Photoshop LAB -- Ch 8 / The Impossible Retouch

ruttrutt Cave canem!Posts: 6,511Registered Users Major grins
edited June 29, 2011 in Finishing School
42775461-M.jpg

[IMGl]http://rutt.smugmug.com/photos/42750885-S.jpg[/IMGl]
The meat of this chapter is a technique for fixing blown highlights using LAB's impossible colors and some advanced blending techniques. Since I already knew about LAB steepening, color balancing, and sharpeneing, this has been the most useful chapter of the book so far. I finished the chapter last Friday and already a collection of 4 examples has grown up just from questions on dgrin.

As you might remember, LAB can represent some interesting but physically impossible colors because it expresses luminosity (brightness) independently from color. Thus in LAB it is possible to have a in intense blue which is as bright as any color. We know this is impossible in light based devices (monitors, slides) because that blue would be brighter if we also turned on the red and green lights. We know this is impossilbe in pigment because no ink on white paper gives us the brightest possible color. In both cases, white. For the mathematically, inclined, no RGB color can be as bright as R=255, G=255, B=255 which is white. To get blue we have to lower the rad and green values and the result won't be as bright. Ditto, CMYK, where all zeros specify no ink and thus the brightest possilbe color.

LAB is a horse of a different color. L=100, B=(127) is as bright as any color and also as blue. Since this is an impossible color, you wouldn't think it would actually be useful and perhaps it wouldn't be except that photoshop maps it into a real RGB color in order to display it while it is still in LAB and to get it within gamut when converted to RGB. You can experiment in photoshop with the look of these impossible colors by using the color picker. Here you can see that it has decided to show this impossibly bright blue color as a light cyan. Try more positive B values and you will get increasingly unsaturated very light blues. The same goes for the other extremes of A and B as well as combinations of the two.

What this means in practice is that very bright, even blown, colors can take on a very light color in LAB and that the transitions from less bright areas will look natural and gradual. In LAB there is no sudden wall of impossible color to hit, no single point where our bright fleshtone hits its head against the dynamic range barrier of RGB and has to be white not pink.

In essence the technique for getting some color into blown highlights is:
  1. Convert to LAB if not there already
  2. Create a duplicate layer
  3. Do something to the duplicate layer to get the right color into the blown areas, without worrying too much about how the rest looks.
  4. Use the blending options' blend-if sliders to limit the new color to just the blown areas (or perhaps a little more in some cases.)
  5. Depending on where that color came from in the step above, use Color blending mode to preserve the detail from the original while substituting color from the layer.
  6. In some cases, we may need to further limit the blend with a layer mask. But if we have done the blending right up to this point, this can be very crude and not require any careful painting.

I've been vaguely aware of this technique for more than a year. The most obvious application is to get some blue into blown skys. At the top of tis post is a very simple example of this. I took the original at the left and applied the following steps to get the version on the right:

  1. Convert to LAB
  2. Duplicate layer
  3. Curves -- The goal is to construct a nice blue sky. Don't worry about the rest of the shot. I used these L and B curves:

    41506097-S.jpg41506092-S.jpg

    and then the layer looked like pretty bad except for the sky which was a feasible color for a blue sky:

    41506114-M.jpg
  4. Open the blending options dialog box for the layer. Mac: Control-Click on the layer, choose blending options.
  5. Now use the Blend-If slider to keep only the blue sky from the topmost layer and the rest of the image from the background layer:

    41506087-M.jpg

    I started out by moving the black slider from the "Underlying Layer" to the left until only the sky was showing from the top layer. This hapens because pixels from the top layer are blended (shown) only if they lie within the range defined by the slider, in this case, only if they are extremely light.
  6. At this point the edges of the blend, where they sky meets the rest of the image might probably won't look right. Split the slider you just moved: Mac Option-Click on the slider, and pull the right side of it all the way to the right. This tells PS to gradually grade over from showing the bottom layer to showing the top layer using partial transparancey though the range of the split slider. Pixels as dark or darker than the left side of the slider come from the underlying layer. Pixels as light or lighter than the right side of the split slider come from the top layer. In between the two sliders, pixels get some of each, more underlying layer if they are on the dark side, and more top layer if they are on the light side.

Now to be honest, the example just given doesn't really use the impossible colors of LAB at all. It really just a great showcase of the blend if feature of the blending options. The transition between subject and sky is very well defined (though too detailed for easy manual masking.) Dan's blue sky example is much more challenging, with mountains meeting sky. He wants some of the color of the sky to bleed into the tops of the mountains to make the transition smooth and natural looking. In his example, both the sky and some parts of the mountains are blue but impossibly light.

