How to make dramatically smaller layered files

Luminosity masks and general layer masks are incredible tools for creating beautiful images and using non-destructive workflows. But like any tool, they can also be over-used. That can lead to unnecessarily large TIF files and some limits to your flexibility to make changes later. There are a number of situations where other approaches can yield the same or similar results as layer/luminosity masks, and give you other benefits when they are suitable.

Specifically, I’m referring to using BlendIf instead of luminosity masks, vector masks instead of simple layer masks, and combining group masks to eliminate extra masks. This can save substantial file space, allow you to save and re-open files more quickly, and enable more flexible workflows for non-destructive editing.

Lumenzia includes built-in tools to not only help you get the most from you luminosity masks, but also use alternatives when they are suitable. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about several of them in depth.

When to use BlendIf instead of luminosity masks

BlendIf is effectively a form of luminosity masking. It is quite limited in comparison to luminosity masks in general, but it can do a very good job of replicating generic light and dark masks, as well as midtones (to a lesser degree). This applies when you would directly apply a luminosity mask to an image, not when painting through a selection to create the mask (which offers substantial local control that BlendIf cannot come close to replicating). So this means that BlendIf is almost never a good alternative for exposure blending, but there are several other luminosity masking uses that it can replace quite well.

Color grading, protected vignettes, and more basic dodging and burning are all good candidates for using BlendIf. You can frequently get results which are just as good, but with some added benefits: smaller files and a more non-destructive workflow. While luminosity masks are grayscale images which can increase the size of your file by as much as 33%, BlendIf has absolutely no impact on the file size. Zero. That means less disk space used, faster saves, and faster re-opening of the image later. And the non-destructive benefits are also very useful. Whereas a luminosity mask does not adapt to future changes, BlendIf does. So if you use BlendIf to target highlights for color grading, you could later retouch the underlying image without having to worry about updating a layer mask.

Using BlendIf with Lumenzia is simple, but here are a few tips to get the most out of it:

  • Use BlendIf from the start where possible. Trying to convert a luminosity mask to a BlendIf later likely will require some other tweaks to maintain the same look. It’s much easier to do it once.
  • The fastest way to use BlendIf with Lumenzia is to <shift>-click the mask you wish to use, such as “L” or “L2”. Once you have created it, use the blue sliders in Lumenzia to customize (if the sliders are grey, you probably have an active layer mask on the layer, just deselect the mask or delete it so that the sliders are blue, which indicates that the BlendIf is the target for the sliders).
  • You can also create more advanced BlendIf by switching Lumenzia to the If:under or If:this modes via the dropdown at top-left. The “under” mode is the best choice most of the time (and is the only one you should use when working on an adjustment layer).
    • You can target color by clicking the swatches at the top to target the red, green, and blue channels (the others are combinations: yellow is really red and green).
    • The “not” BlendIf masks can be incredibly helpful for targeting color. Remember that targeting a color channel is not the same thing as targeting color. The highlights of the red channel include red, purple, yellow, and white. If you want to just target red colors, you should actually use “not L” green and “not L” blue (because red colors do not have significant amounts of green or blue). You could then target red highlights if you want to limit your reds to the brightest rests.

Do not use BlendIf for exposure blending, anytime you need to paint through a selection (most dodging and burning), when you need to customize the mask for precision, or any other time BlendIf yields inferior results. In general, you should be using luminosity selections to create luminosity masks for nearly all advanced work, and BlendIf is not a good substitute for any local work like that.

When to combine luminosity masks

Group masks (putting a masked layer into a group with its own separate mask) are a great way to help non-destructively reveal only portions of a luminosity mask without altering the luminosity mask in a permanent way. They are extremely useful for getting the perfect mask. Sometimes you need to keep them to be able to make refinements later, and sometimes you know you won’t need that capability any longer. If you don’t, then the extra mask is just consuming disk space unnecessarily. Lumenzia’s “Combine” button allows you to easily combine the grouped luminosity masks to save space.

To use it, just make the group layer active and click “Combine”. Lumenzia will do all the work for you and create a result which is identical. This will work even if you have several layers inside the group, which will save you additional file space. This is also a helpful tool to better understand how the grouped mask really affects the image, as you will now be able to see the exact mask being used.

Do not use “combine” when you will likely need to revise the group mask later. The flexibility is well worth the extra file size when needed.

When to use a vector mask instead of a layer mask

Unlike BlendIf, vector masks do not support any luminosity targeting. They should never be used to replace luminosity masks. But they are excellent replacements for simple masks created from lasso or marquee selections. This includes such masks which are subsequently feathered. Just like BlendIf, vector masks take up absolutely no space and can therefore save substantial space compared to a layer mask. If you are saving an uncompressed file, these potential gains are just as great. If you are saving compressed files, these simple layer masks do compress much better and the savings won’t be as great – but there is still much to be gained.

