Linear Profile Follow-Up, Triple Play Actions, Luminosity Mask Workflow

Linear Profile Follow-Up

First off, I want to offer a sincere “thank you” to everyone who has contributed RAW images to help expand the linear profile repository.  There are now free linear profiles for nearly 170 cameras available on this site, and I hope to keep adding more.  I also appreciate the feedback from photographers who have experimented with the linear profiles on their images.  Many have let me know they’ve had good results.  That’s not surprising.  Linear profiles provide additional flexibility and often an improved RAW file conversion. Once installed, it’s super easy to try the linear profile during any RAW conversion in Lightroom or Camera Raw to see if it makes a difference. I hope you’ll try working with a linear profile on a few images and see what you think. Also, if your camera isn’t listed on the repository page, please contact me to get it added.

Here are a few of other things worth mentioning about linear profiles. 

  • You won’t apply a linear profile using the Camera Raw filter inside Photoshop.  I show how to install the linear profile using Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter in the installation PDF, but installation and application are two different things.  The linear profile can only be applied to a RAW file during the conversion process.  That means using Lightroom or Camera Raw (not the same as the Camera Raw filter).  Some people have written that they can’t see their installed linear profile.  That’s likely because they are trying to use it on an image in Photoshop via the Camera Raw filter.  That’s not going to work.  A RAW file is the only image the linear profile can be applied to.  So make sure you’re working with a RAW file in Lightroom or Camera Raw when you want to apply the linear profile in your workflow. You can then open the converted image in Photoshop to finish processing it.
  • If you already have a dedicated color-matching workflow, I’m not advocating discarding it in favor of using a linear profile.  There are people who have indicated they’ve found ways to combine color-matching with linear profiles (and several more who have asked about it), but this is not an area where I have any expertise.  I use linear profiles simply because they help enhance creativity in my workflow.  I go with what looks right when it comes to image color and am relatively unconcerned if my choice is correct relative to the original subject.  So, if you already have a workflow that properly matches output color to your satisfaction, I’d stick with it until someone publishes additional information on how to incorporate linear profiles into the color-matching process.
  • No linear profiles for “monochrome” cameras. RAW files from monochrome cameras, like some Leica models, can’t be imported into the Adobe DNG Profile Editor that’s used to create the linear profile.  So I’m not able to profile these monochrome-only cameras.
  • Linear profiles for cameras where the sensor has been converted for infrared photography are questionable.  In fact, I’m not sure if linear profiles are even possible with these converted cameras or if they’d be as effective as linear profiles for color images.  Page 8 of the documentation for the Adobe DNG Editor instructions discusses infrared-modified cameras if anyone wants to experiment with this.

Triple Play Actions

Dave Kelly has a good video on using the Lights and Darks Triple Play found in TK Actions menu of the TK7 Combo and Cx modules.  The Triple Play can help improve brightness, contrast, and detail in the image.  It creates a set of layers on the Layers panel in Photoshop, and users then turn on the visibility of different layers to achieve the desired effect.  My favorite way to use these actions is using the Darks Triple Play to enhance image details, and Dave demonstrates how to do this.  The Lights Triple play is best used for enhancing brightness and contrast in the highlights.  Both actions are easy to use once you understand what they do.  Watch Dave’s video and I think you’ll be ready to give both a try.

Luminosity Mask Workflow

In a second video linked below, Dave presents a simple Photoshop workflow involving luminosity masks.  Lights, Darks, Midtone, and Zone masks are used along with the “mask-the-mask” technique to isolate the adjustments to specific parts of the image.  One thing that comes through in this video is that luminosity masks aren’t restricted to making just brightness and contrast adjustments in the image.  Dave also uses them for making Hue/Saturation adjustments, and this demonstrates the flexibility of these masks.  Basically, once you’ve found the right mask to target what you want to adjust in the image, you can use whichever adjustment works best to accomplish your goal.  Regardless of the type of adjustment, the self-feathering nature of luminosity masks insures all adjustments through these masks blend smoothly into the image.

Be sure to subscribe to Dave Kelly’s YouTube channel to be notified when he posts new content.

The Perfect Mask and Vignettes/Spotlights

Making the Perfect Mask

One of the most important things to understand about luminosity masks, zone masks, color masks, and saturation/vibrance masks in the TK7 panel is that that they are created using actual pixel values. The masks that are generated reflect pixel-level differences between individual pixels. These masks are not like selections made with the Lasso or Marquee tools, where the mouse draws the physical boundary around specific elements. Instead, pixel-value masks use the luminance, hue, and saturation values in each pixel to determine what gets revealed by the mask (white and light gray in the mask), and what gets concealed (black and dark gray).

This concept plays a central role when generating masks using the TK7 Go module. Pixel-value masks should not be pure white in the selected areas, like the masks created with the Lasso or Marquee tools. Instead, selected pixels should have a gradation of light gray values reflecting the underlying textures in the image. The TK7 panel does a good job of quickly generating a proper pixel-value mask based on the chosen data source (luminance, hue, or saturation). Lights-1, Darks-2, Midtones-1, Zone 3, and a “red” color mask are examples. These initial masks are usually an excellent starting point for a planned adjustment. In addition, some masks, like zone and color masks, offer modification options built into the user interface. There’s also an entire modification section in the Go module for sculpting any initial mask to better match the areas to be selected. Modification is often quite useful. Be sure to give it a try for additional control in creating the ideal mask. Here are some rules that can help.

