Archives For photoshop

Having A Baby I regularly get asked how I achieve the look in my photography.

I start with incredibly flexible, albeit low contrast, monochrome RAW files from my Leica Monochrom. London is saturated with brick, tarmac and concrete, so my post processing will frequently separate foreground objects from the scene. The reason is the structure slider in Silver Efex Pro. Pushing structure in faces and fluid objects works well, but not so for concrete. Example below.


And this brings me to Photoshop. I work in layers and whilst I believe Lightroom will allow me to find the same end result, it’s not easy to ‘stand back’ and appraise the current image of stacked layers and tweak their individual opacities until I’m happy with the composite image.

What now follows, is a layer by layer build up of this image. All processing is achieved in Silver Efex Pro 2, because I’m lazy, and Photoshop CS6. So this is essentially the low contrast image from my camera. In the Adobe Camera Raw dialogue I’ve dialled down the highlights a little and brightened the blacks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.27You can click on these images to see a larger version.

I’ll place myself to shoot with the best light I can, but it’s infrequent a ‘moment’ occurs that I can get into position for, if there’s a better position at all. This being the case, I will often have to process subjects specifically to boost their light.

First, for this shot, I’m concerned about getting the sidewalk and building correct. I like to make London’s concrete look cleaner than it usually is. See below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.33

I chose a lowish structure filter from the Modern section and increased the soft contrast, boosted contrast whites and decreased structure. You can still see the bubblegum, but the scene is lighter, less cracks and stains.

The guy is not doing well with this filter and this is often the case where filters are great for one portion of the scene, but not elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.37

Again, from SEP2’s Modern section – the first high structure filter I think – I increased the soft contrast a little. I’ve applied a mask to the man. He’s brighter and with a nice texture in his clothes.

I duplicated this layer, adding a mask, for the window panes. I bang up the contrast and structure on any reflective surface. There’s nothing worse than dull lifeless surfaces that should shine and reflect the world. High contrast!

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.40

Tell me those windows don’t look better?!

Still not happy about his face and arms, so I’m going for even more structure and slight increase in exposure.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.45

Same filter, higher structure, boosted fine structure and overall brightness a little and a layer mask for his face and arms. This layer is not 100% opacity though. The effect should be subtle and Photoshop allows me to view the compound image and adjust opacities for each and every layer concurrently.

I know some would stop here, but I prefer my photography high contrast and, on a wall, it has greater impact. This means additional contrast layers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.48

The guy’s exposure is pretty low compared to the scene, so the first contrast layer is masked for everywhere but him. I use a low contrast Modern filter usually, boosting the whites and softening the shadows. negative structure. Then set the layer’s blend mode to hard light.

He does need contrast and I’d like to focus the viewer on him, so I’ll employ another contrast layer on the entire scene. Using SEP2’s Vintage Pinhole filter, grain off, brightness down and increased soft contrast to change the light in the centre of the scene. Layer blend mode to hard light again.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.51

This is the effect I was after. Slightly de-emphasising the edges, even whiter walls and a controlled level of contrast on the guy.

Never trusting monitors, I always perform a Image>Adjustments>Levels (Auto) check. It slightly brightened the scene, which I’m happy with. I also sharpen the image in preparation for print.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.54

Flatten the image and duplicate the image twice. The first additional layer, perform a High Pass filter of 4.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20%.

To the second addition layer, perform a High Pass filter of 2.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20% again.

And flatten the image. I keep the PSD for print runs, but create a smaller jpeg for the internet.

How this image ended up is not to everyone’s taste, but the take home is that I could process what I wanted and subsequently tweak the opacity of individual effect layers.

Sorry about the whacky histogram; my cat walked over the keyboard and I need to set that back.

Good luck processing!

This tutorial actually covers every type of image, color or black and white. For landscape, you might process the sky alternately from land but, this process is especially relevant to Leica Monochrom shooters who work on monochrome files from the start.

Black and white imagery is simple and the power of an image comes through the composition, but the instantaneous impact is down to the dark room process. Imagine Ansel Adams’ photography without the beautiful contrast work he employed to varying degrees and sections of each and every one of his photographs? Great photos, still, but so much less impact.

I will work through an example to show how I utilize masking, within Photoshop, to get the best from the major areas in an image. It’s not a great composition, so apologies up front.

This image above is straight from the camera. No in camera settings applied, so it is tragically bland. Thankfully the Monochrom files retain immense levels of detail.

There are 3 areas to concentrate on.

