The TK8 Triple Play in 2022: Status update

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

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

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

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

Triple Play History

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

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

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

Back to the present

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

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

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

Wait.  Usually?

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

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

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

22 thoughts on “The TK8 Triple Play in 2022: Status update

  1. I find the Darks Triple Play to be extremely useful. I almost always select the Screen-Darks 4 mask and the Multiply Darks 4 mask. It creates a subtle contrast that is hard to recreate as well as helping darker areas with a bit more light. It would be really nice to have a preferences option that pre-selects the set of masks that you usually use. That would make it even more convenient. Getting rid of the unused masks is no big deal since it only take one click of the Delete Hidden Layers button in the combo panel. Whatever you do….. don’t get rid of the Triple Play actions!!

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  2. What a useful installment! I have used the Triple Play on and off for a couple of years. The most satisfying results have been in teasing out that last bit of shadow detail. Otherwise, as you mentioned, other evolved tools (paint contrast, clarity, etc.) are very good.

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  3. Tony

    I ran into a problem trying to respond so I’ll just send an email.

    I love the Triple Play. I find it a wonderfully quick alternative to enhance images when sharing pictures with family, friends or nature sites on social media platforms. The results I obtain are more than satisfying for these instances. I do hope that you keep it around in future releases of your software.

    Sincerely,

    Mike

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  4. I’m with you on this, Tony. I started with the TK5 panel and the Triple Play option did render intriguing and often satisfying results. But it was so cumbersome. As time passed and the TK panels became increasingly sophisticated, I more or less forgot about Triple Play because, as you say, there were much faster and more direct ways to achieve similar and I would say, more nuanced results. The most recent iteration of the panel – TK8 – is truly a marvel. I love it and am so happy that I made the effort to “master” earlier versions and kept up with the enhancements.

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  5. It was only when I watched the Joy of Editing with Dave Kelly that I found out about the Triple Play. I have been using the Luminosity Masks – mid:3 and the color grading tool that Dave demonstrated with great success prior to today.
    Based on Dave’s excellent tutorial, I am going to continue to use that technique.

    What I truly love about the TK8 panels is that there are often multiple ways of accomplishing similar results, and I, as the photo editor can choose the one that works for me. Which could vary depending on the image I am starting with.
    This is a sign of great software, it gives the user multiple ways of completing a task rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all.

    And the TK panels are great software. Thank you Tony for creating a great plugin for Photoshop, I find the more I use it, the more I love it and depend on it.

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    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes, Dave has a knack for being able to explain almost anything. I always enjoy his videos. I agree that multiple tools are generally a good option once you develop some proficiency in photo editing. There are lots of ways to go on any particular edit, and not getting locked into one tool or one specific workflow allows much more creative exploration and creative interpretation of the image.

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  6. Nice read on TP – these two actions are two of my final steps in my image workflow. I typically start at the midpoint and work up and down – I settle for just a subtle change to help the image pop ever so slightly.

    I would be sad if they were removed from future version but I’m sure if that happens there will be some guidance to alternative methods to accomplish similar effects.

    Thanks for keeping Triple Play and explaining it.

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    1. Kent–As long as the current code works with Photoshop, I think Triple Play will remain in the TK panel. If I ever have to re-code this monster because Adobe changes the panel architecture again, I’ll have to think about whether or not I want to put myself through that.

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  7. Unless you have a pressing need to free-up space in the Panels for new TK functions, Triple Play could be retained. I have used it but there are better/simpler methods to use to achieve an end result.

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  8. Tony — Thanks for bringing this back. I invariably find TK triple play invaluable for bringing out texture in dark areas. I do most of my printing in monochrome and keeping texture in the darks avoids large, featureless black blobs in the print. I do agree it is a bit cumbersome to use; I do usually reserve it for my master files optimized for printed output. BTW, TK8 feels like a huge step forward — thanks for all your continuing efforts.

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  9. Tony,
    1. might it be worth considering combining the Light and Dark TPs as one action button which opens both when you develop TK 9? After applying one or both actions users could use the lightning bolt to delete any unused layers.
    2. is it better to only have one active layer in each section of a TP action or does having more than one active layer is a section (as in Dave’s video) produce a better outcome? Would having two active layers in a section double the effect in the areas of white on the mask?

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    1. Keith-
      1. From the comments I received, there are a number of people that only use the Darks TP, so it makes sense to keep them separate. Additionally, the blur radius can be different for the Lights TP and Darks TP, and it’s probably worthwhile to maintain this functionality. Lastly, the thought of going in and having to rework the code for Triple Play would NOT be something I’d look forward to 😉
      2. Triple Play has always been trial and error to get the best results. Turning on multiple Screen and multiple Multiply blend modes within the same Triple Play (Lights or Darks) increases the sharpness. This can be either positive or negative depending on the image. You’d have to go by how the image looks to you. Dave’s approach seemed to work well for his images.

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  10. Tony – thanks for reminding me about Triple Play. I stopped using it when the TK panels expanded to include other ways to achieve the results I wanted. But after reading this post I went back to give TP another go, and it did a better job of bringing out both shadow detail and cloud texture in some drone photos of an abandoned granite quarry than I had managed to do with the usual tools. Thanks for all the effort you put into the TK panels; very much appreciated!

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    1. I agree that the Darks TP is hard to beat when it comes to bringing out shadow details. For cloud textures, I’ve started working with “Soft Pop” and “Paint Contrast” as alternatives and finding these work well for that also.

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      1. I use “Paint Contrast” very often, and generally with excellent results, but especially for rock surfaces. (I had a whole project of abandoned quarries recently.) I’ve never used “Soft Pop” however. I’ll give it a spin! Thanks for the tip!

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  11. Hi Tony,
    Been a while since I used triple play though I must admit I did use it a lot when I initially started using TK panel… But now I think there are other ways that gives the same result, and more control. Tony I wish you would start making panels for other programs like On1 and Affinity photo , which have really improved their act, sometimes I think the only reason I’m holding on to Photoshop is because of the TK panel, which has been deeply integrated into my work flow.
    Regards
    Shailesh Sharma

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, Shailesh. The only reason I’m able to make panels for Photoshop is because Adobe allows it. Adobe has a entire team of people that makes this happen. I would not be able to make these panels without Adobe creating the architecture within Photoshop that allows the panel to interact with Photoshop. On1 and Affinity Photo would likely have to do the same thing in order for there to be similar panels for their products.

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  12. Hi Tony​ – I just thought I’d add my tuppenceworth to say that I’ve been using the TK Triple Play in earnest​ and to great effect since reading your ​enlightening July 2019 post, ‘Stunning shadow and highlight details with the TK7 Triple Play’. For me, your post thoroughly clarified its use; before this, Triple Play had been something of a mystery.
    I would answer Dave Kelly’s question,​ “Do We Still Need Triple Play In 2022​” with a resounding YES. I would suggest that Triple Play has a more intuitive feel compared to the somewhat cumbersome alternatives proposed by DK; however, each to their own.
    If possible, Tony, please try to keep/incorporate the Triple Play action in future versions of the ​TK Panel. May I also take this opportunity to thank you for your time and effort in developing the TK Panels; version 8 is the best yet, and I’d be lost without it.
    Best wishes from Scotland.

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    1. Thanks for our feedback, Alexander. I do plan to keep Triple Play in the TK8 panel after hearing from users. As long as I don’t have to recode it again. It seems to be working well for many users.

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