Anything Photoshop or Photography

Photoshop Brushes


Image of a Spanish Cay runway marker in the Bahamas
During Photoshop Week 2019 on Creative Live, I watched a segment by Randy Van Duinen called Lightroom and Photoshop for Architectural Photographers. I did not think there would be much relevant to me, but it is loaded down with some new ways of looking at photographing and post processing. It is an inexpensive class and frequently on sale – definitely worth the buy. One of Randy’s tips is about de-emphasizing those distracting areas and putting them into shadows (or as in the above, making the foreground lighter). After working with his technique, I figured out a way to get the same results using the Properties Panel on a Layer Mask, so check out the Alternate Workflow for these steps. Not sure which is the easiest to do.


  1.  Select an areas with the Lasso Tool (or whatever selection tool you wish to use).
  2. Set the Quick Mask options (by double clicking on the 2nd from the bottom icon on the Tool Bar) to show the Masked Area as you want the selected area or area to be changed not covered by the overlay and the Opacity to 100% . Then enter Quick Mask mode.
  3. Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to a large amount to make a nice smooth transition between selection and other areas. Should be able to see the transition clearly. Click Enter to close filter.
  4. Press Q or press the icon again to exit Quick Mask.
  5. With selection active, open a Curves Adjustment Layer. Can now light or darken the layer mask or change the color of the layer. Remember that the Red, Green and Blue Color Channels can also be used to adjust the results.

Screenshot of the RAW file for Spanish Cay in the Bahamas
The above shows what the original image looked like as it brought in from Lightroom (just used Basic Panel corrections, cropping/straightening, and Lens Correction Panel). Duplicated the Background layer (always do this) and applied Topaz (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Sharpen AI (use this a lot now) set to Focus and Remove Blur 0.65 and Suppress Noise 0.20 – note that a layer mask was added as it definitely was too much sharpening for the soft clouds. I had decided that I wanted the small bush on the left to be brighter and the foreground to look more sandy than it did in the image. On another duplicated layer, the Lasso Tool was used to first select the bush. The the Quick Selection mode was used to select the areas that I DID NOT was to change. See the Screenshots below to see how the edges blend once opened in Quick Selection mode and the Gaussian Blur filter chosen and set to a Radius 52.4 pixels. By changing the radius size, the blending can be set they way you want. If you want to see some of the background, set the Opacity for Quick Mode lower than 100%. The Lasso Tool is really not that exact so if more accuracy is needed, just use the Paint Brush Tool to adjust the mask.
Screenshot of Gaussian Blur on bush
The image below shows how the blending looks with a larger area selected and a larger Radius size is used. Definitely have a much smoother transition. This time the Radius was set to 182.0 pixels, but Randy uses much larger sizes on his images. It definitely depends on the size of what you are blending and how large an image you have.
Screenshot of the foreground in Gaussian Blur for Spanish Cay image
Once the filter is applied, just click Q or the Quick Selection icon to exit and a selection will be available to apply to any type of Adjustment Layer, but with this workflow it usually involves the Curves Adjustment Layer. Of course a Levels Adjustment Layer could be used or some of the color Adjustment Layers could be used like Hue/Saturation. For the above two different Curves Adjustment Layers were used, one for each area selected. The last step was to add a Levels Adjustment Layer vignette (see my How to Create a Subtle Vignette blog).

Thought I would show you a couple images that also used this same technique. In the leaves image, by darkening the background, it actually created a very 3D effect. This time the large leaves in the foreground were selected with the Lasso Tool since I wanted to darken the background. Inside the Quick Selection Mode a Gaussian Blur Radius of 424.3 pixels was used to create a more subtle transition. Then back in Photoshop a Curves Adjustment Layer was used to darken the area somewhat. The vignette was from Topaz Lens Effects’ preset Soft Olive Green and keeping the opacity low at 32.83.

Image of some pink and green Coleus Plants at the Magic Kingdom
My last example uses the Watercolor1 Mockup by Digital Florist. Just popped my Day Lily image with a butterfly and put on the drawing pad. The original mockup was very light, so by selecting the sketch pad, the background was darkened using this technique (Gaussian Blur Radius set to 355.2). This now draws the focus to the image and not all the painting supplies. (The crazy background was created using  Corel Particle Shop filter’s Expression and Spring Silk Ribbon brushes.)

