Brightness adjustments using Selective Color and luminosity masks

I recently started experimenting with Selective Color adjustment layers. Normally I rely on Curves and Levels for brightness and contrast adjustments, but in reading about and experimenting with Selective Color, it definitely has some advantages, especially when adjusting the light and dark tones in combination with luminosity masks.

The image I’ll be working with is shown below. After looking at a print for a couple of days, I realized it could use more drama, especially in the sky−darker clouds, a bit more contrast, and perhaps additional texture. (You can roll the mouse over the image to see the final result. It may take a few seconds for the second image to load. Rollovers probably will not work in the email feed, so please visit the blog if you want to see rollover images.)

base image

The Selective Color Properties panel has a drop-down menu of colors. The panel’s sliders are labeled with CYMK colors, but they actually allow hue, saturation, and brightness to be independently adjusted for any item chosen from the list once you understand how this panel works. For this tutorial, the “Whites” and the “Blacks” will be of primary interest. Using the “Whites” and “Blacks” to adjust image brightness (and to some degree contrast) has the advantage of avoiding the saturation and color shifts associated with using Curves and Levels for this purpose. With Curves and Levels adjustments, saturation and color changes become mixed in with brightness/contrast changes, and it’s hard to separate them out.

The best way to see this is with a strong “S-Curve” equivalent adjustment using different types of adjustment layers. The S-Curve adjustment increases contrast−the lights get lighter and the darks get darker.

In the Selective Color adjustment, the “Whites” correspond to the light values in the image and “Blacks” correspond to dark values. In order to create an “S-Curve” equivalent, the “Whites” from the drop-down menue need to be less black and the “Blacks” need to be more black. The screen shots below show the two Selective Color adjustments necessary to produce a strong “S-Curve” equivalent adjustment.

selective color adjustments

A similar adjustment for a Curves adjustment layer is shown below. Lights get lighter and darks get darker. (This curve shape is where the name “S-Curve” comes from.)

selective color adjustments

The results from these two similar adjustments, however, are definitely NOT similar. Below is the result from the Selective Color adjustment. Rolling the mouse over the image shows the result of the Curves adjustment. What’s immediately obvious is that the Curves adjustment has undergone a strong saturation shift compared to the Selective Color adjustment. All colors are more intense as a result of the S-Curve on a Curves adjustment layer. This does NOT happen in the Selective Color adjustment because the “Neutrals” in the drop-down menu, which basically correspond to the midtones in the image, have NOT been adjusted. Only the “Whites” and the “Blacks” were adjusted. It’s the midtone values that cause the color and saturation shifts in Curves and Levels adjustments. With Selective Color, it’s possible to leave these midtones (“Neutrals”) untouched, and the result is increased contrast without significant color and saturation changes. (NOTE: As an experiment, select the “Neutrals” and then move the “Black” slider to the right to add more black. There will be a sudden and pronounced shift in color saturation. This clearly demonstrates how the midtones are the source of the color and saturation shifts seen with Curves and Levels, where the midtones cannot be so easily excluded.)

With Curves and Levels adjustment layers, it’s common practice to change the blending mode to Luminosity to counteract the saturation shift, and the image below, which shows the Curves adjustment layer set to Luminosity blend mode, shows that this does indeed help. However, there are still color shifts, and the rollover (which shows the Selective Color adjustment) shows that they are still present. It’s most obvious in the blues of the lower clouds, but also somewhat visible in the reds and yellows. So when it comes to avoiding color and saturation shifts, Selective Color has an advantage even after changing the blending mode of the Curves adjustment to Luminosity.

For the adjustment to this image, I ended up using only the full-on “Blacks” Selective Color adjustment that darkened the “Blacks” as much as possible. The light tones in the image really didn’t need any lightening so the “Whites” were not changed. The result of this initial adjustment is shown below.

selective color adjustments

This adjustment is definitely too aggressive for my taste, but that’s intentional. It provides a good starting point for using luminosity masks. A luminosity mask can be used to filter this adjustment only to those tones that really need it. In doing so, much of the exaggerated adjustment will be concealed by the mask. The end result will be a more balanced adjustment that blends in perfectly to the rest of the image.

In this case, I experimented with Darks, Midtones, and Zone masks and found that a Zone 4 mask added as a layer mask did a nice job of creating the desired effect. The result after adding the layer mask is shown below. The rollover shows the adjustment without the luminosity mask in order to see how seamlessly the mask blended the adjustment into the image.

