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.

Stunning shadow and highlight details with the TK7 Triple Play

You’ll never outgrow luminosity masks or the TK7 panel. There will be lots of new opportunities once you become comfortable with pixel-based masks. Even I don’t know it all. Occasionally someone writes me with a method for using the masks and the actions in the panel that would never have occurred to me. Something that was not intended at all when I coded the panel, but once I try it I’m like: Wow, how did I miss that!?

Actions menu

The technique that follows (and also explained in the video at the bottom) was one of these and is provided by my friend Daniel Anderson. He was an early adopter of luminosity masks. When I released the Triple Play actions sometime around 2008 or 2009, he wrote back almost immediately excited about what they did for his images and said that he used them on almost every single one. The Triple Play eventually found its way into the panel and I recently connected with Dan and ask him to explain in more detail how he uses this particular action. I decided to try what he suggested am now using it regularly using it too. When properly applied, it indeed makes every image look better. Tonal separation is enhanced in both the darkest darks and lightest lights and details in these tones stand out much better also. The effect allows images, even jpegs viewed on the web, to show wonderful texture in areas where detail is frequently lacking.

The Triple Play is accessed by clicking the “TK►” button in the TK7 Combo and Cx modules to open the Actions menu. The “Lights TP” affects the light tones and the “Darks TP” affects the dark tones. I generally use the Darks TP first since my images tend to have a lot of darker midtones in the final image. And sometimes I only use the “Darks TP” since the amount of lighter tones in my image may be extremely small, so the effect would be minimal. However, if there are obvious light tones in the image, you’ll definitely want to give “Lights TP” action a try.

The Triple Play uses luminosity masks (some of them blurred) and blend modes to achieve its effect. The first step is to choose a pixel radius for a Gaussian blur. A dialog window opens to ask for this.

pixel radius dialog

I use 20 pixels for the Darks TP and 15 pixels for the Lights TP. Dan uses 20 pixels for both. You can experiment, but these numbers would be a good starting point.

Darks Triple Play

The Triple Play action then creates a set of Curves adjustment layers set to Screen or Multiply blend mode that are masked with the Dark-series luminosity masks (some of which are blurred using the user-entered pixel radius). The adjustment layers aren’t meant for adjusting, though. The desired Triple Play effect is achieved simply by turning ON the visibility of different layers and letting the blend modes either lighten or darken the image. Initially, the visibility of all layers is turned off, so there is no effect on the image until the visibility of different layers is turned on.

For the Darks Triple Play, I turn visibility ON for:

  • the “(S) Darks-4, blurred” layer, which lightens the image because it is in Screen blend mode, and
  • the “(M) Darks-4, no blur” layer, which darkens the image because it is in Multiply blend mode.

This combination is known as an S-4/M-4 adjustment. Dan says he starts off with S-3/M-3, but that effect usually feels a bit strong for me in the image’s dark tones. NOTE: The lower the number, the stronger the effect. S-3/M-3 has a greater effect than S-4/M-4 because the Darks-3 masks reveal more pixels than the Darks-4 masks. Many times the S-4/M-4 combination of layer visibility works perfectly and I call it quits. Other times, I might try different layer combinations or adjust the group’s opacity. But I don’t do any actual Curves adjustments. I only turn different layers on and off to find what works. What I’m looking for is better detail separation and better contrast in the darkest tones in the image without too much clipping (though a little clipping might occur and generally looks OK for dark tones).

Lights Triple Play

Whether or not I run a Lights TP depends on the image. For many of my images, the Darks TP is all I do, but if I have some strong white tones in elements that would look better with enhanced detail, I try a Lights TP too. Running a Lights TP is just like running a Darks TP. Choose a pixel radius (15-pixels is a good starting point), let the actions create all the layers, and then turn on the visibility of the ones that produce the best effect, i.e. increased tonal contrast in the very lightest tones without blowing out the brightest values. I usually start with S-3/M-3 since fewer light tones in my images usually means I need more revealing masks to see an effect. However, I’m also more likely to pull back the effect since clipped highlights tend to bother me more than clipped shadows. I’ve found a midtones mask on the “LIGHTS Triple Play” group a good way to insure my whites remain within range. Watch the video below for details.

Here are some important things to know and keep in mind about the Triple Play.

  • It should be LAST step in the workflow. The Triple Play is most strongly affecting pixels at the extreme ends of the tonal spectrum. When you stop and think about it, these are areas that are somewhat harder to adjust. Much of our workflow is focused on the midtones. Midtone adjustments can have a significant and positive effect on the image, so this is where we normally concentrate our efforts. The Triple Play is a chance to get into the darkest darks and lightest lights and make them look equally good. However, once you run these actions, it’s time to quit with the adjustments. Additional processing could run the risk of more noticeable clipping unless you’re really careful.
  • But there is a little flexibility. Dan applies his Triple Play actions after sharpening for print. I apply mine before. By including the Triple Play as the last step on my master file I get the benefit of seeing its effect in both my down-sized jpeg images for web presentation and in the final upsized sharpened prints. I find it scales pretty well, although I may pull back a bit on the amount of web-sharpening if the images look a little too sharp. However, the increased punch in both the light and dark tones is usually apparent when you compare jpegs with and without the Triple Play.
  • Zoom in to see what’s happening. Depending on how many light and dark tones are in the image, it may be difficult to see the effect the Triple Play has on a monitor-sized image. I generally zoom into at least 50% and maybe 66.7%. It’s much easier to evaluate what’s happening and decide which layers to turn on when you can see the details in the image better. I work to get the effect right at this magnification rather than relying on getting it right in a monitor-sized image. Also, be sure you’re viewing a dark part of the image if adjusting a Darks TP and a light part of the image when adjusting a Lights TP.

lightening bolt button

  • Choose your subjects. Some elements, like soft clouds, won’t necessarily look better with the Triple Play. Too much detail in the highlights of clouds can look unnatural. Harder subjects, like the European cathedrals in Dan’s images, would be the ideal subject to experiment with the Lights Triple Play, I think.
  • There is a lot going on in the background when the Triple Play actions run. For a large image or a slow computer, it might take a few seconds for the TP actions to complete. There are 11 layers, 10 masks (all 16-bit), and one group needed for each Triple Play action.
  • You don’t need to keep all the Triple Player layers. Once you find the layers you need to be visible to create the proper effect, click the lightning bolt button on the Combo/Cx module. It quickly deletes all the hidden (not visible) layers and makes your Layers panel feel normal again. You can also close the TP layer groups to make the final result more compact.
  • If you want to read about the Triple Play in detail, open the Settings window on either the Combo or Cx module and click the “TK” button. This will take you to a website where you can get a free download that includes a somewhat lengthy “Luminosity Mask Triple Play and Advanced Masking” PDF on how the layers and blurs are created.

Like Dan, I’m using the Triple Play as the last step on every image now. Even when I think I’ve done a good job processing, the Triple Play (especially the Darks Triple Play) makes the image noticeably better, for both the print and the jpeg, every time. There’s better separation in the dark areas of the image, and when you look at the print there is a surprising amount of detail in what would normally be very dark parts of image that lack it. I will definitely keep trying it on all my images in the future.

The video below is a quick review of applying Triple Play to some images. It’s best to view it full-screen since some of the effects are subtle. I really do like this technique and hope you’ll give it a try.