Anything Photoshop or Photography



Image of a Red Ruffed Lemur at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
Decided to take a bit of a break this week so just presenting a few Lightroom tips I have run across over the last couple months. Most of them will also apply to Adobe Camera Raw (and the Camera Raw filter). Sometimes where reviewing a video or blog, there will be a little jewel included in the technique, but it is never really emphasized or in some cases below, actual blogs were created on the technique. All the names listed are Lightroom gurus. So without further ado, here are a few tips you may not have tried using:

  1. Using the Auto button in Lightroom and ACR’s Basic Panel (it may be the first AI feature used in Photoshop) was added in December of 2017 and many people think it is a great starting point for post-processing. But you can also just hold down the SHIFT button and double-click on any of the individual slider tabs to set just one of the Auto values.
  2. For the Adjustment Brush in either LR or ACR: If no pin is selected (highlighted), whatever settings chosen will be the values for the next new pin; if pin is selected, the settings will only apply to that pin – if New pin is clicked, the settings go back to the old values. This had confused me for a long time.
  3. From Unmesh Dinda, a Lightroom trick only – click on the little triangle on upper right side of the Adjustment Brush panel – it will bring up an Amount slider so the total effect created by that pin can be adjusted.
  4. Unmesh’s second tip, also for Lightroom only: In the regular Adjustment Brush panel, once a section is painted, ALT + click and drag over pin in photo to increase or decrease all the sliders but this time proportionately which also will adjust the total effect. I think this is really something!
  5. From Matt Kloskowsky: Can draw a straight line with the Adjustment Brush by clicking once, and then SHIFT + click at end point – works just like in Photoshop.
  6. Also from Matt a Lightroom tip only: When using the Adjustment Brush, hold the CTRL key to paint close to the edges of an object – it essentially turns the Auto Mask checkbox on. Just let go of CTRL to release. It will not indicate when it is on in Brush section, but it is on.
  7. This tip is from Serge Ramelli (see link at end on my blog on him – almost all of his work is done in Lightroom) – if you have converted image to black and white and there are halos in your image, look at your Black & White Panel to see if any of the color settings are larger than -50 – it will cause halos, especially in skies.
  8. From Rob Sylvan, hold the ALT Key while moving the Defringe Amount sliders in the Lens Correction Panel’s Manual section. This is really a great way to see what effect it is having on just the discolorated edges in Lightroom but not Camera Raw. This also works with the Hue sliders but I did not see that it helped much in Lightroom but worked great in Camera Raw. So try both sliders when adjusting your image.
  9. Also from Rob Sylvan: Sometimes removing the purple or green fringe from your image can reduce the saturation in parts of your photo where you want the color to remain. To fix, first make adjustments in the Lens Correction Panel; when finished, select the Adjustment Brush and reset sliders to 0 (click on the word Effect – turns into Reset) except for the Defringe slider that should be set to -100. Paint over areas of image to remove the unwanted Defringing, especially where there a similar colors to the fringing. Don’t know where those areas are? Do Step 8 and it will show what areas are being affected.
  10. From Scott Kelby, to enhance Detail in Lightroom, use the Clarity slider (don’t go too far or halos will appear) which adds midtone contrast and causes the image to be darker; to fix just adjust the brightness by moving the Exposure slider between 20 to 30. Great for  hard edged shots but not for people images.
  11. Use the Calibration Panel to tailor your colors. Can still use these colors with the Basic Panel Tint and Tones.
  12. From Matt Kloskowsky, to fix bad lighting, decrease Exposure and increase Whites.
  13. When using the Detail’s Sharpening section, Martin Evening suggests using these settings: Set Radius to 0.7 to 0.9 for images with lots of fine lines, and 1.1 to 1.3 for softer edges as in portraits; Detail slider – as you increase the amount above 25, more chance for halos so keep at 25 or below; and the Amount slider acts like a volume slider for sharpening.
  14. From Blake Rudis, when creating LUT files (or profiles used in LR) in Adobe Camera Raw (see below for link on how to do this), use adjustments that are unique to Photoshop like Solid Color, Levels, Curves (more precise in PS), Channel Mixer, Color Balance, Gradient Map, and Selective Color Adjustments Layers. Seems intuitive but good to remember.
  15. Here are some shortcut keys from Julieanne Kost on how to use the Radial Filter:

• Shift + M selects the Radial Filter

• When you drag in the image area, the Radial Filter is scaled from center, Shift-drag will constrain to a circle

• Control-double-click in the image area to expand the Radial Filter to the visible image area.

• Control-double-click on an existing Radial Filter will expand it to the visible image area.

• Control + Alt-drag an existing Radial Filter will duplicate it.

• “H” hides the interface

• Tap the Apostrophe key ( ‘ ) to toggle the Invert Mask option

• Double-click on an existing Radial Filter will apply the Radial filter and dismiss the tool.

