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Author Topic: Lab Color for B/W - Why does it work so well?  (Read 11656 times)
Mike Arst
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« Reply #40 on: February 20, 2010, 01:18:16 PM »
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Quote from: Mark D Segal
a very large number of highly successful photographers are using Lightroom to achieve a high proportion of their total workflow and they are making a fine living from it.
I believe it, though the program's popularity by itself hasn't been any draw for me. Usability, user interface, and output have been. The UI has always left something to be desired -- in the beginning, it left quite a lot to be desired.
[blockquote]If it produced crappy conversions and sub-optimal output they would be using something else.[/blockquote]I don't recall anyone's having said it did. My comment about rendition of fine image detail is based not on mere "pixel-peeping" but on responses to prints by non-technical people. They all picked the same (non-ACR-/non-Lightroom-"developed") versions as having crisper detail. The pixel-peeping approach also confirmed this. It's possible to become obsessed by "sharpness" to the point of no longer even seeing an image. Having taken photographs for rather a long time, I'm well aware of the danger. That aside, I also saw what they saw both in the prints and at the "pixel level." But that was a while ago. More recent LR/ACR versions might be much different. (That's hardly a "sub-optimal output" sort of comment, kindly note.)
[blockquote]So all these opinions I keep reading about the inferior quality of Adobe raw converters leaves me thoroughly unimpressed[/blockquote]Dunno who was saying that, and shame on them for trying to impress you with all these opinions. I was talking about one aspect of image quality that was better (in the past) in some other applications.
[blockquote]You need to distinguish between pixel-peeping as a hobby in its own right[/blockquote]I always love to hear "You need to..." -- what follows is invariably earth-shakingly valuable advice about what "I need to". And so it was! :-) Strangely, I actually do understand the difference between pixel-peeping and:
[blockquote]real world results which people see on paper and judge with their wallets.[/blockquote]Turns out, I shoot photographs to please myself, not to sell them.
[blockquote]As for the file management[/blockquote]That's what Photo Mechanic + my own Perl scripts do for me. Whenever PM's authors get the D.A.M. version out the door, I'm sure it will be mighty fine. I can hardly wait -- but I can wait. :)
[blockquote]a great many professional photographers buy this program especially because of its image management capability - in the hands of people who take the time to learn how to use it. This is a major strength of the program.[/blockquote]The D.A.M. feature isn't a major strength for someone who doesn't need it, and I found that aspect of the UI fairly unpleasant. YMMV. It's the RAW conversion I'm after. From the sound of it, these days for the B&W conversions ACR could be just as good a candidate. (At one time, it wasn't.)
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 01:21:40 PM by Mike Arst » Logged
Mark D Segal
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« Reply #41 on: February 20, 2010, 01:32:02 PM »
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Mike - we're in the same boat in terms of why we make photographs, but I do have my ears and eyes tuned to what is happening in the professional marketplace, what the pros are doing, etc. But no matter, what's good for some is not necessarily what's good for all.

In some of my remarks you picked up, I wasn't necessarily aiming at you, but more at the tenor of some other comments in this thread and other closely related ones - this is not the first and won't be the last of these discussions.

I think interface preference is very much a personal thing. I happen to like how Lightroom's GUI is organized a lot. I find it very logical and convenient, and it has some really cool time-saving features. As for how it compares with ACR as a converter - under the hood - same engine, same thing - if you are using comprable versions.

I too mainly use this program for image editing and conversion, and my requirements for on-the-fly asset management are not so large as to find this capability indispensable, but I have seen how pros with very large catalogues pull the images they need so easily and quickly using LR, that it is rather compelling.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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john beardsworth
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« Reply #42 on: February 20, 2010, 03:15:08 PM »
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Mike

As well as the supposed quality of the conversion, you also need to consider the importance of deciding between alternative black and white conversions, something that hasn't changed since people first started using coloured filters and film.