  • Avoid pure white in the mask for areas that require subtle and seamless transitions. Pure white in the mask means that the nuance possible with pixel-value masks has been lost.
  • Aim to create masks that have light gray values for selected areas and dark gray or black values for areas not selected.
  • Look for light gray texture in the selected areas of the mask that matches the texture in the image. Texture in the mask indicates that the pixel-level differences in the image are still present in the mask.
  • Areas that should not be selected by the mask can go to pure black, but also make sure that there is a smooth, gray transition to lighter areas of the mask. Hard edges in the mask can lead to hard edges in the image when adjusting or painting through the mask.

In the video below, Dave Kelly uses a Lights mask, a Darks mask, a Color mask, and a Zone mask, and then modifies them to create a more suitable mask for achieving his goals with the image. Notice how he works to keep light gray texture in the mask in the selected areas and then how using the mask automatically insures a smooth transition of the effect as he paints it in.

Vignettes and Spotlights

One of the simplest techniques to focus the viewer’s attention in a photograph is using vignettes and spotlights. As we look at photographs, light areas attract our attention. Vignettes generally darken the edges of the frame so that our eyes don’t wander outside the borders. Spotlights, on the other hand, brighten specific areas or elements in the image to move the eye to these areas and indicate their relative importance. Both vignettes and spotlights are meant to be subtle. They are almost always feathered to insure they blend in with the rest of the image. In the best circumstance, the viewer is unaware they exist, but is also guided by them to view the image the way the photographer intended.

In the video below, Dave Kelly demonstrates four useful techniques available in the TK7 panel for building vignettes and spotlights.

  • The Vignette action adds symmetrical circular or oval darkening around the edges of the image.
  • The Freehand Vignette action also creates a vignette inside the image’s borders, but it uses a selection drawn by the photographer, usually using the Lasso or Marquee tool, as the guide for the shape of the vignette’s transition zone.
  • The Spotlight action again uses a freehand selection created by the photographer, usually on something near the center of the image, and then the action adds some subtle brightness to the selected area.
  • Burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask is also a great way to add vignettes and spotlights to an image that look completely natural.

In order to provide smooth transitions, the Vignette, Freehand Vignette, and Spotlight actions add a Gaussian blur to the selection based on the size of the image. The size of the blur is adjustable as the action executes. For burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask, simply choose an appropriately large brush with 0% Hardness to insure smooth blending.

Be sure to check out other videos by Dave Kelly on his YouTube channel.

TK7 Go panel workflow

panel with version number

Sean Bagshaw has an excellent video that demonstrates how the new TK7 Go module can easily fit into your processing workflow. It’s part of his TK7 Video Guide series and is linked at the bottom of this post. It’s not meant to show every feature in the Go module, but does cover a lot of territory on what’s available. He also touches on some important decision-making aspects of using masks and shows how to create and use them efficiently. Here are some of the highlights.

The mental checklist. This is a really nice review on how to decide what type of mask to use, or even if a mask is needed at all. Basically, deciding what you want to accomplish is an important first step in choosing the best tool to achieve that goal.

Experimentation is sometimes necessary. The best type of pixel-value mask (luminosity, color, zone, channel, saturation, or vibrance), isn’t always obvious. You might try one mask and find it’s not ideal. If that happens, don’t give up. As Sean demonstrates, it’s easy to switch to a different type of mask with the Go module, and there’s a good chance there will one that matches the areas of the image you want to select.

The targeted adjustment tool is your friend. Once you find a mask that works and have created an adjustment layer with the mask as a layer mask, the targeted-adjustment tool makes the necessary adjustment easy. Simply choose the tool in the Properties panel and then click and drag on the image. The tool finds the matching color or tone in the image and dragging on the image makes the adjustment. Curves, Hue/Saturation, and Black and White adjustment layers offer the targeted adjustment tool.

The mask calculator is cool. I’m always impressed at how combining different types of masks using this calculator can create some very useful masks that would be hard to achieve without it. It does take a little practice to think in terms of selected areas instead of numbers when using the mask calculator, but once you see how it works, a whole new level of custom masks becomes available. As Sean shows in the video, the subtract function is one of the most useful calculations. Be sure to give it a try.

Image processing with masks is incremental. Using pixel-value masks is not a one-click approach to image development. Each mask is usually combined with just one step in the process, and it’s the combination of several masks and steps that creates the final image. The Go module makes generating and using complex masks easy, but you’ll still spend some time deciding how things flow. Because of this hands-on approach, the final image reflects your individual sense of how this photograph should look and what it conveys to the viewer. In the end, it’s your vision that these masks make possible.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this video and I hope it gives you new ideas for using pixel-value masks and the Go module to develop your images.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more videos about photography and digital processing.

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.