Solve Technical Problems With Affordable Photoshop Plug-Ins
Fred Miranda’s Suite Of Solutions Page 2
Sharpen Your Image
All of the Adobe programs include several tools for sharpening images. Unsharp Mask is particularly versatile and effective but it can also introduce undesirable side effects such as exaggerated digital noise and artifacts. That's why advanced imaging enthusiasts have developed complex, multi-step methods for "cleaner" results, often using Layer masks and opacity control to refine the sharpening effect. Since that technique is very time-consuming, I prefer to use Intellisharpen II. This plug-in employs many complex steps in Photoshop or Elements quickly, with great simplicity (File>Automate>Intellisharpen II).
Activate the plug-in and select sharpening for a high ISO or low ISO image and a sharpening level, such as 30. Click on the Apply button and the plug-in proceeds with multi-step processing; in a few seconds your image changes to reflect the sharpening level selected. If it seems excessive, use the Intensity tweak slider to moderate it to the desired level. Advanced users will appreciate the additional Intellisharpen II features: Normal, Low, and 0 percent Halo, Reduce Color Noise (chroma noise reduction), a Levels setting for Sharpen Fine Detail, and Levels/Sharpening tweak for final fine-tuning of the effects. When the image looks perfect, click on the OK button and the changes are made immediately.
Evaluation: Intellisharpen II enhances important image elements without affecting the sky or smooth skin areas in portraits, a defocused background, or any electronic noise pattern. Granted, the various options are not "simple." At first, use the settings recommended in the User's Manual as starting points but then spend a few minutes experimenting with each of the additional features and different levels. The extra effort will definitely pay off. (Compatible with 8- and 16-bit files in Photoshop CS and with 8-bit files in Photoshop 6 or 7 and Elements 1.0 and 2.0; $25.)
Recover Shadow Detail
Anyone who owns Photoshop CS or Elements 3.0 should certainly benefit from the Shadow/Highlight Correction tool for recovering detail in bright and dark areas without affecting other tonal values. But if you own an earlier version of either Adobe program, you'll want another alternative, such as Fred Miranda's SR (Shadow Recovery) Pro. Designed to restore detail hidden in shadow areas, this plug-in duplicates the lengthy and complicated masking techniques often used by experts, for professional effects.
At its most automatic setting ("Normal" mode), SR Pro can be used at any intensity level from very low (1) to very high (12) shadow recovery intensity (File>Automate>SR Pro). As a starting point, select Level 5 and set the "Add Shadow Contrast" option to "Low"; this combination often produces a pleasing, natural effect. Or start with a higher intensity level and select the "Opacity Tweak" feature; after processing is finished, use it to moderate the shadow lightening effect. More advanced "Color + Luma" options are available, too; most useful for reducing noise in the lightened shadow areas of high ISO images. (Not available when using Elements.)
Evaluation: This "intelligent" plug-in uses sophisticated multiple steps to recover valuable shadow detail but leaves mid tones and highlights unaffected. (If you already own the Velvia Vision plug-in, with its Add Dynamic Range feature, for better highlight/shadow detail, you would not also need SR Pro.) It's easy to use, without any need for complex masking and blurring techniques. SR Pro produces natural mid-tone blending, especially in images without extremely dark shadow areas; for the best results, be sure to activate the "Add Shadow Contrast" feature. (Compatible with 8- and 16-bit files in Photoshop CS and 8-bit files in Photoshop 6 or 7 and Elements 1.0 and 2.0; $20.)
Increase Dynamic Range
While SR Pro works well for many images, there is another technique that is even more useful for solving problems of excessive contrast. Let's say you want to make a photo of a waterfall in brilliant sunshine surrounded by an area that's heavily shaded by mature trees. In any single image you'll get detail in either the highlights or the shadows, but not in both. The best solution is to make two identical images (with the camera on a tripod) at different exposure levels. For the first, allow the camera to take a meter reading from the bright waterfall; for the second, expose for the darker landscape. Later, combine the two images in Photoshop, using a complex layer masking technique to create a nicely blended image that exhibits detail in both highlight and shadow areas.
Frankly, that's a labor-intensive process requiring advanced Photoshop
skills. The alternative is quick and uncomplicated: use the DRI (Dynamic Range
Increase) Pro plug-in for Photoshop 6, 7, and CS and Elements 2.0 (File>Automate>DRI
Pro). Following the on-screen instructions, identify the "underexposed"
image and the "overexposed" image. Click on OK and the software
will blend the two to generate a final picture with great detail in both highlight
and shadow areas. For greater control, experiment with the Radius Tweak feature
(not available if using Elements) to adjust the blending between the dark and
the bright images.
Evaluation: DRI Pro produces pleasing, natural-looking images without any indication that complex digital processes have been employed. However, the technique discussed earlier is most useful for scenes with extreme contrast. In most other situations, I would make a single exposure for good highlight detail, and use SR Pro instead to recover shadow detail. (Compatible with 8- and 16-bit files in Photoshop CS and 8-bit files in Photoshop 6 or 7 and Elements 1.0 and 2.0; $20.)
For additional specifics on the many plug-ins available from Digital Darkroom Inc., visit www.fredmiranda.com/software.
A long-time "Shutterbug" contributor, stock photographer Peter K. Burian is the author of "Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging." This 270-page book covers all aspects of the topic and provides a great deal of practical advice.