What are “UXP” plugins in Photoshop?

Adobe just released a completely new technology, the Unified Extensibility Platform (UXP), for creating “plugins” (commonly known as panels previously) in Photoshop 2021 and beyond. You’re likely to have some questions about what this means for you. I’ve just released my first UXP project, a plugin version of my free Web Sharp utility (more to come on that soon), and wanted to share what I’ve learned with you.

 

What are the benefits of UXP?

UXP offers numerous advantages, including:

  • A more modern look and feel for plugin interfaces
  • Simpler plugin installation
  • The potential for better responsiveness/speed for many operations
  • Enhancements for software developers which should ultimately help significantly grow and enhance the already wide range of 3rd-party plugins for Photoshop.

This probably won’t impact you immediately, as it takes time for 3rd party developers like myself to write new code to make the most of new capabilities, but this should mean a lot of exciting improvements to come in time.

 

What does this mean for CS6 and previous versions of CC?

Nothing is going away right now. You can continue to use your existing “Flash” and “CEP” panels (see below for what these terms mean). However, you will not be able to use newer UXP versions of plugins without updating to PS 2021 (aka version 22.0.0) or later. And you’ll probably see developers increasingly focused on UXP, rather than updating multiple platforms.

Adobe Photoshop 2021 will continue to support CEP panels for the foreseeable future, and Adobe will give developers advance notice when it comes time to sunset CEP.  They want to ensure that your favorite panels continue to work and that developers have time to update if/when needed. When Adobe replaced Flash panels with CEP they gave developers notice a year in advance, and they have made  no such announcement about CEP other than to say they will continue to support the technology.

Of course, Microsoft and Apple can always throw us for a loop with their updates, but things look very good right now. CEP panels work on Windows 10, macOS Big Sur, and even on “Apple Silicon” (Apple is about to replace Intel chips with their own proprietary CPUs in new computers).

I am unsure if Flash panels work on Apple Silicon or not, so CS6 may be affected, but Flash and CS6 are otherwise ok on current Apple hardware. The fact that CS6 will still be in use nearly a decade after it was released is pretty incredible, but I suspect its days are numbered. Seriously, CS6 launched when the first Hunger Games movie was still in theaters and before the iPhone 5 and Google Glass (remember those?). At some point, migrating to Photoshop CC may be part of the cost of adopting the latest computer hardware or operating system, and I strongly recommend CC over CS6 already. The ability to use Camera RAW Smart Objects alone is worth the upgrade for many photographers, and there are so many more benefits to CC.

Bottom line: for the majority who are already using CC, I anticipate your CEP panels are safe for the next few years and popular panels will likely be updated to support UXP.

 

Can I use both old and new panels in Photoshop 2021?

Yes, you can use both the old (CEP) and new (UXP) panels at the same time in Photoshop. Other than installation and the new look of the common “Spectrum” interface elements, the one thing that will stand out is that these panels are located in different places. CEP panels can be opened from the same location they have always been, under Window / Extensions (now marked as “legacy”). UXP panels are under a new top-level menu, Plugins. The top of the Plugins menu also includes a Plugins panel that gives you another way to launch any installed UXP panel. Other that being in two different locations, there really isn’t much difference at this point – but it is likely to cause some confusion if you aren’t aware that there are now two places to look when opening a panel.

 

What does this mean for Lumenzia?

Lumenzia is currently built using “Flash” for Photoshop CS6 and “CEP” for Photoshop (insert version numbers).  In fact, I have big updates coming soon for Lumenzia built using Flash/CEP. I have no specific timeline for building a UXP version of Lumenzia, but ultimately anticipate releasing one in the future. UXP seems both beneficial and well-supported by Adobe. The timing for a UXP version depends both on Photoshop updates (as some of Lumenzia’s advanced features aren’t yet supported with the initial release of UXP in Photoshop) and me (as I will have to completely rewrite the software from the ground up). So I can’t offer any specific timing, but it will be a while. I’m not going to rush anything before it’s ready, and current design continues to work perfectly fine. Note: the amount of work required to migrate an existing plugin to UXP depends upon the complexity of the original. Thus, Lumeniza’s advanced functionality makes it more challenging to port over to UXP.

What does this mean if you are using CS6 or an older version of CC and I release a Lumenzia UXP update a year from now? Not much, really. You would be able to keep using the current (and upcoming v9) versions of Lumenzia. And you’d have access to tons of upgrades if you choose to switch to the newest Photoshop CC at that point (as your purchase of Lumenzia gives you access to both the CS6 and CC versions).

