilities. Photography at this level pulls us out into the larger world and helps us appreciate it in new ways. Finding a good picture in a chaotic arrangement of natural or man-made elements is often a fleeting opportunity. As such, it often feels quite satisfying to come away with a good image that, when developed, often intensifies our connection to and feelings for the place we took it.

But the minimum requirements of light and a recording device open up another world of possibilities, and that is the photography studio. Both the subject and the light can be manufactured in a studio, but the result is still a photograph. The chaos of composing the picture can be controlled to some degree, as can the light. Also, there is often more time to properly adjust the camera’s focus and other settings and, if need be, to take multiple frames to ensure the intended “scene” is properly recorded by the camera.

While I personally enjoy the spontaneity of photographing “in the field,” I also appreciate the dedication, patience, skill, and creativity that come from taking pictures in a studio. Many studio photographs show a side of photography that I never knew existed. They record light in ways I’ve not tried to record it and generate photographs that I’ve not seen or imagined. As such, they spark a desire to pursue new creative possibilities with my own photography and help me realize, yet again, that creativity with light is endless.

Bob Hills’ water droplet photography definitely falls into this category of studio inspiration. The final images have a gem-like quality, and it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy them without trying to figure out the underlying light and structure. However, looking past the beautiful abstract presentation, it’s equally fascinating to see and, to some degree, dissect out the various elements that make these images possible. Bob explains it all in the Water Droplet Magic article on his website, and it’s a great example of how studio photography provides opportunities for exploring light in new ways while also creating some mesmerizing images.

It’s also worth mentioning that Bob’s “studio” is decidedly ad hoc and not a commercial photography space as the word “studio” might imply. He has a lot of control over the process, as the article details, but the physical space requirements are quite minimal. So, in this regard, “studio photography” can be seen simply as a style or method for making pictures and not something that requires a dedicated space or expensive equipment or models. With a little work and imagination, any place can become a photography studio.

The video below has samples from Bob’s article. Be sure to also visit his Water Droplet Magic gallery to see even more of these fascinating photos. I know Bob through Club Camera Tucson and have enjoyed his in-depth presentation to this group about the process involved in making water droplet photographs. You can contact Bob Hills if you have additional questions or are interested in scheduling him to speak to your group.

Masking in Lightroom/Camera Raw: Two perspectives

The newest versions of Lightroom (Lr) and Camera Raw (CR) have significantly improved masking capabilities. There are options to make masks based on the subject and the sky, gradient masks, brush masks, and masks based on color ranges and luminance ranges. It’s an interesting and useful collection. In addition, there are ways to add, subtract, intersect, and invert masks, so the new masks can be combined in a variety of ways, similar to the Mask Calculator in the TK8 plugin.

There are lots of YouTube videos demonstrating the basics of using these new masks, so most readers are probably already familiar with their functionality. The two people I work closely with, Sean Bagshaw and Dave Kelly, have both contributed what I feel are some unique perspectives on these masks that I think are worth sharing.

Dave Kelly: Mask-the-mask in Lightroom/Camera Raw

Dave Kelly is someone who is good at taking a deep dive into almost anything and finding a few pearls that others have missed. His weekly “TK Friday” series on YouTube looks at using the TK8 plugin, and, to be honest, he’s pushes it further than I have when testing and using it. In doing so, he’s found new uses for TK8 and has also highlighted some things that can eventually be improved. I’m always glad (and somewhat relieved) to see that TK8 can keep up with what Dave is doing.

One of the techniques he’s demonstrated in various videos in the Friday series is the mask-the-mask technique in Photoshop. The way this generally works is to make an adjustment to the image through a specialized mask, like a luminosity mask or color mask, and then putting the adjustment layer into a group with a black layer mask. Painting on the group’s layer mask with white paint then reveals the adjustment in just those parts of the image where it’s needed. Luminosity and color masks are incredibly useful, of course, but they work on all similarly selected pixels in the image. The mask-the-mask technique allows the adjustment to be selectively applied to specific parts of the image. The process is easy and straightforward in Photoshop and produces a very targeted adjustment.

But, you might wonder, is it possible to replicate this technique with the new masks in Lr/CR? Well, thanks to Dave Kelly, we now know the answer to this question is “Yes,” and Dave shows how to do it in the video below. It’s not as simple as in Photoshop but appears to achieve similar results, namely restricting a color range or luminance range adjustment to specific parts of the image. It uses the Brush tool for making the final reveal, so that’s similar to the Photoshop method. However, it’s a bit more complicated before that. Still, it’s a very clever and insightful use of the new Lr/CR masks . . . and I’m not surprised Dave was able to figure out how to do it. For photographers working exclusively in Lightroom, Dave’s method will likely be a useful new tool in their workflow arsenal. NOTE: Dave doesn’t call this the “mask-the-mask” technique in the video, but, based on the end result, that’s essentially what’s happening.

