For the remainder of the semester you are free (!) to work on a project of your own design, which will make up roughly 40% of your grade for the semester. Your work on this project must be unified conceptually, formally, and verbally. You have to elaborate your ideas, in other words, in visual, oral, and written form. Your work, however, can literally take ANY form, provided you are using as base material the skills and equipment discussed in class. You could make a group of prints, a collection of objects, stickers, a book, tshirts, a slide show, a short animation, etc. The point is that this work should be something you are truly excited about (as there will be no excuses anymore about the assignments!) and something that will sustain you for the rest of the semester. Please note that our class time together will shift slightly to allow you more in-class time to work on your projects. Each week you will have at least an hour of each class to work. Please choose your final project carefully, choose wisely, and have fun!
The fundamental difference in doing independent work is that now your ideas and their visual form(s) must be unified and sustained over the group of images and/or objects you create. You must present at least 10-15 final images and/or objects for evaluation, and they must work together as a group.
So what do final portfolios from students look like?
Here is the Final Portfolio from the Fall 2014 arts1850 class here at CCCRI:
Here is the Spring 2013 portfolio from this class:
To get you started, this week I would like you to make 6-8 images of several possible project ideas. Please write several paragraphs about your ideas and the projects they suggest, and submit them to me in the comment form below:
Putting It All Together: Working On A Difficult File
I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate some of the skillsets we have covered thus far in the semester by working on a particularly stubborn image file together. Let’s take a look at a .dng file that, on first glance, might seem uninteresting and unworthy of further attention:
Even though it looks poor in the preview right out of the camera, this file is very interesting to me: with some careful work using only skills we have discussed in class, I was able to produce the following final image:
Let’s take a look at the steps in-between…
First, I will open the .dng file in Camera Raw:
This is an image that was underexposed at ISO 1600 in very delicate early morning light. By adjusting the exposure and compensating (as best as possible) for shifts in color and tint, I was able to balance out the .dng as follows. Note the difference in the sliders between the first image and the second:
At this point I can select Open Image and complete the rest of my work in Photoshop, where my first task will be to separate and mask separate image elements that I know will need adjusting with Curves and Hue and Saturation adjustment layers. The first such selection I will make will be to the model’s body:
Next, I will carefully and methodically use the Quick Selection Tool to separate the remaining image elements from each other. Below are views in Quick Mask mode representing these disparate “slices” of my image:
For each of these ‘slices,’ I will create a separate Curves and Hue and Saturation adjustment layer, which I will then label in the Layers palette:
Now we have each image element separated on a distinct curves and hue adjustment layer. Each part of my image can now be adjusted independently of the others, quite remarkably. We can start by adjusting the model’s body and skin tones, which in this case needed a slight bump to the curves adjustment layer and a slight decrease in the reds (which comprise much of the skin tonality) in the hue and saturation adjustment layer for that selection:
After the body begins to appear better on the screen, I can move on to a slight darkening of the curves adjustment layer for the red towel on her head, whose color has shifted unflatteringly during the adjustment process. For each of these adjustments to the curve, I selected the hand icon in the properties panel and then moved into my image with the mouse cursor until I could adjust the tonality very easily with the mouse:
After the towel on her head looks better, I can move on to the background and work on developing out the inherent colors to the sky. In this case, I adjusted (lowered) the curves adjustment layer and then raised slightly the master saturation for that particular selection:
Next, I’ll tackle the sand in the right hand foreground of the image, which has shifted in hue and saturation during the adjustment process. To eliminate the blue cast from the sand, I will slightly lighten the overall area with a curves adjustment, and then greatly increase the yellow channel of the hue and saturation adjustment layer:
Lastly in the way of quick adjustments: I will slightly darken and increase the saturation to the water on the left hand foreground of the image, using both a curves adjustment and a hue and saturation adjustment:
Now my image is starting to look interesting, with good color and tonality throughout the skin tones, sand, and water. It lacks, however, many of the ethereal and painterly qualities of the final image I showed you in the beginning:
To me, this image proved most frustrating in the sky tonalities. As I adjusted it further, either darkening or lightening the appropriate curves adjustment layer, I was unable to satisfactorily resolve the rest of the image. There just wasn’t enough information in the file to make the sky more complete on its own, so I decided to introduce some cloud cover into the sky by considering pixelated information from another image file:
First, I opened this image file (made with a different camera, a different lens, at a different ISO, at a different place) in Camera Raw, balancing it so that there was maximum highlight detail preserved in the sky:
Then, once the image was open in Photoshop, I selected out the sky area and applied a slight adjustment to a curves adjustment layer:
Now here comes the interesting part: in my original image, I reselected the sky mask and activated it in the current window. Then, for the image above, I selected Window>Arrange>Float in Window. This put my cloud image in a floating window that I could place on my screen alongside my original image of the person on the beach. Now I had both images lined up, the areas I wanted to borrow from and clone into selected out, and I was ready to consider some careful clone stamping!
Next, I simply selected the clone stamp tool, selected a wide (almost huge) brush size, and then went into my second image and defined my sample area by option clicking inside the image’s sky area. With some care, I began to paint my new cloud information into the original image:
When I was done, my image looked as follows:
Obviously, this is not the end of our sky transplant operation! The sky information needed to be adjusted with a curves adjustment layer, so in order to define the layer (Layer 1 in this demonstration) that I wanted to apply a curves adjustment layer to, I selected curves in the adjustment panel and then selected Layer>Create a Clipping Mask. This created a mask in the layers palette where any curves adjustment in the Properties window would be applied to only that layer:
Creating a clipping mask is one way to ensure that your adjustments will only be applied to a specific layer. In the layers palette, the notation for a clipping mask looks like the following (in this case for both a curves adjustment layer and a hue and saturation adjustment layer):
With a little tinkering to the curves adjustment layer for Layer 1, I was able to get the tonalities of the (new) sky to more closely match their surroundings:
Still, the overall image looked mismatched because of the curves adjustments I had applied to the new, blended information. By rearranging and then adjusting the opacity of the sky layers, I was able to tone down the mismatched feeling and blend the image back toward something that felt more appropriate:
Now all I needed to do was balance out the rest of the image: increase the yellow in the sand, decrease the blue there, take the curves down a little in the water selection, boost the skin tonalities a little, and, in general, decrease the color saturation of the entire image until the whole (and all of its parts) began to feel more appropriately balanced:
Before outputting this image, I sharpened it very slightly using the Unsharp Mask filter:
Just to review: check out the layers palette! There’s a lot going on there:
My final file size is also nearly tripled because of all my adjustments. Note, the first number represents your image in a flattened state, the second is your robust (layers included) file size:
Artist Spotlight: Jim Goldberg: Raised by Wolves
Artist Spotlight: Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters
Artist Spotlight: Alec Soth: An American Photographer (Interview)
For Next Week:
Download and review the slides from this weeks’ lecture: arts1850 slides the constructed image
Read: this Interview with Vik Muniz
Read: this Interview with Barbara Kruger
Read: this Interview with Adam Fuss
Whether or not you have been aware of it, up until this point in the semester we have been operating under quite a few rules and assumptions about what a photograph must be. This week is about breaking the rules!
Make 6-8 images or objects that challenge photography’s formal, historical, theoretical, and/or technical assumptions.
Please upload (small jpeg) representations of your work to Dropbox!
