Tag Archives: photoshop

Photoshop Technique: Digital Airbrush

[tweetmeme]Airbrushing is (or was) a process typically used to remove minor imperfections in portrait, model, and fashion photography (among other uses in photography). I’ll be presenting a digital airbrush technique in Photoshop intended to slightly smooth out skin textures in close up portraits. Sharp lenses and good lighting can produce very detailed captures, including all the small wrinkles and pores. Sometimes you just want to smooth out all those little things.

I’ve also created a Photoshop action to speed up the process described below. All you have to do is open up the original image and run it. The action stops at the filter dialogs and allows you to adjust them before proceeding. At the end of the action, you’re all set up and ready to start airbrushing.

DOWNLOAD THE DIGITAL AIRBRUSH PHOTOSHOP ACTION

I should also mention that I learned this technique from at least one or two other sites out there (can’t find the source for the life of me right now). I’m definitely not the originator — I’m just passing along my own interpretation of the process.

So here’s the image I’ll be working with… a very close-up and well-lit portrait. What you see immediately below is the final image after applying this airbrush technique. I’d show you the before image, but you wouldn’t be able to see much of a difference at this size.

Amazing Portrait of Merunisha Peel

A couple of things to remember before I get into it: don’t go overboard with the processing, experiment with the numbers to suit your image, and what I’m showing here is not the only way to do it. So let’s get started.

1. ORIGINAL IMAGE

This is a crop of the original image after being processed in ACR for exposure, contrast, white balance, etc. The crop is a 50% zoom so we can see more of the image while retaining some of the important details. Take note of the small skin wrinkles and pores — these are the things we’re going to smooth out a bit.

2. DUPLICATE BACKGROUND

When you open it up into Photoshop, duplicate the background layer. We need to do this because we’re going to apply some destructive modifications to the top layer, and we’ll be applying a layer mask later on. Essentially, we’re going to make a “new skin” that can be airbrushed over the existing image.

3. SMOOTH IT OUT

Now it’s time to make that skin into plastic. Apply the “Dust & Scratches” filter (Filter >> Noise >> Dust & Scratches…). Start with a 5px radius and adjust until you get something almost cartoon-looking. You want to get rid of the small details while maintaining the bigger details.

4. ADD BLUR

After smoothing out the little things, we want to add some blur to soften up the bigger things. Apply a “Gaussian Blur” filter (Filter >> Blur >> Gaussian Blur…). Again, start with a 5px radius and adjust until you lose that cartoon look. You want to soften the hard edges while maintaining some amount of contrast in the larger details.

5. ADD NOISE

This one is nearly impossible to see even at a 50% zoom — it’s very subtle. Apply a small amount of the “Noise” filter (Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise…). Start around 0.7px with a uniform monochromatic noise and adjust until you can barely see it at 100% zoom. You want to break up the plastic look just a tiny bit with some texture.

6. MASK IT

Now that you’ve completely destroyed the working layer, mask it all out. Add a layer mask and fill it in black (Layer >> Layer Mask >> Hide All). Now your image should look like the original because we’ve masked out the modified layer.

7. AIRBRUSH TIME!

Grab your brush tool, soften up the edges, set the color to white, put the opacity to around 10 or 20%, and select the layer mask we just created. Adjust your brush size to suit your needs and start painting in some of the fake skin. The key here is to do a little bit at a time while varying your brush size and edge hardness. Paint over the areas where you want to remove small details. You want to brush in a little more fake skin than you need — we’ll fix it in just a second.

The image above shows the mask applied to the image. You can see that we’ve removed most of the skin texture while keeping the details in the eye.

The image above shows the mask for the entire image. You can see that I focused mostly on the areas… in focus. I also made it a point to avoid the eyes, mouth, and hair. We don’t want to soften up these areas.

