Color Management and Workflow Features in Photoshop CS6 Public Beta

Concerns about Photoshop Upgrades in General

I’ve heard photographers complain, as Photoshop updates appear, that the newer versions are really not about photography, or the at least not the features they use for photo editing, and that some of the new features actually get in the way of the things they need to do. I can certainly understand this point of view, and when I see a photographer decide to “freeze” at one version of Photoshop or another, to avoid having to learn new techniques, or pay for another upgrade, or to avoid breaking older filters, plugins, and scripts that are important to their workflow, I don’t object. But I do warn them that such a choice may eventually effect their ability to upgrade to new computers with newer operating systems, or use new plugins from their favorite plugin providers, and may require developing a different workflow for getting RAW files from new cameras into their older version of Photoshop. And that the leap forward will only be more painful, the longer they avoid it.

So while we all may feel some frustration when our favorite key command no longer does what we want it to, or a rectangular box interferes with our view of what we are doing, learning the tricks to make the newer versions of Photoshop work is part of the effort of remaining up-to-date in the world of photography.

However, Photoshop CS6 appears to be a more dramatic jump forward than previous updates. This may be intimidating, and it may cause photographers to search their souls, and their wallets, before deciding to migrate to Photoshop CS6. Fortunately Adobe has a free public beta of the application available, so that a much wider range of users can try the application in advance of release than with previous Photoshop updates. While you are at Adobe Labs to download the Photoshop Public Beta, remember to download the latest Adobe Camera Raw Release Candidate as well. This version 6.7 is not compatible with the latest cameras, but it does offer other improvements for anyone opening RAW files into Photoshop CS6 PB.

The Biggest Change in CS6: The Interface

Ever since Photoshop 1 (and thats not CS1, but the actual PS1) the interface to Photoshop, with some changes for the OS and OS version, has been similar: menu bar on the top, a tool palette, typically vertically formatted on the left, and as time went on, more and more floating palettes that can be added on the right. These elements floated in free space, with your desktop showing behind them. Options to run Photoshop full screen were available, but were usually limited to displaying images to clients and other such special occasions. The Photoshop interface shown below doesn’t go back to the depths of time; its from the current release version of the product.

Photoshop CS5 interface

Photoshop CS6 breaks with this tradition. It now has its own window, with its own background. The look is darker, and the text, in some areas, is smaller, and inverted to show on the darker backgrounds. Those who use Adobe Lightroom will recognize this look, as will those who use Adobe video editing apps like Premier and After Effects. In that sense Photoshop is late to the party, and its change of interface is less revolutionary than evolutionary; evolving to follow the general trend of the Adobe line. Here’s what that the default interface in Photoshop CS6 looks like,compared to CS5 above.

Photoshop CS6 Interface

Beyond any initial shock at a version of Photoshop that doesn’t look like Photoshop, you may notice that very little else has actually changed. The same menu items, tools, and palettes are here, even if the look and feel has changed. This is not to say you won’t find yourself wandering the corridors of Photoshop CS6 searching for something you knew perfectly well how to find in CS5. But it won’t be that much more frequent an experience than it was with earlier updates. The most common questions I hear from people seeing this “bounded window” interface is whether, like Lightroom, it will limit their flexibility in moving images, using multiple displays, moving between applications, etc. I’ll address these concerns below.

The New Features, which I’m NOT going to Review

I could  include a description of interesting new features in Photoshop CS6, but it would not actually be that much different than the run-though in Russell Brown’s video on that topic. So please take a look at Russell’s video if you are curious about the cool new tools. I’ll just note that some of them extend on recent additions, like content aware fill, and may work well sometimes, and not others, so they can speed up your process, but won’t necessarily eliminate the need for classic Photoshop skills. They also include what I’m tempted to call “Feature Creep” with actual video editing, transitioning, and font abilities moving inside Photoshop. This may seem counterintuitive, after all, there are other apps for that. But as we shoot and edit more video with the same cameras we use for our still photography, being able to library video along side stills in Lightroom, and process clips in Photoshop along side stills may eventually seem not just reasonable, but obvious.

The Color and Workflow Related Items which I AM Going to Cover

Those of you who know me will already realize where my focus with any Photoshop Beta is going to be: the features and changes that effect Color Management, and the Digital Workflow. Lets start with issues of the new Photoshop  workspace window, and image location.

The Main Photoshop window, which is now a dark rectangle, can be run in full screen mode, where it is quite reminiscent of Lightroom. This means that the most common method of moving to other apps will be by using the “Hide Photoshop” command from the Photoshop menu list. This window can also be reduced in size, and will act like a typical floating window, capable of being moved around the screen, or to other screens, as desired. In this mode moving to other applications may occur by clicking on windows in the various apps to bring them to the front, the more traditional method of navigating.