To get you started, consider making work that exposes the truth or falsity of the following statements:
1. There is a correct way to expose a digital image.
2. There is a correct way to adjust and color correct.
3. There is a correct way to make a print.
4. Photographs are two-dimensional (i.e. flat!) objects. They are never three dimensional.
5. Photography is a single image endeavor. You must say it all with a single frame.
6. Photography is serious, not light-hearted or comical.
7. Photographs cannot be cropped down, resampled, or rephotographed.
8. You must present your work each week as either a slide show or a series of prints.
9. A photograph represents something that exists in the world.
10. A digital photograph must be made with at least a 5.0 megapixel camera.
11. The tools of Photoshop are not intended for the kind of digital photography this class is about. (You shouldn’t paint all over the pretty pictures…)
12. A scanner is not a camera; nor, for example, is a Xerox machine.
13. You must interact with the computer to make your images.
14. Images made by a digital camera are RGB color images and they should be left that way.
15. Photographs should look like other photographs, for there is a long history to acknowledge and honor.
Photoshop has a unique collection of filters, or mathematical algorithms that change the ways that pixels are displayed, that can be applied either to an entire layer or any active selection. To see how this works, let’s look at an image:
With no selection active, any filter I apply to this base image will affect all pixels equally. From the Filter menu at the top of the Photoshop toolbar, I will select Filter>Stylize>Find Edges:
The Find Edges filter happens to be a one step filter, meaning there are no additional adjustment sliders available to fine tune the filter. When I apply it, my image immediately changes:
As with any editing operation, if this effect is too garish or wrong for you, consider applying a fade (Edit>Fade) immediately after applying the filter, as it gives you more options in terms of how the filter can appear:
And that’s it! I can apply any additional filter afterwards, or edit the image in any way we’ve previously discussed. However, the sad truth about using filters in this most simple way is that they are destructive to the pixels that they effect. Only by undoing them or moving into previous history states can you eliminate their effect. Editing sometimes becomes very difficult when you are working with filters. Luckily, there are better ways to filter, by creating something called a smart object out of the layer or selection you are interested in filtering.
In the Filter menu there is a better option for negotiating your filtering needs. With a selection active (or an entire layer you want to apply filter to selected in the layers palette), pull down Filter>Convert for Smart Filters:
A dialogue box will appear that will remind you about the fact that you are about to create a smart object:
A smart object is just that: a re-editable, math-based object that can now be filtered in such a way as to not destroy or affect underlying pixel information. When you create a smart object (ready in this case for smart filtering) in this way your layer information will be displayed slightly differently, with a graphic notation that denotes, well: smartness!
Now, with our selection active and converted to a smart object, we can really explore filtering with some of the freedom of adjustment layers. That is to say: we can edit, re-edit, filter, re-filter, alter masks, etc. without affecting the underlying pixel information permanently. To see what your options might be, once you have a smart object created and selected in the layers palette, pull down Filter>Filter Gallery to display access to most of Photoshop’s filters in a single interface:
When I did the above, my screen interface changed to bring up the filter gallery itself:
Each of these filters can be applied independently to your smart object, or in combination. In my case, I began my exploration of filtering possibilities for this image by selecting the Cutout filter from the menu. Note how the interface shows slider controls for altering the filter in the upper right hand corner of the window. The filter you select is displayed in a palette in the lower right hand section of the window, much like information in the layers palette:
When you adjust the sliders available to you in the upper right hand corner, the filter’s effect will change in the preview window in the center of the screen. Adjust the sliders until you are content with the way your image looks:
For each filter, the specific sliders will change. But once you play with a few of them, you will begin to understand your options. In my case, just the boy was selected in my smart object, so when I applied filters, my image changed as follows. Here’s Poster Edges, for example:
The important thing to conceptualize is that you can apply many (or just one) filter from within the filter gallery interface. To apply another filter to your already filtered image, just select the new filter icon (looks like a blank page) from the lower right hand corner of the filter gallery window. As you click on this new filter layer icon, you will begin to stack filter effects in the palette above. Filters will be applied in the order that they rest in the palette, with the bottom one being the first filter applied, and all others that rest on top of it will be applied subsequently:
Obviously, to delete a filter layer, just drag it to the trash icon at the bottom of the palette. When you are satisfied with how your image looks, simply click OK and you will return to the normal Photoshop interface.
Take note of the way a smart filter layer looks in the layers palette:
Clicking on the icon to the right of the filter name you applied will draw up the controls for that filter, so you can re-edit with ease. Clicking on the mask that denotes the selection you made prior to smart filtering will draw up the Properties window for that mask, which can also be edited in terms of feathering and density concerns, just as with adjustment layers!
If you are going to apply many filters to your image, using a variety of selection masks, it is likely a good idea to make a simple copy of your background (or base) pixel layer, to preserve that layer for future edits and selections, as it is a bit more tricky to edit the selection of a smart filter layer. To copy your background layer, simply drag it to the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette, then turn off the original:
Remember along the way that your filtering should be applied with the same scrutiny as your adjustment layers and other operations. To put it simply: a lot of damage can be done to your image very quickly with filters, not physical damage in the case of smart filtering, but psychological damage in how the valence of the image will read to your viewers. Apply filters in final form only when they significantly improve the effect you are trying to achieve with your viewers. If applying a filter simply makes your image look ‘filtered’ you are probably stalking the wrong set of operations for improving your work. We now operate in a visual culture where the language of Photoshop is becoming a part of the vernacular. People recognize, in other words, when something has been Photoshopped, mostly from abuse of filtering with images. Using filters effectively, in other words, is a subtle game. Use them wisely!
Adding text to an image is relatively easy in Photoshop, and most of the controls involved should be familiar from word processing operations. To begin, let’s consider adding text to the following image:
In the example above, I have already selected the Type Tool, and the Photoshop interface has responded appropriately. The Type Tool is located in the lower third of the vertical toolbar on the left hand side of the screen, and looks like this:
Moving from the left hand side of the horizontal toolbar, the font is displayed and selectable from a pulldown menu in the left hand side of the toolbar:
The font style is the next option over, and is also selectable from a pulldown:
Next, select the approximate font size from the next pulldown over:
Note that if you also simply input a number into the font size box, the interface will prepare vector based type at that size, so don’t fret if you can’t find an appropriately small (or large) enough font size. In my case, when I inputted 150pt type into the font size box, my cursor changed to reflect the Type Tool insertion point, and I was able to type the word “listen” over the pixelated representation of my image, after selecting white as the text color from the color picker:
Once you place your text, your layers palette will reflect the new type layer appropriately:
To move the text layer, simply click on the Move Tool and rearrange where the text rests over your pixel layer.
You can also add effects to the text via the layer styles option, which is selectable by clicking on the following icon at the bottom of the layers palette:
Clicking here will bring up the layer styles window:
In my case, I wanted to add a gentle Drop Shadow to my text layer. I selected the appropriate checkbox in the left hand section of the Layer Styles window and then adjusted the appropriate sliders until the shadow effect looked the way I wanted it to:
Note how when I performed this operation, the notation reflected the new layer style application in my layers palette:
At any time, I can click on the [T] icon in the layers palette to re-activate the Type Tool and edit anything about my type layer. In my case, when I did so, the type in my image highlighted as follows:
With such a simple operation I was able to decrease the font size by inputing a new value in the appropriate input box in the horizontal toolbar:
I mentioned already that the Type Tool lays down vector based information. This means that the representation of type in your image is purely math, not pixels. It is size-independent from the underlying pixel layer, and can be scaled up or down without any degradation to the quality of the type. Unfortunately, all of Photoshop’s powers (for example: filtering!) are also unavailable to vector based information. To edit the type layer as if it were an image like the underlying pixel information, it first needs to be rasterized, or converted to pixels. To do this simply select Type>Rasterize Type Layer.
