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Posts tagged “Curves Adjustment Layer

HOW TO USE CURVES ADJUSTMENT LAYERS TO DODGE AND BURN AN IMAGE

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


My 100th Post! – My Favorite Things About Photoshop

Since I have reached this major milestone, I decided this week I would show a few examples of what I use the most in Photoshop and what is the most fun for me when using Photoshop. In some of these cases, I will be mentioning certain products or people but that is mainly because I really like what they do – they do not know me. Also, no external plug-ins will be discussed here.

Several things were done in Photoshop to process this image of a sailboat model of the USS Constitution located at The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida. The most important is that a 32-bit tone-mapped image was created in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, saved as a TIFF file, and then brought into Lightroom 4.1’s Develop module using the sliders to bring out all the details. This now makes Photoshop’s HDR processing on par with several of the other HDR software programs. The TIFF image goes back into Photoshop to finish up using another one of my favorite tools – Puppet Warp – to straighten out the extreme warping in the original image (it was actually applied twice). It was a difficult image to work on since it has a square glass encasement and the horizontal louvered blinds in the background. Just using the arrow keys is sometimes enough to push and pull the image pins the correct amount and Puppet Warp works much better than Lens Correction or the new Adaptive Wide Angle filters for me. Puppet Warp can be used in a Smart Object for readjusting later if needed.

I am slowly really getting into textures – they just do so much for a boring image. The texture above was created using one of the best panels you can apply to Photoshop and that is Dr. Brown’s (may be the top Photoshop guru of all time and works for Adobe) Paper Texture Panel – biggest time saver for anyone that likes to experiment with textures! This is one feature I use all the time and can’t believe I used to go through my textures individually to try them out. To really enhance this process, create a folder on your desktop that contains several sub-folders to place copies of your favorite textures. He recommends keeping these folders to around 20 textures as it takes a while to load if it is much bigger. I have sub-folder on textures I created, my favorite textures I use all the time, and a few on textures I have downloaded or bought. You can switch folders very quickly in the panel. This image used Paul Grand’s Scratches Texture and Gavin Hoey’s beautiful grunge frame 1. I am also putting a plug in here for my favorite texture guy, ShadowHouse Creations, who offers all kinds of beautiful textures for free, and I use them all the time. I reference his textures in many of my older blogs.


Those wonderful brushes in Photoshop! My very first blog featured the above image where I actually used a Photoshop Mixer Brush to paint in the petals of the flowers. This is still one of my favorite painted images – the Oleander flowers in the original were not near as pretty. The background was a Karen Sperling texture called 08Sperling (I believe this now has to be purchased – not sure how I got it) that added was a very delicate complement to the image. She is actually a Corel Painter Master and does some wonderful things in that program.

Totally indispensable! The last step I always do before I save an image. A few months ago I viewed a short video tutorial at Kelby Training called Mastering Curves: Adjusting Tonality by Ben Wilmore, another great Photoshop guru, who teaches how to use Curves correctly. (I have found the Kelby Training tutorials to be the best you can find on every aspect of photography and photoshop.) The basic thing to know about Curves is that by selecting the hand tool in the top left of the adjustment panel and dragging straight up in the image it lightens it up, and down darkens it. If you get two dots close and rather flat on a Curve line, you will lose detail.  A black layer mask can be created to target just the areas you want changed. It is a pretty simple technique but can improve an image quickly. Also you can save Curve settings if you want to apply them again. The image above of the beautiful birds in the Spring at the Rookery used several Curves Adjustment Layers to match the tones for the composite.

I have been using this Double Edge Frame layer style a lot on my images – gives a nice clean look with colors that can be sampled from the image. Also plain black borders can easily be created. To download this layer style for free or directions on how to create it, see my blog referenced above. There are many other uses for layer styles that I love, but I use the frames the most. Also a couple textures were added here with Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel.


I love the way you can go back in and fix your settings if you do not like the way they look. Most of the plug-ins I use have Smart Object capability and this is why I use them. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back into Nik’s Viveza 2 and adjusted my control points! Just another great Photoshop feature. The image above of the Hilton Time Share swimming pool on the Big Island in Hawaii used Smart Objects for both the Nik HDR Efex Pro using Granny’s Attic preset and Viveza 2. Also two Curves Adjustment Layers were used.

I could go on and on about all my favorite features I love. The above are some of the ones I use the most. I thought about writing on the new Defringe section in Lightroom 4.1 and Adobe Camera Raw that works wonders on this problem – better than any of the noiseware software available for controlling the ugly fringe problem. The new sliders in both are much improved and both now do a great job on reducing noise too. Also the Graduated Filter is much improved. Back in Photoshop I love being able to use LAB mode to sharpen some of my images selectively. Content-Aware tools cannot be beat but I still use the plain old Clone Tool the most. And the improved Sharpen Tool is fabulous for those little areas that need a detail boost. I even love the Color Replacement Tool that hardly no one uses! And all the blend modes just add so much to an image. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about Photoshop and so many ways to do things. I guess the real fun is learning new ways to use it and that is why I blog! Hope you have enjoyed some of what I have learned these past couple years!…..Digital Lady Syd