Brightness adjustments using Selective Color and luminosity masks

I recently started experimenting with Selective Color adjustment layers. Normally I rely on Curves and Levels for brightness and contrast adjustments, but in reading about and experimenting with Selective Color, it definitely has some advantages, especially when adjusting the light and dark tones in combination with luminosity masks.

The image I’ll be working with is shown below. After looking at a print for a couple of days, I realized it could use more drama, especially in the sky−darker clouds, a bit more contrast, and perhaps additional texture. (You can roll the mouse over the image to see the final result. It may take a few seconds for the second image to load. Rollovers probably will not work in the email feed, so please visit the blog if you want to see rollover images.)

base image

The Selective Color Properties panel has a drop-down menu of colors. The panel’s sliders are labeled with CYMK colors, but they actually allow hue, saturation, and brightness to be independently adjusted for any item chosen from the list once you understand how this panel works. For this tutorial, the “Whites” and the “Blacks” will be of primary interest. Using the “Whites” and “Blacks” to adjust image brightness (and to some degree contrast) has the advantage of avoiding the saturation and color shifts associated with using Curves and Levels for this purpose. With Curves and Levels adjustments, saturation and color changes become mixed in with brightness/contrast changes, and it’s hard to separate them out.

The best way to see this is with a strong “S-Curve” equivalent adjustment using different types of adjustment layers. The S-Curve adjustment increases contrast−the lights get lighter and the darks get darker.

In the Selective Color adjustment, the “Whites” correspond to the light values in the image and “Blacks” correspond to dark values. In order to create an “S-Curve” equivalent, the “Whites” from the drop-down menue need to be less black and the “Blacks” need to be more black. The screen shots below show the two Selective Color adjustments necessary to produce a strong “S-Curve” equivalent adjustment.

selective color adjustments

A similar adjustment for a Curves adjustment layer is shown below. Lights get lighter and darks get darker. (This curve shape is where the name “S-Curve” comes from.)

selective color adjustments

The results from these two similar adjustments, however, are definitely NOT similar. Below is the result from the Selective Color adjustment. Rolling the mouse over the image shows the result of the Curves adjustment. What’s immediately obvious is that the Curves adjustment has undergone a strong saturation shift compared to the Selective Color adjustment. All colors are more intense as a result of the S-Curve on a Curves adjustment layer. This does NOT happen in the Selective Color adjustment because the “Neutrals” in the drop-down menu, which basically correspond to the midtones in the image, have NOT been adjusted. Only the “Whites” and the “Blacks” were adjusted. It’s the midtone values that cause the color and saturation shifts in Curves and Levels adjustments. With Selective Color, it’s possible to leave these midtones (“Neutrals”) untouched, and the result is increased contrast without significant color and saturation changes. (NOTE: As an experiment, select the “Neutrals” and then move the “Black” slider to the right to add more black. There will be a sudden and pronounced shift in color saturation. This clearly demonstrates how the midtones are the source of the color and saturation shifts seen with Curves and Levels, where the midtones cannot be so easily excluded.)

With Curves and Levels adjustment layers, it’s common practice to change the blending mode to Luminosity to counteract the saturation shift, and the image below, which shows the Curves adjustment layer set to Luminosity blend mode, shows that this does indeed help. However, there are still color shifts, and the rollover (which shows the Selective Color adjustment) shows that they are still present. It’s most obvious in the blues of the lower clouds, but also somewhat visible in the reds and yellows. So when it comes to avoiding color and saturation shifts, Selective Color has an advantage even after changing the blending mode of the Curves adjustment to Luminosity.

For the adjustment to this image, I ended up using only the full-on “Blacks” Selective Color adjustment that darkened the “Blacks” as much as possible. The light tones in the image really didn’t need any lightening so the “Whites” were not changed. The result of this initial adjustment is shown below.

selective color adjustments

This adjustment is definitely too aggressive for my taste, but that’s intentional. It provides a good starting point for using luminosity masks. A luminosity mask can be used to filter this adjustment only to those tones that really need it. In doing so, much of the exaggerated adjustment will be concealed by the mask. The end result will be a more balanced adjustment that blends in perfectly to the rest of the image.