Once your type is rasterized, it will appear in the layers palette as pixelated information. The type part of it will no longer be editable (so check for spelling and grammar of course before rasterizing anything!). The good news is that you can now treat the type layer as if it were an image, and filter, adjust, paint, etc within that layer. In my case, I simply applied a small gaussian blur (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur) to the layer to make the type a little fuzzy:
Basic Color Management Issues
In an ideal world, all of the digital equipment we use in class would be color calibrated to perfection with professional color calibration tools. Color calibration is of vital importance when it comes to printing digital images, as without a properly color calibrated system, there will be very frustrating differences between what your monitor displays and what your printer creates. Color calibration eliminates this frustration by checking the color accuracy of both the monitor and the printer, and establishes a link between these two disparate ways of representing images. When a monitor is calibrated correctly, you can be 100% certain that it is representing color accurately. Color calibration tools differ widely, but essentially, a device is used to measure the color emanating from the monitor. The device checks the color the monitor produces against known constants, and makes adjustments to the way the monitor displays information accordingly.
Once the monitor is properly calibrated, the printer’s color must be measured against known standards as well, and a profile must be written by special software for each specific type of paper used. Again, a device is used to measure how accurately the printer is reproducing color:
This profiling process is exacting and tedious, and must be repeated at regular intervals and whenever ink is changed in the printer. As you can imagine, this type of care requires round the clock maintenance, something the College is unable to currently staff. As such, our system is less than ideal but will still produce satisfactory results when appropriate care is taken along the way. Assume for now that you are working on a calibrated system, as the following steps for ensuring printing accuracy still apply.
Sizing Images for Ideal Output
The first step in preparing your image for output (printing) is to size the image for proper dimensions and print resolution. To do this, simply select Image>Image Size from the Image menu at the top of the Photoshop toolbar:
The following window will then appear on your screen:
The essential information in this dialogue box for our purposes is the print Resolution, which for photographs must be at minimum 300 pixels per inch. Ideally, your document size dimensions should physically fit on your paper of choice at this resolution. (Note: higher resolutions are fine, just do not attempt to print photographic information at print resolutions of less than 300 pixels per inch, as the results will be substandard and frustrating.) In the example above, the ‘Resample Image’ checkbox is left unchecked. This means that Photoshop will only use the pixels available to the file, without interpolating any information to make up for less resolution. Interpolation is a mathematical process that involves software-based estimation of tonal values, and therefore involves some error. If you can avoid interpolation, you should. If you can’t there are interesting ways around some of the challenges it presents.
Let’s say you are working with an image whose minimum resolution falls short of 300 pixels per inch at the document size you want to print. In this case, try checking the ‘Resample Image’ checkbox:
Next, consider adjusting the interpolation method. By default, Photoshop will select ‘Bicubic Automatic’. As you can see, however, from the available options in the pulldown menu, in some instances it will be better to select ‘Bicubic Smoother’ (for enlargement) or ‘Bicubic Sharper’ for reduction:
Once you establish the interpolation method you will use to arrive at a minimum print resolution of 300 pixels per inch, click OK and whatever interpolation method you have chosen will begin. Depending on the size of your output, this is a process that can take anywhere from a few seconds to many minutes to accomplish. The important thing to realize is that in any case where interpolation occurs, Photoshop will use estimation methods to determine how to fill in the necessary pixels. For small leaps in resolution, this process is remarkably clean, and you can ‘get away’ with small jumps in resolution quite beautifully with program’s native power. With operations involving larger leaps in resolution, expect some error in the form of jaggedly represented information, blur, and image degradation.
Sharpening for Print Output using Unsharp Mask
Before printing any digital image it is a good idea to sharpen the available pixels. This is best accomplished via a filter in the filter menu called, surprisingly, Unsharp Mask. In my case, I wanted to prepare the following image for printing:
First, I made sure I was working in the background (or main pixel) layer:
Then, when I selected Unsharp Mask from the Filter>Sharpen menu, the following dialogue boxes appeared:
The main interface window for the Unsharp Mask filter will appear and look similar to this:
I made certain that both the image preview and my main image magnification were set at 50%, which is the recommended viewing magnification for applying sharpening:
Sharpening using this interface is a trial and error process. The best way to sharpen is to make a test print and judge the print, not the monitor, for sharpness, but the method described above will give you some options in terms of adjusting the amount, radius, and threshold of the unsharp mask filter. Keep in mind that how a file appears on the monitor during sharpening may or may not have anything to do with how it will appear as a print, but adjust the sliders and view the apparent sharpness as best as possible on the monitor. Files that are properly readied for printing may sometimes appear jagged and poor on the monitor but may print just fine. The only way to really tell is to make a print! Sometimes the best way to sharpen involves reapplication of the unsharp mask filter. Keep in mind as well that you can always travel backwards in the history palette if your sharpening takes a destructive turn. When you are satisfied with the way your file looks on the monitor, simply click OK to commit the filter’s effect to your pixel layer.
Making A Print
When your file is completely adjusted, color corrected, and sharpened, select File>Print from the horizontal menu at the top of the photoshop interface. A dialogue box like the following will appear:
This dialogue box controls how the printer will respond to your request for output, and its appropriate checkboxes must be managed carefully to ensure the most accurate color and tonality representation possible. First, under the Printer Setup dialogue box, be certain that you have selected the correct printer name from the pulldown menu. (In my case my printer at home is an Epson Stylus Photo R2880, so it is selected above). Next, make sure you are only printing (1) copy of your image, for wasting paper is one of the main drawbacks of the printing process. Do everything you can now to ensure that you waste as little paper and ink as possible. Check the layout (or the orientation of the print) and be certain your image is fitting on the paper properly, then click the Print Settings button to bring up the controls for your specific printer:
In the printer’s dialogue box there should be an option for examining the Print Settings. Pull down the appropriate menu and your screen will likely change (it is different for each printer) to a window that looks like the image above. First, establish that you are using the correct Paper Size from the appropriate pulldown. Next, check the Media Type (or Paper). In my case (above) I am using Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster, the paper type and surface that most approximates that traditional look and feel of a color photograph. (For more information on paper surfaces and options, click here.) Make sure your dialogue box looks similar to the one above, and check that the Color Settings reflect that No Color Adjustments will be applied. This is one of the main points of confusion, for when we print from Photoshop, the program manages colors, not the printer. Unless you turn off the printer’s method for adjusting colors, your print quality will be very poor. There is usually an option in this printer dialogue box to check the color matching and color adjustment. For my system it looks like this:
Lastly, under Print Quality, (see the Print Settings dialogue window, two images above) select the “most superlative” or best Photo option. (In my case it is SuperPhoto @ 5760 dpi). This will ensure that the printer’s heads are outputting at their maximum resolution. It’s generally a good idea to turn off High Speed options when printing photographs, as they may sometimes also lead to poor print quality. When your dialogue box looks approximately like the one above, click on Save to return to the main Photoshop print dialogue box.
Be certain, most importantly, that the pulldown for Photoshop Manages Colors is selected. As mentioned above, this option also ensures that the Photoshop software (and not the printer) controls how colors are represented in your final print. Next, select the Printer Profile for your particular type of paper. In my case it was SPR2880 Premium Luster, the Epson generated profile for the paper I am using to print. (Note: if you were working on a properly calibrated system, here is where you would select the custom created profile for your particular paper.) If your file is 16 bit, you may check the Send 16 bit Data box. More important, however, is that the rendering intent is selected to Relative Colormetric with Black Point Compensation properly checked. This rendering intent tells the program how to translate the tonalities of your file into a printed photograph. Relative Colormetric has been found to be the best overall setting for printing photographs.
