Using the Photoshop CS5 Content Aware Spot Healing Brush

By Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman

Here’s a quick tip for anyone who ever agonized over taking out power lines from a picture.

While there’s been so much attention paid to the new Content Aware Fill feature in Photoshop CS 5, this new feature came with a lesser known, but no less important companion. Though the Spot Healing Brush is not new to Photoshop, it received one heck of an upgrade when they added the Content Aware capability to it.

It works very much like the Content Aware Fill feature, in that Photoshop does a certain amount of pattern matching and analyzing to fill in the area you want to remove with an appropriate texture. However, this tool is much better suited for more localized refinements, such as, power lines, telephone poles, cracks in a picture (think photo restoration), etc.

It’s quite simple to use. Simply choose the Spot Healing Brush from the toolbox and make sure, in the Options bar, the that Content Aware feature is checked. (It’s a little radio button). Then just make a brush stroke over any area you want to remove. There will be a slight delay while Photoshop does its calculations, but the results are amazing.

picture-soup.com photoshop cs5 illustrating content aware spot healing brush gary small tip

The Spot Healing Brush is selected, and the Content Aware button has been chosen.

picture-soup.com Gary Small example photoshop content aware spot healing brush

Here’s a picture I took of Yankee Stadium. Note the offending power line just above the stadium. Normally not too hard to remove, but the clouds complicate matters. Photograph © Gary Small

picture-soup.com gary small photo illustrating photoshop cs5 content aware spot healing brush

Note the dark line that results from making a brush stroke with the Spot Healing Brush. Depending on the size of the brush stroke and the size and resolution of the image, this may remain for a few to several seconds while Photoshop calculates a pattern to replace the area with. Note: the “Click…Shift-Click” method was used to make a perfectly straight line.

picture-soup.com gary small illustrating photoshop cs5 content aware spot healing brush

Here’s the end result. If you compare the Before to the After, you’ll see the light fixture in the top right was also removed. I used the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush on that too! And for good measure, I also used the Lasso Tool and Content Aware Fill to remove the truck parked in front of the stadium. If you look closely, you’ll see it’s not exactly perfect. However, could you imagine trying to remove that truck using previous versions of Photoshop? How long would it take you? The entire edit, power line, light fixture and truck took less than a minute, start to finish. I’m NOT kidding! This new feature is AMAZING! Photograph © Gary Small.

2 tips to make this work even better:

Tip #1: Although in my retouching, I like to use soft edged brushes almost all the time, I have found that the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush works best when the brush has a hard edge. Without going crazy trying to figure out how to change brush hardness, here’s a keyboard shortcut—hold down the shift key and tap the right square bracket key ] to increase brush hardness. Four taps brings it to a fully hard edged brush. Hold the shift key and tap the left square bracket key [ to decrease brush hardness (or increase softness, depending on how you look at it). Four taps will give you a fully soft-edged brush. Remember, for the best results here, a hard edged brush is best.

Tip #2. Straight lines. Ever wonder how to get a perfectly straight line when painting a brush stroke? You’re gonna love this one. Click the mouse button to put down one dot of a brush stroke at the point where you want to begin painting your line (or if you’re using a tablet, just touch the pen down and pick it right back up again to simply “dot” the starting point. Then place your mouse pointer all the way on the other end of the line you want to paint. While holding the Shift key, click the mouse button (or tap the pen down onto the tablet). What you’ll see is Photoshop will connect the 2 points with a perfectly straight brush stroke. This works with EVERY painting tool in Photoshop’s arsenal…the Paintbrush, Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, and yes, even the Eraser. And you thought those artists just had really steady hands, didn’t you?

Play around with this and have fun!

• Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management. Check out his work at www.jsmallphoto.com.

For more information about Adobe Photoshop CS5, go to www.adobe.com.

