Tag Archives: layers

How Did I get Here?

I was asked to share the original images that make up this composite:

_DSC0592 2013-02-23-Edit-Edit
















So here are the 9 original files, untouched, raw files. You can see that the images were taken in different times of day and lighting situations, from different perspectives, with different tones. The challenge to composite images is making the final image seem like a single shot, as impossible as it might seem to create.


I have by no means perfected this art form, but am definitely working on it. It takes, like all things you want to do well, lots of practice and patience. For those interested in learning the techniques that can be used for compositing and other adjustments, I am leading two workshops: one is on  Layers and Masks in Photoshop and the other is on Textures and Blending techniques. Click the titles to learn more.


Get Creative!

In an earlier blog I discussed being creative through the use of alternative lens or through HDR image processing, but there are other ways to be creative as well. Below are some of examples of how using Gradient Masks and Brushes in Photoshop can add character and uniqueness to an otherwise “ordinary” image. I will start with photography is wildly subjective, so not everyone will prefer my creative efforts over the original image, but my goal here is to get your juices flowing!

The first two examples show the use of gradient masks:

Here is an image of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. This is the first time I have captured the memorial from this angle and closeness, and I like the image. But I have hundreds of images of the Lincoln Memorial, so how do I make this one different? In this case, I decided to reflect the image back on itself, as if the memorial stood close to a body of water.


To learn this technique, check out our video tutorial on YouTube: Creating Reflections.

In this next image, I decided that a transit from black/white to color might be an interesting effect, giving motion to an otherwise still image.




This technique will be described in our next blog!

This last example shows the use of brushes and texture to create a painterly effect. As you can see, this first image is really dull; albeit a beautiful flower, but taken against a dull green paper (with a fold! in it). No movement, no context. Since I really liked the tulip, I needed a way to improve this image. I decided to create a watercolor out of it, through the use of texture and brushes.



These are just a few examples of the power of gradient masks, brushes, and textures. In my next few blogs, I will demonstrate the easy steps to create the color fade effect, fade to solid color, and reflection effects. Think of the possibilities; these techniques can be used to manipulate images, create customized announcements or Christmas cards that include images that fade to text, and as well as create composite (collage) images.

The painterly effect demonstrated in the image above is too complicated to describe in a suitable length blog, so if you are interested in this technique, I am happy to teach you how to do it and other Photoshop techniques in a customized workshop. For more information on our image processing workshops, click here.


Changing the Mood of an Image

Decided to play a bit with Photoshop this morning. I enjoy going back to old images, long forgotten, processed or not processed, and seeing how I would process them today, as my skills improve. As always, photography and image processing is highly subjective, so it is possible that others will not necessary think these images are “improved.” However, I am a strong believer in practice makes perfect, so here my take on an image from years.

As originally processed.

First step is to beef up the sky. There were great clouds but in the first processing attempt, I did not bring the detail out. So this time, I wanted to emphasize the incoming storm.

Second step… see how the image feels in black and white.



















So now I had two versions, each with their own appeal, but I still had not achieve what I wanted. Since I liked the pier in the color image and the clouds in the black and white, I decided to see how these features worked together.

Final image

For me, it is not that any one of these images is “better” than the next, but rather, any one of these images is more or less pleasing depending on my mood and the message I wish to convey when sharing. There are times that I really like the use of selective color and for folks learning new image processing skills, testing out the techniques for blending color and black and white has its place in the process of growing as an artist.

As you develop your skills in image processing, try everything, practice everything, and then learn how and when to incorporate the techniques you like the most into your work. These images were enhanced using camera raw and blended using layers and masks. For some video tutorials on these techniques, click here for our YouTube channel.

Happy Shooting!


Using Masks in Photoshop

Masking in Photoshop

In the last blog I discussed blending images to get a better final result, specifically replacing a perfectly clear blue sky with one that had more character (clouds).

There are many ways to create selections in Photoshop, including the Color Selection tool, the Magic Wand tool, the Pen tool, the Lasso Tool, as well as the use of plugins, such as TopazLabs ReMask. Depending on the image you are working on, any one of these tools can be helpful. In this blog, I am going to layout the steps for masking using the Color Selection tool in Photoshop.

Step 1:

Select your base image. In this case, I selected an image from the Montgomery County Fair, of the swing. As you can see, there is NO sky here and I am getting aberration (vignetting) from my lens. To get this image ready, I processed the image using an HDR technique, to pop the beautiful undercarriage of the ride and the people in the seats.










Step 2:

After collapsing my layers, I duplicated my background layer, then I created my mask selection by through Select, Color Range, and used the dropper to pick up the areas of the sky. In this case, I picked the sky near the top and the bottom of the image, so that I got both “blues”. use the dropper to choose the “colors” to pick up. Then hit OK. This will give you the marching ants.