Note that this interface window shows a preview of your image on a piece of paper like the one you have selected. There are also checkboxes in the lower left hand section of your screen to check how the print colors will be matched. Unchecking and rechecking this checkbox will show you a soft proof (or a monitor based proof) of your image, and is one way of estimating how your print will look when it is finished.
When you are satisfied that your dialogue box is properly checked and your image properly prepared, simply select Print and the printer will get to work!
Artist Spotlight: Joel-Peter Witkin
For Next Week:
Download and review the slides from this week’s lecture: arts1850 slides self-portrait
Read: Exposing the Body, Baring the Soul, about Francesca Woodman
Watch and Read: about Nikki S. Lee
Watch and Read: about Cindy Sherman.
Expose at least 60 images with yourself as subject. When making your exposures, use either the self-timer on your camera, your own extended hands and/or feet, a remote control, or a cable release. Do not, in other words, have someone else photograph you.
Edit, adjust, crop, and retouch your images. Select your 6-8 best files and export as small .jpeg files to Dropbox.
Things to consider while making your work:
- We see and converse with ourselves every day as reflections, but how is the camera distinct from a mirror? How does it see space differently and how can you coax it into seeing your own image in ways that are interesting, useful, and otherwise impossible?
- Photographic self-portraits often require a certain surrendering of control that can be analogous to working with the pinhole and other crude cameras. What’s it like to give up looking in the camera again? How can you use this “limitation” most advantageously?
- Somewhat conversely: although you usually can’t see yourself at the moment of exposure, making a self-portrait can also be a very precise and extremely controlled event. Think of the concern for the sense of space and detail that the work of John Coplans and Cindy Sherman demonstrates. Both artists use elaborate studio set-ups to create a space in which to move, gesture, and even perform for the camera. Look around as you photograph: how can you use the space that surrounds you and the objects in that space to extend the visual and narrative elements of your images?
- Diane Arbus said that when she was photographing she wanted to find ways to get inside “the gap between pose and repose.” She wanted to slip herself, in other words, underneath and inside the public masks of her subjects. Arbus is often heralded as being an extraordinarily brave and cunning photographer, one who went to great lengths and often dangerous places to bring back her images. One could argue, however, that perhaps the bravest and most challenging thing she could have done would have been to photograph herself. (Some have said this might have saved her life.) Can you think of ways to be brave and cunning enough to unmask yourself? Ways that might look deeply enough into the reality of your image to the point that your pictures could become, as Arbus was always seeking, “things perfectly real and yet utterly fantastic.”
- Sometimes fiction is the higher truth. Think of, among others, Yasumasa Morimura and Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick and the personas they inhabit to make work that is essentially playful and deeply imaginative self-portraiture. Have you thought about how you might similarly explore such fictive realities as instructive, even therapeutic metaphors about your own imaginative life?
Using the Clone Stamp Tool
Most people are familiar with Photoshop’s retouching capabilities, for the fashion and entertainment industry rely heavily on retouching techniques to present stylized and glitzy images. Applications in the arts are usually a bit more refined, but not necessarily so. Some of the artists we looked at in this week’s slide show also rely heavily on retouching to finalize their work output. This week we are going to review some of the basic strategies for retouching a photograph, starting with the clone stamp tool. Like it sounds, this tool samples a pixelated area and transfers that information to a selected destination, either in spot applications or by brushing. It’s located a little more than half-way up the lefthand vertical toolbar in the interface window, and looks like this:
Make sure you select the right tool, for the clone stamp tool is nestled with the pattern stamp tool, which we will discuss later:
Let’s start with an image that needs some retouching, perhaps an image that looks like something you might find in a relative’s stockpile of old photographs:
Obviously, this photograph shows some damage from age, chemical contamination, and what looks like water stains. The clone stamp is a good place to begin to edit some of these problematic areas of the image. When the tool is properly selected, the horizontal toolbar for the clone stamp appears at the top of the interface and looks like this:
A few adjustments to this toolbar will usually help your editing process. First, you can adjust the size of the clone stamp sampling area, by using the brush interface. Next, leave the blend mode to ‘Normal’, the Opacity at 100%, and the Flow at 100%. If you select the checkbox next to ‘Aligned Sample’, Photoshop will sample areas of your image in an aligned way that will correspond to your mouse movements. (See below). Unchecking this box means that the program will sample from the location you first selected to sample by option-clicking in an area of your photograph that you want to clone from, without tracking your mouse movements. The only way to fully understand this is to experiment with your image with the box checked an unchecked, noticing the differences in the mouse action and tracking.
It’s also a great idea to start selecting All Layers in the pulldown menu next to the aligned sample checkbox. This ensures that if you chose to work in a new blank layer to preserve your underlying pixel information, your sampling and cloning will not be in vain.
Look as well for the icon that looks like the image just above this text, for it commands Photoshop to ignore all adjustment layers during the cloning process. Select it and it will darken. Deselected it is slightly greyed out. For now, operate under the assumption that your adjustment layer applications can be honed after your retouching, and select it!
The first step when you are cloning out aberrations or blemishes is to zoom in to properly display what you will be working on. In my case, the dark spot looks like this when magnified and selected by a rectangular marquee:
Next step is to establish a new layer for your retouching. To do this simply click on the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. It looks like a new, blank sheet of paper, and is located next to the trash icon.
With your mouse, select that new layer (in this case it is labeled layer 1). This means that any action you perform with a tool will be applied to a new, transparent layer above your pixelated background layer, preserving its original state. When you select the appropriate layer to work in, it will blue out like this:
Now comes the fun part! By option clicking in an area outside the selected black spot, (and after making certain that the sample all layers pull down is selected), I sample that area and location. Next I simply paint, either by amassing many clicks with a spotting technique, or by actually holding down the mouse button and brushing the information into the new pixel layer. One method does not always work better than the other. You must experiment with your particular image and blemish to figure out the proper technique for removing it. In my case, a little brushing took the black spot right away:
It’s always a good idea to play with the magnification of your image to check the way your cloning appears at various viewing distances. In my case, when I back out of the image by holding the command key and pressing the (-) key, my image looks like this:
What’s interesting about cloning to a new layer is that you can turn that layer on or off to quickly assess how your work is progressing. When I shut the layer off by clicking on the eyeball to the left of the layer name in the layers palette, my image looks just like it did when I started!
Using the Healing Brush
Next, let’s experiment with another tool, the healing brush, to begin removing the lighter blemishes in the upper left hand corner of the image. First, I select the area I want to work on with any marquee tool. This just preserves areas outside the selection from suffering any ‘damage’ by the work I might do subsequently.
Next, I select the healing brush from the pop out menu in the vertical toolbar:
The healing brush has a top horizontal toolbar to modify how the tool is applied. We have already discussed several of it’s characteristics with the clone stamp tool. It looks like this:
In our case, we want the Mode to be set to Normal, the Source to be set to Sampled, and the Aligned Sample checkbox selected along with All Layers. In my tool bar above I have also selected the Ignore Adjustment Layers icon. Next, because I know a little about how the healing brush samples and reconstitutes an image, I want to modify the brush characteristics a little. To do this, I select the pulldown next to the brush size icon in the left hand section of the horizontal toolbar. A pop out appears that will allow us to alter the brush. In my case, I want to create an elliptical brush, because I know from experience that an elliptical shape helps the healing brush strokes I may make to be hidden most effectively in a random kind of way. To alter the shape of the brush you must manipulate the direction and roundness of the brush in the small square that appears in the lower left hand corner of the brush size interface. Play around with the sliders until you can create an elliptical brush shape easily, and then resize your brush accordingly to be slightly larger than your blemish.