In addition to saving space, vector masks are paths which can be easily revised in ways that layer masks cannot. So if you are comfortable with paths, the pen tool, or direct selection tool – you can easily make non-destructive changes to vector masks.

Vector masks can also reduce clutter, as you can place both a vector mask and layer mask on the same layer. So instead of needing a group mask, you may be able to do everything on one layer (with a layer mask or BlendIf to target by luminosity and a vector mask to localize to a general area of the image).

Vector mask support is built into Lumenzia and here are a few tips to get the most out of it:

  • Anytime you are creating a mask from a lasso/marquee selection or using a vignette, consider creating a vector mask. These are all excellent times to use them.
  • When you use any of the buttons to create a mask in in Lumenzia (such as “Mask” or “Vignette”) and have an active selection or path, Lumenzia will ask if you would like to create a layer mask or vector mask. Just choose vector. If you previously choose layer and to remember that choice permanently, you can instead <shift>-click Mask to see all the options again or go to the menu (three bars icon at top-right) and reset popup notifications to be prompted again.
  • Lumenzia will feather vector masks by default. You can always change this later via the slider in Lumenzia. Make sure the vector mask is targeted (has white corners around it), as the slider will target a layer mask or BlendIf if they are on the same layer and the vector mask is not active.
  • To refine a vector mask’s shape, use Photoshop’s “direct selection” tool. This is the white arrow, which you can activate by clicking <shift>-<A> to toggle between the selection tools. **
  • Never try to create a vector mask from an active luminosity selection. This will not create useful results and can take a while to process while Lumenzia tries to make sense of the complexity of the luminosity selection.

Do not use vector masks instead of luminosity masks or when you need custom brushing, this is just a replacement for simple lasso/marquee selections.

** Note: Photoshop treats feathering of layer masks and vector masks fundamentally differently at the edges of the image. As a result, a feathered vector mask (unlike the otherwise identical layer mask) will cease to affect the edges, which would create problems for vignetting (as the edges would suddenly get light again instead of showing the expected result). The fix is to move edge points further outside the image canvas, and Lumenzia will do this for you AUTOMATICALLY when you create a vignette. There is nothing you need to do, but in case you wish to revise your vignette vector mask (path) later, you should just be aware that this is done on purpose to ensure a proper vignette so that you can refine it properly. The reason for this is that vector masks can extend beyond the edges of the visible image, while layer masks cannot – so Photoshop treats them differently at the edges.

 

Making smaller layer masks in compressed files

While I did not demonstrate this in the video above, there is yet another way to save on file size. When you save your image as a compressed TIF (or PSD / PSB, which are compressed by default), the amount of detail in the layer mask matters. So painting a solid black or white color on unused portions of the mask will help your image compress to a smaller size. This is a great option when you might be tempted to use “Combine”, but still want to retain some flexibility. In this case, you just remove areas of detail you would definitely not use (rather than removing everything you aren’t using right now).

There are a couple of quick and easy ways to do this:

  • In Lumenzia, just draw a rough lasso selection around the area you would like to keep, make your masked layer active, click the * button at the top of the panel, and then click “Mask”. The * button will intersect the selection and mask, which means it will only keep what’s inside the lasso selection. It is best to not feather the selection here when asked.
  • Alternatively, you can just manually brush on the layer mask. Be sure to paint all the way to black or white. Leaving a very dark or very bright area with detail will still consume a lot of space. I would recommend using the first method with Lumenzia for simplicity and guaranteed results.

Luminosity masking is easier than ever with Lumenzia v9

Version 9 of the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop is now available as a free upgrade for all customers. It’s never been easier to create the perfect luminosity mask or selection to make beautiful photos. And the updates have been designed to avoid changing any existing workflows, so you can jump right in. Be sure to see the highlights and initial demo videos below (more to come in the months ahead).

 

Hear me discuss new v9 features with Jeff Harmon on the Master Photography podcast.

New features in Lumenzia v9 include:

  • Automatically create subtracted selections just by double-clicking the “-“ button. This helps quickly and easily get better shadow detail in your photos.
  • Create special selections, channels, or layers based on HSB, HSL, LAB, CMYK, or RGB values. This includes a preview interface for trying different blend modes when creating layers.
  • Out of Gamut masks. Take more control over your conversion to sRGB, prints, or other strong colors that may need adjustment.
  • Reload the last orange preview layers. This includes any customizations, such as tweaks to the sliders, levels layers, color targeting, etc.
  • Automatically crop or fill transparent edges when aligning exposures via PreBlend to ensure great-looking edges in your blends.
  • Fade slider in the Basics panel. Quickly and easily dial in just the right amount of the last brush stroke, etc. Click the slider to set the exact amount you need.*
  • “Sky” button offers enhance Sky selection and replacement (Basics panel):*
    • Control whether the results are based on the active layer or sample from all layers.
    • Choose on-off sky replacements without having to import them to the PS library.
    • Select foregrounds
    • Guidance to avoid common issues (with hidden layers, adjustment layers, etc).
  • “Vignette” results have been substantially improved.
    • <shift>-clicking for BlendIf now automatically helps protect shadows.
    • When using vector masks, edges are now expanded so that the vignette is darkened all the way to the edges (to get the same as when using layer masks, but with more flexibility and smaller file sizes).
  • Enhanced “SmartObj” in the Basics panel:
    • Improved organization and clarity with named smart objects.
    • Copy channels to the new Smart Object.
  • Improved optimization, including customized menus, toolbar, and workspace. Available via “Optimize Photoshop” in the Utilities menu (top-right of the panel or ctrl-click the “Tutorials” button in CS6).*
  • And much more. These are just some of the highlights. There are 170 new features, updates, and bug fixes compared to v8.5.1. See the release notes for full details.

* Note for CS6 users: While Lumenzia v9 includes hundreds of enhancements for CS6, some updates are limited to Photoshop CC or work somewhat differently in CS6. This is unfortunately due to limitations of the >8-year old CS6 platform. Differences are primarily in appearance or workflow. Functional capabilities generally remain nearly the same. And of course, you automatically have access to the CC panel if you ever update to Photoshop CC.

Buy Lumenzia v9 now.

Existing customers can download any time via the links on this page (which is also linked from the bottom of all my newsletters).

Note: Lumenzia v9 is compatible with Photoshop CS6 and CC (including PS 2021), Windows, and MacOS (including Big Sur and M1 / Apple Silicon).

How to Optimize Color Settings in Photoshop

I’m not going to sugar coat it, color management is intimidating. I read 10+ books on the inner workings of ICC profiles last year and I still wouldn’t claim to fully get it. But if you want your images to look great and consistent on your monitor, the computer you buy next year, printed on your wall, and anywhere you show it on the internet – it’s something you need to get right. One of the foundations for that in Photoshop is the “Color Settings” dialog, and in this tutorial you’ll learn what the various settings are and how to set them to help ensure your photos look the way you intend.

Hear Jeff Harmon and I discuss this tutorial and the basics of color management on the Master Photography podcast.

What are working spaces and profiles?

First, a quick background on ICC profiles. The pixels in your images are saved as red, green, and blue (RGB) values from 0-255. But 255 what? Even your computer does not know. It would be like trying to bake a cake with half a recipe that called for 2 sugars. 2 cubes? 2 teaspoons? 2 cups? ICC profiles are meant to help resolve that ambiguity so that a pixel with an RGB value of 255, 130, 194 would look the same on your computer as it would on someone else’s phone when they see your image on Facebook.

We could spend weeks discussing how ICC profiles work, how to make them, and so on. But there are really only a handful of critical things every photographer needs to know:

  • For color management to work, you need an ICC profile embedded in your image. This ensures that your file accurately describes the color in the image. This is typically sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB. However, there are other good general purpose “working spaces” (which means they are a standard, but not based on any specific device). If it is missing (“untagged”), the computer has to guess (we’ll get to this below). When working with an untagged image, Photoshop will add a “#” indicator next to the bit depth in the file name (unless you have set the color management policy below to “off”).
  • You should open your image the first time with your preferred color profile and then avoid converting the profile in your working file. Any conversion may cause a loss of quality (and converting from a small gamut to a large gamut won’t bring back lost color). There are only a few cases where I convert profiles. The first is when outputting an image to the web or for print. I always do this on a duplicate copy, never my original working file. The other (which is rare and I try to avoid) is when combining images that were created with different RGB profiles, as all layers in an image must ultimately use the same profile (more on pasting with different profiles below). You can get deep in the details to consider all the options, but Adobe RGB is a safe and very good choice to use from start to finish in your working files. The settings below will help you avoid unwanted conversions.
  • You also need an ICC profile for your monitor or printer. This ensures that your output device accurately displays the color described in the file. You’ll need a profiling device such as the X-Rite i1Studio to do this. This is a very deep topic that we won’t cover here, but it needs to be done in addition to the other color management choices discussed here. Using the analogy above, skipping this would be like knowing the recipe calls for 2 teaspons of sugar, but you just use some random spoon in the kitchen to get close enough.

The color settings dialog (Edit / Color Settings) in Photoshop refers to ICC profiles in a few different ways:

  • The “color management” section describes what to do about “embedded profiles”, which refers to saving the ICC profile with your document. Without an embedded profile, you are back to the “2 sugars” scenario above and Photoshop will just guess what to do when it opens the file, which will likely lead to some disastrous results. Photographs should always include an embedded profile.
  • “Working spaces” are the ICC profiles that Photoshop will assume when there is ambiguity, such as not having a profile saved with the image.
  • “Conversion options” tells Photoshop how to manage conversion from one profile to another. While you should avoid converting the profile in your working document, you will likely need to convert copies of it for output to the print or web, so these are important.
  • The “advanced controls” section includes a bunch of random options that you should leave alone, but we’ll cover them below as well.