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Photoshop CS5 Teaser: Refine Edge Command

Text & Images By Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman

Today’s tip covers a couple of ideas here. First off, the Refine Edge command is not new to Photoshop. It was introduced in Photoshop CS 3. However, in CS 5, this new and greatly improved version of the Refine Edge command also addresses the fact that (in case nobody noticed) the Extract tool mysteriously vanished. Actually, the Extract tool disappeared when CS 4 was released, but as an afterthought, the plug-in was sent along, to be put back in afterwards. Now, with the new Refine Edge command, there is really no need for the Extract tool anymore. Let’s see how it works…

In this example, I have a nice picture of a girl that was taken on location. Mom would have loved a nice studio portrait of her, instead of using the available location, but time constraints did not allow a background to be brought to the job site. You know how it is. Let’s see what we can do to give mom what she wanted.

Step 1. Using the Quick Select tool, I drag around the contours of the young lady. The Quick Select tool is an amazing tool, because it looks for the edge contrast in the area you’re selecting and “locks on” to those edges, kind of like a souped up version of the Magnetic Lasso tool. Depending on the subject and background, there are some selections that can be made with this tool in one brush stroke. One important note about the Quick Select tool, is that, unlike all other selection tools, where you have to hold down the shift key to add to the selection, the Quick Select tool is always in “Add” mode. What that means is, you don’t have to hold down an extra key to add to an existing selection with this tool. You just make another stroke on the area you want to add and it will add it to the selection. Subtracting from the selection is the same as the other selection tools in Photoshop, in that you’d hold down the Alt (Windows) / Opt (Mac) key, and draw across the part of the selection you want to remove. In the first illustration, you can see the original picture with the selection drawn out.

Here is the original image, after selecting the subject using the Quick Select Tool.

Step 2. The Refine Edge command is found on the Options Bar on top, just below Photoshop’s menus. As long as you have any selection tool chosen in the tool box, the “Refine Edge” button will be available in the Options Bar. Click the button to bring up the dialog box. You’ll see it is broken into 4 sections: View Mode, Edge Detection, Adjust Edge, and Output. If you click the View Mode drop down button, you’ll see several choices of how you can view your selection: Marching Ants, Overlay (like a quick mask), On Black, On White, against transparency, as a Black and White mask, On Layers, and Reveal Layer. In the example here, I have the subject against a black background. I usually look at my subjects against black and against white, to see if there’s any contamination or fringing when they get cut out. But that’s where the real power of this new improved tool comes into play. As you can see in the initial preview, the edges are very sharp and jagged. Let’s see how to make it look more natural.

Here is what we see when we first click the “Refine Edge” button. This shows the different view modes available. For this image, I chose “On Black” to show the selected area against a black background.

Step 3. In the Edge Detection section, move the Radius slider to the right. This increases the size of the radius, which is the area of transition. In other words, this is the area that includes some background that’s being removed and some foreground. The greater the radius, the more transition. But it gets to a point where there’s too much transition and it’s not effective, so if you think you can just crank the slider all the way to the right and get great transitions, think again. The next image shows the radius view. If you check the “Show Radius” checkbox in the View Mode section, you’ll see the size of the radius and can use this view as a means to see just how much transition you want in your selection. Anybody who has had experience with the Extract tool in previous versions of Photoshop will know exactly what I’m talking about when I refer to a transition area. With the Extract Tool, that transition area was defined by the green highlight you drew around the subject you wanted to extract from the background. This is almost the same thing. If you check the “Smart Radius” checkbox, it will try to automatically smooth out the transition. This is great for places where there is hair and uneven edges that you are trying to cut out or select. One new tool that was added was the Refine Radius tool, which looks like a paintbrush that was added to the Refine Edge dialog box. This is an amazing feature. You can actually paint across wisps of hair and it will include them in the selection while keeping everything around the hair or whatever Photoshop considers the “non-foreground” areas hidden (or unselected). If you took away too much, you can switch to the Erase Refinements tool, which is the opposite of the Refine Radius tool, and you can paint away wherever you overdid it.

This is what the selection looks like after increasing the radius. As you can see, the edges around the girl smoothed out a bit, but some areas still need to be refined a little (see the girl’s arm), plus we can make the ends of the hair more realistic too.

