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Image of two baby Great Egrets in a nestWell, these two little guys were just adorable. This shot was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm‘s famous Rookery. I was surprised how newborn they looked. If you get in the St. Augustine area in the April/May time slot and you love bird photography, there is just no better place to go. It is crazy with birds, people, tripods, and did I say kids, but you can still get some really nice shots.

This blog is about getting rid of the ugly natural backgrounds that often surround these beautiful creatures and totally distract the eye. One of the first things you need to think about is getting a texture that sort of matches what you are trying to block out. You want the texture to fit in seamlessly so that you do not notice when looking at the photo that a texture is even there. Below is what my image Background layer looked liked after the tone was adjusted a little and a huge crop was done in Lightroom. The mother egret’s leg is actually just to the left of the crop.

Original image of baby egrets before post processingI found the large branch behind the birds along with the over-sharpened next branches to be a bit overwhelming for this image. I wanted a bit of a painterly look to the image, but too much would just take away from the subjects which were so natural and nice already. Therefore there is one person who has the most beautiful natural textures for images that you can find and her name is Jai Johnson. She has several that can be downloaded for free, including the one that was used in this image, and it is definitely worth your time to look at all of her collections. She takes the most incredible bird and nature images and almost always blends in one of her beautiful textures to enhance the images. The one used in this image is called emeraldgreen-canvas and it matched the background and green colors of the original image very nicely.

Once the texture is placed into your image, put the texture underneath the image and add a layer mask to the image. Jai says there is more control by putting the texture under the image and then removing the image background in the layer mask. In my case, I like filling the mask with black by CTRL+I inside the mask and just painting back what I want showing. Since you cannot see where the objects are with a black mask, go to the Properties Panel and reduce the Density slider until you see what you need (I used 82%). TIP: To keep from accidentally painting on your image instead of your layer mask, click on the image thumbnail and click on the Lock Image Pixels icon, 2nd Lock icon at top of Layer Panel. Now you are unable to paint in the image. Just Unlock to open it up if you need to. Do some painting with white in the mask and then put the Density back up to 100%. Any brush can be used to add the paint into the layer mask where you want a little painterly effect. The Brush Opacity and Flow on the Options Bar can be adjusted to get really nice blended fits into the image. For the mask above, I painted with a My Chalk Brush around the birds. (Photoshop’s Chalk 60 brush and in the Brush Panel set size to 200 pixels and in the Shape Dynamics section set the 19%.) Then used a Brush Opacity of 100% and Flow of 3% to paint around the bird feathers in the layer mask. I use a very tiny brush size to do this – definitely under 10 pixels and sometimes just 1 or 2 to get the coverage I want. Lightly paint over the feather’s edges. Set Brush Opacity to 30% and Mode to Multiply for painting in nest area in front so the white feathers are not painted over but the nest twigs picked up the slight color texture color and were softened. Since this texture was similar to what was really in the original background, it blended very nicely.

Next Mixer Brushes were used on New Layers above to just blend the bird hairs back into the background. I like to use separate layers for each brush I use – just be sure that Sample All Layers is checked. Many people just paint directly on top of a duplicated image to give it the painterly feel. I like to have the option to adjust the painted layer or erase if something looks bad. In this case a Chalk brush mixer was used as a blender so no color was added (Load Brush after each stroke is turned off), a Soft round brush blender mixer, and a Wax Crayon mixer brush used to add paint back in were used to create the effect. I am working on creating some good Mixer brushes to share, but I would suggest you try some of Photoshop’s mixers for now as some of them are very nice.

An Exposure Adjustment Layer was used to sharpen the eyes by first selecting the eyes (I used the Quick Selection Tool or Q), and then opened the Exposure Adjustment Layer – the selection goes right into the mask. The Gamma slider and Exposure sliders were used to sharpen the eyes just a bit. Next a Curves Adjustment Layer was added to add contrast. The last step was using Nik Viveza 2 to draw the eye to the babies.
Image of a leopard and snakeThis image is of a scene that was set up at the Native American Festival in Ormond Beach earlier this year. Before adding the texture, Topaz Clarity was used to give some detail in my subjects. (Settings for SJ Good Bird Preset: Clarity Dynamics Micro Contrast 0.80, Low Contrast 0.91, Medium Contrast -0.62, and High Contrast -0.80.) The layer mask was once again used to start the painterly brush effect.  Next Jai Johnson’s subtlenature-canvas layer was placed in the image. This texture technique Jai Johnson explained very nicely in her Peach Blush Texture Demonstration video. She uses Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) FXLabs interface but the principles can still be applied on a Photoshop layer mask. Once again adjusting the Brush Opacity and Flow was used to create the more painterly looking edges. In this layer mask, a Soft (same as Hardness at 0) Round Brush set to 100% Brush Opacity and a Flow of 1.00 was used to do the large brush strokes in the layer mask to remove the image background. I keep painting back and forth between the black and white colors using the Brush Opacity at 96% and the Flow at 5%. Need to keep flow under 6 or 7% to soften the hard edges on the image. Already the image had a very nice soft look and you could stop here. I also found that I liked the Density slider at 82% in the Properties Bar so it was left there. Jai duplicates the texture layer and puts it on top with a different blend mode. Once you get the background the way you want, there are many other choices you have to finish up the image. In my case New Layers were added again to add even more of a painterly effect. Above the eyes were sharpened with the Exposure Adjustment Layer, applied Nik Viveza 2 to even out the color, and added a vignette using the Curves Adjustment Layer.