In this case, I experimented with Darks, Midtones, and Zone masks and found that a Zone 4 mask added as a layer mask did a nice job of creating the desired effect. The result after adding the layer mask is shown below. The rollover shows the adjustment without the luminosity mask in order to see how seamlessly the mask blended the adjustment into the image.

The ease at which a preset luminosity mask finished this adjustment points out another possible advantage of using the Selective Color adjustment. And that is that it works well to create an initial adjustment to a broad, but limited, range of tones (“Whites” or “Blacks”), which can then be quickly and accurately refined with a luminosity mask. It’s almost like having a targeted double-masking technique where a strong targeted adjustment is first applied, and this can then be fine-tuned and focused using the narrower tonal range of a luminosity mask.

The video below shows the entire process for this adjustment that accomplishes the goal of adding drama in the sky. It uses the RapidMask2 panel’s Layer Mask Mode to quickly find the right luminosity mask for the adjustment. There is also a similar adjustment to a second image included in the video that uses the “Whites” instead of the “Blacks.” If you’d like to practice along with the video, a smaller jpg version of the unadjusted image is available here. (The download image will probably open in a browser window. Right-click on it and choose an option to save it on your computer, and then open it in Photoshop.)

SUMMARY−Adjustments to brightness (and to some degree to contrast) using a Selective Color adjustment layer helps avoid the saturation and color shifts associated with Curves and Levels. Additionally, Selective Color adjustments allow a two-step adjustment process where the initial, somewhat extreme adjustment can be easily modified by applying a more targeted luminosity mask to the adjustment layer to better control which tones in the image are affected.

FINAL NOTE: Every image is different and there’s likely no single workflow with Selective Color and luminosity masks that will work the same repeatedly. I’m finding that using Selective Color to adjust the “Whites” and “Blacks” provides expected and desirable results once I find the correct luminosity mask as demonstrated in the video. It’s always possible to return to the Properties panel to tweak to the initial Selective Color adjustment if necessary.

TK Basic V6 panel: New and FREE!

NOTE: This free panel is available on the Panels and Videos page. It is NOT a replacement for any of the current V6 modules. It is simply a new panel for people who want a fast and simple way to start working with luminosity masks.

I’m very happy to announce the new TK Basic V6 panel for Photoshop. It has the same core process and speed as the more comprehensive RapidMask2 module, and has similar features and layout. It’s essentially RapidMask2-lite and is a great way to experiment with adding luminosity masks to the Photoshop workflow. It’s also free and comes with some great videos.

TK Basic V6 panel

Key features:

  • Rapid Mask engine. The Basic V6 panel uses the same technology for generating 16-bit luminosity masks as the V6 RapidMask2 module. New masks are calculated and displayed on screen at near real-time speeds.
  • Mask-based interface. Users see masks up front to make intelligent choices about which one to use.
  • Intuitive layout. Top-to-bottom workflow with numbered sections for creating and deploying masks.
  • Click-tracking. The last button clicked retains an accent-colored shadow. Users always know which mask they last generated.
  • Multiple output options. Curves, Levels, Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Sat adjustment layers are available in the “Layer” menu. Selection, Channel, and Apply buttons provide additional output options.
  • Compact design. Small footprint so the image window is not obscured. The panel can be conveniently placed above any standard Photoshop panel or docked at the side of the workspace.
  • Instant help. Moving the mouse over any button provides information on what it does in the window at the bottom of the panel.
  • Active selection indicator. Provides visual feedback that Photoshop has an active selection even if it’s too weak to generate selection borders or if the marching ants have been turned off.
  • Language switch. Settings dialog offers six language options for the panel’s user interface.
  • Photoshop CC and CS6 compatible. Download folder has versions that work in PS CC and CS6.

There are many ways to use luminosity masks when developing images in Photoshop. Adding them as layer masks on adjustment layers and painting through active luminosity selections are two common techniques. The Basic V6 panel makes it easy to incorporate these methods into the workflow simply by clicking a couple buttons. The panel is also a great way to to see how easy it is to use luminosity masks since the Rapid Mask engine does all the hard work in the background. Luminosity masks need to be fast and intuitive in order to become a standard part of the workflow. The TK Basic V6 panel makes this possible and is the ideal tool for quickly getting up to speed with their creative potential.

