• Seeing: Ordinary, Sharpened, Heightened, and Transfigured Vision
  • Seeing: Vision Deadeners
  • Seeing: Playing the Simile Game
  • Tonal Contrast: it’s all there in Black and White…
  • Building good contrast leads to great images.
  • Changing the Channel: Not just a Television clicker task…
  • Using a variation of The Zone System in Curvemeister.


assignSpot the Differences Exercise: (Total recommended time 5-10 minutes)

Here is a new image for your enjoyment.  Same as last time there are 10 changes to the image.  Can you spot them all?


Image 1


Image 2


Last week I introduced you to the idea that seeing was more than mere looking.  This week we are going to dig deeper into that process and talk about types of visual awareness and some of what you hopefully experienced.


Ordinary, Sharpened, Heightened, and Transfigured Vision

Everyday ordinary vision is what we use all the time, we navigate and process the world with this vision and it has been trained to help us survive in the complex and fast moving world that we currently live in.  We take it for granted and we flit from object to object, scene to scene and effortlessly dismiss the vast majority of the information we have obtained.  Part of this is simply survival for if we paid too much attention to the visual input we are getting we would have a difficult time even communicating with others around us we would be so overwhelmed.  This vision is normal and functional and well… ordinary.  Last week we began with the deck of cards;  observing and noting differences and really looking at the cards hopefully this forced you to enter into a state of Sharpened Vision.

Sharpened Vision begins when we are trying to notice things and we are scanning objects for details. Our brain tells us to look for clues and observe; the image before us is observed in a more exacting way and small details that we skipped over initially are finally observed. You may have even had a bit of wonder and excitement as you discovered new things in an ordinary object.  New things were learned and you brought your experience and intellect to bear on applying what you have seen.  Many of you may have seen the cards finally for the first time.  This seeing should have raised questions for you, caused you possibly to ask what do the various parts of the image represent?  Did you wonder who the cards were supposed to be?  Personally, I always projected a war with alliances drawn along the red black line.  The red side was always good and the black side was bad; Black always makes me think that something is evil…(Memory colors often invoke emotions)  Experiencing and paying attention to Sharpened Vision is a good first step and it should lead us into the next level of seeing that is Heightened Vision.

In Heightened Vision we see even more detail and exactness, there are more connections to other things and stronger emotions.  The long seeing assignment should have produced this level of seeing for you if you were able to accomplish it. Don’t worry if you did not as it takes patience, time, and relaxation to get that far. In Heightened Vision we begin to see things as much more than we first perceived them to be.  People often respond to Heightened Vision with a deeper emotional attachment to an item, it is “more” of whatever quality you found attractive; or if repulsive it is more so.   Many people come away from Heightened Vision experiences with a deeper appreciation for their vision and a desire to know more about how they perceive the world.

The last type of seeing I want to discuss with you is Transfigured Vision.  In Transfigured vision you see the concrete world with new eyes.  Most people experience this type of vision after an event, or journey, or long process with stress or complexity.  When the end is reached and the stress is gone things might look different.  Buildings might have a special glow or mountains may be lit “just so”.  The reality is that the objects look as they always do but the experience and the stress of reaching the object causes you to see it in a new light.   Your perception of the scene or object is linked to the relief of the stress and your mind is set free to see.  People often relate this to seeing great things in nature or being saved from doom by divine intervention. I have an example of Transfigured vision that comes from a trip I took out to the desert southwest a few years back.  My family flew out to Arizona to drive my parents car home to Minnesota, the goal of the trip was to see the desert southwest and to visit the sights.  We had a plan, we had a map and we had goals… ______________________________________________________________________________________

After visiting the usual tourist areas and stopping for a day at the Grand Canyon our next stop was going to be Bryce Canyon in Utah.  We were to drive north out of Flagstaff to the city of Paige Arizona and visit the Antelope Canyon slot canyons as a stop on the way to Kodachrome National Park and later Bryce Canyon.  The trip planner had chosen a route through the Oak Creek Canyon National Wildlife Area and there was a road right there on the map, we were all set. Bryce

