Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Luminosity Masks’ Category
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
by Zack Schnepf
The most common request I get is to see my photos before and after post processing. This is part three of my before and after series. Good processing is more important than ever. The vast majority of professional photographers capture their images with a digital camera. This has allowed photographers to take control over the entire process, from capture, processing and sharing images. For the type photography I do, artistic landscape; processing plays a vital role. This is where I can create a mood to better convey my own experience. There is a lot I can do in the field to do this as well, but good processing technique allows me to steer the final image toward my own vision of the scene. In this article I’ll share 3 examples from my trip to the Canadian Rockies with my Photo Cascadia buddies.
Let me preface by saying I am not a documentary photographer, I’m an artistic photographer. This is an important distinction. I’m stating this in the interest of avoiding the pointless philosophical debate on how much post processing is acceptable. If you would like take part in that argument, I refer you to an excellent article written by David Kingham: http://www.exploringexposure.com/blog/2016/3/19/in-defense-of-post-processing
A few notes on the RAW files used. I use a very bland camera profile in Lightroom which gives me the widest dynamic range possible for blending multiple exposures. As a result, my RAW images look quite bland, low contrast and lack pop. This is intentional, it leaves me with the most information possible to work with in Photoshop.
I produced a video detailing the techniques used in the following examples. In the video I guide you through my most current multiple exposure workflow, illustrating how I use the powerful tools in Lightroom, and Photoshop along with the TKAction Panel V4. The level of control you can have with these tools is pretty incredible. To learn more you can visit my site: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
This first example has an extreme dynamic range to overcome and some serious distortion near the edges. The distortion could not be corrected with the automated functions in Lightroom, or Photoshop. I blended the exposures first and then tackled the distortion correction.
This next example also has a huge dynamic range to overcome. So much so, I chose it as my example image in my latest instructional tutorial video, Tonality Control 2.0.
Another interesting example from the Lake O’Hara Wilderness.
If you are a TKActions user, luminosity mask enthusiast or just like to keep up to date with the most current tools and techniques available for high end image developing, then this article will interest you. If you aren’t versed in what luminosity masks are then you might want to check out these articles first and then come back.
Right now I won’t ramble on the benefits of using luminosity masks as part of a finely controlled Photoshop workflow or the backstory of how Tony Kuyper introduced these techniques to the world of nature and landscape photography a decade ago. Those topics have been well covered before.
The main story here is that Tony consistently innovates and improves the way his custom Photoshop actions panel generates luminosity masks. In June he released the current iteration of the TKActions Panel, Version 4, which introduced a completely new interface, added a ton of features and increased the overall efficiency. Despite that, he has already added new features and tools to the V4 panel that I wasn’t able to include in the Video Guide to TKActions or Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks, 2nd Edition tutorials.
The two main new tools in the latest update are Infinity Masks and the Zone Picker and they both offer significantly different and intuitive methods of generating very specific luminosity selections and masks. If you currently own the TKActions V4 panel then you already have these features, although you many not have realized it yet. If you purchased the V4 panel through the Adobe Add-Ons website then you may need to update the panel through your Adobe My Add-Ons account and the CC Desktop App for the new tools to show up.
In addition to Infinity Masks and the Zone Picker, other updates include transparent dodge and burn layers, layer bookmarking, View Button support in Lab mode and the ability to toggle between red and blue view modes. Tony recently published an article on his blog that explains the new tools and features in detail.
In an effort to help everyone stay informed and get full use of the features, I produced the following tutorial. In addition to watching the video here online you can use the link I include below to download it to your computer for free and add it to your library. The video is now also included as a bonus chapter in the Video Guide to TKActions series. I hope you find it to be helpful and that you are able to put the new tools to use in your image developing. If you have any questions be sure to leave a comment below or contact me.