Image of a Mockup showing my Day Lilies and a butterfly


There is another way to do this same technique without using the Quick Mask Mode and I will list the steps below. I like both ways of doing this, so give each one a try.

  1.  Add a black layer mask to your image.
  2. With a larger soft brush, switch to white and paint over the area you want changed. For the top image it would be the left bush or foreground area. Note, you have do this twice for the different areas if you want to use different setting in the Adjustment Layer for each.
  3. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer above the image and clip it to the layer (press the first icon at the bottom of the Curves Adjustment Layer Panel or CTRL+click between the Image and Adjustment Layer layers in Layers Panel. Otherwise the selection changes will apply to the whole image. Do your adjustments. Levels Adjustment Layer can be used here – sometimes it gives a little better result.
  4. Click on the Layer Mask of the image layer to bring up the Properties Panel – set the Feather to get the soft transition you want. To see it as if you were in the Quick Mask Mode, click the (\) key to see the overlay or ALT+click to see just the black and white mask. Also fine tune your Layer Mask with a brush at this point in case areas were missed.

Alternate Workflow Screenshot

Not sure which way is easier, but it gives similar results. I do believe the Gaussian Blur is a little easier to see the effect, but with the overlay in the Alternate Method, it is still pretty easy to see.

This technique can be used for just a subtle change which is what I like, especially in landscape images. Have a good one until next time!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blogs:

How to Use a Selection to Draw Focus in an Image
Using Curves Adjustment Layers to Get Rid of Shadows and Highlights


Image of a painted male lion
This week I tried out the Pattern Stamp Tool, one I do not remember using. Since I have been getting back into painting some of my images using both Photoshop regular/mixer brushes and Corel Painter, I did not think I would like the results since it is a “painting” tool that has been with the program for a very long time. Well, if used correctly, it does a surprisingly good job. The Lion image above is one I downloaded a long time ago from Unsplash and is by Jakob Puff. This looks a lot harder than it was and I was totally surprised how nice the lion turned out, especially considering how fast it was done.

So what brought this on? This week Adobe Create came out with a link called Free Photoshop Brushes: Impressionist Set by Creators Couture. Needless to say I had to check this out. Jessica Johnson did a short video and gives you five Pattern Stamp brushes to try out this technique. What is so interesting is that you are not carefully painting each section with your brushes, you are basically just dragging around to lay down the strokes. The image itself has been turned into a Pattern which the brushes use as guidelines to follow. They look like strokes because each brush has a different make up. Jessica’s brushes are really nice and they were the only ones used in the lion image. I was going to do a video, but I think Jessica’s is pretty good and short – if you want to try this out, follow her video.

Her technique follows a pretty standard painting workflow with an Underpainting layer, Base layer, Detail layer, and then some additional layers to finish up the image. Each type of layer has a brush associated with it to create the effect. A duplicate copy of the image was placed on top and turned off while painting. A solid brown layer was used to build the painted effect up on – basically follow her simple steps to get a pretty decent result. For the above, once done with the Pattern Stamp layers and brushes, a New Layer was added to paint in the white whiskers a little. A black layer mask was placed on the duplicate copy on top and the areas that needed a little more emphasis and detail were painted back lightly – mainly the eyes, nose and whisker areas and it was set to 43% layer opacity. (See Lion Image info for final steps.)

Major Things to Know:

  1. If actually using the pattern to paint over the image, be sure that Aligned is checked in the Options Bar. Impressionistic is always checked to get this effect.
  2. If you want more detail with any brush, just make it a little smaller or want less detail, make the brush a little larger.
  3. Can also adjust the effect by changing either the brush Opacity or the Flow.
  4. Can change the Layer Opacity to reduce effect.
  5. Change the blend mode of the image and often a very different look, and sometimes better, will occur.

What I did learn is that it is not that hard to create your own Pattern Stamp brushes. There are a couple tricks you do need to know though.

