Tag Archives: lab

Make Light Real ONE Action

Those who have used Photoshop probably know the power of actions. Some also know the power of LAB color mode. The problem is that LAB can sound like a scary thing, and most actions are “one hit wonders.”

Neil Cowley has created something that will blow you away — The ONE Action. It’s an action set that guides you through the LAB colorspace workflow. I’ve worked in LAB for a few little things in the past, but I hadn’t realized the full potential until I started working with the ONE Action.

Neil is sponsoring our most recent project, the “Action and Preset Extravaganza“, and the top 3 prizes include the ONE Action. I’ve been toying around with it for a couple weeks, and this is my introductory take on it. I should also state that I have much to learn about using this action and working in the LAB color space, so this is by no means a comprehensive review.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

The ONE Action package includes several handy items. Obviously, the Photoshop Action is at the heart of it all. You also get an ACR and Lightroom preset, an HDR action, LAB curve presets, an instruction manual, a really great walkthrough video, and some sample photos.

The video is a great place to start after you’ve loaded up the actions and/or presets. Neil goes through the capabilities of the action, how to use it, and the thought process behind the actions. He explains rather quickly that the ONE Action is more than just a “push and go” type of action — it’s a workflow process.

Here’s another video from Neil that shows an example of how the action can be used. This is not the video included with the action.

HOW IT WORKS

The action “forces” you to work in the LAB color space (which really isn’t a bad thing at all). This gives you the freedom to manipulate the luminosity and color of the image separate from each other. It also gives you the ability to pinpoint specific tonal ranges and apply adjustments only where you desire.

There are a lot of individual actions contained in the set, and each one is intended to target a very specific region of the image. The main idea, though, is to understand the adjustments produced by the actions and apply them in small steps as you work through the image. Masking and tone-mapping are important parts of the ONE Action workflow.

Honestly, once you start working with this action set you’ll really start to understand the power of working in LAB color space. As I went though several of my own photos, I was surprised and amazed at the results that could be achieved with just a few little adjustments.

EXAMPLE PHOTOS

Each of the images below show the unprocessed raw file, the processed raw file, and the final photo after processing with the “ONE Action.” I chose to use the action on a few particular photos from a recent photowalk that turned out less than optimal but had potential. I used the action with the intent of reproducing the scene I saw with my eyes (and in some cases introduce a bit more “life”), and in most cases the ONE Action saved my butt. Click on the photos for a larger view.

You can purchase the ONE Action from Make Light Real, or participate in the Action and Preset Extravaganza for your chance at one of the prize packages.

Photoshop Technique: LAB Saturation Adjustments

LAB Saturation

Saturation is one of those things that we tend to either ignore or overdo. In some color images, it’s the actual colors that account for the interesting-factor — and in those cases, saturation processing is very important.

I have the sneaking suspicion that most of us (yes, I’m at fault too) will use an RGB saturation adjustment layer (or an ACR adjustment) to boost the color saturation. This is probably OK for very small adjustments on the order of less than 5 or 10%. Once you go beyond that, you’ll start clipping the color highlights and end up losing tone details and textures.

But have no fear, there is a better way! The LAB (Lightness, A, B) color mode is quite useful for making higher quality adjustments to the saturation. I’m guessing that most will avoid LAB editing because it seems less intuitive, or because there’s no immediate need to use it. In reality, it’s no more difficult to use than the RGB color mode. So if you have an image that’s begging to be saturated, try out this technique and I’m certain you’ll find just how powerful it can be.

DOWNLOAD THE PHOTOSHOP ACTION

I’ve put together a Photoshop action that might help speed up the whole process. Laziness is usually why I’ll opt for the RGB saturation method vs the LAB method, so this action should make the process less tedious. Just apply any touch-ups or adjustment layers to your original image like you normally would, select the top layer when you’re ready to bump your saturation, and run the action. This action basically takes care of everything, but it gives you the ability to adjust the LAB curves half way through the execution. After getting the LAB curves adjusted (as outlined in step 4 below), you’ll be presented with a “Duplicate Layer” dialog — You MUST select your original document from the second drop down menu for things to work correctly. Give it a try, and let me know if there are any problems with it. Also, before you run it, you might want to run through the steps below just to get a better idea of what it’s doing.

1. OPEN YOUR IMAGE IN RGB MODE

Unadjusted RGB Image

The RGB color mode is the most common to work with, so I’ll assume that most of us use this as our default. We can still work in RGB even though we’re doing adjustments in LAB color mode — it’s just a little extra work. So open up your image as you normally would and apply any touch-ups such as spot removal or any other cloning or cropping. Once you’re comfortable with the base image, we’ll start looking at the color and contrast.

You can also go a different route than what I’m showing here — you could actually start up in LAB color mode straight out of the RAW file (for those of us processing RAW), skip steps 2 and 3, go straight to boosting the saturation, and just convert back to RGB when you’re done. What you want to avoid is excessively switching back and forth between RGB and LAB color modes.

2. RGB CURVE ADJUSTMENTS

RGB Curve AdjustmentCurves Adjusted

After applying my touch-ups, a curves adjustment is usually the first thing I do. The RGB curve is great for increasing contrast using the traditional “S” curve as I’ve shown here. This adjustment also gives the appearance of increased saturation too, so it’s a good idea to apply it and dial in your contrast prior to adding any color saturation.

3. OPEN A COPY IN LAB MODE

Make a copy of the visible image by doing a “Stamp Visible” command (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E). This gives us a single layer that contains all of the underlying adjustments we’ve applied. Now take this layer and duplicate it to a new document. Once in that new document, change the color mode to “LAB”. Why not just change the color mode in the original file? You’ll lose any RGB-specific adjustment layers such as the curves adjustment we just applied (go ahead, try it and see what happens). OK, so now we’re working with LAB and we’re ready to boost the contrast.

4. LAB CURVE ADJUSTMENTS

Lightness CurveLAB Adjusted
A CurveB Curve

We’ll do the saturation adjustment with a curves adjustment layer, but this time we’ll be adjusting each channel individually. Start with the “A” and “B” channels and make the adjustments as shown in the screenshot. Be sure to pull each side of the curve in equal amounts, otherwise you’ll end up with some funky color shifts. Same goes for adjustments between the two channels — try to keep them in the same ballpark. The last step is to go back to the “Lightness” channel and put a slight “S” curve into it to fine tune the contrast after adjusting the saturation. Again, extra contrast adds to the appearance of extra saturation.

5. COPY BACK TO THE RGB IMAGE

Once you’re happy with your saturation adjustment, you can merge the layers, stamp visible, flatten, etc. to give you a single layer with all of the color information. Now copy that layer back to your original image — it should convert itself back into RGB when you copy it over.

Once you’re back in the original image, you’re pretty much done with the adjustment. You can now toy around with masking and opacity settings to get the final look you’re after. If you’re seeing localized spots that seem too saturated our out of place, you can just brush over them on the mask with a low opacity brush until you get the results you need.

A COMPARISON OF THE RESULTS

Now for the fun part — let’s evaluate just how much better this technique is from a standard saturation adjustment that most of us are familiar with. Sometimes the old RGB method will work out better for you, but in my opinion, the LAB saturation is much more natural with deeper colors and less highlight clipping.

LAB Saturated (shown), RGB Saturated (mouse over)

LAB Saturated (shown), Curves Only (mouse over)

RGB Saturated (shown), Curves Only (mouse over)

LAB Saturated (shown), Original (mouse over)

RGB Saturated (shown), Original (mouse over)