Hope you found some new Lightroom tips. Well, that is it for this week- have a wonderful Spring break if you get one, or if not, just have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How to Create Profiles in ACR from LR Presets and Some PS LUT Files
Showing Some of Serge Ramelli’s Effects
Lightroom for Animal Photography


Watercolor image of a Angolan Colobus monkey eating some greens
This week I decided to just have some fun. I imagine most of you got the Adobe Magazine E-mail that came this week and one or their links was to a really cool Watercolor Artist Action Set created by Nuwan Panditha (also known as Black Null) – it contains an action set (Setup and Watercolor Artist actions), 20 watercolor brushes (all kinds of regular and splatter brushes), 5 patterns to use with your watercolor (or any) images, and a 7-page PDF Guide on how to load and use all the included items. These objects can be used in other images – still trying out some of the watercolor brushes. So even if you do not want to use the action, download the files to get the nice brushes and patterns. This blog contains a few examples of what I created since I am always looking for great watercolor actions. (See my Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs for links to other watercolor actions.)

The quick way I like to load brushes and patterns (instead of using the rather complicated way explained in the PDF) is to just open up Photoshop and then double-click on the brushes file (.abr) and they will load automatically. This is the same for the pattern (.pat) and action (.atn) files. Very simple. The Angolan Colobus Monkey above pretty much followed everything Nuwan tells you to do in the nice Guide although on the Adobe site there are two short videos that go over pretty much the same thing. If you do not want to watch the videos, I have created a synopsis of what was in his videos below these photos.
Image of some tables at a restaurant on Turtle Key in The Bahamas
Watercolor Painted Coleus plants in front of Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida
Here is the quick low-down from Nuwan’s videos on how to do get this action to work nicely:

1. Image Information:

Make sure your image height and width parameters are between 2000 and 5000 px. Otherwise your image will be huge once the action is run completely. I tried this and got a 2.4 Gig image – my computer was not happy! Therefore, I changed my image size into one for the web before running the actions.

Make sure your image has a full range of tones with shadows, highlights and midtones before you start.

2. Setup Action:

After running the Setup Action, use the selected hard-edged brush called Watercolor Artist Basic Brush to paint in your “focus area.” Set the Opacity and Fill of all the brushes to 100%. I tried using the focus brush at a lower opacity to in bring less of certain areas, and it just did not look right. Can change the default orange color to a sampled color from the image and it will add more of that tone into the resulting watercolor image. A bright pink was used in the Coleus Plant image to give it more pink tones instead of orange.

Apparently other selection tools can be used such as the Lasso or Quick Selection Tools, and then fill the selection with the foreground color, but Duwan finds using the brush is the easiest way to define your focus point. Don’t make the whole image the focus area as different brushes and layers are used for areas outside the focus area than for the inside.

The focus area can be painted close to your subject or it can include areas outside the subject. In the Monkey image above, it was set outside a little which is why the foreground rock and greens have more definition than the background which was really busy in the original photo.

Nuwan says that a focus area with regular and simple shapes will generate fewer brush strokes than selected areas with complex lines. Also do not leave a bunch of holes in the focus area – it will not look good and they are hard to even out later.

This action converts the image into an 8-bit image.

3. Watercolor Artist Action:

When the Watercolor Artist action is run, it will take a while to process. He says that for a 3000 px image, it will take less than 3 minutes. It took me less than 3 minutes, but I am using smaller images.

The result will look a little scary if nothing else! There are 8 groups that cover all aspects of the resulting watercolor image. The PDF does a pretty good job explaining the different groups so I will only go over what I found really helpful.

  • First open up the Image Control group and highlight the Reveal Details layer. Choose a watercolor brush and paint in the mask with white. He used his Watercolor Artist-Medium brush just to help you get started at this point. The last 12 brushes were used in the action and do not necessarily work with this layer for painting. They can still work for special effects though.

Paint over in the highlighted layer mask some of the important parts of the image to bring back the details. If you have other watercolor brushes that you really like, there is no reason you cannot use them on this mask.

  • In the same Image Control group, select the Custom Watercolor layer. Paint in the layer mask with different brushes to add the custom effects around the subject. It can be duplicated several times to add different types of strokes. The opacity of the layers can be adjusted to give interesting results. Duwan used the Watercolor Artist-Dry brush for this. I used the same brush on my images and used extra Custom Watercolor layers.
  • Add Shadows, Add Midtones, Add Filling – try different blend modes for these layers and note that the opacity is controlled by adjusting the layer Fill slider and not the Opacity slider. By increasing the Fill on the Add Filling layer, it will fill in some of the empty areas of the watercolor effect – try some different blend modes like Multiply for a look. For Add Shadows and Add Midtones layers, try Darken, Multiply, and Color Burn blend modes.
  • Texture Overlay, Fine Sharpen, Sharpen – All use the Fill slider to adjust the opacity. The Sharpen layer is the one most affecting the final image.

The rest of the groups can be opened and layers opened and closed to get add or remove different effects – a lot of sketching and splatter strokes here and layer masks are provided to easily remove unwanted marks on your image. The opacities can be lowered individually or as a group. Different papers or textures can be substituted for the ones provided including any painted textures you might own. The Post FX group is one where many different adjustment layers are located – this can really help add the tones or colors needed to make the image really look great.