Step 4. Looking further down the panel, you can see the Adjust Edge controls. These are very similar (almost identical) to the controls in the previous version of the Refine Edge command. Here you can soften (feather) the edges of the selection, as well as smooth, or add contrast to the selection edge. In addition, a slider was added, called “Shift Edge”. Think of this as a replacement for “Expand/Contract”. Moving the slider to the left (negative amount), you contract, or shrink the selection. Moving it to the right (positive amount), you’re increasing or expanding the selection.

When I checked the Show Radius checkbox, we see exactly what the radius looks like that we’re working with. With this view, we can adjust the size of the radius and fine tune the “transition” area, which will help get us a more natural selection, and cutout.

Step 5. The last section of the panel is the Output options. Here’s where you choose how you want the results to appear. Choices are: Selection (if you just want a refined selection), Layer Mask, New Layer, New Layer With Layer Mask, New Document, and New Document With Layer Mask. There’s also a checkbox marked “Decontaminate Colors”. Check this if you are cutting a subject out of a colorful background (think green screen) and you want to get rid of the color fringing that sometimes comes as a result. I’ve had this happen a lot when I cut people out of a white background and had to spend a lot of time retouching the color contamination that I got afterwards. This works really well. It is not always perfect, but it is a huge improvement! The next illustration shown is the result of choosing New Layer as my output choice.

After choosing “New Layer” as my output option, once I click the “OK” button, this is what I got as a result…a new layer with just the selected area from the original image. Note, in order to see this, I turned off the visibility (the eyeballs) of the other two layers on the Layers panel.

Step 6. After I have my cutout, all that is left to do, is to drop a new background in behind my subject, apply a Drop Shadow layer style, to make it look more realistic, then crop as necessary.

All that’s left now is to drop in a new background. I added a drop shadow layer style to make it look more realistic. Otherwise it would have looked like it was just cut and pasted and not like it was actually photographed that way.

The last illustration shows the finished product, with the addition of a corner burn to make it look like a custom printed portrait. And Voila! We turned a so-so image taken in a hurry, into a studio portrait. Believe me, it took longer to describe the process than it took to actually do it. I believe it only took me maybe 5 minutes, tops.

Here is the finished image, after cropping it square and applying a corner burn, to give it that “custom printed” look. By the way, I used the “Refine Edge” command to help create the soft selection that I used to burn (or darken) the edges of the image too.

If you like these new features, just wait till you check out Photoshop CS 5 which began shipping this week! There are over 100 improvements and new features that are sure to get you excited and trust me when I tell you, any one of them is worth the price of the upgrade! For more information about Creative Suite 5, go to www.adobe.com.

• Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management. Check out his work at www.jsmallphoto.com.

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Teaser: Photoshop CS5 Extended's Content Aware Fill

By Photoshopman a.k.a. Gary Small

Hi everyone! Well, I know the buzz is on with the announcement by Adobe of CS 5! As one of the people privileged to work with the beta/pre-release of Photoshop CS 5 Extended, I can tell you it’s an amazing upgrade. There are not only a bunch of new tools and features, but most of the tools and functionality of Photoshop across the board have been greatly improved. It’s like a whole new program!

I was going to write a long article, covering all the new features, but since I know many of you are dying to see what’s new as quickly as possible, I decided to put out a few teasers a little at a time, just to whet your appetites. I’ll try to publish as many as I can as quickly as I can.

So on that note, here is the first installment—what I think is by far the best new feature in Photoshop CS 5: Content Aware Fill.

Content Aware Fill is like the Patch Tool on steroids. I won’t even attempt to explain the technology behind it (because frankly I don’t understand it myself!), but the way it works is incredible. Let’s say you have an object, or even a person, or just about anything (trees, cars, telephone poles, exit signs) that you want to remove from a picture. In the past, it would take hours of Cloning, Healing, and Patching. Along comes Content Aware Fill, and reduces the work to mere seconds.

