concept to publication

Category: photoshop

A Test of Adobe Super Resolution

Adobe recently released a new feature that expands on the existing “enhance details.” Super Resolution uses artificial intelligence to increase the resolution of camera raw images. It does this astonishingly well.

For now, the easiest way I have found to access the feature is to open an image in Adobe Bridge. Then a right click will bring up the enhance feature. I have read that the same workflow is available in Photoshop, but that doesn’t seem to be working for me. This will no doubt be coming to both Photoshop and Lightroom soon.

Slater Mill

I started with this image of Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The image was taken April 17, 2015. The original image is 4032 x 3024 pixels, 69.8 MB (reduced in size here). That’s plenty big enough for on-line work (too big to even upload via WordPress), but I applied the Super Resolution enhancement, and I ended up with an image that is 8064 x 6048 pixels, 139.5 MB.

It’s easiest to see the result in the following detail comparison. For the purposes of the web, even this detail comparison is reduced in size from the original enhanced image. I simply scaled up the original image, on the left, in Photoshop to match the size of the enhanced image.

Comparison of original (L) and Super Resolution-enhanced image (R) details.

The enhancement looks very natural and completely unforced, free of artifacts. This is an astonishingly effective new feature from Adobe. Is it needed for all of your images? Certainly not. But if you want to crop to a small portion of an image, or if you want to make a very large print, this is a great tool to have. I’m blown away by what Adobe has been doing with AI recently, and this may be their best work yet.

Detail from a Photoshop sky

A First Test of Photoshop’s New Sky Replacement Feature

Photoshop 2021 has introduced some AI features that are a mix of exciting and disturbing. Want to make your crazy uncle look younger and less angry? Just use the “facial age” and “anger” settings under the “neural” filter.

The new version of Photoshop also introduces a “sky replacement” feature under the edit menu. It offers a range of adjustments for brightness, temperature, color, etc. You can use preinstalled skies or provide your own. You can also scale them and flip them, and you can adjust the edge masking. It’s pretty extraordinary, yet quite easy to use.

The Blend If function in Photoshop

I am learning that the Blend If function is one of the most powerful in Photoshop. This video from Phlearn is a good overview of the function.

I think one of the best uses of the tool is to moderate the effects of Photoshop’s
“clarity” slider. While the various sharpening modes make universal pixel tone adjustments based on differences with their neighbors (sometimes creating the white halos of oversharpening), clarity focuses more on midtones while adjusting for large tonal areas (as I understand).

But while clarity can enhance apparent detail in mid to light areas, it can seem artificial in dark areas. The way to control this is to apply clarity and then use a gray Blend If to remove the effects from the dark areas. (I still typically do an overall sharpening.)

I learned this from Nick Higham (his page references an early version of Photoshop but the principle still applies)

Detail of image

Removing Color Cast from Images

The original image has a strong green cast.

The original image has a strong green cast.

You’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Or maybe they’re some other color. Whatever the color, it’s casting its hue over your entire image. Here I will tell you a quick, nifty trick for getting rid of it.

Take the photo above, taken with a film camera in ancient times in Mixco, Guatemala. The little boy is Felipe, the gardener’s son, and behind him is the  duplex casita that we shared with his family. As you can see, the photo has a strong green cast.

Roman fountain.

Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum, New York City.


Living Wall with Calder, SFMOMA

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of <em>Maquette for Trois disques</em>, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of Maquette for Trois disques, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

line art

Photo to Line Art Technique

Bucks Harbor, Maine. Artwork from photo.

Bucks Harbor, Maine. Artwork from photo.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a technique for converting photos to line art, which can then be colorized. (I don’t claim this technique is original to me, but I’ve been refining it for my own purposes.)

The essence of the technique is the conversion to lines, using the color dodge and multiply blend modes. In the artwork above, I started from this photo:

Original photo.

Original photo.

Vitruvian Man (detail), by Leonardo da Vinci.

On Aspect Ratios

La condition humaine, 1933, by René Magritte. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Collectors Committee1987.55.1.

