TK Quick Tip: Layer Mask mode

One of the best features in the TK7 panel is the ability to view luminosity masks and other pixel-based masks as fast as they’re created. Seeing the actual mask up front allows you to make an initial assessment of what will be revealed and what will be concealed before the mask is actually put into use. It also allows you to modify the mask to make sure it selects the parts of the image you want selected.

When you actually deploy the mask, though, sometimes it’s not quite doing what it was expected to do. Maybe a different mask would have worked better. Or maybe the current mask is pretty good, but still needs additional modification. It’s occasionally hard to know how a particular mask is going to perform until you actually see how it affects the image.

If the mask you created using the TK7 panel was applied as a layer mask, then there’s no need to start all over. The TK7 panel has “Layer Mask mode” that lets you modify layers masks or even change to a totally different mask without going through the process of generating and applying a new mask.

In the video below, Sean Bagshaw covers three situations where Layer Mask mode comes in handy.

  • Changing to a different mask entirely.
  • Modifying the current layer mask.
  • Exposure-blending to control dynamic range.

The key feature in all these examples is that the image itself drives the decision-making process. In Layer Mask mode, you no longer see the mask since it automatically gets applied as a layer mask to the active layer. What you see instead is the effect the mask has on the image. So in layer Mask Mode you’re choosing the mask based on how the image looks and not on how the mask looks. You can still look at the mask if you want to, but you’ll also be able to instantly see how the mask affects the image. As always, Sean does an excellent job walking you through the process. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Add YOUR Photoshop actions to the TK7 panel (new method)

In addition to generating luminosity masks, the TK7 panel also creates a more efficient Photoshop workflow with the buttons and menus in the Combo and Cx modules. Many photographers keep one of these modules open in their workspace because it provides quick access to many commonly used Photoshop features. Another way to improve workflow efficiency is to use Photoshop actions to perform repetitive steps. However, using Photoshop actions still involves opening Photoshop’s regular Actions panel. The Combo or Cx modules provide an alternative to this also. Both modules have a dedicated User Actions menu for running Photoshop actions. You just need to take a few minutes to add the actions you are already using. Once it’s set up, you can access your Photoshop actions directly from the User Actions menu in these modules, and this sub-menu automatically closes once the action completes. It’s a fast and efficient way to run Photoshop actions. To help you get started, the video below shows a new method for adding your previously recorded actions to the User Actions menu of the Combo or Cx module.

TK Quick Tip: Mask-the-Rapid-Mask

In the video below, Sean Bagshaw reviews the new blur features in the Mask-the-Rapid-Mask option in the MODIFY section of the TK7 RapidMask module. This addition is a request I received from a users who wanted more control over this process. Mask-the-Rapid-Mask lets you localize the effect a luminosity mask has on an image while the mask is being created.

The Lasso tool is a common starting point for choosing the specific parts of the image where you want the luminosity mask adjustment applied. In order to avoid a hard edge to the selection (that might be visible in the image), the Mask-the-Rapid-Mask action now opens the Feather Selection dialog. The panel calculates a generous feather radius based on the size of the image, but users are given the chance to adjust this. Unfortunately, Photoshop doesn’t preview feathering, so you might want to experiment when you start using this feature to get a sense as to whether you prefer more or less feathering than is suggested. Clicking “OK” in the Feather Selection window completes the action and applies the selection as a mask to the Rapid Mask.

At other times, users already have a dedicated selection they want to use and would prefer no feathering at all. The action also accommodates this. Simply click the “Cancel” button in the Feather Selection dialog and the selection mask is applied with no additional feathering.

Sean covers both possibilities in his video.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Mask-the-Rapid-Mask modification
“My Channels” masks
Infinity color masks
Linked vs. unlinked smart objects
Three ways to use Levels and Curves
Reusing saved luminosity masks
Developing a quality night sky
Split toning
Cloud sculpting
Exposure blending

Sean Bagshaw’s TK7 workflow

“It’s not as hard as I thought.”

