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Early morning in Downtown Dubai

Let’s stop by Dubai in today’s photo. This one was taken a year ago, very early in the morning, right as the sky started to brighten for the sunrise. It was not the easiest shot to take. Right in the middle of where I was standing, is a camera overlooking the area. It would be ok, if there was not a huge cover on it. It really is in the way. Even with a very tall tripod, I could not get over it. So in the end, I took the shot handheld. I stood as close as I could, and braced myself against the camera cover. Not everything worked perfectly, but after few tries, I got few shots I could use.

This is a two shot blend, done in Photoshop. This series was three shots, but one was blurred as I could not hold it still. Luckily I did not need it.

Early morning in Downtown Dubai, UAE

Luminosity selections and masks

Last week, I shared with you, what are luminosity selections and masks, and how to create them in Photoshop. Today, I will show you, how to use them when you are editing photos. There will be another post about this topic, where I will show you how to use them to blend images.

But before you get into today’s guide, I suggest checking out this post on understanding masks in Photoshop here, and the post explaining luminosity selections and masks here.

Editing photos using luminosity selections

Let’s start with a photo in the state we left in the last post. Go into the channels window, and create the Bright 1, Bright 2, Bright 3 and Dark 1, Dark 2 and Dark 3 channels. Each time from now on, when we need to select a certain one, just go back to selections and Ctrl+click on the one you want to select.

There are two ways we can approach editing from here on. Either we want to effect the whole selection, or just paint in a part of it, exactly where we need it. The process is a bit different for both of these, so let’s look at them now.

Global edits on whole selection

When you want to effect the whole selections, the two steps you have to do are:

  • Select the luminosity selection you want to use – Go into the channels window, and Ctrl+click on the selection you want to use. Go back to the layers window afterwards
  • Add the edit you want to use – Create new fill or adjustment layer, by using the button (circle icon, half white, half black) in the bottom right. You can use any adjustment you need. The selection will be automatically added a layer mask to the new layer and you can then edit your adjustment.

Let’s look at an example to understand this. For this photo, I want to brighten the shadow areas and I want to darken the highlights. Let’s start with the shadows.

  1. Go into the channels, and select a Dark selection. The more restrictive selection you choose, the less efect your edit will have. So if you go to Dark 3, or even 4,5 and higher, you effect only the very dark areas in the photo. For this example, let’s choose Dark 2. Ctrl+click on the channel with that selection
  2. Go into layers and add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer (one can use also other adjustments, like curves or levels to get the same effect). A new layer will be created with the mask applied to it.
  3. Now in the properties of that layer, adjust brightness to make the shadow areas brighter. You will see, that the bright areas of the photo are not effected at all and only the shadows are brightened.

Going to the second edit, darkening the highlights, just do the same, just change the selection and the adjustment. For instance, select a Bright 2 selection, create a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and lower the brightness. And you have darkened the highlights of the photo.

Don’t limit yourself to just darkening and brightening a certain area. You can use this to change the color balance, saturation, detail, white balance and much more. Just use the adjustment layer you need. Also, one note about changing the brightness. Each time you brighten a dark area or darken a bright area, you photo looses contrast. A good practice is then, that every time you do this, to add a bit of contrast to the same area. If you use Brightness/contrast, add a bit of contrast, in levels, move the mid-tones a bit, in curves, create a S curve. Like this, your edits will look natural and photos will not become grey and flat.

Local edits by painting in the effect

If you don’t want to use the whole selection, the process is a bit different. The steps you have to follow then are:

  • Create an adjustment layer – In the layers window, create the adjustment layer you need, and set it to parameters you need. It will effect the whole image, but that is OK for now.
  • Add a black mask to it – We need to hide this layer for now. So click on the white mask next to this layer, and press Ctrl+I to invert it to a black mask
  • Make a luminosity selection in the Channels window – as before Ctrl+click on the Bright or Dark channel that closely matches the part of the image you want to edit. This will create a selection for you.
  • Paint in the edit – now go back to the layers window, choose the Brush tool, white, 0% hardness. Select the black mask you inverted before and start painting in the areas you want the edit to have effect. If the marching ants of the selection are distracting or in the way, you can hide them by pressing Ctrl+H. The selection will limit where you can paint, so you will only effect the area you need to.

Let’s go back to our example. Let’s say I still want to brighten the shadows, but not everywhere. I want to just brighten them around the buildings in the middle of the photo. I will use levels in this example

  1. create and edit a new adjustment layer – With the button in the bottom right of the layers window, create a new levels adjustment layer. Brighten the photo by moving the white triangle to the left
  2. invert the mask – Select it’s mask, and press Ctrl+I to invert it. Now the adjustment layer will have no effect on the image
  3. create your selection – Go into channels and let’s select the Dark 2 one by Ctrl+click on it
  4. paint in the effect – go back to the mask, hide the selection with Ctrl+H, and with the white brush start painting around the are you want to brighter. The more times you paint over a spot, the stronger effect the adjustment will have on it. But it’s all limited by the selection, so for instance the bright castle in the middle will not be effected at all.

