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.

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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.

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: Reusing saved luminosity masks

Sean Bagshaw recently posted another Quick Tip video covering how to save and reuse luminosity masks. The TKActions V6 panel has the “Channel” button in the OUTPUT section, which saves the luminosity masks it generates, already programmed in. So the saving part is pretty easy. But the panel doesn’t know when you want to actually recover and use the saved mask, and that’s where Sean’s video comes in handy. He’ll walk you through a couple of different methods to add the saved mask to a layer on the Layers panel. Saving and reusing masks on the Channels panel is somewhat of an advanced technique, but it’s helpful to be aware of it for those situations where you’ve spent a little time creating a particularly useful mask that you might want to use again later on.

Another option for reusing and duplicating a previous luminosity mask is to use one already deployed as a layer mask on the Layers panel. To reuse a layer mask, simply ALT/option+click on the mask and drag it to the layer where you want to use it. Photoshop will duplicate the mask and add it as the layer mask on the second layer. While this is a relatively easy maneuver, layer masks can sometimes get a little messy if you’ve painted on them to conceal or reveal how the mask affects the layer it’s attached to. Channel masks, like Sean demonstrates in the video, can be used to save an original version of a mask that can then be further altered with painting or other adjustments after it’s turned into a layer mask.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more great tips on photography and post-processing including those listed below.
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

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.