Luminosity masking

Over the last weeks, I have been adding articles about luminosity selections and masks. But since they were posted as normal daily updates here, they are getting lost between all the other articles. So this is an overview so you quickly can find all the posts from one spot.

Luminosity masking articles

Here they all are, in the order you should read them and what is every single one about:

  1. Understanding masks in Photoshop – what are layer masks, how they work and how they are used in Photoshop
  2. Understanding luminosity selections and masks – what are luminosity selections and mask, what do they select and how they can be created in Photoshop
  3. Editing photos using luminosity selections – how can you use luminosity selection when editing photos
  4. Blending photos using luminosity selections – how can you blend multiple exposures together using luminosity selections

Will update here if I add more articles on this topic.

And to make this post nicer, here are few images I blended using this techniques.

Luminosity masking
Luminosity masking
Luminosity masking
Luminosity masking

Topaz Gigapixel AI

I wrote about Topaz Gigapixel AI before. It’s an application that you can use to enlarge your photo up to really huge sizes. And it’s pretty good at it. You can see my test examples in the article here, together with more explanation on this application. But while I was playing around with it, I was thinking, can’t this be used also for something else? Like oversampling? And today I will show you what I got.

Topaz Gigapixel AI

Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI

You probably already heard of oversampling while referring to some mobile phone cameras. It’s a process where the camera takes a high megapixel photo, which is then downscaled to the final resolution it provides. So for instance, to create a good clarity 12Mpix photo, the mobile phone takes a 48Mpix photo that is then resized. The results are usually much clearer and sharper than just taking the 12Mpix photo from the start.

And here is where Topaz Gigapixel AI comes in. What if I used it to upscale an image to something huge, and then downscaled it back to the original size. Would I get a similar result? Would it be worth it? And from me writing this article, you probably deduced the answer.

The results are really nice. Not only they are sharper, have more clarity, but even the noise is reduced. The details stand out more and overall there is more definition in the photos. It’s a bit longer process than just using sharpening, but the results are also a bit different.

Let’s look at a few examples. For all of these, I took the full-size JPG, enlarged it to the 6x size (32000px width as maximum, as that’s the limit of JPG file) using Topaz Gigapixel AI and then resized again using Photoshop to the original size. I did try downscaling again using the Gigapixel AI but it took longer, and I preferred the Photoshop result as it was a tiny bit sharper.

The left photo is the original JPG, the right is the oversampled one. All images were taken at 100% zoom.

Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI
Enhancing clarity using Topaz Gigapixel AI

Overall, I think in all the examples, the clarity and definition were enhanced, and the details just stand out more. Not yet sure if this could be used as a replacement for sharpening or something like a details enhancer. But anyway, it’s an interesting use for this application, and if you already got it for the upscaling feature, you can try also this process.

There is a 30 day trial available on the Topaz labs website, so you can get it now and give a try.

Taking photos through glass

I almost called this taking photos through windows, but then I realized, even walls can be made of glass :). You probably had this experience. You are at a place with a great view, but there is a glass wall or window in front of you. And all your photos have all these ugly reflections visible in them. I hate those, and I think you too. So what to do? Today I will share with you a few tips on what to do and how to get better photos through glass.

