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Technical Expert


Photo Techniques

"Dodging and Burning" <

"Creating Selective Focus"

"Creating a Fog Effect"

"Creating Great Skies"

"Unsharp Mask - Revisited"


In Photoshop we are given a dodge and burn tool in the Tool Menu. Unfortunately the results are usually crude and look heavy handed. Here is a better way. It simply involves adding an overlay layer of 50% gray.

1.  Find and open a photograph that could use some dodging and burning.

2.  Go to the Window pull down menu. Choose Show Layers.

3.  In the Layer Menu Box click on the small triangular shaped arrow in the upper right. Select New Layer. Click OK. You will now have a new layer called Layer 1 above your original image layer. Click on this layer to highlight it (making it the layer you will be working on).

4.  In the upper left on the Layer Menu Box there is a small triangular shaped down arrow. Click on this and select Overlay. With the layer still highlighted, go to Edit and then Fill. In the Fill menu use the down arrow to select 50% gray.

5.  Now make sure the Color Swatch Boxes in the bottom of the Tool Menu Box have white and black selected. The white will be used for dodging and the black for burning in.

6.  Lastly select the Airbrush tool from the Tool Menu Box. Then select a large blurred edge brush size. (Window, Show Brushes in PS 5.5 or older. In PS 6 it is located above your image.) I would suggest a setting of about 15% opacity to start with. More if you need it.

7.  Using the Airbrush with the white swatch selected will artfully dodge your print. Using the black you will burn_in where needed.

8.  When finished, use the Layer Menu Box and select Flatten. Your image can now be saved as a tiff or JPEG.

This method will produce wonderfully professional results with practice. I have these directions saved as an "action." More on that at another time.

Generating Selective Focus in Photoshop:

Almost every decent photographer knows that opening the lens wide open produces selective focus (narrow depth of field) - especially with long focal length lenses. Sometimes, however, when shooting in bright light we either forget to do this or choose not to. In any case all is not lost. There is a way in Photoshop where we can duplicate this effect. For example, say you want your subject to be in focus but the background slowly receding out of focus. Well we can do this by producing our own tool. I will call it a Selective Focus Gradient Tool - because that is exactly what it is. I suggest you print this out before you start. These instructions are written for Photoshop 6 but can be modified for other versions.

1.  Select your image. Then Window, open Layer.

2.  Using the small arrow in the upper right hand corner of the Layer Menu Box click on Duplicate Layer.

3.  Blur this Duplicate Layer using Gaussian Blur (Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur). Choose the amount of blur by previewing the maximum blur you want for your out of focus area.

3.  With the blurred layer still selected, go to the Layer Menu Box, then add Layer Mask (it's the second symbol on the bottom of the Layer Menu Box. Your selected layer (blurred layer) in the Layer Menu Box will now show a thumbnail blurred image followed by a thumbnail of a white box (the layer mask).

4.  At the bottom of the Tool Menu make the foreground color black, and the background color white. It is probably the opposite right now.

5.  Now find the Gradient Tool on the Tool Menu. You want to go from transparent to color. In PS 6 be sure to check the small box on the extreme upper right corner that says "transparency".

6.  Select a circular, vertical, or horizontal gradient. Now (with the blurred layer still selected) click and hold on the area you want sharp. Drag into the area you want blurry. Release the mouse. Practice until you get the effect you want (Edit, Undo). Circular gradient blurs everything in a receding circle.

This is a wonderful technique that has many applications in addition to its use as a Selective Focus Gradient Tool.

Creating Fog in Photoshop:

In the real world of commercial photography fog is often a desired element. That's why they make fog machines. In addition, some landscapes can be enhanced by adding fog, overall or just in spots.

The biggest problem in creating fog is to create "depth cuing". As we see further away the fog becomes denser. Here is a very easy technique to master.

1. Open your image. Using the Layer Menu Box (Window, Show Layer) create a duplicate layer.

2.  Now go to the bottom of the Tool Menu and select white as the foreground color.

3.  Use the Gradient Tool from the Tool Menu. Choose foreground to transparent - the second box which is shown when you click on the Gradient down arrow on the top left of the page. Click on something in the distance. Drag the tool from back to front to produce a clear area in the foreground. Choose your degree of transparency. Use Normal as your mixing choice on the duplicate layer. Flatten and there it is. Save as a tiff or JPEG.

4.  For greater realism you can create a duplicate layer and use the dodge and burn lesson to create darker and lighter areas in the fog (patchy fog). The fog can then be swirled to simulate smoke. But that's another lesson.

Again, this lesson has many other applications other than creating fog. Experiment and have fun.

How to Create Great Skies

As is always the case in Photoshop, there are many ways of doing the same thing.

Method 1: This one is REALLY simple. Select the sky and clouds using the magic wand or the stitch tool (or any other method of selecting an area). Then go edit, copy, edit, paste. You now have a second layer of the selected area. Go to windows, show layers. Select the top layer. In the white box that says normal, use the small down arrow and select multiply. This produces instant doubling of the sky density only. A great effect that is basically invisible.

Method 2: Again select the sky with your method of choice. Go to image, adjust, selective color. Using the small down arrow, go down and select blue. With the absolute box checked, add 100% black to the blue. Now go to cyan and repeat the processes. If the sky still is not dark enough, repeat the entire processes. If you have no other blue in the picture, it is not even necessary to use a selected area. Keep in mind, this does not effect the white clouds.

Method 3:Select the sky. This time feather the selected area about 3 pixels. Then, using the dodge and burn action described in an earlier lesson, simply use a VERY large paint brush and paint the sky darker. This gives you a little more control than simply darkening the selected area. It is not as precise as the first two methods and is my least favorite.

Unsharp Mask - Revisited
This subject seems to be a big mystery to a lot of Photoshop users so here are a few suggestions:

1- Never use the sharpen function in your digital camera or your scanner. Do it in Photoshop - as follows.

2- Use unsharp mask as the preferred method for sharpening your images - rather than sharpen (more on sharpen later).

3- Never sharpen your original image. Keep it original and sharpen the printer or web version AFTER it has been appropiately resized for the application. This is very important.

4- For fine print work, consider sharpening only the channel that has the least detail (windows, show channels, split channels). This works on some images, especially if one channel has very little information.

5- The BEST way to use unsharp mask, however, is using luminosity. Make a duplicate layer. On the top layer change the "normal" to "luminosity". Use unsharp mask and adjust to taste.

6- Now a few general starting points. Your taste will vary. On large 60-100 meg images I would suggest starting with "amount" 100%, "radius" between 4-9, and "threshold" at 4. Then use your "opacity" slider to fine tune the opacity. I would try 70% opacity. On images around 30 meg, I would try a radius between 2 to 5 with all the other parameters staying the same. With 10 meg images use a radius from 1 to 3. And lastly, with those 1+ meg images we all love to post (800 x 600) use a radius from .3 to 1.5. Now I hope you can see why we never sharpen our original image! Keep in mind, all these are simply my personal preferences. Treat them only as guidelines to get you started.

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