Driving North out of Paige and into Utah was just fine, we were on interstate and the miles just flew by until we arrived at our exit to go into Oak Creek Canyon.  We turned off the highway and rattled down a short black topped road following the GPS and map plan we had before us, after 5 miles the blacktop ended and we found ourselves driving on a dirt road.   The dirt road wound through small hills and the gentle bumps produced a rocking motion that the children found enjoyable. Transfigured2







After about 5 more miles the dirt road suddenly turned into a two tracked path across what appeared to be a farm field.  There were cattle (free range) and calves walking across the field and wandering around.  It was then that I began to get worried,  my wife asked me if we were on the right path and my kids asked me if we were lost;  I was beginning to think that maybe we were.  I kept up the good face though and told them that this was all part of the plan; that this was going to be a great adventure that we would all look back on fondly.



Transfigured1After another 15 miles of this, the road began to go up hills and down gullies, the road narrowed and at times the walls of the trail were a few inches from the outside mirrors of the car.  Finally, my wife looked over at me and said quite calmly “There are no road markers here and  no signs of life…”  I responded with “don’t worry honey it’s all on the map…this is normal out here it’s wild and untamed besides honey what do you want out here?” She responded with “Any sign of civilization would be good…you know like a Macy’s or a Pizza Hut”.

In my head the stress level just shot up to the top of the scale, she was getting worried that we were in fact lost and that the trail was leading us out into nothingness.     As the road got rougher the car began to protest by having the shocks and springs bottom out and a banging noise issued from the rear of the car every time we hit one of the bigger bumps.  Needless to say at this point even I was starting to wonder what the heck I had done to deserve this.  We came over a rise in the road and in a sharp corner an utility truck zoomed past us in a cloud of dust going out the way we had just come.  It was getting on in the day and the shadows were getting long.

Seeing that truck raised our spirits and I thought well at least we are not too far from someplace…Then my oldest son asked the hope killer of all questions; “Dad, what if that guy was going the other way because that is the only way out?”  My heart sank. I replied, “Oh of course not…the road goes all the way out to Bryce Canyon on the map, he was probably going out to fix something and just knew the road so well. Besides it looked like he was in a hurry” and to myself I added “I hope”.

As the time seemed to slow even more; It had actually been only 45 minutes since we left the highway, I noticed that the road seemed smaller and smaller and that I felt more and more like this part of the trip was going to be a very big problem for my family.  When we finally passed the 1 hour mark in our side tip, I was about to give up and think about turning back, I thought about trying to get back to the main road before it got dark it was only when we finally passed a small sign nailed to a short post: “Kodachrome 6” was all it said; that I relaxed.  It was enough to make my heart race and my mind sing. We were going to be safe and we were going to make it to Kodachrome National Park and Bryce Canyon before we ran out of gas, damaged the car, or spent the night on a dirt road in the lower third of Utah with 2 kids under 14 years of age…Phew…. The stress lifted.

It seemed to me that the sky got brighter and my mood lightened to match.  I was excited to see Kodachrome Park and explore the area around it.  The last 6 miles flew past  and when we reached the park entrance everyone was visibly relieved.  All of the worries and tension were gone. We were free from our perceived doom, our minds open and excited to experience the new things before us. My pictures of Kodachrome and later Bryce Canyon are some of my most memorable; for me personally they include the experience and the stress and the relief.  They include information that I cannot convey any other way to any other person and yet they are ordinary.  My Transfigured vision will always be a part of that experience for me.  It is the emotional response to the images I captured and the scene that they were in reality before my capture  that comes back to me when I view them.


GJG_0004 (2)

Grosvenor Arch – Kodachrome National Park

When I walked around Kodachrome park I saw the park in a deeper and closer way than I think I could have ever seen it otherwise.  I was emotionally charged and my perceptions of the scene and surroundings reflected it.  I think one of the primary differences between Heightened and Transfigured vision is the emotional response you have during the event.  It roots the information in your mind in such a unique way that recall is easy and complete.  Writing this passage has brought out memories that I had thought were forgotten.  Little snapshots of the scenery.  The sage green colors of the ground foliage,, the deep blue of the down sun sky mixed with the dark grey and white clouds, the bright yellow stone of the mountains.  All of it charged with delicious memories dripping with the details only the mind’s eye can recover.   Transfigured vision is one of the goals for anyone learning to see.  It is that part of your mind body sight connection that energizes you and addicts you to the process.  Please try during your reflection and thoughts about seeing to remember a time in your life where you experienced Transfigured Vision.  See where it takes you and explore the feelings and memories you relive because of it.