Taking photos through glass

Get better photos through glass

  • Clean the glass – As a photographer, you probably carry a microfiber cloth with you anyway. So why not use it and clean the glass in front of your camera to get rid of fingerprints and other dirt from it. The cleaner the glass, the cleaner the photo.
  • Use a bigger aperture – If you use a bigger aperture (smaller F-number), focus on something in the distance. Keep the camera close to the glass and the whole area of the glass will be completely out of focus. And that’s what you want. You don’t want to see the fingerprints or scratches in the photos. Like this, they will completely disappear.
  • Put the lens right against the glass – The closer you have your camera to the glass, the less it will be visible in the photo. So try putting the lens right onto the glass wall or window (but first make sure your lens has a flat front, don’t try this with a fisheye). Like this, not only the glass will be out of focus, but you are blocking all reflections from the side of the lens.
  • Turn off all the lights inside – If you can, especially in the evening and at night, turn off all lights. If it’s darker inside that it’s outside, you will get rid of most of the reflections. This is of course not possible if you are at a lookout platform or something similar.
  • Shade the camera with a piece of clothing – To get rid of reflections, you can try to shade your camera with your jacket or other pieces of clothing. Just put the camera as close as you can to the glass, and then hold the jacket over it. Take a test shot and you will quickly see if it worked.
  • Use a dedicated shade – If you tend to take many photos through the glass, I would suggest getting a dedicated shade, like the Lenskirt. I use it and it just makes the whole process very easy. Check out my review of the Lenskirt for more on this one.

If the window or wall is double glass, with space between, you are mostly out of luck. A lot of things just don’t work in that case. You can try all these tips then.  But if there is a gap between the glass, there will always be a reflection there. Turning off lights and shading as many areas as you can works the best here, but don’t expect great results.

Btw. the photos in this post were taken through glass walls, both with the help of the Lenskirt.

Taking photos through glass

Luminosity selections and masks

Over the last few weeks, I have been posting about Luminosity selections and masks. Today I will expand on the topic again, but going into how to blend images using luminosity selections. If you understood the previous articles on this, you should be able to understand how it works really quickly and be able to use it right away.

But before I start, I will presume that you have checked out the previous articles on luminosity selections and are familiar with what they are and how to create them. I will not be going into the things I already explained there.

Blending photos using Luminosity selections

The process here is almost exactly the same as when you are editing photos using luminosity selections. So as in the last article let’s take an example to show you how it’s done. I will be blending these three exposures here.

We will start again with a photo, for which we created the Bright 1 to 4 selections and Dark 1 to 4 selections. Additionally to that, I will put the brighter exposure and darker exposure on separate layers, both hidden (they have to be hidden when you create the luminosity selections, or else they will be made from them not the base image).

So what’s our goal here? If you look at the image, you will see some areas that are too bright and some that are too dark. The goal here is to brighten the dark areas by using the overexposed photo and darken the bright areas using the underexposed photo. You could look at it as if you cut up the photo into puzzle pieces and then put together a new one using all the best pieces from all the exposures. Let’s start.

Blending in the dark areas

  1. Make the brighter layer visible, and add a black mask to it (hold down Alt and click on the add mask button). This will again make the layer invisible.
  2. Go into the Channels window and with Ctrl+click select one of the Dark selections. The best process is to select each one going from 1 up until you see the selections that best matches the area you want to blend. Just look at the marching ants that show the selection. Usually having a selection that’s a bit bigger than what you want to select here, works the best. For this photo, I will choose the Dark 3 selection
  3. Go back into the layers window. Click on the mask next to the brighter layer to select it. Choose the brush tool, white color, 0% hardness, 50% opacity. Hide the selection by pressing Ctrl+H. It is still there just not visible.
  4. Now that all is prepared, you can start painting into the mask. Everywhere you paint, you are painting with the brighter layer into the base layer. To get more brightness in, paint over the same spot multiple times.
  5. Continue doing this until all the areas are brightened as much as you want them to be. If you feel you overdone it, just switch to a black color and paint over the same spot to remove the blend.
Create selection
Paint it in
Finished mask

Blending in the bright areas

  1. Fist deselect the selection you already have, with Ctrl+D. You don’t see it as it’s hidden, but it’s there. Same as before, make the darker layer visible and add a black mask to it.
  2. Go into the Channels window, and choose one of the selections, based on which one fits the photo the best. Again, go through all the bright selection starting from 1, and choose the one that selects the area you need to edit the best. Again, bo with a bit bigger selection to what you need. That results in a better blend. Here I have chosen the Bright 2 one.
  3. Return to the layers, select the mask on the darker layer, and start painting with the white brush on it, until you recover all the bright areas.
Create selection
Paint it in
Finished mask

Blended photo

And we end up with a photo that has the dark areas brightened and the bright areas darkened. Of course, this is not the finished photo. There are still thing one would have to correct, mostly the contrast. As I mentioned with the other edits, contrast is lost anytime you work with bright and dark areas of a photo.