Here is an example that does combine the blend if option with impossible colors. Aviator327 posted this today:

42791793-L.jpg

There are a lot of problems with this shot. It has a distinct blue cast; this could be fixed with an unsymetric B curve. The roses on the girls' heads are dead; this probably requires some sort of selection. The balance of magenta to yellow in the fleshtones is way too high; this will be fixed at least in part by the LAB curves that address the blue cast. But what about the blown areas in the cheeks of the girl on the left and on both of their hands?

I managed to get this result:

42728949-L.jpg

Here are the steps:
  1. Convert to LAB
  2. Make a duplicate layer
  3. Use the color sampler to choose a reasonable color from one of their necks.
  4. With the duplicate layer selected, paint some big splotches to cover their flesh:
    42728912-M.jpg
  5. Use LAB curves on the duplicate layer to fine tune the color balance and saturation of the brush strokes so they are nice healty flesh tones, more yellow than magenta and plenty of both.
  6. Set the blending mode of the duplicate layer to Color. This means that only the color comes from the duplicate layer, but all the luminosity and detail come from the original.
  7. Bring up the blending options for the duplicate layer by right-clicking on it (I think control-click on the mac).
  8. Now I needed to limit the blend, so that the color doesn't spill over onto the dresses or hair or teeth. I did this with the Blend If sliders.
  9. First I limited to blend to exclude the darkest parts of the image:
    42729100-M.jpg.
    Note the split slider. This defines a range of blending. The right endpoint defines the end of the range. Colors lighter than this are blended, i.e., come from the duplicate layer. The left endpoint defines the start of the range. Colors darker than this are not blended, i.e., come from the background layer. In between, there is more blend as the colors lighten. Split the slider with option-click (Mac).
  10. This excluded a lot of what I didn't want from the blend, but there were still places on the dresses which were within the brightness range and were undesirabley blended. So I also adjusted the blend if settings for the A channel.
    42729096-M.jpg
    Here I excludes colors with some green. Again note the split slider to make the transition areas look more natural.
  11. Here is the image at this point:

    42728929-L.jpg

    Looks better, but I found one bad side effect. I'd like those lips to be redder, instead of flesh toned. At this point, I gave into temptation and used a layer mask on the duplicate layer (with the paint strokes) to reveal the color of the lips from the original.

Now the impossible colors of LAB are really doing some work. In RGB, the blown aras have to be white. There really is no other choice. With the Color blend we get the L value from the background layer and the A and B values from the top laer. Now we get L=100, but we also have positive A and B values, so the blown highlights seamlessly take on a very light flesh tone. The two Blend If restrictions limit the fleshtone smear to just the parts of the image we need.

I used these techniques for one more dgrin thread this week: http://www.dgrin.com/showthread.php?t=21433

The chapter also contains some very useful background about how exactly Photoshop treats impossible LAB colors when converting to RGB or CMYK. The headline here is: always convert to RGB first, even if you are ultimately headed for CMYK.

There is also a parable about duotones and why LAB is the wrong place to make them. In short, it won't make truly white whites or truly black blacks when color blending the second color because it splits the difference just as in the blown faces above.

And for the rare color nerd theory who is also a Shakespeare fan, well there is a treatment of a dialog from Henry IV Part 1 that made me laugh out loud.

In sum, I found this chapter immediately useful. I learned a technique that has found 3 or 4 applications in almost as many days. It's not required for every picture (whew!), but I know of no better substutute when it is required.
If not now, when?

Comments

  • DavidTODavidTO Mod Emeritus Posts: 19,160Administrators moderator
    edited November 2, 2005
    Excellent job, Rutt. Thank you.
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  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaPosts: 14,081Super Moderators moderator
    edited November 2, 2005
    Very good, but I have to play with this technique some to get it down pat, I think.
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  • ruttrutt Cave canem! Posts: 6,511Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 2, 2005
    pathfinder wrote:
    Very good, but I have to play with this technique some to get it down pat, I think.

    Join the club. Dan taught it to me about 2 years ago and I'm only really getting my mind around it. There are some real potential pitfalls with the blue sky thing. What if the skys really aren't blue?

    I did these two years ago.

    Before:

    1739249-M.jpg

    After:

    1739250-M.jpg

    Man, doesn't that look wrong?

    I also didn't seem to know how to keep the blend from causing a cast where it doesn't belong:

    Before:

    1739715-M.jpg

    After:

    1739716-M.jpg
    If not now, when?
  • ruttrutt Cave canem! Posts: 6,511Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 2, 2005
    So I think the moral is that with practice, the blend-if thing can be one of the most powerful tools in the box. Just find the right shot and play with it until it starts to make sense to you.
    If not now, when?
  • ruttrutt Cave canem! Posts: 6,511Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 3, 2005
    Here's another example of the paint smear with a color mode blend and blend-if.