Syd’s Tip:  I found this is really necessary to get all the foci of the images to look correct. After making a lot of the adjustments in the various groups, either create a selection, as in the Monkey image where the face was duplicated with a Lasso Tool, or as in the other images where the whole background layer was duplicated – then place on top of the Watercolor Action group. Add a black layer mask and with a watercolor brush at a lower opacity like 20%, areas that needed a bit more structure can be painted back in. The actual layer opacity can also be adjusted if the result is too much. And if you are a bit of a digital painter, it is important to have a brush handy to clean up the edges and areas that need a little clean up. That is what was done on the pink Coleus Plants. As a final step for me a stamped layer of the image was opened in Topaz (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Studio using the Texture Adjustment’s Group set to Borders. There are several choices and the borders can be flipped, color changed, and blend mode and opacity changed. This was done on both the Monkey and Coleus images. I just painted a white watercolor border for the Bahamas image.

I hope you download and give this action a try. It does take a little time and I am still working on getting better results, but this action does have some great possibilities. Just using it as a starting point for painting digitally in watercolor would be good. Happy Painting!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How to Get Painting Effects from Actions-Part 1
Some Watercolor Fun!
Red Hibiscus Holiday Cheer!


Image of a purple Red Ruffed Lemur
This week I am just going to explain how this Red Ruffer Lemur turned into a purple Lemur – possibly trying on his Easter outfit? This technique that I learned makes this so easy but you need to follow the workflow below. I am finding that this is really a great way to add some creative effects into an image. It was presented in Unmesh Dinda’s totally excellent video called Master Hue/Saturation from Start to Finish in Photoshop. This 38-minute video is by far the best I have seen on the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer so if you have the time, watch it. You will learn some new things.

After viewing Unmesh’s video, I was able to turn this Lemur fur purple very easily – I was totally blown away by how natural the color replacement looked. What is happening is that by looking at the horizontal strips at the bottom of the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and moving the gray slider indicator in the middle of the two strips, the bottom strip color will show a very exact color replacement in your image. Don’t worry about this, it it pretty intuitive once you try it. Totally amazing and very easy to get the correct color change and coverage.

A lot of post processing was done on just the original Red Ruffer Lemur image and it seemed finished (see last image of blog for this result). To change the fur color, two Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers were used to adjust slightly different color tones on the fur (the reddish orange and the really over-exposed yellow white area on the right side of lemur.) My short video shows how to achieve a similar result using the free Lily Pads image from a set called 20 Free Photos From Seychelles. (I use these images all the time for practice.) In this case two color ranges were changed using just one Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

The final result of the Lily Pads image from the video is shown below. Two slightly different iterations were created just by setting the adjustment layer sliders and the gray slider between the horizontal strips at different positions.

Image of Lily Pads with creative coloring
This is the workflow:

  1. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and click on the little hand with the horizontal arrow in the upper left of the panel. Click on the color you want to change, in this case the red Lemur fur (or water in Lily Pads image). This will open up the Reds (or Blues in Lily Pads) in the field by the little hand. (For PS Elements users, if you do not have a hand, just select one of the colors that you want to change in the drop down, then sample with the left bottom eye-dropper tool – it will do the same thing. Otherwise all the other steps are the same.)
  2. Move the Saturation and the Hue sliders all the way right.
  3. Look at the horizontal color strips at the bottom of the panel – the area between show a gray slider with tabs on the ends and indicates the range of color PS has chosen. The top vertical strip and bottom strips look the same right now. You can make the color range narrower or larger by moving on the gray slider the little vertical straight line tabs closer together or further apart – look at your now crazy colored image to see what areas are being affected. (This is not unlike the way the Blend If tabs in the Layer Style Panel work.) Basically I just dragged the straight vertical lines out until the red fur was turned to a purplish color (or the water was covered with a color I liked). It will be adjusted more later.
  4. Drag the little pointed outside tabs outward to smooth the color transitions or closer to straight vertical lines for a narrower range. (Again like pressing the ALT key and splitting the tab in the Blend If dialog.)
  5. Now set the Hue and Saturation sliders back to 0 by double clicking on the words.
  6. Last step is to adjust the Hue slider to bring in the new color more cleanly. You will see those colors show up on the bottom horizontal strip and the top line will retain the original colors so you can compare the ranges easily. You can also adjust the Saturation and the Lightness sliders here. Note: when using Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (or just Adjustment), the Lightness slider should not be used with the Master selected – looks really bad, but in the individual colors, it is fine to move the Lightness slider. Also go back and move the gray slider between the horizontal color bars to possibly get an even better color blend.

The two other examples of the Lily Pads image show that by using this technique, the different colors can be changed to get other looks. Note that all three versions used a Curves Adjustment Layer on top to add a little contrast back into the image.

Image of Water Lilies using Different Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings

Here are the original images used before the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers were added:
Tych of Lily Pads and Red Ruffed Lemur

That’s it. This was so easy I could not believe it and the horizontal Color Strips are so handy. Well that’s my tip – short but sweet. If you want to try a slightly different technique, check out Colin Smith’s recent video called Instantly Change Color of Anything in Photoshop without Selections where he uses the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer’s mask to limit the location of the color change first. I like that I did not have to use the mask to adjust the colors with this technique, although you can. For example, I could have brought back the Lemur’s yellow eyes by painting them back in the Hue/Saturation Adjustments Layer’s mask. Hope you give this fun technique a try. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd


Image of a Squirrel Monkey at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida
This is a pretty basic blog on Dodging and Burning – a topic everyone knows about can be so confusing when you see all the different methods out there from the various Photoshop gurus. I have done several blogs on dodging and burning using other techniques (see my related blogs at the end of post). Recently I was looking through Glyn Dewis’s (another great PS guru) really good book called Photograph Like a Thief and found this technique. Had to try it out so here is my guinea pig, I mean Squirrel Monkey, taken at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida. It is a good example for using this technique since he has a lot of back-lighting on his body (this little guy just would not stop moving long enough for me to get his face straight on through a fence, so this is what I got – as they say better than no picture at all). Using the following steps, the monkey was dodged over the edges of his face, whiskers, top of his head to emphasize the lighting effect, and burned where his tail is and parts of his fingers to show a little separation in these areas.