Next, I want to make sure that my edits go to the new layer I created when using the clone stamp tool, or even to an entirely new layer:
With the healing brush, when you select a source point by option clicking with the mouse, the brush samples that area of the image and live previews a new transposed image onto your destination which combines, blends, and smoothes information from the source point to your destination, healing the aberrations in color and tonality. The brush reads pixelated information in a feathered radius about ten percent outward from the source point, and thus is able to calculate in most cases a smooth transition between source and destination points when you paint with the brush. This ‘penumbra’ that samples your image is why you always want to use a very hard brush when brushing with the healing brush, for its feathery nature is built-in. Experiment with selecting different source points and then painting inside your new layer with the healing brush selected. With some patience, it is usually fairly easy to smooth out rough areas very quickly with this tool. I was able to eliminate my large white spot very quickly with a few brush strokes, but again, some experimentation and practice is needed:
Using the Patch Tool
Sometimes there are larger blemished areas that need attending to, and luckily for us, the Patch Tool is useful in these applications. It’s nestled in the same cluster as the healing brush. Look for it and select it to work on the rest of the white blemish in the image above:
The first step here is to conceptualize how the patch tool works. Basically, you either draw a source selection with the tool itself or use any of the previously discussed methods for honing a selection. Then, in the tool’s horizontal toolbar, you select whether you want to clone to something or clone from something by altering the source or destination radio buttons. In my case, I want to eliminate this splotchy white area in the upper left hand corner of my image:
By selecting the area I want to work on, then selecting the patch tool, then selecting destination from the radio buttons, the tool becomes active and I am able to find neighboring areas to patch away the blemish very quickly, using the same algorithm as the healing brush but in a wider swath. With a few strokes and some careful manipulation with the mouse, the patch tool makes my blemish fade into the already worn background of the rest of the image, pretty painlessly:
With old photographs, preserving some of the characteristics of wear is desirable to me, so I am going to stop working on this image now that the major blemishes are taken away. I might print it, for example, and frame it alongside truly vintage photographs that show similar signs of wear. One thing I found interesting with this image is that after I applied all my retouching, with a slight curves adjustment, new details appeared in the original image, such as the emergence of three seated figures in the foreground!
Using the Paintbrush Tool
Sometimes it’s easier to paint the solution to your retouching needs. In my case, I am interested in correcting the aberrations in the background of this vintage portrait:
The background is sufficiently uniform to allow me to create a new layer to paint away the blemishes. After selecting the background carefully and creating a new layer to paint in, I will then use the color picker to select the appropriate color to brush with:
This part is easy, I simply use the eyedropper tool that appears when I click on the foreground color in the color picker. By placing the eyedropper tool inside my image background and sampling the most average color, I will arrive at a foreground color that will be suitable for painting out the blemishes. Next, I will go to the Select menu (at the top of your interface window) and choose Select>Modify>Feather to feather my selection a little bit to allow for the woman’s individual hair strands to show through any painting.
This will ease the transition between my painting and the underlying pixel information. The next step is to simply paint away the blemishes, being certain to paint into the new blank layer!
You can check your progress by turning off the background layer. In my case, you will see transparent pixels represented by the checkerboard pattern once the underlying layer is turned off:
It’s possible to further refine this relationship between your new painted layer and the underlying pixel information, simply by changing the opacity or blend mode of the painted layer. These options are selectable in the layers palette. In my case, I eased back on the opacity just a little bit and kept the blend mode at normal. Your application may require you to experiment further with these options, as blend modes are perhaps Photoshop’s most powerful combinatory options.
Remember that any adjustment layer can be applied to this new painted layer, without affecting the pixelated information that underlies it. In my case, I applied a hue/saturation adjustment to fade the paint ever further and blend it better. Let’s look at the finished product:
Using Content Aware Mode with the Patch Tool
Sometimes, it’s desirable to actually remove objects from scenes. To do this, it’s possible to use the clone stamp tool and the healing brush tool on their own, but the patch tool actually has a nice content-aware feature that’s worth looking at more closely. Let’s say, for example, that for some reason I wish to remove the shadow from this boy’s feet in the image below:
With the shadow carefully selected, I can switch the mode of the patch tool once its selected from ‘normal’ to ‘content aware‘, by pulling down the appropriate menu from the horizontal toolbar:
When this option is selected, Photoshop analyzes the information in both the source and destination patches and strives to eliminate the area previously selected. There is a modifier of this analysis and it is called the adaptation. To see the effects of the various adaptation modes available, select one and then apply the patch tool. In my case, after some experimentation I realized that only ‘Very Strict’ successfully removed most of the desired shadow:
By manipulating the source and destination marquees with the Patch tool, I was able to arrive closer to my desired effect:
I wasn’t all the way there, however. I still wanted my result to be more subtle (if that is at all possible in this example). To accomplish this I selected Edit>Fade and applied an opacity Fade to the working of the Patch tool. This made the effect of the tool less jarring:
The result was closer but not perfect:
To remove the barely noticeable edges, I decided to use the clone stamp tool a bit to clean things up. After a few strokes on a separate layer I was able to further refine the image in a way that suited my unsettling application: no more shadows!
Removing Dust and Scratch Marks with the History Brush Tool
Sometimes an image is really scarred by dust or scratch marks in a way that would make regular editing techniques very painstaking and time intensive. Take, for example, the following image:
There is a built-in filter in Photoshop that allows for the quick removal of dust and scratches, and it’s called appropriately the Dust and Scratches filter. Unfortunately, in it’s main application it does a lousy job, as really the filter just blurs out your image until details such as dust disappears in a mess. Let’s apply it, however, because it’s useful in a different way. To select the filter, make sure your background layer is active and then go to the Filter menu (at the top of the interface window) and select Filter>Noise>Dust and Scratches:
When the filter is active a dialog box will appear that will allow you to adjust the threshold and radius of the filter. Experiment with different settings on the sliders until the dust and scratches in your image more or less completely disappear into a blur:
Undesirable, right? Well, don’t jump to conclusions. Pull out the History palette and click back on your Open state (the state of your image before the filter was applied). With the open state selected, click on the icon to the left of the Dust and Scratches step in the history palette to instruct the History Brush to sample from this state. The History Brush allows you to sample any history state and apply its effect to the selected state selectively, using the brush interface. (Interesting!)
Now, in the toolbar on the left hand side of the interface, actually select the History Brush. It looks like this:
Lastly, because the spots on my image were lighter than most other pixels, I am going to select the Darken mode from the Blend Mode pull down. This will only darken the light pixels in my image with the underlying Dust and Scratches pixel information. (Note: if your blemishes are dark you will need to select the Lighten pull down from the Mode pulldown.)
Now, with broad, swooping strokes, I can paint in the blank new layer of my image with the history brush, and watch as the dust goes right away, selectively. The program will only darken the light pixels in my image, so I really don’t have to worry too much about the nature or quality of my stroking, just that I cover the areas with dust and scratches! The result is quite remarkable, an image more or less free of the previously very noticeable blemishes!
The result is quite remarkable, an image more or less free of the previously very noticeable blemishes!
