Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Solution: Protecting highlights and building up an image, part of Inkjet Printing: Advanced Photography Techniques.
- At the end of that last movie I said something about doing the corrections the correct way or the right way or something like that and it's a little odd that I would say that about this particular image because I completely just felt my way through this image. And the result being, I've got this weird stack of adjustment layers here and you'll see what I mean by weird later. I really did not do this in the most efficient way, but this is, very often, how I work. I don't mean that I work inefficiently but that I work by layering different adjustments on top of each other to build up and edit over several layers.
I started with a black and white adjustment and I didn't do too much to it. I made a couple of changes to the yellows and greens and cyans to try and pull out more contrast but wasn't finding I was getting anywhere. This image really needs to be fixed with tonal adjustment layers like levels or curves. You can see, I'm sure, the overall problem: Foreground that is really just a uniform, drab, low contrast shade of gray and a background that's not much better. I've got some darkness here and some lightness here. I'm actually a little worried about the dark bits because clouds never really go black on the bottom and that's not total black, but it might print that way because those are gonna darken up some.
But I start by worrying about the foreground. I know the sky's dramatic and can be made to work. I wasn't sure if the foreground could be made to work so I always start there because if it can't be made to work, I'll abandon the image. And I started with this adjustment layer. I just added some brightness. I didn't do any contrast adjustment. I pulled my white point over, left my black point where it was, didn't do any mid adjusments, and just tried to get some brightness in. Looking at that I went, "Oh, okay. This is starting to work." One thing that I really like about this is the natural gradation from light to dark heading toward the horizon.
It really give the image some depth so this bit being bright is really nice. But, I haven't done anything for the contrast. Rather than adjust the contrast in this layer though, I added a second layer here. You may think, "Why did you do that rather than..?" I could have just gotten it all done in this layer. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, these have separate masks. I did brightening to this entire foreground area including a little bit of the horizon because my brushwork was a little bit sloppy.
There's even a stripe of brightness up here. I didn't want the contrast adjustment to go all the way to the horizon or I didn't want it to go full strength all the way to the horizon, so painting with a soft edge brush, I stopped painting right about here so that I get an attenuation of the contrast adjustment leading to the horizon. I wanted it to stay a little bit dull contrast-wise to make the foreground pop more. But the other thing this does is it gives me independent control of the contrast adjustment and the brightness adjustment in my image.
So, now I've got a certain contrast ratio coming in here. Now I can come back to this other layer and if I decide it needs to be a little bit brighter, I can just do this, and while that's altering the contrast a little bit, for the most part, it's keeping the contrast and the brightness change in this area a little bit separate. Mostly I did it just because I started thinking it needs to be brighter. So, boom that's a step. Then I thought, "No, now I need more contrast." So, boom that's a step. It's just a way of layering these things up one at a time as I figure out what needs to be done.
These are actually out of order. The next thing I did was to add another adjustment layer that played with the contrast even more, so what I decided was I really want these things to pop. And so, I threw this adjustment on: a big mid-tone adjustment and no change to the whites or blacks. And that served to really darken up a lot of these tones, making these stand out more, which is giving me even more of a sense of depth. I do think I need to put a little bit of brightness back in so I'm gonna brighten that up.
And I used a gradient mask to make a smooth transition from here to there. I'm not sure that I haven't gone too far here. I'm gonna look at it on paper to see. But I did that adjustment and then I think I went back and fiddled with this a little bit more to get it right and then moved on to my next edit which was to do this which is an overall brightening but with some highlights protected. We'll come back to that in a moment. The reason that this ended up here is because I came back and was working on this layer so when I added a new adjustment layer, it came up above it so my layers are actually out of order.
They've been re-numbered because of something I did when I saved and was recreating this for you to see the document on screen. So what I've done here is some brightening and you can see in my mask there are lots of little black spots painted in. That's where I've gone in and painted over highlight areas to protect them from the brightening because I don't want them to end up overexposed. So when I paint into these areas, I'm knocking down that brightness that I've added and making sure that things don't stay overexposed.
I do this kind of thing a lot. I'll make a big adjustment and then I will go back and protect a particular area. This is the opposite of what we've been doing in most cases, where we're revealing a particular area, which is the last thing I'm gonna do to this image. I just don't think these clouds should be so bright on the bottom. So, I'm going to use this to lighten the blacks in the image without introducing more contrast. Then, I'm going to fill my mask here with black. I lost my mouse on the other screen there.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my adjustment. So, I'm gonna put that back there. And now what I can do is go into my mask and paint some lightness into the underside of these clouds. I'm gonna need a really soft brush to pull this off and I think I'm gonna have to go a little bit less aggressive on the lightening to get a smooth believable edit. Ooh boy, this is gonna be rough. Some of these clouds I may have to give up on. Get that thing outta the way.
I'm also gonna back off on the adjustment so that it is less visible. One thing that's tricky about these kinds of edits is I see the brushstroke; someone else just looking at the image may not. The great thing about clouds is they're very forgiving because they're fractally random textures to start with. So, if there's a sudden change in tone in one part, that just looks like a normal part of cloud formation.
At least that's what I'm hoping. That's what I continually tell myself as I try to paint believable lighting onto the surface of clouds. So, before, after. A little less dramatic, but I think a little less HDI looking. Something interesting about this image; if we now go in and take the black and white adjustment layer off, we find actually it's a pretty compelling color image also. So, that's something to play with. I might tone these down, strip a little bit of yellow out to bring in more green. But, I'm gonna stick with it as black and white.
So, the takeaway here is again, just more of the same, making sure grays aren't too gray in the image. And I'm getting there by stacking layer after layer as I experiment and feel my way through the image. I do not look at an image and go, "Oh, well plainly I need a white point adjustment of 243 on this." I have trained my eye to be very sensitive to subtle changes in tonality, but very often I'm feeling my way through, trying to figure out what to do as I go and stacking up layers to make that happen.
This course, from photographer and educator Ben Long, is designed to help you improve your printing "eye." Ben walks you through a variety of black-and-white and color images, explaining what he likes about them, and sharing insights on how to get the best print from it. Then it's your turn: using Ben's advice and Photoshop, you get to correct the images and print them on your own ink-jet printer. Then tune back in for Ben's solution to each challenge. This is a guided master class in the art of ink-jet printing.
- Making basic adjustments to images
- Practicing printing "by the numbers"
- Managing the black, white, and gray in an image
- Creating a vignette
- Addressing tone in color images
- Using exposure layers to correct highlights and shadows
- Making better masks
- Improving on a boring image