The ease at which a preset luminosity mask finished this adjustment points out another possible advantage of using the Selective Color adjustment. And that is that it works well to create an initial adjustment to a broad, but limited, range of tones (“Whites” or “Blacks”), which can then be quickly and accurately refined with a luminosity mask. It’s almost like having a targeted double-masking technique where a strong targeted adjustment is first applied, and this can then be fine-tuned and focused using the narrower tonal range of a luminosity mask.

The video below shows the entire process for this adjustment that accomplishes the goal of adding drama in the sky. It uses the RapidMask2 panel’s Layer Mask Mode to quickly find the right luminosity mask for the adjustment. There is also a similar adjustment to a second image included in the video that uses the “Whites” instead of the “Blacks.” If you’d like to practice along with the video, a smaller jpg version of the unadjusted image is available here. (The download image will probably open in a browser window. Right-click on it and choose an option to save it on your computer, and then open it in Photoshop.)

SUMMARY−Adjustments to brightness (and to some degree to contrast) using a Selective Color adjustment layer helps avoid the saturation and color shifts associated with Curves and Levels. Additionally, Selective Color adjustments allow a two-step adjustment process where the initial, somewhat extreme adjustment can be easily modified by applying a more targeted luminosity mask to the adjustment layer to better control which tones in the image are affected.

FINAL NOTE: Every image is different and there’s likely no single workflow with Selective Color and luminosity masks that will work the same repeatedly. I’m finding that using Selective Color to adjust the “Whites” and “Blacks” provides expected and desirable results once I find the correct luminosity mask as demonstrated in the video. It’s always possible to return to the Properties panel to tweak to the initial Selective Color adjustment if necessary.

RapidMask2: The first TKActions V6 module

I’m pleased to announce that there is a new RapidMask2 module for TKActions.

RapidMask2 module

Since releasing the TKActions V5 panel last December I’ve played with several new ideas for using the Rapid Mask engine to generate luminosity and other masks in Photoshop. The new RapidMask2 module is the result of these experiments and effectively replaces the V5 Intro, RapidMask, and LayerMask modules. It has all their functionality plus lots of new features.

Because it’s such a significant improvement, RapidMask2 is going to start TKActions V6. TKActions already went modular with the V5 panel, so I’ll simply be updating and releasing new V6 modules, like RapdidMask2, when they are finished. Since this first V6 module is happening relatively soon after the release of the V5 panel, the new V6 modules will be free to customers who have already purchased V5. During the transition from V5 to V6, customers will receive all V5 and V6 modules and can choose the ones they want use.

Customers who purchased V5 for PS CC were emailed links to download RapidMask2 directly from the server on September 5/6. Be sure to check your email’s junk/spam folder if you missed it. Also, be sure to add the server’s address (client@e-junkie.com) as a safe email contact to insure future updates go to your inbox and do not get sorted to the spam/junk folder where they can be missed.

A couple of important things:

  1. Spanish customers have not received their updates yet. I apologize for the delay. Hopefully everything will be ready next week.
  2. There is no Photoshop CS6 version of RapidMask2. This module uses advanced coding that is only supported by Photoshop CC. V5 customers using CS6 should contact me if they upgrade to CC.

Below is a list of the most important new features in RapidMask2.

  • Better organized−Four distinct sections (SOURCE, MASK, MODIFY, and OUTPUT) that mirror the mask-making process.
  • Source menus−New menu design for choosing different pixel data as the starting point for making masks.
  • Spectrum interface−Compact spectrum interface for choosing different masks.
  • New masks−Lights-6, Darks-6, and Vibrance.
  • User-created color masks−Color masks that target specific colors can be generated with ease and converted to Rapid Masks for modification and output.
  • Add and subtract masks with calculator simplicity−Two buttons, plus(+) and minus(-), make it so all masks can be added and subtracted just like using a calculator.
  • Enhanced “Layer” output button−Provides new pixel layer choices for generating layers with the current Rapid Mask as the layer mask.
  • Updated Layer Mask mode−Provides an image-based option to quickly choose or create the best mask by having it applied directly as a layer mask on the active layer.
  • Accent color−There is just one color for the entire module, an accent color, that users can change to whatever they prefer.
  • Click tracking−Buttons retain an accent-colored shadow after clicking so users can track which mask they last chose.