The Lab method might produce a pleasing, neutral rendition, in many cases. But it offers little scope for creative choice - ie do you want skin tones to appear soft or harsh, do you want clouds to stand out more against the sky, do you want to show the viewer that a green area differs from a neighbouring red region that has the same luminosity? And the Lab method certainly offers no ability to convert part of an image differently from the rest.

Where Lightroom and more modern versions of Photoshop stand out is in making it easy to make such creative decisions. While Lightroom presets can inspire a brain dead recipe-driven approach, in creative hands they can mimic various conversion mixes and mean one just rolls the mouse over them to assess the alternative b&w renditions.

In my view the best feature is the targeted adjustment tool which lets you drag over areas of the image and lighten or darken their greyscale rendition. So you're looking at the image and how blocks of colour are rendering in greyscale tones - thinking in terms of composition and interpretation rather than the pixel peeper's paradise of whether one method is supposedly "better" than another. You also have this with the new black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop CS3.

John
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MarkIV
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« Reply #43 on: February 20, 2010, 04:24:52 PM »
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Although the Action might be a little complicated for beginner users of PS, once it is set up, working with great flexibility, options and control on B+W's is a cinch (as apposed to convoluted). Setting up the action should take maybe 5 minutes.  Here is a simple but powerful formula:

Get the color raw image to look great in color, in ACR with your preferred white balance (it can be relatively saturated).

Once the image is brought into PS (in 16 bit) start recording the Action (and maybe assign it an F-Key) by going to Windows/Actions/New Action.

The B+W Action:

With your RGB image open in PS, go to Channels palette, Copy the Blue channel (select all, CTRL A, copy, CTRL C).
Click on the composite (RGB) channel (the top one) there before going back to your layers pallet.
Open a New Document (once you do this just click "OK" and it will be the right size and color space) and then paste (CTRL V) the Blue channel there, name it in the layers palette "Blue" (by double clicking on the name) and then flatten the layer (Layer/Flatten) to get rid of the extra canvas underneath the layer.
Go back to the original RGB image and do the same thing for the Green Channel (select all, then copy the green channel).
Go back to the New Document and paste the Green Chanel into the document on top of the Blue one, name it and don't flatten.
Go back to the original RGB image and do the same thing for the Red Chanel (copy the Red Chanel).
Go back to the New Document and paste the Red Chanel into the document on top of the Green one, name it, don't flatten.
Go back to the Original, and convert the color space to LAB (Image/Mode/LAB).
Click on the L-Chanel (in the Channels Pallet) and select all, and copy.
Go back to the New Document and paste the LAB, L -Chanel into the document on top of the Red one, name it and don't flatten. (yes the L Chanel will convert to your preferred RGB space with no quality loss or significant noticeable change).  
Name the top Chanel L.

Stop recording the Action.


You are done.

Now you have the R, the G, the B, and the L (and potentially anything else you want) sitting there with the press of one simple button as Layers (and all the power that goes along with that).

Now all you have to do is enjoy looking at the different qualities of each channel (clicking on and off each eyeballs in the Layers pallet) figure out an opacity mix you like the most (or even just work with one).  As previously mentioned, you now can also use layer Blend Modes, and the Layer Style "Blend If" sliders for unprecedented power, control and options for your B+W's (also blending of layers by standard erasing, or making selections and feathering and deleting or graduated erasing with a mask and gradient...).  Once you get the B+W image just the way you like it most (by working simply or more powerfully) Flatten the image and then do additional contrast work (if you want, both globally and locally).  

If you keep a color layer in the mix (at the bottom of your layer stack) you could also add b&w adjustment layers to the mix or even a channel mixer layer if you so desire.

There are ways to make this even more powerful, but for most people this is plenty and can take their B+W's into a new stratospheric realm.