  • I want to see a great range of soft tones in the woman and with a good level of contrast, but not so much she looks hollowed out
  • The window display is behind glass and I tend to process reflective areas harshly with great clarity and contrast
  • The masonry work should look worn, but still bright. This means very little clarity/structure

The image below is processed for the woman, but the window display is lack lustre and the masonry looks the worse for wear.

This next image is processed for the window display, but the harsh nature of the process leaves the woman over ‘processed’ and the masonry is just awful.

And lastly, below, we have processed for the masonry work and brought back some of its majesty, whilst reflecting age and wear.

Photo manipulation is probably off somewhere celebrating a near 100th anniversary, so I can have my cake and eat it!!

A warning for you color photoshoppers – your selection accuracy for the purposes of layer masking should be a lot more accurate than the ‘mostly accurate’ method I show here for monochrome work.

You should have all your specific layers stacked in a single image within photoshop. Having only processed them, they should all be down to the pixel aligned 😉

Remember with layer processing that the topmost layer will be seen first and, if set to 100% opacity, you won’t see anything under it!

I will select the masonry from the ‘Masonry’ layer first and I will not select round the woman’s legs because she will be the topmost layer!

I will use the selection tool to select the masonry.

Click to show the Refine Selection dialogue.

It’s clearer to me to have unselected portions of the image highlighted in red. Click on the ‘View’ drop down to select this option.

I simply use the brush tool to ‘paint’ my selection edges and let Photoshop find the ‘edges’ for me.

You should end up with a more elegant selection edge, like so…

With the ‘Masonry’ layer selected, I can simply click on the ‘Mask’ button…

… and Photoshop will create my mask based upon my refined edge selection!

The layer should now have a mask applied. Black areas will not show, but white will. Shades between black and white, within the mask, will be grades of opacity depending on how near they are to black or white.

Here are the layer masks, clearly showing woman, on top hehe, window display and masonry work…

… resulting in our final image. Click on it for a larger 1600 pixel version.

Again, apologies for the choice of image, but we have a clear demonstration that a single image wide process will not provide desired results but, with layer masking, we are allowed to process elements of the image however we wish.


MW-T Pro Mono Workflow sml

Just to let you all know, I will be bringing out a DVD with a series of video tutorials for the conversion of colour images to black and white.

The videos will cover conversion to monochrome with, or without, tools such as Silver Efex Pro 2.

There will be instruction on dealing with conversion of portions of the image using accurate pro level masking.

At least half the instruction will deal with the production of exhibition quality black and white.

Initially, focus will be on working with Photoshop. Shortly after I will release videos for achieving these results in Lightroom.

Example conversion styles below…

Generations [Explored]


Best Friends Forever

Hard Sell On The Vintage Cameras



There may be some teaser videos during October, but stay tuned.


I’ve had my Monochrom for a while now, in excess of 5000 captures and I have a solid workflow; I can produce the image I thought about at capture time.

This is a significant point and raises a question for all of you.

Do you visualise the final image when you first see the scene to be captured?

I do and it’s the principal reason I have a good percentage of keepers. A large part of this is knowing that a composition won’t work but, in no small part, visualising the final image means I’ve already processed the image before I get to the computer.

I’ve already written a piece on how I process images from the Monochrom and here you can find Leica Monochrom Workflow.

Has anything changed?

I have a better understanding of how the contrast blend modes, Soft and Hard Light, affect my images. This means I choose and manipulate Silver Efex Pro 2 filters more accurately to achieve the contrast I need. That’s definitely down to practise.

And I have a new sharpening technique, which I will detail in this post.

It’s probably best to work through an example. Here’s an image, as exposed, but resized.

Images straight from the Monochrom are simply exposures. All the detail and tones are in there and they just need manipulation.

Personally, I use Photoshop CS6 and Silver Efex Pro 2. It really saves time, but do be careful as it can be misused. For example, High Structure filters will texturise the walls and paved floor so much so the scene will look like a nuclear bunker.

The first layer is a base layer, 017 Full Spectrum. Structure +45 and Dynamic Brightness +30.

Here’s an important distinction with SEP2. If you start the filter program from the floating toolbox window, SEP2 will take your entire image and flatten it. That’s what you will work with.

If you select a layer, in Photoshop, and then go through the menus, Filters > Nik Software > Silver Efex Pro 2, you will only work on the selected layer within the Nik software.

I always process from the background layer, which was the output from Adobe Camera Raw. Always.

Select the background layer, through the menu go to SEP2 and I choose the 023 Wet Rocks Filter. Film Type to Neutral. Dynamic Brightness +30, Midtone Brightness +15, Contrast +10, Structure +25. All other settings remain untouched.