The video below reviews these features in more detail. It is best viewed in full-screen mode in order to see everything that’s happening.

Sean Bagshaw has also updated his V5 Video Guide series to include five new videos that cover the RapidMask2 module in detail. A download link for these has also been emailed to customers who purchased his original V5 Video Guide. The new vids are included in his updated V5/V6 Video Guide series. The intro is shown below.

If you already have the V5 panel, I think you’ll find the new RapidMask2 module a big step forward both in masking functionality and ease of use. Please be sure to check for the free update in your email, install it, and give it a try.

If you don’t have the TKActions panel yet, a 25% discount code is available for the next two weeks: V625off.
It provides a 25% discount on anything on the Panels & Videos page.

TKActions V5 Quick Tip #5: Dodging, Burning, and Luminosity Painting

Luminosity painting has always been one of my favorite methods for using luminosity masks. Painting through luminosity selections has significantly more power to influence image tone than using luminosity masks as layer masks, especially when it comes to burning and dodging. Not only does luminosity painting target specific tones in the image to receive paint, but paint can be applied repeatedly with multiple brushstrokes to enhance the effect. Luminosity layer masks limit what can be achieved by what the mask will reveal. Luminosity painting does not have this constraint. Paint can be applied repeatedly even through partially selected pixels until maximum white or maximum black is achieved if necessary. Plus, the active luminosity selection insures it all blends in with the rest of the image regardless of how much paint is applied. So there is much greater effect possible with luminosity painting on burn/dodge layers compared to using layer masks. Not all images need the enhanced effect that luminosity painting can achieve, but using it instead of a luminosity layer mask insures that dynamic control isn’t throttled by what a layer mask can reveal.

Sean’s newest quick tip video shows how easy and precise luminosity painting can be with the V5 panel. Highlights with contrast and shadows with depth can quickly be painted into an image using this technique. I particularly like the way Sean uses the “Pick” tool to find the best off-center midtone (Zone) mask to paint through. This is definitely one of my favorite tips so far since it’s something I use on almost every image. I hope you enjoy it too. Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel to keep up with his latest technique videos.

V5 Quick Tip #5: Dodging, Burning and Luminosity Painting
V5 Quick Tip #4: Off-Center Midtone Masks
V5 Quick Tip #3: Luminosity Mask Basics and the V5 Intro Module
V5 Quick Tip #2: Modifying Masks
V5 Quick Tip #1: Basic Luminosity Mask Tasks

TKActions V5−updated and improved

First off, a big “THANK YOU!” to everyone who as emailed suggestions for improving the TKActions V5 panel. Lots of good ideas out there that I would not have thought of on my own. The panel has been updated to incorporate many of them into the CC version. A download of the updated version was emailed to V5 customers on April 22 and 23. Please check your junk/spam email folder for those dates if you didn’t receive it yet. I’m also excited that there are more updates planned for the V5 panel in the coming months, some even for the CS6 version. Customers who have purchased the V5 will receive them for free, so be sure to watch your email and this blog for additional information. If you would like to purchase the V5 panel, it is available on the Panels & Videos page. NOTE: The current update is only for the Photoshop CC version of the panel. Most of the enhanced features cannot be programmed into the CS6 version.

Sean Bagshaw has a great video that runs through the new features in the V5 panel:

Below is a quick review of the new features listing details and advantages. The original function of each button remains unchanged. What’s new are the enhanced functions accessed by pressing a modifier key when clicking a particular button on the panel. The “ALT” key on Windows (“option” key on Mac) is the most frequent modifier. This is designated as “ALT/option” in the text below. The “Shift” key is also occasionally used as is the “CTRL/control” key (Windows-“CTRL” / Mac-“command”).

All modules

Windows-Extensions

All modules

  1. “TK” appears in front of the module names in the Window > Extensions menu in Photoshop and on the module’s tab. This makes it easier to find the V5 modules in the “Extensions” list if the user has multiple extension panels installed.
  2. The animated active selection indicator is slightly taller. This is subtle but provides slightly better visibility when the “Animated” indicator is chosen. The “Fixed” selection indicator (red dashes) has not changed.
  3. Theme-matched rollover Help. This provides a much cleaner look to the modules that blends better with the overall theme chosen as the Photoshop interface. The Help messages still appears in the window at the bottom of each module, but this window is no longer a distracting white box.

