Two examples of the PPW Straight workflow
For those who missed the previous three articles in which I announced, introduced and detailed the new color correction workflow that I named PPW Straight – here are some highlights from these articles.
Of course, a lot more can be said, but for now I will go ahead doing what I promised earlier: talk you through the PPW Straight processing of a number of example images. I have chosen four photographs for this purpose:
This article covers the first two of these. In each case, processing starts from the camera output.
Note: The example files (originals) are available for download! Click on the following links to get the example image files, so you can replay the provided steps:
Example 1: The flower macro
The first example image will look familiar: I used it in the PPW Straight Introduction article, as an example of what the PPW can do with very colorful images. The original is shown in figure 1.
Note: Click on any of the below images to see a bigger version. This helps to better see what's happening!
Obviously, this image is very colorful. Color needs to be toned down before we start any subsequent processing. You will agree that it is not overly contrasty though. Exposure seems good enough as well – neither too light nor too dark – and I don’t see a color cast. The background greens measure roughly RGB 153, 166, 81 which is perfect.
So the only thing we do in this phase is adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce Saturation considerably. I chose -30. See figure 2 for the result.
Figure 2. Result after phase 1
Add a composite layer, convert it to a smart object and open it. We now search for an image area that can use more variation. Guess what: the flower! So make a selection of the magenta, while taking care not to include any of the greens, and run the MMM Finetuned action. The action will do the LAB conversion. See figure 3 for the selection and the result.
Figure 3. Selection and result of the MMM Finetuned action
Now what about the greens? Most of it is just background, extremely out of focus. More variation may distract from the flower. Yet… a bit of variation is already there. The action may emphasize that, making the background just a little more lively, right? Why not try it?
So there we go, with the selection as shown in figure 4. The result is shown next to it.
Figure 4. Second selection and final result of the Variation phase
This is not the default result of the action. I found it a bit too much of a good thing and therefore reduced the opacity of the group to 50%.
Obviously no more variation can be called for, so save the smart object and close it.
The workflow advises to add an RGB Vibrance adjustment layer, and use the Saturation slider to strengthen colors to taste. If one or more colors needs some extra boost, add another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to target those colors.
For this image, it makes sense to favor the reds/magentas over the greens. So we add two layers:
Obviously, the exact values are subject to taste; the chosen figures are mine. See figure 5 for the result.
Figure 5. Result of the Saturation phase
Time to run the Clarity Power action. Figure 6 below shows the default result, next to a small part zoomed in.
Figure 6. Default result of Clarity Power (left), and detail (right)
A bit too much, right? The flower starts to look a bit wrinkled. Also, take a close look at the greens on the bottom right of the image (figure 6 right). A little noise has been overaccentuated here. This is a risk of the action, but fortunately it is almost completely caused by just one layer: Small radius detail. So I hid that layer, and then reduced opacity of the group from 50 to 35%. See figure 7 for the net result.
Figure 7. Result of phase 4
What’s left? A bit of extra contrast maybe, but that’s all. So add a Curves adjustment layer for a mild S-curve. Don’t forget to set the layer blend mode to Luminosity to exclude color. The effect is small but beneficial. Figure 8 shows a comparison of original and final versions.
Figure 8. Original (left) and final version (right) of the first example image
I like this result in every aspect. There is much better detailing in the flower petals; more life in the background; and better distinction between flower and background, adding way more depth to the image.
Example 2: The church interior
On to our second image: the church interior of figure 9.
What's shown here is the default processing of the raw original. It won't be an easy one to handle. The photo was taken in pretty dark conditions: with ISO 1250 and an eighth of a second exposure, we have to be prepared for considerable shadow noise.
We do the preparation phase in Camera Raw. Given the pretty dark foreground and light top third of the photo, it makes sense to reduce contrast. I did this by two moves: Contrast -50 and Shadows +20. This seems to do the job. Still the image is slightly on the dark side. So Exposure +0.25.
Color-wise, the auto-white balance keeps the image somewhat cool. The off-white bar on the right measures RGB 236, 241, 246 which can use a little correction. So I moved Temperature from 3750 to 4100. Also, given the rather bright colors, I reduced Saturation by 15 points.
As an extra for this specific image, I applied some noise reduction as follows: Luminance 30, Color 25. All other parameters at their defaults. This is out of scope for the workflow, but still an important step to do. The next phases can blow up noise considerably if it’s not toned down at the beginning.
The result of phase 1 is shown in figure 10, together with the Basic panel of ACR.
Figure 10. ACR settings (left) leading to image version right
This is the most difficult phase of this image. Where to induce more color and luminance variation? The whole image seems to consist of small colored patches (the plants, the golden candles and the purple curtains) and a large cream-yellowish arch which probably cannot stand much color variation.
In cases like this, it can help to think “dark vs. light” and start from that. We have darks on various places: the rectangle behind the cross, the angel statue stands and some of the decoration. These can use a little more variation for sure.
My advice: use the magic wand tool to make a suitable selection. Set Tolerance to a low value (10 is usually okay, but it depends on the image of course). Click on a dark enough spot. Make sure that only dark image elements have been included in the selection, and run MMM Finetuned.
Figure 11. Selection as basis for MMM Finetuned (left) and result zoomed in
(Top right: before. Bottom right: after.)
The effect is subtle but beneficial. See figure 11 for the starting selection, plus a comparison of before and after, zoomed in to show some of the darker elements. (I reduced opacity of the MMM Fine Contrast layer to 15% as the default 30% looked quite overdone to my taste.)
Next? What about the top area? I’m really not sure if that will benefit at all from an MMM Finetuned treatment, but here is another advice: in case of doubt, just try and see what happens. So that’s what I did, and figure 12 shows the result.
Figure 12. Selection (left) and partial result (right) of the second MMM Finetuned run
Note the ugly color artifacts on the right. This is what happens when we try to strengthen color variation where none is really there. Yet, what the action does for contrast is quite good. Especially the crest gets much better depth. It’s not a difficult decision to hide Color and keep Contrast. Figure 13 shows what that gives: before and after of the full Variation phase. This way it's not bad at all.
Figure 13. Before and after of phase 2
Back to the RGB-image. Its color is definitely too weak – some extra saturation is required. I do think though that no specific color needs to be held back. A single Vibrance adjustment layer suffices. I chose for Saturation +20. The result is shown in figure 14 (before and after).
Figure 14. Before and after of phase 3
As this is a noisy image, special care must be taken that the Clarity Power action doesn’t accentuate that too much. Run it, and indeed noise is the only problem we have to solve. Like in the previous image, the bottom layer of the group (“Small radius detail”) is the evildoer. Remove it and I think the result is good enough. No further adjustment is necessary. See figure 15 for the before and after versions.
Figure 15. Before and after of phase 4
The only remaining adjustment I can think of is a slight lightening, plus a mild extra midtone contrast. So I applied a curve, set to Luminosity, accomplishing exactly that. Figure 16 shows a comparison of original and final versions.
Figure 16. Comparison of original and final versions
The final result is way better, especially in the shadow areas. The workflow has brought about detail and color everywhere, while avoiding an HDR-look. I think what we have accomplished is a good representation of what the scene looked like for a human observer.
This may be the most difficult example of the set I show you. Looking back at the five steps, the Variation phase has been the toughest one. Indeed, this phase often asks for some creativity and experimentation. Becoming a skilled MMM Finetuned employer requires experience.
The next article will finish my series about PPW Straight. I will show you two more examples, each with its own challenges and peculiarities.
Gerald Bakker, 10 Dec. 2018
Picture Postcard Workflow