Images open in Photoshop CS6 also have two possible modes. Depending on whether the “Open Documents as Tabs” option in the Interface tab of Photoshop Preferences is checked, or unchecked, you images will open as fixed tabs in the Photoshop window, and further images opened will tab with them. This method can be very convenient for checking “before and after” differences between files, and others such uses, but for many long-time Photoshop users it feels like a straight-jacket, and unchecking this box is the first thing some users do. In the unchecked mode your images are free floating windows… unless you drag them too near the top bar, or the top bar of other images, in which case they will nest in the main window, or with the other image window, forming tabs. They can be removed using the “rip a sheet off the tablet” effect, by dragging them away from the top bar of the window to free them. This tabbing behavior is not new to CS6, but has been increased by the option to nest images as tabs in the new Photoshop window; a natural extension of the previous option… or an added aggravation depending on how comfortable you become with this mechanism.

Images freed from the new Photoshop Window, can be moved off the new Photoshop background; something that is not necessarily obvious to first time users. While the background appears to define the limits of the Photoshop application, in fact its a recommendation, not an enforced rule.  So if the Photoshop workspace window is reduced to cover only part of a large screen, images can be moved off the background and stored elsewhere for later use (though fans of the tabbed interface would point out that tabs offer a much cleaner method of doing the same thing).

From a color management point of view, the new interface has its advantages; a controlled color background only makes sense. It helps assure consistent viewing conditions, and reduces variation in editing results. And for those of you who have been ignoring us Color Geeks for years, and are using color, not grayscale, images as your desktop image, the enforced backdrop is even more critical.

On the other hand, there is the question of color management for images removed from this new controlled environment. Even though the Photoshop workspace and its backdrop are limited to one of your displays, moving a free floating image to another screen triggers the correct change in display profile that has always been necessary to provide multiple display matching. So one key color concern about the CS6 is eliminated.

In fact, it is possible to stretch the Photoshop workspace to cover more than one display, though this is limited by how well the geometry of the displays in question match. Another interesting function is that moving the Photoshop workspace to another location or display will move any images tabbed to the workspace window with it, but will leave floating images behind, now displayed against your desktop or other apps that happen to be open in the background. This behavior is logical, but may take a few tries to get accustomed to.

Next; The Color Settings

The Edit menu is where the Color Settings have resided for several generations of Photoshop. This has not changed with CS6, all three of the Color Settings Commands are located in their usual places.

Photoshop CS6 Color Settings Menu

The Three Color Settings Windows accessed from this menu, shown below, are also unchanged. So color management, as we know it, has not been reshaped, as happened in the case of one or two previous Photoshop updates.

Photoshop CS6 Color Settings Windows

Next we will look at the Soft-proofing options in CS6. This is an important color management function for many users. Here, too, we find everything looking just as we last saw it in CS5.

Photoshop CS6 Custom Proof Setup

The remaining areas of concern are the Photoshop’s Printing options. Below is the CS6 Main Print Dialog. Reassuringly familiar.

Photoshop CS6 Main Print Window

The Print Settings Options are also unchanged, as shown below. This does not guarantee that color managed printing using a custom profile will be possible with all printer drivers; as some older drivers are not updated to the newer Print Path. But it does mean that any printer/driver combination that printed correctly from Photoshop CS5 should do the same from CS6.

Photoshop CS6 Print Settings Dialog

So while testing will continue, and the final word on Photoshop CS6 is yet to be written, it appears that standard color managed functions of viewing images on multiple displays using display profiles, opening and saving images with appropriate tags, and printing using output profiles are all available and unchanged in CS6, so that Color Management should not be the deciding factor on your decision on whether or not to update to the new version. I will warn you that a few weeks of working with CS6 Beta will make it difficult to consider moving back to CS5 when the Beta period expires.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page


Lightroom 4.1 Conversion Example

I have had requests for an example, not of a new image processed through Lightroom 4’s improved controls, but an older image that was problematic, moved forward to the new method. Its a fair question: what can the new Process2012 do for an older image? I selected an image that I could clearly recall having posterization and reversal issues with on original processing, and used it as an example here.

Tuscan Window Image, as originally processed

The image was shot hand-held with the Canon 5D in an abandoned villa in Tuscany, not long before the Canon 5D Mark ll became available; a fact I recall, because I wished I had the Mark ll in hand when I took what I knew would be a problem shot. Yes, a tripod and longer exposure would have helped, and yes a tripod and multiple exposures for HDR processing would have helped even more. But it was an impromptu image, without those options.

When processing later in Lightroom 2, the temptation was to gain more detail in the clouds and landscape with the Recovery slider, and more detail in the interior with the Fill Light slider. Doing both resulted in rather painterly, non-photographic result in the landscape with lack of detail and levels, but an unacceptable reversal creating a double edge to the window, and even to the tree outside the window. My solution at the time was to recover the highlights in Lightroom, and do the rest in Photoshop, to eliminate the reversals. This didn’t improve the landscape, but in this case, unlike some others, the dreamy result was acceptable. The resulting image has been popular as a small size matte paper print.

