Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques: A new video course from Sean Bagshaw

I recently finished watching Sean Bagshaw’s new video course, “Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques,” and have written a review below. For those familiar with Sean’s videos, it will come as no surprise that the series is very good. I am pleased to be able offer this course on my Panels & Videos page, and Sean says I can give readers a 15% discount code. Here it is: Bagshaw15. Enter that code in the PROMO CODE field in the shopping cart to save 15% when purchasing this item. (NOTE: If you are a previous customer of mine, I likely sent you an email with an even better discount on Tuesday or Wednesday, January 29 or 30. If you missed it, please check your junk/spam folder. Contact me if you can’t find it. Include the email address you used for your previous purchase, and I’ll privately email you the other code.) Sample videos can be viewed here. The review below will give you an idea of what to expect from the new series.

workspace menu button

Sean Bagshaw has put together another excellent video course focused on the Photoshop workflow. “Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques” covers a lot of territory, but instead of concentrating on developing just one image, like in his other recent courses, this one takes a closer look at several different methods that can be used on almost any image. He explores these techniques in a way that helps you understand how he’s able to achieve the rich color and perfect balance that characterizes his images.

Three main categories of techniques that are discussed and demonstrated:

  • Color Palette
  • Exposure and Tonal Balance
  • Light Sculpting

These are broken down into chapters that show multiple ways to achieve a specific image developing goal, like color-grading, tonal balance, and midtone boost, to name a few. And while this isn’t a sequential image developing workflow course, my sense is that the chapters are more or less arranged in a start-to-finish order. The early chapters will generally work best near the start of the Photoshop workflow and the later chapters will be more relevant near the end of it.

While I consider myself pretty adept at Photoshop, I once again realized I still have a lot to learn after watching all these videos. For example, color-grading with hue, saturation, and lightness isn’t really part of my workflow, but I can now see the advantage of using it near the start, maybe even in LR/ACR as Sean demonstrates, to set the overall color foundation for the image. I’m also thinking of trying to do more with split toning after watching the videos to see what it might add to my landscapes that have a wider perspective.

Not surprisingly, luminosity masks are a powerful tool in Sean’s techniques arsenal, and he makes good use of them in the Exposure and Tonal Balancing chapters. Luminosity masks aren’t just for exposure blending, and Sean shows the many ways they integrate into the workflow to create the right balance of light and contrast throughout the scene. And, while this video series isn’t a course on how to use the TKActions V6 panel (Sean also shows the menu commands called by the panel’s scripts), it’s obvious watching Sean work that the panel can play an important role in the creative process by short-cutting many Photoshop functions and by providing a rapid method to create, modify, and deploy the necessary luminosity masks. Sean is very familiar with the panel, uses some of its advanced features in the videos, and shows how it improves workflow efficiency.

The Light Sculpting section is probably my favorite part of the course. It starts off showing basic and advanced burning and dodging and how it can be used to reveal the contours of light in the scene. The “Digital Light Painting” chapter, however, takes these concepts to an entirely new level. The image Sean had been using to demonstrate different burning and dodging techniques is totally transformed into a completely new image with this light-painting process. Sean describes it as “re-imagining the light,” and it is indeed this and much more. It’s also a challenge, I think, to look deep into your images and find a personal light in them that only you, as the individual photographer who took the picture, can see. Sean shows what’s possible when you engage in this re-imagining exercise and does a great job explaining how to do it. It’s up to you to decide how far you want to take it.

The last two chapters in the Light Sculpting section cover vignettes and spotlights, and this also had a lot of new info for me. Sean shows how this process can be much more than just making the edges of the image darker or the interior lighter. Many of the techniques discussed in the previous chapters are put to use. Color balance, brightness, contrast, clarity, and various adjustment layers are all employed to enhance the light in order to focus the viewer’s eye. The last section of the vignette/spotlight section is essentially another digital light painting demonstration. It’s nice bonus to get to see how this magic works again, and the results are equally impressive the second time through.

Don’t expect to absorb everything in these videos all at once. Sean’s teaching style has the perfect pace, but these videos are information-dense. They cover a lot of ground, and you’ll likely want to work along with him on the practice images for some of the less familiar concepts. I can almost guarantee you’ll learn several new and very useful techniques while watching this course and practicing along with Sean. Hopefully you will also discover how to find some new light in your images as well. By the end, you should be better equipped to express the art and beauty you find in photography.

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 ( 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