8. BACK TO REALITY

At this point, you probably have something slightly resembling a plastic doll. No biggie — we can fix it. Simply adjust the opacity of the modified layer until you bring back some of the original skin texture. I ended up with an opacity of 70%, but you’ll need to judge and adjust your own image based on how heavy you modified the skin during the airbrushing.

9. BEFORE & AFTER

As you can see from this split image, the final adjustment is not very harsh. The intent was to smooth out the very small wrinkles and skin pores visible in on the face.

And for those of you viewing this on the site, you can mouse over the image below to see an after and before effect. RSS and email readers will need to visit the site to see it (there’s a JavaScript mouseover making it all happen).

I don’t use this technique very often, but it’s a good one to know. Useful for close up portraits, but that’s about it. And don’t abuse it — soft and subtle is the key here. A bit of skin texture is actually a good thing!

Link Roundup 04-15-2010

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Link Roundup 04-03-2010

Tone Curves: Final Tips, Tricks, and Things to Avoid

[tweetmeme]We’ve had quite a journey with this whole histogram and curves ordeal:

And now I’d like to wrap things up with a few tips, tricks, and things to avoid when using curves. It’s a fairly simple tool once you begin to work with it and understand it, but there are a few non-obvious items worth pointing out.

what lies within?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fifi LePew

TIPS

We’ll start off with a few generic tips for working with curves, then we’ll move on to the some of the more detailed stuff.

TRICKS

Here are a few tricks for the ACR/Lightroom interface under the “Point” curve.

  • Hold Ctrl and mouse over the image to see where the tones lay on the curve/histogram.
  • Ctrl+click over the image to set an adjustment point on the curve.
  • Ctrl+select adjustment points on the curve to delete them.
  • Ctrl+Tab to move between adjustment points without using the mouse.
  • Shift+select multiple existing adjustment points if you want to grab more than one at a time.
  • Shift+click over the image to set your neutral point for white balance (this works outside of the curves dialog too).
  • Shift+arrow keys to move selected adjustment points by 10 rather than 1.

And then we have a few general tricks:

Danger of Death By Failing
Creative Commons License photo credit: AlmazUK

THINGS TO AVOID

  • Watch for vertical sections in your curve — that produces an extremely high contrast and you lose all midtone data in that area.
  • Watch for horizontal sections in your curve — that produces zero contrast and you lose all midtone data in that area.
  • Too many adjustment points will be difficult to manage, just use what you need.
  • Avoid inverted slopes, they invert the tones. Can you roll a ball from the upper right point of the curve to the lower left (without relying on momentum)? If not, you’ve inverted a section of your curve.
  • Don’t clip your shadows and highlights (unless that’s what you really want to do). Keep an eye on your histogram for this one.

I’m sure there are a few hundred other tips and tricks out there for using curves, but I don’t know them all and I couldn’t cover them in one article even if I did. These tips, combined with the previous articles linked at the top, should keep most of you busy for a while. And if you’re looking for more, here’s my final tip on the subject:

Experiment. Try things out, push buttons, make mistakes, and keep learning.

Nonlinear Curve Adjustments and Histograms

The last article on curves looked at linear adjustments and how those adjustments affect the image and the histogram. So now we’ll take a look at some nonlinear adjustments within the curves adjustment tool found in many photo editing software packages.

We’re basically building on our basic understanding of the histogram and our knowledge of linear curve adjustments to take the next step into nonlinear adjustments (the curvy curves).

NONLINEAR MANIPULATIONS

What I’m going to show here are some very basic curves at each extreme. The single bend and double bend curves are most commonly used during post-processing, but these are not the only options. Curves can have a large number of set points, bends, and inflections — it’s just not feasible to cover every possibility in an article like this.

SINGLE BEND CURVES

The simplest form of a nonlinear curve is accomplished by moving a mid-tone location toward the upper left or lower right corner, forming a basic arc with a single bend. Essentially, your black and white points remain fixed while your mid-tones become lighter or darker (aka: brightness). Also note that one end of your tones will take on more contrast while the other end will lose contrast due to the change in slope of the curve (remember: vertical = high contrast, horizontal = low contrast).