I accessed the original RAW file in Lightroom 4, and created a virtual copy of it. I left the image in Process2003 and set the Recovery and Fill Light sliders to the heavy settings that I had originally attempted, only to find I needed to back them off to avoid reversals. A closeup of the result, much as it looked the first time, is on the left below.

Tuscan Window Details, comparing older and newer Processes

I then updated the image to Process 2012, and set the tone curve to Linear, since the custom curve in the older format had not been converted in a reasonable manner, as discussed in a previous article. The resulting image (on the right above) is darker, but being darker should show the posterization and reversal issues even more clearly.

And yet it does not. Click on the image above to examine the edges in detail. The top edge of the window is very soft, but neither edge of the window, nor the tree outside, show the clear double border that occurred in the earlier process.There is less loss of levels in the landscape as well, though this closeup does not focus on that.

Clearly, it would be possible to create an improved version of my earlier image by reprocessing in Lightroom 4.1. That would require doing dust busting and other work a second time, since those steps had occurred in Photoshop, not Lightroom, originally. But for an image such as this, the reworking would be worthwhile for the improved results, and the possibility of then offering the image in larger sizes than previously possible.

If I had the luxury of reshooting the image today, a hand-held image with the Canon 5DMark lll, plus Lightroom 4.1 processing, would offer far more detail, far less noise, and more levels in both the highlight landscape and the shadow interior.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Enhanced Functionalities in Lightroom 4

  • Adobe’s Photoshop Lightrooom 4, and its recent update v4.1 offer a new set of functions, defined as Process 2012. These new functions add or remove a control or two, and reworks others. While this is not as radical a set of changes as moving from Photoshop CS5 to CS6, it still requires some acclimation, though offering significant new potential in return. This article deals with the renovated Basic controls at the top of the Develop Mode’s right panel. Lets start by comparing Lightroom 3’s Basic controls to those in Lightroom 4.

Lightroom 3 and 4 Basic Controls

A quick comparison brings to light that White Balance and Presence sections are unchanged. But the Tone section has been reorganized. Here the Exposure control hasn’t been altered, but Contrast has been moved to a group with Exposure, and Contrast’s old partner, Brightness has disappeared… or has it?

The former trio of Recovery (a Hightlight function), Fill Light (a Shadows function) and Blacks (a, well, Black function) have been changed to a more symmetrical set of controls where a new Whites function balances the existing Blacks function, and a Highlights function balances a Shadows function. Since Brightness is now missing it would be tempting to assign its former role to the new Whites slider, assign the Recovery function to the new Highlights function, claim Fill is the equivalent is Shadows, and be done with it.

While this might all make general sense, the actual results of using these sliders is not the same as those from Lightroom 3’s Process 2010. The Recovery and Fill sliders in LR3 were “use with caution” controls. If both were manipulated to a significant degree, then unintended results could occur; usually in the form of posterization or even reversals in zones with transitions from shadows directly into highlights. In some cases a distinct double edge formed in sharp transition zones. Such results required returning to Lightroom, and reducing or removing the conflicting Recovery and Fill adjustments, and finding some other way to get the needed adjustments, typically at a later stage, in Photoshop.

Lightroom 4’s new version of these adjustments, on the other hand, are amazingly resilient. To demonstrate this, I took the RAW image shown below, and processed it in a way that would have been fatal in Lightroom 3. Here is the original image.

RAW file in its default state

I performed a series of adjustments to create HDR-like effects in the image. I began by reducing the exposure a bit, to deepen the sky. Next I moved the new Highlight slider to the negative side, creating even more detail in the clouds, and lowered Whites slightly as well. This all could have been accomplished, or something rather like it, in LR 3, but not at the same time as the set of adjustments below.

I then brought out detail in the dark face of the barn by boosting the shadows as far as the slider would go. “Danger, Will Robinson” said my Lightroom 3-acclimated brain, but nothing terrible happened; nothing even remotely undesirable happened. So I moved on to dropping the blacks just enough to clean up the pure blacks in the windows a bit, and then adjusted  the Clarity slider, which produces localized contrast.

Here the goal is to produce the type of weathered wood effect that Paul Caponigro achieved with the early high contrast photo papers. This is a dangerous game, and on top of the radical adjustments at both ends of the tonal range, should cause the image to fall apart into grainy, posterized results. But again, not so. The dynamic range of the new Canon 5D Mark lll, and Lightroom 4’s new Process 2012 produced unparalleled results. Here’s the overall image.

Adjusted Image

Even more impressive is the closeup view, where the recovered clouds in the sky, the opened-up barn face, and the enhanced wood texture all show in detail, with no noise, and no “ring around the collar” where the lights meet the darks.

Adjusted Image, Closeup

Only time will tell what the true potential of Lightroom 4 and Process 2012 may be, but early tests such as this one show promise for improved editing functionality, and enhanced HDR-like processing, without artifacts, noise, or posterization.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page