I hope this gave you some ideas on how to blend in those backgrounds really nicely – the Flow is a major player when getting that natural look in your images along with a good Mixer Brush. I appreciate Jai shared her insights on how to do this. Have a very Happy Holiday – I may take a few weeks off to try and catch up. See ya soon!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
What Does the Flow Slider in the Options Bar Do?
Taking Off From the Rookery Runway


Image of painted purple hydrangeaI have been painting in Corel Painter more but finding I just have to use Photoshop to finish up most of my work. This can be frustrating because as we all know, Painter excels with their hundreds of brushes and usually the strokes and dabs look much better when created in Painter. Therein lies my dilemma. How do I clean up some mis-strokes when I am in PS so that you can’t tell the clean up was done.

I have been working on a brush all week and a lot of the best results came from the PS Brush Panel’s Texture section settings. If you understand this section, you can create some really nice brushes for smoothing out hard edges or blending texture into a big splotches of paint.

Some Important Brush Panel Notes:

  • The Brush Panel in Photoshop is often called the Brush Engine as it is in Painter.
  • Also when creating a new brush, be sure to actually click on each brush section name to open it up. By clicking on the check box, the existing settings from the last brush used will be applied to it. This can wreak havoc on a brush!
  • Texture and Pattern can mean the same thing, depending on what you are doing in Photoshop (and Painter). A texture is really a texture that you are adding in as a layer to an image and usually have .jpg or .png file extensions. A texture can be a pattern when using the Paint Panel’s Texture Section, the swatches as shown below are actually patterns and will have a .pat extension. To convert a texture to a pattern, open the Texture in PS, and to a Pattern, go to Edit -> Define Pattern – a Rectangular Marquee Selection can be made of just part of the texture to use as a pattern also. It will now appear at the end of your Patterns list.

Brush Panel Texture Section Basics

Below is what the Texture section looks like when the brush created was used to clean up the above hydrangea image. See My Pastel Brush Settings section below for all the original brush settings – it is a favorite of mine to just paint with, without these Texture settings. The new settings are also listed again if you would like to create the brush.
Screenshot of Brush Panel Texture SectionAs you can see in the image, the Painter strokes created a lot of differing and textured swirls within this image. When the image was opened in Photoshop for final processing, I looked at the strokes more closely. Several looked too sharp – too much bristle or sketch-looking lines – and did not blend well with the other parts of the image.

The brush created was for adding texture into painted areas to either soften edges or add some interest. This is done in PS by adding one of the same patterns already listed in the drop-down (click on down arrow to left of pattern swatch to open up).  This is the same pattern list used with the Pattern Fill Adjustment Layer, Layer Style Pattern Overlay Section, Bevel & Emboss Texture Section, and Stroke Section. Here are a few of my Obsidian Dawn patterns shown in my drop-down list below.
Screenshot of pattern drop-down Menue in Texture SectionA colored pattern can work in the brush if it has lots of contrast, which is determined not by the color saturation but the light and dark tones. The black and white patterns seem to be the best choices. The texture used in this brush was called 12 and the link is in brush settings section below. The pattern had a nice contrast to it and created an interesting texture in the stroke. The pattern may not be visible in the stroke preview at all until the following section sliders are adjusted.

The Scale can be adjusted to get a bigger or smaller pattern size. If you make it too small, a repeat pattern line in larger brush strokes may be seen, so watch out for this. When the pattern is added and no change is visible, try adjusting the Brightness slider first and watch the Preview for a change. The Contrast can help but it is not usually as noticeable. The Mode can make a big difference. Try all the different modes as they sometimes give drastically different results. The Preview will show these differences. The Depth, Minimum Depth (must set a Control to use this slider), and Depth Jitter (randomness) sliders can also add some major texture contrast, especially on the edge of the stroke. Overall adding texture to a brush requires a lot of tweaking, but when you get a good result, it is so rewarding and helpful to have.

How to Paint with This Brush

Now that you have a brush you like, here are a couple little tips for using it. Since you are using a texture (pattern) in your brush, it can make your computer use a lot of ram to keep up with your stroking since most of the time the Texture Each Tip box is on. This means it is applying the texture to each stroke laid down. Try increasing the spacing just a bit – usually this will not make a very noticeable change and speeds up the stroking. Since I have an older computer, CS6 runs much smoother when painting with a textured brush. It can also help to change your image to 8-bit mode if having problems.

Next point, if you want to just smooth some of the strokes with this brush, sample the color you are painting on (ALT+click on spot). If you want to add a little texture to the stroke, just sample a similar color nearby or go a lighter or darker using the color swatch. This is how I mainly added the soft color in some of the larger areas of this image. This brush can be used without the Texture Section checked to make a much more smooth stroke for color clean up or sharp edges.

Sometimes a funny color results if you are painting on a layer that is underneath an adjustment layer. That’s because you are technically sampling All Layers even though it is not shown in the Options Bar. Either need to turn off the adjustment layers above and sample the colors before the adjustments layers were added, or create a stamped version (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) on top and then add the New Layer for painting on. Now the sampled colors will be as you adjusted them. The stamped layer can then be deleted but the colors will stay correct.

Why Not Use the Smudge Brush or the Mixer Brush?

The Smudge brush does some wonderful things, but there is no access to the Texture Section in the Brush Panel for Smudge brushes (only Basic Tip Shape and Shape Dynamics can be adjusted with a Smudge Brush and no color can be laid down, only get blending). The Mixer brushes work very well but I find it takes a lot of experimenting to get the exact stroke needed. Since what I needed was a quick little clean up brush, this seemed a bit like over-kill unless it is needed for some fine art.