BTW, this is the general technique I teach my B+W PS students, bypassing the basic Channel mixer and such.  So far it has worked wonders for them.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 04:51:56 PM by MarkIV » Logged
Mike Arst
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« Reply #44 on: February 20, 2010, 04:32:54 PM »
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Quote from: johnbeardy
As well as the supposed quality of the conversion, you also need to consider the importance of deciding between alternative black and white conversions, something that hasn't changed since people first started using coloured filters and film.
I remember that kind of decision. As with the time I decided to try my hand at black and white "subtlety" by buying a color enlarger (found it used, fortunately) that allowed you to dial in filtration via gel filters mounted in front of the light sources. Oh, what science I was going to do with it. The heat was oppressive. Ok, so use a neg carrier with glass. The dust was oppressive. :-) And when I realized what a fortune I'd be spending in gels -- given the intensity of those halogen bulbs, the dyes couldn't possibly remain stable for long -- I gave that up and went back to the cold-light head.

But the real joy came from the hard work of burning and dodging, not to mention the choice of paper and developer and toner. One challenge with the digital work is that I came to enjoy the darkroom experience (the smells and the carcinogens aside) and of course staring into the computer screen isn't at all like that. Perhaps I should build a darkroom (no plumbing required, of course), put the printer in there with a wireless setup, and then go in there and turn on a safelight as the print emerges from the inkjet printer. How Zen it will be. :)

Quote
The Lab method might produce a pleasing, neutral rendition, in many cases.
I have noticed this in the Greg Gorman technique (which I mis-identified, earlier, as having been recommended by John Paul Caponigro -- whose technique still isn't producing on-screen for me what it's claimed to do in the instructions...color me "baffled"). The LAB approach is producing a fairly neutral-looking result. Yet, it's less "greyish" than the Channel Mixer solutions I've also read about. The addition of a Levels adjustment has been useful as well.

I did have some success altering the look of skin-tones with the Gorman technique. You're right, though, about the difficulty of depicting that "a green area differ from a neighbouring red region that has the same luminosity." Yes, that's going to be difficult or even impossible using such a technique. The Caponigro technique, using multiple channels pasted into the original image as layers, would probably provide this ability...well, if I could get it to work.

There is another alternative at hand at least vaguely analogous to the LR/PS approaches recommended in this thread. For better or worse (sometimes I think "worse") I bought the 5.0 version of Bibble. Many problems yet, though the conversions aren't all bad and its rendition of fine image detail is very good -- comparable, IMO, to Capture One's. There is a not-terribly-expensive plug-in for it that provides many "film" choices and even tries to mimic the effects of varying film and paper development (number of minutes in Absurditol at such-and-such at 'x' degrees, that kind of thing). It does seem to work pretty well. And I believe Bibble can edit TIFF files. This might be worth a try...

Regarding your description of LR's targeted-adjustment feature (which as I recall is not present in ACR): in the LR version I now have, that makes a global change in the image and doesn't restrict it to the area immediately near the mouse position. But have they added selection tools for this purpose?

Thanks,
Mike
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john beardsworth
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« Reply #45 on: February 20, 2010, 04:35:47 PM »
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And why would you want to bypass the channel mixer (or the new b&w adjustment layer)? I've never understood why anyone likes this channels-to-layers method. Any of the blend-if or blend mode tricks are not unprecedented but can be accomplished equally well with adjustment layers, you can't use the method with a smart object workflow that retains the editability of the raw data, it complicates any retouching, and it wipes your metadata.
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john beardsworth
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« Reply #46 on: February 20, 2010, 04:46:35 PM »
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Quote from: Mike Arst
Regarding your description of LR's targeted-adjustment feature (which as I recall is not present in ACR): in the LR version I now have, that makes a global change in the image and doesn't restrict it to the area immediately near the mouse position. But have they added selection tools for this purpose?
It affects the global conversion recipe, but does so on the basis of sampling local areas. So dragging upwards on a face would lighten all reds in the image. But that's not necessarily a weakness -  dragging means keeping your eyes on the image and considering its appearance. The TAT is also in Photoshop, so you can use multiple b&w adjustment layers to limit a conversion to selected regions.

John
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MarkIV
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« Reply #47 on: February 20, 2010, 04:47:13 PM »
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Quote from: johnbeardy
And why would you want to bypass the channel mixer (or the new b&w adjustment layer)? I've never understood why anyone likes this channels-to-layers method. Any of the blend-if or blend mode tricks are not unprecedented but can be accomplished equally well with adjustment layers, you can't use the method with a smart object workflow that retains the editability of the raw data, it complicates any retouching, and it wipes your metadata.