Seeing: Vision Deadeners

So what keeps us from doing this all the time?  why do we fall into the traps of our everyday life when it comes to one of the richest sensory inputs we have?  While there are many different reasons for a lack of seeing, I’m going to focus on a few primary causes.  These are called vision deadeners.

Visual Inadequacy and Impatience

Fear is a strong emotion; Fear of not knowing what you are looking at is one of the primary causes of not being able to move beyond ordinary looking and into one of the states of mind needed for effective seeing.  Fear can encompass many facets;  fear of not being an expert can blind us to seeing the subtle details we are looking for.  If you look at something new and confusing you can often times feel like you should know more about the object but simply do not; fear of misinterpreting the object or sounding foolish when asking about it may inhibit your visual perception of it.   Once you remove the intellectual fear; your vision of the object may in fact change. An example of this might be looking at graffiti, often times when you first look at it you cannot discern what the message is.  If you stare at it long enough you can begin to see some letters and shapes emerge. Your brain begins to try to solve the puzzle and the shapes begin to take on meaning.  Remember that the artist who created the graffiti is generally trying to hide something from  your view by changing the shapes of the items into things you cannot easily recognize.  When you decode the visual camouflage the message is usually quite easy to spot.


Did you figure it out?  Are you having any negative thoughts about the image right now? Are you curious and wondering what the message is?  Does your cultural experience with this type of message lead you to dismiss it out of hand? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself if you are having trouble seeing this image.  For those interested I’ll have the answer for you later in the materials.

Visual Impatience:

Often times we feel we need to have an answer for a visual problem like the graffiti  we fear that others are waiting for our interpretation or understanding.  Often times it is an optical illusion that we have been presented with that we just cannot seem to “see”.  We add psychological pressures to ourselves and the mind is distracted from the visual task at hand; this can cause us to selectively see things we can categorize and we jump to visual conclusions.  It is at these times when we are trying too hard to see that we need to slow down, take a deep breath and relax, We need to take our time.  The exercise from Week 1 with the Policeman and the protesters is an example of visual impatience.

Physical Pain:

How we see is linked to our state of mind.  If we are distressed or distracted, diseased or confused we will not be able to see as clearly as we do when we are rested and healthy.  Remember that your brain is connected to your other senses as well and how you feel affects how you see and perceive the world around you.

Emotional Pain:

There is a body of research out there that has found the depressed people do not see colors the same way as people who are not depressed.  If this is true our moods and state of mind are possible vision deadeners.  Article


If you are in a habit of driving the same route to work every day you experience the vision deadening effect of habit on your perception.  Seeing the same scenery allows us to easily dismiss it and objects in it as routine and less than ordinary.  In a recent CM101 class I had a student from Germany tell me that I was too colorful in my corrections.  In her world the colors were drab and not vibrant.  I challenged her to go out and see the world and look for color.  I asked if it was really as drab as she was saying or perhaps she was seeing something in the world around her that was not really there.  In the end she added a significant amount of saturation to her images and was quite satisfied with her results.  It seems the world was not quite as drab as she had been seeing it.   As a part of your seeing, go out and challenge yourself to see things in your everyday life as though they were foreign and different.

Refusal To Look:

Caution – Witkins’ work contains death scenes, nudity, and animals.

If something is useless, boring or repugnant we tend to not look at it for very long.  We are visually tuned into things that we find useful; we look for utility in most everything, if something is broken or non-functional we dismiss it as ordinary except in the cases where we are interested in old or useless things.  Sometimes our interest changes based on our need; for instance have you ever noticed that when you need a car you start looking at cars a lot even if you find them uninteresting?  We are also tuned into things that we perceive as sensuous; not really sensual or sexual per se but somethings are so visually enticing that we stare.  While not all of the things that are sensually enticing are pretty; we do tend to find it hard to take our sight away from these images and often times repulsive things are quite fascinating.  If you want an example of what I am talking about look for any work by Artist Joel Peter Witkin; while repugnant in some cases; his work can be fascinating to look at.

