TK Quick Tip: Better vignettes via masks (Think H, S, and L.)

One way to get the most out of Photoshop masks that are based on pixel level data, like luminosity masks (where pixel luminance is the data source), is to always keep these masks in mind when solving problems or making adjustments in Photoshop. And the easy way to do that is to simply focus on the three basic characteristics that make up each pixel: Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. If the adjustment you have in mind or the problem you’re trying to solve can be isolated based on one of these three characteristics, then a mask from the TK8 Multi-Mask module might be of use. TK8 makes masks that target each of these characteristics as explained below.

Hue (or color)–If specific colors in the image need adjustment, an Infinity Color mask or Black & White Adjustment Layer mask can be used. Both make excellent masks that target specific colors in the image.

SaturationSaturation masks are based on pixel-level saturation values. The more saturated the color, the lighter the pixels are in the mask. Inverting the base Saturation mask provides access to Vibrance masks, which are brightest in the unsaturated colors in the image.

Lightness–To access pixel-level Lightness data, use Luminosity masks and Zone masks.

So, if you examine your image in terms of its Hue, Saturation, and Lightness, then it’s easier to pick the right type of mask for what you want to accomplish. As an example, I recently had an email discussion with a TK8 user on alternate ways to make image vignettes. TK8 Combo and Cx modules use an adjustment layer set to Multiply blend mode and a layer mask to provide darkening at the edges of the image. The amount of vignetting can be controlled by changing the layer’s opacity. The user’s concern was that this method sometimes made dark colors too saturated or too dark. Yes, this is a potential problem with any vignette, especially if the image’s edges already contain saturated or dark colors. My usual solution had been to paint black at varying opacities on the layer mask of the vignette adjustment layer to conceal the vignette in areas where it affects saturation or darkens the image too much.

In the Quick Tip video below, Sean Bagshaw demonstrates an even better method and it’s a good illustration of the how to think about adding pixel-based masks to the workflow. The user’s main concern was that dark colors were sometimes being affected too much by the vignette. So the question then becomes: Is there a way to select dark colors in the image using a mask? Well, yes, of course, there is. That would be a Darks-series luminosity mask. So the next question becomes how to use a luminosity mask to subtract the dark colors from a vignette so the dark colors are less affected by the vignette. The video shows how easy this is while still creating a really nice vignette.

One of the nice things about using these pixel-based masks is how perfectly the effect is revealed in the image with no visible edges or halos. In the example of the Freehand Vignette in the video, the vignetting still looked perfect even after Sean increased the opacity of the vignette layer. Seamless blending is one of the defining characteristics of pixel-based masks, so using them provides considerable latitude in the degree to which pixels selected by the mask can be adjusted before creating unwanted artifacts.

Summary: Think about Hue, Saturation, and Lightness when deciding if a pixel-based mask or selection would be useful in the post-processing workflow. If one of these characteristics helps isolate the areas that need adjustment, then the TK8 Multi-Mask module can be used to generate and refine a mask to better target the adjustment to where it’s needed most.

Extra Credit Challenge: Sean used the TK8 Mask Calculator to create an ideal vignetting mask. Can you think of a way to use TK8 to paint the same effect directly onto the layer mask WITHOUT using the Mask Calculator?

TK8: Color grading with masks

Color grading is the process of adding color to an image beyond the normal or natural color balance that existed when the photograph was taken. It has traditionally been used in films to impart a specific mood, like the color green that signaled the characters were inside the matrix in the “The Matrix” movie franchise. Photographs, however, can also benefit from color grading, and have actually been doing so for a long time. Things like warming up the colors for images taken around sunset and adding extra blue to images of ice and snow are common examples.

“Morpheus” from The Matrix movies. Notice how the green color grading lets viewers know he is inside the matrix. Image copyrighted by Warner Brothers.

Lightroom and Camera Raw added color-wheel-based color grading in 2020. Color grading an image could now be accomplished by simply dragging and dropping an icon on the color wheel to add that color to either the shadows, midtones, or highlights.

Camera Raw color grading interface.

Photoshop, however, still lacks a similar feature. Curves, Levels, or Color Balance adjustments layers can be used for color grading, but doing so requires using multiple points on the Curves adjustment layer or adjusting multiple sliders on Levels and Color Balance. There is no native, drag-and-drop color grading tool inside Photoshop.

The TK8 plugin now adds color-wheel-based color grading to Photoshop. Shadows, midtones, and highlights can all be adjusted by simply dragging and dropping a matching icon (black, gray, or white square) on the color wheel. The further the square is placed from the center of the color wheel, the more intense the color. In addition to changing colors, the brightness of the different tonal ranges can also be adjusted with the slider at the bottom of the interface.

TK8 color grading interface.

Using a color wheel greatly simplifies the color-grading process. Multiple colors and intensities can quickly be tested to find the right one. And while it’s certainly possible to color grade the entire image using the TK8 color grading interface, the real power of this feature lies in combining it with the different masks that the TK8 Multi-Mask module generates. Color grading has traditionally been associated with more global color adjustments to the image, but the TK8 masks allows it to be more specific and localized, while still providing the easy control that comes with the color-wheel interface. There’s even a specific color grading button in the module’s output section to a) automatically create the necessary color grading layer with the mask preview as the layer mask, and b) open the color grading interface to allow quick access to this functionality.

Red outline shows the color grading output button.

Color grading through masks also simplifies the entire color grading process. When color grading the entire image, it might be necessary to color grade all three tonal ranges—highlights, midtones, and shadows—to get the desired look. However, when color grading through a mask, it’s often NOT necessary to use all three tonal ranges. Simply color grading the midtones, for example, might be all that’s necessary to achieve the effect you’re looking for.