La condition humaine, 1933, by René Magritte. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Collectors Committee1987.55.1. The aspect ratio of the work on Magritte’s easel is about 1:1.2.

Most photographic and print publication work involves operating within rectangular frames. The relationship of width to height is the aspect ratio, expressed as, for example, 1:1 for a square, 1:1.5 for a 6 x 9 book, or 1:2  for a sheet that is twice as wide as it is tall. Conventionally, the width is stated first: that 6 x 9 book is in portrait format, whereas a 9 x 6 book would be landscape, bound on the short side, and most inconvenient to read.

A special case is the golden section or golden ratio, a rectangle with the proportion 1:1.618 (between 3/5ths and 5/8ths). In this rectangle the smaller dimension is to the larger as the larger is to the sum. In other words, 1 is to 1.618 as 1.618 is to 2.618. And as 2.618 is to 4.236, and so on. This relationship, which can be extended indefinitely, was known since classical times, and it underlies the Fibonacci Series and the modular architecture of Le Corbusier, among other expressions. Gustav Theodor Fechner, a German scientist, studied people’s responses to rectangular shapes in 1876 and concluded that the golden section is the most pleasing, though his methodology and results have been questioned. But other aspect ratios also have historic and aesthetic associations.

Photoshop tutorial: how to extend a graduated background

bamboo basket, "Inside Out," 2006, by Ueno Masao

Some photographs — like this one of “Inside Out,” 2006, by Ueno Masao (b. 1949; Kanto region: active in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture; madake bamboo, rattan, and gold leaf, Asian Art Museum, gift of Ueno Masao and Tai Gallery, 2006.41, photograph by Kaz Tsuruta) — set an object against a background that subtly blends from darker to lighter tones. (The photo appears in the book Masters of Bamboo.)

In page layout you might want to fit this vertical image into a more horizontal space without losing any of the image. For a long time I struggled with the best way to accomplish this in Photoshop.

Correcting color cast with Photoshop

I wish I could say I invented this technique for correcting color cast, but I actually learned about it from an online tutorial. Here I’ve added a wrinkle that is helpful for people like me who haven’t upgraded their Photoshop in a while.

We’ll start with this image of the multimedia center at the main branch of the San Francisco public library.

color cast to be corrected

The first thing we need to do is to duplicate the image.

Low vibrancy

Here’s a Photoshop tutorial that “uses two adjustment layers to lower the vibrancy of the photo while preserving some colors.”

Well, fine, but why go to that trouble? All you need to do to achieve this effect is to duplicate the image, change it to grayscale with whatever technique you prefer, and then apply the image in whatever percentage gives the best result.

Here’s the before and after from the tutorial.

vibrancy phtoshop tutorial

Here’s the result using my simpler technique. I just changed the mode on the duplicate to grayscale but of course there are other ways to desaturate, which might be better. I could have matched the above image exactly but I couldn’t stand how murky and low contrast the original image was, so I couldn’t resist fixing it using my usual Photoshop adjustments technique.

adjusting color saturation in photoshop

Why complicate matters?


Always check your work

Photoshop is a handy tool, but don’t give yourself a pat on the back without first looking over what you’ve done.

mystery hand


via gigglesugar (whatever that is)


Photo Friday

La caverne aux livres, from Gadl’s photostream.

caverne aux livres, a bookstore in in Auvers-sur-Oise

Lens blur

While waiting for the Super Tuesday results to come into focus, let’s spend another day on Photoshop before shifting gears to another of our topics. The other day I talked about faking a tilt-shift effect, which basically involves blurring a gradient mask. Because I was blogging from home, where I don’t have a recent version of Photoshop, I used a Gaussian blur instead of a lens blur.

So what’s the difference? In theory, there’s a fundamental difference, which can clearly be seen in the following chart based on a Russell Brown presentation reported on Computer Darkroom.

lens blur versus gaussian blur

You can see that Gaussian blur, in the middle column, erodes edges and grays white areas, while lens blur, in the right column, applies a geometric (somewhat hexagonal) effect similar to that of a camera lens without dulling highlights.

