TK7 update information

This is just a quick post to let you know that I’m in the process of releasing a major update to the TK7 panel. Over the next week I’ll be emailing previous customers with update options. Please watch for this information. It might end up in your junk/spam folder, so be sure to check there.

Unfortunately, my download server will likely NOT be able to keep up with all the requests for free updates. TK7 purchases within the previous 12-month period are slated to get a free update. That means, at least initially, there will be some days when you might not be able to get a free update once the limit for free updates is exceeded. If that happens, please try again the following day. I’ll apologize in advance for this inconvenience. I purchased additional server capacity, so it should only be for the first few days. Previous customers outside the 12-month free-update period will get a 50% discount. These will not be affected; only free updates are limited by the download server.

I’m really excited about this update and think you will be too. There’s more information coming soon. Releasing updates is a very busy time and there are always plenty of questions. I’ll post additional information next week once I’ve contacted everyone and am sure the download server is able to keep up. Please be patient until then and be sure you’re subscribed to get the latest information.

NOTE: To install the updated version, just run the installer file in the fresh download. It will remove the old modules and install the new ones.

Photoshop Essentials: A new course by Sean Bagshaw

Sean Bagshaw has released another excellent video series: Photoshop Essentials for Outdoor Photographers. This course looks at the tools, adjustments, filters, and techniques most useful when using Photoshop to develop nature and landscape images. It’s appropriate for many different skill levels. For beginners it unravels the complexity of Photoshop in order to start using it in an organized manner and to focus on learning those features most useful to outdoor photographers. For intermediate users it offers new ideas to get the most the out the different Photoshop functions and likely explores new ones. And by these criteria, I would have to consider myself only intermediate when it comes to Photoshop (at least compared to Sean) since I found this course full of things I didn’t know. A short list includes the adaptive wide angle filter, ideas for using smart objects, motion blur, highlight recovery with the shadows/highlights adjustment, and lots of new stuff relating to image transformations and perspective control. The bottom line is that you don’t have to be a beginner in Photoshop to appreciate this course. Even seasoned users will benefit from a wide range of new material they will likely encounter here. There’s also nearly an hour’s worth of actual workflow footage that strings together the methods taught in the different chapters so you can see how these techniques can be creatively combined.

I’ve had a close working relationship with Sean for many years and I’m happy to be able to offer this course on my Panels & Videos page. To a large degree, luminosity masks and the TK7 panel are directly built on many of the concepts Sean discusses in this course. Pixel-based masks aren’t all that hard to understand once you know how Photoshop works. So, for some photographers, this course might be an excellent prerequisite for successfully incorporating more advanced techniques, like luminosity masks, into their workflow. You can watch samples here.

Right now there is an automatic 25% discount for all customers when you purchase Photoshop Essentials on my website. This is a limited-time introductory offer. Previous customers should also check their email from last Tuesday, June 9 for additional savings.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this course. Not only will you learn new ways to use Photoshop, but you’ll also likely be more excited to get outside and take pictures. Please contact me if you have any questions.

The Saguaro Project

NOTE: The images blow are linked to a second rollover image that shows the starting photograph. To see the starting photograph, simply roll your mouse over an image and a wait a few seconds until the second image loads. Then you can move the mouse back and forth across an edge to see the image switch rapidly between before and after.

While I love to photograph and process nature images, “photo fatigue” still happens. There are so many outstanding nature photographs now that I’m a bit overwhelmed by both the number and quality, and wonder if I have much to contribute to this already gargantuan collective body of work. Photography remains one of my passions, though, so I try to invent opportunities for exploring something different to keep me interested.


The Saguaro Project was an effort that combined my fascination with the Sonoran Desert that now surrounds me with the inspiration I’ve found in Club Camera Tucson’s Digital Art SIG. I wanted to take photographs of one of the natural icons in the region, the saguaro cactus, and transform the images into something less photographic. I wasn’t sure what that would be, but I started playing with Photoshop and eventually found the path I wanted to follow.


Before deciding to undertake this project, I didn’t have many saguaro images in my RAW file collection, so the first stop was nearby Sabino Canyon to take some. I was determined to use cactus images taken in any type of light and from the start I was thinking in terms of tight compositions. Isolating the subject and separating it from the surrounding terrain would create a sense of abstraction while still emphasizing the characteristics of saguaros that make them so unique.


After developing a few images I started see the direction this would go. In the end there were six criteria for each image.

  1. Use photographs that were taken in ordinary, unspectacular light.
  2. Have the cactus’ arms bleed off at least one edge of the frame.
  3. Use Steve Dell’s sketch action that he recently shared with me.
  4. Use luminosity masks in the development process.
  5. Use Photoshop’s “spectrum” gradient (the rainbow gradient) as the main source of color.
  6. Add an “orb” to the image in Photoshop to suggest the sun or the moon.

I also wanted to produce at least six images that fit these criteria so I could add a thumbnail gallery on my website that featured them.


One of the nice things about Steve Dell’s sketch action is that it evens out the light even for photographs with considerable contrast. As a result, the color added from the spectrum gradient was applied more evenly than the original lighting would suggest. Luminosity masks were also useful after the sketch action ran for selecting areas that would receive the gradient color. To a large degree, the processing changed the original photos into illustrations, which was sort of the intent given the influence of the Digital Art SIG. In some of the images, though, the underlying photographic starting point can still be easily recognized.