Caution – Witkins’ work contains death scenes, nudity, and animals.


Often times we have a preconceived notion of what something is that is so strong we dismiss the new object of the same class simply because we have already seen enough other samples that we believe we need not look any further.  Prejudgment also is present in another’s opinion for example “I really like that movie” or “I hated that movie from the minute it started.” both influence how you will then see that movie.  If you are at a museum and someone points out something specific in a piece, do you look for it?  After you see it, do you try to find more details that have escaped your vision or are you satisfied with the new discovery that was pointed out to you? Does something in a museum have more value because someone has placed it in a museum?  What other cultural barriers can you find that affect your perception and vision? When we acknowledge that there are things in our lives that prevent us from visually perceiving; and if we make a conscious effort  to see past them, then we are well on our way to being able to use Sharpened, Heightened and even Transfigured vision in all aspects of our lives including image correction.

Wasting Time:

While we were discussing the idea of teaching “Seeing” to this class;  my wife asked me the most deadly question of all;  “Why?”  I was uncertain how the question should be addressed and in my delay in answering the question; she  came back with a second question; “Why waste the time learning that?”  It was this second question that I felt I needed to address because to my wife; in that moment; this process was meaningless and without value.  A waste of her time.  It brought to the front for me another cultural response to Seeing; that it is a waste of our valuable time. Often when we think of staring at an object or scene and absorbing the details we are judged or we judge ourselves as having wasted the time; in fact we fear the social implication of being labeled as a time waster.  In our society time is a very precious commodity, we are driven to not waste it.  Our fear of that label can stop us from making the time to explore our response to a visual input and the resulting increased understanding and perception.  We need to push that fear to the back of our priority list  and dare ourselves to take the time to fully absorb the visual information in front of us.


Assignment:  The Simile Game (Total recommended time 30 – 60 minutes in short bursts)

This week as a part of your seeing homework; I want you to play the “Simile Game”.  In the Simile Game you identify objects in your everyday life.  Make mental connections and take flights of fancy as you try to find another object in your head that would describe the primary object.  The catch to this is that you cannot use the name of an object to describe itself.  For instance you cannot look at the Golden Gate Bridge and then use “bridge” to describe it.  You could call it a “giant open ended orange harp” or an “orange dragon with fine wispy hairs extending up out of its spine.

I know that both of these are bad examples of a simile but you get the idea. You can use a variation on this game by thinking about objects of the same color as your simile.  In fact this is a great way to practice memory colors; adding memory colors to your color correction tools is a great leap forward for many people.  Memory colors help you decide if an object looks right or if there might be a color cast in the frame. Please make note of some of the Similes in your day and post them to the forum.  Let’s see who can collect the most.  If you find a particularly striking example that you want to share please feel free to post an image as well.


Tonal Contrast: It’s all there in Black and White…

In the digital world all of our images are made up of data.  Numbers in an array that the computer interprets into a colored image.  In general Images are made up of a specific color space like RGB or LAB or CMYK.  These color spaces use mathematical models to define the image information and all of them do that by breaking the data into discrete groups called channels.  We need to be able to use the individual channels in our color correction because they allow us a new level of freedom to change properties of the data within the image that working on the image as a whole is often prevented. Learning to use color channels to help you build good contrast in the basic image is an invaluable tool for digital image enhancement.  Your understanding of color channels and how to use them to your advantage will become the foundation of your image – it is really that important.  Many newer work flows that imaging professionals are using today rely on getting the overall contrast correct or nearly correct  before moving on to color correction.

