Dan Margulis' Picture Postcard Workflow

jjbongjjbong Major grinsPosts: 244Registered Users Major grins
edited December 1, 2010 in Grad School
I thought it would be useful to post a brief description of Dan's PPW before I posted any images for comparison. This is just an overview - if memory serves, there are two series of classes on Kelby Training on this, each about 12 hours.

The workflow has 3 main steps:

1. Correct an color casts
This is usually done with a Curves adjustment layer in RGB in color mode, but there are other methods, depending
on the cast complexity.
2. Get the best contrast for the image. This is realized by getting the best B&W image, and using it a Lightness layer
in PS. Channel blending, curves, Shadow/Highlight, and a high-powered version of S/H done by hand are
the preferred tools.
3. Boost the color. Usually done in LAB with curves or multiply through a layer mask.

The workflow presupposes what Pathfinder described as the objective of digital darkroom: make the
image show what you saw then you took the shot. So you have to start out looking at the image, and
decide whats wrong with it. Some of it may be obvious, some not. This decision guides what techniques you use. Actually, you go through this
process in each of the 3 steps, and there's a number of tools available, depending on what you
want to accomplish.

This is a subtle but important point. I've seen demos of techniques which show slider manipulation without any real consideration of what you want to accomplish. This seems to me backwards, at best, regardless of the tools you use.

I think about the workflow as really two levels. One is the abstract process of the 3 steps, the other is the set of tools in PS to do what you want at each step. Although Dan has implemented this is PS, I don't see any reason why it has to be, necessarily. And I suspect that it would be a decent workflow in any sufficiently rich tool set. As we go through this comparison exercise, it would be interesting to see whether those who use other tools find this conceptual approach useful.
John Bongiovanni

Comments

  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaPosts: 14,466Super Moderators moderator
    edited November 30, 2010
    I have watched most of those 12 hours of video ( I am a fan of Kelby's Training site ), but not enough to perform the steps, uncoached, routinely for my images.

    Using a carefully crafted B&W layer for altering/blending contrast in an image, can be done ( I do it with Smart Objects ) with multiple Smart Objects popped out from the RAW converter in both color and B&W. Previously, I used the Apply Image command in Photoshop to use a single channel, or a B&W mask, to help alter the contrast in an image. I learned the Apply Image technique from the book review of Dan's "Professional Photoshop" book, hosted here on dgrin, by Rutt and other posters.

    At a print workshop I took with Marc Muench a few years ago, when presented with an image to evaluate, before even commenting on an image, he would take a quick view at each of the red, green, and blue channels, to see where the contrasts, the lightness, and the shadows were.. In CS2 or CS3 hitting ctrl-1,ctrl-2, ctrl-3 would quickly give you a view of the red, then the green, and finally the blue channel to evaluate. Took less than 10 seconds, but helped clarify where the lighting and contrast were, and where the lighting was poor.

    Correction of color casts I try to do in the Raw conversion process, by using an appropriate white balance setting, or using the eyedropper tool on a known white or light grey target. I do not trust my eyes for color. I do use a Color Checker Passport or WHiBal tool, in the image, for this also at times. Images with multiple light sources of different color temps will need to be adjusted in Photoshop, via Curves and Selections, in my workflow also.

    I approach an image by trying to decide why I shot the image in the first place, what I think the subject or important part of the image is, and like a lighting director in a theatre, try to keep the better lighting on the subject, and the darker, lesser lighting on the surround, or background. This is not a statement of actual fact, but more a statement about how I want to arrange the tonal ranges in the image. Is this what you mean by deciding what needs to be corrected, John?

    Playing with sliders, is kind of like Dan's Man from Mars, where one over-corrects strongly, and then dials back to a more appropriate, more subtle level of effect.
    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • jjbongjjbong Major grins Posts: 244Registered Users Major grins
    edited November 30, 2010
    pathfinder wrote: »
    I have watched most of those 12 hours of video ( I am a fan of Kelby's Training site ), but not enough to perform the steps, uncoached, routinely for my images.

    This is exactly the reason I proposed this discussion. It takes quite an investment of time (and some money, to buy PS, for example) to get competent at this. I'm happy I did it, but others might not be willing to make the time investment So the question is how close you can come to these results using other techniques.

    By the way, one of the advantages of the workflow is that it is very fast, once you get competent at it. Setting up actions for the steps you use all the time can save many clicks and speed things up. But I guess that's true with any workflow.
    Using a carefully crafted B&W layer for altering/blending contrast in an image, can be done ( I do it with Smart Objects ) with multiple Smart Objects popped out from the RAW converter in both color and B&W. Previously, I used the Apply Image command in Photoshop to use a single channel, or a B&W mask, to help alter the contrast in an image. I learned the Apply Image technique from the book review of Dan's "Professional Photoshop" book, hosted here on dgrin, by Rutt and other posters.

    At a print workshop I took with Marc Muench a few years ago, when presented with an image to evaluate, before even commenting on an image, he would take a quick view at each of the red, green, and blue channels, to see where the contrasts, the lightness, and the shadows were.. In CS2 or CS3 hitting ctrl-1,ctrl-2, ctrl-3 would quickly give you a view of the red, then the green, and finally the blue channel to evaluate. Took less than 10 seconds, but helped clarify where the lighting and contrast were, and where the lighting was poor.

    I'm assuming that whatever method you use to get good contrast, you're creating a Lightness layer for the image in PS. Correct?
    Correction of color casts I try to do in the Raw conversion process, by using an appropriate white balance setting, or using the eyedropper tool on a known white or light grey target. I do not trust my eyes for color. I do use a Color Checker Passport or WHiBal tool, in the image, for this also at times. Images with multiple light sources of different color temps will need to be adjusted in Photoshop, via Curves and Selections, in my workflow also.

    To me, one of the marvels of Dan's techniques is that he corrects pretty complicated color casts without ever using selections. You can't avoid selections in all cases, but techniques that don't use them generally avoid the problem of the image looking like one part was pasted on the rest of it. Maybe we'll get there later in the discussion, but Dan developed an amazing technique to eliminate crossing casts (different casts in different parts of the image) that's surprisingly simple to do, if you understand LAB a bit.
    I approach an image by trying to decide why I shot the image in the first place, what I think the subject or important part of the image is, and like a lighting director in a theatre, try to keep the better lighting on the subject, and the darker, lesser lighting on the surround, or background. This is not a statement of actual fact, but more a statement about how I want to arrange the tonal ranges in the image. Is this what you mean by deciding what needs to be corrected, John?

    Exactly, it's a conscious process of deciding what you want to correct/bring out/subdue/whatever, and selecting the right tool to do it. In this sense, the tool is less important that the vision.

    I'm currently reading a marvelous book, "Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography" by Brenda Tharp that makes this point. Think about why you took the shot, what attracted you to the image, and bring it out in the
    composition. A bit off-topic, perhaps, but maybe not. I'm at the point, I think, where my post skills far exceed my composition skills, so I'm focusing more on the latter. But there's a connection between them, clearly.
    John Bongiovanni
  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaPosts: 14,466Super Moderators moderator
    edited December 1, 2010
    I have not read Brenda Tharp's book, but it sounds interesting. I have always said that I wanted a better eye, more than I wanted a better camera.

    As I have gradually made a bit of progress in my digital image world, I think that one gradually begins to see better compositions, and has a better idea at the time of exposure, what they wish to do with the image in post processing. Or at least some of the time....

    I am currently reading "Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots" by Laurie Excell, John Batdorff, David Brommer, et al.
    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
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