 

Optimal “Color Settings” values in Photoshop

If you are using Lumenzia, just use the “optimize” utility and it will take care of most of these settings for you automatically. Just go to the flyout menu (top-right three bars icon) and click on Utilities / Optimize. (Note: CS6 users should <ctrl/cmd>-click the Tutorials button to get to the utilities menu).

The settings dropdown at top allows you to choose from some standard defaults. Leave this alone to set things as recommended below.

Working spaces:

  • RGB Working Space:
    • This setting is only used when there is ambiguity. If you open your image in Adobe RGB, there is no ambiguity and this working space setting is ignored. So assuming you are using embedded profiles, there are only a couple of places where this setting matters.
    • One is when opening untagged images (which is common when working with images that came from a scanner or the internet). If you check the option below to warn when opening images with missing profiles, you won’t have any problems and will be prompted with options when you open the image.
    • The other is if you use the Image / Mode menu to convert between RGB and LAB, because this menu option does not specify which RGB profile to use. I recommend you never use that and instead use Edit / Convert to Profile so that you can choose your preferred RGB profile.
    • If you use LAB a lot and have a habit of using the Image / Mode command, you may wish to set the working RGB to match the embedded profile you use when opening your images (ie probably Adobe RGB or ProPhoto). This would avoid accidental loss of color that could occur by converting to sRGB. This is also safe with untagged images if you enable the warning for missing profiles as recommended below.
    • If you use a scanner which does not embed profiles and you have created one, you may wish to set it as your working profile to make it easy to assign it to these untagged images as you open them.
    • Otherwise, setting this to sRGB is probably ideal. That will give you faster access to choose it when opening an untagged image (rather than scrolling through a list if it wasn’t the last one you used). And if you work with a lot of untagged images which you assume will always be in sRGB, you could then turn off the missing profiles warning below to have these images automatically treated as sRGB and avoid getting prompted over and over.
    • Do not set this to “Monitor RGB” (this will disable color management). You should also not set it to any custom profile you have created, these are not good choices for your working files. If you need to use other spaces for output, duplicate your file and use Edit / Convert to Profile to convert that one-off file.
  • CMYK working space: Unless you work on files in the CMYK workspace, this probably has no effect on your work at all. Regardless, leave it at the default unless you have a good reason to change it.
  • Gray working space:
    • As I described in a previous tutorial, this setting can significantly affect the quality of luminosity masks. However, there is no good general setting that you can just set and forget. It should be matched based upon the active (embedded) RGB profile in each document. Lumenzia automatically optimizes this for you on the fly for each image. If you are not using Lumenzia, see that older tutorial for suggestions on the best alternative approach.
    • Beyond luminosity masks, I strongly recommend you do never use the grayscale working space for photography. The only benefit is smaller TIF files. RGB mode is equally capable of producing the same black and white images. More importantly, there are numerous tools and filters which are only available in RGB mode (including non-destructive options to control the conversion from color to black and white). Additionally, great black and white images often have a slight color tint added to them.
  • Spot working space: It is very unlikely that you work on files in the spot workspace. Leave it at the default unless you have a good reason to change it.

Color Management Policies:

  • RGB, CMYK, and Gray should all be set to “preserve embedded profiles“.  Using “off” creates those disastrous scenarios covered above.
    • Specifically, it causes new documents to have no profile and strips the profile when opening a file that has a profile different from the working space (it will leave an embedded profile alone if it happens to match the working space).
    • And we should avoid conversions in general, so the third option to convert to the working space should also be avoided.
    • Note that if you are unable to to change this value, make sure your RGB working space is not set to “Monitor RGB” as this automatically forces the RGB policy to off.
  • Profile Mismatches / Ask When Opening” should be left unchecked. This will warn you when opening an image with an embedded profile which is not the same as the working RGB. Since we wish to avoid conversions, just stick with the embedded profile.
  • Profile Mismatches / Ask When Pasting” should probably be left unchecked. This serves as a helpful reminder that you haven’t been consistently using the same profile, but the right answer is almost always to convert and that’s what will be done if this is left unchecked.
  • Missing Profiles / Ask When Opening” should be checked. Missing profiles are a serious issue and checking this box will both warn you and give you a chance to fix the problem.