Steps to Creating a Pattern Stamp Brush:

  1.  First find a brush that you think might look good for painting – there are a lot that will not work well so it takes a little experimentation here. In the PS CC later versions, in the Brushes Panel select a brush and then click the Save as a Preset icon at bottom and do not check Include Tool Settings.
  2. Now select the Pattern Stamp Tool (which is stacked with the Clone Stamp Tool) and then select the new preset. The brush will now work as a Pattern Stamp Tool.
  3. Make changes in the Brush Settings Panel.
  4. Save down as a new brush with the Include Tool Settings checked.

These steps also work on any brushes you want to change over to a different type, like changing a regular brush to an Eraser, Clone Stamp or even a Mixer. Pretty handy.

I did a lot of research before writing this blog to see if anyone else has a better way of using this Tool or better brushes – I could not find a lot. The great PS Guru Jack Davis had demonstrated this technique in his wonderful Creative Live Class called Painting with Photoshop where he used very different brushes (from 2002 but they still work) and an action, which are provided, but my first results were not good. What I liked about his brushes are that they represent Chalk, Dry Brush, Oil and Watercolor mediums. Need to consider this when creating your own.

How I created a couple of my own brushes was to look at the ones Jessica provided and try out similar settings. It was really trial and error and it totally depends on the look wanted as to which brush to adjust. For more on my brushes I created see below in Lion Palm Tree info. This process can be a little time consuming and Jessica’s brushes work really well IMO. If you only use this process occasionally, her brushes will probably be a good set to use. She also has several for sale on her site if you decide you really like to do this.


Image of a pink water lily at the National Zoo in Washington, DC
This Lily image was created a little differently. Instead of creating a copy of the Water Lily image to use as a pattern and painting on directly, separate layers were used with different brushes to add different painting stroke and color effects on the image. In this case a green Watercolor Pattern was used for most of the leaves in the background and it was painted in using one brush I created. Then on a New Layer on the dark areas in the image a green Glitter Pattern was placed in the Options Bar, and a different brush was used- it created sort of splotchy strokes. On a New Layer the same brush using a Blue Glitter Pattern was added on some of the leaves for interest. Last pattern stamp layer which gave a pretty cool look to the lily was to set the layer to Hard Light Blend Mode and using a pattern called Strokes Gold and Kyle’s Scrape brush converted to a Pattern Stamp brush – the actual flower was painted over. For the rest of the steps and resources, see Lily info below.
Image of two Palm Trees on the Big Island in Hawaii
These two painted Palm Trees from the Big Island in Hawaii turned out to be a good example for using the Pattern Stamp Tool. This time I used both a Pattern of the image itself for painting, and created a pattern using a small portion of a Renoir painting that had lots of pretty greens and blues in it. That meant that I switched between both patterns when creating this effect (turning the Align checkbox on and off). Just used a Solid Color Fill Adjustment Layer with a bright blue for the bottom. Then followed Jessica’s workflow using her brushes for the Underpainting, Base, Detail, Artistic, and Textures layers. Used one of my brushes and created patterns to apply the color behind the horizon and in the foreground. The foreground layer was set to Color Dodge blend mode at 57% layer opacity to get the yellows to pop. In my Two Palm Trees notes below, I have given you all the settings I used to create one of my brushes that was used for the foggy effect behind the trees. That was about it on this one other than the stand finishing as in the other two images.

I found this technique pretty easy to do and would encourage you to try a simple image using Jessica’s brushes and see what you think. She also gives you some patterns if you sign up for her newsletters which are very nice. She has a few videos on her website which show how to create the patterns like I did on the Renoir pattern for the Palm Trees image – this is really very simple stuff. If you like the painterly look, give it a try – you can always use layer masks to remove the effect from faces or objects and give a really interesting overall effect for your images. Well have fun painting! ….. Digital Lady Syd


Lion Image: I just finished up with my normal image workflow: a white Spotlight Effect on face set to 85% layer opacity, a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer (using Foggy Night preset) at 52% layer opacity, Exposure Adjustment Layer to pop the eyes, a Black and White Adjustment Layer set to Luminosity blend mode to adjust the tones, and a Red Channel Curves Adjustment Layer at 58% layer opacity for contrast.