In the video below, Dave Kelly demonstrates how to combine color grading with different pixel-based masks generated with the TK8 Multi-Mask plugin. He first demonstrates color grading the entire image, but then starts narrowing it down, color grading the background separately. He then goes even further to work with luminosity masks, zone masks, and color masks as ways to constrain color grading to specific parts of the image. He even throws in using the mask calculator in the Multi-Mask module as a way to focus color grading right where it’s needed.

Color-wheel-based color grading provides a new option for controlling color inside Photoshop. Combining it with masks can make color adjustments even easier.

Be sure to subscribe to Dave Kelly’s YouTube channel for more TK8 videos.

TK8: New features list and videos

As mentioned in the previous post, launching the TK8 plugin encountered some major issues. They have been taken care of now and the sales page and download server are working properly. Thank you for your patience during this unfortunate event. I’m staying caught up on email for the most part now and the feedback has been mostly positive. I’m happy to hear that the transition from TK7 was straightforward for most users and that the interface, especially the Multi-Mask module, is easier to navigate. As a reminder, the discount codes sent to previous customers are good until October 22, and there is also a site-wide 25% discount on everything using the code: TK25off

There are a lot of new and improved features in TK8. I wanted to take it well beyond what TK7 offered. I know no one will use ALL the buttons and functions in TK8, but hopefully there will be enough favorites for everyone to make the plugin an important tool in their Photoshop workflow.

It would nearly impossible to cover all the new features in detail in one blog post, but I did want to provide a list so readers have an idea of what to look for and what to expect. Below this list are several videos (in different languages) that review some of the new features.

All modules

  • Tooltips are persistent unless turned off, but even turned off, holding down the “ALT” key on Windows or the “option” key on Mac displays them when moving the mouse over a button.
  • New selection indicators are more prominent, easier to see, and less likely to be overlooked.
  • Improved error message alerts for when user does something that could cause an unexpected result, and these are now translated into different languages.
  • More icons/fewer words.

Multi-Mask module (replaces TK7 Go and RapidMask modules)

  • New smart-phone-like interface for accessing different types of masks and functions.
  • Color-wheel-based color grading (like in Camera Raw).
  • Edge masks that find edges in the image.
  • Edit selections as masks.
  • Workflow extras which include sketch actions and gradient actions.
  • One-click add-adjustment-layer buttons at the bottom of the main interface for quickly making favorite adjustment layers.
  • Layer Mask mode with changeable luminosity masks (Lights, Darks, and Midtones) for quickly testing the effect of different masks on the image.
  • 2-UP mode also returns to Layer Mask mode.
  • Real-time Levels and Curves modification for any mask.
  • Mask calculator has been moved to the output section and has bigger buttons.
  • “Paint Color” output option for adding color to the image through a mask selection using Linear Light blend mode for the layer being painted.

Combo/Cx modules

  • Many new buttons: Linear Light blend mode at 15% fill opacity (replaces Hard Light)Merge Visible is now Stamp Visible (CTRL+click on Windows/command+click on Mac moves it to the top of the layer stack)Select SubjectSelect SkyFeather SelectionExpand SelectionContract SelectionFree TransformExport As…Gradient and Solid Color adjustment layer options added to the Adjustment Layers menu.
  • New “TK” actions: Fill TransparentAlign+FocusFill Edges check boxCTRL/command+click on the Clarity action runs it without the result being turned into a smart object.
  • Expanded web-sharpening options including presets, file-naming, and file-saving.
  • Add your personal watermark/logo with ease.
  • Smart object indicator visually specifies the contents of smart objects.
  • New, easier method to add user and button actions to the module.
  • Ability to add unlimited user actions to the User Actions list.
  • Preference available to NOT close “TK” and “User Actions” menus automatically.  This makes it possible to use Combo or Cx module with an alternate interface (TK or User actions) and thereby use both modules with one set to an alternate interface.

New feature videos

Several of the affiliates I work with have recorded videos discussing the new TK8 features. I’ve linked to them below. Some are in languages besides English.

Sean Bagshaw is basically the Dean of Luminosity Masks. He probably knows the TK8 plugin better than anyone (except maybe me) and has the skills to explain it so that photographers get the most out of it. His TK8 Video Guide is the definitive guide to TK8 for the English-speaking world. In the video below, he reviews his five favorite new TK8 features. Sean’s YouTube channel has a TK Quick Tips playlist.

Dave Kelly is basically an enthusiastic lab assistant at Professor Bagshaw’s Luminosity Mask University. Dave does a weekly series (“TK Friday”) where he focuses on explaining different features in the TK8 plugin and applying them to various images. Dave’s actually a student of many different photography techniques and enjoys sharing what he learns with others. In the video below, he too looks at some of his favorite TK8 features. Dave’s YouTube channel is here.

I’m not a big video maker, but I usually try to make one when updates are released. Below is the video I made for Sean’s, Antonio Prado’s, and André Distel’s video guide courses. It goes over where to find the new features in the TK8 plugin.

Antonio Prado is the Spanish world’s leading expert in everything TK. He too has a very deep understanding of the different pixel-based masks made possible by the TK8 plugin and explains everything in his Videoguía TK8 series. In the video below, in Spanish, he goes over the new features, and only he could cover this much territory in such a short amount of time.

Rafael Coutinho was a major source of ideas for TK8. He was constantly asking for new features and refinements, and they were all good, so I kept adding them. It’s great to have someone like this to prod me into constantly making a better product. In his video below, in French, he also covers the new features in TK8.

Isabella Tabacchi has been working with and teaching about luminosity masks for many years. In the video below, in Italian, she goes over the differences between the TK7 panel and TK8 plugin.

I hope you enjoy the new TK8 plugin.

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.