PhotoshopWorld, September, 2007 – Notes and Impressions

PhotoshopWorld, September, 2007 – Notes and Impressions

I’ve been using Photoshop for several years (starting with ver. 5.5 and now using CS3). I’ve also attended several PhotoshopWorld conferences and find them a terrific learning experience. I know many of you on redbubble use Photoshop so I thought you might be interested in my impressions on this recent conference.

When I first attended PhotoshopWorld (presented by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals-NAPP) I had just started using Photoshop and the sessions were excellent for someone starting out. I wondered if, at some point, it would simply be a repeat of what I had already learned. While that is true to some extent they have included some more advanced sessions aimed at the experienced photoshop user. Additionally, there are always new features in each release that I haven’t discovered myself so these conferences continue to be very worthwhile.

I’m going to discuss only those sessions that I attended. They give each attendee a workbook that has the notes of all the sessions so you can check out and learn from the sessions you weren’t able to attend that were running concurrently.

The Opening Session

This is always mainly pure entertainment but they also usually have someone from Adobe talk about some of the things their research people are doing. It is clear that 3D and video are going to be a growth areas and Photoshop CS3 Extended supports this as well as the scientific and medical communities. One very interesting look into the future was a special lens that Adobe is working with. The lens is actually multiple lenses and looks something like an insect eye. The purpose of the lens is to focus over many different points in a scene. The software (research only at this time) then puts together all the different images captured and provides apparent infinite depth of field or variations in focus points (in focus or out of focus) at the click of the mouse. It certainly has some interesting possibilities. No mention, of course, if it will ever be a product but I enjoy hearing what they are experimenting with.

Photoshop CS3 One-on-One by Deke McClelland

In this session, Deke reviewed some of the new features in CS3. I picked up a couple tips I wasn’t aware of even though I’ve been using CS3 since the public beta was available. Here is some of what I learned:

- when filtering items in Bridge if you click on an item then you see only the thumbnails for the item but what I did not know is that if you ALT click (OPTION on a MAC, I use Windows) on an item it will display the thumbnails for everything but that item within its category

- he said he did not find the magnifier option in Bridge all that helpful, I only make note of that since I never found it that useful either, so it wasn’t just me

- the new Brightness/Contrast Command in CS3 is significantly improved, I knew about this but he demonstrated the difference by clicking the Use Legacy box and the difference is easy to see, that’s the only useful purpose for that checkbox since you should never want to use the legacy version

- he highly recommends watching the histogram palette for clipping when doing any conversions to black and white

- one nice new feature of the clone source palette is the ability to flip the area you are cloning from, he demonstrated this by cloning the right eye of a person and replacing their left eye (which was closed), you do this by setting the “W” offset to -100%

- the new Photomerge is incredible, this one I knew about since I use it a lot, if you haven’t tried it you should, it can even handle handheld panoramic attempts very well

- a couple tips regarding the new Refine Edge for selections, this is very powerful and I picked up some things I didn’t know about this

- if you use Contract/Expand then it needs some feathering
- the Contrast slider is used to sharpen edges of a selection
- Radius traces the contour of an image as you apply a blur and is therefore better than feathering

- use Smart Sharpen as a Smart Filter (if you haven’t used smart filters yet you’ll find that they are very powerful in the ability to go back and make changes), when you create a smart filter (with Smart Sharpen or any other eligible filter) you will see a mask for the Smart Filter set (very powerful option) and below that the filter (or filters) listed, just to the right of the filter name you will see a couple little up arrows, right click on those arrows and one of the options is Edit Smart Filter Blending Options, this is very powerful in that you can select a different blending option for each filter

There was more, of course, but those were the highlights for me. By the way, Deke is an excellent presenter and instructor.

As Easy As 1,2,3 by Ben Willmore

Ben is also an outstanding instructor and in this session he gave a series of easy examples to create some interesting effects.

He showed how to use the Extract Filter to remove an image of fire which can then be placed on another image and you can see through the flames as one would expect. Every time I’ve seen Ben use the Extract Filter he makes it look simple and this time it was as easy as (well that’s the title of his session). However, there was one other suggestion before he started and that was to photograph the fire against a black background.

1. In the Extract Filter window he used a large brush to paint over the entire image (fire only, not the background).
2. The trick here is to then turn on the Force Foreground check box and then with the Eyedropper tool click on an orangish-yellow area of the flames (obviously referring to the specific image being shown). Click OK and you now have an image of the fire with the background removed
3. Now drag the fire and place onto another image.

Here’s a tip to improve a rather dull sky. You do need some detail in the sky but if it is a cloudy dull mostly overcast day this works well.
1. create a new layer (empty), set your foreground color to a neutral gray that is a little brighter than 50% gray
2. paint over the sky on this new layer with a brush using the foreground color that you set
3. change the blending mode of this layer to Color Burn
If it’s too strong or not strong enough try a different shade of gray.