Lily Image: The Green Watercolor pattern was from a set by Ult Designers Watercolors. I tried a lot of Grut brushes (the best around – check out his freebies section for a free brush every week and his sampler for some more good brushes) as he uses a lot of different types of tips , textures, and edges in them. I finally got a pretty good brush using his Grut – OI Chimp Gimble and another with FX IL Choppy Slop brushes in his excellent Inky Leaks Set. Also used PS’s Kyle Webster’s Scrape brush. To get the free patterns, go to Chris Spooner Glitter Patterns. The Brush Strokes (Gold) Pattern is free. To finish up this image, usually I group the Pattern Stamp layers. Then once again just my normal finishing up process. First on a New Layer I did a little flower clean up – one area was too bright and distracted from the focus of the image so it had to be painted using a darker color. Next a free Matt Kloskowski’s Sun Rays Top Left was added, flipped and rotated to have the correct lighting effect, set to Overlay blend mode at 59% layer opacity. I did not like the white light but wanted a warmer color, so clipped a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to the image and set the Hue to -180, Sat 98, and Lightness -27 for more yellow tones in the ray. This added a cool look to the image. Two New Layers were added and set to Overlay blend mode – one for a spotlight effect on the flower, and one to add more orange and yellow tones to just parts of the flower for some contrast. What really popped this image was a Gavin Philips custom pattern with a bright sun ray in the upper left from his Lightmaster Action.  The ray was moved in the pattern by holding the CTRL and dragging in the image. It was set to Overlay blend mode at 39% layer opacity. On a New Layer was set to Overlay, some black paint was added to darken down the upper right leaf – became too bright from the Pattern Fill Adjustment Layer. Next a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer was added using my Sketch Effect cube presets and set to 71% layer opacity. Next a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to just adjust the color a little. A Black and White Adjustment Layer was used to adjust the tones in the image and set to Luminosity blend mode. And Finally a Red Channel Curves Adjustment Layer where both the contrast and the colors were tweaked just a tiny bit.

Two Palm Trees Image: Just a couple things about this image. I created a Pattern Stamp brush using my SJ 3 Pastel brush as a basis. Since I have released my settings for my go-to brush a long time ago, I will give you the settings I used to create the Pattern Stamp brush. First need to follow the instructions in my How to Create My Favorite Brush blog to create my basic SJ 3 Pastel Brush. Then in the Texture section, change Texture to Extra Heavy Canvas, Invert checked, Scale 83%, Brightness -90, Contrast 76, Checked Texture Each Tip, Mode Linear Height, Depth 23% and Depth Jitter 76%. Then add a Dual Brush set to Rocky (a soft round grainy ball), Size 223 px, Spacing 29%, Scatter – check Both Axes and 123%, and Count 5. Now go ahead and Save Brush, then Save again with a Tool checked, select the Pattern Stamp Tool and then save again with Tool checked. The trick to creating a brush is to look at the Texture and the Dual brush sections. These both have a lot to do with how the brush will paint a pattern. A Color Lookup Adjustment Layer using Scott Kelby Warm Reds preset was added at 90% layer opacity. Last steps here were to use two spotlight layers for lightening up and darkening down areas in the trees. Black and White Adjustment Layer and Green Curve Adjustment Layer were used to finish off the image.


Image of a Lion at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC

This week was spent mainly sharpening up my “digital painting” skills. This Lion image taken at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, just seemed to be the right type for this process as his background was up against a rather rocky fence. That is one thing to look for when choosing a subject to paint – what the background is and does it help or hurt the subject. This is not unlike adding a texture to an image to remove an ugly background. But in this case, the lion had such a wonderful furry head, he was perfect for doing a little digital work.

If you are new to digital painting and Mixer brushes, which are a main part of painting in PS, check out a couple videos by PS guru Jesus Ramirez. The first is less than two minutes long showing how to make a very basic brush (which worked pretty well for me) and is called Oil Painting Effect From Your Photos – Photoshop Mixer Brush Technique. The second is longer Photoshop Daily Creative Challenge – Mixer Brush from Adobe Creative Cloud (skip to the 9 minute mark for the tutorial). These two videos show how to get a really quick digital painting by just learning to use a Mixer Brush and make a few changes in the settings. And the results are much better than just using the Oil Paint Filter in PS.