This can be used to brighten or darken the overall image if you want to maintain your highlights and shadows at their current values.

DOUBLE BEND CURVES

Also known as the “S-Curve”, this curve manipulation pushes one section of tones brighter and another section of tones darker (aka: contrast). Again, you can maintain your black and white points, but you also maintain some middle tone where the curve crosses the diagonal. On the note of contrast again, be aware that you will sacrifice contrast in one area to gain it in another.

This can be used to raise or lower the contrast of the overall image with a focus on the mid-tone areas. The bright/dark tone changes of the highlights/shadows are amplified by the mid-tone slope change — so it doesn’t take much to really change the contrast.

APPLYING NONLINEAR CURVES

The beauty of the curve adjustment is that you have such a wide range of possibilities — much more dynamic than a single slider adjustment. To apply curve adjustments, you simply click a location on the curve and drag it to the desired location. The curve will bend on its own based only on your set points. You can continue to add set points until you have the desired result.

Using the example image above (middle of series), here’s one possible curve that combines linear, single bend, and double bend curves. Keep in mind that I haven’t applied any basic adjustments and what you’re seeing is pure curves from an unprocessed raw file (except for the b/w conversion).

Notice that I used a double bend curve to increase contrast. Combine that with a single bend curve to increase brightness. And combine that with a linear adjustment to set my black and white points. I’ve also placed several extra points on the curve in order to bend it into the shape I wanted while maintaining a smooth transition.

As you work with curves, you’ll noticed that they sometimes have a mind of their own. Extra points will help shape the curve and provide you with the ability to make the adjustments you want. On that same note, too many set points can lead to choppy and lumpy curves. Non-smooth transitions generally begin to produce strange contrast artifacts that are easily seen in the image.

For you curves experts out there, what other tips and advice would you add to this discussion? How are you guys using curves to enhance your images?

Linear Curve Adjustments and Histograms

In the previous article on the topic of Photo Editing with Histograms, I discussed the six basic adjustments found in Adobe’s raw processing engine and how those settings affect the image and the image histogram. Then I posted a poll asking your experience level with curves, which also offered up some basic concepts and links for further reading. I also posted a few videos having to do with curves adjustments. So if you’ve been following along, you should have a decent grasp of how the tool works.

In this article, I’ll be discussing how various curve adjustments affect the image and the image histogram — but only in the realm of linear curves. So… linear… curves? Yup, you can do straight lines in the curves adjustment and they have their applications. So let’s look at a few extremes, then I’ll show you how to apply the linear adjustment to an image in need. After this, we’ll dive into the curvy stuff. And after that… I’m sure I’ll have something else to ramble on about.

LINEAR MANIPULATIONS

Let’s just start with some basic straight-line adjustments. Wait… isn’t this supposed to be about curves? Have no fear, we’ll get there — but these basic concepts are essential for the advanced concepts. Keep in mind throughout these examples that the input scale is along the bottom of the curve dialog and the output scale is along the left side of the dialog.

Each of the following examples shows the curve dialog overlaid with the base histogram, the adjusted histogram, and the base image from bottom to top. The original image is shown in example 3.

What I’m showing above is a spectrum of linear manipulations within the curves dialog. We start at full contrast and work our way to zero contrast, followed by negative contrast. Let’s go through them one by one…

The first image shows what would happen if your curve was pushed vertical. What I’m doing is taking all the pixels with tones to the left of the line and forcing them to be black. I’m also forcing all pixels with a tonal value to the right of the line and forcing them to be white. Everything between the set black and white points is scaled according to the diagonal line, thus we see a higher contrast (remember what I said about slope a few days ago?).

The second image shows a high contrast linear curve. This is very similar to the previous example, but I’m allowing midtones to remain somewhere between black and white. I’m still forcing black and white pixels, but not to the extreme as with the vertical line adjustment.

