Fine Art workflow (Beaver Pond Reflections)

in Photoshop -- Part II

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS or Photoshop CS2 Used in this Tutorial

Image Editing

Now that the raw conversion had been completed, the next step was to evaluate the image for further editing. This evaluation consisted of viewing both the histogram and the image. This first step was to evaluate the histogram. The histogram was evaluated primarily to determine if the black and white points needed to be adjusted (for further information on black and white points, see Levels). The histogram (see Figure 1) showed little detail on the right side. One might be tempted to use Levels or Curves to stretch out the histogram and set the white point farther to the left on the histogram. However, a deeper analysis of the image (Figure 2) shows that this would be a mistake. The image only has a small amount of light tones. The only real light tones are the snow patches. Since these patches are small, they do not show up on the histogram as having a lot of pixels. However, these snow patches are an important part of the image. They add drama to the mountain reflections. A lot of work had already been performed to maintain detail in these patches. Any attempt to set the white point farther inward on the histogram would destroy this detail and drive the snow patches to pure white -- destroying the detail. Consequently, no adjustment was made to the white point.

Figure 1: Histogram

A look at the left side of the histogram makes it appear that the blacks were clipped. However, a look at the histograms of the individual color channels (Figures 3 -- 5) provides a deeper understanding of the situation.

Figure 2: Image Ready for Further Editing
Figure 3: Red Histogram
Figure 4: Green Histogram
Figure 5: Blue Histogram
The channel histograms indicate that only the blue channel was clipped. The other two channels actually have gaps on the left side of the histograms.
Figure 6: Blue Channel Clipping

Seeing the clipping in the blue channel, the immediate temptation would be to go back to the raw converter and try to reconvert the image in order to recapture the clipped, blue channel data. However, using Levels to look at this clipped data (Figure 6) shows that only a very small amount of data at the back of the grass was in fact clipped (this detail consists of very small areas of deep shadow nestled between the individual blades of grass). This data is pretty much insignificant. In fact, even if it was recaptured, it would not be noticeable even in a relatively large print. On the other hand, recapturing this data would probably result in a lighter image or one with different contrast. This would result in additional work. Since performing additional work in an attempt to recapture insignificant detail does not make sense, the image was not reconverted.

Another temptation would be to use Levels or Curves to adjust the white point by adjusting the individual channels (for an explanation of this technique see Shadow Values, Highlight Values, and Midtone Contrast: Individual Color Channels). Some experimentation with this approach resulted in severe color shifts (as expected) and an image with too much contrast. Thus, this method was abandoned.

After this analysis, it was determined that no adjustment to the black point should be performed.

Figure 7: Curves
Next, the image was evaluated for contrast. It was decided that a very small contrast increase was needed. Curves (choose Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Curves) was used to add the additional contrast (see Figure 7).
Figure 8: Hue/Saturation
To liven up the colors, a small saturation increase (choose Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Hue/Saturation) was added via Hue/Saturation (see Figure 8).
Figure 9: Layers Palette after Contrast and Saturation Adjustments
Figure 9 shows the Layers Palette after these adjustments.
Figure 10: Image after Curves and Hue/Saturation

At this point, a test print was made. Examination of the print indicated that there were three problems that needed to be corrected (see Figure 10).

  1. Despite the manual white balance, the grass had a yellowish tint.
  2. The mountain reflections were too bright.
  3. The mountain reflections had a color cast.
Figure 11: Hue/Saturation
The yellowish tint of the grass was easily solved by using Hue/Saturation (choose Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Hue/Saturation). The Yellows channel was selected and the eyedroppers were used to select the green of the grass. Then, the Hue slider was moved to a setting of four. This layer was added just above the Background layer. Since the Background layer is masked by the Reflections layer, this placement assured that the hue change impacted only the area of the grass and did not affect any green colors in the area of the mountain reflection. Figure 12 shows the Layers Palette after this adjustment.
Figure 12: Layers Palette after Hue Adjustment
Figure 13: Curves
The mountain reflection was darkened very slightly with the use of Curves (choose Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Curves) as shown in Figure 13. However, it was necessary to restrict this adjustment to just the area of the mountain reflection. The first thought was to use the mask that had already been used on the Reflections Layer (see Figure 14).
Figure 14: Reflections Layer Mask
Examination of the image, with this mask in place, showed that the mask created the desired tonality in the mountain reflection, but it caused the sky to become too dark. Therefore, the magic wand was used to eliminate the sky from the mask. The final mask is shown in Figure 15.
Figure 15: Curves 2 Layer Mask
This layer was put just above the Snow layer (see Figure 16).
Figure 16: Layers Palette after Curves 2
Figure 17: Color Balance
The last problem that needed to be addressed was the color tint in the mountain reflections. This was addressed through Color Balance (choose Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Color Balance). After some experimentation, the settings shown in Figure 17 were chosen.
Figure 18: Layers Palette after Color Balance
The Color Balance layer was added just above the Reflections layer. The Color Balance layer was then turned into a clipping mask (click between the Reflections layer and the Color Balance layer while holding down the Alt key). This guaranteed that the mask on the Reflections layer would also apply to the Color Balance layer. Thus, the color correction would only apply to the mountain reflections as was desired (for more information on clipping masks see Clipping Masks). Figure 18 shows the Layers palette at this point.
Figure 19: Curves
Another print was made to evaluate the adjustments. It was decided that the overall image was a bit too dark. So, Curves was used to lighten the image (see Figure 19). The only problem was that this lightened the snow patches and resulted in a loss of detail in the snow. A mask was needed to protect the snow from the curve. This was an easy problem to solve. The Snow layer already had such a mask. It simply needed to be inverted. This resulted in the mask seen in Figure 20. The Layers palette is shown in Figure 21.
Figure 20: Mask for Curves Lighten Layer
Figure 21: Layers Palette after Curves Lighten


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