Technique

First impressions of Photoshop CS6

Late last week Adobe released the public beta of Photoshop CS6 to the world. I have now had a chance to create an image from start to finish and wanted to share my thoughts.

Overall, I love the new Photoshop. The darker interface is much easier on the eye, allowing you to focus on your work. Not only that the interface is more compact. The adjustment layers pallet now opens as needed, allowing for the side bar to be narrower. Many of the big headline grabbing features work as expected but to be honest, I have hardly used them. This is mainly as I have an established workflow which doesn’t include these tools yet, I am sure this will change in time.

So for me and what I do, the best of the new features are as follows:

  • The new Camera RAW is a huge advancement on the last and the sliders now make much more sense. Though it is a shame it is still in the old light grey.
  • Mini bridge is now really well integrated, gone is the old Air powered pop-out and you can now view all the resources you are working with at the bottom of the screen and simply drag and drop them straight into the image. For a compositor this is a welcome addition.
  • The new crop tool makes more sense and works a treat.
  • The patch tool, which when you put the tool into content aware mode, acts like content aware fill but allows you to choose the source. In the few cases I used it, it did a great job, better than content-aware fill.
  • The Liquify tool has a simpler interface, still unfortunately in light grey, but does seem quicker

For me though it is the subtle new features that make Photoshop CS6 a must buy, in particular, being able to modify multiple layers at once as well as little things to help tab through layers when re-naming them.

You can download Photoshop and use it for free until Adobe release the official release. Although Adobe has done this before with Lightroom 3 and 4, this is the first time I am aware of them doing a public beta of Photoshop in their Adobe Labs. This is a great move by Adobe and not only that, they are welcoming feedback in the Photoshop forum which shows they are listening to their users.

You can download Photoshop CS6 Beta here
You can provide feedback to Adobe here
You can see my image I created in CS6 here

 

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Photoshop inspiration and lessons from Aaron Nace

I recently came across Aaron Nace’s work on 500px and am impressed with his work. Aaron produces digital art that is convincing, using similar techniques to my own, in Photoshop. His work is excellent, he has an eye for light which is key to this process and success of a composite image. A lot of the time we need to hand draw in shadows or recreate highlights to convincingly blend images into a image and make them feel connected to the scene. In fact getting the colour and lighting right is probably more important than how good your selects and masks are.

The best thing about Aaron is his generosity, he makes time every day to film a 10-20 minute video podcast on Photoshop or photography in general and doesn’t hold back from sharing tips, techniques and inspiration on how he produces his work for free. It is well worth subscribing to Phlearn if you are interested in working this way in Photoshop. If that isn’t enough he has created 1-2 hour long tutorials for most of his key work, including the source files. These tutorials are available for $19 but considering the knowledge contained is extremely good value.

Note: Phlearn happens to be one year old today. At the time of writing, Aaron is offering 50% off all his paid for content as well as bundles of 5 for $39, I have just purchased a whole load and have already learnt several shortcuts or better approaches to my own Photoshop skills

Aaron has created some fantastic images both commercially and as part of his personal projects and he is well worth checking out.

You can see more of Aarons work on 500px
Check out Phlearn.com for his free daily tutorials
You can purchase his PRO tutorials here 

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Behind the Orchids: Making of a heist and three tips to successful compositing

The Heist was the first image in a recent series I did that explores the darker side of orchids. I based the project around three concepts, each concept exploring a criminal activity that orchids might get up to when our backs are turned. Without dispelling too much magic, I wanted to run through how one of the images was created.

From the start I didn’t want to use any stock images in my work. Stock images are expensive and their licence terms could make it tricky, if I wanted to self-publish a book or sell prints at a later date. Half the fun is being resourceful and working within the constraints you may have.

I could have had the orchid pulling out a diamond necklace from the drawer but I don’t have access to a diamond necklace. I know I could have got some costume jewellery, and I am sure my wife would have been delighted to receive a real one. However, the image is better for not being so obvious. A key leaves what the orchid is stealing open to the imagination.

As you can see below, there were not that many source images used in the heist. Other than the two keys (did you spot the clockwork key? – a little reference to… well I’m not going to give everything away) I needed to source longer aerial roots for the image, some that I could manipulate using Photoshop’s warping tools. The background was just too flat, so a texture of some panelling did the trick.

The Heist's Components

 

Tips

The key things to pulling off a good composite are clean selections and masking, consistent perspective and light.

  • Although a lot of people don’t like the quick selection brush, I find it really good, quick, and gives the right amount of softness on edges. Though using the right method for the image you are masking, is key.
  • Perspective needs to be consistent for all the source images in the composite. Thankfully the brain is fairly forgiving here. For example, in the image above, the key was shot straight on but in the final image the viewer is looking slight down towards the key. We can use some of Photoshop’s transformation tools to correct the perspective.
  • Light consistency is probably the trickiest thing to get right, not only do you need to create source images with a consistent light source (you can sometimes fake it), you also have to recreate shadows that would be cast by the things you are adding. The best way is to hand paint them (I highly recommend a Tablet for this Wacom make excellent ones). This takes practice. Removing shadows is even harder…

You can see all the images from the series here: The Darker Side of Orchids

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Colour Grading Photos: Creating a standard cross-processed vintage look.

This is the final part of this series of articles on using colour grading techniques “borrowed” from the film industry with Photoshop to enhance our photos. Having covered using, huesaturation and exposuresimulating the time of daycreating the bleach bypass and the teal and orange look, this week we look at one of the most popular looks in photography, the cross process look.