In the analog film world, photographers would work with the combination of film, lighting, exposure, and development process adjustments to create film-based images that had a full range of contrast and detail.  The old rule of thumb was always “Expose for the Shadows  and develop for the Highlights. “  This was due to the fact that film had a fairly narrow range of exposure latitude; you had to balance the range of light in the image against the chemistry and physics of the film development.  Highlight density could be built up quickly and formed first on the film during the development, the shadow details formed late in the process and would need extra development time to form clear details.  This physical materials problem in the construction and process of film led to the creation of what is called The Zone System. Created by  Ansel Adams and Fred Archer and used by others in the Group f/64. The general idea was to create a exposure and development system where you choose the exposure and development at the time of exposure and you shot the film with these choices already made.After the exposure; you then applied your choices to get the best image on the film so that printing with full details was possible.

Now in digital imaging it is nearly opposite, in “general”  you should expose for highlight details and process for shadows. This is because the light sensor in the camera is easily overwhelmed by bright light sources. Digital Cameras behave like slide film used to. Here is an article by San Francisco artist and printing  master Ctein that helps explain the problem.  Ctein Article This week we are going to be using some of the information from the Zone System to help us enhance the level of contrast in our images and to balance that against retaining shadow and highlight details.  This process does have boundaries and often times building contrast by jumping right into curves is not the best approach.  We begin where we left off last week with image analysis.

Building  contrast leads to great images.

I am sure many of you have looked at images by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, or Edward Weston and others from Group f/64 and marveled at the level of detail and control they had over the prints they created.  How  can we  begin to gain that level of control over our own images?  While proper exposure in the camera is always the first step; in the digital darkroom we can begin to look further.  If you shoot RAW images your first step is to go into a RAW development program and develop your image. With the various RAW image processors out there it is impossible to discuss all of the options available to you.  For the purpose of discussion we are going to look at Adobe Camera Raw < ACR >.  While many will argue it is not the best process for your images; recent advances in the program are fast catching it up to the others that many people favor. Once the image is open in your Raw converter you need to make sure that none of your image data is getting clipped off by the conversion.  Clipping in this sense is information that is beyond the upper and lower boundaries of the Histogram for the image.  In ACR you can utilize the histogram data to see if all the data will be present in the post processed file. Data that is lost is “clipped” out of the image and will not be available for you to use later in the image processing.   Processing in ACR is also possible with Jpg images via Adobe bridge.


This image has “clipped” highlights notice the white area in the circle.  You will need to adjust the highlights to recover the dynamic range of the image.



Notice that after the adjustment the exposure limit is now black meaning that you are within the dynamic range for this image.


In general we do not want to correct color at this stage and should keep the settings in the RAW converter as conservative as possible.  Many people are now favoring all zero’s for the ACR settings;  others myself included, are finding value in making some simple changes that can fix problems before you even get started.  Settings such as the “Lens Correction” and maybe performing a moderate shadow and highlight recovery, and/or a slight sharpening can have a great effect later.

After we are done in adjusting in ACR and the image is open in Photoshop one of the first things we need to do is examine the individual color channels in our image.  We are going to concentrate on the RGB channels, since they are generally the easiest to get at in Photoshop, and most people have heard about them  and understand some measure of working on them.  Specific problems with any given image may be tackled in CMYK later but at this point we are really working on a “Rough” version of the final image.

Image contrast takes two primary forms: luminance and chromatic (color) contrast. This week we are going to tackle luminance.  So as we talk about contrast this week we are talking about lighting and image tonality – in the “Black and White” sense.

Contrast enables us – as viewers – to differentiate between objects within a scene. The greater the luminance difference between objects, the more contrast we perceive.  Without contrast we lose the sense of an objects’ form, as it merges tonally with other objects in the frame.  Our images look “flat” they appear to have an overall gray cast over them like a layer of fog. Lack of contrast can hide details in the shadows and in the highlights of our images.  In RGB color mode, Photoshop calculates the luminance (Black and White) component of the image by combining together the Red, Green, and Blue channels. Since our eyes are most sensitive to ‘Green’ light – and least sensitive to ‘Blue’ light – this combination is not simply an average of the three color channels but actually the following:  30% Red, 59% Green, 11% Blue. 

If one of my channels is “weak” – meaning that it has less information in it, or lower contrast it can have a detrimental effect on the contrast of the image overall this is especially true of the green channel since it makes up 59% of the mix in the default RGB combination. Effective image correction workflow should take steps to avoid this, but what can we do?