I have been experimenting with painting on a layer(s) above using regular and mixer brushes, then going back to the original image layer and duplicating it. Next going into Topaz Impression via Topaz (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Studio or Topaz Labs, and applying the Impression filter. (For this image, used default settings and changed: Stroke to 07, Stroke Width -0.24, and Texture set to Background Type Original – had to do a little smoothing in PS to remove stroke edges.) Back in PS the top layer(s) are still your original digital painting strokes with the Impression layer underneath – this gives a nice undercoating to continue painting over. The Mixer Brushes will now begin picking up some color from the Impression layer. Create more layers using different brushes to get a really nice painted image that will show off your own style.

The lion image took several hours to complete, lots of layers, and 7 iterations before the best look was achieved. It has been my experience that digital painting takes quite a while to get a good look, especially if there are a lot of details in the image. You may want to keep it in but be sure to soften it down.

2019 Summer Brushes

Also as a side note, I just downloaded Kyle T. Webster’s 2019 Summer Brushes – to download, open pop out menu in the upper right corner of the Brushes Panel and select Get More Brushes. (if you are not logged into the Cloud, you will need to log in at this point.) Kyle’s website opened up where the new brushes shown at the top of the page. Kyle says “Find your perfect summer color with brushes that take advantage of Photoshop’s unique color mixing effects. Also included in this set: A tribute brush to the great Ben Shahn, an updated China Marker, and great new pattern brushes.” There are 23 new brushes, 3 of them Mixers. I am looking forward to giving them a test run!

Hope you get a chance to check out those two videos and try out some digital painting. It is a lot of fun!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Where to Find a Good Photoshop Painter
Can You Get a Painting Look With a Photoshop Action? Jack Davis Can!


Painted image of a Tamarin Monkey at the Smithsonian National Zoo
I can’t believe I did this post 4 years ago, but I did. Time flies when you are having fun! Thought I would rerun it as I have been doing a little painting this week and I am pretty much doing the same things. This little Tamarin Monkey at the Smithsonian National Zoo is an example of more painting and just having fun. The background texture is by Shadowhouse Creations called Rich Tone Texture 2. Several painting layers were created using several of my basic brushes, like my SJ Pastel Paint 3 brush and the Fan Flat Blender Mixer from PS, but pretty much anything goes when painting. Just find a couple brushes you like and start changing sizes and spacing, etc. – eventually you will find a couple you like. A Color Look Adjustment Layer helped give the moody background feel and a little dodging and burning was done. But that was about it. Very relaxing and fun to do. And remember when you are painting, if something does not look quite right, just keep adding layers. Lots of times it starts to take a nice form, sort of like real painting! In the meantime, have a great week – must get ready for Fall photographing! ….. And on with the blog…..Digital Lady Syd

Image of an egret on a painted textureFor a few weeks I have been experimenting with some of the wonderful painterly techniques of Jai Johnson, a wildlife enthusiast who creates absolutely beautiful images. I am finally getting some results that are appealing to my personal taste as I love photographing wildlife in the natural habitat. I thought I would pass on what works for me. On her website she has several really nice videos. She uses Topaz (see website link in sidebar of my Tidbits Blog) photoFXlab as a stand-alone, but it is pretty easy to follow along and do the same steps in most versions of Photoshop. Lately I have been doing my painting in CS6 to increase the stroking speed especially with the Mixer Brushes, although all the CC versions will work fine.