Bottom line: Nothing to worry about, and this may pave the way for more great enhancements to Lumenzia down the road.

 

What’s the difference between actions, panels, and plugins?

There are numerous technologies for enhancing Photoshop. These include:

  • Actions (or Droplets). You’re likely very familiar with actions since they have been around since version 4.0 (we are on v22 now). These are macros that you can record to playback repetitive steps, and are a popular way of sharing very simple edits. They offer almost no decision-making logic, almost no interface, and no error handling. They are easy to make (no coding required), but they don’t do much either. They can be used by panels to get things done, but that is a very simple and limiting approach. JavaScript offers vastly improved capabilities over actions.
  • JSX (aka ExtendScript). This is Adobe’s original implementation of JavaScript (ECMAScript 3 standard), a programming language that allows for advanced control of Photoshop that goes well beyond actions. Ultimately, this is just a way of controlling Photoshop, so it cannot do things that you can’t do with Photoshop on your own. However, fully developed JSX often provides so much simplicity and speed that it is effectively like adding new capabilities to Photoshop. JSX can be executed on its own (via File / Browse Scripts in PS) or more commonly behind the scenes as part of a panel. Because it is based on such an old standard, JSX does not offer all the benefits of modern JavaScript and debugging environments for developers, which is one of the reasons Adobe is replacing it with modern JavaScript standards in UXP.
  • C++ plugins. These are actually fully-independent programs (they can technically run on their own without Photoshop). They may create their own users interface or be used in combination with panels in the background. This is the technology used by large applications such as Nik or Topaz plugins. Development is much more difficult, but the potential capabilities are wide open because these plugins can do things that Photoshop cannot.
  • Flash panels. These added the first 3rd-party panels for CS5 and CS6. This is the technology behind Lumenzia for CS6. They aren’t very dynamic or pretty, but they gave us a way to create our own panels of buttons. This technology was discontinued with Photoshop CC 2014, but is still relevant for those who are opting to use CS6 instead of CC. Flash panels are all about user interface (they use JSX or C++ plugins on the backend to control Photoshop). As Flash is a dead technology and the installer for CS6 uses a technology that does not work with the latest versions of MacOS, this technology is on borrowed time. Given that CS6 was released in April of 2012, it’s amazing that it’s still widely used and functional.
  • CEP panels (aka HTML5 panels). This is the technology behind Lumenzia for CC. These CEP (Common Extensibility Platform) panels are actually little Chromium web browsers running inside Photoshop. As such, they have enormous capability to create beautiful and dynamic interfaces. Like Flash panels, these are a form of user interface that runs JSX or C++ plugins in the background to control Photoshop. However, as Photoshop has improved over the years, you can also do a lot more with JSX in newer versions of Photoshop.
  • UXP (Unified eXtensibility Platform). This is Adobe’s new framework for building plugins in CC apps. UXP powers XD plugins and is now available in Photoshop CC 2021. This includes a completely new technology to replace CEP panels, as well as adopting the Chrome V8 engine to allow the use of modern JavaScript. The front-end is effectively a light web browser-like technology built by Adobe. It is capable of starting up much more quickly than the Chromium Embedded Framework used by CEP panels, and is not slowed down by a translation layer between the panel and Photoshop. The developer environment is more stable since Photoshop won’t need updates to keep up with new versions of the Chrome debugger (which affects CEP plugins). It also gains the capabilities of asynchronous JavaScript, which a non-programmer might think of as “multitasking” (that’s not what it really does, it is single-threaded, but the bottom line is that it helps minimize the effect of bottlenecks on performance).

 

Are there any drawbacks to UXP?

As a new standard, it will take time for the developer community to migrate CEP panels and create new ones. That may mean some changes in the look and feel of some panels, or possibly introduce some bugs or changes in functionality during transition. But I fully expect the net experience should be positive, especially as CEP isn’t going away and developers are not being forced to rush out UXP panels before they are ready.

There are also some functional limitations in UXP relative to CEP at this time. For example, my new Web Sharpening Script will ask you to specify the folder for saving output once per session, as UXP 4.0 plugins (which is the UXP version inside Photoshop 2021) are not capable of remembering that you granted permission. However, these sorts of limitations probably aren’t a huge issue in most cases and I anticipate important limitations will be addressed as Adobe continues to develop UXP.

