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

TK Actions Quick Tip: Split toning

Sean Bagshaw posted another great Quick Tip video on his YouTube channel. Split toning is the topic this time and the new video shows how to customize the technique using luminosity masks. It goes well beyond the split toning capabilities of Light Room and highlights how the TKActions V6 panel and Photoshop provide a more refined approach to this process. Sean covers a lot of territory in this one. Here are some key steps to watch for in the video below:

  1. Separately tone two copies of the same image in Light Room/ACR−one warm, one cool.
  2. Open them as smart objects in Photoshop and stack them as one document.
  3. Use Layer Mask Mode in the V6 panel to make a luminosity layer mask for one of the images that correctly reveals the desired toning in that image.
  4. Modify the layer mask using things like a Curves adjustment and the Paint Brush tool.
  5. Use the smart objects to take the images back to LR/ACR to enhance the effect as needed.
  6. Fine-tune the split toning even more in Photoshop by adding adjustment layers specific to each images’ toning.

There’s an incredible amount of control possible with the steps Sean demonstrates here. I was impressed how the whole mood of the image changed as a result of the split toning process. The sun was above the background mountains in the original image, but not low enough to be casting a lot of warm light into the scene. However, with split toning, Sean essentially took this light and created an image that in the end has a strong golden hour feel to it, even creating some warm backlighting for the trees on the ridge. It’s a very pleasing transformation. I’m sure you’ll enjoy seeing how Sean does this.

Quick Tip: Split toning
Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features
Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more tips on photography and post-processing.

TKActions Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting

Sean Bagshaw’s back and he’s posted another great Photoshop tip, this time on creating dramatic skies. He calls the technique “cloud sculpting” since its net effect is to bring improved texture and contrast in cloudy skies. Basically, it involves luminosity painting (painting through luminosity selections) to burn the darker parts of the clouds darker and to dodge the lighter parts lighter. The process is done on burn/dodge layers in order to non-destructively use black and white paint to accomplish this. Painting black through a “Darks” luminosity mask to darken and painting white through a “Lights” luminosity mask to lighten guarantees improved contrast since the further tones are from middle gray, the more paint they receive during luminosity painting. It’s just necessary to choose a luminosity mask that properly targets either the light or dark tones in the image.

Sean makes quick work of the image he demonstrates in the vid, but I took my time trying this as I definitely wanted to get a feel for how it worked and experiment with some variations. Below is the result of my first effort for an image I’m currently working on. You can roll the mouse over the image to see where I started from before employing this technique. NOTE: The image and the rollover might not be visible on the email feed. You may need visit the blog site if you want to see both images.

I had already worked to get a lot of drama in the storm cloud in my initial version, but cloud sculpting seemed to offer the promise of making it even better . . . and it did! There is certainly a better sense of the lightning lighting the cloud internally after cloud sculpting. I also learned a few things along the way.

  1. Zone masks are worth a try. I used “Zone” masks selected with the “Pick” button along with a higher opacity brush for burning (instead of “Darks” masks) and felt it gave me good control. I used a “Lights -3” for dodging, and that seemed to work well for me.
  2. Don’t modify the masks. While it may be tempting to modify the mask to make it more specific for either light or dark areas, clouds have a lot of softness that needs to be maintained. The straight masks generally will do a good job of keeping the clouds properly soft since they’re perfectly feathered based on the underlying tones in the image. So just try this technique first with a straight Lights, Darks, or Zone mask and don’t crank up the mask contrast before turning the mask into a selection.
  3. Smaller brushes can really target the effect. Sean used a large brush in the vid, but adding successive brushstrokes using a smaller brush worked best for me. That’s possibly because I was already working with a developed image and really wanted to “sculpt using a finer chisel.” It might make sense to start with a big brush but then decrease the size as the sculpting takes shape. The small brush also offered finer control than I could have ever achieved with an adjustment layer.

I was pleasantly surprised at what I was able to pull out of these clouds once I got started. Definitely a fun technique and worth a try.

Quick Tip: Cloud sculpting
Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features
Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more tips on photography and post-processing.

New Complete Workflow video series by Sean Bagshaw: Lake Bled

I’m very pleased to let folks know that Sean Bagshaw has released his third Complete Workflow video series. This one covers his “Lake Bled” image from Slovenia from start-to-finish and uses the new TKActions V6 panel. Exposure strategy, development planning, RAW file adjustments, mask making, exposure blending, fine-tuning, and creative development are all covered. Sean makes some intricate masks for this workflow that are an important part of the blending and development process. The last two chapters are my favorites since they do a nice job highlighting the creative control possible with the V6 panel. But there’s a lot to watch and learn in all the chapters, and Sean uses the V6 panel nearly constantly as he works.

