Archives for Photoshop category

f/11.0 1/125 sec – ISO 250 – Focal Length 135 mm
PhotoShop CS5 Cut Out Filter

I came to the HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography party late.  Before I really understood what HDR was all about I saw so many photographs processed using the “grunge” and “painterly” settings for HDR and I thought they were just too over-processed for my taste.  So I associated all HDR with those looks.  But after I started playing around with it I realized there were so many more options.  Also, for architectural and real estate photography HDR can save an image by allowing  you to expose for both the light and dark areas of your subject and then merge them into one perfectly exposed image.  There is still room for artistic interpretation as well and if the grunge or painterly or another custom processing of your image works then that is great too.

Here are two images to give an idea of what you can do with HDR photography versus processing the same image in PhotoShop.

This is the PhotoShop edited photograph.   I did not do much here but I did increase the vibrance and saturation a bit and lightened the image overall.  This is not a bad image in general.  But the sky is very dull and the shadows in the lower left corner are a little dark.

This is the HDR processed version of the image above.  It is a combination of three exposures of the same scene; one exposed normally, one over exposed and one under exposed.  This is the essence of HDR photography in that it allows you to correctly expose for all areas of the scene with different shots and then merge them all together.  This image is not perfect either; the saturation could be toned down a bit and the patio furniture has lost its true color.  But those things are easily corrected and it is more a matter of personal taste.  What is more important is the sky and the dark areas.  I was able to expose for the sky alone in one image and capture the blue hues and the glow of the late afternoon sun.  The shadows on the back wall and around the rocker are also now gone.

Sometimes  you have a once in a life time shot but it is on a grey and dreary day.  Or you have to get a building photographed and the deadline is fast approaching so you can’t wait for the perfect sky to appear.  Or in order to get the scene perfectly exposed you sacrificed the sky.  In all of these situations you may feel like you photograph is sub-par because the sky distracts from what would otherwise be a great photograph.  But fear not.  There is a quick and easy way to replace your bad sky with something that does the image more justice through Photoshop.  And you don’t have to be a Photoshop wiz to accomplish this.  Here is a step-by-step guide to replacing the sky in your digital images using Photoshop.

1) Open your image in Photoshop.  We are going to replace the sky before resizing, cropping or making other adjustments.  As you can see in this image taken at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ the exposure was optimized for the building itself which left the sky a bit washed out.

A photo of taliesin West before replacing the sky in Photoshop

2) Now you need to find your perfect sky image.  It should be one that  you exposed for the sky.  The rest of the image doesn’t matter.  You also want an image that has a good portion of sky in it, 1/3rd or more if possible.  You may want to keep a few “prefect sky” images in your files to use when a sky replacement becomes necessary.  For this example we will use another photograph take on this same visit to Taliesin.  Go ahead and open this image as well in Photoshop.

Photo of Taliesin with the sky we will use to replace a bad sky in another image

3) Now that you have both images open you want to select all on the replacement sky image and copy it.

4) Now go to the image you want to replace the sky in and do and Edit>Paste.  This will create a new layer containing the image with the replacement sky.

5) Next you will create a duplicate copy of the original background layer by right clicking on it and selecting Duplicate Layer. This is just a good practice so that you are not making changes on the original should you need to go back.

6) Click on the Background copy and drag it to the top of the layer list so that it will also now be the image you see on top of the main screen.

7) Using the magic wand tool you will now select the sky in the original image.  Depending how rough the edges are in your image you may want to refine the edge by a couple of pixels to make sure you get everything.

8) Select the eraser tool and change the brush size to something rather large and the opacity to about 30-40%.  Starting at the top of the image run the eraser over the selected area removing the sky in the one image a revealing the replacement sky form underneath.  You may want to repeat the erasing a few times to reveal darker sky at the top and then fade it down.

9) Last thing to do is to deselect the sky and merge your two layers into one.

And there you have it, a perfectly exposed main subject and a beautiful sky as well.

A photo of taliesin West before replacing the sky in Photoshop After image once the sky has been replaced with Photoshop


Photo Filters in PhotoShop are similar to the lens filters you would place on the front of an SLR or DSLR lens in order to alter the light hitting the film or senor.  You may be most familiar with polarizing filters and UV filters as these are fairly common in film photography.  On-camera filters are not used as often in digital photography because the camera itself can compensate for lighting and post-processing software such as PhotoShop has many features to add the effects of a filter after the fact.  However the PhotoShop photo filters go a bit beyond the familiar polarizing and UV filters.  A good range of easy to use warming and cooling filters are offered in PhotoShop (I’m using CS4) to subtract the blue tones or the orange tones from an image.  Additional colored filters from magenta to green are also available for artistic effects.

It is rather easy to apply one of these filters.