I am sure you have heard of this technique using black and white brushes to paint in where the highlights and shadows should be. This time, besides using the 50% gray layer, the Dodge Tool and Burn Tools were selected instead of the Brush Tool to create a really nice soft effect. Simple enough. So lets start with the easy set up workflow and then discuss why you would do it this way.

  1. Create a New Layer on top of your image this way:  ALT+click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Name the layer Dodge and Burn, set the Mode to Soft Light so the Fill with Soft-Light-neutral color (50% gray) checkbox is visible.
  2. Set the color swatches to their default black and white (CTRL+D for black and white, and then click on the Foreground Color and open the Color Picker – set it to Midtone Gray – H0/S0/B50). It does not seem to matter if you forget this right now, but you do need to create a Medium Gray foreground color to do this technique correctly.
  3. Select the Dodge Tool (O Key) in the Toolbar. Create a soft round brush and in the Options Bar use these settings: Range: Midtones, Exposure5%, and check the Protect Tones box. I saved my brush and named it GDewis Dodge Brush.
  4. With the Dodge Tool selected, softly paint over the light areas of your image where you would like some extra highlights to be. Build up your effect slowly as a little bit goes a long way.
  5. Hold down the ALT Key and the same settings will be used to paint with the Burn Tool – paint over areas to be darkened and also build up the effect. For example, if my regular Burn Tool brush is set to 23% Exposure setting, it does not matter – just the 5% that is in the Dodge Tool settings is applied. (This applies the reverse way if the Burn Tool is selected and the ALT Key is held for the Dodge Tool.) Major Cool!
  6. If you made a mistake and an area is too light or too dark, switch to the Brush Tool and paint over the white or black marks to set it back to the Medium Gray instead of trying to erase it. That is why the foreground is set to Medium Gray. Also Major Cool! Set the Brush Tool opacity to less if you only want to reduce the effect partially.

To see the gray layer without the underlying layers, ALT+click on the eyeball and the other layers disappear. ALT+click on the eyeball again and they appear. This makes it really easy to fine tune areas that may be over brightened or darkened. I find I am constantly turning this on and off to see where the effect appears overdone.

You can adjust the Exposure setting as much as you want, but he prefers to keep it fairly low – in the 5-10% range – and building the effect up slowly. Some info from The Photoshop Wow Book for CS3 and CS4 follows: Many people like to use the Overlay blend mode instead of Soft Light for the gray layer. Just watch out for your image becoming too saturated – if this happens, change to Soft Light. Also, the Protect Tones checkbox causes the tool to reduce its effect on pure black or white (Adobe says it minimizes clipping in the shadows and highlights). It also attempts to protect the hue so your colors do not become more neutral as you alter their luminance. And different types of brush tips can be used and settings just like with a regular brush – only Color Dynamics is not available in the in Brush Panel. Try changing the Exposure Jitter slider in the Transfer section for an interesting different result.

The Alligator image below used three dodging and burning techniques to get this final effect. I really like the subtle way Glyn’s technique adds the contrast. But the image needed some small details lines added for separation as these alligators are look similar – so I used  my Best Dodging and Burning Technique blog on a separate layer above, then a couple Curves Adjustment Layers were used to paint in parts of the areas that needed a little more darkening and lightening. The point is, sometimes you just have to combine techniques.

Image of Alligators sunbathing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida

Why This Works

This technique finally makes sense to me and here is why. I have always been confused as to why some people just use black and white brushes to dodge and burn since it creates a pretty good result also. Glen says “…. when I’m dodging and burning, if I need to remove or reduce an area, I can quickly select a brush and paint over the area with this 50% gray color at whatever opacity I choose.” This means it is much faster to remove mistakes by just switching to the Brush Tool (B Key) instead of using the Erase Tool which may be too strong or sharp, or having to keep selecting the gray color for the foreground color to make the correction and then changing the foreground back to black. Otherwise I am not sure there is a lot of difference.

It works great on portraits which is what Glyn’s photography seems to emphasize. But on a very busy floral image of Azaleas, it just had very little effect. That confused me – until – wait the Dodge and Burn Tools are both set to Range Midtones. If your image is has more contrast to start, then possibly a Range set to Highlights would make more sense for painting with the Dodge Tool. David Belliveau, the wonderful painter and illustrator, in his Dodge & Burn: How to Fix Highlights in Your Paintings video says using the Dodge Tool set to a Midtones Range, even if you keep painting over it, only affects the midtones in your image. The highlights or shadows will remain the same and you could very easily blow out the midtones. See left side image below.