  Photoshop Levels

We could use the Photoshop levels command to increase the contrast of the image before we convert to B&W, but  this will again produce the average of the existing channels (using the formula above); it is unlikely that such a simplistic combination of channels will produce the kind of contrast in the image  that we have in mind.  We will probably need to look deeper than levels if we want to be more effective. The levels command also has the distinct dis-advantage of only having 3 control points in the slider.  A shadow, Highlight and mid-tone control point are all that you really have to work with here.  For may people the Levels slider is one of the main reasons to use Curvemeister.  There is simply not enough control with 3 points per channel to work with.




Photoshop command Convert to B&W.

Rather than accept Adobe’s 30%/59%/11% combination, we can  blend the channels together ourselves reducing the values for any given channel and increasing the values of the       others .   This is a common practice and it does result in serviceable images, but it lacks the fine control that we want to have over our images. The Channel Mixer and Black &      White adjustment sliders in Photoshop are a fairly coarse method of correction, we should want to and can do better.



PS Channel Blended Images.

Let’s look at another way of going about this process. Using Photoshop we can look at the channels and adjust each one – or even replace weak channels entirely to build more contrast into our image. Let’s begin: The first thing we need to know is whether or not we can make the adjustments we want using curves.  The limiting factor is the information contained in the file; we need to check whether we have good image data to work with.  That leads us to the “How do you know?” question. The simple answer is oftentimes found in the histogram.  If we did our Job in ACR we should have no problem with curves and while we do not base any color corrections on the data displayed by the histogram, it is not totally useless to us.


If you have Histograms turned off in your Curvemeister configuration you should go into configuration and turn them back on. Greg17

Histograms from a digital image show us the distribution of the image pixels based on brightness (either in combination as a master channel, or for each single channels pixel values). In other words they reveal where our image data is too light, too dark, or if our image has an even luminance distribution that we can take advantage of. Here are some histogram examples.  Notice that the combined histogram for each image does tell us some of what we need to do.

Blown Highlights     normal histogramblocked shadows

Some of the techniques we learned to use in Curvemeister 101 such as the “Lizard Tail”  can only go so far in helping us recover details, and can often-times they make things worse later in the correction process. These types of corrections are best used for quick and dirty adjustments that are of less importance to us. Any adjustments that create flat spots in the curve, that create flat areas of contrast within our image, or if taken too far they can create a “solarized look” to the image.  

When we find a histogram with the shadows locked up or the highlights blown out we really need to stop using Curvemeister and go back to Photoshop for some more aggressive correction tools.  Our goal is to adjust the image prior to applying curves in order to have enough room to make effective corrections.  If we are locked to either side of the histogram the contrast moves we want to make will be much less effective because we will not be separating the luminance of the mid-tone pixels enough to create effective mid tone contrast.

If the image you are working on is too dark (the majority of the Histogram data piled up on the right side) you will need to take corrective action to move the histogram data to the left far enough so that you gain shadow detail.  How you do this depends on how bad the image is in the first place. There are a few tools in Photoshop  to explore as a starting point:

 Using a Screen Layer: Open the shadows.

One of the first techniques for us to try is to create a duplicate layer in Photoshop and set it  to Screen Mode.

From the Photoshop Help Files:

Screen: Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The result color is always a lighter color.  

A Great definition but what does it actually mean in terms of what is happening to the image using a screen layer?  Screen gets its name from its real world analogy. Imagine that your photos are on slides; if you were to take two of them, place each slide in a separate projector and shine both projectors onto the same screen, the combined images on the screen would appear lighter than either image would appear on its own. (Remember that Screen Mode will only make things lighter overall; but also remember that darker areas will be lightened “less” so you don’t lose the contrast.)  It may not always be the most effective tool for lightening an image but is is fast. Some images respond to a screen layer quite well, and you can add multiple copies of the screen layer to brighten the image. To use a screen layer; you create a duplicate layer (Ctrl+J) from the Background layer and  change the new layer’s Blend Mode from Normal to Screen. Screen-results Once you have created this layer you can make additional copies of it  and each one will brighten the image further.  As you build up these layers you may need to mask the image to protect highlight or other specific areas from getting too much brightness.  You can create a mask in CM from the original image using the K or L channels in LAB, Invert the mask and attach it to the layers that start to over expose the highlights.  This will allow you to raise the highlights without blowing them out.