I was editing my post as you posted this.

My edit:

"If you keep a color layer in the mix (at the bottom of your layer stack) you could also add b&w adjustment layers to the mix or even a channel mixer layer if you so desire."
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 04:50:11 PM by MarkIV » Logged
john beardsworth
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« Reply #48 on: February 20, 2010, 04:51:03 PM »
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Quote from: MarkIV
I was editing my post as you posted this.

My edit:

"If you keep a color layer in the mix (at the bottom) you can also add b&w adjustment layers to the mix or even a channel mixer layer."

Agreed! Using adjustment layers also has the advantage that it's nice and easy to produce a colour print some time in the future.

John
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #49 on: February 20, 2010, 04:55:26 PM »
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Quote from: MarkIV
Although the Action might be a little complicated for beginner users of PS, once it is set up, working with great flexibility, options and control on B+W's is a cinch (as apposed to convoluted). Setting up the action should take maybe 5 minutes.  Here is a simple but powerful formula:

Get the color raw image to look great in color, in ACR with your preferred white balance (it can be relatively saturated).

Once the image is brought into PS (in 16 bit) start recording the Action (and maybe assign it an F-Key) by going to Windows/Actions/New Action.

The B+W Action:

With your RGB image open in PS, go to Channels palette, Copy the Blue channel (select all, CTRL A, copy, CTRL C).
Click on the composite (RGB) channel (the top one) there before going back to your layers pallet.
Open a New Document (once you do this just click "OK" and it will be the right size and color space) and then paste (CTRL V) the Blue channel there, name it in the layers palette "Blue" (by double clicking on the name) and then flatten the layer (Layer/Flatten) to get rid of the extra canvas underneath the layer.
Go back to the original RGB image and do the same thing for the Green Channel (select all, then copy the green channel).
Go back to the New Document and paste the Green Chanel into the document on top of the Blue one, name it and don't flatten.
Go back to the original RGB image and do the same thing for the Red Chanel (copy the Red Chanel).
Go back to the New Document and paste the Red Chanel into the document on top of the Green one, name it, don't flatten.
Go back to the Original, and convert the color space to LAB (Image/Mode/LAB).
Click on the L-Chanel (in the Channels Pallet) and select all, and copy.
Go back to the New Document and paste the LAB, L -Chanel into the document on top of the Red one, name it and don't flatten. (yes the L Chanel will convert to your preferred RGB space with no quality loss or significant noticeable change).  
Name the top Chanel L.

Stop recording the Action.


You are done.

Now you have the R, the G, the B, and the L (and potentially anything else you want) sitting there with the press of one simple button as Layers (and all the power that goes along with that).

Now all you have to do is enjoy looking at the different qualities of each channel (clicking on and off each eyeballs in the Layers pallet) figure out an opacity mix you like the most (or even just work with one).  As previously mentioned, you now can also use layer Blend Modes, and the Layer Style "Blend If" sliders for unprecedented power, control and options for your B+W's (also blending of layers by standard erasing, or making selections and feathering and deleting or graduated erasing with a mask and gradient...).  Once you get the B+W image just the way you like it most (by working simply or more powerfully) Flatten the image and then do additional contrast work (if you want, both globally and locally).  

If you keep a color layer in the mix (at the bottom of your layer stack) you could also add b&w adjustment layers to the mix or even a channel mixer layer if you so desire.

There are ways to make this even more powerful, but for most people this is plenty and can take their B+W's into a new stratospheric realm.

BTW, this is the general technique I teach my B+W PS students, bypassing the basic Channel mixer and such.  So far it has worked wonders for them.

