Images With Impact

One of my digital photography workshop participants, Gary Potts, strives to make images with impact. That’s an admirable goal, and it’s something to add to our photo hit list when we’re out shooting.

Like Gary, I enjoy making images with impact, but that’s not always possible. What’s more, not every image should have a strong or dramatic effect on the viewer. It’s a personal choice.

When I’m working and playing in Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as with plug-ins, I also like to create images with impact, using some cool techniques that you can try on your images.


Here’s the file from which I created the opening image for this column. It’s a nice enough, soft and pleasing shot that I took during a recent workshop in Merritt Island, Fla. With my photographer friend Gary in mind, I thought about making an image with impact. My idea was to create a much more dramatic sky, the kind created when a neutral-density (ND) filter is used for a long exposure. During a long exposure, moving clouds appear as soft and dreamy streaks in the sky.

To create my altered-reality sky, I decided to use Photoshop’s Radial Blur Zoom filter (Filter > Blur > Radial Blur > Zoom).

First, I cropped my image. Cropping often results in an image with more impact because it draws more attention to the main subject. Never underestimate the power of cropping, which gives us a second chance at composition.

I only wanted the blur effect in the sky. Had I used an ND filter for an in-camera photograph, the water in the foreground would also have been softened and blurred. I could have created that effect in Photoshop, too, but I thought the blurred and sharp areas of the picture would produce an image with more impact because an image with a global blur (entire image), rather than a selective blur (sky only), isn’t the standard long-exposure image that we normally see.

To apply a filter, any filter, in Photoshop selectively, go to Filter > Convert for lgart Filters. A lgart filter lets you mask out (paint out) and mask in (paint back in) select areas of an image, a technique I’ll outline in just a moment.

If you want to try this effect on one of your landscape or seascape images, here’s a quick tip: Place the blur center near the horizon line, as I did, by clicking in the Blur Center window. This may take you a few tries to get it right because it’s not a live view window. You can also control the degree of blur by using the Amount slider. The intensity of the blur is determined by the Quality setting.

As I mentioned, one of the benefits of using a lgart Filter is that you can apply the filter selectively. All you need to do is select the Paint Brush tool on the toolbar, set black as your Foreground color, click on the lgart Filter icon in your Layer’s palette and paint out the effect where you don’t want it applied (the water in my photograph). As you can see in this screen grab, I painted out the effect in the foreground. If you make a mistake while masking out/painting out, switch the Foreground color to white and paint out your mistake.

Two quick tips for masking/painting out an effect: One, use a soft-edged brush as opposed to a hard-edged brush that can make masking/painting out look too harsh. Two, as you paint out from one area to the other, reduce the Opacity of your brush (in the Opacity setting in the Option bar at the top of the main Photoshop window) so the transition, from blurred to sharp, in this case, isn’t as noticeable than if you go from 100% blurred to 100% sharp.

Before I post or publish a picture, I always check my Levels, which you can do in Photoshop, Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Good thing I checked because my Levels dialog showed a lack of highlights. The quick fix was to move the Highlight slider inside the “mountain range” of values. After clicking OK, my shadow and highlight areas were evenly distributed, and my image had more contrast. Check your Levels, and you’ll avoid flat images.

Have fun creating images with impact!

Rick Sammon is a longtime friend of this magazine. See more of his creative digital work on his website at

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