Conversion Options:

  • Engine should be left as Adobe (ACE). This is an excellent choice and consistent between Mac and PC.
  • Intent should be set to “relative colorimetric“. This is most often the best choice, and you can use “perceptual” as needed by using Edit / Convert to Profile to control the process when you need that instead. (Note: photographers should generally not use absolute colorimetric other than for some advanced hard proofing scenarios, and I cannot think of a good reason to use saturation for photography).
  • Use Black Point Compensation” should be left checked for best results (to avoid light/muddy shadows).
  • “Use Dither” should probably be checked. This adds a slight bit of noise when converting to 8-bits to help disguise any possible banding. You can also control this on the fly by using Edit / Convert to Profile if you need to make a different choice once in a while.
  • “Compensate for Scene-referred Profiles” should be left checked. It is intended for those using Photoshop as part of their video work, so it probably does affect you.

Advanced Controls:

  • Desaturate monitor colors” should be left unchecked as it is deliberately causing your monitor to deviate from an accurate profile. The potential benefit here is to help visualize colors so strong that they are outside the gamut of your monitor. This is not what I would consider a precise nor highly useful tool.
  • Blend RGB Colors Using Gamma” should be left unchecked. Setting this to 1 actually creates better blends of color. For example, paint red at 50% opacity over solid green. The default behavior will be dark where red and green mix, whereas a gamma of 1 will show the preferred yellow. While I would like to use this more “colorimetricly” correct approach, it only makes sense to do so as a setting in the document, not across Photoshop in general. If you change this behavior, then you are likely to see some potentially significant changes in the appearance of your layered documents. And if you share files with others or do not consistently use this setting going forward, your images may not appear as intended. In the end, this doesn’t provide a lot of value for the kinds of colors we actually mix in photography so leaving it off is fine and preferable since changing it may cause unexpected changes.
  • Blend Text Colors Using Gamma” should be left checked and set to the default 1.45. The idea here is similar to the previous setting, but just affects text. If you change it, you’ll likely see changes in the edge detail of your text layers. The default is fine, and the concerns for unexpected changes are the same.

 

 

 

The best software for beautiful large prints?

Note: Topaz is currently running 50% off Black Friday sale, and you can save an extra 15% on top of that by using discount code gbenz15.

 

I print a lot of images both for myself and clients. Most of the time, these are large prints which require enlargement. For example, I frequently print 40×60″ prints from my Nikon D850. Without interpolation, those 46-megapixel RAW files would only be 137 dpi at that size. My goal is 300dpi, which would be a 218% enlargement of the linear dimensions or equivalent to shooting on a 172-megapixel camera. Safe to say I won’t own one of those anytime soon. And that’s not the largest size I might print. Unless you only make small or medium-sized prints, it’s important to know how to enlarge your images.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn the pros and cons of the most common options and how to get the best results from each. I use a variety of tools, including Photoshop’s “Preserve Details“, Topaz Gigapixel AI, and ON1 Resize. There are numerous alternatives, but I recommend Gigapixel. (Note that if you decide to purchase Gigapixel, use discount code gbenz15 for 15% off.*)

Note that I also generally recommend ON1 Resize for those printing on canvas, as it has an excellent tool for created reflected edges for gallery-wraps. However, in my experience with the latest 2021 version, there are some problematic bugs and so I skipped it for this video and recommend holding off purchasing or upgrading for now. ON1 is a great company and I’m sure they will address these bugs. I have reached out to them for support and will update this article when they have a release which addresses these issues.

I use all of these options because each has its own strengths. A direct comparison is difficult to do, for a few reasons. First, the controls are different and you really have to spend time to find optimal results to compare from Resize and Gigapixel. And second, all enlargement interacts with sharpening and noise. For example, some of these algorithms may add a lot of sharpening, others very little. The immediate result isn’t a fair comparison until you have finished the image. The best algorithm is really the one that gets you to the best final print, including consideration of how you process noise and sharpness in the image both before and after using one of these enlargement tools. With those caveats out of the way, I think there are some clear differences between the various options.
So before we get to the comparison further below, let’s take a look at how to get best results from each of them. Note that for each of them, make sure you start from a flattened copy of your work (just duplicate the image and flatten all layers). Resizing layers and layer masks is possible, but may easily lead to poor results. And the other tools may throw some cryptic error (especially with Smart Objects and Adjustment layers) about “command not available” or “GatherImageDataFilter”.

How to get great enlargements with Photoshop “Preserve Details”:

The options here are limited and pretty straight-forward.
  1. Go to Image / Image Size.
  2. Make sure “resample” is checked and the dropdown next to it is set to “Preserve Details (enlargement)“. While there is a “2.0” option, the original is generally best.
  3. Enter the desired output size.
  4. The “reduce noise” slider is helpful when working with noisy images, such as ISO 6400 images of the night sky. You should leave reduce noise to 0 for images shot at low ISO, but consider something like 25% for noisy images.