This explains the basics of blending. If you need to blend more exposures, you do the exact same thing. You choose the base you want to work with and blend other exposures into it as I showed here. The only difference is, that you have to recreate your selections. As they are created from the base layer, once you blended in something into the base layer, they will no longer be as accurate as you need them to be.

So if I had a photo taken at 0EV, and I blend in a -1EV exposures to darken the highlights, I would have to create new selections if I wanted to blend in the -2EV photo to darken them even more. This is where Photoshop extensions like Raya pro and TK actions make the whole process much easier.

This was supposed to be the last article on Luminosity selections, but I will do one more, on the concept of matching exposures. Stay tuned :)

Taking photos

I take at least 95% of my photos with a tripod. Over time I just got so used to be able to use any exposure I need, just by having one. The resulting photos are so much better, and since I’m also forced to set up the tripod, I tend to get better composition in the end. But there are of course instances where this is not possible. There are more and more places where one can no longer use a tripod. Or you don’t have one available. Maybe it’s because the airline lost your luggage (like happened to me) or something similar.

So how does one get a nice photo in those occasions, where you just have to shoot handheld. Today I will share with you few tips for that. Also, if you have a steel grip, and you can hold a few second shot handheld without problems, this is not for you :)

Taking photos without a tripod

  • Place the camera on something – If you can, put your camera on something, a bench, wall, pillar, anything with a flat top. Then push your camera down so it stays firmly in place when you are taking the photo.
  • Brace yourself against something – If you can not place the camera on anything, try bracing yourself against something. Lean on a railing, pillar, sit on a bench, on the floor. The less your body is moving, the more stable will you be able to hold the camera.
  • Hold your camera close to your body – Your body is always moving, holding the camera away form the body will transfer much more movement to it. Hold it close to you, so minimizing this movements.
  • Use a timer – Pressing the shutter button will move your camera. Even on a tripod this can cause movement. Set your camera to a two second timer, so it takes the shot automatically. The less movement the better.
  • Underexpose your photo – If you shoot in a RAW format, you can easily underexpose all you photos by 1 to 3 stops (depending on your camera) and still get a good photo. You just overexpose it later in post-processing. Each stop down splits in half the time needed to take the photo, so one stop down is 1/2 the time, two stops is 1/4 of the time needed and 3 stops is 1/8 of the time needed. So for instance, if you need a 1s exposure taken handheld, just by underexposing by 3 stops, you shorten this to 1/8th of a second.
  • Set minimum exposure time – On some cameras you can set up the ISO speed settings. This is an option where you can set the longest exposure time the camera uses in automatic modes. So if you see that you just can’t hold a 1/25s or 1/50s steady enough, you can set you camera to always use a shutter speed shorter than 1/125 or 1/250 and similar. You of course limit this by the max ISO you set in the camera. If you set this up, you can be sure that you camera stays in faster shutter speeds, so you have better chance of sharp photos.
  • Take multiple shots with the same settings – Don’t take just one photo, take multiple photos with the same settings. You can put your camera into burst mode, and just hold the shutter down. If you take multiple photos, there is a bigger chance one of them will be good. If you take only one, you just have to be lucky.
  • Forget about bracketing – Bracketing exposures in pointless when shooting handheld anyway. I know photographers that do it, but I personally never been able to get a really good result by doing so. Even in very bright situations. The shots never align anyway. Rather, take multiple same exposures, or underexpose the shot. By using RAW you will get enough information most of the time anyway.

This one is one of the very few photos I took without a tripod. Here I pout the camera on wall, and hold it down to keep steady.

Taking photos without a tripod
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