Love the beautiful egrets that can be found in the rookery at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in the Spring. This bird just seemed happy to me and was a lot of fun to paint. The background is one created in Painter for him. I believe you could create some nice watercolor backgrounds in Photoshop that would give a similar result. I needed a yellow warm light in the background to match the sunlight on his body. Used Jai’s basic workflow that puts him on top and then in a black mask, the original background is removed. She also uses Topaz Lens Effects Graduated Neutral Density filter – in this case used to lighten the bird up. The texture was duplicated two more times and placed on top – one used Multiply blend mode at 16% layer opacity and the other Color Dodge blend mode at 15% layer opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer was opened and the Colorize button was checked with the Hue set to 48 and Saturation 25 – filled the mask with black (CTRL+I in mask) and painted back just lightly areas I wanted the warmer color to appear. Nik Viveza 2 was used to add emphasis to the head area. The Eyes and Beak were sharpened using two Exposure Adjustment Layers. (See my How To Do a Quick Eye Sharpening in Photoshop blog,) Then a stamped layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) was created on top and opened in Topaz ReStyle using the Peppermint Gray preset (one of my favorites) to get a little different color balance. Back in PS the layer was set to 45% layer opacity and the bottom foreground was painted out in a layer mask to keep it slightly darker so the bird looks grounded. Last steps involved used New Layers to clean up distracting colors or areas.

Image of Wood Stork on painted background
I totally love Wood Storks, the gentle looking birds that are everywhere down here in Florida. This one happened to be standing in the top of a tree at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery, but they are everywhere in my neighborhood. There were actually two other birds next to him doing some crazy things so I removed them. They seem to tolerate people very well also.

In this image he was placed on a new texture created just for him in Painter. I tried to use complementary colors to the bird. If you like this type of texture, check out Jai Johnson‘s inexpensive (and some really nice free ones) and beautiful textures that give similar effects. The usual steps were taken of putting the bird layer on top of the texture, adding a black layer mask, and painting just the bird back with a white brush in the mask so the texture shows through from below. One of Jai’s great tips is to try to match up the texture with the original background colors of your subject. Used the Properties Panel Density slider to reduce the mask opacity to be able to see where the subject is for the initial painting in the layer mask, then put the slider back up to 100% when blocked in a little. Duplicated the texture and placed it on top of the bird layer, set it to Soft Light Blend Mode at 62% layer opacity. Did some clean up layers to even out some of the edges.

I am finding Topaz Lens Effect’s Toy Camera filter is working well with my bird images. A stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) was created on top to apply this filter. Looked at the different presets and choose one, in this case the Yellow Green Low Contrast preset. The Vignette was set 0 and all the sliders in the Toy Camera Aberrations section far left to 0 since I really do not want the Toy Camera effect. The next Toy Camera sections should be adjusted for the individual image. (For the above the Region Size was set to 0.17, Transition 0.42 and Angle 55.25 – especially watch the Angle as it affects how the colors lay out on the image. Next adjusted the Region A Color Cast and Region B Color Cast to fit this image – mainly adding a little bit of Reds, Yellows and Blues to get the colors I liked.) I like how you can really adjust the colors around to get some nice blended effects. Finally adjusted the standard Image Adjustment sliders to add saturation and contrast. These presets, with some tweaking, can really give an image a beautiful soft and blended result.

The Eyes were again sharpened using the Exposure Adjustment Layer, and then another for just the beak. These two areas have to be sharp since the eye will look first at them with birds, but be careful not to over-sharpen so they do not blend into the image – reduce the opacity of the adjustment layer a little if this happens. Next I wanted to add just a little contrast around his head so a Curves Adjustment Layer was used to add some burning by pulling down on the curve to get the correct tone behind his head, filling the mask with black (CTRL+I), and painting back where I want the effect. (See my How to Use Curves Adjustment Layer to Dodge and Burn an Image blog). The last step added Nik Viveza 2 to really make the focal point, the head area, pop out. Since the background is competing with his white feathers, the feathers needed some punch and a little softening in this area.

Image of a beautiful tigerThis beautiful photo was from FreeImages – wish I could take credit for taking this image. The photo was used to follow the steps in Jai’s last video called Working With Bold Colors and Abstract Textures. This image had a really bright colored texture like Jai was using as a background. In her video she suggested trying out Topaz ReStyle, and that is where this color effect was applied. Also Topaz Adjust’s Boost preset was used instead of the Bold preset she prefers on the tiger layer. Topaz Simplify’s BuzzSim preset was used on just the subject layer. On a stamped layer Topaz Lens Effects Graduated Neutral Density filter was applied, and then ReStyle’s Dusty Desert preset which gives the almost colorless result. To finish an Exposure Adjustment Layer for the eyes and then Nik Viveza 2 to even out the background just a little were applied. Wish I had taken this image. Sigh!