1.  Start by creating a new adjustment layer.  From the Layers Menu select New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter.
2.  This will open a “New Layer” dialog box for you to name the layer and define its properties.

New Layer Dialog Box

3.  You will now have a new layer and the Photo Filters will show in your Adjustments window.

4.  The rest is just as easy.  Either select a predefined filter from the filter drop down menu or create your own colred filter with infinite possibilities by using the color selection option.

Experiment with different colors as each will have a different effect on different images.  Some can make a sky more dramatic in your landscapes or neutralize shadows for images taken on a bright day or just to give your photograph your own artistic twist.  Here are some examples of the filters applied to one of my images.

Photo example before applying any PhotoShop photo filters
Before: No PhotoShop Photo Filters applied
Photo example with a PhotoShop cooling filter applied
Same image as above with a cooling filter applied.
Photo example with a PhotoShop warming filter applied
Warming filter applied.
Photo example with a PhotoShop magenta filter applied
Magenta photo filter

It has only been a few months since I updated my Adobe PhotoShop to CS4.  But the sneak peak not too long ago of CS5’s new Content Aware Fill feature is a temptation to upgrade once more.  Adobe PhotoShop CS5 is officially released tomorrow, April 12th.  To tempt us even more PhotoShop has given another look at one of the new features they have packed into the latest version.  This time it is Puppet Warp, a tool used for bending and twisting images with just a few steps.  Watch a video on this newest feature and see if you can resist upgrading tomorrow.

If you have ever shot in RAW format and done any post-processing work using Adobe PhotoShop you have probably noticed and experimented with the sliders for clarity, vibrance and saturation at the bottom of the “basic” tab on the Camera Raw editing window (CS4 version).  All three of these adjustments are used to alter the saturation of your image.  Saturation refers to the intensity and purity of the color.  A highly saturated image has very vivid color while an image that has been desaturated is a greyscale image with monochromatic grey tones.  Each of these settings has a little different effect on the colors of the image.  The sample photos here are at either extreme end of the spectrum, -100 and +100 to help give you an idea of what each saturation setting does.  In most cases, except where you are trying to go for an “artistic” look, you would not take it to the extreme ends.  Generally you may blend a few of them at varying points along their scales to get the end result you are trying to accomplish.

The original photograph with all  saturation settings at the default level of zero.

Clarity – Clarity adds depth to an image and gives it a stronger focus and more impact.  Notice the sharper detail in the +100 clarity photo while the focus becomes softer and the colors almost muted in the -100 clarity image.

Click on the images to see the effect better in the full size version.

Example of a photo with the Clarity setting at plus 100

Clarity at + 100

Clarity at - 100.

Vibrance – From a visual standpoint the results of adjusting the vibrance settings may appear very similar to those you get from adjusting the saturation settings.  However there are a few subtle differences that make the two unique.  Most notably, vibrance changes the saturation of the least saturated colors and has minimal effect on the higher-saturated colors.  When you do not need equal adjustment across all colors vibrance is the route to go.  Also, when working with portraits vibrance helps prevent skin tones from becoming over-saturated.

Notice the difference between the vibrance -100 image and the Saturation -100 image.  The vibrance version still has hints of color left because these were highly saturated to begin with and vibrance has less impact on these types of colors.

Vibrance at + 100

Vibrance at - 100

Saturation – Increasing the saturation will brighten and deepen all of the colors in the photograph across the board, unlike vibrance which acts on the least saturated colors. Going the other direction will remove some of that depth and brightness in the colors and, if you go far enough the image will turn out desaturated or monochrome.

Saturation at + 100

Saturation at - 100

Adobe products are probably some of the most widely used image editing software by both amateur and professional photographers. I recently upgraded from CS2 to CS4 and the vast improvements from one to the other were impressive.  But software technology advances quickly and that only means there are much better things to come.  Adobe recently gave a sneak peak of a feature that will be in the next version, PhotoShop CS5.  Content Aware Fill is a remarkable bit of technology.  In its simplest terms, it takes the spot healing brush and the clone stamp tools to a whole new level.  The Content Aware Fill tool uses data from the area surrounding your selection (content) to smart fill in and match the selected area resulting in near perfect corrections in your photograph.  Based on the demo video released from Adobe it does an amazing job of it.  Will this feature alone force me to upgrade again so soon?  Adobe PhotoShop CS5 is slated to be released in just a few weeks on April 12, 2010.

Thanks to Matt at Awesome Toy Blog for passing on the news about PhotoShop.

Sometimes you capture an image where the subject is right and the composition is just what you were hoping for but the exposure is off or the color saturation is not what it could be.  With post-processing the image is not lost.  In the photo below I was very happy with the subject and with a little cropping the composition was what I had intended.  However, the coloring of the photographer was very dull.  The cloudy sky and the snow covered building and trees made the whole image very gray and dark.  By using the quick mask feature of Adobe Photoshop CS4 I was able to select the sky and make a few digital enhancements.