Create your own sunset. This tip uses Gradient Map and does a nice job.
1. Create a Gradient Map Adjustment layer with the mode set to color and click OK to enter the Gradient Map dialog box
2. Select a preset gradient that contains three colors (blue to orange to yellow is good)
3. Customize the gradient by changing the preset color to R68 G29 B22 for the one on the left, R134 G30 B14 for the one in the middle and R255 G238 B43 for the one on the right. Now reposition the squares until you get the effect you like.

Here is an extraneous tip. If you are using Free Transform and you can’t see the entire area of the object you are working with hit CNTL 0 (COMMAND on a MAC) and the window will be resized to show the entire area.

Photoshop For Geeks

There were three sessions aimed at people who are looking for something more technical. They had beginning, intermediate and advanced versions. I sat in on the intermediate session for awhile. The discussion involved creating and debugging scripts. It was interesting to get into something more computer intensive (my background made me curious) but I’m not writing scripts so I didn’t stay of the entire session. It would be something interesting to work on but the photography certainly keeps me busy. I was glad to see sessions that were getting into the technical aspects of processing images with a computer.

Sharpening Reinvented by Deke McClelland

One of the things that Deke discussed that I found very interesting was how to properly view an image when you are sharpening it. Most recommendations are to look at an image at 100% magnification when trying to make decisions on sharpening. He said this is best if that image is going to be viewed on a computer (on a website, as an example). However, if you are sharpening for a print, he recommends that you view it at 25% to get the best idea of how the sharpening will look on a print. I’ve often wondered about this since if you have the ruler active when you view an image in Photoshop, and set magnification to 100%, an inch on the ruler is much longer than an actual inch so you’re clearly looking at the image at a greater magnification than you would see on the print. This is dependent on the resolution you are working with but if you typically print images using 300dpi (or close to that), as I do, this can make a big difference.

He discussed Unsharp Mask and explained some of what is going on. Sharpening is effected by increasing edge contrast. The Radius option defines the thickness of the edge and a value less than 0.3 will not give much of an effect. Threshold rules out or includes pixels based on the difference in the pixels. He recommended using a High Amount and Low Radius.

He discussed Smart Sharpen and said that the checkbox called More Accurate really doesn’t do much but it is helpful when working on wood grain or fibers, otherwise it is not necessary. However, for low res images it may be worthwhile. There is a box called “Remove” in Smart Sharpen and you should select the Lens Blur option for that box with images from digital cameras. Also, the radius value you normally use should be increased by 50% when using the Lens Blur option. The motion blur option should be used if the image is not sharp due to camera movement.

Advanced Masking Techniques by Tim Grey

Tim covered this in the Tech Expo Center which is where vendors set up their booths and you can check out the latest products. There are several “mini-sessions” going on in this area and Tim did one on masking. He discussed basic techniques that I’ve seen before and used often, but he also covered something I had been wondering about for awhile and it is something that should have been obvious to me but wasn’t, until he said it. That is the technique for applying more than one mask to a layer or set of layers. The simple answer is nested groups and, like I said, it should have been obvious.

If you have several layers and want a layer mask to apply in the same way to all the layers simply put the layers in a group and use the mask on the group. This is something I do often for this purpose. Now if you want another mask on top of the first mask you simply create a new group which will have its own mask and put the first group inside the new group. That is, nested groups. It should have been obvious to me but wasn’t until Tim mentioned it. This is why I attend sessions even though they may cover topics I am very familiar with. There is always some little hint or tip that I never thought of.

Shooting for Photoshop by Ben Willmore

Ben discussed some things to do when shooting images that you will later put together with HDR (High Dynamic Range). He uses a 2 stop difference between exposures. He says handheld can work with HDR. This was somewhat of a surprise to me but I’m going to give it a try. When putting the images together with HDR there are several options
- Exposure and Gamma (he said this is rarely used)
- Highlight Compression (he said not to use this)
- Equalize Histogram (he said not to use this)
- Local Adaptation (this is the one to use, probably always)

When using Local Adaptation expand the curve box (this is the only option that offers a functional curve) and adjust the Radius and Threshold to remove halos. Work with the curve box to get the image the way you want it.

He also gave a suggestion for trying to simulate infrared using the Black and White Adjustment Layer which is new to CS3. Start by increasing green and yellow and decreasing blue and cyan and, of course, set it to monochrome. Moving the sliders in these directions gives you a good start.

He covered many different situations but one that I found very interesting was a technique to give an image the color cast found in a natural light situation but because of the low light a flash was required. Shooting in natural light would result in a blurred image either due to subject movement or camera movement since a slow shutter speed was necessary. So you use flash, you get a nice sharp image (no movement) but the color cast of the scene is lost since light source is now from the flash. The way to resolve this is to take a second shot without the flash. This will give you the color of the scene even if it is significantly blurry. Now in Photoshop you simply use Match Color to put the natural color from the image without flash over the image where the flash was necessary. Very simple and effective and something to keep in mind if you are ever in that situation.

Photomerge has been greatly improved in CS3. It handles handheld shots very well. He said the Auto option works fine and implied there was no need to be concerned with the other options.