Well hope you get a chance to check out Jai Johnson’s techniques on your wildlife images. Like I said, all her techniques can be used in Photoshop without too many changes – just experiment with the brush opacity and Flow settings is about all I see that is a little different. And I really like the Topaz Lens Effects Toy Camera effects – something I had not even looked at before! Hope you are all having a great summer – I am!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Topaz Lens Effects For Some Image Fun
How To See If You Captured the Focal Point
A Little Birdie Told Me So!
Jumping Whales
Horses Checking Me Out


Image of a Water Lily blossom at the National Zoo in Washington, DC

This week I have been playing around with the update Topaz (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) Studio 2. (Last week I did a review of the of it – check out my What About This Topaz Studio 2 Update? Not Bad! blog and video.) I imagine that everyone has noticed several small updates came out this week, each adding a couple more features to the interface. There now is a Navigation Tool on the bottom right toolbar – it is so handy for moving around the image when zoomed way in. A Crop/Rotate/Straighten tool has also been added – probably will not use this a lot but sometimes when an image is crooked, it is nice to have. Your own textures can now be added into the Texture filter as in Topaz Studio 1. I am really looking forward to being able to add another layer as an image (like the Image Layer filter in the original) – I miss not having this feature. But all in all Topaz has been working hard to get this updated software running smoothly.

A Little about Brushes

The Water Lily image, taken at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC, is an example of using the wonderful Impression filter that comes with Topaz Studio 2. For me it works great as either a nice painterly background for regular portraits or animal images or as a painting starting point as used in the Lily look. For this image Impression’s default settings were applied except the Type 06 Brush Stroke was used. Back in PS, on separate layers, Blender Mixer Brushes and my SJ Pastel 3 regular painting brush were used to add color and smooth out the strokes. (To create this brush, check out my How to Use Photoshop’s Brush Texture Section for Painting Clean-up blog – in the middle are the settings.) Even though they have been around for a while, Fay Sirkis mixers are some of the best – only place I can find to download them is from her Kelby One painting courses and they are worth it.

Obviously Kyle Webster provides a huge amount of choices for painting.  The PS Legacy brushes are also still available and have a lot of good mixer brushes. The Fan Flat Blender Mixer brush, located by clicking the Brushes Panel pop-out in top right and select Converted Legacy Tool Presets (when dialog appears asking to “Restore the Converted…”, say OK to add set to the brush list) is a great brush and several variations can easily be made in the Brush Settings Panel (like changing the Brush Angle and Size, adding Shape Dynamics, and adjusting Texture settings).

I also love GrutBrushes – his cloud brushes are just the best available and his InkyLeaks splatter set is really good also (check out his free sampler of brushes and his free brush of the week each Monday).

Image of the Toucans greeting visitors at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

My previously presented Toucan image is an example of using an Impression filter, in this case it was the Edward Hopper Look (previously preset) – used a Topaz brush to mask out the eyes and beaks of the birds, but the result of not applying the whole painterly effect to the image can be seen. This to me is one major reason why I have to have Topaz Studio 2 as no other plugin company has anything like Impression in their filters. Back in Photoshop a regular soft small soft round brush was used on a New Layer to really emphasize the eyes more. Most of the time a painting clean up layer needs to be done to fine-tune where a few strokes are off a little.

Turning Any Blender Mixer Brush into a Painting Mixer Brush (or One that Adds Color)

To create some of your own Mixer Brush variations, I have listed a few steps to help you out.

Settings for a Blender Mixer: To blend the colors , in the Options Bar:

  • Turn off the “Load the brush after each stroke” icon by clicking on it
  • Always leave “Clean the brush after every stroke” clicked on
  • Select the Very Wet, Heavy Mix in the drop-down
  • Check Sample All Layers

Now you have a pretty nice blending Mixer brush. If some color shows up, you left the “Load” icon turned on.