My Pastel Brush Settings

I really like the shape of this brush – as a starter it is very textured and makes a nice subtle rough edge with the dab. The new brush used in my image and in this blog was called SJ Pastel 3-painting texture adder2 (I do not remember why I named it Pastel 3 since it used their Pastel 11???). Both the new brush and my original brush (called SJ Pastel 3 Use) used this wonderful dab (tip shape of brush – similar to a captured dab type in Painter) can be found in SDW Pastel Brushes set as Pastel 11 brush. I listed my settings. I also created brushes using their Pastel 5 brush – try this one out for a good experiment – slightly different dab shape. I am not exactly sure this qualifies as a true pastel brush since the Erodible Tips are often used for pastel effects.

Brush Tip Shape:
Size: It opens up at a huge 2130 px brush! Here are the settings for the other sections so you can create the same brush or use this one to try and create some better results. The original SJ Pastel 3 brush was set to 35 pixels in size. For this painting brush, the size is set to 8 pixels. I like to use a small size for clean up and this can be adjusted easily.
Angle – 137 degrees – change by moving the little circle with the arrow around
Roundness – 100% – change by moving the little dots on circle inward
Spacing – 35%

Shape Dynamics:
Size Jitter – 17% but Control on Fade
Minimum Diameter 23%
Angle Jitter – 42% and Control Off
All other settings at 0.

Texture:  For SJ Pastel 3 Use (original brush)
Pattern in drop-down:  Rough, located in PS Erodible Textures
Scale – 87%
Brightness – (-45)
Contrast – 0
Check Texture Each Tip
Mode – Multiply
Depth – 50%
Depth Jitter – 1%

Texture:  For SJ Pastel 3-painting texture adder2 (new painting brush)

Used was Pattern 21 from Obsidian Dawn’s SS-grungy-dirty-patterns set. Check out her website – one of my favorites for brushes and everything Photoshop and some good tutorials are also available.
Scale – 87%
Brightness – 101
Contrast – 60
Check Texture Each Tip
Mode – Height
Depth – 36%
Depth Jitter – 55%

Smoothing:  Always leave toggled on

Options Bar Settings

For beginning setting, the brush Options Bar shows a Mode of Normal, Opacity 67% and Flow 100% for both brushes. Need to be careful. If your brush does not act correctly, take a peek up at these settings to make sure they are set correctly.

I usually save these brushes as both Brush Tool Presets and Brush Presets. Also go into the Preset Manager and save them on your hard drive so if you lose them accidentally, they can be restored easily.

Pink Wildflowers image These pretty little wildflowers were growing on my deck a while back. They were painted in PS using the original My Pastel Brush, and then clean up using the new SJ Pastel 3 brush from above. The background was painted in Painter and added over the image. There was a lot of clean up in this image, but overall it came out pretty much how I wanted it to look.

I hope you get a chance to try out the brush and experiment making your own. It can really help to clean up those over-looked Painter mistakes without having to go back and forth into the different programs. Also it works great when painting in PS as in the wildflower image, with and without the Texture Section turned on, to clean up the layers below. Hope this gets a few people to try making their own brushes – it is so much fun!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How to Easily Create a Photoshop Brush for Painting


Image of a house on a bluff in St. Andrews, ScotlandNow 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. Screenshot of original image before paintingI 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. Screenshot of black and white value image 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. Screenshot view of the Crop ToolTherefore, 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. Image of a painted Roseate Spoonbill birdThis 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. Screenshot of B&W image of roseate spoonbill bird 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?


B&W image of several alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator FarmWow – I feel like I am jumping on the bandwagon, but I had to see for myself if the popular technique using Curves Adjustment Layers for dodging and burning is really that useful. The basic concept is to adjust at least two Curves Adjustment Layers, one to over-brighten the image and one for darkening the image. By doing localized painting on the layer masks filled to black, the effect can be painted in (dodged or burned depending on which Curves mask you are using) to add contrast exactly where needed.

These guys above were photographed at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm recently. They are hanging out waiting for an egg or baby bird to fall out of a nest from roosting birds above. It was a little creepy actually seeing them all hanging around! Anyway, this image is an example of using this dodging and burning technique, and the various workflow steps are shown. Below is an example of what the image looked like as a RAW file and after Lightroom changes were applied.

Image of RAW file and Lightroom processed fileIn Lightroom the image was turned into a black and white (set all the HSL Saturation sliders to 0, then adjusted Luminance sliders to get a nice B&W effect – tip from Jack Davis – one of my favorite Photoshop gurus) since the color did not add much interest to the image. Also a rather large crop was done to bring the focus to this specific grouping of alligators. In Photoshop Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Detail 3 was opened and my Soft Leaves preset was applied. (Settings includedDetail: Small Details -0.51, Small Details Boost -0.40, Medium Details -0.39, Medium Details Boost -0.30, Large Details -0.51, and Large Details Boost -0.42; and Tone: Exposure -0.40, Cyan-Red 0.58, Magenta-Green -0.29, and Yellow-Blue 0.31.) Below is how the image looked after the filter was applied.
Alligator Image after Topaz Detail 3 preset Soft Leaves appliedThere is now a bit of a soft magical effect – really smoothed out the water especially. A white Layer Mask was added and just detail on the alligator faces were painted back. There still is not much contrast between the background and animal bodies. So the next steps were:

  • Added two Curves Adjustment Layers – named one Darken and one Lighten.
  • Set both layers to Luminosity blend mode (more on this later).
  • To adjust the curves, clicked on icon in upper left of panel (hand with two arrows icon or TAT, Targeted Adjustment Tool). By dragging in image the area to correct, the darkening effect could be adjusted. The whole image darkened down, but that is okay as long as the area is set to the correct contrast. You can always go back and adjust the curve effect later.
  • Next this Darken layer was turned off by clicking on the eyeball in the Layer Panel so it disappears.
  • The top Lighten Curves layer was highlighted. By using the TAT to drag in parts of the alligators, the correct dodging effect could also be obtained, but the image is now over-bright.
  • Turned the Darken Curves Adjustment Layer back on.
  • Both of the adjustment layer masks were filled with black by clicking CTRL+I inside the mask itself in the Layers Panel.
  • A soft round brush set to 30% brush opacity. By painting in different areas in both curves layer masks, areas could be revealed so the alligators were contrasted and lighted just right. Since the brush is set to 30% opacity, the contrast can be gradually built-up.

See the Lighten Curves Adjustment Layer below and the two Curves Adjustment Layers with mask painted in below.

Screenshot of Lighten Curves Adjustment LayerThis turned out be quite an effective way of getting the correct brightness on the actual bodies of the alligators, and to create a nice vignette around the background of the image. The areas around the bodies of the alligators were slightly darkened just to add a little separation to make them stand out a little better. And remember that you can always go back in and change the curve(s) if the effect is too much or not enough. Also the layer mask can be adjusted in the Properties Bar with the Density and Feather sliders if more softening is needed. Last steps included a clean up layer to get rid of a few miscellaneous distracting objects, and a little selective sharpening on the faces. Now when I look at the final image I believe I am seeing in the faces and bodies of the alligators a bit of the fear they produce when you actually see one. I find them to be rather ferocious and extremely cunning animals.
Image of little white wildflowersThese little white wildflowers were growing on my back porch recently. There is no  texture in this image, just a screening effect that was behind them with green bushes growing behind the screen. Very little was done to this image. The same Topaz Detail 3’s Soft Leaves preset was used as in first image. Next the two Curves Adjustment Layers were added – the flowers were brightened using the Lighten curve and the background darkened some around the flowers using the Darken curve. On top a New Layer was created to add in more texture to match the screen effect – a basic cross-hatching brush was used to break up some of the flat color in the background. This flat effect seems to be a pitfall if too much darkening and lightening is added in large areas with the curves – everything can start to get a little bit murky in color if not controlled carefully. That is why a layer with some detail was added over it above and set to Screen blend mode at 39% layer opacity. It now appears more interesting and less flat to me.

Bottom Line

There are many dodging and burning techniques. If you are comfortable with one of them, it is fine to keep using that technique. I believe the two curves technique is so popular because it is very easy and quick to do. I found it useful for a fairly large area(s) to adjust. For example, in the alligator image above, the alligators and the background were very similar in tone (and color in the color version) so a fairly large area needed to be slightly darkened behind the alligators to make them stand out. Similar issue for the flowers – the screen was very busy so by darkening the background and lightening the flowers, they stand out much better. If you need just a small area(s) darkened or lightened, use the Dodge and/or Burn Tools – they are pretty good in recent versions of Photoshop. (See Scott Kelby’s blog Using the Dodge and Burn Tools for more info on this.) My favorite for detail areas is one I blogged on a long time ago called The Best Dodging and Burning Technique!

Ben Wilmore, another Photoshop guru, teaches the ins-and-outs of Curves Adjustments better than anyone else. After trying out the two curves technique, I realized that I had used it several times before without realizing I was actually dodging and burning in the image! Ben said that using a Darken Curves Adjustment Layer can darken a sky, for example. Therefore, by setting the Curves Adjustment Layer to Luminosity blend mode, the colors will not shift but stay set at their original color. So if you are worried about a color shift resulting, just use Luminosity blend mode and there will be no change in color.

Some good recent resources on this technique are from Blake Rudis’s Everyday HDR video called Curves Layer Dodge and Burn in Photoshop. Also Julia Kuzmenko McKim uses it to retouch faces in a very natural way. Check out her wonderful, very detailed, 3-part article called The Ultimate Guide to the Dodge and Burn Technique: Curves Set Up and More.

I would suggest you give the Curves Adjustment Layer Dodging and Burning technique a try since it is very easy to do. I think you will find it to be a very handy and quick technique to have at your disposal! Chat at ya later!…..Digital Lady Syd


This technique involves opening up a favorite image in any  format, and creating a color swatch from that image for use in your new creations. It is something most people do not realize can be done in Photoshop, and Corel Painter has a similar process for doing this. Apparently this option has been in Photoshop for a long time, but I just learned the basics from bittbox’s Jake Rocheleau in a blog called Build a Custom Photoshop Swatch from an Image. I am finding it is really nice to be able to sample the colors used in your favorite artist’s or photographer’s works.

Photoshop Workflow for Adding Color Swatch Sets

It is much easier to add color swatch sets in Painter (see end of blog for steps), but here are the Photoshop steps:

1.  First find an image that contains the colors you want to sample for use in your new creation. I opened up my image above to create swatch colors from since the orange colors are some of my favorites.

2. Now open up the Swatches Panel (Window -> Swatches) in Photoshop. Click on the pop-out menu at the upper-right hand corner of the panel, select Save As and name your original swatches – I usually save with the date in it like 042515 Swatches in a file folder on my desktop called Photoshop Presets. This way, if you want to return to your originally loaded swatch colors easily, all you do is replace the current with the original ones you just saved. See below for more on the pop-out menu.

