Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting Into CS4

Among the useful features in the latest version of Photoshop are the new Adjustments panel and the Masks panel

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Figures 9 and 10 demonstrate the capabilities of the new Masks panel. While not a new control, by any means, the CS4 Masks panel consolidates a number of features into one place.
Once you’ve created a layer mask for an adjustment or image layer, the Masks panel really shines. If you have a situation where you don’t want the layer mask to block anything completely, but rather want to reveal some areas in their entirety but other areas to a lesser extent, you can reduce the density of the mask (reducing blacks in the layer mask to a shade of gray, for example).

Whenever building a layer mask, I almost always recommend that you start with a nonfeathered selection or use a hard-edged brush, so that you can be precise in your work with the knowledge that you can soften the edge later. In previous versions of Photoshop, creating that soft edge required you to apply a blur to the layer mask. But now you can simply use the Feather control on the Masks panel to achieve the same effect. Increase the value to blend the mask edge and decrease the value to create a more abrupt transition.

There are also three buttons on the Masks panel that allow you to apply more substantial adjustments to the current layer mask. The Mask Edge button brings up the same dialog box you’d see if you used the Refine Edge feature for adjusting selections that was introduced in Photoshop CS3. The controls are exactly the same, and just as powerful. You can expand or contract the mask, increase or decrease how closely the mask follows fine details in the image, smooth the edge of the mask or apply some feathering.

The Color Range button brings up the Color Range selection dialog box that has been with us for many versions of Photoshop, but in the context of a layer mask, it will allow you to refine a mask so it excludes all but the selected color range within the confines of the existing mask.

Finally, the Invert button does exactly what you’d expect, inverting the mask so it applies to the opposite area of the image.

At the bottom of the Masks panel, you’ll find controls to create a selection from the current layer mask, apply the layer mask to the current image layer (which I never recommend doing), disable (or enable) the mask and delete the mask.

If you’re still not excited about the Masks panel for perfecting your layer masks, consider this: Every change you apply to your layer masks with the Masks panel is nondestructive; you can go back and refine your settings at any time. Yes, that even includes the Feather control. If you feel like you softened the edge of a layer mask too much, just reduce the Feather value. It’s like having nondestructive adjustment layers that allow you to refine your layer masks. Simply incredible.

Deep Focus

Ever wish you could achieve yet more depth of field for a given image? In many situations (macro photography comes to mind), achieving extended depth of field can be a challenge. Photoshop has long included tools for blending multiple images, and in CS4, this ability has been extended to include the ability to blend a series of images captured with different focal points into a single image with maximum depth of field. Colors and shading are blended smoothly, and vignetting and lens distortion is compensated for automatically.

But Wait, There’s More!

I’ve only skimmed the surface of the new and improved features in Photoshop CS4. There are many more improvements, but I think those covered here are enough that you should seriously consider an upgrade to Photoshop CS4 if you haven’t already. And in 18 months….

Tim Grey has authored more than a dozen books related to digital imaging for photographers, including the best-selling Photoshop CS4 Workflow. He’s a member of the Photoshop World Dream Team of instructors and publishes the Digital Darkroom Quarterly newsletter. Visit www.timgrey.com.


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