Happy Thanksgiving

No luminosity masks were used this time, but I did have fun with Topaz’ new Texture Effects plug-in to mute and blend all the ingredients together. Wishing everyone enough to eat today.

Thanksgiving altered art
The Pardoned Turkeys
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Luminosity Masking 2

Controlling Edits with Intricate Masks

In my earlier tutorial on Luminosity Masking, I introduced the use of this type of mask and briefly described using panels and sets of actions from developers to make them more accessible to us. Although I showed some screenshots of luminosity masks, I didn’t emphasize criteria when it comes to deciding when to use them. In this article I’ll take a look at sources for luminosity masks within Photoshop (free), and point to the more obvious times when you would, or likely would not, use a luminosity mask.

I’ve already discussed the luminosity mask you can make by Cmd/Ctrl-clicking on a channel thumbnail (the composite and individual color channels). This loads only a lights/darks luminosity mask, with the lightest lights by default fully selected, progressing through a range of ever darker grays until finally the blacks are fully deselected. One of the more common uses for this mask is to invert the mask when tinting a B&W photo, thus tinting the darker values the most, while leaving the lightest tones light and bright. Often tints applied to an entire image muddy the lights and reduce the full tonal range of the image—often effective when going for the aged and distressed look, but easily avoided when you want to tint a “clean” B&W.

Tint results with and without a luminosity mask
For an aged and distressed look, you may want to tint all the tones in a B&W (top). To create a tint that preserves the tonal range, whether on restored photos or new B&W’s, an inverted luminosity mask (middle) does the trick. Cmd/Ctrl-click on the composite channel thumbnail in PS, then choose Select> Inverse to tint the shadows and protect the highlights by masking a Solid Color adjustment layer in Color blending mode.

Many people are not aware that Photoshop also includes a more precise method for generating a luminosity mask without using the Channels panel. When Photoshop updated the Color Range dialog, they added sliders to the Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights selections. The sliders now allow you to set a limit to the range of values considered Shadows, for example, and to decide how the selection will taper off. You’re targeting luminosity, not color, in your image, and generating the mask from that.

Select Color Range luminosity mask previews
One delimiter for Shadows, and one for highlights, adjusts how far the selection goes into the quarter or midtone range. The Midtones slider has delimiters for both an upper and lower limit to the range. The Fuzziness slider tapers off the selection so you won’t get harsh edges.

To know what tones to select, it helps to use the Info panel to read the values under your cursor before entering the Color Range dialog.  After opening the dialog, select one of the three basic values and use the sliders to select the values you’d noted earlier. You can also look at the little preview in the dialog to help you visualize what is being selected. Unfortunately, I do mean “little” preview. There’s no preview in the document itself, which makes it more difficult to be precise about your selection visually. However, a Color Range mask does give you quite a lot of control over limiting adjustments to a specific tonal range.Original Fall color photoLayers that use Color Range luminosity masks

Final Fall photo edited with Color Range luminosity masks
Applying Curves, Levels, and the USM filter to the top image through Color Range luminosity masks (middle), heightens the brilliance of the Fall colors (bottom) without overpowering the delicate detail.

Because choosing the right tonal range to target with a luminosity mask takes some practice, whether using Color Range, a panel such as Tony Kuyper’s, or directly using the Channels panel to create the mask manually, it helps to have a pretty good idea if your image is likely to benefit from a detailed mask. I’ve come up with three images that have a similar subject. They’re all a simple mountain range, but they vary in the distribution of values and their level of detail, as well as aesthetic considerations when editing the photos.

In the snowy mountain photo, there’s considerable detail and variation in values throughout most of the image. If I want to increase contrast through the midtones without blowing out the lights or blocking up the darks, a luminosity mask should be successful in limiting a simple Curves adjustment. No tedious hand painting is necessary.

Original photo and composite channel mask
The original image and the basic composite channel’s luminosity mask reveal detail and a mix of values throughout the image—a good candidate for editing through luminosity masks.
Final results after using a TK4 midtone luminosity mask
Choosing one of the Midtone masks in TK4 let me adjust most of the mountain range with a single mask without pushing any values too far. The mask protected the lights and darks more than the midtones from the contrast curve.

In the photo with the bird where the mountain range is nearly all one value, it isn’t particularly useful to try to find a luminosity mask that affects only the clouds and mist, and another to affect the contrast in the mountains themselves. There’s so little contrast and detail to begin with, it’s easier to add a boost with a standard  “S” curve, then broadly paint out the sky that has now been lightened more than desired. Another broad brush tones down the heavy darkening in the foreground mountain.

Original featureless mountain range
The original is really just a series of almost featureless shapes with very little contrast in values.
A simple handpainted mask controls the contrast curve.
After adding a simple contrast curve to the whole image, the mask was hand painted to prevent the sky from blowing out and the lower mountain range from overpowering the delicate wisps behind it.

The third image of heavy fog weaving between the mountains is bit trickier. There’s certainly enough detail and distribution of values throughout the image to make us think of using luminosity masks. However, I think the image will be more successful, and have more depth, if the front of the range draws the eye with greater contrast, leaving the rest to recede.  If I used a luminosity mask to target the midtones, all of the mountains would be affected. Since I only want to alter the lower third, it’s simpler again to apply a global contrast curve, then take a broad brush and paint out the effect on the rest of the image. You can do the same thing if you use a luminosity mask and paint on it to hide most of the effect. But why make an easy edit more complicated if you don’t need to precisely target a range of values?

Original photo of fog-filled mountain range
Although there is detail and contrast in values distributed throughout the image, which could make it a good candidate for using luminosity masks, enhancing all of that detail equally won’t help create depth or focus our attention anywhere.
Edited image with simple handpainted mask
Bringing out the foreground mountain, while allowing the rest to recede only requires a very simple mask.