I chose Wet Rocks because its higher structure lends itself well as a contrast layer.

You have to move this new layer to the top and to set its Blend mode to ‘Soft Light’.

This is already a better result, but it’s too dark. Did you know…

A Curves Layer set to a Blend Mode of Screen, opacity 40%, is basically an extra stop of exposure.

I want to concentrate the viewer’s gaze on people in the centre of the image, so I will apply a mask to this curves layer, which will look like this in the layer palette.

To get the radial mask effect, use the Gradient Fill and select the Radial Gradient.

You can also cheat a little and imply more contrast than there is by adding a further contrast layer to the outside using an inverse radial gradient mask!

Duplicate the Soft Light contrast layer and set it to Hard Light.

Apply the mask we just talked about. Invert the mask in Images > Adjustments… > Invert

I’m happy with the process, so far, and I will double check exposure levels by going into Image > Adjustments… > Levels. Click on Auto with the preview ticked to see how much the image levels change. My monitor is calibrated and so i don’t usually see much difference. It’s a good basic indicator you have missed exposure though!

Do not underestimate the effect of correct sharpening. If applied correctly the viewer shouldn’t really be aware of it. Not enough or too much will be quite obvious.

Here’s what I do.

Flatten all the existing layers from processing. Now duplicate this one layer 3 times!
For each of these new layers, apply the High Pass Filter, then set to Blend Mode Overlay…
First layer – Not the base layer! – High Pass, Radius 4.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Second layer, High Pass, Radius 2.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Third layer, High Pass, Radius 1.0 pixels. Layer opacity 40%.

Flatten the image and you can now resize for screen. My images, landscape, are set to 1600 pixels and I use the ‘Bicubic (Best for smooth gradients)’

If you didn’t work in sRGB, which the Monochrom uses so this shouldn’t be an issue, convert the color space to sRGB. Also convert the image to 8 bit.

Here is my final JPEG image.

Cynical Father

Please send questions if I’ve not explained anything sufficiently. And, of course, there are a good number of ways to process the Monochrom’s images. This is just my own potion.

Thanks for reading

Just. Keep. Walking.
Just. Keep. Walking.

Subject not related to image, by the way. I found this mural near Shoreditch High Street and instantly loved the symmetry and the piece. Just gotta wait for one of those pesky pedestrians to enter the frame. I waited. 2 minutes! Thankfully the first person to walk past I could see had a purposeful stride. Shutter speed a little slow to exacerbate the moment. Framed. Pause. Captured. I’d hoped to get across a little anxiety. Did it work?

I get asked a lot, “Why Photoshop over Lightroom?” and I think my answers over the years have, much like my requirements and experience of these products, evolved.

Lightroom excels with image management and as a workshop for the RAW image. If, like me, you purely use Bridge and Photoshop you’ll be well aware you need to apply a little discipline to organize your own images. As for working with camera RAW files I already did the work for exposure and framing – do you use your feet? 😉 So my time in Adobe’s Camera Raw is fleeting.

When LR first emerged my better half, Suzy of the impressive, embraced Adobe’s offering as an eco system for her photography. In addition to the file management and camera RAW work, there is a comprehensive array of image finishing tools; gradients, brushes for dodging, burning, healing, et cetera.

Suz and I prepare images quite differently. She’s principally a nature and wild life photographer so all the effort is at capture time, some raw manipulation and some sliders and backscatter removal.

I work images in layers, not available to LR. Most of the time, the image above for example, my workflow will result in an image base layer, a filter from Silver Efex Pro 2 and an additional low contrast SEP2 filter set to a layer blend mode of Soft Light.

Where Photoshop excels for me is I can vary the opacity of these layers which, I assure you, can transform the photograph in terms of contrast and depth. I can save the photoshop document and come back later to re work it. Yes, I know there are virtual copies in LR, but I find it easier to manage layers inside a single file. Horses for courses, I think.

I’m going to wrap this up for fear of rambling, but Photoshop clearly spanks Lightroom in terms of accurate manipulation of portions of the image. LR’s brushes and gradients just will not do and it’s all too easy to end up with those rotten halos around objects. I can select an area, refine that selection and create a mask. I doubt portrait photographers will work on hair with Lightroom. They’ll export to Photoshop.

Personally I don’t remove anything from my images, but I will process areas separately. Water and other reflective surfaces require a much higher contrast manipulation than people or buildings. I’ll quite often increase clarity and structure for wood like textures. Trust me, this high contrast high structure work does not go down well with female skin. Accurate mask based layer work also hides areas of transition between the different areas of work; essential when printing.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I get my images to where I want them through sheer dumb luck, but no one tells me I don’t know what I’m doing 😀

If you’re in the UK, enjoy your Monday public holiday!


