Monday, July 6, 2015

Order of layers for complex pixel edits.

I've written a great deal in the past about non-destructive editing, and its importance for a sensible Photoshop workflow.  In essence, all adjustment layers go on top, and pixel layers at the bottom.  This is because pixel layers block out any layers beneath them, rendering them un-re-editable (ok, not a real word, I know!)

Mostly, when I've discussed pixel layers in this context, I've concentrated on cloning.  But pixel edits can take many forms:
Let's get one out of the way right now.  Noise reduction must be done in your raw program. If you've left it to Photoshop, you've left it too late.  Go back and fix it.

Perspective correction can sometimes be done in raw.  Do it there if you can, but don't worry if you can't, because you can do it with wonderful precision in Photoshop.

The critical thing you need to understand about pixel editing is that each layer hides the previous one, thereby preventing it from being readjusted later.  So it's vital that each step is perfect before moving to the next one.  Let's examine a hypothetical nightmare photo that needs all five types of pixel editing.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Selling digital files? You can't limit print size

These are examples of a type of frequently asked question in photography circles:

  • "What size do I need to make my digital files so the client can't print them bigger than 5x7?"
  • "My contract allows clients to print their own photos up to 8x10, and they have to come to me for anything bigger.  How do I prepare my files?"

The blunt answer is: YOU CAN'T LIMIT PRINT SIZE.

If clients feel like printing bigger, they will. And they won't care how awful the quality is.  And yes, if you've reduced your file size, the quality will be awful.

Even if you have it sternly written in your contract, they probably won't even read it.  This is the age of digital promiscuity - nobody respects the T&Cs that accompany anything digital.

Your only chance of enforcing it is if you have Mafia or Biker Club connections, and can send somebody around with a tyre iron to kneecap your clients who disobey the contract.  Let's face it, not many of us have those connections, and anyway, it's probably not good for business.

So even if you do have a print size clause in your contract, don't reduce the size of your files.  It's not worth the risk.  If your client does break the rule and prints big, the best you can hope for is that it looks great, and their friends see it and book you for sessions.

If you haven't done so already, please read my vital information about selling digital images.

Here's another, slightly different, question:
  • "I'm selling web sized files to the client, but they're not allowed to print them. How do I prepare them?"
As already discussed, sizing won't stop printing.  However, watermarking will.  Go ahead and prepare the images at web size (suggest 720 or 960, the standard Facebook sizes) and WATERMARK THEM.  Put your logo on there prominently.

When I say "prominently", I don't mean it has to be bright and in-your-face.  It can be light and subtle, but it must be in a prominent position that can't be cropped out, or easily edited out.  Over part of their body, or whatever.

If you have Photoshop (not Elements, sorry) do yourself a favour and check out my watermarking action set.  It'll speed up your workflow a LOT.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A fix for glowing backlit ears

Backlit photos can look lovely if done well, but this is always a risk, isn't it?

Ears are so thin, the sun can go straight through them, and they glow like crazy.  Thanks to Angela Beransky for allowing me to use her lovely backlit photo for this demonstration.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The wonderful Dust & Scratches filter

The Dust & Scratches filter (in Photoshop and Elements) is amazing.  Such a simple tool, yet capable of so much magic.

I use it most of all for, yes, dust and scratches, on the historic photos I restore.  It saves me a LOT of time, to clean up little specks in an instant which I would otherwise have to laboriously clone or heal one at a time.

But it's not just for old photos.  Gosh no.  It's becoming famous in Ask Damien for regularly kicking Frequency Separation's ass for all sorts of skin issues - spots and pores and flakes.  It's also brilliant for removing lint from clothing.  Basically, any problem that involves very small detail.

My thanks to Amanda Kitto for allowing me to use this close-up for this demonstration:

She asked me how to remove the little milk spots from the nose.  Dust & Scratches makes it dead easy ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The "Handyman" method

Just as it's nice to have a handyman in the family who can fix leaky taps, change lightbulbs, paint the fence, and various other odd jobs that arise around the house; it's also nice to have a handy editing method that can take care of all sorts of little image problems when you need it.

The following method is not fancy, nor is it difficult (though it does require a little patience).  It's the kind of method which you might not need for six months, then suddenly need for three photos in a row.  Learn it, and keep it in the back of your mind forever.  You never know when it will be handy for skin problems, shadow problems, clothing problems, etc.  It works exactly the same in both Photoshop and Elements.