Color by the Numbers by Dan Margulis

This was a two part session; part 2 was just an extension of part 1. I had seen this offered at previous conferences but always had a conflict. I also wasn’t sure it would be something I would really want to use. I was wrong. This session was amazing and very enlightening. However, it was not for the novice. He moved very quickly and did not explain how things worked, just that he was doing it and what result he was trying to achieve. It certainly helped to have a good understanding of Curves, blending modes, Channels and color modes. He also used Curves as one typically would when working in CMYK (white on the left, black on the right). Most of us do it reversed as is typical in RGB mode so you needed to keep that in mind while he was quickly adjusting Curves. He used Apply Image a lot to pick up a specific channel and apply a specific blending mode. He also changed color modes from RGB to LAB to show how effective you can be in enriching the blacks when working in LAB. He would take some very dull images and fix the color and contrast just by getting the numbers correct. He first identified what area of the image should be the brightest and what area should be the darkest. He then got the color correct and went on from there. He emphasized that it is very important to get the color correct before doing anything else because if you did not you could introduce significant problems and with “color by the numbers” it’s not a subjective visual change, you simply get it right and then move on the make it look the way you want. Like I said, this was a rather advanced class but probably the most enlightening for me since I’m now going to approach all my images a little differently.

He recommends setting the darkest part of an image where you still want to see detail to R=15, G=15,B=15 and setting the brightest highlight where you still want to see detail to R=245,G=245,B=245. Use a Threshold Adjustment Layer to find the white point and black point (in an area you care about) and click on these with eye dropper sampler tool. Then you can go into Curves and adjust each channel to the values stated above. Once done you have the proper color for your image and you can proceed with other changes.

For improving contrast look at the channels, select the channel with the least contrast and use Curves on that channel to obtain the desired contrast and then change the blending mode for that adjustment layer to Luminosity so you do not affect the color in the image, only the contrast. This is a very interesting technique in that you can adjust the contrast only on the channel that needs it.

He also had a session called “Five Minutes to a Picture Postcard”. In that session he used the same techniques I discussed above only he moved even more quickly. He took some very dull images and made the colors brilliant like you would expect on a Picture Postcard. I’m sure this was difficult for many people to follow but when you get to the point where you can follow what he is doing it is pretty amazing.

Optimizing Photoshop – Sponsored by Adobe

This was another advanced technical session (I was really glad to see these at PhotoshopWorld). Two computer technicians from Adobe, Scott Byer and Adam Jenigim, talked about performance management and system tuning and requirements with respect to Photoshop on both MAC and Windows platforms. I’ve wanted to see something like this for some time. They said that the information presented would be posted on Scott’s blog at Session Notes. Last time I checked it was not there yet. Hopefully, it will be soon.

They talked about optimal and critical available memory levels when running Photoshop and suggested that you want available memory to be in the 20-40MB range. Many other performance issues were discussed and I’m waiting for the session notes to be posted on their blog.

Mastering Curves by Ben Willmore

As I’ve said before, Ben is an outstanding instructor. He has the ability to make any subject seem simple and easy to understand. This is a session of his that I have attended before but he has updated it and there is always something new I learn from him. Things to keep in mind when using Curves
- angle determines contrast
- a steeper curve yields more contrast and detail
- a flatter curve yields less contrast and detail and you want to avoid the curve going downhill unless you are trying to achieve a special effect
- the part of the curve that goes downhill will give you colors opposite to the original colors of that area of your image
- set the blending mode to luminosity to prevent color shifts
- when you want to mark the position on the curve that represents a specific part of your image you hold down the CNTL key (COMMAND on MAC) and click on that point in the image but if you want that spot marked on the curve for each of the channels (instead of the RGB composite) then you also hold down the SHIFT key

Correct Everything in Camera Raw 4 by Deke McClelland

PhotoshopNews has an update of the features of CameraRaw 4.1. You can read it at
Camera Raw 4.1

The clarity slider in CameraRaw is like Unsharp Mask with a low amount and high radius. It changes contrast along the edges (similar to sharpening).

The Curves tab has two options. These are independent of each other so if you change one you will not see it affect the other. What this does is give you the ability to make two different Curves adjustments in CameraRaw.

You can only see the effect of sharpening in CameraRaw if you are viewing at 100% so if it looks like nothing is changing check that you are at 100%. The Detail option is like Threshold in Unsharp Mask. Sharpening in CameraRaw only affects the luminance of an image (no color shift). By holding down the ALT key (OPTION on the MAC) you can see the effect of the sharpening slides when you move them. If you do this while moving the Masking slider you see a black and white image, the black areas are not sharpened and the white areas are sharpened.

Deke still prefers to sharpen in Photoshop rather than in CameraRaw. (I guess maybe he doesn’t really correct everything in CameraRaw).

I hope you found this helpful or at least interesting. Obviously, much more was covered at the conference. I’ve just included some of the highlights here. I am a member of NAPP (National Association of Photosohop Professionals) and have found it an excellent source for learning about Photoshop.

Journal Comments

  • Deri Dority