How to get great enlargements with Gigapixel AI:

  1. Go to File / Automate / Topaz Gigapixel AI to start the plugin from within Photoshop.
  2. Choose your preferred settings
    • You can choose size by scaling factor, but picking a height or width is typically simplest. Click the dimension units to switch between pixels, inches, or cm and choose the desired resolution (300 pixels per inch is a good choice if you don’t know what to use). The full output dimensions are shown below the image.
    • Choose Standard for most images or Architectural for cityscapes or other highly detailed images with sharp edges. The Compressed option is meant for when working with low quality source files and Art is for graphics, so you probably won’t use either of them.
    • Clicking “auto” is a very good option. While you can often do a little better in most cases, the difference is unlikely to be noticeable in most prints. But the greater the enlargement, the greater the benefit to spending time on the next few options.
    • “Suppress noise” helps improve detail significantly in high ISO images. For most (clean) images, just leave this at 0-20%. For high ISO images (such as ISO 6400), try up to 80 or even 100%.
    • “Remove blur” is a confusing way of basically saying: sharpen the image image. It can be used for handheld images or other scenarios where there is some subtle blurring of your subject, but it can also simply be used to add sharpness to any image. This slider is a significant part of the apparent sharpness of Gigapixel at default settings and the best choice here depends on your image, personal preference, and whether / how you plan to sharpen the image separately after enlarging it. 50% is a good general-purpose setting here, but this is the one setting where it really pays off to try different values and to fine the best preview.
    • “Reduce color bleed” isn’t quite what you would expect. I find that it adds a bit of detail, with a risk of some artifact. Toggle it on and off if you’d like to see if the extra detail is helpful in key areas. I generally leave it off.
    • Try “face refinement” if you are enlarging and image with people.
    • In my testing, none of the options other than size affect the processing time, so just pick what looks best in the preview.
  3. Click “Apply” when done.
The final output includes both the result from Gigapixel AI, as well as another version which is identical to Photoshop’s “bilinear” resampling method. In most cases, you can probably just delete the lower layer, but it is helpful if you wish to blend the results using lower opacity on the top layer or paint black on a layer mask.
Note that I have found the time to process the image is not affected by any of the options, so you should just choose the settings that look best in the preview. If you need to save time, you should use one of the other approaches for enlargement.

How to get great enlargements with ON1 Resize:

The interface is a bit complicated if you want to dive into all the options. I recommend just using a few to keep things simple. Here’s the workflow I recomend:
  1. Go to File / Automate / ON1 Resize to start the plugin from within Photoshop.
  2. Under Document Size: Set the final dimensions and resolution you need.
  3. Settings is the key set of controls for enlargement. Choose the best preset under “image type”. Leave the method on “Geniune Fractals” and the sliders as set by the preset. You can optimize texture, threshold, and smoothness; but I don’t think it’s worth it for most users. The controls are confusing and there isn’t really a live preview. The defaults are fine. If you want to tweak details for best results, I recommend using Gigapixel instead.
  4. Skip “Sharpening” and use options in Photoshop instead.
  5. Skip “Film grain” for most use, though it’s worth trying various options for portrait work.
  6. Use the “Gallery wrap” for mirrored edges if printing on canvas. Set the type to “reflect“, thickness for the depth of your canvas frame, and leave the opacity at 0 to avoid adding an overlay color to the edges.

Photoshop vs Gigapixel AI vs ON1 Resize

Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons:

Photoshop (Preserve Details 1.0):

  • Lightning quick. In my baseline test with an images from a Nikon D850, Preserve Details 1.0 took 6-8 seconds. By comparison, ON1 Resize took 50-120 seconds (roughly 8-15x longer) and Gigapixel AI took 18 – 42 minutes (up to 400x longer). Note for M1 users: Gigapixel runs 6x faster on my M1 Max than on my 2018 Macbook Pro under Rosetta. The performance gains on M1 are incredible, even without a native Apple Silicon version yet.
  • Batch processing. If you want to use actions to process multiple images, Photoshop’s built-in method is the only one that can be fully automated. You can specify the outputs and use an interactive mode. While Resize and Gigapixel have plugins which can be launched via actions, you can’t request specific values to use and will have to manually interact with each image.
  • Good-enough quality. While it comes in third place here, it still provide very good and usable results. For less demanding scenarios such as modest enlargements or images that will be viewed from a distance, the quality benefit of the other options isn’t worth the time.
  • No additional cost. However, if you print more than very occasionally, I wouldn’t say cost savings is a benefit here, because I think it’s worth buying either or both of the other options for at least some printing.
  • Best for: Small enlargements, tight budgets, and saving time.

 

Gigapixel AI:

  • Excellent quality! Gigapixel AI flat out wins on quality for most, if not all, images I have tried.
  • However, that quality requires patience. Be prepared to wait a long time for each image. And the heavy CPU use will quickly crush a laptop battery, so you’ll probably want to do this work while you’re plugged into the wall.
  • Best for: Highest quality.

Note: Topaz offers a free trial, and you can save 15% off when purchasing Gigapixel by using discount code gbenz15. You can also save even more by purchasing it as part of the Topaz Suite with all their major products.