Artist Spotlight: Cindy Sherman
“THE MIND and the spirit are constantly formed by, and as constantly form, the senses; and misuse or neglect the senses only at grave peril to every possibility of wisdom and well-being. The busiest and most abundant of the senses is that of sight. The sense of sight has been served and illuminated by the visual arts for as long, almost, as we have been human. For a little over a hundred years, it has also been served by the camera. Well used, the camera is unique in its power to develop and to delight our ability to see. Ill or indifferently used, it is unique in its power to defile and to destroy that ability. It is clear enough by now to most people, that “the camera never lies” is a foolish saying. Yet it is doubtful whether most people realize how extraordinarily slippery a liar the camera is. The camera Is just a machine, which records with impressive and as a rule very cruel faithfulness, precisely what is in the eye, mind, spirit, and skill of its operator to make it record. Since relatively few of its operators are notably well endowed in any of these respects, save perhaps in technical skill, the results are, generally, disheartening. It is probably well on the conservative side to estimate that during the past ten to fifteen years the camera has destroyed a thousand pairs of eyes, corrupted ten thousand, and seriously deceived a hundred thousand, for every one pair that it has opened, and taught.” —James Agee, from the Introduction to Helen Levitt’s A Way of Seeing.
For Next Week:
Download and review the slides from this weeks’ lecture: arts1850slidesnofriendsallstrangers
Explore the contemporary online photography exhibition Making Pictures of People by Andy Adams at Flakphoto.com.
Read “Photographers: Know Your Rights,” by the American Civil Liberties Union
Photograph people you don’t know. (You must leave the perimeter of campus!) Expose at least 60 images, where all exposures are of strangers, using both Helen Levitt and August Sander as models for your work.
Edit, Save, and Upload your 6-8 best images to DropBox before next class.
Things to consider:
1. August Sander carefully set up each photograph he made, while Helen Levitt passed seemingly unnoticed by her subjects as something of a secret observer. Which method of working feels most comfortable to you? For this assignment, try both methods of investigating the worlds of strangers. Ask permission to make some images and, for others, act like a shrewd voyeur.
2. Both photographers were highly skilled at using objects to propel the narrative of their frames. How can you similarly use things in the picture to tell or at least complicate your story? Include as much information as possible in every frame. Can you photograph people and their things with equal weight?
3. This assignment is meant to bring you face to face with some of the “problems” of photography, in particular with issues related to representing others. What does it feel like to lurk unnoticed, making images like a spy? How is this different from negotiating a picture? Is one method “wrong” in comparison to the other? Do you (or should you) have an unobstructed right, in other words, to your sight?
4. Photography ideally spans gaps in both language and understanding. Like it or not, your pictures are very loaded facts about both you and your subjects. How can you use them to investigate your own (visual) preferences or prejudices?
5. Often the simple act of photographing something or someone can transform that object or person into something other than first recognized. The way we make a picture also articulates our intentions. With this in mind, how can you use your camera as a device for both understanding and transformation?
6. Move your body when you photograph! Even if working from a tripod, consider things from several different vantage points while making pictures. Think of how athletic Helen Levitt’s frames are, with elements stretching your eye to each corner. How can you “stack up” information like this to complicate your images?
Saving and Loading Selections
By now you are catching on to some of the ways in which selections are immensely useful within Photoshop. Often making a careful selection takes time, and thankfully, there are ways to save your work! In the image below I have carefully selected the body of the boy emerging from the pool, and my selection is active in marching ants mode:
Perhaps I want to apply a curves adjustment layer to this selection, perhaps to be followed by subsequent adjustments, so it might be very useful to save the selection for later use. To save the selection, I simply go to the Select menu and pull down Select>Save Selection:
The Save Selection dialog box appears and looks like the following. Photoshop automatically selects a new channel for the storage of your selection data. It’s usually a good idea to name your selection for clarification purposes, so here I have called mine “body”:
Clicking ‘OK’ will create a new Alpha Channel in your Channels palette, which is located on a tab behind your Layers palette, in the lower right hand section of your screen interface. Here, Photoshop allows you to see either composited RGB channel information, or individual channels for Red, Green, and Blue. Later, we will examine the Channels palette in more detail. For now, take note of how the new, named channel will appear in the channel listing as follows:
Notice how the new channel has a graphical representation of your selection in the form of an editable Mask, in this case a grayscale representation of your selected image area. Active areas appear in white while masked areas appear black:
Clicking to the left of the Mask icon will activate the eyeball icon to turn the channel on. In my case, my selection had some feathering (softening to the edges to reduce jaggedness). The feathered areas of the image appear in grey, and represent partial selections of pixels:
In this mask representation of your image, it is possible to edit your selection by painting with the paintbrush (or any other) tool using shades of grey to represent partial selections and black and white to represent either deselected or selected areas. Note: even though this is possible, it’s not really recommended, as there are easier ways to edit a mask using Quick Mask mode (see below). For now, know simply that you can see a graphical representation of any saved selection by clicking on the eyeball next to its name.
If you want to convert your saved alpha channel back to a selection, it’s very easy. Simply locate the marching ants icon at the bottom of the channels palette. It’s the leftmost icon on the bottom:
Clicking here will make the selected alpha channel into a selection visible in marching ants mode, and you can then apply any adjustments. The same result would occur if you went to the Select menu and chose Load Selection.
Remember that you can always go to the Select menu once you’re in marching ants mode and invert any selection to save for later use. With photography, this is an immensely useful operation, for it allows you to quickly edit the relationship between foreground and background in your image. In the case below, I made my previous (boy’s body) selection active, selected Select>Inverse, then selected Save Selection and named it “background” to create an alpha channel of everything but the boy’s body. It looks like this:
Now I can toggle my selections (and adjustments) very easily by simply selecting the boy’s body or the background from the alpha channel list and clicking on the marching ants icon to make the selection active. Very useful!
Adjustment Layer Masks
Any adjustment layer is always accompanied by a pixel image layer mask, which always appears in graphical form next to the adjustment icon in the layers palette. This mask is editable, and controls how the adjustment will be applied to underlying image layers. You can edit any mask by using the appropriate paint tools and painting in white to reveal (and apply adjustment) and painting in black to mask. This is a little counterintuitive to master at first, but you will get the hang of it promptly with a little practice.
In the properties window, there are two icons (an adjustment icon and a masks icon) that allow you to alternate between the adjustment and the mask. Look for them in the upper left hand corner of the properties window. When selected, each will look approximately like this:
Note the slider controls for Density and Feather. These sliders independently control the strength of the mask and it’s softness or hardness. One of the great secrets of successful photographic image editing is knowing how to feather (or soften) selection edges, so that edits are not so jaggedly visible. These controls allow you very specific power to adjust the adjustment layers even further and more subtly.
The Density slider controls the overall strength of the mask, its density. By default it is always set to 100 per cent. By adjusting this slider, you adjust the mask contrast, for it weakens the overall effect of the adjustment. Play with this slider to see how it can help you submerge your edits beyond what is visible to any viewer:
The Feather slider is used to soften the mask edges. Again, by default it is set to its hardest setting, 0.0 pixels. Watch your selection soften and spread as you adjust this slider further to the right, increasing the pixel radius of the selection mask:
Next down the line in the Masks properties window, there is the option to refine Mask Edges. This will bring up the refine mask dialog box:
The Refine Mask dialog box allows you to do just that: refine the mask edges further. You can adjust Edge Detection, and then in the Adjust Edges section, there are sliders for Smooth, Feather, Contrast, and Shift Edge.
Remember that you have the ability to control the View. In my example above I placed the selection on black to highlight the body of the boy escaping the pool. This allowed me to easily see how my adjustments to the sliders (above) effected my selection and mask. I recommend you experiment with these view options often, as sometimes different ways of representing your image can help you identify areas of your selection that need improvement and editing.