The Leica M Monochrom is, for me personally, the best camera I have used. It captures an inspiring dynamic range, ISO and noise is simply not a concern anymore and images are sharp. I do, however, shoot with all capture settings off; no sharpening, tonal correction, etc. And, just as Ansel locked him self away in the dark room, I intend to photoshop all images and this means, out of the camera, the images are lack lustre. As you can see below.

The images below are split – neutral on the left and processed on the right.

I selected the entire frame for this first image, so no edge cropping or rotation.

L1000953 Compare

The following image was rotated slightly and cropped in, but you can still see the neutral left and processed right sides of the frame.

L1000903 Compare


I should probably be clear on one thing, I tolerate the post process portion of image creation. It’s certainly not my favourite part of the process, so I am not adverse to use of filter packages – for time saved vs results vs cost they are great value.

Correct the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

My images are all captured and processed in a similar fashion.

In ACR, I’m after an even exposure, relatively low contrast and save the highlights. At the bottom of the ACR window are the image attributes that will translate to Photoshop. I use sRGB – my camera’s colour space is sRGB – for colour space and 16bit.

Open in Photoshop

Identify the primary horizontal or vertical line in the image. If none is available for use with the Ruler Tool, then rotate by eye – Select All > Edit > Transform > Rotate. And crop.

Silver Efex Pro 2

I have come up through the ranks of manipulating images. I know how to convert an image to monochrome and how to boost contrast and manipulate portions of the image. This prior knowledge is extremely useful in knowing how to achieve what I want in Silver Efex 2 quickly, but this ‘apprenticeship’ of manually adjusting images isn’t a pre requisite. You’ll do just fine with Silver Efex from the get go!

Usually a single filter is required. My favourite filters are Modern Full Dynamic, both Harsh and Smooth, Classic High Structure and Vintage Noir 1. Start with tweaking the Structure to about 50%, Contrast around 30%, then go from there.

For both of these images I employed the Modern Full Dynamic Harsh for the base filter.

I will usually add a contrast boosting layer, using a low contrast filter (in Silver Efex) and setting it’s blend mode to Soft Light, somewhere around 20% opacity. It’s just a final tweak to the tones.

There’s always a but though! For the street scene, I mask selected the bushes to the left and used an alternate filter to bring out the textures and lighter tones. In addition, I mask selected the hazy country side in the distance and used yet another filter with a high structure.

For the canal scene, well, I always use an additional high structure and contrast filter for water. Water should appear to be a different substance in images and being so reflective requires high contrast. Set this layer’s blend mode to Soft Light with an opacity around 50%+

Sharpen before resize

Before sharpening, flatten the image’s layers and confirm that Layer > Flatten Image is not selectable. This is likely a result of the rotating process earlier on.

Images, incorrectly sharpened, will have artefacts. ‘Jaggies’ are the most common and you can USM all you like, it looks unnatural!

I use the High Pass filter. Monochrom images are pretty sharp anyway, other cameras require a more liberal ‘dollop’ of sharpening.

Duplicate the image layer. Select the new layer and Filter > Other > High Pass…

My images require only 1.0, but others as much as 3.0. Subsequently, set this layer’s blend mode to Overlay and the opacity to around 60%.

Flatten the image again.

Now we can resize for the internet and ensure you do, no free large images unless you have already thought to do so! When saving as jpeg, don’t compress; save the best version you can.

And that’s how I process Monochrom files. Each image takes me about 2 minutes, but remember that no amount of photoshop will save a poor composition or poorly exposed image. Ensure the capture is super correct.

I hope this is useful – too many photographers hide their workflow as a guarded secret that will unravel them as photographers if revealed. The images will speak for themselves.


Bat Cave

The image above, the Price Waterhouse Cooper building in London, is not new. I captured it last year and processed it immediately on my return from the shoot.

I have to admit to being quite fickle with the end results of my images. They’re never quite right – oh the exposure is fine and so is the composition – it’s the ‘wash’ I’m talking about.

Since shooting with Leica’s Monochrom, I think I’ve been spoiled with a great B&W from the outset. And so, with a few tweaks in Photoshop, the result is a brilliant monochrome image. All my old images are lack lustre now!

So there’s the message for the day people. You get one chance, on location, for composition and exposure. Get that correct and you will not be penalised for later re working of the post process.

Have a great weekend all