 

ON1 Resize:

  • Canvas: Where Resize really shines is for printing on canvas. It has a built-in option to create gallery-wrapped edges. And with the lower resolution of canvas media, the quality benefits of Gigapixel are much less pronounced and won’t be something you’d see in the finished canvas in many cases.
  • Great quality. I would say that Resize is definitely better than Photoshop’s Preserve Details, but Gigapixel is clearly the best for large enlargements on high-quality media.
  • Best for: Printing on canvas.

 

And while I don’t use it myself, I do want to at least mention one other very good free option…

RAW Therapee:

  • Great quality for free. RAW Therapee is designed as a RAW processing program, but is free and happens to include an enlargement algorithm which produces better results than Photoshop. I don’t personally think it is as good as Gigapixel, but it’s definitely worth a look if cost is a concern.
  • The major downside here is ease of use. There is no Photoshop plugin and the interface is much more complicated than Resize or Gigapixel. Just choosing new dimensions and saving is a confusing task.
  • To resize: open the image, go to the transform tab (looks like scissors and a triangular ruler), check resize and allow upscaling, enter the desired dimension (leave method on Lanczos), then click the save option towards the bottom-left of your image.
  • If you need to address noise, you can do that in RAW Therapee as well by looking under the Detail tab (icon just right of the +/- exposure icon) and then clicking the dot by Noise Reduction to turn it on and then adjusting the settings below. However, you will probably find it easier to do noise reduction with other software first, given the complexity of the options here.
  • Best for: Lots of control for free. This is probably best for those looking to use a completely open-source software workflow.

 

 

Enlargements are just one piece of the puzzle when making prints. If you’d like to see more tutorials on printing, please let me know in the comments below.

 

[* Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I rarely endorse other products and only do when I think you would thoroughly enjoy them. By purchasing through my on this post, you are helping to support the creation of my tutorials at no cost to you.]

Switching from Split Toning to Color Grading in LR / ACR

The latest updates to Lightroom and ACR include powerful new color grading controls. A lot of photographers have been asking for the sort of capabilities available in competing programs like Capture One, and Adobe’s offering seems spot on. Not only have they massively expanded the capabilities from the legacy “split toning”, but done so in a way that doesn’t break anything. You can still do all the old things, your RAW adjustments are migrated exactly as they were, and you can do so much more. Read on to make the most of these exciting updates.

How does the new Color Grading compare to the old Split Toning?

Most of you have likely used or heard of Adobe’s old split toning controls, so it makes to start with what’s familiar (you can just jump to the next section below if you only want to read about the new stuff). And I’ve used split toning extensively in many of my tutorials, so this should also serve as a handy reference as to how to apply settings I’ve shown in previous tutorials when working with the new Color Grading controls. The old split toning system was based on 5 inputs and all of them map directly to a control in the new color grading approach.

Before we get to the controls, it’s important to note that the new system lets you view the settings in a couple different ways. The default shows three colored circles for highlights, midtones, and shadows. All of the controls are in there, but it feels very different. You can view each of these circles in an enlarged view, where you will see numeric sliders that should start to feel much more familiar.

  • Highlight hue:
    • You can set this in a couple of ways, but they are the same.
    • The most familiar is to click on the enlarged highlights wheel and use the hue slider. This does exactly the same thing as the old split tonight hue slider. The only difference is that holding <alt/option> will no longer give you a preview with saturation temporarily at 100%, so you should boost the saturation slider yourself as needed to help pick the correct hue via slider.
    • Or you can use the other approach, which is to drag the point on the highlights wheel. The hue is based on the angle you select in the wheel. One advantage of this approach is that you can drag that point to the outer edge of the wheel (which is 100% saturation) to help quickly pick the hue, and then back off the saturation. Hold <ctrl/cmd> while clicking and dragging on the wheel to adjust hue only (while holding saturation constant)
  • Highlight saturation:
    • The situation here is very much like hue, but the saturation is represented on the wheel by the distance from the center (0% saturation in the middle, 100% at the edges).
    • Hold <shift> to adjust saturation only (while holding hue constant). This is a great way to back off from 100% saturation once you have picked a hue.
    • By default, when you click and drag an existing point on the wheel, the hue will be sticky for modest movements of the mouse. So you get the <shift> key behavior by default with careful movement of the mouse. On the flip side, this may frustrate you if you are trying to adjust the hue by a little – and you can work around that by using the <alt/option> or <ctrl/cmd> shortcuts to allow small changes in hue.
  • Balance:
    • The balance slider is shown in all views (other than the global adjustment view) and works just like it did with split toning.
  • Shadow hue works similar to highlight hue.
  • Shadow saturation works similar to highlight saturation.