Settings for a Painting Mixer:

  • Turn On the “Load the brush after each stroke” icon (or no color will be painted as the icon will be clear)
  • Change the drop down to Dry, Light Load
  • ALT+click in your image to sample a color if using one from your image. Note that there is a drop-down by the “Current Brush Load” icon which gives you a choice to “Load Solid Colors Only” instead of a bit of what was under your brush when you clicked

Dab a few times to add your color and then turn off the “Current Brush Load” icon and set back to the Very Wet Heavy Mix to blend some more. This is really handy to know when you are blending away and find that you are missing a color to mix into the background. Since just blending the color back in, it does not have to look that good when you dab. This being said, lots of times I just use a regular brush to add the color in if using the same stroke effect is not that important. Either way works great depending on where the blending is occurring in the image.

That’s it for this week – just thought I would share a little how I paint using Topaz Studio 2 Impression. I like to work this way as Impression gives a nice effect in the background and as much or as little of this effect can be left in the image by using Photoshop brushes. It gives me the creative aspect I want but cuts down on the actual background painting time. Hope this was a helpful blog for those of you wanting to try out painting. Impression is definitely the way to go. And remember, it comes with Topaz Studio 2! Have a great week…..Digital Lady Syd


Painted image of a Ring Tailed Lemur from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
Sometimes I like to just take a break from all the techniques I am learning and do something because I feel like doing it. So this week’s blog is not really emphasizing anything, but doing what this blog is all about – “Just Having Fun!” So without further ado, here are some images I have created in the last few weeks just because it was FUN!

Not to bore everyone too much, but I will give you a few insights as to how I got a particular look for these images. This fabulous Ring Tailed Lemur above is one of my favorite recent compositions. The basis for creating this effect was a video by Jesus Ramirez called Pencil Sketch Effect from a Photo in Photoshop. His technique does not work on every image, but sometimes it gives an interesting result and it worked on this image. It gave a great beginning overall sketch of my subject that was different from others I have tried. I actually created an action to do these steps. The ugly background area had to be removed next. On more layers Photoshop’s Fan Flat Blender mixer brush (located in PS’s Converted Legacy Tool Presets -> Default Tool Presets) was selected to paint in the hair and several variations were made in the Brush Settings Panel (like changing the Brush Angle and Size, adding Shape Dynamics, and adjusting Texture settings). It was fun to do this and I like the results the new brushes created – am now using them a lot including on the bottom image.

Dreamy Landscape
This image’s final effect turned out to be a surprise. It all started when I read a tutorial by Scott Valentine in the Kelby One Photoshop User Magazine from March 2018 called Hard Mix Tricks. There was a section about creating a Pop Art look. A Curves Adjustment Layer (which is just a placeholder to set the blend mode – any adjustment layer could have been used) was set to Hard Mix blend mode on top of the original image (see Pixabay’s Chiemsee-517997_1920) – the image now was broken down into its basic colors. Between the Curves Adjustment Layer and the original image a Black and White Adjustment Layer was set to Luminosity blend mode. The color sliders were adjusted so more colors were added back in. Now I did my own thing by adding several New Layers on top. Used David Belliveau’s super Mixer Blender Brush to smooth the mountains and water in the image. By pulling this brush up, the grass in front was created. For the details several smaller regular and mixer brushes were used. The bird is from Obsidian Dawn. To get the color palette, a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer was added using the Futuristic Bleak preset. Again this was just some fun that came about by playing with brushes. I think this image would look good in several different color palettes. And other brushes will definitely give some different results – I think I will be trying out this technique on other images.

Image of a Sunda Teal (Duck) taken at the Jacksonville Zoo, Florida
This sweet duck was overall a pretty nice image and had a teal blue water background. The sketch technique was used here just like on the Lemur image. The duck was selected and placed on a layer above, the feathers were painted back in using the Mixer brushes created in the top image. The texture I made in Corel Painter and was placed behind the duck. Three different fonts were used in this image: Sunda used Blossom, Teal used Breakable, and Anas gibberifrons used Dancing Script. I like all three of these free fonts. Topaz’s (see website at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) ReStyle filter was used with a preset from one of my images to unify the color.

Painting in Photoshop is not so popular, but it is very satisfying if you have a bit of a creative vein in your vision. I hope you enjoyed my images – will probably be returning back to tips and tricks but I thought I would share these. Have a good week and Happy Mother’s Day to all you Moms out there!…..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