Sean Bagshaw: Comparing Lr/CR masks with Photoshop masks

I’ve personally not worked extensively enough with the new Lr/CR masks to compare them with masks that can be created with Photoshop and the TK8 plugin, but Sean’s video below specifically undertakes this comparison. Some of the masks, like Select Sky, are basically equivalent in Lightroom and Photoshop according to Sean. Lightroom wins for gradient and radial masks, but Photoshop masks, like those made with the TK8 plugin, offer additional types of masks (saturation, vibrance, color brightness, and edge masks) and additional ways to modify masks. Sean also discusses using smart objects to be able to continually access the best of both types of masks from the two different sources.

The takeaway from Sean’s video, I think, is that there are some new and very useful mask options now available in Lr/CR, but that Photoshop still offers mask options and mask control, along with additional creative techniques not available in Lr/Cr, to continue to make it a valuable part of the workflow. In the end, everyone will use the tools they understand best and that produce the result they’re looking for. And that’s always been the best approach when working creatively with images.

Local Light: Sketch-o-graphs

Fishhook barrel cactuses live up to their name. The spines look like fishhooks and are just as sharp. These, along with the hair-like structures, create an almost abstract covering for this common cactus. Looking closely at the edges, you can see the fine black lines that the sketch actions add.

An earlier post on local light discussed how photographing nearby subjects provides an opportunity to see them in new ways using different techniques, either during the capture phase with the camera or in post-processing. This past summer I decide to more fully explore this approach. My daily walk on the neighborhood streets offers plenty of interesting subjects in the form of Sonoran desert cactuses and other succulents. But I also wanted to do something different photographically with them and had my eye on the sketch technique I learned from Steve Dell. His photos using this technique along with those of Bob Hills made me want to explore this technique to see what works for me. These “sketch-o-graphs” can still look photographic, but they usually have enhanced edges and color. I was also planning to include the sketch action in the TK8 plugin and wanted to gain additional experience using it to insure the plugin included the best practices for getting good results. NOTE: The sketch actions in the TK8 plugin are accessed via the Workflow Extras button on the main interface of the Multi-Mask module (green outline, left image), and this opens a new interface where the Color Sketch and B&W Sketch actions are located.

Choosing the subject

Based on what I saw in Steve’s and Bob’s photos, images with lots of detail and texture seem to be the best candidates for sketches. Things like clouds, moving water, and out-of-focus elements are less affected by this technique. The sketch action finds edges in the image, and the stronger the edge contrast, the more prominent it will appear in the sketched version. My local subjects, the succulents along my street, were ideal for this as they had excellent texture and well-defined edges. However, I actually took it a step further and focus-blended most of the the images. Since many of the images were shot with a macro lens, focus-blending eliminated most out-of-focus areas and helped insure the entire image would convert well as a sketch.

The converted RAW file is on the left and the finished sketch is on the right. The sketch technique enhances both color and edges. Color sketches often soften fine textures in the image, which makes the resulting image look more sketch-like. The strong edges, though, become more prominent and make this an ideal image for sketching. Agaves create some of the most beautiful patterns in the Sonoran desert. There is a welcoming softness in the flower-like shape of their leaves, but the sharp tips are a reminder to not get too close.

RAW file conversion and initial sketch

The sketch actions can have quite an impact on the image, though it’s not easy to predict what the image will look like once it’s been converted to a sketch based on the initial RAW fie conversion. As such, I’m not necessarily looking to make a perfect image in Lightroom or Camera Raw. Instead, what I want from RAW conversion is an image that converts well to a sketch, and that usually means a little experimentation. In Camera Raw, I apply a linear profile, click Auto, and then make a few adjustments to balance brightness, color, and saturation. Images that have slightly under-saturated colors tend to work better as sketches since the sketch action usually bumps up saturation. The image is opened as a smart object in Photoshop, and a sketch action is immediately run on it. If it looks good, I’ll work with that sketch from then on. However, if I don’t like it, I’ll delete the group containing the sketch layers and tweak the RAW file by double-clicking on the smart object’s thumbnail to do additional processing in Camera Raw. I go back and forth this way, creating a new sketch after each RAW file adjustment, until I get a sketch I like. In this way, RAW file conversion and making the initial sketch are essentially one step. This initial sketch, created immediately after RAW file conversion, becomes the base image for additional development in Photoshop. Running sketch actions on different RAW conversions lets me zero in on the best starting point for developing the sketch in Photoshop.

These images demonstrate the enhanced color and edges that come from running the Color Sketch action. The image can look quite photographic still, but often much improved compared to the RAW conversion. These are cereus cactus flowers that bloom for just one night each year.

Color Sketch or B&W Sketch?

There are two sketch actions: Color Sketch and B&W Sketch. Which to use is often a matter of personal preference, and I’ll sometimes try both to see if I prefer one over the other. The actions make it easy to try both, and there’s no easy way to predict which will look best. One thing to keep in mind is that the Color Sketch sometimes pulls unexpected colors out of the deep-shadow areas or adds excessive color saturation to some areas, like blue skies, and if these don’t look right with the image, then the B&W Sketch might be the preferred alternative. However, even with the Color Sketch, overly colorful shadow areas revert back to being quite dark and less colorful after the initial sketch adjustments. Occasionally, over-saturated colors require a little extra effort to control later on, and it’s sometimes better to pull back their saturation in the RAW file before running the Color Sketch action (and is another reason to coordinate RAW file conversion with making the initial sketch).