Here’s a nice outdoor scene with a bride and groom by a bridge. I love the scene and would like to re-use it, or make a background image out of it. But I need to get rid of the bride and groom to do so. All I have to do in Photoshop CS 5 is select the bride and groom (I used the Lasso tool to make a loose selection), then either hit the Delete key (if you’re working on the Background layer), or go to the menu and click Edit>Fill. Then in the dialog box that pops up, click the drop down box and select Content Aware and then click OK. Then watch what happens.

Gary Small picture-soup.com

Original image of the bride and groom. Photo © Gary Small.

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Photoshop CS5 Extended screenshot of the selection around the bride and groom. Photo © Gary Small.

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The final image, after Photoshop CS5 Extended worked its magic with Content Aware Fill. Photo © Gary Small.

It doesn’t always work perfectly, but in almost all cases, Photoshop analyzes the surrounding area and fills in the selection appropriately, to make it look like the object (or people) selected are replaced with the scenery they were standing in. In the same example, I used Content Aware Fill to fill in the patch of white sky in the upper left corner. It was much faster than cloning the trees or using the patch tool and with better results too!

My next installment will talk about the new “Refine Edge” command, and as a bonus, we’ll see how I combined the two to make a completely new picture in under 30 minutes! Stay tuned!


• Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management. Check out his work at www.jsmallphoto.com.

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Photoshop CS4 Tip: Content Aware Scaling

By Photoshopman a.k.a. Gary Small

When Photoshop CS4 was released, it was chock full of so many new features, it was hard to say which one was my favorite. As cool as most of them are, this one, in my opinion, arose out of necessity.

As a professional photographer who was raised on medium format, I got used to shooting square. Because of that, I was able to frame subjects in my viewfinder so I knew I would get a perfect 8×10 every time. Then along comes digital and I, along with many of my fellow pros, gave up our Hasselblads and Bronicas and went to 35mm DSLRs. The big downside to that is, it’s a very long, narrow rectangular format. I’ve found, more often than not, that many photographers would inadvertently fill the frame with the subject, only to find when they went to make an 8×10, they would have to either cut their subject’s feet off or do some serious Photoshopping in order to make it work into the 8×10 crop.

I’ve personally had instances where I had to take my Rectangular Marquee tool and select pieces of the image, in order to stretch the background to make the image fit the crop properly.

Then along comes Photoshop CS4 and a new feature, called “Content Aware Scaling” (CAS for short). This to me was a godsend. In a nutshell, CAS is a way of stretching or squeezing an image into a cropped format, without distorting the main subject of the picture. It’s very cool to see it in action, but takes a little understanding to get it to work properly.

The way it works, is it tries to identify what the main subject in an image is (for example, pictures of people would have a lot of flesh tone and in most cases, be at or near the center of the image.). After it does that, you would scale the image, much the way you would when you use Free Transform except that in this case, the part that was identified as the main subject is protected and Photoshop will stretch or squeeze the remaining pixels to scale the image the way you want it.

Sounds easy, right? Well, Photoshop doesn’t always get it right and as with most things, I’ve found that leaving any kind of adjustments on automatic usually yield less than stellar results. I’ve found that CAS needs a little help most of the time. We help it along by outright telling it what we want recognized as the main subject. [Screenshots showing the entire process step by step are at the end of this article —Editor] How? Well first, we bring up CAS by going to the Edit menu and choosing “Content Aware Scale” When you do this, you get a set of handles around the image that look identical to what you see when you use Free Transform. But, don’t do anything yet! Look all the way up towards the top of the work area at the Options Bar. Over to the right, there’s a little drop down box labeled Protect. This is where we can tell it what we want as our protected subject area. Now, hit the Esc key to get out of CAS for now, because we have some work to do first. Sorry, didn’t mean to be a tease!