Photoshop is my most powerful and flexible tool for image developing, and Luminosity Masks are a key component to that. Masks in Photoshop are used to control where and to what degree an adjustment will be revealed. Masks generally come in two varieties; hard edged and feathered. Hard edged masks are precise but have obvious and visible boundaries. Feathered masks blend adjustments into an image gradually, but are not precise and bleed into adjoining areas and can cause light or dark halos. With Luminosity Masks we get the best of both worlds; the precision of a hard edged mask combined with the gradual blending of a feathered mask.
Standard luminosity masks are global, or what I sometimes refer to as “entire image” masks. That is, while they control where and to what degree adjustments are applied, they still feather throughout the entire image. Sometimes this is just what is needed, but other times it is helpful to be able to customize and localize luminosity masks to target one specific area of an image.
In this short video tutorial I demonstrate one method of customizing a luminosity mask called painting a mask. If you use Luminosity Masks in your Photoshop work, I think you will find it useful.
This video is a portion of one of the chapters from the soon to be released 2nd Edition of my Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks tutorial series. While the general concepts of Luminosity Masks have not changed, this is a needed update. The new edition features some new new ideas, tips and techniques and uses Photoshop CC and version 4 of the TKActions panel. I know some folks have been looking forward to this update so I spent a good portion of the summer working on them. The goal was to complete them before my fall photography adventures kicked off this Month. I just pulled it off, completing the video editing phase on Wednesday evening. Thursday morning at 4 AM I left for Idaho and Canada, so while the videos are complete, they won’t be available until I’m back in the office on October 1. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted.
This week on the blog I am sharing a complete chapter from the new edition of my Developing for Extended Dynamic Range tutorial series. In this chapter I demonstrate how luminosity masks and a technique called masking-the-mask are useful in creating better tonal balance in high dynamic range exposures. Dynamic range is one of the many challenges we face as outdoor, natural light photographers. Dynamic range is the visual contrast (difference between the darkest and lightest values) in a scene or an image. A common way to handle extreme dynamic range light, in the 12 to 25 stop range, is by bracketing exposure values and blending the exposures in Photoshop to create a properly exposed final image. While I find multiple exposure blending to be an essential technique, with advancing camera technology it isn’t needed as often as it once was. Some current digital cameras have the ability to record a dynamic range of 11 to 14 stops, unimaginable just a few years ago. A dynamic range of 13 stops equates to a contrast ratio of over 8,000:1 and 14 stops, a contrast ratio of over 16,000:1. Such contrast range means it is possible to capture many high dynamic range scenes, which were previously out of reach, in a single exposure. Unfortunately, the dynamic range of the best monitors is only in the 1000:1 range. Prints can only achieve a dynamic range between about 50:1 up to perhaps 300:1, depending on paper, printing process and lighting. So even if our cameras can record a wide dynamic range in a single exposure, we still need to work with shifting the the bright and dark tones in the image to create tonal balance and retain tonal detail, while still giving the perception of the actual dynamic range that we saw.
There are many tools and techniques available for shifting tonal values in an image for better tonal balance, including raw highlight and shadow recovery, dodging and burning and the Shadows/Highlights adjustment in Photoshop. A common tool I use is Curves or Levels adjustments guided by the use of luminosity masks. In the video chapter below I demonstrate the great control, precision and flexibility that luminosity masks provide when working with targeted tonal balance in a single exposure image. It also provides some great extended instruction in the use of the TKActions Panel. I hope you find the information helpful in your image developing. Make sure to view the video in 720p HD!
This chapter is one of 36 in the updated edition of the Developing for Extended Dynamic Range tutorial series. The series takes a complete look at working with high dynamic range light from capture to single and multiple exposure developing methods. You can go here if you would like more information or to see more chapters. I’d be glad to field any comments or question you have in the comments section below.
by Zack Schnepf
I get one request more than any other, to see what my photos look like before and after I process them. I found this incredibly helpful myself when I was starting out in photography. I’ve done this before and I think I will make it a regular series here. The following are a selection of images that I think turned out well and capture my experience in the field. The top photo of each set is the final master image.
This first set of images is from one of the most amazing mornings I’ve ever spent in the field. Sean and I set out several hours before first light in the pitch black, frigid, icy morning. This was a morning we had hoped to see while on our trip. It’s very rare to get the first snow during peak fall color. Sean and I had hoped for such conditions somewhere on our trip, but knew the chances were very low to witness such an event. We were extremely fortunate to be able realize our dream of capturing just such an event. This was one of my favorite moments during that morning. The dynamic range was too much even for the Sony A7r. To overcome the limitations of the camera I captured 3 different exposures capturing all of the tonal information. Using my tonality control techniques with the aid of Tony Kuyper’s actions and action panel I was able to blend the exposures together in photoshop to produce the final image. Thanks again to Raynor Czerwinski for sharing his local knowledge of this spot with us. If you find yourself in Crested Butte, be sure to visit him and his wife Susan at the John Ingram Fine Art Gallery.
This set of images is from another location from my trip to Colorado this fall with good friend Sean Bagshaw. This is Chimney rock and Courthouse Mountain. On the evening we photographed here we were fortunate to witness some spectacular light and atmosphere. I processed this again using my tonality control techniques with the aid of Tony Kuyper’s actions and panel. Each image always presents it’s own challenges. In this case I used 3 separate exposures and double processed one of them for a total of 4 exposures. This allowed me to really target each tonality zone to achieve the look and feel that captured the experience for me.
This set of images is from another spectacular evening from the Colorado trip. This storm rolled in quickly spoiling the sunset I had in mind and replacing it with something so much better. Sean and I had to make a split second decision to abandon our current location and rush to another location we had scouted earlier. It was spectacular, but the camera was not capturing what I was seeing. Again, I used my tonality control techniques with the aid of Tony Kuyper’s actions and panel to bring the drama back into this image. The final image captures my experience extremely well.
For all these images I was using my tonality control techniques and Tony’s action panel. For more information about my video, or to purchase a copy visit the video page on my site: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
I’m currently producing a video on how I use Tony’s panel with my techniques. It will be available in the next few months.
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This month we welcome Tony Kuyper as our guest photographer. Tony’s body of work centers around the desert sandstone of the Colorado Plateau and is as beautiful as it is definitive. In addition to his photography, Tony is well known to outdoor photographers for his skills in the realm of digital image developing, specifically in the use of luminosity mask techniques. His popular tutorials and Photoshop actions are well regarded by many of the best contemporary nature and landscape photographers. Tony is also one of the most kind, generous and humble people I know. I first became acquainted with Tony almost ten years ago and have since had the pleasure of getting to know him personally, spending time with him in the field and collaborating with him on Luminosity Mask instruction. Tony generally avoids the spotlight so I thank him for agreeing to this interview and giving us a view into his world.
Sean: Give us some biographic back story on Tony Kuyper.
Tony: My background is in the sciences. I got an “A” in Physical Chemistry in college! After getting my degree I moved to Arizona in the 1980s and have mostly been here since. I worked as a pharmacist for the Indian Health Service for 30 years.
Sean: When and how did you get your start in photography?
Tony: There really wasn’t a definitive start to it. It’s always been evolving. Arizona was a whole new world for me compared to the Midwest. I did a lot of hiking and camping trying to see it all. It’s natural, I think, to want to take pictures to hold onto some memories. But in the early days I was just using an instamatic camera. I eventually moved on to a 35 mm and even did a decade of large-format. So it’s really just a long continuum.
Sean: Your photography is centered in the American Southwest, primarily southern Utah and Northern Arizona. What about this landscape attracted you photographically and what keeps you coming back?
Tony: The initial attraction wasn’t photographic. The Colorado Plateau was just an incredible place. It was easy to fall in love with this landscape after living my first 24 years in Iowa. Photography was a way to interact with this place on a more personal level, and that eventually became more central to my travels around the area. Being in the desert feels right for me now, and that helps create a good mindset for taking pictures.
Sean: Your photography includes some wonderful large landscapes, but you are most known for your sandstone abstracts. Other than light, what are the most essential elements you look for when capturing this type of scene and what are you hoping viewers will take note of when viewing this body of work?
Tony: I tend to compose less complex scenes, so these images are in line with my general approach to nature photography. Many of these sandstone details are taken in the shadows, not direct light. In the shadows, the color of sandstone shifts considerably, depending on the source of reflected light. Only by getting in close and excluding direct sunlight can you really see what’s happening. The camera, especially in the film days, was critical to this. Our eyes naturally shift the colors to what we expect, but the camera is objective and helped me see sandstone’s alternate hues. The unexpected colors coupled with the amazing shapes and textures make for an interesting subject. So these abstracts are really just my way of exploring sandstone. Hopefully viewers will be able to see the beauty in this rock from a less traditional point of view.
Sean: To quote from your website you say, “Over the years, capturing light has become less and less my goal. Instead, I increasingly prefer to give in to the unpredictability of the situation and simply allow the light to capture me.” Tell us a little more about that statement.
Tony: I’ll say up front that Guy Tal had a big influence in developing this perspective. I photographed with him several times and was always impressed that any light was good light for him. He always came back with some amazing images. I came to understand it was not about approaching the landscape with preconceived notions of what would make a good picture, but rather to find a way to understand the area and eventually allow it to show me what it might have to offer in terms of light. Images created in this manner end up having deeper meaning. There’s something almost magical when I turn it all over to fate and find that it makes better choices than I do. It’s a new connection to something to I didn’t even know existed.
Sean: What does your standard camera rig consist of for most of your photographs?
Tony: Pretty minimal. Canon 5D2 camera, carbon fiber tripod, Tamron 28-300 lens, polarizer, and spare battery and compact flash cards.
Sean: Attention to image developing has long been an important component of your photography. What is your basic philosophy and approach to image developing?
Tony: Two things come to mind. First, connect with your image and let it tell you what to do. Each image is different and requires a unique approach. I find making actual prints to be extremely helpful in listening to the light. It’s much easier to interpret what the image needs when looking at a print than at the monitor for me. The second is to learn to use your tools and develop a skill set that is comfortable. Today’s cameras and Photoshop let us do some amazing things, but it takes some experimentation and practice with both to understand how to best use them. Other than that, I think photographers should be free to do what they want with their images. As David Kachel observed, a sense of realism is important to photography, but strict adherence to reality is not. So the whole process becomes one of interpreting light rather than simply reproducing it, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.
Sean: You are arguably the original and best known luminosity mask user and educator in the world of outdoor photography. Briefly, what are luminosity masks, how did you begin working with them and how is it that you discovered them for the rest of us?
Tony: Luminosity masks are selections based on tonal values in the image. They are created from the image’s pixel values, not from a selection tool. They can be manipulated to target specific tones and blend most adjustments perfectly into the rest the image. I Googled the term “luminosity mask” in April 2006, found out how to make the initial “Lights” selection, and was instantly fascinated with the possibilities. I knew about adding, subtracting, and intersecting selections and played with combining various masks somewhat randomly for several months to get at specific tones in my images. Based on these experiments, the Lights-, Darks-, and Midtones-series were developed for the “Luminosity Masks” tutorial published in November the same year.
Sean: Speaking to anyone not familiar with luminosity masks, what advantages do they have over other Photoshop adjustment methods?
Tony: The perfect blending that luminosity masks provide is probably the biggest benefit. While regular selections and brushes can be feathered spatially into the surrounding pixels to facilitate blending, luminosity selections are feathered tonally. This means that pixel content, specifically the brightness values, determines what gets blended, not just proximity to the selection edge. So as brightness varies across the image, the luminosity mask or selection will automatically adjust. The image is essentially its own mask. Photoshop makes it easy to manipulate the initial “Lights” mask to target different tones, so it’s possible to get this seamless blending in any tones you adjust. Sorry if that sounds a bit geeky, but that’s how it works. This perfect blending can be used to create very balanced lighting in the image. For nature photographers, it’s like to having studio lighting in the great outdoors.
Sean: Many of the talented outdoor photographers I’m familiar with today include luminosity mask techniques in their image developing skill set. When you first began experimenting with luminosity masks did you have any idea how important they would become to modern outdoor photography?
Tony: Not really. The scientist in me thought it was pretty neat what the different luminosity masks could do, so that’s why I wrote the tutorial, sort of like writing a research paper. However, it was my quirky way of using Photoshop and a bit complex at the time, so I didn’t think it would be widely adopted. The actions to make the masks were available right from the start and that probably helped others get on to using these techniques more quickly. But overall the interest in these techniques was definitely more than I expected.
Sean: In 2006 you published your first luminosity mask tutorials and Photoshop actions on NaturePhotographers.net. How have the actions, and the way that they are used, evolved since you first put them out there?
Tony: While the initial series of masks (Lights, Darks, Midtones) are useful, I quickly found that the narrower tonal range selections made from the primary Lights- and Darks-series to be more useful. These secondary masks became more important to me and I’ve developed tools to make them accessible. Something else quite unexpected is that I also use the Darks series of masks frequently in sharpening my images. They’re an effective way to reduce or remove light halos and over-sharpening while maintaining proper image sharpness.
Sean: The techniques and actions you introduced almost a decade ago have become a standard tool for outdoor photographers all over the world. Do you see them continuing to evolve and improve, and if so, how?
Tony: I think the basic knowledge about luminosity masks is becoming more widespread, but there is still some confusion about how to use them effectively. Deciding when use them, which mask to choose, and how to efficiently incorporate them into the workflow are some of the issues. Developing tools and educational materials to streamline luminosity mask integration will help more people adapt to them. It’s something I’m continuing to work on.
Sean: What piece of advice do you have for photographers interested in improving their image developing skills and realizing their creative potential?
Tony: I think the best way to improve at anything is to make it personal. For photography, that means having a genuine interest in the subjects you photograph. It’s easy to tune into the light and find images when you care about your subject. This also makes image development a creative exercise instead of a chore. If you’re personally committed to what you photograph, you’ll naturally work to improve your technique both in the field and at the computer. You’ll practice and study and find ways to get better.
Sean: Where do you see your interests in photography going in the future?
Tony: I recently moved to Tucson. It’s a whole new world to explore. Very different than the Colorado Plateau, but lots of variety. I’m going to have to branch out from sandstone, but am definitely looking forward experiencing light in a new place.
In the last part of this series I talked about starting the process of pre-visualization in the field, you can read the first part of the series here: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/pre-visualization-part-1-starting-the-process/#.VB9OpksyPiM Just as important, is continuing the pre-visualization through my digital processing workflow. In this segment I’ll talk about how I use my pre-visualized idea to control my image throughout the workflow.
Just like in the field, I want to have a roadmap to help guide me through the processing. I remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with this image and what I’m trying to communicate. This helps to guide me while processing. Typically, this leads to a lot of problem solving, trying to figure out what tools and techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop will help me realize my final vision. I usually experiment quite a bit. Along the way I discover what is working toward my final vision for the image and what is not. A lot of times I like to walk away from processing and come back later, this gives me a fresh perspective and a chance to re-evaluate how the image is turning out according to my vision.
This is just a guide however. During this process I’ll often evolve my overall vision for an image. If a particular technique is working really well and starts to take the image in a new direction that I find compelling I’ll consider adjusting my pre-visualized ideas. It’s common for images to turn out even better than I had imagined, of course it goes the other way as well. I’ve had many stubborn images that just don’t turn out the way I had anticipated, but most of the time they come pretty close to my pre-visualized idea.