This third image shows absolutely nothing — it’s what we started with. A perfect diagonal line from the upper right to the lower left corner represents a perfectly untouched input/output relationship.

The fourth image shows the opposite of the second image. Here, I’ve moved the black and white points along the edge of the box, but in the other direction. This tells the software to convert all perfect black pixels to some level of dark gray, and all perfect white pixels to some level of light gray. Everything between black and white is scaled accordingly, thus we see a lower contrast.

The fifth image shows a perfectly horizontal line — exactly opposite from the first image of absolute contrast. What I’ve done is mapped every single input tone to output a single tone value. All blacks, grays, and whites are now a single tone value.

And our final image shows the opposite of image three. I’ve turned the curve upside down, inverting all the tones. Blacks map to whites, whites map to blacks.

APPLYING LINEAR CURVE ADJUSTMENTS

Those of you acquainted with curves and levels will say “linear curves can be accomplished with levels!” True. I’m not disputing that fact, I’m just showing how to use curves in a linear fashion. For those using Lightroom or ACR, they don’t have access to levels within the raw processor interface.

At any rate, here’s how I would apply a curve adjustment to the base image/histogram.

So what did I do here? If you look close, you’ll see that I basically did a version of #2 shown above. I set my black and white points so that my histogram spans the entire tonal range. This gives me a true black and white tonal value in the image. Of course, it’s not perfect at this point, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was!

This is the most used real-world application of the linear curve adjustment — setting your black and white points. There are other uses depending on your artistic vision, but you’ll have to explore those yourself.

So now that we’ve covered the linear adjustments, let’s move on to the non-linear stuff! Any questions on the linear adjustments?

Photoshop Curves Video Tutorials

I’m still working on putting together my article on using curves and histograms to edit photos, so in the meantime here are some good video tutorials on the subject. These tutorials are easier to understand because they show how the curve adjustments affect the image in a more dynamic fashion.

This first tutorial is fairly comprehensive for the grayscale and combined RGB channels, covering the basics of contrast and brightness adjustments while also hitting on a lot of little tips and tricks. The creator of this video also jumps into some of the things you should not be doing with curves so that you can avoid these situations.

This second video is a little more basic than the first, but it presents some of the material in a slightly different manner. If you watched the first and you don’t have a good grasp on the curves dialog, watch this one and see if it helps.

And if you have already watched the first two videos and you still don’t have a handle on things, this last one from our friend Donnie might help. He also gets into color channel curve adjustments, so this is helpful for the more advanced users.

Tone Up Your Curves Skills

Yesterday, I posted a poll asking “How Well Do You Know Your Curves?” and I’m seeing a slightly skewed response toward the “less experienced” side of things. That’s totally cool, and I’m glad so many of you chimed in to let me know!

As I gear up to post my next article on “processing via histograms” I’m coming to the conclusion that I should put up a bit of background info on the curve adjustment tool. This tool is deserving of a book just because of the flexibility and complexity that it encompasses… but I’m not going to write a book on this stuff. Instead, I’ve put together a few thoughts and screenshots followed by links to articles far more comprehensive than my own.

So let’s get started with curve adjustments, tones, ranges, slopes, color channels, and all the other associated fun stuff.

Keep in mind that this post is somewhat of a teaser intended to get you thinking about the topic at hand. Read it through, check out the images, and follow the links at the end. I’m hoping that you’ll have a better grasp of the curves tool by the time you’re finished.

WAIT… WHAT’S A CURVE?

If you’ve worked in Photoshop, The Gimp, Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, and many other pieces of photo editing software, you may have already used curves or at least seen them. It’s that box with a diagonal line through it, and you can usually manipulate that straight line into a curve through various methods.

A curve adjustment is a simple input-output tool that changes the tonal value of pixels by stretching or compressing portions of the histogram. So let’s say that you want all pixels with the tonal value of 190 to change to 200 (making the light tones lighter). The curve tool does this for you, but it also moves nearby tonal values to maintain a smooth appearance in the image.

