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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Using Channels To Create Masks In Photoshop

I’m not a big fan of having to make masks in Photoshop. It’s easy when you are just brushing in tones, saturation, contrast etc. But when it comes to having to make an actual accurate mask for, say, an extraction….well, just the thought is painful.

I ran across this excellent video about using the alpha channels in Photoshop to make accurate masks and really learned some interesting and useful techniques from it. It is a bit long at one hour and twenty minutes, but it is divided into individual chapters for easier digestion. It starts out simple but rapidly becomes quite advanced. I found watching it to be time very well spent and thought I would share it with those that might be interested.

An Admission

In the past, I have spoken about having taken Sebastian Michael's "Photoshop Artistry" course, which is truly a superb course if you have an interest in learning more about 'grunge techniques' (though I really don't like that term since it seems to harbor negative connotations). But I have an admission to make, I haven't been doing my homework!  

While I have put some of the techniques taught into use, there are also a series of weekly exercises, or 'challenges', which gets one to use all the various techniques in order to really cement them in. I hadn't done them. One of my friends has started to take the course as well, and we have decide to do the weekly assignments and trade the files to see how each other work. The accountability to each other of doing the assignments is a motivating factor to actually get them done. In addition, I think that seeing how we each individually implement and interpret the techniques will be fascinating.

I don't plan to post my results every week, but thought if I end up with some images that I really like (the purpose of the assignments is to get facile with the techniques, not create masterpieces) I would post them. Well, I do like the result of this first assignment, which was to take an image and add two textures, an edge effect, a vector, and to utilize a 'painting with light' technique. In addition, any other adjustments could be used.

Here is the result:

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Here is the fully processed image that I used for the assignment before adding anything, one that had been 'finished' and that I enjoyed even without any further manipulations. 

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

They are the same yet different and I enjoy them both. Which do you prefer? Is the transmitted emotion different between them?

How To Resize And Prepare Photos For Web And Projection

Recently, some friends have asked me how to prepare photos for web viewing, projecting, or submission to various publications after being asked, for example, to submit images that are 1024x768, 8 bit, jpeg format, in the sRGB color space. The easiest way to explain this is to demonstrate......so I made a short instructional video for them. I thought I would share it on the blog.

For the best viewing experience, click the little gear icon to the bottom right of the video once it starts, set the quality for 1080p, and watch in full screen mode. If your browser won't play it full screen, just click on the youtube link at the bottom right of the video to view it on youtube, where full screen should be attainable. I hope the information is helpful.

Texture Blending

As you might be able to tell from my last post on in-camera multiple exposures, I have been going on a bit of a creative journey and experimenting with various techniques. With this image I was doing a bit of texture blending, which is to say combining a 'base image' with various (in this case, two) underlying textures using blending modes to allow the textures to 'absorb' into the underlying image instead of just remaining stacked on top of it.  It is a technique that not only blends a texture into an image (which can be useful if there are bland areas without much detail), but also tends to intensify colors because the texture's color and luminosity also blends into the image below.  Needless to say, getting a nice result requires some experimentation with each image as not only can the specific texture be changed, but one can also change blending modes and use clipping layers to change the individual textures any way you would like.

Some practitioners of this technique really let the texture come though vigorously, but I personally enjoy a more subtle application. The finished image is seen directly below while the original is underneath that.

Pete's Lake In Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Textures Applied    © Howard Grill

With the blended texture, the yellow and pink/purple of the sky have intensified and the slight rippled effect best seen in the sky and lake add interest to areas that were otherwise fairly bland. It is a bit difficult to really see the rippled appearance with the small blog photograph, but if you click on the image it will open as a bigger 'lightbox' photo and the effect will be more apparent. Overall, I think it turned a pretty reasonable image that in my mind lacked a little something into one that is much more pleasing. 

Below is the original with no textures blended in.  It served as the starting point.

Pete's Lake In Michigan's Upper Peninsula - No Textures Applied    © Howard Grill

So let's have a look at the textures I blended into the bottom image to yield the top one.  Here we go....