In the real world, however, the results may not be as noticeable. Here is an image with a Gaussian blur (top) and a lens blur (bottom). Because they use different metrics, it was difficult to get the amount of blur identical; nonetheless, the results look fairly similar — maybe the lens blur is a little crisper. That could partially be because I didn’t blur it quite as much, but I think its range of tones is also a little different.

gaussian blur versus lens blur in photoshop

I’m getting to like the lens blur effect. It feels like it gives you a little better control. Right now I’m working on a book about the Chinese artist Zhan Wang. For this book I’ve applied some selective lens blurring to some of the images. Following is an example — original photo on top and modified photo beneath. For this image I applied a quick mask to select the figures and foreground rocks, then lens blurred the rest. (Of course I also did my usual adjustments.) Do you like this effect?

original photo and photo with mask and lens blur.

Working with video in Photoshop

russell brown tutorial animated gifRussel Brown has an interesting sequence of tutorials on working with video in Photoshop.

  • In part one he demonstrates combining two video sequences using a layer mask
  • In part two he shows how to blend objects over time
  • In part three he explores spot colorization and looks further at video blending and painting over time

These techniques require CS3 — guess I’m going to have to upgrade my software.

Tilt-shifting the Pioneer Monument

Let’s have a little fun tilt-shifting San Francisco‘s Pioneer Monument. I choose the Pioneer Monument for a couple of reasons: I look down on it out my window at work, and I find it offensive with its glorification of Frisco fat cat robber barons and its demeaning portrayal of Native Americans. Ready? We’ll want to keep the pigeonshit on main figure’s head in focus. Here goes. Wheee!

tilt-shifting san francisco's pioneer monument

Wasn’t that fun? Many people see this effect as creating the illusion of a miniaturized landscape. You can do it, or something very like it, with an extremely expensive camera called a “tilt-shift” (whence the name of the effect). Or you approximate the effect in five or ten minutes of Photoshop.

The technique is described, with a few variations, in many places around the web. You can check it out on your search engine. Or, you can just read on.

My Photoshop default workflow

I process most images that I post to the web in Photoshop, and I have a simple workflow that does what I want with a minimum of fuss. The whole process only takes a minute or two. Allow me to demonstrate.

photoshop default actions

I’ve chosen an image more or less at random (except that it is one that I like, from this photoset). My vantage point was looking down at a river from overhead, with colorful leaves on the right. For the purpose of this demonstration the image has been resized to fit this space (435 pixels wide).

The first thing I do is to open an action I’ve saved under the name “open adjustments.” This opens three adjustment layers: levels, curves, and hue/saturation in that order, which is the order I make the adjustments.

First I look at levels. If they look well balanced I might leave them alone. Often they are weighted to either darks or lights, and I slide the midtone triangle to get a better balance. That often makes the image look worse but it puts it in position for the next adjustment, curves. Usually I find a midpoint that looks good and then generally make an ess-shaped curve in order to get a good range of darks and lights. Finally, I adjust hue/saturation. With my current camera this usually means just increasing the saturation a little bit.

photoshop default actions

Next I open an action I’ve saved under the name “hi-pass sharpen.” This sharpens the image using the duplicate layer – invert – blur – overlay – adjust transparency workflow that I have described previously. I don’t like oversharpening, so my default transparency is a modest 40 percent. It’s important to remember to select the background layer first or you will just be sharpening your hue/saturation adjustment. One nice thing about this way of sharpening is that it is size independent, so I can resize my image and do a save for web to reduce the file size without having to resharpen.

The entire process is done with adjustment layers and is completely nondestructive — no changes are made to the original image. Below the image as it came from the camera is on the left and the adjusted image on the right.

photshop default actions

Tutorial: Restoring a Dark Image in Photoshop

west group, kabah

I’ve written about restoring dark images before, but the other day I was working on a less radical image than the ones I was writing about then, and I thought a more detailed step-by step tutorial might be in order. In the image above — a picture of the western group of ruins at the Maya site of Kabah in the Yucatan — the original is on the left and the corrected version on the right. Follow me through the process here.

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