3. Go to Image -> Mode -> Indexed Color and select Local (Perceptual), which uses the color spectrum where the human eye is most sensitive. (Local-Selective optimizes colors for the web and Local-Adaptive reproduces the colors that occur most often in the image – other options to try.) In dialog make sure other drop-down fields are set to None (Forced, Matte and Dither). Now go to Colors field and try different amounts. This will be a live preview so depending on the number chosen determines how your image looks and how many swatches will be produced. For example, if set to 10 (see top image below), there are just a few colors shown in the image and only 10 color swatches will be made; set to 256 will give 256 color swatches and probably some colors that look very similar (see bottom image below).

Screenshot of Indexed Color Table dialog

4. Unfortunately we are not done – one would hope they would just load into the panel, but they do not. Go to Image -> Mode -> Color Table. There are now 256 swatches from the image since 256 Colors were entered in Step 3. (See image below.) You can delete some colors in the table by clicking on the eyedropper and then on colors you do not like or appear to be duplicated. This can also be done later so I did not do this now. The Color Table needs to be named (mine was named Mums for Painter) and in the Save Type As select .ACT file format. The image can be closed at this point.

5. Back in the Swatches pop-out menu, select Replace Swatches and in Load dialog, above the word Load button, change Swatches (.ACO) to Color Table (.ACT), which was the only file extension allowed in Step 4), and click Load button. If you want to change the ACT file to an ACO file, can now go into the pop-out menu and select Save Swatches and the file format will change to ACO. I do not know why there are two different extensions in this process as it is confusing. Just know that both ACT and ACO file extensions are color swatches.

The Swatches Pop-Out Menu:

  • Select Replace Swatches to change from the original or current swatches to new one created.
  • If you choose Load Swatches, the new ones will load underneath the current swatches already showing.
  • Choose Reset Swatches to select the default color swatches that come with Photoshop. A choice comes up to either replace, or append the swatches which adds them at the bottom.
  • Select Save Swatches to back up the ones already loaded so they can be restored at a later date or to change the Color Table (ACT) file extension to Swatches (ACO) file extension.

If you find color swatches you want to remove, or if appended and want to change the swatch order, there is an easy way to do this. The Preset Manager can be used to do this. To open it, go to Edit -> Presets -> Preset Manager, or the easiest way to do this is to open the Brush Panel or Brush Picker Panel and click the Open Preset Manager icon at bottom of each (2nd icon over). In the drop-down Presets field at top, select Swatches. To remove a swatch color, click on the color to remove and then the Delete button. Also by CTRL or SHIFT clicking on the colors, you can remove a large group number of colors or drag and move them into a different order. I find this much easier than doing this while creating the Color Table. The Preset Manager will also save several swatch sets together into one set.

The colors from your selected image are now available to use in new creations by just sampling the color swatches while painting. Below is an image used recently in my Tidbits Blog (see Springtime Wishes from Betsy) where I had set up three of my favorite images into a Color Swatch set in the Preset Manager. Using this grouping of colors seems to be improving my color choices since these colors all seem to go together nicely. The three images whose colors I created my Color Swatch set were from: Wild Roses and Irises by John La Farge, Sunrise by Phil Sabado (apparently the Sunrise painting is not circulation anymore but all his art is beautiful so his website is linked), and The Picnic Party by Jack Vetriano. The tree colors are definitely from Wild Roses and Irises and the soft reed colors are from The Picnic Party. I am using these specific swatches a lot for my creative images. Also, if you find you want to add a color not in the loaded Color Swatch set, at bottom of the Swatches Panel click the first icon, Create New Swatch of Foreground Color or right click in swatches and select Add New Preset – it loads at the end of color swatches. Right click on a color and select Delete Swatch to remove it.

Screenshot of my color swatches for an image

This image below was also from my Tidbits Blog (see A Wintry Scene) and used the same Color Swatch set. This time different green colors were used. The dark colors picked up the greenish dark tones and even the sky tends toward the cooler colors  that improved the overall color quality.

Image of a Wintry Scene that I painted

How To Create Swatches in Corel Painter

In Painter they are called Color Set Libraries instead of Color Swatches or Color Tables. Open the image in Painter that you want to use for sampling from the color swatches. Go to Window -> Color Panel -> Color Set which puts Color Set Libraries panel on your screen. Click in the upper right pop-out menu of panel and select New Color Set from Image. Name and select the number of colors, just like in Photoshop’s Indexed Color dialog box. Say okay and it automatically adds the swatches to the bottom of the Color Sets listed. To remove, just click on pop out and select Color Set Libraries – just remove the check mark by clicking on it and it disappears. This is much easier to create your swatches than in Photoshop, but it is harder to remove colors you do not want to keep as there is no Preset Manager – icons at the bottom of panel must be used. I do not use this feature as much in Painter since there are several other ways to sample colors (for example, loading the artist’s image in the Mixer Pad, using it as a Reference Image, or adding it as a source in Clone Panel).


The swatches are not that hard to create and can be loaded for use whenever you want that color theme for your new painting. It is great Photoshop will create the colors in famous paintings to let you actually get the exact color for the blacks and light colors that they used. Just using the wrong colors in a black can totally ruin an image. I hope you will try making a few Color Swatch sets of your favorite paintings and images. You may find you get some great combinations that will really improve the color in your new creations. Until next time…..Digital Lady Syd


Image I painted of some reeds on a textured backgroundThis week I wanted to go over a couple little painting tricks I have learned in the past few weeks from Aaron Blaise’s brush videos that are pretty darn cool. The image above contains a technique for adding depth to the individual stroke(s) and therefore an image. By locking down the transparent pixels and painting with brushes using different blend modes, you can get a natural looking effect on just part of the stroke. This technique has a bit of the Dodge and Burn Tools feel to it, but I am finding it is much more controllable and realistic looking using this method.