    Shay's great engagement shot:

    gill065.jpg

    Impossible color blend over the blown highlights:

    42891959-O.jpg

    Here is the top layer where I used a color from the man's nose to paint a big blotch over the highlight:

    42891966-O.jpg

    And here is the blending options dialog box I used:

    42891972-M.jpg

    The really cool thing: this took under 2 minutes.
    If not now, when?
  • ruttrutt Cave canem! Posts: 6,511Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 3, 2005
    The really cool thing about this is that once you get it set up you can use the opacity slider to dial in just as much or as little as you want:

    Shay's original:

    gill065.jpg

    Impossible retouch at 25% opacity:

    42894945-O.jpg

    Impossible retouch at 50% opacity:

    42894949-O.jpg

    Impossible retouch at 75% opacity:

    42894954-O.jpg

    Impossible retouch at 100% opacity:

    42891959-O.jpg
    If not now, when?
  • Aviator327Aviator327 Big grins Posts: 95Registered Users Big grins
    edited November 6, 2005
    rutt wrote:
    So I think the moral is that with practice, the blend-if thing can be one of the most powerful tools in the box. Just find the right shot and play with it until it starts to make sense to you.
    rutt, I like the pic of the bridge. Very nice. had a chance to look at Dan Margulis Lab Color book yesterday. Briefly reviewed CH 1. Might have to check out Amazon and get me a copy. Maybe it will help with my feeble attempt on the Flower girl image I posted.
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  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Posts: 3,165Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 7, 2005
    Very cool edit :): nicely done!
    rutt wrote:
    The really cool thing about this is that once you get it set up you can use the opacity slider to dial in just as much or as little as you want:
    Impossible retouch at 100% opacity:

    42891959-O.jpg
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  • photorelivephotorelive Banned User Posts: 21Banned Big grins
    edited March 2, 2010
    great job my friend
  • malchmalch Major grins Posts: 104Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 2, 2010
    rutt wrote:
    In sum, I found this chapter immediately useful. I learned a technique that has found 3 or 4 applications in almost as many days. It's not required for every picture (whew!), but I know of no better substutute when it is required.

    This is an interesting and very useful tutorial. But there's a much simpler way to fix those white skies without LAB mode:

    1. Add a Selective Color Adjustment Layer.
    2. Select "Whites" and "Absolute"
    3. Then try something like:
    Cyan: +7
    Yellow: -7
    Black: +10
    Tune those values to taste.
    4. If necessary, use the Adjustment Layer Mask to protect any other whites in the scene (teeth, eyes, whatever)

    This is a really fast, easy, and effective way to make white skies blue. Of course, you can also paint in some clouds with some cloud brushes (Google for plenty of free brushes).
  • arodneyarodney Major grins Posts: 2,005Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2010
    malch wrote:
    This is an interesting and very useful tutorial. But there's a much simpler way to fix those white skies without LAB mode:

    Or the awesome gradient tool or brush (-exposure) in Lightroom and Camera Raw. Better, faster, easier, to render the pixels correctly than “fix” them afterwards in Photoshop.
    Andrew Rodney
    Author "Color Management for Photographers"
    http://www.digitaldog.net/
  • malchmalch Major grins Posts: 104Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2010
    arodney wrote:
    Or the awesome gradient tool or brush (-exposure) in Lightroom and Camera Raw.

    Ahhhh, I need to explore than more (still use Capture NX for most of my RAW conversion. Thanks for the tip.

    However, I don't think that would have worked on the image that forced me to learn Selective Color adjustment. The washed out sky was behind a ton of boat masts and rigging -- I didn't want to touch those and despite a lot of effort, nothing involving masks produced satisfactory results. Selective Color nailed it in seconds.

    Anyway, you can never have too many tricks up the old sleeve ;-)
  • arodneyarodney Major grins Posts: 2,005Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 4, 2010
    malch wrote:
    The washed out sky was behind a ton of boat masts and rigging -- I didn't want to touch those and despite a lot of effort, nothing involving masks produced satisfactory results.

    You have it in raw? At least in ACR/LR, you can often pull back a good 1.5-2 stops of highlight data (half of all the data in a raw file is in the first stop of highlights being linear).
    Andrew Rodney
    Author "Color Management for Photographers"
    http://www.digitaldog.net/
  • malchmalch Major grins Posts: 104Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 4, 2010
    arodney wrote:
    You have it in raw? At least in ACR/LR, you can often pull back a good 1.5-2 stops of highlight data (half of all the data in a raw file is in the first stop of highlights being linear).