  • If you set the Range to Highlights, all the sudden the whites popped a lot more. Since Azaleas have a lot of white in them, it is what was needed on the flowers.
  • By changing the Dodge Tool to a Shadows Range and painting over the darker areas, just a little bit of light is introduced into the darkest areas.
  • If the Dodge Tool is set to Highlights Range and the ALT key is held down to get the Burn Tool, what happens? When I tried this, it added just a little bit of darkening to the edges of my flowers and actually slight cooled down blow areas in parts of the flowers. This was a surprise to me, but definitely worth trying when you have blown out areas of an image that is attracting too much attention. See the right side image below.

Tych of Dewis Dodge & Burn Method

Image of Belliveau Method of Dodge & Burn

Glyn Dewis also says it makes it a lot easier to blend or transition the light and dark areas on an image, especially in portraits. One of his portrait tricks is to select with the Lasso Tool for example on the gray layer a rough transition area, and duplicate the selection by clicking CTRL+J. Then on selected area go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur to soften the transition a little bit.

I guess what I am getting at is you need to experiment with these settings and adjust them so they work with the image being post-processed. This actually turned out to be a lot of fun and I believe there are some good creative uses here along with the great advantage of being able to selectively emphasize how the dark and bright areas are presented without touching the original image. Hope you learned something – I sure did just by trying out all the brush settings. I plan on taking next week off so will blog here in as soon as I can get back at it. Have a great week! ….. Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:
How to Use Curves Adjustment Layers to Dodge and Burn an Image
How to use Linear Dodge (Add) & Linear Burn Modes on Image
The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!
How to Create a Subtle Dodge and Burn Effect
How to Add a Spot of Light


Image of the Trail at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida

This week I am getting back to just having some plain ole’ Photoshop fun! Recently I ran across an easy and quick technique to turn an image that looks ho-hum into something great! There are times when an image does not look quite right no matter what is tried. That is when I usually open one of Topaz’s (see the sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) creative filters to see if something connects with me – that is usually the fabulous Topaz ReStyle plugin. (See blog links at bottom of post for more info.) But if you do not own ReStyle, this a pretty nifty way to get a somewhat similar result using a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. The last two examples do not have extreme color changes, but by adjusting the layer opacity, which seems to be critical in getting certain looks, or trying different blend modes, very interesting results can be obtained.

What does a Gradient Map do? Photoshop maps the shadows in an image to the foreground color and the highlights to the background color. It also allows you to add as many colors as you want by using the Gradient Editor while still maintaining some of the photo’s original tonality. For more on using a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer for black and white images, see my blog links at end of post.

Workflow on How to Randomize a Gradient Map

Recently Kelby One placed a link to a short video by Victor Feyes called How to Get Easy Color Grades in a Simple Way that used this technique. Here are the steps used for getting some pretty fantastic quick results:

  1. Open Gradient Map Adjustment Layer and set the Blend Mode to Color and the Layer Opacity to roughly 50%. Don’t worry about the actual colors in the  color swatch.
  2. Click on the gradient strip to open the Gradient Editor dialog.
  3. Set the Gradient Type to Noise.
  4. Set the Roughness somewhere under 15%, usually nearer to 10%.
  5. Set the Color Mode to HSB or LAB.
  6. Check Restrict Colors box.
  7. Click Randomize as many times as you need to get an effect that looks good.
  8. If the colors are too intense but look good, go out of the dialog and change the layer opacity – less than 50% is best.

That’s it! It is so simple I am not sure why I didn’t try this a long time ago. These settings above are general and there is no reason why the Color Mode cannot be left at RGB, the Roughness setting increased, or Add Transparency checkbox turned on. And all the Color Mode sliders can be adjusted to give a little different result on the image. (See the last image’s screenshot.) Watch the gradient while clicking the Randomize button to see how the different colors are affecting different parts of the image. Once the gradient is applied, in the Gradient Map properties, there is a Reverse button that can give an interesting effect. To save the gradient for reusing, in the Dialog Box click in field to name if you want and click the New button – it appears at the end of the shown gradients. (Note: if the Save… button is clicked, it opens a dialog to save all the presets in one file and not just the new one.)

The image at top was taken at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida (with this rather steep trail that tried to kill me!) and was pretty much a basic shadowy shot. The images I took here have been hard to post-process due to the bright sun and blotchy effect on the bushes and flowers which were in bloom. Therefore this image seemed like a logical choice to try out this Gradient Map technique. Below is a Screenshot showing the original image with only LR settings applied and the Gradient Map and settings used to create the new color look in the top image. The Adjustment Layer was set to Color blend mode and 36% Layer Opacity. (Click on screenshot to see larger in Flicker.)
Screenshot of the Gradient Map settings for the Ravine Gardens Trail image