Texture 1

Texture 1

Texture 2

Texture 2

Finally, here is a screenshot of how I have the layers stacked and arranged in Photoshop:

Layer Stack.jpg

The bottom layer is the blended 16 bit HDR image with Lightroom adjustments as imported into Photoshop.  Right above that is a curve applied through a luminosity mask and above that is a tonal contrast effect applied via Color Efex Pro. Above that are two Hue/Saturation layers with their effects targeted to specific tonalities, once again using luminosity masking, as well as two curves adjustment layers. Finally, we have the two textures applied via the soft light blend mode at <100% opacity. The bottom texture has a clipping adjustment layer to change its hue and saturation a bit.  Finally, there is one more curves adjustment layer at the top of the stack.  

If there are any questions as to what was done please feel free to ask in the comments and I would be glad to explain the process in more depth. 

A Blatant Plug.....But Not For Me

Every so often you run across a company that does things so well and that demonstrates such superb customer service and overall excellence that you have to say something. That is why I am posting a plug for Puget Systems, a company that designs and builds custom computers. But don't let that 'custom computer' moniker get you all worked up, it's not by any means a company that just caters to computer geeks.  

To start with, I have purchased three computers from them (a laptop and now my second desktop) since 2010.  They were a joy to deal with for all the purchases, but with this latest purchase they truly demonstrated exemplary customer service.

With my 'upgrade' to a Canon 5DsR camera, my current computer system (designed at the very end of 2009) just wasn't up to dealing with the file sizes I was throwing at it. The files were already large coming right out of the camera and by the time I added smart object layers, used plug-ins during processing, and added multiple adjustment layers, the system slowed down tremendously and did other 'cute' things like flickering, stuttering, and freezing. I suspected this was from a combination of my C drive having too little free space and from the system not having enough memory. Working on the system was not becoming much fun. Nonetheless, I was still hoping to try to repair it by buying a bigger C drive and cloning the OS. What wasn't clear to me was, once that bottleneck was cleared, if there might be another just around the corner.  I was also concerned about putting money into it and having it only remain truly functional for a short period.

One of the Puget consultants worked with me for about a week, having me send him screenshots of my Windows Task and Performance Monitors while I was 'pushing' the system using Photoshop (they even offered to remotely log in to my machine and watch the monitors so that I didn't have to take and send screenshots....but that wouldn't work well with the three hour time difference). Unfortunately, the verdict was that though there were things I could do to avoid a new system, they likely were not going to make a dramatic difference.  It looked like it was time to start from the ground up.  Not too bad, given that I got my last computer in January of 2010.

Well, the way things work at Puget is that they have pre-designed systems that you can purchase 'off the shelf'.  The components in these have been picked by them as base models in much the same way that you might buy a pre-configured model at Dell.  But with this company you know exactly what components you are purchasing and can read up on them.....no cheapest hard drive of the day found here! Of course you can ask any questions about any of the hardware and expect a rapid response.  But the fun part comes when you start to customize your computer.

When putting together a custom system you are invited.....no, encouraged, to discuss the system either by phone or e-mail with someone at Puget.  These people know what they are talking about. They are interested in what you are going to primarily be using the computer for so that they can help you choose the components that will be most cost-effective for your needs. In my case, I was going to be using the system primarily for photo editing, but I did want to make sure that there was some headroom and versatility in case I wanted to try some pretty basic video editing as well....something I have not done, but could see dabbling in. I think it would be interesting to have an image on  my website with a link to a ten or fifteen second video of the location to show what it 'really' looks like.

Well, the folks at Puget were very knowledgeable and were able to tell me what was overkill for my purposes (I don't do any gaming), what would help with photo editing only, and what would assist with video.  In fact, they have many original articles on their website as to what aspects of hardware Photoshop is able to take advantage of, and what it can't. It was like having your own personal and very knowledgeable computer consultant. 

Try any of that at Dell and see what happens!! Oh and the price.....more expensive than Dell, but not by that much.  And I can tell you that I have called them for technical assistance with my first computer from 2010 two or three times over the years (well beyond the warranty period elapsing) and they were more than willing to help me with advice, send me drivers by e-mail etc.

I haven't yet received my new system, but I am very much looking forward to it. So there it is....my plug for Puget Systems. I have no association with them whatsoever. I am just a very satisfied customer three times over.  And that is something that isn't easy to find in the marketplace these days!

Along the way, I did learn quite a bit about optimizing a computer for Photoshop.  Some things have changed since I wrote my article entitled Photoshop Optimized Computer, Parts I, II, and III back in 2010. I think it might well be worth putting together another post about that!