For starters, this image was painted in Photoshop mainly using these free Frostbo Grass Set 2 brushes. On several separate layers, the two brushes created last week are in this image along with Frostbo’s Grass 008 brush for the small colorful grass in front. All I did was make sure that Scattering was turned off in the Brush Engine as I did not want grass strokes everywhere. (See my How to Create a Magical Feel in Photoshop blog.) Next in Corel Painter on a New Layer placed just above the Canvas (know as the  Background layer in Photoshop) an Impasto texture was painted with an Impasto Brush and using the soft orange analogous color that blended nicely with my other colors. (Note: I could have placed any texture above the background layer while still in Photoshop.) Then back into Photoshop to do the final tweaking.

The Painter layers were placed in a group together so they could be found quickly if needed later. The different brush strokes on their own layers can now locked so just the transparent pixels are locked. This way only the strokes already laid down are affected by the new brush strokes being painted on top. Now any other brush can be set to a different blend mode to get different tones and color effects on the objects.  And this can be done using several times on the same stroke using different colors, brushes, and brush modes. In the case of the large reeds in front, a duplicate layer was created (and the original turned off so if you make a mistake you can turn it copy it again) and locked. A Soft Round Airbrush (150 pixels) was set to Multiply mode in the Options Bar and 71% Layer Opacity. By painting over the reeds in different colors, you can make them slightly darker getting parts of the stroke to recede or blend giving the impression of shadows and blending back into the image. This is such a subtle but very effective technique to really soften areas you do not want so emphasized.

Multiply, Overlay, and Color Dodge Brushes

It took me a while to get the actual workflow down as it varies slightly each time you do it. But here is what I figured out:

1. Always duplicate the layer you are going to work on in case you make a mistake and want to start over – and turn off the eyeball of the original layer you are working on.

2. Near the top in the Layers Panel click on the first icon next to the word Lock – it is called Lock Transparent Pixels.

3. Decide what you want to do – Darken part of the strokes, lighten part of the strokes, or really brighten up an area. The settings will change depending upon what you want to do. Aaron started with selecting one of Photoshop’s soft edges Airbrushes and setting it to around 150 pixels and a brush opacity between 50 and 100%. Turn on the Pressure for Opacity icon (next to the brush opacity field).

— To darken parts of your strokes to make them recede into the image and appear more like a shadow, start with these settings:  Multiply blend mode and select a mid-gray to a darker color for the foreground color. Also use this brush if strokes are too light in your object. Can increase brush opacity to make the effect more obvious.

— To brighten up anything underneath the stroke layer, set the brush to Overlay mode and use a bright color. Can also work by setting to a darker color to darken a little. Try experimenting with the grayish tones for this brush.

— To really brighten up an area, set the brush mode to Color Dodge and use a low brush opacity like 6%, although I am finding I use sometimes as much as 60% for a really sunny look. Select a light color for the foreground color like a white or light color tone. Paint over grass to lighten it up for example. If using on water and want a more reflective look, set the brush opacity to 35%.

The above settings are not static, just a beginning point so adjust to increase or decrease the effects. Note that you do not have to use an Airbrush if you want to add a texture feel to an object. Just switch to a brush you like. You may also want to turn off the Pressure for Opacity icon if not using the Airbrush. Aaron used one of his twig brushes for paint and smudging several times. This can give some very different looks with different colors being used.
Image I created called My Countryside WorldHere is another example using all the techniques above. You should be able to see the Color Dodge Airbrush in the top of the bush and on the edges of the tree, and the Multiply Airbrush in the shadow of the bush and the lower part of the bush. Mainly used Aaron Blaise Foliage Brush Set (his video on this technique is at bottom of link) and Kyle T. Websters Real Watercolor Brushes. I am loving both of these sets of brushes – really surprised at how much I like them. The birds were included as a png vector Crow 003 file from Zememz Crow Brush 003 for PaintShop Pro at DeviantArt. After practicing this technique a few times, I am finding it is helpful to apply the Color Dodge and Multiply brushes on your objects first, then come back and smudge them at a low brush opacity. This really softens the lines and makes them look more natural.

Smudge Brush

So what Smudge Brush did I use on this image. One that came with Kyle’s Watercolor brushes called Kyle’s Real Watercolor Soft Edger 2 set to 20% Strength. This brush was used to paint over the bush to soften the hard lines that looked unnatural. I also used a scattered Smudge Brush on the tree to add a little variation in the branches. On the mountain, Aaron’s twig brush was used to smooth it over a little and add some tone variation. As you can, the Smudge Tool is a pretty handy brush to have around. It seems that not just one will always do the trick. You can use a lot of the Photoshop brushes as Smudge brushes, so experiment and see what you get. To finish up this photo, Topaz ReStyle was applied and it just slightly popped the color. (The settings used were:  Selected Peach Puff – ReStyle section set to Overlay. In Basic Section Tone Black Level 0.34, Midtones -0.19, and White Level 0.16; and Detail Structure -0.58 and Sharpness 0.48.)