Lastly, in the Properties panel mask controls, there are buttons for Color Range and Invert, which we have already discussed.
Editing Selections in Quick Mask Mode
Especially when you start to feather your selections, it is important to be able to properly edit the resulting masks. One of the easiest ways to do this is in Quick Mask mode, which converts any selection into a rubylith representation. First, make a selection or convert a mask to a selection, then look for the Quick Mask icon in the lower left hand section of the toolbar. There is actually only one icon that changes when you click on it. When you are in marching ants mode, it looks like this:
Click here and you will enter Quick Mask mode, and the icon will change to look like this:
In my case, when I selected the boy’s body in my image and entered Quick Mask mode, my image window changed to this:
Entering Quick Mask mode means that your image selection is represented by the clearer, more transparently-un-red parts of your image. The masked, or unselected areas will appear red. Again, somewhat counterintuitively, it is possible to paint new mask areas by using the paintbrush tool, which is located about a third of the way down in the toolbar to the left of the interface window. Look for the icon, it looks like this:
Any paintbrush tool you select is modifiable further by the horizontal toolbar that appears in the upper left hand section of the interface window. It looks like this:
This toolbar allows you to change your brush into nearly limitless variations, adjusting the size, the softness, the shape, the blend mode, the opacity, and the flow of the paint you will apply. We have already seen how the brush size can be modified by clicking on the second icon (for brush size and shape). Doing so will pop out a window like this:
It is here that you select your brush and adjust it’s size and hardness. What color you paint in is determined by the color picker, located in the lower left hand corner of the vertical toolbar in the interface window. The color picker icon is as follows:
When in Quick Mask mode, if you select your color picker, you will be presented with a window like this, which allows for supreme control over the color and tonality of your paint for masking:
As I mentioned already, painting in pure white will reveal sections of your image in the adjustment layer you are working on. Painting in black will mask. Painting in any color or tonality of grey will effect your image in different ways according to the way that your color selection is translated into transparency in the mask. This is hard to conceptualize, the only way to figure it out is really through experimentation. To begin, try painting with all white or all black first, then try some shade of grey or a color variant to see the more subtle effects of your brush strokes. Once you’ve selected your color, to apply a brush stroke to the mask area, simply click and drag inside your image window where you want the painting to occur. For example, in my image I drew a fat stripe through the boy’s body to demonstrate the effect on the resulting selection. Here’s what it looks like in Quick Mask Mode:
The resulting change in my selection is as follows in marching ants mode (notice the deselected area in the center of the boy’s head):
Obviously, the art in mask editing is to use the paintbrush tool with appropriate shades of grey or color in such a way as to create soft, evenly feathered selections. That’s the only reason you should be in Quick Mask mode: to edit and refine your selections! Experiment, and develop the discipline to create stunningly beautiful masks:
Artist Spotlight: Rineke Dijkstra
For Next Week:
Download and review the slides from this week’s lecture: arts1850 slides noideasbutinthings
Read: No Ideas But In Things (about William Carlos Williams)
Photograph things. Discover ways of looking at an object where shape and metaphor begin to merge. In other words: photograph things in such a way that they carry your ideas.
Expose at least 60 images and upload your best 6-8 adjusted files (as small jpegs) to Dropbox.
Questions to consider while making your work:
1. Think about the range of approaches to this problem taken by the artists discussed in class. Lee Friedlander found most of his things in the street as part of his daily (and somewhat secret) survey of the facts of the world. Other artists like Frederick Sommer, Abelardo Morell, and Josef Sudek collected and arranged objects (albeit very different kinds) before photographing them. James Casebere, David Levinthal, and Thomas Demand constructed new objects with materials and shapes that convey very specific feelings. Which method feels best to you? If all of these feel uninspiring, one could say you have arrived at the problem of the artist: coming up with a new way of seeing. You are the one responsible for making things interesting! Make sure you never feel hemmed in by others, for there’s no reason to be—you should always be reaching to articulate the uniqueness of your own vision.
2. Think of the brilliance of Vik Muniz (artist at the center of the film we saw entitled Wasteland) but also think of his playful joyfulness at confronting his work. Certainly things would go better for you if you were actually enjoying what you do, right? What steps do you need to take to make this the most fun project possible, one that engages you far beyond the scope of this class?
3. It’s up to you to make your spaces, as Abelardo Morell says of his own images, “containers of drama.” When dealing with fixed and often unmovable objects, how can you get pieces of your pictures to “have conversations” with each other, implying relationships that may or may not exist in real space?
4. How is light driving your pictures? Especially with inanimate objects, it becomes even more important to be sensitive to how the light in your image may affect how we perceive it. If, like Diane Arbus, you choose not to arrange your subjects, then arrange yourself in space. Study the light. See things with different illuminations, from different angles and distances. If your objects are small, by all means, move them! Bring them to a window. Light them with house lamps. You should always be wrestling to discover new ways to use light itself as subject matter.
Making Selections and Applying Localized Adjustments
Often it is useful to isolate certain parts of an image in order to apply adjustments in a more specific way. Within Photoshop’s toolbar (all the way on the left hand margin of your interface) there are a number of tools to make and modify selections. The most basic of these, the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee tools, allow for geometric shape selections to be applied to areas of the active layer. These tools, like others in the toolbar, are nestled in the menu. They look like this when selected:
Selecting either the Rectangular or Elliptical Marquee tools will allow you to draw selections inside your image, denoted on the screen by what is commonly referred to as ‘marching ants mode’, an animated pixel boundary that describes your selection. A rectangular selection (in this case half the image to the right) might look like this:
What’s really interesting about selections is that once you are in marching ants mode and an area of your image is selected, it is possible to apply an adjustment layer to that selection only by simply clicking on any of the Adjustment icons in the Adjustments Panel. For example, with the rectangular selection above, I clicked on the Curves icon in the Adjustments panel and was able to apply a curve adjustment to darken just one half of my image:
When I select the Curves adjustment icon with this selection active, a new layer appears in the Layers panel, with graphical representations of the selection represented by a mask icon. This mask describes the area where the curve will be applied in white, and unaffected areas in black:
Just so you don’t think you have to work only with rectangles, here is a similar example using the Elliptical Marquee Tool to lighten a selection with an adjustment layer:
Obviously, these are gross exaggerations simply to demonstrate the basic usage of these tools. In real work flows, it’s important to be able to refine selections with great precision, allowing you very specific control over any area of your image. The next grouping of selection tools, the Lasso Tool, the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and the Magnetic Lasso Tool, allow for just that: more precision. They are located directly below the Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee Tools, and look like this:
The first of these tools, the Lasso Tool, allows you to freely draw a selection inside your image. Anywhere you move with your mouse draws marching ants, to be activated only when you enclose a loop around an area of your image, like this:
You can add to your selection at any time by holding down the shift key while you draw with your mouse. Be certain to enclose your selection! Likewise, you can subtract from the selection by holding down the option key and drawing with your mouse. Practice refining selections this way, in coordination with holding down the command key and zooming in or out by pressing the (+) or (-) keys. This is a great way to make selections even more precise.
Luckily, there are powerful algorithmic tools built in to Photoshop that greatly speed in the refinement of selections. When the Lasso tool is selected, there should be a toolbar present in the upper left of the interface window. Look for the button that is labeled refine edge.