Control module

  1. +/- Layer Mask button: ALT/option adds a black (hide-all) mask on the active layer.
    Advantage: A black mask makes it easier to paint in adjustments that affect only small parts of the image.
  2. Control module

  3. Group button: ALT/option adds a black (hide-all) mask to the Group layer when it’s created.
    Advantage: A black mask can be useful when using the mask-the-mask technique described in Sean Bagshaw’s videos when only a small portion of an adjustment within the group needs to be revealed in the composite image.
  4. Burn/Dodge buttons: ALT/option creates the Burn/Dodge layer filled with 50% gray.
    Advantage: 50% gray provides better visibility of where paint is applied to the layer.
  5. View button: ALT/option opens a Curves adjustment instead of a Levels adjustment for modifying the mask of an active selection.
    Advantage: Some people prefer Curves to Levels.

Intro module

Intro module

  1. This module has been redesigned to incorporate the “spectrum” interface first introduced in the V4 panel. With it, the relative amount of tones selected by each mask is suggested by the location and width of the buttons, which are placed against a tonal gradient background. Wide buttons select more tones, narrow buttons select fewer tones.
    Advantage: For people new to luminosity masks, this arrangement can help visualize the tonal range of each mask. The Intro module continues to use the Luminosity Lock/Rapid Mask engine for generating luminosity masks, so the power, speed, and mask-based interface are all still available when using this module.
  2. Infinity (∞) button: ALT/Option opens a Curves adjustment layer instead of a Levels adjustment layer for modifying the Rapid Mask.
    Advantage: Some people prefer Curves.

LayerMask module

LayerMask module

  1. The black background of the LumLock section now tone-pulses from black to gray then back to black.
    Advantage: Visually more distinct than the previous black background to better distinguish the LayerMask module from the RapidMask module that has a similar layout.
  2. Infinity (∞) button: ALT/option opens a Curves adjustment instead of Levels.
    Advantage: Some people prefer Curves.

RapidMask module

  1. Paint button: ALT/option just resets brushes for saturation painting without creating a new layer.
    Advantage: Makes it easier to return to the Saturation Painting layer to update it.
  2. Infinity (∞) button: ALT/option opens a Curves dialog window instead of Levels.
    Advantage: Some people prefer Curves.
  3. Enhanced visibility when “Auto-Apply” is checked. The words “Auto-Apply” change to green and the black background tone-pulses from black to gray.
    Advantage: Better distinguishes when “Auto-Apply” is turned on.

RapidMask module

RapidMask module

Actions module

Actions module

  1. Clarity button: ALT/option runs the action on a Smart Object layer.
    Advantage: Allows the blur radius to be changed later. This is done by double-clicking the “High Pass” filter on the Smart Object layer and entering a different Radius value.
  2. Orton Effect button: ALT/option runs the action on a Smart Object layer.
    Advantage: Blur can be readjusted later as needed by double-clicking Gaussian Blur on the Smart Object layer.
  3. Personal action buttons: Several changes:
    a) ALT/option-click opens a window that allows the user to change the button’s name.
    Advantage: Easier to remember the action associated with each button.
    b) CTRL/command-click opens a window that allows the user to change the button’s rollover Help message.
    Advantage: A more descriptive message about the action programmed into this button can be entered.
    c) Shift-click restores the default name and rollover Help for the button.
  4. Larger font size for the “Dimension” and “Opacity” fields.
    Advantage: Easier to see on high-resolution monitors.
  5. Better stacking capability for smaller monitors via a workaround that fools Photoshop into believing the panel is shorter than it is.

Batch module

Actions module

  1. Larger font size for the “Dimension” and “Opacity fields.
    Advantage: Easier to see on high-resolution monitors.
  2. Multi-dimensional batch web-sharpening is now available. If images need to be output to different sizes, multiple dimensions can be entered in the “Dimension” field. It’s just necessary to separate each value with a semicolon and have no spaces. Example: 800;1024;2048. Using this example, three images will be output for every input image, each having one of the three listed dimensions: 800-pixels, 1024-pixels, and 2048-pixels. The action adds a suffix to each image listing the dimension to which it has been sized.

I hope you find these enhancements useful. More to come, so stay tuned.