Like many image editing features, luminosity masks are both easy to generate and very powerful when controlling what your adjustments affect. But also like many powerful features, it does take a bit of practice both in determining when to use them and what tonal range to use. Next time, I’ll demonstrate how using the TKActions panel helps when making those creative decisions. Layers edited using TK4-generated luminosity masks

Final photo edited with TK4 masks
Using the TK4 Actions panel rather than Color range generates different results—although difficult to see at small sizes. These masks are previewed in the full document and allow for more precise targeting of the entire tonal range.

Texture Effects

The latest plugin from Topaz

Many of us who like to create photo art had our plans for the past week derailed by the unveiling of Topaz’ Texture Effects filter, both as a plugin for Adobe and Corel image editing applications, and as a standalone so anyone can use it. In fact, the feature set is pretty complete, beginning with Basic Adjustments for tone and color, through a number of modifications right through to adding a final border to your image. If you like to create photo art with the small phone apps such as Snapseed, but want more powerful features without purchasing one of the more major (and expensive) applications, Texture Effects just might be the right program to try.

The question I heard, and that I had to ask myself when I decided to download a trial copy, was why do I need this plugin— since I do own Photoshop and have been adding textures to my photos for quite some time now. It’s not that difficult to drag a texture into Photoshop from Bridge, place it on top of an image layer, experiment with blending modes, opacity, masking, etc. And I already have a very large collection of textures, borders, glows—the kind of image files Topaz supplies in abundance with the plugin. I don’t really need any more. So what does this do for me?

The answer, I found, was that the plugin is a giant preview machine to get you going. With an image loaded and in one of the effect modules that use images, hover over a thumbnail and see what it would look like applied to the image in whatever blend mode you currently have selected. You can view a variety of effects incredibly quickly, compared to the “find it on your hard drive, drag it into your file, then see if you like it” method, with the inevitable rinse and repeat until you find something that works. You can hover over blending modes and see how each will effect the selected texture. The blending modes are equivalents to Photoshop’s blending modes, and will be familiar to Adobe users. And you don’t have to know anything about blending modes with the hover-and-see-what-it-does approach.The original preset selected before customizing

Appearance changes when hovering over a different thumbnail
By hovering over another texture, the original image (top), shows how the entire preset would appear if that second texture replaced the first. You can hover over all the textures until you find one you like, or delete that texture “layer” altogether. The eyeball next to the effect is useful for toggling that particular effect on and off.
A full set of blend modes is available
A full range of blending modes are offered with any effect where a blend will make a difference.

You can use any combination of effects. You don’t have to use them all, and you can use each of them multiple times. If you’d like to apply three images as Textures, or ten, you can. You can rearrange the stacking order, too, but you’ll lose any masks you’ve applied to the effects. Which brings up the most important feature a texturizing plugin can have—the ability to mask where an effect gets applied. Each effect, or “layer,” gets its own mask. And the last effect, in case you want it, is a Mask that lets you modify how the whole effect is applied to your base image.

Multiple effects each have their own mask
The ability to mask an effect is everywhere. This preset also demonstrates that the only limit to how many instances of an effect you choose to use is your own imagination, or your computer, whichever comes first.

Furthermore, you can save any combination of effects as a single preset. Topaz ships with a large selection of presets already created for us, and has set up a “Community” that lets you share Texture Effects presets with other users. Presets are another part of this giant preview machine. After loading an image, you can open the Preset Grid view and get inspiration from viewing presets applied to your image from your local installation, from the Community, or both. If you like a Community preset, you can log in to the Community and download that preset to your own machine. Obviously, there are rules about sharing texture files that you don’t own full rights to, but a user can choose to share textures that s/he does own, or simply use Topaz assets to create new presets for everyone to enjoy.

You can search for presets by type, by category, and by any part of its name, which makes it easier to find the type of preset you want if you already have an idea. When you click on one of the small thumbnails, a preview pane on the left provides a larger view, as well as metadata for the preset. If you click in the center of the preset, just like Topaz Impression, you open the editing module for customizing the preset.

Preview after selecting a preset in the Preset Grid
In the preset grid view, when you target a preset, you’ll see a larger preview on the left, along with the center sliders icon. Clicking on that icon takes you to the editing space where you can customize the preset to suit your image.
Search filters reduce the number of presets shown
Filters let you narrow your search among the presets for presets you know or for presets that offer a particular look you’re interested in, such as Ethereal or Architecture.

This is a version 1 of the application, and not everything is perfect. I’ve found that it isn’t as responsive to my input devices as their other plugins. I can click on a blend mode and not have it get selected. I can click on a slider and not have it respond to being dragged. It usually only takes a second click to get it in gear, so a minor annoyance, but there are a few small issues like that. Otherwise, so far it’s been stable and pretty quick on both my Macs.

And while you can import your own files, even create your own categories for them, you can only import TIFF, JPEG, and PNG formats—plus no transparency is supported. If you want to import PNGs with transparency, you’ll need to give some thought to whether you want a black, white, or neutral gray background in order to drop it out with a corresponding blend mode. Texture Effects will otherwise substitute black for the transparent regions.

But if you like to use textures when you’re creating digital art, even with small niggles this filter makes it much easier, quicker, and just plain more inspirational to work with them. Topaz Texture Effects seems well worth at least the time to download the free trial, the free manual (it’s short), and give it a whirl to see if it has a place in your own workflow.

The full version of the featured image
Experimenting with different looks is so easy, it doesn’t take very long to come up with something that suits your subject. Or try several different looks before choosing the one you like best.