How to Use a Selection to Draw Focus in an Image
Every now and then I come across a new technique that totally blows me away. That is what happened last weekend as I was listening to Creative Live‘s workshop by Yervant, a very prestigious Australian wedding photographer, on Shooting and Designing Wedding Albums (click link for DVD course info). Creative Live always has top-notch presenters, and even though I am not a wedding photographer, I like to tune in when I am just playing in Photoshop (I have two monitors so it is easy to do!) Yervant uses different Photoshop techniques, and this is one that is working quite well for me. The Windsor Castle guard image is my first attempt at using the selection technique I am sharing today. This actually is a very similar process to David Nightingale’s Curves technique (see my Using Curves Adjustment Layers to Get Rid of Shadows and Highlights blog). But instead of using Curves Adjustment Layers to even out tone, Levels Adjustments Layers are used – and what makes this technique so effective is the use of a Feather to blend in changes subtly. Below is the original image that was brought into Photoshop from Lightroom. The image was first treated in Lightroom with a beautiful free preset called The 70’s Look by Matt Kloskowski, one of the Photoshop Guys at NAPP.
This technique contains just a few steps.
1. Do all your basic corrections in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. In Photoshop remove any obstructions, etc.
2. Next create a flattened image or a stamped layer on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) to use as a basis for the next few steps.
3. With the Lasso Tool (or any selection tool you like), create a selection around an area that needs some lighting correction. In the image above, I started with selecting the window in the upper left over the guard’s hat.
4. Go to Select -> Modify -> Feather (SHIFT+F6) and enter an amount to use on your selection to blend in the changes. A basic amount of 200 pixels is a good starting point – the size of the selection will determine how big the feather will be. If the feather size makes the selection area too small so it no longer covers the area you want selected, CTRL+Z (Undo) and reduce the size of the feather. For the window, a Feather size of 100 px was used. The doorway through the walkway used a feather setting of 200 pixels.
5. CTRL+J and place the selection on its own layer. Now would be a good time to name the layer.
6. Add a Levels Adjustment Layer and clip it to the selection layer (ALT+click between the layers). Move the Midtone slider either right or left depending on whether you are trying to lighten or darken the selection. The black or white end tabs can be moved to clip some of the colors. Also the Output tabs can be adjusted to get just the right blend. The adjustment layer opacity can be reduced if the effect is overdone.
7. Next a Color Balance Adjustment Layer can be clipped above the Levels Adjustment Layer to get the color correct and was done in the case of his red jacket. It also works very nicely on skin to get a nice color. Hue/Saturation, Brightness and Contrast, and Vibrance are other Adjustments Layers that work nicely with this technique.
For this image, the wall on the right through the doorway was over exposed with light – a selection of this area was made and with Levels Adjustment Layer it was darkened, and then a Color Balance Adjustment Layer was used to match the color in the image. The whole image used 6 Levels Adjustment Layers to get the total color and tone corrections.
This really gives nice results on any kind of image – landscape or portrait. Very localized selections can be made to make an area have exactly the correct tone and color needed to draw the eye into a certain part of the image. The image below was taken several years ago while visiting at the The Roman Baths at Bath. The water is approximately 114 degrees – that’s hot! This image was processed exactly the same way as the one above and also used 9 Levels Adjustment Layers. It was a lot of work, but it ended up as a beautiful intimate image that I would not have used otherwise.The trick is to work your way around the image darkening areas that are distracting or lightening areas you want more detail in. On a complicated image I found it helps to put each area into a group or at least name your layers so you know what area it contains. Then the groups can be easily moved or stacked in a logical order since every time you copy your selection, it is placed directly above the composite layer. If you notice you are not getting a change, you probably have another one covering up the one you are working on so you will need to move the layers or groups around.
Usually the last step is to add a Vignette using the Rectangular (or Elliptical) Marquee Tool. Create a rectangle (or oval) inside your image, set the Feather to 300 pixels, invert the selection by going to Select -> Inverse (CTRL+SHIFT+I), and go to Levels Adjustment Layer and adjust the Midtones slider and black tab to get a nice darkish vignette.
Here is a screenshot of the original image (the layers are all turned off but the original layer) as it was brought into Photoshop from Lightroom with just the straightening, cropping, and basic sliders adjustments applied to the RAW file. The layer structure is shown on the right – the reflection and pool group was opened to show how the adjustments fit onto the selection layer. Click on image to see the layer list more clearly.
This little boy is my last example – taken several years ago in London. Loved the tired look! This image used the same process as the others. In this case 9 Levels Adjustment Layers were added along with Vibrance and Hue/Saturation Adjustments Layers. A vignette was created just focusing on the little boy’s face, which could be adjusted to get just the right amount of color on the face.
I think what I like best about this technique is that it is very subtle – you can leave the details in areas but really quiet down the colors so they don’t draw the eye away from the focus. Or vice versa as in the image above where the stonework is so beautiful behind the people and it is an area you want to slightly emphasize.
I love this technique, especially on people images. Yervant uses this technique very effectively on portraits and his bridal images are gorgeous – he does a great job of really showing you how to do this technique (and several others) on all kinds of images on his DVD at CreativeLive. I was very surprised how the color in the image is very exact and the focus using the vignette is spot on. Definitely a new technique to add to your Photoshop arsenal…..Digital Lady Syd