TKActions V5: The next step in luminosity masks (discount code included)

I’m very happy to announce the all new TKActions V5 panel for Photoshop. This version is the next step in the evolution of luminosity masks, and it’s quite significant. The V5 panel was coded from the ground up and designed to make luminosity masks easier, faster, and more powerful than ever before. It features a new masked-based interface made possible by a speedier method I developed to generate pixel-based masks. Users will now see luminosity masks up front to quickly decide which one to use. If the standard masks aren’t quite right, no problem. There are buttons to modify any mask in real time and create a custom mask specific to the image. To complete the process, there is a full range of dedicated output buttons to insure a 16-bit workflow from mask to image.

It’s worth noting that the V5 panel still makes true 16-bit luminosity masks using Photoshop calculations.  They are the same self-feathering masks that have changed the way we develop images in Photoshop.  But now they’re available faster than ever, can be infinitely customized, and are displayed on-screen in a way that makes them much easier to see and use.

The new panel is also much smaller.  Instead of one large mega-panel, the V5 is a series of modules.  Users can open, close, dock, and arrange the modules in whatever way works best for their workflow.

Additional features in the TKActions V5 panel include:

Extended spectrums in multiple channels.  In addition to the full spectrum of luminosity masks, the V5 generates Lights, Darks and Zone masks for component color channels, saturation/vibrance, color, and Color Range.

Quick-click “Control” module.  This module has new buttons to run Photoshop to avoid having to search menus or remember keyboard shortcuts.

Quick-learn “Intro” module. This new module provides a simplified interface that creates all the basic luminosity masks, offers infinity modification, and has the full range of deployment options. Plus there is extended rollover help for those just getting started using luminosity masks.

Advanced “Auto-Apply” option.  Applies masks directly to the active layer to instantly see the effect on the image.

Updated web-sharpening.  Now with new controls for color profile conversion, running a personal action on the sharpened image, and an “extra sharp” option for detailed images.

Batch sharpening.  Entire folders of images can be sharpened and saved instead of doing one at a time.

Multiple languages.  The V5 comes programmed with a user interface that displays in four languages−English, Italian, German, or Spanish.

Updated active selection indicator.  Users can now choose different active selection indicators to optimize how this feature displays on each module.

Rollover help on all buttons. A “Help” window at the bottom of each module tells what each button does.

Many other new actions and features. Mask modification, smart “Pick” button, history tracking of luminosity masks, creative image enhancement, and much more

There are videos about the new panel below.  The one by Sean Bagshaw is from his new V5 Video Guide series.  More information and additional videos can be viewed on my website. You can also download the detailed Instructions PDF.

There are two different versions of the V5 panel:  one for Photoshop CS6 and another for Photoshop CC. An illustrated installation guide is included in the download folder.

As part of the official release of the new panel, an introductory discount is available to everyone on new purchases for next 2 weeks. Use the following code: V520off

It takes 20% off anything on the Panels & Videos page including the new V5 panel and Sean’s V5 Video Guide series that explains it in detail.  Just copy and paste the code in the shopping cart to take advantage of this discount.

I hope you will give the TKActions V5 panel and videos a try.  It’s another big step forward for luminosity masks and will change forever the way you use them.

NOTE #1:  Things tend to get a bit hectic when there is a new panel. If you leave a comment or contact me and I don’t respond right away, please be patient. It may take a few days, but I’ll eventually catch up.

NOTE #2: The TK Infinity Mask panel has NOT been updated. This panel works independently of the V5 and remains the same. The TKActions V5 panel only replaces the TKActions V4 panel.

 

 

Classic Luminosity Masking

Since writing the first luminosity mask tutorial I’ve found countless uses for them and there are always new options to explore. For new users, though, it can sometimes be a bit daunting to know where to start.  Understanding the basics of using luminosity masks can be a good stepping stone to more complex applications. A recent image provided a straightforward example of why luminosity masks can be so valuable.  I’ll use it to review some basic concepts both in words and pictures.

Here are three important things to remember about luminosity masks:

  1. They select tones in the image, not individual elements. It helps when using them to start thinking “tonally” about what will be selected with a luminosity masks instead of trying to use them to make a precise selection of a specific part of the image. Luminosity masks work best in situations where tonal differences are well-defined instead of in situations where there are obvious pixel edges.
  2. The edges of luminosity masks are perfectly feathered for blending. These masks are created from the brightness values of individual pixels. Just as a photograph is a continuous-tone image, luminosity masks provide continuous-tone blending. Sometimes this feathering can be a bit too perfect, especially in the initial masks, bleeding an adjustment into even weakly selected tones. But it’s easy to narrow the tonal range selected using techniques in the original tutorial or using calculations for 16-bit luminosity masks. Some feathering is necessary and highly desirable for insuring perfect blending of any adjustment or other Photoshop maneuver into the rest of the image.
  3. They are incredibly precise when properly used. Tonal selection and perfect feathering make it possible to use luminosity masks to make extremely targeted adjustments. Painting through an active luminosity selection is perhaps the best way to take advantage of this since multiple brushstrokes can be applied to the same area, slowly building up the desired effect, while also insuring it blends flawlessly into the image.