What the Gradient Map Dialog Box and Sliders Do

The Photoshop Wow Book (from years ago but still one of the best PS books around) is the only good source I could find on how the Gradient Map Dialog Box actually works so the following info is from this book. By checking the Add Transparency box, random transparency is provided – by checking this box “….will probably introduce more variability than you want to cope with” so instead use a layer mask after the Noise gradient is applied. The Noise Gradient ranges are set by moving the sliders on the Color Model bars which will determine the Outside limits of the colors that can appear in your gradient but the gradient will often include a much narrower range of colors. The Wow Book also provides the following definitions: Roughness: a higher amount makes more and sharper color bands and a lower amount has fewer bands and smoother transitions. Restrict Colors is checked so that the gradient will not include any colors too saturated to be printed with CMYK inks. To create a gradient of just gray colors, set the Color Model to HSB and set the Saturation all the way to the left – now only the Brightness tabs will have any effect on the image. I could not get a very good result doing this. The pretty Azalea below was also taken at Ravine Gardens in Palatka, Florida and is another example of this workflow.
Beautiful White Azalea image taken at the Ravine Gardens in Palatka, Florida
Below are the settings used in the photo above – click on image to see larger in Flickr. The blend mode was still set to Color and the Layer Opacity was set to 55% – any higher opacity and the image becomes very yellow.
Screenshot of Gradient Map dialog for azalea image
A  different gradient was tried below. A screenshot shows more of a blue toned gradient applied. Used Color blend mode and 42% Layer Opacity. The image is not finished, but it does give a very different pretty result.
Screenshot of Blue-Purple Gradient Map for Azalea
This last image of Old St. Andrews in Scotland is an example of combining the two types of Gradient Maps – the first was a Noise Gradient Map (see screenshot for how image looked before applying the Gradient Map Adjustment Layer – click on it to see settings more clearly in Flickr). On top a regular Solid Gradient Type instead of Noise was selected and Blake Rudis’s action and his gray gradient 19 set to Soft Light blend mode at 41% Layer Opacity was added. Blake has a really good video called Advanced Color Toning Made Easy and he gives away the action and 20 gradients so check it out. It’s a very handy action and I use it all the time! This combination seems to bring some very good results in the images. It is not a huge change but definitely an improvement.
Image of a View of Old St. Andrews in Scotland
Screenshot of Gradient Map settings for St. Andrews image
Hope you will try this technique. It gives some really nice unusual looks and can really pull the colors of an image together for some needed pizzazz! I am having a lot of fun with it. Have a great week – Spring is almost here!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz ReStyle – from a while ago, but it is still relevant
Four Picture Triptych with Topaz ReStyle
How to Use a Topaz ReStyle Trick for Improving Your Image
How to Do a Black & White Gradient Map Conversion


Image of a Tigress at the Jacksonville Zoo
Recently Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) released yet another new AI (Artificial Intelligence) filter called Sharpen AI – this comes as a real surprise since just a a while back JPEG to Raw AI was released. What is interesting about this new release is that it was actually based upon the older Topaz Infocus filter. And if you already own Infocus, you get the new Sharpen AI automatically. I love Topaz for this – they do honor their company commitment that if a filter is upgraded and you own it, you get the upgrade free! See section below for info on how to do this as there appears to be a lot of confusion with this. Let’s start by showing what Sharpen AI’s interface looks like and does. I have added several sections so if you are not interested in all the details, you can skip through some of them. Above is the lovely Siberian Tigress named Dorcas at the Jacksonville Zoo – what a lovely creature she is!

Sharpen AI Interface

Sharpen AI And AI Clear both improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise. There is a difference with how they each deal with noise reduction. In AI Clear the noise is adjusted by clicking on Auto or the Low, Med and High buttons. So one of these settings must be chosen. Click on the image below to see the settings more clearly in Flickr.

Interface of the AI Clear adjustment in Topaz Studio
In Sharpen AI, there is an actual Suppress Noise slider and it can be applied at any amount and with any of the three modes that can be selected. Therefore there is a lot more versatility. Click on the image below to see a larger view of the interface for the Sharpen AI plugin in Flickr and the settings used on the Tigress. The left side is the original image with no sharpening at all and the right side has Sharpen AI applied. If you look closely, the eyes are definitely sharper in the Sharpen filter and some of the hairs around the face are subtly sharper. (The image above was enhanced with Sharpen AI. In Topaz Studio’s Precision Detail was applied to whole image and Impression applied to just the background, and in PS Lighten and Darken Curve Adjustments Layers to add contrast.)

Image of Tigress using the Topaz Sharpen AI plugin
There are three modes that can be tried on the image before applying it. I like this since one may not work as well as another. I am finding that the mode I thought I should use is not always the best one.

Sharpen Mode – this setting is supposed to only sharpen the things you want and brings out the detail in your image – Topaz says it “only sharpens the good stuff” and I guess this is where the AI comes in. It figures out what needs to be sharp in your image.

Stabilize Mode – it is supposed to be best when used with moving objects or low light situations. It “stabilizes” the motion blur that results.

Focus Mode – Topaz says it “rescues a blur within ten pixels” so that a slightly out-of-focus shot becomes much sharper. If part of an image is in focus, like the eyes, but the nose is not, this mode will fix that and bring the nose in focus also.

The Remove Blur slider is the main slider to adjust any of the three modes. They advise against setting it to 1.00 but I use 0.70 quite a bit. It can make the image look too crunchy but that may be okay if you are just using this filter for just the eyes. (See next section for more on this.) As noted above the Suppress Noise slider will reduce the noise in the image and is set to 0.50 as a default. I am also finding that this can be reduced to give some better results if you do not need the noise adjusted. Add Grain slider is only needed if the Mode over corrects your image resulting in an unnatural surface smoothness or loss of too much detail – some texture can be added back this way. It is probably not something that needs to be used often.