There are some user interface limitations as well. Adobe is replacing an interface built on a Chromium web-browser with an internally-developed browser-like interface. That is a huge undertaking and Adobe can’t realistically support the full functionality of a web browser. That means there are some limitations in what developers can do with the new interface compared with the old. For example, the popular “Popper.JS” frame for creating advanced and beautiful tooltips is not currently supported. It also creates risks that the interface capabilities don’t support or quickly adopt new features frameworks that would otherwise be available in Chromium (ie, a risk that the gap grows as Chromium improves in the future).  It’s hard to say what this ultimately means, as this is just the first release of UXP and it will continue to evolve.

Developer opinions/predictions will vary on this topic, but I believe Adobe is showing that it is committed to offering a strong platform for extending Photoshop. The need to both encourage migration of CEP panels to UXP as well as ongoing support of 3rd party add-ons (which clearly help create increased demand for buying and using Photoshop) should help ensure enhancements. No new platform has ever been perfect (or perfectly understood) immediately at launch. So these questions and concerns are unsurprising to me. I’ve been very impressed by how quickly Adobe has built such a compelling option in the first release of UXP for Photoshop, and look forward to its continued growth in the future.

 

Where can I learn more about UXP?

Please see  https://adobe.ly/max2020uxpps

 

Thank you to the team at Adobe!

I’d like to say thank you to the numerous unsung heroes at Adobe. You know that splash screen that pops up when you open Photoshop? There’s a great story behind every name there. I know a handful of them personally, and they are incredible people. I also know a much longer list of names that aren’t on that list because it takes a massive team of developers to create Photoshop and the underlying technologies (like UXP). I’ve watched these teams work crazy hours this year preparing UXP: adding new capabilities, fixing bugs, working long with me and numerous other developers to help build an ecosystem of UXP-based plugins you’ll love, and time out of their weekends and vacation to help make it happen.

How to get amazing fall color out of Photoshop

The 2020 5DayDeal Bundle

I’ve got a great fall color tutorial for you below, but I also want to share something else I think you’ll love. Every year, the 5DayDeal bundle offers a special opportunity to invest in great photography courses for >95% off. This year’s bundle includes tutorials from Nick Page, Ryan Dyar, Nigel Danson, Gavin Hardcastle, Mads Peter Iversen, and dozens of other world-class instructors on a variety of shooting and processing topics. And 10% of the proceeds go to great charities.

And if you purchase the 5DayDeal bundle through the links on this page, I will also send you a FREE copy of my Bonus Blending Course. This course is never available for purchase, only through special opportunities like this. It includes the RAW source file, written summary, and takes you through the complete exposure blending workflow from the RAW to the finished image. ​(Purchases through other links will not qualify, so please be sure to use the links on this email. Everyone who qualifies will gain access on October 22nd, after the sale has ended).


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I rarely endorse other products and only when I think you would thoroughly enjoy them. When you purchase through my link, you will receive my bonus blending course and be supporting me with an affiliate commission, at no cost to you.

 

How to get amazing fall color out of Photoshop

Every season of the year has its own magic, but for me, nothing beats fall color. This year I drove five hours and stood in a river for three hours shooting this waterfall. I was so excited I hardly noticed the temperature was barely above freezing. The colors were incredible, the sky had great mood, and the water looked silky smooth. But I hit a huge snag when I got home.

I had no idea how to process the image. Seriously. All my usual tricks were failing me. At first I thought I was a bit rusty from a year of being largely stuck at home. But the bigger challenge was the flat light. Fall days are like that. Sometimes you get gorgeous light, but a lot of times you get what you get – and then the leaves are gone. So I had to build my own light. After some experimentation, I figured out the right balance of blending, dodging, and other techniques to make the image look as exciting as it was when I was standing knee deep in the rushing water. Here’s the tutorial showing how you can create great fall color even in challenging light:

 

The key takeaways from this edit are:

  • Exposure blending with luminosity masks can always help enhance your sky. It’s also a very effective way to help bring out dark foreground detail without getting the sort of flat/fake foreground you’d get by just boosting the shadows slider in RAW or by using HDR.
  • The Selective Color tool is a powerful way to enhance fall color. It’s also pretty intimidating, so check out this tutorial to learn how to use it. A key point to remember is that you very often need to adjust the “yellows” to adjust what appears to be green trees or moss. We may disagree with how Photoshop classifies this color, but that’s how it works.
  • When changing the color of green trees, remember that they are also very dark. So try using a brightness/contrast adjustment layer with a layer mask targeting them to help Selective Color work its magic.
  • Dodging and burning through luminosity selections is a great way to add depth and dimension to foreground elements like the rocks, water, and trees here.