That was the reaction of a friend in my local camera club after he bought the TK7 panel and watched Sean Bagshaw’s TK7 Video Guide. Earlier he had told me the panel looked too complicated, but after watching Sean’s videos, he definitely seemed more confident that he would be able to use it successfully

I think this is a normal thought process many photographers go through when they first encounter the panel. They’re curious about luminosity masks, but also a bit anxious as to whether they can successfully integrate them into their workflow. And the panel with all its buttons can seem a bit daunting initially. It’s sort of like the first time you get a computer or a smart phone. There’s some apprehension just looking at the controls, but once you start using it, it quickly starts to make sense. The TK7 panel is pretty much the same. It can be a bit intimidating to look at, but with a little practice, you realize it offers a lot of control over what you want to accomplish with your images.

Sean Bagshaw has been helping photographers feel comfortable with my luminosity mask panels for over six years. His videos break them down button-by-button with expert commentary and demonstrations as to how everything works. And his measured style is just like your favorite teacher who took the time to make sure you understood a concept before moving onto a new topic.

The video below is the portion of his complete workflow chapter from the TK7 Video Guide series where he uses the TK7 panel to finish an image. In addition to showcasing Sean’s teaching style, it also demonstrates some important concepts about using the panel.

  • It integrates easily in to the workflow at many different levels. It makes complex masks but it also efficiently executes basic Photoshop functions.
  • You don’t have to use every button to use it successfully. There is a lot of functionality in the panel, but you can choose just those features you need for your image.
  • Not all experiments are successful. The panel is a great way to try different things with with masks, but, if something isn’t working, well, no problem. The panel also makes it easy to try something else.
  • You’ll never outgrow it. As your skills improve, the TK7 panel will continue to provide new opportunities to explore different ways of using pixel-based masks in your workflow.

If you haven’t seen this video yet, I think you’ll enjoy watching Sean use it on an image. And while he’s certainly an expert at using the TK7 panel, this level of proficiency is easy to attain. With just a little practice, anyone can be a luminosity mask master.

The TK7 panel and the TK7 Video Guide are available on the Panels & Videos page.

Linked vs. unlinked smart objects

In his recent video release of Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Sean uses the TKActions V6 panel to duplicate a smart object layer to make unlinked smart objects. This allows the smart objects in these layers to be independently manipulated to achieve different results on the different layers. Because unlinked smart object layers can be so useful, I programmed this as the default for the “Duplicate Layer” button on the Combo/Cx modules when it is used to duplicate a smart object layer.

For anyone used to using the V6 panel who has gotten used to this behavior, it’s easy to forget that unlinked smart object is NOT the default in Photoshop. The Photoshop keyboard shortcut to duplicate a layer, CTRL/Command+J, produces a linked smart object instead. So does the menu command Layer > Duplicate Layer… In the video below, Sean goes over the difference between linked and unlinked smart objects. It’s a bit complicated, but an important distinction to keep in mind when working with smart objects.

Personally, my use of duplicate smart objects is similar to what Sean shows in the video to double-process a single RAW file. That’s why the default for the “Duplicate Layer” button is to create unlinked smart objects. Hope you agree with this choice and will give this feature a try if you’ve not already done so.

TK Actions Quick Tip: Three ways to use Levels and Curves

There are a lot of features packed into the TKActions V6 panel. Not only does it quickly generate luminosity masks, but it also allows them to be modified and output in a variety of ways. In addition, the V6 panel also provides access to most of the common Photoshop functions photographers use to develop their images. Curves and Levels are a natural part of many techniques, so different V6 modules contain buttons and menu items to appropriately access these adjustments. In this new Quick Tip video, Sean Bagshaw reviews the locations of the Curves and Levels options in the V6 panel and demonstrates how each can be used.