When you select refine edge with any active selection, a powerful interface window appears that aids remarkably in the honing of very precise edge selections. It looks like this:
The most important slider in this window is the Edge Detection slider. When you increase the radius with this slider, Photoshop looks for very precise differences in contrast between edges nearby your selection. For example, if I wanted to refine my crude hand drawn lasso tool selection to include just the barely noticeable details of this boy’s hair and skin contours (just his body, isolated), I could move the edge detection slider until I noticed the selection becoming appropriately precise in the image window. In my case, since I am working with a very detailed image, I needed to move the slider all the way over to the right, to maximize the radius of the detected edges nearby my active selection:
Furthermore, within the refine edge interface, you can refine how your selection will appear after the refinement. Here are two examples, the first of which is ordinary marching ants mode:
To show you how precise the selection is after applying the radius adjustment, here is the same selection presented on black:
Once you click ok, the edge refinement is applied to your selection and afterward, you can apply an adjustment by clicking on any adjustment in the adjustments panel. In my case, I again applied a curves adjustment to just the selection of the boy in the foreground of my image. The refinement of the selection allows me the luxury of being able to independently adjust this aspect of my image apart from any other areas, which will remain unaffected:
Note the mask in the shape of the boy’s figure that appears in the Layers palette, denoting my refined selection and an applied curves adjustment layer:
Check out the other tools in this nesting of selection tools. The second tool is the Polygonal Lasso Tool.
It allows you to draw straight line polygons as selections anywhere in your image. Again, you have to decide what tool is appropriate for your task and then experiment with the way to best make and then refine the selection.
Much more accurate at detecting contrast between edges in your image is the Magnetic Lasso Tool. It looks like this:
Like it sounds, the Magnetic Lasso Tool allows you to point the mouse toward an edge in an existing image, and Photoshop will ‘sense’ the contrast in the edge pixels and lay down selection points as you move the mouse. The tool is modulated and controlled by a toolbar that looks similar to this:
The input boxes for width, contrast, and frequency adjust the appropriate characteristics of the way in which points are laid down by this tool. Increasing the frequency drops more points, while increasing the width and contrast extends the edge radius sensitivity. If you are dissatisfied with the way in which the magnetic lasso is behaving, chances are you need to modify these settings. Experiment, again with broad changes at first, and then refine them. Remember that all selection tools allow for you to refine edges when you are finished making gross overall selections.
One of the more interesting selection tools is the Quick Selection Tool. It is located in the cluster below the Lasso tool and looks like this:
The Quick Selection Tool uses mathematical algorithms to determine what tonal and color values you seem to be interested in with your mouse activity. When selected, this tool is perhaps the quickest and most efficient selection tool of all. The tool’s menu bar (located in the upper left hand corner of the interface window) looks similar to the following, and allows for both additive and subtractive selection operations. Note: it’s a good idea to use the ‘auto-enhance’ feature of this tool, but experiment with and without it to see the difference in the smoothness of your selection edges:
The Quick Selection Tool behaves as a brush and therefore has an appropriate brush options window, for changing the size and nature of the brush. Be sure to adjust the brush size here if the tool is not behaving the way you want it to:
With the Quick Selection Tool selected, you can ‘draw’ a selection very quickly in your image by toggling between the (+) and (-) states of the tool. To do this, simply use the option key to toggle to the subtract mode. Click and drag to add (or subtract, depending on which mode is selected) inside your image, and watch in the image window as the selection is defined in front of you. When you have made a selection, you always have the option to refine edges!
Please experiment with these tools to apply local adjustments. They give you much more control than is available with other tools, such as the burn and dodge or saturate tools.
Using Color Range to apply a localized Adjustment Layer
Under the Select menu in the topmost section of the navigator window, there is an option to make a selection based upon color range. When you pull down the Select menu, it appears in the list as follows:
Pull down and select Color Range and your interface will change to show a smaller window representing a grayscale map of your image. The cursor will change to an eyedropper. Anywhere you click inside your image will create a selection based upon the color sample below the eyedropper cursor. For example, when I click on the clouds in my image to more or less select the whites, my interface looks like this:
By selecting the cloud areas with the eyedropper and adjusting the Fuzziness slider, I was able to create a selection that ultimately protected the clouds while I darkened the rest of the image with a curves adjustment layer. To accomplish this I simply pulled down the Select menu and moused over Invert. This selected everything but the clouds, and allowed my curves adjustment to provide a final pop to the image:
First View: The Layers Palette
When working with the Adjustments panel, you will notice new Adjustment Layers in your layers palette, and it is very important to keep track of the active layer when performing additional adjustments to your image. It’s easy to get lost in layers, and to have your hard work lost or ineffective because the wrong layer was selected in the layers palette. For example, with a few adjustments under my belt, my image looks like the following, with six active layers (5 adjustments and the base image layer):
We will work extensively with the layers palette in coming weeks, but for now keep an eye here always, as you must be certain you are working in the right place, with the right pixel information. To select a layer, simply click on its name in the layers palette. Deleting a layer can be accomplished by dragging that layer into the trash icon at the bottom right of the layers palette. Likewise, a new, blank layer can be easily created by clicking on the new layer icon next to the trash. Layers can also be reordered easily, by selecting and dragging where appropriate. Be careful when reordering adjustment layers, as the layer will apply to all information below it in the stack. Therefore, a reordering operation may (or may not) affect how your image appears on the monitor.
Understanding the History Palette
Photoshop allows for virtually unlimited undo states, provided you set up the History options accordingly. This non-linear feature of the program is immensely useful as you begin to amass increasingly complicated operations within your image. The history palette is located in the upper right hand corner of the image window, and a pop-out window will appear if you select the history icon from the side panel:
When you select this tool, if you have performed image operations in succession, a window will appear listing your image states and the operations you have already performed. It will look similar to this:
Navigate through your history by clicking on any state. The image window will reflect the image as it appeared when you applied that particular image operation. Notice how some states are white and some are greyed out. The greyed out states will disappear if you perform an image operation subsequently, unless you allow for non-linear history states by clicking the appropriate checkbox in the history menu panel (located in the upper right hand corner of the history window.) This pull-down panel allows you to move up or down in the chain of history options, create a new snapshot (an independent, saveable history state), clear the history, or change the history options.
It’s a good idea to come to the history menu here and adjust the options to allow for non-linear history. Make sure your history options box looks like the following if you want non-linear options while editing your image:
With this checkbox selected, you can travel back and forth ‘in time’ while you edit your image, and there will be no lost states, which can be immensely useful!
Many images require some cropping, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with the crop tool:
Obviously, the crop tool allows parts of an image to be deleted. The interface is a bounding box with moveable points on all four corners. A toolbar modulates and controls the characteristics of the crop box, which appears overlaid on top of your image. The toolbar looks similar to this:
In the first pulldown window you have the option to control the ratio of the crop box. If you want your cropped image to resemble the other images made from your camera, it is important to correctly select the appropriate ratio. In my case, I am using a full-frame 2:3 camera, so I will select 2:3 from the pull down menu. (Note: many digital cameras are 4:3!). It’s a good habit to uncheck the ‘delete cropped pixels’ button. This will preserve cropped pixels for later decision making. Also, I like to select the grid option from the ‘view’ pulldown. It’s a bit more precise.
Using the crop box is easy. Here’s how my image appeared before cropping:
Here is a view of the same image during cropping. I didn’t like the extraneous parts of the image, so I used the four corners of the crop box and abbreviated what was visible, also applying a slight rotation to the image to correct for the sloping horizon line:
When I was satisfied with how the image appeared inside the cropbox, I simply hit return. The result is my cropped image!
The crop tool will delete any information you do not want, preserving your adjustment layers nicely. While it is powerful and elegant to use, try your best to frame things perfectly within the viewfinder of your camera!