Greg Benz Photography » Minneapolis based cityscape and landscape photographer; luminosity masking fiend

Crosby Farm Park (in St Paul) has this lush green floor all around.  There’s just something about it that I really like.  I created a triptych (split this into three) from this to make a 30×90″ framed installation on a large wall.  Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to get over to see it hanging on the wall yet!

Green Trees in Crosby Farm Park

Right before I took this photo of the railroad bridge leading to St Paul, I walked under the Robert Street bridge to the right.  It was a warm summer night, and there was a group of homeless people who’d set up a tent city under the bridge.  Friendly guys, I talked to them for a few minutes.  I’m sure that’s no great life, but at that moment, camping out by the river on a beautiful night didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Railroad tracks, Mississippi River, and downtown St Paul at night.

Vignetting typically means darkening of the corners of an image, which can be a great way to enhance an image by diminishing distracting details at the edges of an image.  With film, this was mostly a natural function of lenses (based on the lens design and aperture), though dodging and burning in the darkroom allowed additional control.  But with Photoshop, we can now create any vignette we want.  Here’s an example:

How to create a vignette in Photoshop


Notice how the vignetted image draws your eyes much more powerfully to the girls.  The distracting dirt and background have been diminished so that they are no longer competing for the viewer’s attention.

To create a vignette in Photoshop:

  1. Use the circular marquee or lasso selection tools to select the area to vignette.  Set the feather (in the tool options at the top of the screen) to about 100 pixels.  You may wish to try different values to find what works best for a given image.  Alternatively, set the feather to 0 and then feather the layer mask you create in the following steps.  Feathering the mask has the advantage of being easy to adjust at any time.
    Circular Marquee selection for vignette
    Create natural vignette transition
  2. Invert the selection (because we want to darken outside the selection, not inside) by via Select/Inverse menu or using the keyboard shortcuts: <shift>-<cmd>-I on a Mac or <shift>-<ctrl>-I on a PC.
  3. Add an adjustment layer to darken the image.  Use a brightness/contrast adjustment layer with brightness set to about -35.  If you want more control, I recommend using a curves adjustment layer.
  4. Optionally, use the black and white paintbrushes on the mask at low opacity to further refine the vignette.


If you want to just create vignettes with the push of a button, Lumenzia includes a vignette tool that makes it incredibly easy to add a beautiful vignette to any image.  Lumenzia also uses a custom curve designed to prevent color shifts and prevent shadows from getting too dark.  And you can also create an reverse vignette, ie lighten the center instead of darken the edges.  I often lighten the center slightly to draw additional attention to it (in fact, I used that approach slightly in the demo image above).  The following video demonstrates how vignettes in Lumenzia:

I’m pretty sure piano lessons for me are one of the worst investments my parents ever made.  They had the right idea, I just didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.  The only things I can play on piano are the University of Michigan fight song and the baseline from the Pink Panther theme song.  Which is actually less impressive than my friend who only knows how to play one song on the piano: the love song from the movie Terminator.  I got a lot more out of guitar in college, along with a horribly failed experiment with “long” hair.   But hey, somewhere in the middle of it, I developed an appreciation for music.  I love being surrounded by it, even if it’s just the anticipation you get when standing around a place like the Luxembourg Philharmonic.

Philharmonie Luxembourg architexture

Adobe just released Lightroom CC.  It has bunch of new features (faster processing, facial recognition, panoramas, etc), but I want to call out in particular that I think readers of this blog will really enjoy: HDR!   Photoshop has been a great tool for photo-realistic HDR for years, but the new “HDR Photo Merge” tool in Lightroom is a dramatic improvement.   Compared to the old approach, Lightroom HDR offers:

  • Much smaller 32-bit files: 12 times smaller! This alone is a game changer. With the smaller files, it’s much easier to use a truly non-destructive workflow so that you can make changes later (with Photoshop HDR, I typically convert to 16-bit when I’m done, which means I lose the ability to do further editing later in ACR).  And Lightroom’s developing capabilities have gotten much better over the years, so keeping the original could likely mean that you can easily update and improve your HDR in the future as Lightroom continues to get more powerful.
  • Much faster: The merging process is 2-3 times faster!  For example, in my testing, a three-exposure merge took 51 seconds in Lightroom versus 138 in Photoshop CC 2014.2.  I’ll take back that minute and a half gladly, and you’ll save even more time if you’re merging five to nine exposures.
  • Much simpler: Once you’ve done the merge (which really only has two simple choices: alignment and de-ghosting), you then edit exactly the same way you would edit any other DNG file straight out of the camera.

Note that the ACR 9 update for Photoshop enables these same DNG updates, but I find the workflow is overall much easier in Lightroom.

Here’s how it works:

  • Don’t bother making any changes to the original DNG files before merging.
  • Select the files you want to merge (if they are in a stack, you can select the stack without expanding it).
  • Right-click and choose Photo Merge / HDR.
    -Alternatively, use the keyboard shortcut <ctrl>-H.  (note that Mac users should actually use the “Control”, not the “Command” key).
    -Or, you can use the shortcut <shift>-<ctrl>-H to skip the merge options and process your selection with the same settings you used on the last HDR. This can be a nice time saver if you have multiple HDRs that should use the same settings.
  • Choose merge options:
    – Turn on “auto-align” if you shot handheld or don’t have perfect alignment of the images.
    – You can either use or skip “auto-tone”; it does exactly the same thing as the “auto” button in the basic panel when you later develop the HDR.
    – Lastly, choose a level of de-ghosting. I generally recommend using “None”. If you do use it, I recommend leaving the deghost overlay on to help check for any problems.
  • Use the develop module to edit the merged file (you’ll see a new DNG file that has “HDR” in the name). The editing process at this point is exactly the same as what you’d use on any regular image.
  • You can then export as an 8 or 16 bit image to finish post-processing with additional software if you wish.  Just as I did with HDR in Photoshop, I often use the HDR process to deal with initial color and contrast.  Once I’ve done that, I finish processing using Lumenzia and/or the Nik plugins in Photoshop.



Where does it fit into my workflow?  I’ve been using both HDR and luminosity masks for a long time (see this post post on when I use which approach).  Mostly, it’s a huge time-saver for situations where I was already doing HDR (and it will give me more options to work non-destructively).  But I expect I may use Lightroom HDR in some situations where I may have previously just jumped straight to luminosity masking on a single exposure (ie, situations where the image didn’t call for the extra work of manual exposure blending, but now I can give myself a better starting point for further editing).

Are there any downsides to HDR in Lightroom vs Photoshop?  Nothing notable in my experience, but it is designed to do all the HDR work inside Lightroom.  Adobe has created a new DNG file format for Lightroom.  It can’t be exported to Photoshop as a 32-bit image (neither DNG nor TIF) and the DNG isn’t compatible with other tone-mapping software like Photomatix. So if you were previously using Photoshop just to merge and then exporting to tone-mapping in another software program, you should continue to use Photoshop.