The image below of a cloud from a clearing storm against a mountain background is the example I’ll use to illustrate these principles. This is the nearly finished version of the image. The main problem left to fix is that the cloud isn’t as well defined as it could be. It’s an accurate depiction of what was captured, but it lacks good textural quality because the tones, especially in the brightest areas on the left, are too close together to provide meaningful definition for the viewer. The cloud still needs some work to bring out the tonal texture that is present, but hidden in the brightest tones.

two-tone

But how to isolate the cloud for additional development? It doesn’t have any good edges. The wind-blown wisps along its outer portions would be a challenge to select with any standard Photoshop tool. And the hard edges created by these tools would be equally difficult to feather into the image. However, thinking tonally, the cloud is distinctly separate from its background, so the tonal selection provided by a luminosity mask would be ideal.

While there are an infinite number of luminosity masks, it’s usually easy to spot the right one. It’s the mask that is whitest in the areas of the desired adjustment and very dark in areas where no adjustment is required.  In this case, it was the Lights-3 mask (shown below). With this mask, the cloud clearly stands out from the background.

light-3

The red-overlay “view” mode (below) shows even more clearly how perfect this mask is. Not only is it more selected in the whitest areas of the clouds (darker red), but it also feathers very nicely to the edges of the cloud (lighter red). And, to top it off, there is no red in areas immediately adjacent to the cloud. So an adjustment using this mask will affect the whitest cloud areas most and feather perfectly to the wispy edges. There will also NOT be any haloing around the cloud caused by a poorly feathered selection. The luminosity mask will confine the adjustment to only those pixels where it’s needed. NOTE: The snow-covered mountain tops and upper cloud are also showing a small degree of selection (pale red) but it is a simple matter to paint these areas black in the final mask to exclude them from the adjustment made to the cloud.

light-3-red-mask

Once the mask is decided on, it can be added to an adjustment layer. For this image a Levels adjustment works well. It takes the targeted tones and easily adds contrast to create more texture in the cloud, especially the blob-like, white areas. The Properties panel for this adjustment is shown below.

properties

The image below shows the results. Rolling the mouse over this image shows what it looked like before this adjustment. (The rollover might not be visible in the email feed, but is visible on the blog website.)  It’s easy to see how the cloud (and only the cloud) has had its texture significantly improved.  This result displays one of the ideal qualities of luminosity masks, namely that they can separate tonal differences present at the pixel level which is nearly invisible to the eye. This is exactly what I was looking to do here, and the luminosity mask made it very easy.


This is a good start. The cloud shows improved tonal separation and is more congruent with the textural qualities present in the rest of the scene. However, this adjustment also had the unintended effect of graying-down the cloud. The tonal separation has been significantly improved, but some of the brilliance has been lost.

This now is a good example of a situation where painting through a luminosity selection (Luminosity Painting) makes a huge difference. This technique lets me selectively restore the crisp whites to the cloud by painting white onto a “Dodge” layer exactly where I want to add brightness. The luminosity selection controls which pixels receive paint and how much they receive.

LUMINOSITY MASK PEARL: The “7½” and “2½” zone selections are my initial go-to masks for removing this type of midtone grayness from an image. Painting white through a Zone-7½ selection lightens the lighter grays, but, because the very lightest tones in the image are subtracted off, it prevents blowing out the whites. The Zone-2½ selection does the same for the midtone darker grays. Painting black through the Zone-2½ selection darkens these grays, but, because the darkest blacks have been subtracted off, maintains enough texture to keep the details from going black. A 30% opacity brush is a good starting point, and plan on using multiple strokes to slowly build up the desired effect.

Painting white through a Zone-7½ selection in this case nicely targets the cloud without leading to a loss of texture in the brightest whites. It also prevents spilling paint onto the darker tones in the mountains behind the clouds. Some care is taken to use a brush size that allows paint to mostly fall on the gray clouds that need to be brightened and to allow selectively painting some areas multiple times.

