HOW TO USE A BLACK & WHITE ADJUSTMENT LAYER TO SEE CONTRAST IN AN IMAGE
Now that I have been doing digital painting for a while, I am finding that the painting is only just a part of what has to be done to create a great image. This week I thought I would just cover a few of the techniques that are helping me get the contrast, and therefore the focal point, of my image exactly where I want it. The image above is of a house perched on a bluff in one of my very favorite places I have visited – St. Andrews, Scotland. This shot was actually taken from the ruins of St. Andrews Castle and the hills in the background are where the famous golf course is located. What a place to call home! This image actually took me out of my comfort zone a little due to the different color palette I chose, but I think I got across the effect I wanted in the painting. Recently I purchased Karen Sperling’s Landscape Painting brushes and video access. I am finding I like her style of painting – a bit more in line with what I like to do with my paintings. I am still enjoying painting more abstract looks too. Her brushes also work really well for me, and it was easy to follow her video steps to get some good results. But after painting, I was not sure about the focal point results. So we all know in most cases dark areas draw the eye as this is where the contrast in the image will appear. And logically the focal point will be somewhere around that area(s). Jason Maranto in his You Tube video series called Color For Painters has some great tips for understanding this concept. One of his suggestions is to make your image a black & white to accurately see where the contrast is going to be. He also stated that 95% of our color perception is based on the value – defined as everything between the darkest darks to the lightest lights in the image. So using Jason’s suggestion, a temporary Black and White Adjustment Layer was used in Photoshop to get this result shown below. In this original B&W image, to me the eye goes straight to the dark part on the cliff, and secondarily to the lightest areas are on the house. I had originally thought the house would be my focal point. As you can see above it does stand out some, but the dark bushes are showing up even stronger. So as an aside, how did I get this rather wild color scheme? In Corel Painter 2015, you can add image sources to use for cloning colors other than the original ones. By adding Topaz (see website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) ReStyle into the Effects, different color themes can be observed without ever applying them to your image yet. (To add this filter, the Topaz ReStyle folder has to be copied into the Corel Program Files Plugins folder.) The Orange Peel preset was selected which created warm orange and yellow tones in a new source in the Clone Source Panel. I really like that you can change colors and see results before putting all that time into the painting. Also just the standard Basic Paper with the default settings were used in Painter. Once the image was painted, the white house sort of faded away a little. Here is the screenshot view after the image was painted showing the different values in the image. You can see the house does not appear quite so bright and the bushes are really popping. The dark bushes sort of scream focal point to me. I really wanted to show the connection of the stairs in the image as I could imagine myself climbing down them. Where my problem occurred was that the stairs did not exactly show up and did not fall on a point when following the Rule of Thirds. Instead the dark bushes lie exactly on a point. Note below that by selecting the Crop Tool and clicking in the options bar, the Triangle ratio (by opening up the drop-down, more options are available if the Rule of Thirds does not fit your image) actually fits this image and shows both the house and the dark bush as the focal points with the stairs sitting closely on the diagonal. The diagonal does works in this image and may explain why the composition does not look so unbalanced. Therefore, before cropping down your image, check out the other options to see if possibly the image is actually composed correctly or may give you a better crop choice. In this case, no crop was necessary. To try to further emphasize the focal points and diagonal, a few more steps were done. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) that was turned into a Smart Object, the Camera Raw filter was opened and a Graduated Filter was used to darken just the sky so house stands out a little more – the house and hillside were painted back so the filter did not affect these areas. The dark bush area was still too over-powering. A New Layer was created to paint in a little more detail in the dark areas to break it up a little and add some interest. Next a light orange Overlay was loaded and set to Lighten blend mode at 35% layer opacity to lighten it up a little more – a black layer mask was added and only the dark contrast areas were painted back to soften and lighten this area. On another stamped layer Nik Viveza 2 was opened and control points were added to the dark areas where a little brightness and saturation was added in the dark areas. After this, a New Layer was added and the Sharpen Tool was used to sharpen the detail the fence area and steps a little more. Whew! These little tweaks can make all the difference in the image, but it takes a while to figure out which ones work. This image is of a beautiful Roseate Spoonbill that was doing a little photo shoot for me at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery a few weeks ago. I am assuming this is a female and she was actually busy at work setting up her household for the new babies, but took a moment to show off her beautiful spring fashion look. This image was also painted initially in Painter. I used one of Karen Sperling’s really nice brushes from her Portrait Painting set to get that feathery look, and basically hand-painted the whole image. Back in Photoshop a lot was done as I wanted a sort of illustrative feel to this one. Just used a Smudge Brush to really smooth out the distracting body lines. Nik Color Efex Pro was used and one of my favorite filters, White Neutralizer, was applied to tie the colors in better. As you can see below a Selective Color Adjustment Layer was added to tweak the Red-Pink colors to the exact colors I wanted. Then I applied the Black and White Adjustment Layer. The head and eye area did not stand out that great so I just started dragging in the image to get the contrast effect I liked. The white on her back was calmed down a little also. As you can see, the mask was turned to black and I painted back just the areas I wanted enhanced – that is the eye and head. Turned the layer to Soft Light and there is my painted Spoonbill as seen above! As you can see, I had to use some different tricks to get this one to come out the way I wanted. Below is the screenshot of the final image in black and white so you can see the contrast in the image and that the head is the now the more prominent area and the white back not so distracting. There are a several other ways the color and saturation of parts of an image can be controlled. Color Balance Adjustment Layer or Curves Adjustment Layers used to lighten or darken different area by painting in black layer masks can really guide the eye through image and are easy to do. I use every trick I can find! Each image is so different. I think it is definitely a good first step to open a Black and White Adjustment Layer to see where your contrast really sits in the image, and then try to use it to your advantage. And it is not a bad idea to do it again after you have added your creative techniques to make sure the value did not change As in the spoonbill image, I actually added to my mage the Black & White Adjustment Layer to adjust the contrast correctly. Hope you get a chance to use this technique. I am trying to get in the habit of doing this regularly. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs: What About This Focal Point Issue?