This project took around a month to complete and was a lot of fun. I was exploring photography and Photoshop in new ways, and each image was a new adventure. There was no preconceived idea of what the final images would look like other than it had to meet the criteria. There was lots of experimentation and the final images often required more layers than a “normal” photograph.


In the process of creating these images, I started to appreciate saguaros in new ways. They’re easy to take for granted given how numerous they are here, but they offer a lot of possibilities: an iconic anthropomorphic figure, wonderful textures from the ribs and needles, and lines and shapes that work well from many different angles. The light might not have been anything special when the images were taken, but this project made me realize that it’s more than light that makes saguaros special.

Luminosity Masks 10th Anniversary−A brief history of how it all started

Today is the 10th anniversary of my original luminosity masks tutorial.  It was linked in this post on NPN on November 13, 2006.  NPN is a wonderful website to participate in image critique and improve photography skills.  I had been posting images here for a few years prior.  The tutorial was meant to be a way to share a Photoshop secret with my many friends on the forum. Here’s how it came to be.

I had been using luminosity masks for about 8 months before the tutorial was published.  I first saw the term in a spam email in March that year, and, not knowing what a “luminosity mask” was, I turned to Google for answers.  At the time, there wasn’t much to go on.  I was able to piece together the method to make the initial selection, Lights-1, using Alt+Ctr+tilde in Photoshop 7.  Looking at the mask I immediately knew this could very useful.  A perfect mask created from the image itself.  How cool!  I understood Photoshop masks, but this “luminosity mask” was quite unique compared to the masks I was making with Photoshop’s standard selection tools.

I was instantly hooked.  I soon started using luminosity masks all the time because they worked all the time.  My images quickly improved.  The luminosity masks and selections I used were created ad hoc by adding, subtracting, and intersecting the initial Lights mask and other masks derived from it.  It was not an orderly process, but I could eventually find the mask I needed to target the tones I wanted to adjust.

Given how much I liked them and how little information I could find, I decided to try writing a tutorial that explained luminosity masks to others.  This project started in late May 2006 and continued until mid-September.  In addition to the challenges of writing and illustrating a tutorial for the first time, I also had to figure out how to explain the creation of these crazy (but very useful) masks on the fly as I developed images in Photoshop.

It was while writing the tutorial that I found the answer.  I realized that focusing on “intersection” for the Lights and Darks series and “subtraction” for the Midtones would provide the needed framework for photographers to understand and visualize how these masks could target different tones.  I wrote the first set of actions to make luminosity masks during the summer of 2006 and used them to create the tutorial’s illustrations.  I also quickly realized these actions were much better than the ad hoc masks I had been cobbling together previously.  They provided a huge efficiency boost compared to the “freehand” method.  I could now do in one click what had been taking me several minutes before.

I was somewhat nervous as I prepared to post a link to the tutorial on NPN.  There was still considerable disdain surrounding Photoshop manipulation in 2006.  We all knew photographers were doing it, but most were reluctant to admit how much. Once posted, this tutorial would out me as an enthusiastic manipulator.  Plus luminosity masks felt like an overly geeky process compared to the standard Photoshop tutorials of the time.  Would readers be able to follow along?  Would they even be interested?  Regardless of these concerns, I had come to love this technique, and after over 3 months of writing, editing, illustrating, and recording actions, it was definitely time to set it free.

It turned out I was right about one thing . . . luminosity masks. They are indeed a useful technique for developing images in Photoshop.  I was totally wrong, however, on how they would be perceived by the photographic community.  Even in the manipulation-averse culture of 2006 they were quickly and enthusiastically embraced.  The method for making luminosity masks described in the tutorial was adopted by other photographers and even became the standard of practice for a soon-to-emerge flock of luminosity mask experts.  No one was more surprised than me that there would be this level of interest . . . or that luminosity masks would still be going strong a decade later.

While I didn’t coin the term “luminosity mask” (thankfully there was no spam filter on my email back in 2006), I am happy that this tutorial introduced them to a mainstream audience.  I’m also pleased to have been able contribute to the body of knowledge about luminosity masks with additional tutorials on luminosity painting, mask painting, subtracted masks, 16-bit luminosity masks, infinity masks, and several blog posts.

But written tutorials only go so far.  The world prefers videos, and this luminosity mask anniversary would be incomplete without acknowledging Sean Bagshaw.  His video series are the clearest, best organized, most informative, concise yet thorough video instruction available on luminosity masks, and his examples demonstrate how they can be personalized to any workflow.  There’s no doubt that Sean has helped many photographers grasp and ultimately harness the power of luminosity masks.

While the awareness, acceptance, application, and appreciation of luminosity masks has increased dramatically since that first tutorial, there’s still more to come.  I love luminosity masks as much today as I did in 2006 and continue to experiment both with the masks and the extension panels that make them possible.  I have a goal of making luminosity masks and these panels even smarter, faster, and more fun to use.  While the first decade was a good start, I still have ideas that I want to explore and share.  Please stay tuned.