CAS uses Alpha Channels to identify that protected area. So in order to do this, as you may have guessed, you have to first create an Alpha Channel. How do you do that? Well, for anyone who hasn’t taken one of my Photoshop classes, an Alpha Channel (which resides in the Channels Panel) is basically a saved selection. What I usually do, is take my Lasso tool, and draw a selection around the main subject of my image. I then go to the Channels Panel. That’s where you see the RGB composite and Red, Green and Blue channels that make up the image. Look all the way to the bottom of the panel and you’ll see some buttons. Click the second button from the left. This takes the selection and saves it as an Alpha Channel. The first one is appropriately named, Alpha 1, and so on. You’ll notice the thumbnail is a black/white picture of the shape of the selection you had previously made.

Now, go back to your image, deselect the selection you made, and click Edit>Content Aware Scale. Again, you’ll get the transform handles and the Option bar. NOW click the dropdown box labeled Protect, and you’ll see 2 choices: None and Alpha 1. Click Alpha 1 and you’ve chosen that selection you made to be the protected subject area. Now grab the adjustment handles and stretch or squeeze the image as needed. You’ll notice everything EXCEPT the area you originally selected transforms, or distorts. It’s very cool to watch and saves a lot of time and work.

(l.) Here is the original exposure. The image was shot too full. (c.) This is what happens when you crop the image to an 8x10. Obviously this is too tight, coming right to the top of her head and cutting into the bottom of her dress. (r.) The quality of the transformation depends on how complex the background is. In this image, you can see some parts of the chairs got distorted and jagged. However, the overall quality of the image was maintained and a nice 8x10 image was obtained with a minimum of effort. This entire process took me about 2 minutes to do from start to finish. (All photos © Gary Small)

One word of warning, if you don’t have much image area to work with, outside your protected subject area, Photoshop may have no choice but to distort some of the protected area anyway, or badly distort the remaining area and you could have unpleasant results. My best advice in situations like that is, when you shoot your images, shoot loose. Leave room for cropping or proper adjusting, and you will save valuable post-production time.

Step by Step Screenshots showing the process:

Here’s the original opened up in Photoshop. Let’s see how to use Content Aware Scaling to make an 8x10 without cutting into or distorting the main subject.

Step 1. Double-click the Background layer in the Layers panel to unlock it and change it to an editable layer (Layer 0)

Step 2. Go to the menu and click Image>Image Size. Then, making sure “Resample Image” is unchecked, change the height of the image (long dimension) to 10 inches.

Step 3. Now go back to the menu and click Image>Canvas Size. Change the width to 8 inches and click OK.

Here is the result of Step 3.

Step 4. Using the Lasso Tool, draw a rough selection around the main subject.

Step 5. Save the selection as an Alpha Channel by going to the Channels Panel and clicking the second button from the left at the bottom of the panel.

Step 6. Go to the Menu and choose Edit>Content Aware Scale.

Step 7. You will see what looks like a “Free Transform” box with handles around the image. You will also see the options bar on top (under the menu) change. Go to the Options Bar, and click the “Protect” dropdown, and choose “Alpha 1”. This will tell Photoshop to use the area you selected with the Lasso tool in Step 4 as the protected area and keep it from being distorted during the transformation.

Step 8. Now grab either the left or right side handle of the transformation box, and while holding the “Alt” (Windows) “Opt” (Mac), drag the transformation box to the side until you get to the end of the document window. Holding Alt/Opt down causes both sides to transform equally in opposite directions. In this case, dragging the right handle will cause the right side to stretch to the right and at the same time, the left side will stretch to the left. That’s it! You’re done.

? Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management. Check out his work at www.jsmallphoto.com.

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Software Review: Kevin Kubota's Pro-Pak w/ Dashboard

Article & Images by Kristin Reimer

One of the first lessons I learned about being successful in photography is that it is 20% photography and 80% business. I watch photographers come and go on a regular basis. Who remains? Obviously you need to have talent to begin with, but if you know how to market yourself, stay focused, consistently evolve with the times and stay ahead of the pack, chances are, you will be a success.

So what does this have to do with Kevin Kubota’s Actions? He knows his stuff. If you haven’t yet checked out his actions, the bad news is that you’ve wasted precious moments of time—the good news is that there is no better time than the present. Kevin Kubota’s actions are now packaged with an awesome addition called DASHBOARD.