I thought this was a good time to present this technique since it is somewhat similar to the one using the Mixer Brush recently. (See How to Create a Color Palette for the Mixer Brush.) I am always looking for ways to get a unique or natural feel to my images. I am still learning how to do this more graphic expression with my art, but it is a lot of fun trying out all the different ways the experts do this. Hope you get a chance to try this – use those Frostbo brushes and try this technique out. I think you will really like it!…..Digital Lady Syd


Image of a field of flowers and a butterflyRecently I have been enjoying taking images and creating something a little different with them – I like to think of it as giving the image a “little magical” feel. This is probably because of the various new brushes recently bought or downloaded. Last week’s blog was on some new brushes I discovered and a new technique for adding some variable color to those brushes. Since the brushes seem to be a major factor to getting this magical feel, I thought I would explore some other techniques using Photoshop brushes. The image above is just a quick phone snap of some beautiful pink agapanthus (Tulbaghia violacea) growing in my neighborhood. I have to be honest and say I added the Monarch butterfly to the image to add interest – I do not believe Monarch likes this particular flower. To start my workflow, below is the original image from Lightroom and the image before adding Topaz Impression filter at the end.
Original and Image Before Topaz Impression Filter appliedAs you can see, the original image is not exactly a beautiful shot, but for some reason it just had a look that I liked. I worked with this image a long time in both Lightroom and Photoshop, and almost gave up on it – just did not work as a realistic photographic image. For the final result not much was done in Lightroom, just a little Basic slider adjusting and a little sharpening with the Adjustment Brush. In Photoshop Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Clarity was applied and then on a duplicated layer, Topaz Glow was applied and the layer set to Overlay blend mode. (See Image 1 below for settings of the these filters.) Remember these are great filters, but similar results can always be obtained in other ways like using Photoshop sharpening techniques and adjustment layers. Now a few New Layers were added on top and some different brushes were selected to fill in and add color. The image on the right shows what results were obtained by adding in different brushes in different colors and using a Topaz Glow layer. I still really like Aaron Blaise’s Foliage Brushes so several layers used his weed and reed brushes to fill in the front brown areas. Several soft strokes were also added in the mid ground and background just to add some color that was sorely missing. With his brushes, not many changes were made in the brush engine as he has done a wonderful job of setting them up to give good results.

Also used several of Deviant Art’s Frostbo Grass Set 2 brushes. (Be sure to read his usage rules for use.) Frostbo is one of my very favorite brush people and his brushes are all free – check out his other brush sets too. These 11 grass brushes were very basic and  created in an older version of Photoshop, but that makes them very easy to manipulate with the Brush Engine. Two of his brushes were manipulated and added to this image. Brush 010 was selected, and in the Brush Engine, changes were made to Frostbo’s settings: Brush Tip Shape Spacing from 25 to 1000, Size 137 to 800; Shape Dynamics Size Jitter from 51 to 0, Control Pressure Off, Min Diameter 0, Angle Jitter 2, Roundness 0, Min Roundness 0, checked Brush Projection; Scatter not used; Color Dynamics Control changed from Pen Pressure to none, Hue Jitter from 19 to 4, and Saturation Jitter from 20 to 8; and checked Wet Edges. These changes created a slightly different brush that worked better for this image. A similar change was done to Frostbo’s Brush 004. There are no additional settings applied his original brush other than the Brush Tip Shape settings of Size 154 pixels and Spacing 25%. The changes I made to this brush are: Brush Tip Shape Size 700 pixels and Spacing 331%; Shape Dynamics just Angle 4 and Check Brush Projection; Texture Scale 78% with a really obvious light and dark watercolor pattern selected, Brightness 9, Contrast 5, check Texture Each Tip, Mode Color Dodge, Depth 100%, and Depth Jitter 0; Color Dynamics check Apply Per Tip; Foreground/Background Jitter 100, no Control on, Hue Jitter 3 and all the rest o; Transfer Opacity Jitter 8% and Flow Jitter 71%; Wet Edges check on, Build-up checked on, and Smoothing checked on. This created a very different effect. Below are what the brushes looked like before changes and after changes.
Example of Frostbo brushes used in photoThe After brushes look different – not a lot different, but different. One reason is that the Brush Projection is checked in my variants so the brush stroke can be stretched or squished depending upon how you tilt and move your stylus. The bottom row shows several variations of the same brush stroke with it turned on. It can add that additional variety needed to give the random look to the brush. Just uncheck it in the Shape Dynamics section if you do not like the effect.

The Monarch butterfly (an object I had cut out of another image) was added and a layer using Kyles Real Watercolor Salt Medium brush was used to add some of the little dots throughout the middle part of the image. Any splatter brush can do this, I just liked his. A stamped layer was created (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and Nik Viveza 2 was used to bring in the butterfly as the focal point. Next more Frostbo brush strokes were added on a New Layer and set to 56% layer opacity. On another New Layer above, the feel of small blooming flowers was achieved by using Kyle’s Real Watercolor Spatter Spread Brush set to 22% layer opacity and a Bevel & Emboss Layer Style added to give a little depth to the back area. A New Layer with Kyle’s Real Watercolor Spatter Mixed brush was used to add in the circles that I just liked and set to 80% layer opacity. This is where I was at in the right image above. Not a bad look, but it still needed something. That is when Topaz Impression was added – again using one of my own presets. These settings are also listed below if you would like them. Finally a Curves Adjustment Layer was added to correct overall contrast and another one to light the middle of the image a bit more. By filling the second Curves Adjustment Layer mask to black (CTRL+I in mask), then painting back the areas to brighten with a 30% brush opacity, the effect could be localized. That was it. The image was transformed into a magical colorful field of color.