For this demonstration, George Azmy has kindly allowed me to use this small section of a photograph he took.  A lovely photo, but a slightly unflattering view of the subject's armpit, I'm sure you'll agree:

The "Handyman Method" involves two stages - first, a dodge and burn stage, followed by a colour fix stage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Have you ever opened a photo and been startled to see weird patterns in striped clothing, like this?

Or even worse, this?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adding a little bit of blue to a white sky (Elements)

This tutorial is the Elements alternative to this Photoshop tutorial.  It's for adding a bit of plain blue to a white sky.  If you wish to fix a white sky by putting a different sky photo into it, use this method instead.

Start by using your rectangular Marquee Tool to draw a selection around the white sky.  Allow a little bit extra space under the horizon, as I have done here:

Add a "Gradient" layer:

Make it a light-blue-to-white gradient.  Make sure "Dither" and "Align with layer" are checked, and make sure the angle is correct, so it goes from light blue at the top to white at the horizon:

Here's what it will look like:

Then, change the layer blend mode to either "Darken" or "Multiply".  Multiply is best in most cases, I've found.  The colour will blend nicely in with the photo:

Finally, turn the Gradient layer on and off a few times to assess it, then paint with black on the mask if necessary, if there are any areas which have turned blue that shouldn't have.

If you want a different shade of blue, just double-click on the gradient thumbnail in the layers panel, to edit the colour.  Remember, don't go too dark!  It will look silly and implausible.  Keep it light.

Visit me at Ask Damien if you need help with this tutorial.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Preparing files for a wrapped triptych canvas

Triptychs are wonderful, I reckon.  You know, one photo chopped into three parts and hung as three separate photos?  They are groovy.  Not just triptychs either - you can have diptychs (two segments), quadtychs, quintychs, etc.  Yeah, yeah, I made those last two up!  The point is, you can divide a photo into as many segments as you want.

If you are printing a photographic triptych, or a canvas one with plain edges, it's easy.  Just crop your photo into its separate parts, and print them.  But if you want to do it as a wrapped canvas (or print) - where the photo goes around the edges, then it's trickier, right?  Because you don't want to lose any of the image to wrapping.

In this tutorial, I'll demonstrate a simple triptych.  The method I'll show you can be adapted to any number of segments, in pretty much any layout.  Oh, and it works in Photoshop and Elements equally well.

Basically, you'll be following my canvas preparation tutorial.  Have a quick read of it now, but don't start following it yet, because there is a modification.

Skimmed it?  Good.

Fixing Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic Aberration ("CA") is that annoying purple or green (or other colours) fringing you get around bright white areas of your photos sometimes.

See it around the hat in this photo?

Some lenses are more prone to it than others, from what I understand, in photos of high contrast.  I'm not a photographer, so I don't know anything about that.  You'll find more info on Wikipedia and elsewhere.  What I do know about is fixing it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The bl**dy Adjustment Brush

It's quite common, in my group, for people to post about weird graininess in their raw files.  Mostly, this is because they've used the stupid bloody Adjustment Brush.  More specifically, because of the "Auto Mask" function therewith.

My disdain for the Adjustment Brush goes further than the dodgy Auto Mask function, though.  I am fundamentally opposed to that tool, period.

I've always said that raw processing isn't really editing, so much ... it's actually an extension of photography. The things you do in raw are the things you do (or perhaps, *should* have done) when you take the photo. Adjusting the exposure in raw is akin to adjusting the exposure triangle to control the light through the lens when shooting; adjusting the white balance is akin to setting correct white balance in camera; noise reduction is akin to ISO setting ... do you see what I mean?

So, it's my belief that becoming a good raw editor actually helps you become a better photographer. Consistently having to fix your exposure in raw makes you think about how you could have done it better in camera, and so on.

One of the aspects you learn about is light. How it's hitting your subject, how you messed up, how you should position them better next time.

The adjustment brush makes a mockery of all that. You can quite easily be dreadful  raw processor, not really know what you're doing, not be learning a damn thing about your photography, just be fixing your bad lighting with this "saviour tool".

I learned to edit raw in CS2 (I never used ACR in the first CS). It didn't even have the Recovery and Fill Light sliders, let alone the brush. And it made me an EXCELLENT raw editor. I wish everyone was forced to learn raw processing on CS2.

Lastly ... it's just a poor alternative to the exquisite control you get in Photoshop or Elements, with layers and masks. That's where selective editing lives. 

Comments or Questions?

If you have anything to add or ask about this article, please visit me at my Ask Damien page.