There are three distinct Curves and Levels adjustments found in the V6 panel:

  1. In the “Layer Mask” menu of the Combo/Cx modules. Buttons in this menu are designated by the familiar Photoshop icons for these layers. They create the corresponding adjustment layer with a white “reveal all” layer mask if there is no active selection. If there is an active selection, the selection is incorporated into the the layer mask as the adjustment layer is created. These buttons work similarly to the items in the “Layer Mask” menu accessed at the bottom of the Layers panel. However, there is one advantage to using the Combo/Cx buttons and that is that they automatically open the Properties panel after the adjustment layer is generated. Most adjustment layers do nothing until you adjust the layer’s properties. Anticipating this, the panel opens the Properties panel so users can go directly to making their adjustment after creating the layer.
  2. In the MODIFY section of the RapidMask2 module. The RapidMask2 module is all about making pixel-based masks, like luminosity masks. While the panel can make dozens of different calculated masks as a starting point (Lights, Darks, Midtones, and Zones), there are actually an infinite number of possible masks for any pixel-based value. The MODIFY section allows you to fine-tune any mask to better match the pixels in the image, and Curves and Levels adjustments fit nicely as one of the modification options. The MODIFY buttons open a separate window where users can watch the mask change in real time as the adjustment is made. There is also a MODIFY section in Layer Mask Mode, and Sean’s video demonstrates how Curves and Levels work in this section as well.
  3. In the “Layer” button menu in the OUTPUT section of the RapidMask2 module. This is the final location for Curves and Levels in the V6 panel. “Layer” menu items automatically apply the current Rapid Mask that has been created by the module to the adjustment layer that’s created. It’s a one-step process to go from mask creation to being able to actually use the mask to adjust the image. Besides the efficiency of using this output process to deploy masks, there are two additional advantages. The first is that no intermediate 8-bit selections are used. It’s a direct channel mask to layer mask process, which is 16-bit to 16-bit. The quality of the layer mask is therefore identical to that of the original Rapid Mask. The second advantage of this output method is that the Properties panel for the new adjustment layer once again automatically pops open. Adjustment layers need an adjustment by the user, and this output method lets you get right to it.

Sean, as usual, does a great job reviewing and demonstrating these different options. I’m sure you’ll feel more confident using them after watching this video.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Quick Tip: Three ways to use Levels and Curves
Quick Tip: Reusing saved luminosity masks
Quick Tip: Developing a quality night sky
Quick Tip: Split toning
Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features

TK Actions Quick Tip: Developing a quality night sky

Sean Bagshaw’s YouTube channel has another great workflow video using the TKActions V6 panel. This one covers developing the Milky Way in a night sky image. He starts in Light Room with what appears to be a somewhat unremarkable image of the Milky Way, but with a few quick adjustments uncovers the potential hiding in the dark tones. I liked the Light Room techniques for adjusting the colors in the RAW file and the way the blue fringe around the stars can be removed.

The really good stuff happens when the image is opened in Photoshop as a smart object. Sean selects the Blue channel mask to better target the Milky Way (compared with a standard luminosity mask). He then uses classic luminosity painting to create more dramatic contrast. This involves loading Light and Dark masks as selections and painting white and black through these selections to selectively change image brightness. It’s quick and easy since the selection guides the paint to where it’s needed.

For noise reduction, Sean uses the TKActions V6 panel to duplicate the smart object so the noise reduction can be done on a separate layer and later filtered into the image through a luminosity mask. Using the V6 to duplicate smart objects has the advantage of unlinking the duplicate smart object from the original smart object. This is important since Sean reopens the duplicate smart object in Adobe Camera Raw and is able to perform significant noise reduction on it without affecting the original smart object. If the original and duplicate smart objects had not been unlinked, both the original and the duplicate would have been affected the same by the noise reduction in ACR. Instead, by creating an unlinked smart object first, strong noise reduction can be applied to the duplicate smart object to the point of blurring the stars. A luminosity layer mask can then be applied that reveals the noise reduction in the dark areas of this layer while simultaneously preserving the sharp detail of the individual stars from the original conversion. It’s a bit hard to describe in words, but watching Sean do this in the video will make it crystal clear.

The final technique is to make the stars even sharper using the “Clarity” action in the V6 panel, again combined with a Blue channel luminosity mask as a layer mask. This is a subtle change but the type of one that makes the final image look its best.

The video is just over 21 minutes long, but it seems much shorter. Sean covers a lot of territory with a several really useful techniques facilitated by the V6 panel. The change is quite dramatic and shows what’s possible even when the original RAW file looks marginal. If you’re already doing Milky Way photography or thinking of trying it, this video will give you confidence that you can indeed create a stellar image.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
Quick Tip: Developing a quality night sky
Quick Tip: Split toning
Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features