I’m not really sure who began to market action sets, but I will confess, I’ve been an addict ever since the day I discovered these time saving gems. It’s easy to find actions these days and there are some deliciously creative ones out there. I’ve been using Kevin Kubota’s Artistic V2 actions as well as his Auto Album 2 for years now and I rely upon them heavily. Simply put, they save me time, and they are creative and easy to use.

The Kevin Kubota Pro-Pak contains roughly 300 actions to help not only boost your creativity, but also increase your production and help clear time so that you can actually get work done quickly and get out to enjoy the world again. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The production actions range from border actions, interpolation, sharpening, B&W conversions and logo placement. Yeah, you can do these on your own, but why? Enjoy the fact that someone has already done the work for you. Spend your time getting creative. And then get creative with Kevin Kubota’s Artistic Action Volumes 1 – 4.

(l. to r.) Original photo, final image, Dashboard, Photoshop palettes. Screengrab © Kristin Reimer.

Original on the left. Image on the right created using Punch Drunk with Vignette. Photos © Kristin Reimer.

The artistic action options are endless. Not only are the effects inspiring but with names like Fashion Passion, Super Heroine CS2, Kiyoko Punch, Enter the Dragon, Punch Drunk—you know your visual taste buds will be watering to get busy. Even better, if you are curious at all about what the action does, feast your eyes upon the creative descriptions that accompany each one.

Now let me return to the beginning. So, aside from the actions themselves and the funky and descriptive copywriter, what sets Kubota’s Pro-Pak above the rest of the pack? The DASHBOARD.

Now, if you don’t have any addictive behaviors of your own, or if you don’t like to collect things, you may not understand the value of the DASHBOARD. What happens when you collect too many things? Clutter? Can’t find what you are looking for? Waste time searching? DASHBOARD is going to rock some housecleaning in the world that is Photoshop.

DASHBOARD is essentially a floating menu window that keeps your actions organized, easily accessible and easily searchable. Go to the top right and you can pull your menu down to access each pack of actions that Kevin has been producing over the years. To the left of that pull down menu you can enter in a keyword and the DASHBOARD will call up the actions to suit you. Type in moods such as “funky”, “creative”, “moody” or go with genres such as “wedding” and “portraiture” and you’ll see actions displayed that are best matched to your request. Loving it yet?

Once you find the action you want to apply, head on down to the bottom of DASHBOARD where you have a few options. With one touch of the buttons in the bottom of the toolbar you can “apply”, “undo”, “redo” and “paint”. Paint is pretty nifty. Essentially this creates a mask and you can simply paint the action in specifically where you want it to go.

Original photo on the left. Image on the right created using Smokeless Burn, Tea Stained, 81K warming, Wash Out. Photos © Kristin Reimer.

On top of all of this, the Pro-Pak is simply easy to install and understand. I will confess to limited patience for watching online manuals or detailed installation instructions. The installation did come with a video manual, but it was simple, clear and to the point. Installation itself was a breeze and the manual was simple to read. But the reality is, the Pro-Pak and DASHBOARD are simple. Simple means you get to the fun stuff right away…and I was certainly the kid in the sandbox in a matter of moments.

There is one downside to the Pro-Pak, you’ll be having so much fun playing with your images and combining the actions together that you will lose track of time and forget about the outside world. But hey, think of the possibilities.

Original image on the left. Image on the right created using Sepia Deep Black 3. Photos by © Kristin Reimer.

Kevin Kubota Pro-Pak [Kubota Artistic Tools V1, Kubota Artistic Tools V2, Kubota Artistic Tools V3, Kubota Artistic Tools V4, Kubota Production Tools V2, and the Kubota Formula Book] with DASHBOARD can be purchased online at: http://kubotaimagetools.com/store/catalog/product_16263_Kubota_Pro_Pak_w_Dashboard_cat_258.html.

