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Transcript for Multiple Raw Conversions

for Improved Image Quality -- Part II

Narration by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS4 Used in this Tutorial

In the first video of this series, we looked at the problems inherent in trying to achieve our goals for this image with a single raw conversion. Thus, it was determined that we need to carry out two conversions for this image. One conversion will be optimized for the dark foreground. The other conversion will be optimized for the lighter background. Let’s get started with the first conversion.

Actually, there isn’t a lot to do with the first conversion. A quick glance at the histogram reminds us that the shadows are clipped. Moving the Blacks slider to the left gets rid of this problem. It also lightens up the shadows a small amount. Let’s darken the shadows just a bit by clicking on the Tone Curve image adjustment tab and clicking Point. Choosing the Linear curve removes the points on the curve so we are now free to apply our edits. Adding a slight S curve does the trick.

So, we are ready to click Open Image, right? Well, not yet. First, we need to make sure that the image will open in Photoshop as a Smart Object. While Smart Objects have many advantages, for this image, the most important point about Smart Objects is that Smart Objects allow us to return to Camera Raw at any time to carry out further editing. This will make the multiple conversion process easier.

So, our next step is to click on the Workflow Options below the image. There are several Options available here. We need to change two of them. First, we need to make sure that the Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects box is checked. We will use 8 Bits/Channel as the bit depth. This will create an eight bit image. Generally, I keep my images as sixteen bits due to the better image quality. However, for this video, an eight bit image will allow the computer to work faster. Clicking OK brings us back to the Camera Raw dialogue box. Clicking Open Object opens the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop.

Excellent, we are off to a good start here. We now have our Smart Object with the foreground detail. In fact, let’s rename this Smart Object as Foreground. What we need to do now is make a copy of this Smart Object. We will then be able to carry out the background edits on the copy in order to create the moody background that we want.

Now, I know that some of you might be tempted to duplicate the Smart Object by dragging it down to the Create a new layer button like this. That would be the wrong thing to do. When you duplicate a Smart Object like this, the original Smart Object and the new Smart Object are linked. What that means is that any Camera Raw edit performed on either one of the Smart Objects will automatically be applied to the other Smart Object. Thus, the two Smart Objects will have exactly the same Camera Raw edits, and they will look the same. That is not what we want. We want to be able to apply different edits to each of our Smart Objects. We want one Smart Object with edits for the foreground and one Smart Object with edits for the background. So, let’s undo our last move in order to get rid of the Smart Object that we just created by pressing Control+Z on a PC or Command+Z on a Mac.

What we need to do now is create a copy of this Smart Object in such a way that the two Smart Objects are not linked. To accomplish this, all we have to do is choose Layer/Smart Objects/New Smart Object via Copy. Let’s rename this Smart Object as Background.

Now, this is where the beauty of Smart Objects comes in. Since this new layer is a Smart Object, we can open it in Camera raw to perform our Background edits. All we have to do is double click the Smart Object, and the image is opened in Camera Raw.

Now, the Camera Raw dialogue box has the same settings that we applied to our Foreground Smart Object. Let’s leave the Blacks setting where it is so that we do not clip our shadows. On the other hand, we need to do some work on the curve. Thus, we click on the Tone Curve image adjustment tab, click Point, and select the Linear curve to get rid of the curve Points. Pulling the curve down does the job. We can now go back to Photoshop.

Next, we need to combine these two Smart Objects with a mask. For this image, a good place to start is the channels. Let’s take a look at each of the three channels. What we should be looking for is a channel that provides a strong tonal separation of the background from the foreground. The Red channel doesn’t provide a great separation. The Green channel isn’t much better. On the other hand, the Blue channel has a good separation with the foreground being very dark and the background being much lighter.

Let’s duplicate the Blue channel by dragging it to the Create new channel button. Our next step is to increase the contrast between the foreground and the background on the new channel. We do this by choosing Image/Adjustments/Levels. Dragging the black point slider inward significantly darkens the foreground. Dragging the white point slider inward significantly lightens the background.

In spite of this, not all is perfect. The lower part of the sky still has some gray in it. I could have removed the gray by moving the white point slider further inward, but that might have damaged the fine detail of the trees and bushes. That’s okay. I have a trick up my sleeve. Let’s choose the Brush tool and set the blend mode to Overlay. Why Overlay you ask? Well, the Overlay blend mode darkens the dark tones and lightens the light tones. Watch how this works to our advantage. When the foreground color is set to white, the brush will lighten the light tones, but it has a much smaller effect on the dark tones. So, let’s set the brush to an appropriate size and set a hard edge by clicking on the Brush pull down menu. Now, we can paint away the gray. Notice how the grays go away, but the black is relatively unaffected. If we had lightened the dark tones any, we could simply change the foreground color to black and paint on the dark tones without having much of an effect on the light tones. However, I don’t think that we will need to do that in this case.

The only area where we will have an issue is with the valley. You might have noticed that we painted away some of the gray in this area. That’s okay. For now, I am not going to worry about it. We can take care of that later. We can now turn our Blue copy channel into a selection by clicking on the Load channel as selection button. Moving back to our Layers Panel, we choose the Background Smart Object and create a mask by choosing Layer/Layer Mask/Reveal Selection.

That is a good start, but the mask needs some editing. For that, we need to go to the next video.