To make the panel even easier to use, Sean Bagshaw has recorded a fantastic set of six new videos that are also included in the free download. Three of them are available to watch below. The first is a brief introduction to the new Basic V6 panel. The second is probably best and most concise description of luminosity masks I’ve ever watched. And the third video is a button-by-button walk-through of the entire panel. The download folder has additional videos on installing the panel, setting up the color workspace, and workflow demonstrations on how to use the panel.

The TK Basic V6 panel and videos are available as a free download on the Panels and Videos page.

If you like the Basic V6 panel and Sean’s videos, please consider trying the all-inclusive V5/V6 panel and Sean’s V5/V6 Video Guide. This “Combo” product is a complete luminosity mask resource that allows generating an infinite number of luminosity masks with many more ways to use them. For a limited time, the following code can be used for a 15% discount on the Combo, which is also available on the Panels and Videos page:  Combo15

I hope you enjoy the new TK Basic V6 panel and find it useful. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

RapidMask2: The first TKActions V6 module

I’m pleased to announce that there is a new RapidMask2 module for TKActions.

RapidMask2 module

Since releasing the TKActions V5 panel last December I’ve played with several new ideas for using the Rapid Mask engine to generate luminosity and other masks in Photoshop. The new RapidMask2 module is the result of these experiments and effectively replaces the V5 Intro, RapidMask, and LayerMask modules. It has all their functionality plus lots of new features.

Because it’s such a significant improvement, RapidMask2 is going to start TKActions V6. TKActions already went modular with the V5 panel, so I’ll simply be updating and releasing new V6 modules, like RapdidMask2, when they are finished. Since this first V6 module is happening relatively soon after the release of the V5 panel, the new V6 modules will be free to customers who have already purchased V5. During the transition from V5 to V6, customers will receive all V5 and V6 modules and can choose the ones they want use.

Customers who purchased V5 for PS CC were emailed links to download RapidMask2 directly from the server on September 5/6. Be sure to check your email’s junk/spam folder if you missed it. Also, be sure to add the server’s address (client@e-junkie.com) as a safe email contact to insure future updates go to your inbox and do not get sorted to the spam/junk folder where they can be missed.

A couple of important things:

  1. Spanish customers have not received their updates yet. I apologize for the delay. Hopefully everything will be ready next week.
  2. There is no Photoshop CS6 version of RapidMask2. This module uses advanced coding that is only supported by Photoshop CC. V5 customers using CS6 should contact me if they upgrade to CC.

Below is a list of the most important new features in RapidMask2.

  • Better organized−Four distinct sections (SOURCE, MASK, MODIFY, and OUTPUT) that mirror the mask-making process.
  • Source menus−New menu design for choosing different pixel data as the starting point for making masks.
  • Spectrum interface−Compact spectrum interface for choosing different masks.
  • New masks−Lights-6, Darks-6, and Vibrance.
  • User-created color masks−Color masks that target specific colors can be generated with ease and converted to Rapid Masks for modification and output.
  • Add and subtract masks with calculator simplicity−Two buttons, plus(+) and minus(-), make it so all masks can be added and subtracted just like using a calculator.
  • Enhanced “Layer” output button−Provides new pixel layer choices for generating layers with the current Rapid Mask as the layer mask.
  • Updated Layer Mask mode−Provides an image-based option to quickly choose or create the best mask by having it applied directly as a layer mask on the active layer.
  • Accent color−There is just one color for the entire module, an accent color, that users can change to whatever they prefer.
  • Click tracking−Buttons retain an accent-colored shadow after clicking so users can track which mask they last chose.

The video below reviews these features in more detail. It is best viewed in full-screen mode in order to see everything that’s happening.

Sean Bagshaw has also updated his V5 Video Guide series to include five new videos that cover the RapidMask2 module in detail. A download link for these has also been emailed to customers who purchased his original V5 Video Guide. The new vids are included in his updated V5/V6 Video Guide series. The intro is shown below.

If you already have the V5 panel, I think you’ll find the new RapidMask2 module a big step forward both in masking functionality and ease of use. Please be sure to check for the free update in your email, install it, and give it a try.

If you don’t have the TKActions panel yet, a 25% discount code is available for the next two weeks: V625off.
It provides a 25% discount on anything on the Panels & Videos page.