Another Photoshop technique you can try on the image is the Shadows/Highlights command. Found under the Image > Adjustments menu in Photoshop this filter allows you to recover shadow or highlight details using sliders for Amount, Radius, and Threshold.  This is a very coarse correction – meaning that you do not have  fine control over the actual values in the image, but you can make quick changes to the image that can get you into a better position for further corrections. Greg00  Greg01

The default values of the Shadows/Highlights command are usually too strong.  You should look into lowering the amounts and radius until you are satisfied with your image.  Remember, you are doing this to get the pixel data into a better place tonally; the image need not look great at this point.


Photoshop Exposure: Adjusting the Exposure and False Profiles

A false profile technique is popular with people using Dan Margulis’ Picture Postcard or No Bad Originals work flows; it relies on building a library of false color profiles and applying  one of them to the image.  This is not a very user friendly process and it can be the really deep end of the pool when it comes to adjusting the range of tonality in the image. Another method – which creates results that are visually very similar to the assignment of a false profile – is to use the Image>Adjustment >Exposure command and manipulating the Gamma value of the image. The benefit of using the Exposure command is that it is both faster, and more precise (unless you want to create hundreds of false profiles!).

exposue02  exposure01

The Example video below shows each of these techniques applied to the image above.


Shadow Control Video



For blown Highlights you will use the same general techniques – Exposure and the Shadows/Highlights commands; but instead of trying a Screen layer use a Multiply layer.

From Photoshop Help File:

Multiply: Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The result is always a darker color.

The Multiply blend mode is one of the most important and widely-used blend modes in all of Photoshop. It’s unique among all the blend modes in that it’s the only one named after the actual math that Photoshop performs behind the scenes when you have the Multiply mode selected. Photoshop takes the colors from the layer that’s set to the Multiply blend mode and multiplies them by the colors on the layer(s) below it, then divides them by 255 to give us the result.  Most people use the analogy of a slide projector when remembering how the Multiply mode works. Imagine that your photos were on slides and you held two of them up to the light one in front of the other. Since the light would have to travel through two slides, not just one, the resulting image would appear darker. As mentioned above, you can mask the layer to fully or partially protect the shadows from the adjustment.  The same masking process is used, but instead of blocking the highlights with the mask you will block the shadows so that they do not receive as much of the adjustment(s). In Curvemeister you can also use a combination of a mask and some of the stored curves to achieve the same results with fewer steps.

MoviesHighlight Control Video

Once the image is in a better place from a coarse contrast perspective you can proceed into Curvemeister and begin a channel-based tonality process.


assign Assignment: Changing the channels not just a television clicker task…(Total recommended time 5-15 minutes at first)


Open the image above in Photoshop; make a copy of the Background layer, and then click on the Channels tab with the new layer selected.

In each channel we are looking for some specific things. Remember what we said during the first week – we need to look at the image with a critical eye; we should use some heightened vision, we want to find shadow detail, highlight detail and a full range in-between (meaning good mid-tone contrast).  Each image is unique; we need to remember that uniqueness as we explore channels because there are usually surprises in the channels for you to find.

As we look at the channels we are looking for reasonable quality in the basic black and white image we see on the screen.  Start with a quick scan of all the channels. Look quickly and trust your first impression.  Ask this question; “Do I want this data to contribute to my contrast and luminance information?” If your answer is yes then you will be adjusting that channel data to maximize the information – enhancing the contrast of the image overall.  If your answer is no, then you need to be thinking about how you are going to replace that data with better information from another channel.

Usually, when I have completed this overview scan; I have 1 or 2 channels I want to keep and one channel I want to throw out.  This is not always the case and we have to be aware that every image is unique. Now we will be using Curvemeister to adjust the contrast in the channels we have chosen to use.  To do that you simply stay in the channels in Photoshop and select a single channel from the panel so that it is visible and the others are turned off (no eyeball icon)  Then select Filter>Curvemeister and you will have a single channel curve and a Black & White image awaiting adjustment.  Once you have adjusted the channels you want to save, you will need to copy one of the other two adjusted channels into the channel you want to replace.