You can see in the image below this “marching ants,” indicated my selection. It doesn’t matter in this case that the corners are not in my selection. I will be able to fix that later.









Then click the Mask tool button shown below. This will create a mask. You must remember to duplicate the background image before selecting your color range.




Result, you can see our duplicate layer with a mask next to it in the layer panel on the right hand side.








Step 3:

Next select the appropriate sky image. Remember when making this decision, angle of the sky is important. For incorporation into this particular base, I would not select a sky taken on the horizon, it would simply be too far away. Also, consider the color (hue and saturation) of the sky you are going to use. Although this can be manipulated in processing, you can save yourself time by selection something similar. Lastly, you need to consider “light”… say from the time of day perspective. I could not use a night sky here, because there is too much light on the faces of the people on the ride and direction of light should be considered as well. I chose the sky image below.


I did do a bit of processing on this image. Deepened the blues in the sky and lightened the clouds, through Brightness and Contrast adjustment in Photoshop.





Step 4:

Duplicate the mask, so that it is also on the sky layer. To do this, hold down the option (or alt) click, click and hold the mask you want to duplicate and drag it up to the sky layer, and unclick. This will copy the mask you created and place it on to the sky image, allowing the background layer (base layer) to show through.   As you can see in the image below the vignetting in the corners is back and the masking is quite complete on the top left, but never fear… we will fix that next!


You can feather your mask at this point, but for this image, feathering would have created a small blue line around the ride, which would not have allowed the sky to look natural. Therefore, I left the feather control at zero.





Step 5:

To clean up the mask, you need to show the mask on the screen, instead of the image. To do this hold down the option (or alt) key and click the mask (on the sky layer). This will bring the mask on to your Photoshop workspace.









Depending on how clean your Select, Color Range was, you will have more or less black or grey in the sky. In my case, I could have clicked the corners during the range selection and that would have made this cleaner. In either case, we can fix it, but selecting the Brush tool and making sure white is selected as our “color” to paint. Then start painting the unwanted blacks and grays white.










Now that we have cleaned up all the excess black (on the area that is supposed to be white) and cleaned up the excess white (on the area that is supposed to be black), we are ready to reveal our final image!

Again, holding the option (or alt) key, click on the layer mask (on the sky later). This will return to image to your workspace and presto chango … we have an image with some character in the background now!




Remember, this technique can be used for all sorts of images. Maybe head shots taken against a boring white background and you want to add color or textures.  Adding a moon to an otherwise featureless night sky. The possibilities are limitless.




To see a video tutorial on masking, click here for our videos on YouTube.

Shoot the Sky!

As photographers, we are not always graced with the perfect sky. In fact, I have found that more often than not, I get to my destination and find perfectly blue, clear, no clouds, not even a whiff of clouds in the sky! If you have the luxury of being in a single location for a few days, you may get lucky to have the sky change, but that is not always possible. So no fear, there is a solution! So shoot away.

Through the magic of masking, you can add the perfect sky to any image. Some purists (and I used to be one) will say that is cheating. But the way I see it, if you are an artist creating a pleasing image, you have the right to manipulate your image in any way you wish; whether that be making it an abstract, making a color image black and white, using selective color, or even adding a better sky. Images are your creation, and unless you are just recording the location as a journalist, you should feel free to modify and improve upon it.

So with that in mind, here are some tips…

Tip 1: Shoot the sky. If you are out and about and see an incredible cloud formation or sky structure, shoot it. If you see an amazing sunset or sunrise… shoot it. I can be found taking sky shots through my car sunroof, if I see something that I may think will be useful later. I have a collection of over 2500 sky images readily available.

Tip 2: Shoot at varying degrees of angle. For example, don’t just shoot straight up, because if you have an image with a distant horizon, a sky shot facing nearly 90° to the horizon will look out of place, so collect distant horizon shots as well every possible angle of sky.

Tip 3: Collect sky images with all types of hues and saturation. This will allow you to select a sky that most “easily” fits your image, reducing processing time.

Below are some examples to illustrate my point. The original images were ok, but by changing the sky, I believe I have improved the mood and therefore, the story behind the images.

_DSF8599 _DSF8599-Edit

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_DSF4544-Edit-2 _DSF4544-Edit-2-2



For masking techniques, check out this tutorial on YouTube!

Post Processing Fall Images!

Fall is an amazing time of year, as the air cools and colors appear. However, it can also be a challenging time of year for photography, as often the cooler temperatures at night create fog in the earning morning hours. Although beautiful, fog can leave your images looking flat and lifeless. In our newest video tutorial, you learn how to add color and pop back into a foggy morning fall image. You will see this image:  _XT10831 become this image: _XT10831-Edit-2

in just a matter of minutes. You will also learn dodge and burn techniques that will easily become part of your image processing arsenal!