Sophie with a magenta/green cross process

Sophie with a magenta/green cross process

The key to the cross process look is to push contrasting colours into the shadows and highlights. The easiest way to do this is to use a single curves adjustment, on a single channel. As we have seen previously, with each of the curves channels, you can either add or subtract a colour. So, with the green channel for example, if you add green you introduce a green colour cast and if you subtract green you get its contrasting colour magenta. So the image above simply involves pushing the green curve up in the highlights and pulling it down in the shadows (see below).

Magenta / Green Curves Adjustment

Magenta / Green Curves Adjustment

Mask Panel

Mask Panel

When you add colours like this, the skin tones will look terrible, so add a layer mask to your curves layer and mask out the skin. However, imho if you remove the cast completely from the skin, the image doesn’t look unified. I personally like to reintroduce some of the look back into the skin. Do this simply by reducing the mask density to 50% on the Masks panel.

You are not limited to magenta and green. You can use the blue channel to create a blue / yellow look, with yellow in the highlights and blue in the shadows:

Sophie with a blue/yellow cross process

Sophie with a blue/yellow cross process

Or use the red channel and that brings me back to the image that started this whole process. If you remember back to the first week, I showed you my first attempt at the world of colour grading photos, before looking into it this more depth and sharing my findings with you. Here it is again:

Sophie at the Life Guard Hut #2

Sophie at the Life Guard Hut #2

The problem with the image isn’t so much the colour, though they are maybe a little strong. It is the fact that I didn’t mask off the flesh tones. We can fix this quickly with the masking technique described for the magenta & green look then push red into the highlights and subtract red from the shadows to get cyan. You can see the effect re-applied (without the vignette) below:

Sophie with a cyan/red cross process

Sophie with a cyan/red cross process

So as you can see, there are no end of possibilities with the cross process look. You can do all of these looks shown here on the inverse, i.e. the magenta / green look with magenta in the highlights and green in the shadows, etc. Or try your own cross process look. The key is to experiment and one thing worth reiterating is that it is far better to apply the look liberally with big colour changes than to make shy adjustments. You can always dial the adjustment back, by reducing the layer opacity on the adjustments.

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Colour Grading Photos: Creating the Teal & Orange look from Transformers

Continuing our series of using colour grading techniques “borrowed” from the film industry with Photoshop to enhance our photos. We previously covered using, huesaturation and exposuresimulating the time of day and creating the bleach bypass look. This week we look at how we can create the high energy (perhaps overused in the cinema) Teal and Orange look, popularised by Transformers.

Biker 101: Teal and Orange Look

Biker 101: Teal and Orange Look

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Colour Grading Photos: How you can create a bleach bypass look

Using colour grading techniques “borrowed” from the film industry we can use Photoshop to enhance our own photos. We have previously covered using, hue, saturation and exposure as well as simulating the time of day. This week we look at how we can achieve one of the most popular looks, popularised by Saving Private Ryan, the bleach bypass look.

Blue Hills Biker, 2011: Bleach Bypass Look

Blue Hills Biker, 2011: Bleach Bypass Look

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Colour Grading Photos: Simulating Time of Day

Continuing my series on Colour Grading Photos, this week we are looking at how we can use the techniques we have learnt so far to change the time of day. In this series we are taking inspiration from the techniques used by colourists in film/TV to use colour to effect mood, time of day or create a stylised shot.

Please note: we are not aiming for perfect colour reproduction, we are in the realms of creative photography and so there is no right or wrong here it is purely down to what you want to achieve as an artist.

As many of you will know weather and the time of day has a significant effect on our digital cameras white balance. If you look at the graph below you will see how. We measure the colour temperature of light using the Kelvin scale and as you can see illustrated the colour temperature of the mid day sun (~ 5000k) is considerably colder than sunrise (~ 2500k). So when suggesting the time of day we need to take this into account and change colour accordingly.

Colour Temperatures in the Kelvin Scale

Colour Temperatures in the Kelvin Scale

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Colour Grading Photos: How you can use hue to affect the mood

As discussed in my last post, when colourists are grading film, they look to use colour to enhance the message the director is trying to portray. We can do the same with stills photography and use colour to enhance the message or story, we as photographers are trying to convey.

We will start with the Hue or overall colour of an image and how this can be used to manipulate the mood.

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Colour Grading Photos: Why we should take a leaf out of the video / film colourist’s book

Sophie at the Life Guard Hut #2

Sophie at the Life Guard Hut #2

The current trend to give photos a cross process look (or colour treatment) is certainly a visually interesting effect. The effect, applied in post process, once needed a little bit of Photoshop foo (and originally a bit of darkroom magic) to achieve but the advent of apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, has made the effect ubiquitous and in everyone’s pocket.

In the hands of professional retouchers (in particular those working in fashion) these techniques are used to great effect creating stylised images that compliment the subject and message. In the hands of the many, however, these looks are generally applied without thought to how that treatment may effect the image, and when done purely for the sake of it, are becoming a little cliché. Hey,  I am even guilty myself in the image above. These colour treatments are not new, and colour has been used as a tool, intelligently, by colourists in TV and Film for years when grading film. Colourists use colour to add an additional dimension to the image and deliberately guide the viewer’s eye or manipulate the mood of the images, to not only help realise the directors vision but help communicate the narrative of the story.

As I have a passion in anything related to capturing and representing images, I keep a keen eye on what is happening in the cinematography world and recently I stumbled upon a series of free Final Cut Pro X grading courses by Denver Riddle over at Color Grading Central. Denver is a working colourist and has shared some top tips (and some excellent Final Cut Pro X Presets, if that’s your bag) on how to use and manipulate colour to our advantage.

Over the next few weeks I plan to release a series of articles, translating some of Denver’s excellent ideas and cinematic devices into Photoshop, please find these linked below:

Colour Grading Photos: How you can use hue to affect the mood
Colour Grading Photos: The Effects of Saturation and Exposure on Mood
Colour Grading Photos: Simulating Time of Day

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