    Yes, I have the original RAW file. Hmmmm, yes, this is very helpful. In this case it leaves me with a grey sky (it was a very grey winter day) but it certainly helps to recover some detail in the clouds etc. without harming the masts and rigging whatsoever. Excellent.

    Thanks for the gentle push to try something new ;-)
  • DavidTODavidTO Mod Emeritus Posts: 19,160Administrators moderator
    edited March 4, 2010
    This thread was started long before LR existed, and its intent is not simply to make white skies blue. That's just an exercise to show how to use this technique.

    Rather than hijacking the thread, let's keep it on track for its original intent. It's been noted that LR is a powerful photo editing package, but this thread still has value even if it doesn't use LR as part of the solution. And understanding LAB can be a very valuable tool to have. thumb.gif
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  • arodneyarodney Major grins Posts: 2,005Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 4, 2010
    malch wrote:
    Yes, I have the original RAW file. Hmmmm, yes, this is very helpful. In this case it leaves me with a grey sky (it was a very grey winter day) but it certainly helps to recover some detail in the clouds etc. without harming the masts and rigging whatsoever. Excellent.

    Thanks for the gentle push to try something new ;-)

    Not sure what version of LR you have (or if you’re using LR or ACR) but you can alter the tone selectively. And in LR2, you have a gradient tool and brushes!
    Andrew Rodney
    Author "Color Management for Photographers"
    http://www.digitaldog.net/
  • arodneyarodney Major grins Posts: 2,005Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 4, 2010
    DavidTO wrote:
    It's been noted that LR is a powerful photo editing package, but this thread still has value even if it doesn't use LR as part of the solution.

    Could be any decent raw converter. Point is, don’t fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. Render good (idealized) pixels. If all someone hands you is lemons, then use Lab or other Photoshop techniques to make lemonade. But as Malch just admitted, and some lurkers may agree, this isn’t 1999 any more and it doesn’t pay to fall in love with an old technique just because you once loved it. Or as my mentor Bruce Fraser said:
    You can do all sorts of things that are fiendishly clever, then fall
    in love with them because they're fiendishly clever, while
    overlooking the fact that they take a great deal more work to obtain
    results that stupid people get in half the time. As someone who has
    created a lot of fiendishly clever but ultimately useless techniques
    in his day, I'd say this sounds like an example.

    Bruce
    Andrew Rodney
    Author "Color Management for Photographers"
    http://www.digitaldog.net/
  • DavidTODavidTO Mod Emeritus Posts: 19,160Administrators moderator
    edited March 5, 2010
    arodney wrote:
    Could be any decent raw converter. Point is, don’t fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. Render good (idealized) pixels. If all someone hands you is lemons, then use Lab or other Photoshop techniques to make lemonade. But as Malch just admitted, and some lurkers may agree, this isn’t 1999 any more and it doesn’t pay to fall in love with an old technique just because you once loved it. Or as my mentor Bruce Fraser said:


    Andrew, I'm simply asking you not to hijack the thread. Perhaps you could to start a thread about Lightroom where you could help others get the most out of it. But that's not what this thread is about.
    Moderator Emeritus
    Dgrin FAQ | Me | Workshops
  • malchmalch Major grins Posts: 104Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 6, 2010
    DavidTO wrote:
    Andrew, I'm simply asking you not to hijack the thread. Perhaps you could to start a thread about Lightroom where you could help others get the most out of it. But that's not what this thread is about.

    LAB is a great tool and rutt produced an excellent tutorial.

    However, it's important to learn WHEN to use the tool and not just HOW to use the tool. In my view, it's helpful to discuss the relationship between complementary tools and the pros and cons of each. I think Andrew makes an excellent point here. However, the point has been made and I don't think there's any need to lead this thread off into argument about the scope of the thread. Let's move on, eh?
  • ZingZing Beginner grinner Posts: 5Registered Users Beginner grinner
    edited June 29, 2011
    Thanks a lot for this tutorial. I was not aware of this tool. It looks like something that I can put to good use on some of my projects. I will have to play around with it and see what I can do with it. I am wondering if anyone has ever listed their photography business on angies list? Is this a good way to promote your business? What is your experience? Thank you.
  • PeanoPeano Major grins Posts: 268Registered Users Major grins
    edited June 29, 2011
    rutt wrote: »
    I also didn't seem to know how to keep the blend from causing a cast where it doesn't belong:

    I had a go at this with old-fashioned methods instead of Lab -- selective color for sky.

    Before:
    bridge1.jpg

    After:
    bridge2u.jpg
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