To watch this tutorial, please click here.  While on our YouTube Channel, please subscribe, as we are always adding new videos tutorials!

The Potential of RAW

RAW or jpg


The proverbial question… which format should I be shooting in.

To me the answer is simple: RAW

RAW captures the most data and more data means more alternatives when post processing an image. For those folks new to RAW, you may notice that the image you download, don’t really look like the images you saw on the LCD right after you captured them. And this can be frustrating; at least it was for me.

I remember thinking, why isn’t this what I remember?! Followed by expletives. Then, through discussions with friends that shared their knowledge with me, I learned that RAW images were unaltered by my camera, unlike the jpg thumbnail of my images I viewed on the LCD.

After you capture an image, your camera creates a jpg thumbnail so that you can view your image on your camera’s LCD/viewfinder. To create the jpg, your camera runs algorithms, established by the manufacturer, to create a viewable image. These algorithms include contrast, hue/saturation, and compression, among other enhancements. If you set your camera to capture jpgs, then the images you download from the camera will look like the jpgs you reviewed on the LCD/viewfinder.

However, if your capture your images in RAW format, your images will seem flat and dull in comparison to the thumbnails. This is because when the camera is set to RAW, no algorithms are applied to the files (other than in the creation for the jpg thumbnail used for review). The benefit is that you have so much more data to work with when you go to post process your images. But it doesn’t change the frustration you may feel when initially reviewing your image files.

In this video, I demonstrate the potential of the RAW file by showing how just a few minor adjustments can take a dull RAW file to something worth sharing.

To view the video, click here!



Camera Raw Processing

RRPT has just returned from a wonderful photo tour of the Great Smoky Mountains. We had a great group of folks who were game for early mornings, long days, and late evenings! This was my 3rd trip to this area and by far, it was the best. We were gifted with some of the best weather conditions I have ever seen in this area.

During our trip, we discussed a lot about image processing, from which software products we use to which techniques we use to create our final images. So I decided to create some tutorials to demonstrate my approach… starting with my thought process and approach to my images, through the use of Camera Raw to enhance images and Photoshop layers and masks to modify specific areas of the images, to final touches!

These tutorials are chock full of tips and tricks on how to navigate and use Camera Raw and Photoshop. I focused on these products because I wanted to demonstrate that you can achieve beautiful images through basic tools, as not everyone has Photoshop plugins (NIK, TopazLabs, onOne, etc). So for these tutorials, I used what I consider to be the basic software tools need. For full disclosure, I work in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite (Photoshop CC) and use and describe Photoshop’s version of Camera Raw, but if you have older versions of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you should be able to use processes described in these tutorials to enhance your images!

These tutorials are somewhat sequential… starting with Columbine, then Rivers, then Foggy Tree. I mentioned this, because Columbine is the longest tutorial and includes a significant amount of Camera Raw explanation. The other two tutorials, although still descriptive, are not as in-depth on Camera Raw functionality, but get straight to the enhancements. Although the tutorials demonstrate the use of Camera Raw and Photoshop on specific subjects, all of the techniques demonstrated can be used to enhance any image, any subject.

My goal was to create instructional videos that help photographers learn how to use the image processing tools available to them. Hope you enjoy! If you find these tutorials helpful, please subscribe to RRPT’s YouTube Channel, as we add videos and tutorials regularly!

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis):



In this tutorial, I show you the various features of Camera Raw and describe how I use the Basic adjustments, as well as the Adjustment Brush, features. Then I demonstrate how to bring the image back into Photoshop to enhance the blur/soft background (2 techniques for this!) and how to sharpen our main subject. I describe how to use layers and masks to selectively apply our adjustments, including what white/black masks do, and some tips and tricks for manipulating masks. I also describe how to select the brush tool and how to change its characteristics, including size and opacity. Lastly, this tutorial also describes Free Transform and how to use the transform tools, along with layers and masks to clone parts of your image.

To view this tutorial, click here.





In this tutorial, I demonstrate how to enhance a forest river scene. We cover how to clone unnecessary features from your image, add dimension to long-exposure water, straighten the image through the crop tool, and how to enhance the mossy rocks to give the image that added pop! These tutorial focuses primarily on the Adjustment Brush tool in Camera Raw and shows that you can take an image to nearly its final stage with this one invaluable piece of software.

To view this tutorial, click here.







Foggy Tree:
_XT19932-EditIn the final tutorial in the set, I discuss how to enhance an image taken in deep fog. Most of us LOVE foggy days and foggy scenes, but can be stumped when we get home and see this flat monochromatic image. Where do we start? Well, this tutorial demonstrates that in a few easy steps, you can take a bright, flat, foggy scene and create a moody scene with dimension fit for a zombie movie!

To view this tutorial, click here.