V5 Quick Tip #4: Off-Center Midtone Masks

Sean Bagshaw’s newest TKActions V5 Quick Tip looks at off-center midtone masks, also referred to as Zone masks. These are some of my favorite luminosity masks. The standard Lights and Darks masks always include either the lightest lights or the darkest darks, and using them can sometimes gray-down the whites or gray-up the blacks. Zone masks effectively eliminate the blacks and whites from the mask and thereby allow midtone values to be adjusted independently. Zones 2-1/2 and Zone 7-1/2 are a couple masks I often try. Zone 2-1/2 for adjusting the dark midtones and Zone 7-1/2 for the light midtones. However, the V5 panel includes presets for 21 different Zone masks, so there are lots of options. Zone masks can also be modified to make them more or less inclusive using the V5’s modification buttons. The V5 panel makes it easy to quickly craft a Zone mask and to put it work

Sean’s new video tip covers choosing the right mask, modifying it, and then painting it to make it just right for a particular image. If you’ve not experimented with Zone masks, I’m sure this video will provide incentive to try. With a little practice, Zone masks can be extremely helpful when developing images in Photoshop.

V5 Quick Tip #4: Off-Center Midtone Masks
V5 Quick Tip #3: Luminosity Mask Basics and the V5 Intro Module
V5 Quick Tip #2: Modifying Masks
V5 Quick Tip #1: Basic Luminosity Mask Tasks

TKActions V5 panel

V5 Quick Tip #3: Luminosity Mask Basics And The V5 Intro Module

In Sean Bagshaw’s newest TKActions V5 Quick Tip video, he takes a closer look at the Intro module. For those just starting out with Photoshop masks, he also provides a brief review of how masks control what is revealed in the layer. Luminosity masks are just like other masks except that their grayscale values are determined by the tones of individual image pixels. This prevents halos and other obvious edges when using luminosity masks to reveal adjustments in the image. Sean explains how the Intro module quickly makes all the basic luminosity masks, how the user can evaluate them, and how to create adjustment layers with the chosen luminosity mask in place as the layer mask. If you are new to these techniques, the Intro module provides an easy way to quickly add luminosity masks your workflow.

V5 Quick Tip #1: Basic Luminosity Mask Tasks
V5 Quick Tip #2: Modifying Masks

V5 Quick Tip #2: Modifying Masks

Sean Bagshaw continues his TKActions V5 Quick Tip series with a closer look at mask modification. Even though the V5 panel can generate hundreds of standard masks (Lights/Darks/Zones), the best mask is often one customized specifically for the image by the photographer. A full range of mask-modification functions is built into the V5 panel to insure that the perfect mask is always just a few clicks away. Sean shows how easy this is while discussing his thought process behind his choices.

If you missed the first episode, it covers the basics of viewing and selecting luminosity masks and adding them to adjustment layers.

Hope you enjoy these. If you have other V5 topics you’d like to see covered, please leave them in the comments section below.

Free Panel to Make 16-bit Luminosity Masks

Lately I’ve been experimenting with several features that could make Photoshop extension panels easier to install and use. To test some of these new elements, I’ve created a mini-panel (image below) focused on just making 16-bit luminosity masks, like the downloadable actions that were available in the previous blog posts. With the new custom panel these same actions can now be run with a click of a button instead of having to play them from Photoshop’s regular Actions panel. The new panel can be downloaded free at this website.

TK-mini panel

It’s a very simple panel overall and provides the easiest way yet to quickly generate the Lights, Darks, and Midtones series of luminosity masks using the new 16-bit process. The luminosity masks generated are placed on the Channels panel, so check there for the results after clicking one of the buttons. Luminosity masks can do many things, and it’s up to the user to determine which mask they want to use and how to use it for their image. Techniques for using luminosity masks are described in the tutorials section of my website.

The CC and CS6 versions look slightly different, but do the same thing. They also have slightly different installation procedures. The complete Instructions PDF describes how to install the panel, how to use it, and also has some trouble-shooting tips. Please take a few minutes to read it before installing the panel to help insure that the process goes smoothly.

Once installation is complete on any compatible version of Photoshop, open Photoshop and click through the menu commands Window > Extensions > TK. The panel should appear. Once available, it can be opened, closed, and docked to a panels bar just like over Photoshop panels. An image needs to be open for most of the buttons to work.

This is my first experience with the new features and distribution method. If there are problems, please let me know. We can try and work them out together.