About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Everyday Photoshop Magic : Layers

 Nellie Beyond the Wall, Sort of
Layers and Masks
I have said many times before, I live and die by Photoshop.  This remarkable program rescued me from the my dank, fume infested wet darkroom and opened a new world of possibilities to bring my images to their best.  There are many great books and tutorials about Photoshop but I want to talk briefly about a few of the essential elements of the program which make it such a revolutionary and essential part of my creative work.  I have kept up with the latest versions of Photoshop including the cloud based Photoshop CC.  The newest flashy features are always fun to play with, but the continuing strength of the program has much more to do with the long established tools that have been refined over the years, but in their simplest form remain the core of this magical window on photography.  My goal is not to provide detailed tutorials, but to help those unfamiliar with the program to develop an appreciation of its power and to understand why it is worth the effort to incorporate it into their creative process.  Full versions of Photoshop come with a substantial sticker shock, but most of what I will be discussing can be done in Photoshop Elements and a variety of other editing programs for a substantially reduced cost.   So I must start this discussion with Layers.

 Off all the tools in Photoshop, Layers is the most essential to my work and it was one of the most difficult to fully understand.  The learning curve for Photoshop can be quite steep.  It took me three passes at the program before it finally clicked.  I started with a tutorial book and then a coarse at my local college - nothing!  Finally I found a book by Ben Willmore that got me going and I haven't stopped learning since.  This program is so broad and deep, that I am convince that no one can ever truly understand it all, but you don't need to be a master to reap much of Photoshop's amazing power. Layers is a key part of that power.

Layers are used in the editing process to add picture components or processing to the original background image.  They are most often compared to placing a transparent sheet over a picture on which an images may be place to overlie a portion our a substantial amount of the original picture,  or on which processing can be applied to affect the underlying image.  These are referred respectively as Image Layers and Adjustment Layers.

Layer Stack.  Adjustments only where they are needed

Image Layers
An Image Layer contains image material, actual pixels, which are laid down above the original image.  Top layers are always seen as overlying and obscuring those below, and in regions where the image layer is blank, the underlying picture will show through. 

Adjustment Layers
Adjustment layers work in the same way as Image Layers but they contain processing instructions rather than pixels. An Adjustment
Adjustment Layers
layer may be used to modify the appearance of the underlying image layer(s) in a broad range of ways.  Brightness and contrast can be adjusted using tools including Levels, Curves, Brightness and Contrast.  Color quality and balance can be controlled by Vibrance, Hue & Saturation,  Photo Filter, Black & White and Color Balance tools. The major advantage of making these changes on an Adjustment layer is that the underlying image remains untouched and modifications can be added, removed, or modified at any point during processing.  The real power of adjustment layers is the ability to control them, to apply just the amount of affect you want just where you want it, and that is the magic of Layer Masks.

Layer Masks
Layer Masks are not actual independent layers but are best thought of as a window placed over an Image or Adjustment Layer to control how it is seen.  The basic rule is, "White reveals, Black conceals".  When an Adjustment Layer is created you will see a

Windows on the Layers
white box just to the right of the layer's icon.  This is the layer mask.  It starts all white, like a clear window, meaning that the full effect of the layer is being applied to the entire image.  The mask can be painted with black which, like blackening a window, will block the Adjustment Layer from affecting the underlying parts of the image.  If it is entirely black the adjustment will have no effect anywhere.  The masking does not have to be "all or none".  Painting with shades of gray will partially reveal the effect and the masks overall impact can be also be varied using the Opacity slider. 

Enough! I promised that this would not be a detailed tutorial.  Lets look at a quick example of the power of layers.  I have concluded that my images have too few pictures of our dog Nellie, so why not add her in.

Background Layer : Marlborough, NH

Nellie, Source Image

Nellie Beyond the Wall, Compositing the Pooch.

Image Layer of Nellie
I decided to add an image of Nellie behind the wall in an early autumn picture from Marlborough, New Hampshire.  Of course, I
would never do this in my work, but anything for my readers. I found a picture of her from a maple sugaring shoot I did a couple of years ago that I thought would work for this exercise. I adjusted the size and then moved a cropped version over to my background image.  This automatically created an Image Layer overlying the background.  Unlike Adjustment Layers, Image Layers do not have layer masks when they are created, but a mask is just one click away.  I then removed all the extraneous parts of the image layer by painting the mask with black over everything that wasn't Nellie, and over the parts of  her that belonged behind the wall.  

Curves Adjustment Layer with Mask
Shezam!, she was, magically transported in time and space, but she didn't look quite right.  She was too bright for the shadowy area under the tree.  The color balance was a bit off, especially in her excessively red whiskers. The scene was illuminated from the left, but Nellie's face was brighter on the right. I corrected all of these problems, then subtly brightened her eyes and added a bit of spotlighting with separate adjustment layers, each masked to apply the changes just to where they were needed.


The Stack

Full Layer Stack
The result is a stack of layers which selectively fine tune the composite to help Nellie slip into the scene.  It's not perfect, but I hope it demonstrates just a few of the advantages of layers and layer masks.  A full discussion of the how layers are created and manipulated would require a substantial book and I am still trying to grasp all of it's subtleties.  It is just one of the reasons that I find Photoshop endlessly fascinating and powerful, and why, if you haven't already, you should explore all the power of this amazing tool.

This week I have been experimenting with video screen capture to augment some of my articles.  Check out my first attempt which is a short video successively revealing the effect of the layers in my example.  I've got a lot to learn with this, so let me know what you think.    

 Video Screen Capture also on YouTube
Anybody know how to make the thumbnails for other video disappear from the end of the my video?

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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