How to Use the Sharpen Filter

I usually use this filter from Photoshop since I like to tweak the results once applied. It also is much easier when using the masking as I am describing in this section. I am also finding that the Focus mode fits my problem areas in photography – many people also like the Stabilize mode. One of the best uses for Sharpen AI is to apply it so the eyes so look really sharp, then go back into PS and add a black layer mask to everything but the eyes. Paint them back with white at any brush opacity to make it look good. I have not tried this on a person pix yet but saw this demonstrated with great success.
Image of a Guereza Colobus Monkey at the Jacksonville ZooThe Guereza Colobus Monkey above used the Focus mode with Remove Blur at 0.70, Suppress Noise at 0.30 and Add Grain at 0 (therefore more sharpening and less noise reduction smoothing) on a layer in PS. In PS a black layer mask was added and just the monkey and foreground was painted back for sharpening. Click on screenshot to see large in Flickr.
Screenshot of Monkey image showing original and Sharpen AI filter applied
Other work was done in Photoshop like using a Lighten Curve to lighten him up a little and the palm shadow was added to take the distracting background away (see 15 Shadow Mockup Overlays by andshesbrave). I am often sharpening the whole image and then masking out completely the other parts of the image in the PS with a 100% white brush or using a lower amount set to reduce part of the effect in the mask. Also Blend If sliders could be handy here.

Below is an example of a landscape hand-held from of all things a bus! Sharpen AI really pulled out all the rigging lines that I have never been able to get clear – this filter saved my image – it may not be the best I have ever taken, but it sure is one of my favorites from Scotland. The filter made the image usable and that is probably the key to what makes a filter a good one. All your images are not going to be that great but some definitely have more meaning and need to be saved of those precious memories.
Image of a sailboat in the Highlands of ScotlandAbove, this whole Scottish image was sharpened, probably a bit too much – used settings of Processing Mode Focus, Remove Blur 0.70, Suppress Noise 0.80 and Add Grain 0. Then back in PS a black mask was added again and just the sailboat and its lines were painted back which made them very sharp. Using the Focus mode sharpened these lines up beautifully – never have been able to do this with any other product. AI Clear could not help this image. Then I took the image into Topaz Studio where Precision Detail was applied just to the boat. Several other clean up and color toning steps were done but the sharpening on the boat makes this image.

I am finding it is best not to use both AI Clear and Sharpen AI on the same image. It will usually over sharpen the image and add artifacting. You can add other forms of sharpening like using the PS High Pass to sharpen or the Sharpen Tool on special areas with either filter. Just be sure to localize your sharpening when doing this. The Monkey above also had a High Pass added at the end of my workflow but it was only added selectively where the foreground elements needed just a bit more sharpness. In other words, this filter does not do it all, but it is a great place to start, especially if an image needs a little extra help.

What is the Difference between AI Clear and Sharpen AI?

The big question is “Why do I need this filter?” To be honest, I rarely used Infocus so I was as perplexed at this as everyone else. And now that AI Clear is such a fabulous product, is it needed? Let’s address AI Clear first. Since Topaz fixed AI Clear back in October of last year, I use it on almost every image I post-process. I think a lot of people feel that way – I have yet to find another filter that does what this one does in just a couple clicks. It is fast and easy to apply from either Lightroom, Photoshop, or Topaz Studio. It almost always improves an image’s sharpness and reduces its noise.

It seems to me that Topaz Sharpen AI should be used for images that have what I consider bigger issues. Topaz claims it is a great asset for shots taken when hand-holding the camera. “The machine learning training process allows it to understand the difference between detail vs. noise. This means that it can selectively apply sharpening to just the image features it perceives as detail.” On landscapes it brings back detail in all parts of an image while removing noise. Sharpen AI is both a stand-alone (which will only accept Tiff, Jpeg and Png files but plans to add Raw file capability are in the works) and a plug-in that can be accessed by Lightroom, PS and Topaz Studio. NOTE: A big tip is to be sure the Automatically Update Preview is set to No or else you and your computer will be going crazy as it keeps updating the filter! The Stabilize and Focus modes in Sharpen AI are not contained in AI Clear – they originated from the original Infocus techniques. It is not fast at processing and can be down-right slow when saving the final settings to the image – this depends on the size of the file you are using. The Tigress image took 2 minutes to save on my computer which has a pretty fast processor. I did run the Shake Reduction filter in Photoshop (remember when we thought this was the greatest filter ever????) for comparison and it is not even close to either Sharpen AI or AI Clear – we have come a long way with this technology.

Topaz describes the subtle differences between the two programs by saying: “AI Clear’s main detection is noise whereas Sharpen AI’s main detection is to recognize blur.  This makes Clear optimal for noisy images and Sharpen more effective for a bit more blurry images.” I believe this is true with my experience using both programs. Sharpen AI does not have batch capability – it is too computer intensive at this point while AI Clear does have the capability.

If you already own Topaz Infocus, Here is how to Upgrade to Topaz Sharpen AI:

Not sure if you own Topaz Infocus? Check out your Topaz Labs Account for purchased products – should be able to tell if you had this plugin originally.

1. Download a trial version of the program and load it on. It should say you have a 30-Day Trial at the top of the program.

2. Now click on the Help Menu and select Update Ownership which should be the second item in the drop-down list. Just click on it and it will remove the Trial information.

