Monday, March 23, 2009

From Flat To Fab

This is a bad news/good news story—one with a happy ending. This past November, I had the opportunity to travel to the bottom of the world to photograph emperor penguins. It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. I planned this trip to Antarctica for a year, and couldn’t wait for the day that I’d be on the ice photographing these magnificent animals.
By Rick Sammon Published in Quick Fix



While still in Adobe Camera Raw, I applied a Graduated filter, picking a dark blue as my color and placing the digital filter exactly where I felt it gave the best effect. You can choose any color and place a Graduated filter anywhere in the frame. You even can place more than one Graduated filter in the frame, if so desired.


Next, I clicked “Open Image” to open my now much-improved shot in Photoshop CS4. I wanted to tone down the highlights and open the shadows even more, so I decided to use the Shadows/Highlights adjustment. But wait! Shadows/Highlights isn’t available as an adjustment layer, and we all know using adjustment layers, which is nondestructive image editing, is the way to go. So what to do? No problem!


You can use Shadows/Highlights as you would an adjustment layer and layer mask by following this technique: In the Layers panel, right-click on your background layer to get a menu that includes the option Convert to Smart Object. When you do that, and go to Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights and make your adjustment, you’ll see what looks like your old layer-mask friend below your image in the Layers panel. Just as you’d do with a layer mask, use black as the foreground color and a brush to mask out (hide) the effect where you don’t want it by painting on those areas, and white as the foreground color to mask in (reveal) the effect, if you need to refine the mask. (For a detailed explanation of masking technique, go to and search for “Layer Masks.”)

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As the final step in the enhancing process, I selectively sharpened my image, meaning, in this case, that I only sharpened the penguins and not the background. You can sharpen selectively in Photoshop CS4 (and CS3) by going to Filter > Convert to Smart Filter and applying your favorite sharpening technique; mine is Unsharp Mask. When you convert to a Smart Filter, you also can mask in and mask out the effect using black and white as the foreground colors, respectively.

When I sharpen an image, I always zoom in on the most important part of the image in the Unsharp Mask dialog box.

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If you’re like me, you like to see behind-the-scenes shots. Here’s a photo of our ship, which was “parked” in the ice for our adventure. And here’s a photo tip that goes along with it: When there’s a lot of white in a scene, set your exposure compensation to +1 as a starting point for a good exposure.

Finally, speaking of an adventure, here’s what Marco Polo had to say on the subject: “An adventure is misery and discomfort, relived in the safety of reminiscence.”

Rick Sammon is the author of 31 books, some of which he has written on ships, when he was feeling better than he did on his Antarctica adventure. Check out his work at

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