Image before any post-processing work

The first instinct in Photoshop may be to use one of the selection tools from the tools menu such as the magic wand or one of the lasso tools.  But in this particular photo’s case the magic wand tool selects much more than just the sky because everything is so similar in tone (see image at the right).  And the lasso tools are more difficult to use because of all the non-uniform edges of the trees.

This makes the quick mask tool a great alternative.  I feel that it allows for more control over the area you are selecting.

Before getting into the quick mask tool I opened the image in camera RAW and made some basic adjustments to white balance and exposure to brighten the image overall.  But the image was still too monotone.

1) The Quick Mask tool can be found at the bottom of the tools menu.

2) Double click it to get started and the Quick Mask Options window will open.  Select the “Selected Areas” option and the opacity can be left at the default 50%.  Click OK.

3) Now select your paint brush and set the brush size to something appropriate for paining in the area you want to select.

4) Then trace an outline around the area to be selected.  You will notice this method is much more forgiving than the lasso selection tools.  It will look like you are painting your image pink, but don’t worry this will go away.

5) Next you need to fill in the area inside of your outline.  You can either do this with your paint brush or with the paint bucket tool.  The resulting image should have your selection in pink as shown below.

6) Now turn the quick mask off by clicking the same button you used to turn it on.  Your painted area will turn to a selection as indicated by the flashing dotted lines.

7) From the Layer menu select New Adjustment Layer and then select the adjustment you want to make to the selected area.  In the case of my overly dull sky I selected a color balance adjustment, but play around with it to find the effect you like.

8 ) Make your adjustments and save your image.  I over did the coloring on this image to emphasize the effect, but you can go as subtle or as wild as you want.

Photo of a railroad bridge in a sepia toneRailroad Bridge in Sepia
f/5.6 – 1/500 sec – ISO 100 – Focal Length 50 mm

Photo of a railroad brigde in colorPhotoshop CS4 is an amazing tool for photographers.  It offers some very complex and powerful tools for fixing, improving and artistically altering your images.  But it also offers some very basic tools that do not require too much advanced knowledge of Photoshop and most anyone can quickly learn to use.  One of those is adding a sepia tone to an image.   Sepia simply means a brown color tone with a hint of red.

Most actions in CS4 have more than one way to be accomplished.  But one of the easiest ways to get this effect is to use the adjustments tool. Here are the 3 easy steps to take a color image like the one on the right and give it a sepia tone like the one above.

  1. From the menu bar at the top go to image>adjustments then select black & white.
  2. Your image has now turned black & white and the Black and white dialogue box has opened.  In this box, just below the color sliders is a check box next to the word tint.  Check this box.
  3. The default should be a sepia tone.  So you can stop here if you like the coloring.  But if it defaults to another tone or you want to further adjust the sepia color click in the square of color to the right of the word tint and change your color to anything you like.

Black and white images can be very dramatic and in some instances can actually reveal a lot more about a subject than a color image can.  With film photography you generally had to make a decision between black and white or color when loading your film.  Yet another advantage of digital photography comes from not being bound to one or the other.

I rarely ever switch the settings on my DSLR to shoot images in black and white.  That is not because I do not like black and white photography.  Rather, the process to convert an image into black and white (or grayscale) in photo editing software such as Photoshop is so simple that I leave the camera alone and only convert those that I want in post processing.

Here are the simple steps for one method of converting a color image to black and white using Adobe Photoshop.  Note that I said “one method.”  That is because there are multiple ways to accomplish this.  I feel this is the simplest and most basic method, but you can do multiple other things such as channel mixing and color desaturation as well.  Also you are not stuck if you do not have Photoshop.  There are plenty of other photo editing software programs that allow you to do something similar.  My post from a while back on 5 free online photo editors is a good reference if you don’t have Photoshop.

Don’t blink, this is pretty quick:

Step 1: Open your color image in Photoshop

Step 2: From the Image>Mode menu select “Grayscale.”

And there you have it, two simple steps.

Color to black and white conversion

If you want to do a little more adjusting there are a lot of options for tweaking your new black and white image.  Here are a couple you can play with after you have completed the two step process above.

1) Shadow/Highlight – from the Image menu select Adjustments>Shadow/Highlight.  This feature gives you several options for adjusting your black and white image to get the effect you are going after.  Experiment with different levels to get the shadows and highlights just right for your image.

2) Gradient Map – Again from the Image menu select Adjustments>Gradient Map.  Select a black and white gradient and using the sliders you can adjust your black and white values.  Make it a little more black or a little more white or varying gradients in between.

With digital photography you don’t have to shoot the images in black and white necessarily.  The post processing options available allow for a wide range of creativity with your images.