I’ve always used split toning by previewing the saturation at 100% to pick the right hue quickly and easily. As you can no longer hold <alt/option> while dragging the hue slider to do this (hopefully this changes in the future), the following workflow is my recommendation for the quickest and easiest way to get results similar to split toning:

  1. Click and drag the points on the highlights wheel. Drag all the way to the outer edge (100% saturation) and move around to get the desired hue. Hold <alt/option> as you get close to make small changes with precision.
  2. Once you’ve picked the hue, hold <shift> to lock the hue and then drag towards the center to set the saturation.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the shadows.
  4. Set the balance slider by holding <alt/option> as you click and drag (thankfully, you still get 100% saturation previews with this keyboard shortcut).

If you don’t like working with the wheels, do this instead:

  1. View the enlarged highlights wheel to get highlights sliders.
  2. Set 100% saturation
  3. Adjust the hue as desired
  4. Bring down the saturation to the desired final value
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for the shadows.
  6. Set the balance slider by holding <alt/option> as you click and drag

 

How to make the most of Color Grading

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of an update if there weren’t new capabilities. So let’s now dig into what’s here and how we can use it. First, what’s new?

  • Midtone adjustments: While this is probably more familiar for portrait photographers, there are some great ways to use this in landscape photography as well. For example, if you want to use color grading to affect sunset color, you’ll probably see much more targeted results by working with a combination of highlights and midtones. With the old approach, you’d be forced to use shadows and end up strongly affecting areas that are not part of the sky. This is just one example and there are many other ways you may find this additional control very helpful with any photography.
  • Luminance:
    • This new slider lets you make make tonal adjustments to shadows, midtones, highlights, or globally.
    • My experience so far is that adjusting the blacks slider in the Basic tab (vs the new shadow luminance in Color Grading) or adjusting the whites slider (vs highlights luminance in Color Grading) typically produce better contrast. So be sure to try those approaches first if your goal is really to bring out detail rather than add color. However, there are some very good reasons to consider using this control.
    • Using negative luminance on the highlights will allow you to add just more color to the brightest or blown highlights than adjusting the whites. So this may be the best way to add more color to a bright white sky.
    • You may prefer less contrast for stylized work, such as color grading portraits. If that’s the case, the loss of contrast is a good thing.
    • And the luminance slider is a convenient way to make quick small changes that would work well with either approach.
  • Blending:
    • This will surely be the most confusing control. Whereas “balance” determines where the transitions between shadows, midtones, and highlights occur; “blending” determines how much they transition or overlap. The best way to understand it is to experiment by creating a black to white gradient and play with this setting to see how it works (without the complication of an underlying image).
    • This affects not only how quickly you get from one color to the next, but the degree to which they mix. In fact, if you set blending to +100%, you may not see your midtone color at all. The midtone will tint the final result, but be a mix of all the colors that may be quite different from the midtone hue.
    • The midtones are most strongly impacted by high levels of blending, as they mix with both highlights and shadows.
    •  When you use it on your own images, you can hold <alt/option> to preview the blending at 100% saturation, which helps pick the best blending slider value.
  • Global adjustments: This lets you apply a hue, saturation, and luminance across the entire tonal range of the image. I prefer to use the white balance and exposure sliders in the Basic tab, but this is a straight-forward option to make some global color adjustments if needed.

 

What’s the best overall color grading workflow?

My preference for landscape work is:

  1. Do your basic tonal work and other image editing first. Color grading should ideally be one of the last steps in your RAW workflow.
  2. Use the adaptation of the old workflow above, but consider the midtones as well (either replacing shadows or in addition to them).
    • In other words: Set highlights hue while previewing at 100% saturation and then set saturation as needed. Then repeat for shadows and midtones as needed.
    • Leave the global settings alone
  3. If you cannot push enough color into the highlights, try reducing highlights luminance.
  4. Adjust balance (while holding <alt/option> to see it more clearly).
  5. Adjust the blending (holding <alt/option> can be helpful, but is less important). I like doing this after setting the balance, as I tend to think about it as placing my key colors and then feathering them.
  6. Blend the color-graded version of the image using a layer or luminosity mask to use the color grading in a more targeted way. This is often much better than applying the color across the entire image.

There’s no single right answer and I would encourage you to see what works best for you.

 

Shortcuts and other minor details to know about the color grading tab

  • To adjust hue only (while holding saturation constant): hold <cmd/ctrl> or just drag the little colored dot just outside the color wheel.
  • To adjust saturation only (while holding hue constant): hold <shift>
  • To temporarily hide shadow, midtone, highlight adjustments, click and hold the eyeball icon next to them. There is also a master visibility icon for all of color grading.
  • In Lightroom only, you can quickly save and load color swatches for any of the color wheels (right-click a swatch to save the current color). Personally, I prefer using white balance over this global adjustment in color grading. However, this is a great way to add predictable color offset if you are using gray cards to achieve accurate white balance, and will give you a more clear understanding of how far you have strayed from the true white balance.
Greg Benz Photography