Focal length blending with luminosity masks

Luminosity masks are of course enormously popular for exposure blending and dodging and burning. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. You can use luminosity masks for a huge range of creative post-processing techniques, including “focal length blending”.

Focal length blending involves combining two or more images shot using different focal lengths. Sounds bizarre or impossible, but it’s an incredible way to captures landscapes that you simply cannot capture in one frame. For example, you may run into a scene where the foreground requires a wide-angle lens to get great leading lines while the background requires a longer focal length to keep from looking tiny. That’s exactly the scenario I was facing when I shot the image below and shot at 16mm to capture the gorgeous waves and then zoomed to 35mm to capture the sea stack large enough to show its glory.

 

The techniques used here should feel somewhat familiar if you already understand exposure blending. You paint through luminosity selections to create a mask that reveals one layer on top of another. In this case, to reveal the 35mm sea stack on top of the 16mm image. There are of course additional considerations. You’ll need to align your images before blending. And a credible blend may require some additional creative work.

The trickiest and most unique part of this blend is the reflection. You have to create it. You can’t use the 16mm reflection because it’s too small. And you can’t use the 35mm reflection because it doesn’t match the image at all. The key is recognizing that the reflection is basically appearing as a dark pixels in the shadows of the foreground. So we can create create a fake reflection using a fill layer and luminosity selection.

Milky Way Blending with Nick Page

Nick Page just did a great webinar on processing Milky Way and Aurora images with Rafael Pons of PhotoPills. During their talk, Nick discusses what makes for strong images, camera techniques, and how he uses Lumenzia to create luminosity masks and bring out the best in challenging night skies.

Note that if you want to jump right to his exposure blending, you can see that around 45, 58, and 80 minutes into the video.

A few quick tips you can take away from Nick’s demonstration:

  • Processing your image multiple times and blending them together with luminosity masks is a great way to adjust your foreground and sky independently to get the most from your RAW files. You can see this around 4o minutes into the video.
  • Customize your luminosity mask preview by double-clicking the levels adjustment layer to bring in the white and black sliders to help further isolate the sky from the foreground. You can see this at the 45:30 mark.
  • You can also customize the luminosity mask preview by color easily by double-clicking the orange “Color Conversion” layer and adjusting the sliders to select more or less of specific colors you wish to include or exclude. You can see this at 59 minutes.

Nick also has an excellent collection of tutorials to go deeper on a wide range of landscape topics.

How to remove hot pixels from long exposures

In long exposure and low light photography you’re faced with noise and potentially “hot pixels“. While noise is frustrating, hot pixels are devastating. If they aren’t removed, the image is severely affected for any close viewing or printing. Traditional noise reduction techniques aren’t designed to fix hot pixels and cloning potentially thousands of bad pixels individually from an image is no one’s idea of a good time. Thankfully, there’s a must simpler fix and you’ll learn all about it in this week’s tutorial.

To remove hot pixels with the Dust & Scratches Filter:

  • Duplicate your layer (or image via ctrl/cmd-alt/option-shift-E) or convert it to a Smart Object to work non-destructively.
  • Go to Filter / Noise / Dust & Scratches.
  • Zoom in to at least 100% and start with both sliders to the far left.
  • Increase the radius slider by one at a time until you find the smallest number that gets rid of most or all hot pixels. Do no go above this, as you will lose only lose image detail. This is typically 2-4.
  • Increase the threshold slider until you find the largest number that does not re-introduce the hot pixels. This slider helps restore detail and grain in the image. Typically 5-10 is a good number, but you may go higher. Click OK when done.
  • This filter is safe to apply to color nearly everywhere, but needs to be applied judiciously to the luminosity in areas of detail. So use the following two-prong fix:
    • Create a duplicate of the fix and set one copy to “color” blend mode.
    • For the “normal” blend mode version, add a black layer mask and then paint white to reveal the full fix as needed. Use selections to help make the painting faster and more precise.
  • There may be a few stubborn hot pixels that aren’t removed by the filter. Just create a blank new layer and use the spot healing brush (set to sample all layers) to finish.

 

If you’re working on night images, this is also a great way to fix the foreground. If you’re trying to clean up a starry sky, you might wish to apply this more selectively with a brush or using color options in Lumenzia in order to avoid applying this filter on stars (since it will suppress them).


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