A black and white sketch-o-graph of an agave clearly shows how the edges of the leaves have been enhanced with a black line, which looks quite natural in this monochrome rendition.

Initial settings

There are two settings needed for making the initial sketch. They’re both easy to set and it’s best to use the same setting on each image, at least to start. The layers produced by the sketch actions mean the initial settings can always be readjusted later.

  • Minimum–The Minimum dialog window opens as the action runs. The default is “4” and it’s best to leave it set to that as it generally produces output that indeed looks like a sketch, at least in the details and textured parts of the image. The Minimum setting creates the black sketch lines that define the sketch look, and the greater the edge contrast, the more prominent the sketch lines. After seeing the initial sketch it’s fine to go back and adjust the Minimum value, but using “4” as the starting point gives a good impression as to how well the image will work as a sketch.
  • Levels adjustment–The final step in the sketch action is the creation of a Levels adjustment layer on top of the other layers in the Sketch group. The Properties panel is opened (if it’s not already open) and the user can then make a Levels adjustment using this layer, and this adjustment is critical in creating the desired look for the sketch. The initial Levels adjustment is also (nearly) the same for every image: Pull the midtones slider to the far right edge of the histogram that’s displayed in the Properties panel. I’m not entirely sure why this works, but it does. This maneuver restores proper global contrast to the image while maintaining its sketch-like quality. Small deviations of where the midtones slider is placed can lead to slightly different (but noticeable) effects, but placing the midtones slider very near the right edge of the histogram is almost always a good starting point.

Adjusting the sketch

Once you’re satisfied with the initial sketch, there are still ways to fine-tune it. The image below shows the Layers panel after running the Sketch action and the main controls for adjusting the sketch after it’s been made.

  1. Minimum–Because a smart object is used to make the sketch, it’s easy to go back and adjust it. The main thing to experiment with is the Minimum setting. Simply double-click the word “Minimum” to open the Minimum dialog widow. Try settings in increments of 2 in order to see an effect. The default is “4” so try “2,” “6,” or even “8.” Higher numbers make the image darker and the black sketch lines more prominent. Lower numbers make the image lighter with less prominent sketch lines.
  2. Sketch group opacity–Lowering the opacity of the sketch group allows more of the original image to show through. This can make the result look more photographic and less sketch-like.
  3. Add a layer mask to the sketch group and paint black to conceal parts of the image–Some elements in an image, like sky and clouds, might not look as good after the sketch action runs while other parts with more texture and detail might look great. Adding a layer mask to the sketch group provides an easy way to conceal elements that don’t sketch well while revealing those that do.
  4. Change the sketch group blend mode–This is particularly useful when making a B&W Sketch. In this case, changing the sketch group layer’s blend mode to Luminosity changes the monochrome sketch into a color sketch, but with added detail compared to what the Color Sketch action provides. The video below by Dave Kelly has a nice demonstration of this.

Finishing the image

While the sketch action provides a significant transformation from the RAW conversion, it doesn’t finish the image. I see the sketch as providing a new base for further development. Burning, dodging, vignettes, adjustment through masks and even creative techniques, like glows, can still be used once a satisfactory sketch is in place. The sketch itself can look quite good sometimes, but that’s partly because it’s such a dramatic shift compared to how the image looked before running the sketch action. It’s fun to see what the sketch can do, but don’t hesitate to push further. Think about and experiment with additional possibilities. The sketch can certainly create a new creative path, but it will be up to you to follow it and see where it leads.

The image on the left is the focus-blended RAW file conversion. The finished image on the right shows the enhanced detail and color that were added with the Color Sketch action plus additional post-processing. This is a Santa Rita cactus that develops this purple/blue color as it dries out. Despite the extremely dry winter, it still managed to produce a large number of buds this spring.

Sketch-o-graph video tutorial

Dave Kelly does a nice job reviewing several of these steps in working with the sketch actions in the video below.

Additional examples

I’ve included some images from Steve Dell and Bob Hills below to show the variety of images possible from using this sketch technique.

The first gallery shows some Steve Dell’s sketch images. They again demonstrate how images with good detail work nicely with the sketch technique. In the image with the clouds, the clouds still pretty much look like un-sketched clouds. This is typical of image elements that lack distinct edges.

Bob Hill’s images below are from his “Sonoran Garden” series. Again, the texture and detail in these subjects create strong sketch images. Worth noting are how the distinct lines between shadow and sunlit areas on the leaves create even stronger lines in the sketched versions. In addition, the shadows are less dark and filled with more color.

I hope you’ll give the sketch actions a try. Sketch-o-graphs are easy to make and can produce some surprisingly unique and attractive images.