The “Dodge” layer for this luminosity painting is a blank pixel layer set to Overlay blend mode. This painted layer, placed against a gray background, is shown below. It demonstrates how the Zone-7½ selection very nicely confines the white paint to the cloud and how I was able to add more paint to some areas to increase the effect exactly where I wanted it.

dodge-layer

The final image is shown below. The rollover is the image before luminosity painting.


In summary, this image, with its poorly separated cloud texture, is a classic situation for using luminosity masks. Three important luminosity principles were applied:

  1.  Think tonally−Choose luminosity masks in situations where there is adequate tonal separation which can be exploited to create a useful mask or selection.
  2. Find the right mask and feathering−Look for a mask that is clearly lighter in the areas that need adjustment compared to areas that should not be adjusted.
  3. Paint for precision−Use luminosity painting to precisely burn and dodge the image to create the proper tonal balance.

These concepts can be applied to other situations where luminosity masks are being considered as a tool for image development.

If you’d like to experiment with these techniques, a downsized-size jpg of this image without the adjustments described in this tutorial can be downloaded here.

TKActions V4 — A New Panel for Luminosity Masks and Beyond

I’m pleased to announce a new TKActions panel for Photoshop. This is the fourth version of this custom luminosity mask panel (V4) and has been completely rebuilt. It takes advantage of new capabilities in Photoshop extension panels–smaller footprint, smarter buttons, updated interface, and more features–to provide users a practical and efficient way to add luminosity masks to their workflow.

TKActions V4 panel

The top part of the panel is a Photoshop control center. It executes many common menu commands and keyboard short cuts with the click of a button. Most of the usual steps for developing an image can be accessed from here.

The bottom of the panel has three tabs. The Spectrum tab provides a new interface for creating luminosity masks. The widths of the buttons in this section roughly match the tonal ranges that will be selected in the image. Standard luminosity masks (Lights/Darks/Midtones) as well as subtracted and zone masks can now all be created with a single click.

In addition to the Spectrum tab, the bottom of the panel also has an Actions and Basic tab. The Actions tab has several useful functions for enhancing the image and a web-sharpening section for preparing images for jpeg output that has been completely redesigned. The Basic tab provides an alternate interface for using luminosity masks with Curves and Levels adjustment layers and as Channel masks and selections.

TKActions V4 panel

A partial list of new features and improvements in the V4 panel includes:

  • 16-bit luminosity masks−These were discussed in previous blog posts.
  • Spectrum selection−Creates ALL masks, including zone and subtracted masks, that were available in the previous version 3 panel.
  • Integrated actions−No more action sets to install on Photoshop’s regular Actions panel.
  • Smart buttons−Panel buttons monitor the Photoshop workflow and only fire at the right time.
  • Toggle buttons−Allows one button to perform multiple tasks.
  • Active selection indicator−Keeps track of when there is an active selection even if the marching ants aren’t visible.
  • Updated web-sharpening−No more fixed-dimensions. Users can enter their preferred dimension from 100 to 3000 pixels and easily tailor the level of sharpening to their taste.
  • Condensed history−No more scrolling histories for buttons that execute multiple steps. One button, one click, one entry on the History panel, Ctrl/Command-Z to undo it.
  • Tonal Clarity−A saturation-neutral method for enhancing detail and structure in an image.
  • One-click Photoshop control−Many Photoshop menu commands and keyboard shortcuts can now be accessed from a color-coded interface for more efficient image processing.
  • Midpoint rollovers−Choose among the different luminosity masks based on tones sampled from the image.
  • Rapid clear channels−Quickly remove all alpha channels from the Channels panel to decrease file size and memory use.
  • Creative Cloud installation−Once acquired, the new panel and future updates are automatically installed on computers signed in to the Creative Cloud desktop application (see this video and this one).

The new V4 panel is designed to help take the guesswork out of luminosity masks and make them more accessible than ever. It’s also meant to make other actions and tools more available to allow photographers to creatively develop their images. My website has additional information. The complete Instructions PDF can be downloaded and covers all aspects of the panel. Sean Bagshaw has also recorded a corresponding video series called the Video Guide to TKActions that explains the new panel in detail. Samples can be found below.

Purchase options for the new panel and videos are on the Special Offers page. A German version of the panel and accompanying videos are available on André Distel’s website.