Here is an example of carrying the vision I had for this image in the field through my digital processing workflow. The color, tone, and overall mood was being lost in the Raw capture. It took a lot of work in Lightroom and Photoshop to bring out the potential I had seen in the field. Having that pre-visualized idea in my head helped to realize my vision for this image. Even though this was a single exposure capture, I used many of the tools and techniques that are covered in my Tonality Control Video, you can learn more here: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
Like the guys here at Photo Cascadia, many readers of the Photo Cascadia blog have been using Tony Kuyper’s luminosity mask tutorials and Photoshop actions for years. Many readers are also aware that Tony recently produced an update to his custom actions panel. Despite how well known Tony’s resources have become in the world of outdoor photography, I’m sure we have some readers who haven’t run across luminosity masks yet or who have heard of them but aren’t exactly sure what they are or what they do. With the recent release of Tony’s update, as well as the release of Photoshop CC (2014), I wrote this article to quickly bring everyone up to speed.
The update of Tony’s TKActions Panel became necessary when Adobe announced that the 2014 version of Photoshop CC (released on June 18, 2014) would require custom panels to be coded in HTML5 and would no longer support the use of panels built with Flash, like the original TK Actions Panel was. One option for Tony would have been to recode an exact copy of the original TK Panel with HTML5, a painstaking process in its own right. However, Tony felt that he could make the panel even better, so he spent a lot of time consulting with myself and other experienced users and adding new actions and powerful new features to the TKActions Panel. As a result, not only does the panel continue to be functional (thankfully) for those of us who are using Photoshop CC (2014), but everyone, including Photoshop CS5 and CS6 users, gets the benefit of all the new features.
So what are Luminosity Masks and what does the TKActions Panel do (this article explains the basics)? Luminosity masks are created with the use of luminosity selections which can be generated from Alpha Channels in Photoshop. One of the most important aspects of Photoshop is the ability to make selections and masks. Luminosity selections are very precise and self-feathering selections based on the luminosity, or brightness value, of every pixel in an image. Using luminosity selections to create luminosity masks provides an unparalleled degree of control over image adjustments and provides access to an endless variety of creative image developing techniques. In the following video I demonstrate some of the basics of luminosity masks.
It’s possible to manually generate all the luminosity selections and masks in Photoshop, but doing so is a time consuming endeavor requiring a carpel tunnel inducing number of mouse clicks. To streamline the use of luminosity masks, Tony started creating Photoshop actions that would automatically reproduce all the repetitive procedures required to make them. The TKActions Panel adds even further efficiency and functionality to the actions. The panel is a command center from which to launch the various actions with a single click.
Some of the features in the updated version of the panel include:
1) A new two-tab layout for improved efficiency
2) Color-coded sections
3) “View” buttons to provide a visual overlay of which pixels are actually selected
4) Zone masks that focus adjustments to very narrow tonal ranges
5) Web-sharpening actions for vertical and horizontal dimensions and for high-definition dimensions
6) Several new buttons to correspond to some techniques discussed in recent blog posts.
7) One-click live selections (instead of Ctrl/Cmd-clicking a mask)
8) New buttons for creating adjustment layers and changing blending modes
9) Simplified subtracted mask generation
10) “Progressive actions” for experimenting with many different options
After years of studying Tony’s tutorials, using his techniques and developing some of my own, he and I began collaborating to produce video tutorials to help people learn how to utilize luminosity masks and get the most Tony’s actions.
If you are interested in learning more about luminosity masks and Tony’s techniques in general there are many resources available. Tony maintains a substantial library of free luminosity mask tutorials on his website and his blog. Additionally I have several videos available to view on-line that will give you a good preview of what is possible. The video excerpts at the bottom of this page are from the tutorial series I produced called The TK Panel. The series is the direct companion and resource for all the new features Tony has added to the updated panel.
In addition, Tony’s luminosity mask tutorials and tools have become indispensable to photographers and Photoshop users around the world. Many have taken time to write about them on their own. Some of these include John Shaw, Alister Benn, Richard Wong, Michael Breitung, Don Smith, André Distel and Ryan Cary.
All of Tony’s actions and tutorials, as well as the video tutorials I produced to go with them, are available on my website (OutdoorExposurePhoto.com) and also on Tony’s Special Offers page. I hope this information on luminosity masks in general and the update on the current TKActions Panel has been informative. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have questions or anything to share.