Restoring Trudie Ann Part 7

Learning to use the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer

Before the days of the Photo Filter and B&W adjustment layers, Channel Mixer was often used to create a grayscale image that was more expressive than the standard conversion, to tint images, and to create stylized looks for photos. Today Photoshop provides us with easier (though not necessarily better‚ methods to create B&W from color or to tint a grayscale, but it still can create some of the best stylized looks—and much more easily than you might think. It helps to start with the easiest adjustments, though, to get the hang of how the Channel Mixer works.

The Channel Mixer adjustment layer mixes the amount of each channel used to change the hue and brightness of your image. If you’re using it to convert to B&W, it’s straightforward. Simply check Monochrome and you’ll work with the three channels in a single tab—you choose how much of each channel to use, and can get rid of a noisy blue channel altogether by setting it to 0%, while still producing a good monochrome image. To keep the same brightness as the original, the three source channels combined should equal 100%, but you don’t have to make it equal 100% if you want something lighter or darker. If you don’t have a third party plug-in such as Silver Efex Pro or Topaz B&W, the Channel Mixer is still a great way to make better conversions than simply choosing Mode> Grayscale, plus the ability to save presets makes creative B&W’s a one click process.

Default B&W conversion compared to Channel Mixer adjusted conversion
It’s easy to blend channels to create a better B&W than the default conversion (top) generates. Use none of a noisy channel to clean the image, and adjust the Constant slider to adjust the brightness.

When you want to play around with color, there’s so much more to do. The Red, Green, and Blue channels in your image are the target, and you adjust each one by mixing together all three channels as your source. For instance, the Red channel’s output can be 100% Red, 0% Green, and 0% Blue, so no change in the target channel from the source. However, you could make the Red slider something less than 100%, and add to it some of the source Green and Blue channels through their sliders, to get quite a different result for the Red Channel alone. Rinse and repeat for the Green and Blue target channels (or for Magenta, Yellow, Black if CMYK). You can even use negative percentages of any source channel to invert it before adding it to the target channel.  And just to be really confusing, there’s also a Constant slider. This slider will adjust the brightness of the target channel, with positive values making it lighter, negative darker. and even very slight adjustments have a strong effect on the outcome.

Difference in adjustment using the Constant slider
(Top is original image) Adjusting each target channel by blending the source channels  together can change the color and luminance significantly. The Constant slider also affects color and luminance. Results can be unpredictable (or serendipitous) if you’re not an expert in channel blending.

I have always found creating color with the Channel Mixer difficult to predict, and I normally choose another method when tinting a B&W. However, there are two uses for Channel Mixer  when working with color that make using it worthwhile. First, if you want to quickly create an old-fashioned B&W hand-tinted or faded print look, add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer, check Monochrome (which converts it to a standard grayscale), then disable Monochrome to add back a bit of color using the sliders. To keep most of the image in grayscale, use just one of the color channels. To make the entire print color, but faded or hand-tinted, use some or all of the channels to adjust the effect until you have a vintage look you like.

Tinted rose after converting to monochrome
Create a hand-tinted look using just a single channel to bring back only a very little color.
Old house treated with vintage look
Create a faded “vintage” print with the enable/disable Monochrome method, then using all the color channels to influence the fade.

To get a good start on creating a look to save as a Color Lookup Table preset, try the Channel Mixer on a color image. Be sure the color image is a flattened Background layer in order to save the adjustments using File> Export> Color Lookup Tables. Then simply play around with the sliders for each target channel to find a nice look for an image. Remember that small changes to each channel will make a significant difference overall. If the photo is typical of many others you take, you’ll be able to stylize your photos simply by adding a Color Lookup adjustment layer.

Progression of image while creating a new look.
Create a stylized look by adding a Channel Mixer adjustment layer above a “Background” image layer.
Menu and dialog used to create a Color Lookup Table preset.
Save the new look as a Color Lookup Table, giving it a descriptive name to make it easy to find in your list of Color Lookup presets.

All in all, the Channel Mixer is still a very versatile adjustment layer. Channels are the source of every image, and being able to target them in this completely non-destructive, re-editable fashion makes this adjustment layer worth taking some time to get comfortable with. If you know exactly how you want to change the color and tone of an image, it’s not usually the first adjustment layer to reach for, but if you’re in the mood to experiment and be open to a little serendipity, Channel Mixer fits the bill.

Trudie Ann tinted with Channel Mixer.
For Trudie Ann, I created yet another stylized “tint,” perhaps to use in a lavender and old lace heritage scrap page. I can easily adjust it later to be in greater color harmony with the created page.

Exploiting Collections

Using Bridge, Lightroom, and Photoshop Elements Organizer

I have a lot of photos—some come from my family going back 150 years, some I took in the days of film and have managed to scan, and some are from my digital camera. Like everyone else, I now seldom take one carefully crafted photograph when I can easily take one hundred, and then I have to find that one in one hundred later on. Fifteen years ago I would sort and duplicate photos to folders on my hard drives as my main organizing strategy. Several photos could belong in different categories, and copying them to each of those categories meant filling up my drives—fast. Not putting them in their different categories, however, meant searching for the one folder they landed in. Enter Collections, some smart, some dumb, but all saving space on my disks, and reducing the time it takes to locate the best of the best, or at least the ones I need right now.