Image of Tinkerbell and a composite magical imageHere is another example that actually is very similar to the first image. This time three images were composited to get this magical effect. They are all of weeds on my back porch (no comments please) and the base image is of the center weed in front of a step up. The pretty wild flowers and the front right green were masked from their backgrounds and Refine Edge was used to clean them up. It did an amazing job as it was difficult getting all the stems in the flower looking nice. They were then arranged in the original image and just a lot of exactly the same brushes used above were used to fill in the area. Tinkerbell brush was from Camilak3 on Deviant Art and on a layer below, her skin and clothes were painted in using a watercolor brush. To get the final feel, three four filters were applied as I just could not get it looking the way I wanted. They were Topaz Glow, Nik Viveza 2, Topaz photoFXlab and Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4. I will give the preset settings below under Image 2.

One of the things I am starting to understand is that you can take any brush and basically “own it” by going into the Brush Engine and start playing. Once you like a brush, be sure to save it down as either a Brush Preset by clicking at the bottom of the Brush Panel or Brush Preset Panel, or as a Tool Preset by going to the top left of the options bar and clicking on the tiny arrow to open-click on the Tool Preset icon on right. That way your own version is ready to use over and over. There is no limitation on what you can do with a good basic brush. I have always loved my basic Chalk 60 brush – it just works for me. But now I have been experimenting with more object type brushes and they are turning out to be quite flexible when settings are changed also.

This week I just wanted to let you see how this can be done – it did take several hours to do each image, but they were a lot of fun to do. Since that is what I like to do, it was just perfect. Hope you enjoyed some of the tips and try out a little “magical look” to your images. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Image 1:  The Topaz Clarity preset is one I created called SJ White Tulip and here are the settings:  Clarity Dynamics-Micro Contrast -1.00, Low Contrast 0.05, Medium Contrast -1.00, and High Contrast 0; No Tone Levels or Hue/Sat/; and Lum Red 0.09, Yellow 0.42, Green -0.08, Blue 0.38 and all others 0.00; and Tone Level Black Level 0.11, Midtones 0.22, and White Level -0.33; and Sat Yellow 0.22, Green 0.08, Purple 1.00, and Magenta 1.00. Topaz Glow setting is also one I call SJ Mysterious II Water and here are the settings used for it: Primary Glow:  Glow Type Dark, Glow Strength 0.30, Effect Sharpness 0.63, Electrify 0.14, Simplify Details 0.17, Edge Color 0.28, Detail Strength -0.06, Detail Size 0.20, Brightness -0.56, Contrast 0.44, Saturation 0.00, Line Rotation 0.00, and Glow Spread 0.00; Secondary Glow:  Glow Type Light, Glow Strength 0.00, Effect Sharpness 0.22, Electrify 0.03, Simplify Details 0.00, Brightness 0.45, and Contrast 0.64; Color Overall – all set to 0; Red Sat 0.34; Orange Sat 0.33; Yellow Sat 0.03 and Lightness -0.29; Blue Sat 0.42 and Lightness -0.43; and Magenta Sat 0.75 and Lightness -0.35.  Topaz Impression preset is one I call SJ WC like effect on bldgs – here are the settings: started with Watercolor II preset and these were the final settings: Stroke Type 04, Brush Size 0.91, Paint Volume 0.42, Paint Opacity 0.87, Stroke Width 0.33, Stroke Length 0.89, Spill 0.23, Smudge 26, Coverage 1.00, Color Overall Hue 0.15, Saturation -0.20 and Lightness 0.06; Red Sat 0.47 and 0.14; Orange Sat 0.60 and Lightness -0.42; Yellow Sat -0.33 and Lightness 0.13; Green Sat 0.20 and Lightness -0.32; and Blue Sat 0.36; Lighting Brightness -0.04, Contrast 0.39, Vignette 0, and Light Direction X0.33 and Y0.06; and Texture Strength 0.78, Size 0.30, Canvas IV, Background Type solid white, and Background color used #d38967 – all other settings not listed at 0.) Adjust your color swatches to get other color tones.

Image 2: Topaz Glow preset used is called Room Glow by Blake Rudis. (See my blog How To Get the Soft Glow in Topaz Glow for info on creating this setting.) Topaz photoFXlabs is a plug-in that does not support Photoshop CC2014, but can still be used with Photoshop CC which is what I usually use. I love the InstaTone setting in it and it was used for this image. Here are the steps and settings used just in case you own it:  First set Dyanmics slider on duplicate layer to -30; In Brushes, painted in burning around Tinkerbell and then used Detail brush to sharpen her and the line behind her; then set to Smooth to soften the lines in foreground.  Instatone Photo Library using
last image top row to get a nice tone to the image.  Then Adjustments Temp -9, and Dynamics 64. This time Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4 was used to apply just a gentle painterly feel to the final image. Here are the settings used to get the final result of the image: Oil Paint Detail preset modified:  Background Brush Size 14, Photorealism 62, Piant Thickness 84, Stroke Length 11, Color Variation 18 and Brush Style Default Brush, and Random Seed 7556; Detail Masking Effect on Mask 1 – Brush Size -30, Photorealism 80, Paint Thickness -40, Stroke Length 0, Color Variatino -29, and Brush Style -29 painted over Tinkerbell and some of the splatters and the front two flowers; Mask 2 – Brush Size 23, Photorealism 43, Paint Thickness -40, Stroke Length 0, Color Variation -29, and Brush Style Default Brush and painted in some of the center weed; and Mask 3 – same settings as Mask 2 and painted over the line at top; the Mask Tool was set to Size 11, Feather 50 and Amuont 85. Color Brightness 10, Contrast 12, Saturation 14 and Temp 0; Lighting Highlight Brightness 30, Highlight Size 35, Direction 280 and Angle 66, Highlight Color White, Vignette None; and Canvas No Texture.


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