This is done using the Image>Apply Image command in Photoshop. Once you have replaced the channel, make sure all channels are active on the layer you are working on and return to the Layers menu in Photoshop.  With your duplicate Background layer selected change the blend mode from Normal to Luminosity.  This will apply the brightness and contrast information from your adjusted layer to the color information from the original file. Flatten the image to apply your changes.

Movies  Changing the Channels Video


assignAssignment: Fix troubled images (Total recommended time 10-20 minutes each image)

Using the techniques described above make contrast adjustments to the images below using each technique.  When posting your corrections to the forum please give everyone an overview of the decisions you made, and describe why you think one method is better than the others for each image.

Highlight-Water                              Shadow-Car



Using a variation of The Zone System in Curvemeister:

Many people are trying to make the Zone System work for digital imaging with varying levels of success.  While we are not going to rely on the Zone system 100% we are going to borrow some of the information from those people using it to help us use Curvemeister to set some known tonal values in the channels of our images. If you have not already done so please download and install the GSZone System Pins from the Curvemeister Forum. Newer versions of the Program should already include these pins for you.

The “Pin” feature in Curvemeister allows you to set specific values for particular points in your image.  We are going to use a set of pins that are created in the LAB color space to enable us to use the zone system in Curvemeister using the channels. Lab is a natural choice for applying the principles of the Zone System because the (L)uminance channel is based on values from 0 to 100.  This leaves us able to divide the L channel into 10 equal parts and assign Pin values for tonality within these “Zones”   A Pin for Zone 0 is Black and a Pin for Zone 10 is White.



In their current form, pins in Curvemeister generally allow you to set 2-3 points on an image or channel to help control the image. I use the term generally because pins have to be spaced far enough apart by luminance or  tonally by at least 10 points in brightness; or else they tend to conflict for control of the curve can cause wild bends in the curve.  Using the Zone system pins can be confusing at first because your choice of “zone” in the middle tones takes practice; everyone can find a shadow value and a highlight value but it will take time for you to know that skin tone should be zone 5, 6 or 7 or that leaves  are usually found in zone 7. What we will do to begin with, is use the GS Zone System (Gray Scale) pins to set the shadow and highlight in any specific channel (to Zones 2 for shadows and 8 or 9 for highlights) and then use a Curvemeister feature called “Contrast Pin”  to adjust the mid-range contrast.  You are not restricted to using the contrast pin feature;  you can use the middle zone pins for your image.  It is simply more difficult to adjust the mid-tones in this manner.  Watch the video below for a more in depth discussion of mid-range pins.

MoviesUsing the Zone System Pins


assignAssignment: Re-Do Car and Rocks image with contrast pins (Total recommended time 10-15 minutes each)

Using the zone system pins and a contrast pin re-correct the two previous images the car and the colored rocks; compare them to the initial three versions you created.  Post your results to the forum and discuss what improvements you feel you have made, or difficulties encountered.


assignAssignment: Find the Zone Assignment. (Total recommended time 10-15 minutes)

Using the image below find zones in the image and mark them with a number; try to find a tone for each zone.  A fully formed image should have at least some of each zone in it.  Post your image back to the forum and discuss your choices. Big Sur Coast

assignAssignment:  Analysis of your own image. (Total recommended time 10-15 minutes)

Using one of your images do the same analysis and try to find the various tonal zones in your image post your results for review to the forum.


assignExtended Your Knowledge Base:

Use the help file in Photoshop and research the differences in each Layer mode below as well as any others you might find interesting.

■     Common Layer Modes Overview.

  • Color mode.
  • Luminosity mode.
  • Overlay mode.
  • Hard light mode.
  • Multiply mode.
  • Soft light mode
  • Screen Mode

Reminder:  Please take the time to go out and “See” It does require practice.  Do not be afraid to post a link to an image you think needs a second look…so to speak.


Graffiti Answer: