Updates: Paint Contrast video and TK8-beta with Photoshop 22.5

Paint Contrast

Dave Kelly posted a good video last week demonstrating how to use the “Paint Contrast” action in the TK7 Combo and Cx modules. I’ve linked to it below.

My friend B. pioneered contrast painting. Dave’s video bumps it up a notch. I’ll explain. The Paint Contrast action allows adding contrast to an image simply by painting on a specially constructed pixel layer on the Layers panel. To make it easy, there are just three “colors” to paint with:

  • 50% Gray–Which darkens shadow values and lightens highlight values, i.e. increases contrast in both shadows and highlights.
  • Black–Which primarily darkens shadow values (increased contrast in the shadows) and affects highlight values less.
  • White–Which mostly lightens highlight values (increased contrast in the highlights) and affects shadow values less.

The neat thing about this technique is that you don’t need a luminosity selection to paint through in order to target specific tones. Painting with black paint is almost like painting through a Darks-1 or Darks-2 selection and painting with white is like painting through a Lights-1 or Lights-2 selection. Black paint automatically selects dark tones to darken and white paint automatically selects light tones to lighten. And, just like with luminosity masks, the painting blends seamless, especially when painting with a feathered brush. So, while painting with black affects shadow values most, it also feathers the effect perfectly to blend the change into the image’s midtones and highlights. Likewise, painting with white affects highlights most, but also tapers perfectly into midtones and shadows. And, of course, painting with 50% gray feathers the effect into both the shadows and the highlights.

Dave demonstrates painting with all three colors, but the new thing I learned from the video is to use a different layer for each color. I had been using this technique on a single layer, mostly painting with 50% gray and occasionally lighter or darker shades of gray. However, by doing a separate “black paint” layer and “white paint” layer, as shown in the video, you can affect shadows and highlights independently and better tailor the effect to the image. This offers more control in both tonal ranges even when working on the same area of the image that has both shadow and highlight values. This control also extends to subsequently fine-tuning the adjustments, like changing the layer’s Fill opacity. The painting contrast technique is super easy and often yields pleasing results. I hope you’ll give it a try.

TK8-beta with Photoshop 22.5.0

Adobe released Photoshop 22.5.0 almost two weeks ago, and I’m happy that TK8-beta still works with it. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking whenever there is a new Photoshop drop. Something is always broken that wasn’t broken previously, and it’s almost impossible to predict if the TK panels will be affected. This isn’t entirely unexpected. The new UXP architecture on which TK8-beta is built is still evolving with new features being added and talk of some elements eventually being deprecated. I really like what UXP can do, so overall I think it will be positive direction long-term. I’m committed to trying to keep up with Adobe and fixing things as soon as possible if they do break. If you do have problems with TK8-beta, be sure to contact me so I can investigate and get things working. Also, it’s a good idea to save your download link. It can always be used to download the latest version from the download server so that when bugs do get fixed, you can get updates installed soon after I post information on this blog.

There are two things worth noting after the recent update to Photoshop 22.5.0. The first is that some of the formatting for the TK8-beta user interface shifted a little. The spacing around some elements in the sub-menus might look a bit off. This doesn’t affect the functioning of the plugin, but if it bothers you, use your download link to get the newer version, which has been added to the download server, or contact me if you need your link reactivated. These formatting issues will also be corrected in the final version of TK8 to be released later this year.

Another problem related to Photoshop 22.5.0 only happens on Windows computers and concerns input boxes, those boxes where the user can type in a value, like the Opacity value on the Layers panel. If you click in an input box to create a cursor there and then click the “Backspace” key, it doesn’t delete characters in the input box like you’d expect. Instead, it deletes layer masks or even layers on the Layers panel. Definitely not a good thing. You could accidentally delete a layer mask or even a layer without realizing it. This is new to Photoshop 22.5.0 and can affect the TK8-beta modules as well. (Interestingly, TK7 modules appear to NOT be affected.) For example, if you click in an input box on one of the TK8-beta modules, like to change the Height or Width for web-sharpening, and then tap the backspace key, the active layer(s) get deleted. Adobe has acknowledged the problem in this post, and it’s bad enough that they’ll probably try to get it corrected in the next dot update. Again, this is only a Windows issue. The “delete” key or “fn + delete” on Mac doesn’t have this problem. The short-term workaround is to use the cursor to highlight the letters and numbers that need to be changed and then immediately type their replacements without clicking the backspace key. This works, but if you’re like me, the backspace key is used almost as often as the space bar. So it’s hard to remember not to use it when working inside an input box. I know Adobe is dedicated to fixing bugs and am sure this one will get fixed in the near future.

Linear Profile Follow-Up, Triple Play Actions, Luminosity Mask Workflow

Linear Profile Follow-Up

First off, I want to offer a sincere “thank you” to everyone who has contributed RAW images to help expand the linear profile repository.  There are now free linear profiles for nearly 170 cameras available on this site, and I hope to keep adding more.  I also appreciate the feedback from photographers who have experimented with the linear profiles on their images.  Many have let me know they’ve had good results.  That’s not surprising.  Linear profiles provide additional flexibility and often an improved RAW file conversion. Once installed, it’s super easy to try the linear profile during any RAW conversion in Lightroom or Camera Raw to see if it makes a difference. I hope you’ll try working with a linear profile on a few images and see what you think. Also, if your camera isn’t listed on the repository page, please contact me to get it added.

Here are a few of other things worth mentioning about linear profiles. 

  • You won’t apply a linear profile using the Camera Raw filter inside Photoshop.  I show how to install the linear profile using Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter in the installation PDF, but installation and application are two different things.  The linear profile can only be applied to a RAW file during the conversion process.  That means using Lightroom or Camera Raw (not the same as the Camera Raw filter).  Some people have written that they can’t see their installed linear profile.  That’s likely because they are trying to use it on an image in Photoshop via the Camera Raw filter.  That’s not going to work.  A RAW file is the only image the linear profile can be applied to.  So make sure you’re working with a RAW file in Lightroom or Camera Raw when you want to apply the linear profile in your workflow. You can then open the converted image in Photoshop to finish processing it.
  • If you already have a dedicated color-matching workflow, I’m not advocating discarding it in favor of using a linear profile.  There are people who have indicated they’ve found ways to combine color-matching with linear profiles (and several more who have asked about it), but this is not an area where I have any expertise.  I use linear profiles simply because they help enhance creativity in my workflow.  I go with what looks right when it comes to image color and am relatively unconcerned if my choice is correct relative to the original subject.  So, if you already have a workflow that properly matches output color to your satisfaction, I’d stick with it until someone publishes additional information on how to incorporate linear profiles into the color-matching process.
  • No linear profiles for “monochrome” cameras. RAW files from monochrome cameras, like some Leica models, can’t be imported into the Adobe DNG Profile Editor that’s used to create the linear profile.  So I’m not able to profile these monochrome-only cameras.
  • Linear profiles for cameras where the sensor has been converted for infrared photography are questionable.  In fact, I’m not sure if linear profiles are even possible with these converted cameras or if they’d be as effective as linear profiles for color images.  Page 8 of the documentation for the Adobe DNG Editor instructions discusses infrared-modified cameras if anyone wants to experiment with this.

Triple Play Actions

Dave Kelly has a good video on using the Lights and Darks Triple Play found in TK Actions menu of the TK7 Combo and Cx modules.  The Triple Play can help improve brightness, contrast, and detail in the image.  It creates a set of layers on the Layers panel in Photoshop, and users then turn on the visibility of different layers to achieve the desired effect.  My favorite way to use these actions is using the Darks Triple Play to enhance image details, and Dave demonstrates how to do this.  The Lights Triple play is best used for enhancing brightness and contrast in the highlights.  Both actions are easy to use once you understand what they do.  Watch Dave’s video and I think you’ll be ready to give both a try.

Luminosity Mask Workflow

In a second video linked below, Dave presents a simple Photoshop workflow involving luminosity masks.  Lights, Darks, Midtone, and Zone masks are used along with the “mask-the-mask” technique to isolate the adjustments to specific parts of the image.  One thing that comes through in this video is that luminosity masks aren’t restricted to making just brightness and contrast adjustments in the image.  Dave also uses them for making Hue/Saturation adjustments, and this demonstrates the flexibility of these masks.  Basically, once you’ve found the right mask to target what you want to adjust in the image, you can use whichever adjustment works best to accomplish your goal.  Regardless of the type of adjustment, the self-feathering nature of luminosity masks insures all adjustments through these masks blend smoothly into the image.

Be sure to subscribe to Dave Kelly’s YouTube channel to be notified when he posts new content.

The Linear Profile: A new beginning in Lightroom and Camera Raw

Several months ago I switched to using a linear profile as my starting point for RAW file conversions in Camera Raw. It’s been an interesting journey. The linear profile seems to have made Camera Raw more responsive to my edits. Linear profiles work in Lightroom (Lr) the same way as in Camera Raw (Cr). I’ve shared the technique with a few other photographers. The response is usually positive. While some don’t find them all that different than the standard Adobe Raw profiles (like Adobe Standard, Adobe Color, or Adobe Landscape), others have described the experience of using linear profiles as “not fighting the sliders anymore” and “the sliders seem better calibrated.” Using a linear profile offers a subtle shift in the RAW file conversion process that’s helping me take my images further in Lr/Cr before switching over to Photoshop. Yes, I still use luminosity masks and other techniques in Photoshop, but I’m starting with a better conversion and so have less to do to finish the image. The discussion below is partly from the linear profile repository page on my website where there are free downloads of linear profiles for various cameras. The Lr/Cr-ready profiles available there will make it easy for photographers explore the use of linear profiles and determine their potential as a creative tool.

What is a linear profile?

The linear profile is simply a set of instructions that tells Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, or other RAW processing software how to display the data from a RAW file captured by a digital camera. The conventional profile is non-linear (not a straight line), as shown by the red curve in the attached figure. This bowed profile was selected long ago for practical reasons. Curves with this general shape convert the dull, flat output from a digital camera to a brighter displayed image that more closely resembles how we see things. The red curve in this figure is the Adobe Standard profile. Its shape is typical of commonly used profiles. Note how the red tone curve brightens essentially all pixel values while increasing shadow contrast (steeper curve) and decreasing highlight contrast (less steep curve). The resultant displayed image looks “familiar” with good brightness and contrast. Since the profile is the initial interpretation of the camera RAW data, there are valid reasons to choose one that brings the image to an “attractive” point where the adjustments in Lr/Cr can be used to refine the final result. However, a profile does NOT have to be curved. A linear (straight-line) profile, as shown by the black line in the figure, could also be used. If the profile used by the program is linear, the displayed image is typically less vibrant, but (and this is important) it also better represents the actual data in the RAW file. If the conventional profile is considered step one in the processing workflow, then the linear profile is “step zero.” The linear profile allows ALL pixel adjustments to be made entirely by the photographer, whereas, with a curved (nonlinear) profile, the first major step in developing the image is already shaped by the software and camera engineers who designed that profile. The linear profile takes a step back to offer a new level of control for interpreting digital camera data and opens new opportunities in the process

How to use a linear profile

1. Click “Auto” after applying the linear profile. Installing and using linear profiles is described in this PDF. In terms of using them, my current strategy is a combination of “Auto” and manual. When the linear profile is first applied to the image, it looks darker, less saturated, and has less contrast. This is disappointing, but entirely expected. Remember, the standard Adobe Raw profiles are designed to make the image look good, so removing them and reverting to a linear profile makes the image look not-so-good anymore. However, there is an easy fix to get back a reasonably good starting point. Just click the “Auto” button in Lr/Cr. Adobe’s algorithm for the “Auto” button has gotten pretty good, and even the darker, flatter image that results from applying the linear profile is much improved after clicking it. Using “Auto” with a linear profile frequently gives better results than using it with an Adobe Raw profile. The image below shows the difference between using “Auto” with a linear profile and the Adobe Color profile. With the linear profile (on the right), the highlights are full of texture and detail, and the shadows are not overly contrasty. The Auto-processed linear profile also has richer color and better global contrast. In this case, the linear profile clearly provides a better starting point for additional adjustments. Every image is different, of course, but a linear profile combined with “Auto” is generally a good place to begin.

2. Adjust Exposure and Contrast and other sliders. After clicking “Auto,” an Exposure and Contrast adjustment will almost certainly still be necessary, but don’t stop with those adjustments. The real beauty of using a linear profile is how much more responsive the sliders in Lr/Cr are now compared to starting with one of the Adobe Raw profiles. The various adjustments perform as expected without “breaking” the image, and the sliders often have some additional leeway before reaching their extreme positions where no additional adjustments are possible. Shadows, Highlights, Whites, Blacks, Vibrance, and Saturation can all be useful in fine-tuning the image.

NOTE: An alternate approach is to skip the “Auto” adjustment and start working directly with the Lr/Cr sliders. It’s entirely possible to outperform the “Auto” algorithm, especially once you gain confidence in the way the image responds to the various sliders when starting with a linear profile.

3. Fine-tune color. Adjusting color balance is one of the things that I find especially easy to do with the linear profile. This usually involves just small adjustments with the Vibrance and Saturation sliders in the Basic tab after clicking “Auto”, but I also always visit the Color Mixer in Camera Raw (HSL/Color in Lightroom), since these sliders now work exceptionally well to control hue, saturation, and luminance of the various colors.

Advantages of linear profiles

  • More flexibility in Lr/Cr since the sliders often provide additional room for adjustments.
  • More predictable adjustments in Lr/Cr since the image responds better to slider movements.
  • Better shadow and highlight recovery.
  • Richer, but not over-saturated, colors to work with.
  • Hue, saturation, and luminance adjustments work better.
  • More pleasing RAW conversions.
  • “Expose-to-the-right” has greater potential since applying a linear profile darkens the image.

Linear profiles are camera-specific

Each camera model requires a different linear profile. Once installed, Camera Raw/Lightroom will only display a linear profile option if there is an installed linear profile that matches the camera from which the RAW file was originally produced. Linear profiles for a variety of different camera models can be downloaded at the bottom of the linear profile repository page. If your camera is not listed, contact me to make to have it added to the repository.

Summary

I’m continuing to learn about and experiment with the linear profile for my camera. It takes a little extra effort, but I’m now at the point where I can confidently create a better RAW file conversions than I could using standard Adobe Raw profiles. There is more flexibility in the basic and color adjustments, the sliders are more predictable, and it’s easier to recover good shadow and highlight detail. Overall, the output from Camera Raw is more pleasing, and I’m able to finish the image in Photoshop faster. I hope you’ll give linear profiles a try and see what they can do for your images.

The video below by Dave Kelly reviews the basics of adding a linear profile to your workflow.

The Perfect Mask and Vignettes/Spotlights

Making the Perfect Mask

One of the most important things to understand about luminosity masks, zone masks, color masks, and saturation/vibrance masks in the TK7 panel is that that they are created using actual pixel values. The masks that are generated reflect pixel-level differences between individual pixels. These masks are not like selections made with the Lasso or Marquee tools, where the mouse draws the physical boundary around specific elements. Instead, pixel-value masks use the luminance, hue, and saturation values in each pixel to determine what gets revealed by the mask (white and light gray in the mask), and what gets concealed (black and dark gray).

This concept plays a central role when generating masks using the TK7 Go module. Pixel-value masks should not be pure white in the selected areas, like the masks created with the Lasso or Marquee tools. Instead, selected pixels should have a gradation of light gray values reflecting the underlying textures in the image. The TK7 panel does a good job of quickly generating a proper pixel-value mask based on the chosen data source (luminance, hue, or saturation). Lights-1, Darks-2, Midtones-1, Zone 3, and a “red” color mask are examples. These initial masks are usually an excellent starting point for a planned adjustment. In addition, some masks, like zone and color masks, offer modification options built into the user interface. There’s also an entire modification section in the Go module for sculpting any initial mask to better match the areas to be selected. Modification is often quite useful. Be sure to give it a try for additional control in creating the ideal mask. Here are some rules that can help.

  • Avoid pure white in the mask for areas that require subtle and seamless transitions. Pure white in the mask means that the nuance possible with pixel-value masks has been lost.
  • Aim to create masks that have light gray values for selected areas and dark gray or black values for areas not selected.
  • Look for light gray texture in the selected areas of the mask that matches the texture in the image. Texture in the mask indicates that the pixel-level differences in the image are still present in the mask.
  • Areas that should not be selected by the mask can go to pure black, but also make sure that there is a smooth, gray transition to lighter areas of the mask. Hard edges in the mask can lead to hard edges in the image when adjusting or painting through the mask.

In the video below, Dave Kelly uses a Lights mask, a Darks mask, a Color mask, and a Zone mask, and then modifies them to create a more suitable mask for achieving his goals with the image. Notice how he works to keep light gray texture in the mask in the selected areas and then how using the mask automatically insures a smooth transition of the effect as he paints it in.

Vignettes and Spotlights

One of the simplest techniques to focus the viewer’s attention in a photograph is using vignettes and spotlights. As we look at photographs, light areas attract our attention. Vignettes generally darken the edges of the frame so that our eyes don’t wander outside the borders. Spotlights, on the other hand, brighten specific areas or elements in the image to move the eye to these areas and indicate their relative importance. Both vignettes and spotlights are meant to be subtle. They are almost always feathered to insure they blend in with the rest of the image. In the best circumstance, the viewer is unaware they exist, but is also guided by them to view the image the way the photographer intended.

In the video below, Dave Kelly demonstrates four useful techniques available in the TK7 panel for building vignettes and spotlights.

  • The Vignette action adds symmetrical circular or oval darkening around the edges of the image.
  • The Freehand Vignette action also creates a vignette inside the image’s borders, but it uses a selection drawn by the photographer, usually using the Lasso or Marquee tool, as the guide for the shape of the vignette’s transition zone.
  • The Spotlight action again uses a freehand selection created by the photographer, usually on something near the center of the image, and then the action adds some subtle brightness to the selected area.
  • Burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask is also a great way to add vignettes and spotlights to an image that look completely natural.

In order to provide smooth transitions, the Vignette, Freehand Vignette, and Spotlight actions add a Gaussian blur to the selection based on the size of the image. The size of the blur is adjustable as the action executes. For burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask, simply choose an appropriately large brush with 0% Hardness to insure smooth blending.

Be sure to check out other videos by Dave Kelly on his YouTube channel.