If you ever add to much, just switch your brush to black color, and paint over the same spot. By switching back and forth between white and black, you can add or remove the effect until you are satisfied with your result. If you see that you selection is too narrow or broad, delete the layer and start again. Don’t forget you can use this with any other adjustment. You can paint in saturation, detail, colors, brightness, contrast and anything else you can put on a layer.

That’s all for today, next time I will share with you how to use these same selection to blend multiple exposures together.

Evening at the Matthias Church

I had a really “nice” surprise this morning. When I went to turn on my PC, I found out my 34 inch monitor was dead. Would not turn on at all, not even the led light. Not really happy about that. Luckily, I have been using 2 monitors for a while now, so I can work still on my secondary one. But using a 24 inch monitor on it’s own is really a huge change. This is actually the first time I had problems with a monitor. There even is a monitor I bought in 2006 that is still being used on daily basis and works fine. But looks like 4 years was max for this one.

Now I’m not sure if I will go a get a new one, or maybe just get a second 24 inch to go with the one I have now. Or maybe I just stay with this one for now. It’s strange to go to a smaller one, but one gets used to things very quickly. But I do like how clean and empty my desk looks now. So much more minimalist :) Will be hard to decide.

For today I have for you another photo from my archives, taken few years back in Budapest, next to the Matthias Church. It was taken from the walkway that is available on the Fisherman’s bastion there. This is a two shot vertorama, with the top being from a single exposure, and the bottom from three. These three exposure were all taken at the same settings, I did not use them to recover highlights or shadows, but to get rid of the moving people in the photo. If you want to know more about this technique, check out this guide.

Evening at the Matthias Church

Deleting photos

Is it just me, or do you also find it hard to delete photos? If I look at my Lightroom Catalog, it currently shows 281 809 photos. That’s probably most if not all the photos I took from 2008 until now. And I think I could delete half of them, without even loosing anything. But I find it always hard to delete them. It’s these feeling of loos, getting rid of something I made. But there is a thing I noticed looking at my library. The longer I take photos, the less of them I take. And today I will share with you my thoughts on this, and how you can prevent taking too many photos.

Keeping fewer photos

  • Don’t take photos you know you will not like. Sometimes the camera can just stay in the bag. Once you taken enough photos, you just know. Happens to me sometime. I look at the scene, look at the conditions, and just don’t bother. I know I will not like the results anyway. And trying to force it usually does not result in great photos also.
  • Don’t take many versions of the same composition. I have a bit of problem with this one sometime, and should try more to fix this. One does not need the same photo over and over. Take one or few, if you want to be sure to have a good one, and move on to a new composition. Like this you maximize you chance to get a great photo. I would make an exception here, for sunrise and sunset photos. The conditions change so quickly then, that even staying with the same composition can produce different results.
  • Limit the number of brackets. I tend to say, better safe then sorry, but one can also overdo it. You don’t need 9, you don’t need 7, mostly you don’t even need 5 brackets. If you are not shooting into the sun, 3 brackets is mostly enough. Try a sequence and check the histogram directly on the camera. If you see that you are getting the whole dynamic range in fewer brackets, adjust your settings accordingly.
  • Delete technically bad photos immediately. You can’t always tell directly on the camera if a photo is bad. But often there are problems that you can spot immediately, and you won’t be able to fixt them anyway. Maybe you bumped into your tripod. Maybe there was a strong wind. Maybe you used the wrong settings and over/underexposed you shot complletely. Maybe you forgot to turn off autofocus, so your focus is completely off. This and other problems can be seen immediately on the camera, and it’s pointless to keep those photos. Easier to delete them right when you checking the preview.
  • Mark the photos you like. I do this usually if I’m doing photos at an event. I tent to go through all right away, as I have to deliver them to a client, and mark the ones I will edit and send. When I’m done I wait for 1-4 weeks and then just delete the unmarked photos. I keep the ones I deliverd, as in my experience, there does not exist a company or a person that does reasonable backups. I had clients coming back to me after years, taht they lost the photos.
  • Be decisive. When you look at a photo and you dont like it and don’t need it, delete it. If you are undecisive and not sure, you will probably just delete it sometimes later, or just keep it for nothing. The thing is, the first feeling about it is usually the correct one. You can’t force yourself to like something even if you try.
Deleting photos

Bratislava Majales fireworks

Majales is an open air festival held every year in the middle of Bratislava, next to the Danube river. And it always ends in fireworks. Today’s photo is from the festival in 2012, so already 7 years ago. I stumbled upon this photo when looking for examples for my article on Topaz Denoise AI yesterday, and I decided to edit it.

If you want a photo of fireworks in Bratislava, the next Majales is in two weeks. From the 3rd to 5th May. The fireworks will be in this same spot on the 5th at 21:45 in the evening. There will be a lot of people there, but since this is not the New years fireworks, it’s not as bad. For those curious about the event, here is the official site.

This is a single exposure, double edited in Camera RAW and then blended in Photoshop. I even used Topaz Denoise AI on this one, as I had to overexpose the shot. That created a bit of noise. And the results were again great :). I think it will be my main denoise plugin from now on, if it gives me such nice results on all of the photos.

Bratislava Majales fireworks
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