Essentially, you need to know that as you move the curve down and to the right, tones will darken from their current values. Move the curve up and to the left, tones will lighten from their current values. A curve can have many bends and inflection points, so it is possible to apply different adjustments to different sections of the histogram.

THE INPUT/OUTPUT RELATIONSHIP

As I mentioned above, you can use the curve adjustment to designate tone transformations across the entire tonal range. If you want one section of tones to become brighter, you move the curve in one direction for that local area. If you want one section of tones to become darker, you move the curve in the other direction for that local area.

A side effect of curve adjustments is the increase and decrease of contrast for different tonal ranges in the image. The slope (or how steep the curve looks from left to right) determines how much contrast adjustment will be applied to that local area. A steep slope (closer to vertical than horizontal) will give you a higher contrast. A shallow slope (closer to horizontal than vertical) will give you a lower contrast. The interesting thing about the curve adjustment is that slopes changes will alway negate each other. So if you increase the slope in the midtones (thus increasing the contrast) with a traditional s-curve, you also decrease the slope in the highlights and shadows (thus decreasing the contrast).

Simple curve adjustments are applied to a combined rgb channel. Advanced curve adjustments can be applied to individual channels in any color space such as RGB, LAB, or CMYK. This type of thing gives you ultimate control of the tones for each color representation in your image across multiple color channels, but it can be difficult to visualize and control unless you have experience with the tool.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

To best understand curves, I would suggest starting out with grayscale images rather than color. Working with a single channel will be about three times more clear than working with three channels. This scenario will allow you to explore the relationship between input and output tones without having to worry about color effects.

If you have a good handle on how the curve tool works, try messing with the color channels in the RGB space to get a feel for how they work. It’s the same concept as with grayscale, but applied to each color (red, blue, green). You can also convert your image to LAB or CMYK color space and experiment with the curve adjustment.

FURTHER READING

This topic is huge just from a technical standpoint. So rather than regurgitate a bunch of stuff that’s already been said, be sure to check out these following articles. I’ve narrowed my choices down to four articles that I feel cover the main ideas.

Tonal Range and the Curves Tool
This link from Chromasia is actually an entire series of articles on the topic of curves adjustments and everything associated with them. If you have time to read through it, I would highly suggest doing so.

Using the Photoshop Curves Tool
While not as comprehensive as the first link, this article from Cambridge in Colour covers many of the basic lessons in curves adjustments. I like this one because of how concise it is with each topic.

Photoshop Curves: Stepping Up From Levels
This article from Earthbound Light is similar to the previous article, but it hits a few different points and presents the material in a slightly different manner. Both are worth reading.

Color Correction in Photoshop with the Curves Adjustment Tool
And finally, for those of you wanting to dive into color curves, this article from PSDtuts+ gives a good introduction. It doesn’t get terribly technical, but it should give you a good idea on how the color channels are affected by curves adjustments.

As I said, this article is just a precursor to my next article on the curve adjustment and how it affects the image and its histogram from a practical standpoint. So if you’re unfamiliar with curves, read these links and practice on some of your own photos to get familiar with the tool.

More to come later this week…

How Well Do You Know Your Curves?

I’m in the process of writing the 2nd part to a previous article on Photo Editing With Histograms and it basically centers around the curves adjustment tool found in many pieces of photo editing software. The problem I’m having is determining how deep to go into the topic — curves can be highly technical and complex if you start from ground zero.

So help me out with this poll and let me know your experience level with curves. I’m assuming that most of you know what it is and how to use it, but with an audience this size it’s hard to tell for sure. If I see a lot of people with absolutely no clue, I’ll try to include some of the basics in the article. But if the majority is already familiar with curves and how they work, I might trim that stuff down and just give a few links to other articles that cover the fundamentals.

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And if you have any specific questions about curve adjustments or how they relate to the image/histogram, leave a comment and let me know! Hey, I can’t answer your questions if you don’t ask.