Lake Bled photo

Sean has been regularly recording Complete Workflow videos for each new version of the TKActions panel, and starting now they are all bundled into one very economically priced product. The older series feature older versions of the panel (Secret Beach–V4 panel and Northland–V5/V6 panel) , but they still demonstrate the huge variety of different techniques Sean employs to create his dramatic images. If you don’t have the previous videos, the new three-volume set is essentially a guidebook to creative development.

Sean is one of the leading instructions in landscape photography today, and I’m happy to be working with him and being able to offer his high-quality instructional videos on my website. If you’re looking for photographic inspiration, these Complete Workflow vids offer hours of ideas both for working in the field and then in Lightroom and Photoshop. The sample videos below are from the Lake Bled series.

The new 3-series bundle of Complete Workflow videos (Secret Beach, Northland, and Lake Bled) is available on the Panels & Videos page for $45. Blog readers can also use the following code for a 10% discount on this product: CWFLB10

NOTE: I’ve contacted previous customers with private update information for receiving the new Lake Bled video series at a special price. If you’re a previous customer and haven’t received the email, please contact me and I’ll forward the information. Also, there was initially some server issues downloading the new series, but these have been resolved. If you purchased the new series but are still having download issues, definitely contact me and we’ll get it fixed.

TKActions Quick Tip: Exposure blending

Sean Bagshaw is heading out into the field soon, but he managed to squeeze in one more video Quick Tip before leaving. This one covers the popular subject of exposure blending. Because luminosity masks target specific tones in an image, they’re a natural for making masks that blend multiple exposures where the dynamic range of the scene exceeds that of the camera sensor. Sean’s approach to exposure blending has been to focus on the transition zone between light and dark areas of the image to make the blend look natural. Luminosity masks can help significantly with this process since they create natural transitions based on pixel brightness. The steps Sean uses are listed below.

  1. Open the RAW files as smart objects in Photoshop.
  2. Stack the images into a single document with the dark exposure on top.
  3. Make the dark exposure layer active, but turn OFF its visibility.
  4. Click the “Layer Mask” checkbox on the RapidMask2 module to enter Layer Mask Mode. This mode automatically applies the mask generated as a layer mask on the active layer.
  5. Click the “Composite” source button to apply a “Lights-1” mask as a layer mask to the active layer (the dark exposure). This starts the blending process.
  6. Turn the visibility of the dark exposure layer back ON to evaluate the blend.
  7. Modify the layer mask to create the proper transition zone. This might involve trying a different mask, using the MODIFY buttons to modify the current mask, or painting on the layer mask with black or white paint (try setting the blend mode of the paintbrush to “Overlay”).
  8. If needed, double-click the smart objects to reopen them in Adobe Camera Raw to make additional adjustments to brightness, contrast, white balance, etc.

It’s actually pretty easy watching Sean do it. In the 15 minute video he demonstrates the process, with small variations, using three different images.

Quick Tip: Exposure blending
Quick Tip: Favorite new V6 features
Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more tips on photography and post-processing.

TK Actions Quick Tip

As many of you know, I’ve been collaborating with Sean Bagshaw for many years on luminosity masks and Photoshop extension panels. He not only feeds me ideas for improved ways to use pixel-based masks, but his videos have also been instrumental in explaining these techniques to the photo community.

Now that TKActions V6 is complete, Sean is planning to restart his Quick Tip series on how to use the new panel. This will provide a great opportunity to watch an expert using the V6 panel, to get a more in depth look at its many functions, and to pick up some creative ideas for developing images in Photoshop.

I’ll be featuring Sean’s videos on this blog and providing some commentary on the techniques, but you might also want to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel. That way you can get notified of the other videos that he regularly publishes. He’s got a really nice teaching style that provides a lot of information and is also easy to follow.

His first V6 panel Quick Tip is below and looks at his favorite new features. It’s less than 5 minutes long and gives you an idea of what’s coming.

“Briscoe Light”

Sean Bagshaw has a great new video on creating dappled light and light rays using a technique he learned from Chris Briscoe.

The user gets to manually create the target that determines where the light is applied in the image. It looks to be dramatic yet subtle and also quite natural when done right. Definitely worth investigating if you’re into creatively modifying images in Photoshop.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel to get his latest tips, tutorials, and updates.