System requirements: Actions work with Adobe Photoshop CS2 or newer, some effects require CS3 or newer 32 bit versions of Photoshop only, on Mac and Windows computers.

The Pro-Pak retails for $629.00.

Upon graduating with a BFA in photography from Pratt Institute, Kristin went on to become the studio manager for the esteemed Magnumphotojournalist, Elliot Erwitt. Under the tutelage of Elliott, Kristin acquired a more capacious understanding of the history of photography and of the unique and diverse contributions of those who define the field. Her work with Elliott also provided a forum from which to create and develop her own artistic style.

In 2002 Kristin founded Photomuse (www.photomuse.com), a fine art/documentary style wedding company. Kristin is an award-winning member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), a professional organization composed of photojournalists and wedding photographers from around the world as well as the Artistic Guild of Wedding Photography (AGWPJA) and the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP).

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Color Spaces Simplified

By Gary Small

This map compares how much of the color spectrum (that large oval in the far back) different color spaces cover. ProPhoto RGB covers the most of the spectrum, Adobe RGB is the second largest, and sRGB is the smallest. Also shown is the color limits of the Epson 2200 printer (printing on Matte paper). Image by Jeff Schewe.

Greetings. Here’s a question I hear quite often. What color space should I choose when shooting? The answers I’ve heard have been so varied that it can oftentimes leave you more confused than when you first asked! I will try and simplify it here for you and hopefully it will reduce some of the confusion.

First of all, what is a color space? Well, to put it simply, think of a color space as a container, holding all the colors that were used to display or print a particular image. Some color spaces use more colors, some use less.

Put another way, think of when we were kids and we played with those boxes of crayons. Some of us had the box with only 8 colors. Some had 32 and some had the big box with 64 colors and the built-in sharpener. But you may have noticed that even if you had that big box of crayons, not only didn’t you use all of the colors in the box, but typically you found yourself using many of the same few colors over and over again. That’s the idea behind choosing and using a color space. We try to choose one that contains the colors we will use most often.

The human eye is capable of seeing the most colors. Presently, no mechanical device has been able to reproduce all of the colors our eyes are capable of seeing. So any color space you use will always contain fewer colors than our eyes can see; so we have no trouble there. The place we get into trouble is in reproducing colors across various media. For example, some colors we can view on a monitor cannot be reproduced by an inkjet printer and somehow that has to be dealt with.

Without getting overly technical, the most commonly used color spaces are, sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998), and ProPhoto RGB. The difference between all of these is the number of colors each one uses.

sRGB is the narrowest of all the color spaces and was developed for the web, with the idea of being a universal color space. In other words, any images that would be displayed on a web page would be rendered in this color space. It uses the fewest colors, which keeps images smaller and more efficient.

On the other end of the scale, ProPhoto RGB is the widest color space and uses the most colors out of all of them. It is typically thought by many pros that this is the color space to work in; because you wouldn’t have to worry that a color or color range you want to work with won’t be available to you.

Somewhere in the middle is Adobe RGB (1998). This was considered a good balance between the extremely narrow sRGB and the very wide and robust ProPhoto RGB.

Most digital cameras nowadays will give you a choice of choosing either Adobe RGB (1998) or sRGB. I am not going to tell you absolutely which color space you should choose because everybody works differently. I hope to be able to help you make an informed decision on your own, once you’ve read this article.

To help you, you must first and foremost, think about what will be done with the finished images you are producing. Since most output devices reproduce fewer colors than are contained in the wider color spaces, any images produced in a wider color space will have to be converted before being sent to that device. The simplest idea to think about is, if you are shooting images that will only be going onto a web page and will never be printed, sRGB would be the color space to work in, since that’s the color space used on the web. If you are printing on an inkjet printer, believe it or not, it too has a narrow color space that very closely resembles sRGB. So you’d probably do well with it there, too. If you are going to output onto more complex imaging devices which work with larger amounts of colors, you might consider working in a wider color space like Adobe (1998).