If having problems with the above (and hopefully you do not have to do the following steps), here is the info direct from the website forum:

Log into your Topaz Account. Click on Coupon either on the left side of your account page or under Account > coupon then click on the coupon tag. Next go to the Stand alone > Sharpen AI menu at the top of the page and select Sharpen AI. Once on the page, scroll to the bottom and find Buy Now. Once you have the cart it should show the price minus the coupon. Then check out normally to purchase. Finally, download or if you are using a trial go to the Help menu > Update ownership (in the program) and it will change from trial to normal version.

Bottom Line

I am starting to like the Sharpen AI better the more I use it but no way am I getting rid of my AI Clear! Sharpen AI is very slow and I can get fairly similar results with AI Clear and a little Precision Detail or Precision Contrast in Topaz Studio – that is when using an image that is in pretty good shape. If your image does not have that really tack sharp image result (and many of mine do not as seen in the sailboat image), Sharpen AI may really be the answer for you. I believe that as time goes on, Topaz will be updating this plug-in, like they did with AI Clear, and it will be a much faster and better product. In the  meantime, I am going to continue using it to see when it is best for my own images. I know this is not a definite answer, but I trust Topaz and believe they will improve this filter to where it will be a no-brainer to use it (like AI Clear is for me right now). I do believe Topaz is going in the right direction with all the AI plug-ins and are working very hard at staying on top of this new technology. Kudos to them for that! I will continue to keep you updated on all their new products – I love the Topaz products. They fit into my workflow very well.

Hope you download the trial to try Sharpen AI out at least and if you own Infocus, definitely download it and check it out. Have a good week! …..Digital Lady Syd


Image of a Gecko at the Jacksonville Zoo
As promised last week, here is the second new (to me) vignette technique that I am using all the time now. It works really well when you have a single subject like this Henkel’s Leaf Tailed Gecko image taken at the Jacksonville Zoo. This technique was demonstrated by Unmesh Dinda’s (the new PS guru who has so many tricks up his sleeve that I can’t keep up with his posts) excellent video called How to Match Subject and Background – Part 1. You can really drive the vignette towards your subject very easily.

First I am going to list the steps for this workflow – once you do it a couple times, it becomes very easy to do:

1. Select a Levels Adjustment Layer and set the Output Levels to 0 and roughly 90 – 100 – really darkens down the image.
2. Create a large, hard edged round brush – mine is set to Size 1900 pixels, Hardness 100%, and Opacity and Flow at 100%. If you plan on using this vignette often, it would be a good idea to save the brush settings as a Brush Preset.
3. Set the color swatch to black and click one time on your subject in the Levels layer mask with the new brush.
4. Select the Transform command (CTRL+T) and pull out the white circle to fit the subject more closely. It can be rotated and distorted to fit the area to keep clear of the vignette.
5. Next click in the Properties tab (the black round hole in a white square icon) for the Levels Adjustment Layer and set the Feather to 350-500 pixels – very large and soft. Can Free Transform again if it does not look correct.
6. Adjust the layer opacity if effect too dark.

You can see the way the vignette is centered on the little flat hand on the glass and his head. I wanted to emphasize the interesting background pattern that comes from the right corner also. This type of vignette was exactly what was needed – 500 pixel feather was used on this image and set to 59% layer opacity.


Image of a Ring-tailed Lemur at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
This ring-tailed Lemur whose image was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (he definitely looks like he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar!) also uses this same technique. Very little was done to this image other than using Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website info) Studio’s wonderful AI Clear to sharpen him up a little, and a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to even out the colors a little (see a nice video by Blake Rudis called Color Toning in Photoshop with Gradient Maps and Soft Light Blend Mode where you can download 26 gradients to use with this technique – I used his Gray Gradient 23 for this image which gave it this lovely warm tone). Last step was the Vignette Effect set to a 386 pixel Feather in the Properties Panel. The vignette color was changed to a brownish tone sampled from the image. To do this, a Solid Color Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+ALT between the layers or can go to Layer -> Create Clipping Mask with the Solid Color Fill Adjustment Layer highlighted) to the Levels Adjustment Layer. It is fun to try different colors to see if one really makes the image pop. The Levels Adjustment Layer was then set to 84% layer opacity. I think it was a nice addition for this particular image’s vignette.


Image of a Great Egret getting ready to take off at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
This beautiful Great Egret was in the mist of taking off (the Rookery is getting very busy at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm) when I caught this snapshot – it was not processed using LR/ACR – but just Topaz Studio’s AI Clear and Topaz Adjust was used to get the pretty details in the wings. There was a little blue haloing in the sky area so it was changed using one of my blog techniques called A New Look at Chromatic Aberration where a Gaussian Filter is applied to remove it. The vignette was added as a last step with the Feather set to 200 pixels.

My three previous vignette blogs were from PS guru Matt Kloskowski using his very good technique (How to Create a Subtle Vignette blog), Blake Rudis’ using a very creative technique (Yet Another Great Way to Create a Vignette! blog), and using a Lightroom/ACR technique called Another Great Vignette Method by Jesus Ramirez. Hopefully out of these four very different types of vignettes, you will never have a problem with finding the correct vignette for each of your images. Have a great week – Spring is almost here!……Digital Lady Syd

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