PSE Organizer Albums menu
Bridge, Lightroom and PSE’s Organizer (shown here) all make it easy to create both dumb and Smart Collections/Albums.

Bridge, Photoshop Elements Organizer, and Lightroom all let you create Collections, but Elements calls them Albums. Each interface is slightly different, but basically they work about the same. You locate and select photos you want to keep together logically, but that don’t have to be in the same folder, such as vintage car photos, pictures of your cat, or the best two hundred photos out of the three thousand you took on your weekend trip to Disneyland. Instead of moving the files on your drives into new folders, you create an alias to their physical location, in the case of a Collection/Album (dumb), or you create and save search criteria that a Smart Collection/Album executes every time you open the Collection.

Bridge menu of panels
Bridge has a dedicated panel for both types of Collections. If you don’t keep it in your Workspace, you can open it by right-clicking on the tab for any panel.
Album badge on a photo in PSE Organizer
PSE Organizer uses a badge to identify if a photo is also in an Album.

The advantage to Smart Collections is the photos are automatically added to your Smart Collection/Album when you Import photos that meet the search criteria to your catalog (Lightroom and Organizer) or put them on your hard drive under the directory the search criteria calls for (Bridge). The downside is the search can take a long time each time you open the collection, depending upon the scope of the search. The search has to be performed fresh every time.

Saving a Smart Collection
Smart Collections are created from saved search criteria. The search is performed every time you open the Collection/Album, so any new files that meet the criteria are automatically added to the Collection/Album

I usually create Smart Collections/Albums for types of photos I take over time, although you should establish other criteria for any frequent searches you do for photos. Lightroom considers Smart Collections so important to an efficient workflow, it even creates some for you when you install the program, including the really useful “Without Keywords” Smart Collection.

Lightroom's Smart Collections List
Lightroom gives you a starter set of Smart Collections. PSE Organizer includes a search for photos added in the past 6 months. Bridge doesn’t include any Smart Collections.

My camera files are stored on my drive under a main folder (such as Camera Raw Files),  with subfolders for each year. I create the subfolder for the year, but let Photo Downloader in Bridge or the Organizer generate the subfolders based on the date they were taken. You can easily create a similar setup when you import photos into Lightroom. This makes for a lot of folders to search through if you do it manually.

Folder creation in Photo Downloader
Both Photo Downloader in Bridge and PSE, and Lightroom’s own Import module, make it easy to save to subfolders by Shot Date when importing photos.

Once a year, it snows here. It’s a special enough occasion I always try to get some pictures.  When I add keywords to the photos, I add “snow” as one of the keywords. Because I saved a search using the Raw Photos folder as the location, every time I open the Smart Collection for “Snow,” any folder inside the main folder that contains a file with that keyword will show up. I haven’t moved a single file, but when I want to scrap one of my snow pictures, I only have to look in that single “Snow” Collection.

Smart Search results in Smart Collection
Every time I open my “Snow” Collection, Bridge searches where I told it to look and with the criteria I specified. I don’t have to open all the folders to find the photos I want.

I use (dumb) Collections for projects that are more temporary and restricted than Smart Collections. They’re dumb because they can’t think to search for anything. You can create them after you’re run a search and the dialog will ask if you want to include the search results in your Collection/Album, but it will never run that search for you.

Choice to include selected files
If you’ve selected files before creating a (dumb) Collection/Album, you’ll be asked if you want to include those in your new collection, giving you a head start.

What’s so great about dumb Collections, though, is you can put any photo you want into it. You don’t have to dream up some complex search criteria that would probably dredge up more photos than you wanted to deal with. So if you wanted to create a photo album from some of your Cancun vacation photos, but not all of them, you create a “Cancun” Collection/Album, and while previewing your Cancun photos, drag the ones you want into that collection. The actual photos, of course, remain in the same location on your hard drive, so if you physically move them somewhere else on the drive or delete them, a dumb Collection won’t be able to find them.

Edit Album in PSE Organizer
After creating a (dumb) Collection/Album, you can edit it by adding or removing photos from the Collection, making it ideal for temporarily collecting photos for a project. PSE Organizer shown here.

In Lightroom, you can make the Collection a target Collection, then simply press “b” to add a selected photo to it.

Lightroom Create Collection dialog
If you know you’re going to be adding photos to a Collection, set it up as a target in Lightroom and press the “b” key while reviewing photos to add a selected photo.

Lightroom uses Collections for yet one more reason. If you use Lightroom Mobile, you can sync a Collection to your phone or tablet. Now you can sit on your couch or wait for your order to get filled at the deli while making basic edits to your photos, but only after you’ve created a Collection that can sync between your desktop and your device.

Sync toggle in Lightroom for Mobile devices
The Lightning bolt icon next to a Collection indicates syncing with Lightroom Mobile. Click once to toggle it on or off when you want to determine what you sync between devices.

Most importantly, if you have spent any time searching for photos to use in a project, you should never have to do that twice. Create a Smart or dumb Collection/Album whenever you have searched for photos that exist in more than one folder, or even in the same folder if you want to use a small subset of several hundred photos or more. It’s easy to remove photos from a dumb Collection, and easy to delete an entire Collection once it’s served its purpose. You’ve already done the hard part by selecting the photos in the first place, so save the results instead of searching over and over.

Remove selected icon in PSE Organizer album
It’s always very easy to add or remove photos from dumb Collections/Albums.