More things to consider:

When you work in one color space and need to output to a device that works in a different color space, a translation must occur. Let’s say you are working (or shooting) in Adobe (1998) and printing onto an inkjet printer that works in sRGB. You’re going from a wider to a narrower color space. What that means to you is, there are more possible colors in the image you shot with your camera than the printer can possibly reproduce. So when translating the colors for the printer (think of a funnel), the colors that aren’t reproducible on the printer have to be converted into different colors that that printer can reproduce. They will be translated into colors that will try to simulate the original colors as closely as possible, but will not always match. So there’s always a chance you will lose some of the original colors your image had when you captured it. This is when you hear terms like “clipping” and “out of gamut”. This refers to dealing with colors outside the range of that device and how to handle them. But again, I don’t want to get overly technical here.

My best advice is, keep it simple. Try to work as closely to the color space that you will be outputting to. If you don’t know where you’re outputting or may be outputting to various places, you may want to choose a wider color space. Although there are many who feel that you should just work in the widest color space possible and go from there, I feel that is not always the best choice or the most efficient. But that’s just my opinion. When photographing social events, like weddings, I usually shoot on sRGB, because the images are going onto the web for the family and guests to view, as well as being printed on printers that work within that color space. When I shoot commercial images, I tend to work in a wider color space, like Adobe (1998), because the clientele tends to be more critical and the subtlety of the colors may be more important.

Of course, I always encourage people to experiment and see what results work best for you. But I believe this should give you a good place to start. Hope this helps. Happy shooting!

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PHOTOSHOP Features: Drag Brush Resizing

By Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman

Have you ever stopped to think how many ways you can resize your brushes when you use the painting tools (Paintbrush, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Eraser, and History Brush) in Adobe Photoshop?

  • You can go to the Options bar and click on the little drop down arrow and move the slider to resize.
  • Or you could go to the Brushes Panel, where there are many options for modifying your brushes.

Up through Photoshop CS3, my favorite trick for brush resizing had been the keyboard shortcut using the left and right bracket keys, [ and ]…where the left bracket key makes the brush smaller and the right bracket key makes the brush bigger. In addition to that, you could also change the brush hardness (or softness) by holding the Shift key with the bracket keys… Shift + left bracket key to make the brush softer and Shift + right bracket key to make the brush harder.

Then along comes Photoshop CS4, and with it, a whole new and comprehensive method for quickly and easily resizing your brushes.

  • Give this a try: On the Mac, hold down the Control and Option keys, then drag the mouse to the right to increase the diameter of the brush or to the left to decrease the diameter of the brush. In Windows, hold the Alt key and the right mouse button down and drag left to decrease and right to increase diameter of the brush.

You can also use drag resizing to change the hardness or softness of your brushes. On the Mac, hold the Control, Option and Command keys down and drag the mouse to the right to get a harder edge and to the left for a softer edged brush. In Windows, hold down the Alt and Shift keys while holding the right mouse button down and drag the mouse as above.

As someone who does a lot of retouching, this has just become my favorite shortcut in Photoshop.

  • Now let’s take this idea a step further. If you use a tablet, like the Wacom Intuous 4, you’ll really appreciate this method of brush resizing. I don’t know about you, but when I’m using a tablet and I have the stylus positioned over the area I want to retouch, the last thing I want to do is lift my pen up and move away to go over to a menu or keyboard to resize the brush to fit what I’m doing. What I did with my pen and tablet is as follows: The Wacom Intuous pens have 2 side buttons. I programmed one of them to be a right mouse click (yes I use Windows!). So now while I’m retouching, I just hover my pen over the area I’m working at, hold down the Alt key on my keyboard, and at the same time, hold the programmed side button on my pen and, while hovering (not pressing the pen onto the tablet) I move the pen to the right to make the brush bigger or to the left to make it smaller, same as rolling the mouse. It works great and is very convenient. You would be amazed at how this one simple shortcut has sped up my retouching and increased my productivity.

Look for regular contributions by Gary Small a.k.a. Photoshopman to the PictureSoup blog. Gary is a Professional Photographer, Photoshop Guru and master of color management.


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