Setting aside the hype about "stratospheric realm", have you ever actually compared the result you get using this so-called "not-convoluted" procedure with intelligent use of the Greyscale mode in Lightroom/ACR or the B&W adjustment Layer in PS, combined with curves etc. if needed?
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Mike Arst
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« Reply #50 on: February 20, 2010, 07:14:56 PM »
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Quote from: MarkIV
Now all you have to do is enjoy looking at the different qualities of each channel (clicking on and off each eyeballs in the Layers pallet) figure out an opacity mix you like the most (or even just work with one).

Thanks for posting these steps. The action was easy enough to record. I did add one step in which the history state of the original document is tweaked to undo the effect of converting to LAB mode.

The aftermath seems a bit limiting in this respect (or else I'm the limited one): if opacity of the uppermost layer (Lightness, unless you've moved them) remains 100%, clicking the others on and off to toggle their visibility has no effect at all. This means either setting the uppermost layer to less than 100%, or moving one of the others to the top. In which case, its characteristics are the only visible ones unless its opacity is reduced below 100% -- and again clicking the others on and off (or changing their blending mode) has no effect. Finally, if the first layer copied (Blue) is made the active one and its opacity is reduced, this introduces obvious transparency into the file... all of this leaves me wondering if I might have missed something obvious in the procedure. Why would clicking individual layers off and on, wherever they might be in the stack, not make their effects immediately invisible/visible? How to transfer transparency "out" of that Blue layer?
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« Reply #51 on: February 20, 2010, 11:35:58 PM »
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Quote from: Mike Arst
Regarding your description of LR's targeted-adjustment feature (which as I recall is not present in ACR)

Wrong...Camera Raw got the TAT in version 5.2.

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Mike Arst
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« Reply #52 on: February 21, 2010, 02:37:53 AM »
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Quote from: Schewe
Wrong...Camera Raw got the TAT in version 5.2.
Well...better news yet, then.
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stamper
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« Reply #53 on: February 21, 2010, 02:59:16 AM »
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Quote from: Mark D Segal
It exports to Photoshop as a three channel RGB image. Try it. You'll see the three channels. Turning off one channel at a time, you'll get the opponent colour of the channel you turned off. But when all three channels are active, you see greyscale. However, you are never stuck with that - in case you want to go back to colour, you can revert to the raw file and flip back to Color and re-render it to Photoshop, or you can have the raw version embedded in Photoshop as a Smart Object, which makes it that much more convenient to flip around between various raw states and Photoshop editing. Note however you can't do pixel-editing on a Smart Object.

In CS3 when I tick the HSL/Grayscale box and import to Photoshop it appears as a one channel layer. I then have to Image /mode /RGB to get a three channel version and when I inspect the three channels there is little difference. What version of Photoshop are you using?
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« Reply #54 on: February 21, 2010, 08:08:06 AM »
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Quote from: stamper
In CS3 when I tick the HSL/Grayscale box and import to Photoshop it appears as a one channel layer. I then have to Image /mode /RGB to get a three channel version and when I inspect the three channels there is little difference. What version of Photoshop are you using?

CS4 and I export from LR 2.6 as a 16-bit ProPhoto PSD file.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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« Reply #55 on: February 21, 2010, 11:07:16 AM »
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LR may export B/W images as RGB, but if you convert them in ACR using the Grayscale option, you'll get a grayscale image (not RGB), unless you also use the toning controls.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2010, 11:07:45 AM by JeffKohn » Logged

MarkIV
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« Reply #56 on: February 21, 2010, 08:30:04 PM »
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Quote from: Mark D Segal
Setting aside the hype about "stratospheric realm", have you ever actually compared the result you get using this so-called "not-convoluted" procedure with intelligent use of the Greyscale mode in Lightroom/ACR or the B&W adjustment Layer in PS, combined with curves etc. if needed?

I see no hype.  The sheer flexibility and possibilities are nothing short of potentially stratospheric when competent and creative use of all the aforementioned tools are employed.

Yes, I have compared the techniques.  I enjoy testing.  

It is my opinion that the technique I mention above is much more flexible and powerful (and can even allow for greyscale and ACR/Lightroom layers to be in the mix if you want them added).  It may be convoluted for some, especially potentially those without basic PS skills, but at the same time it can be approached simply without all the power harnessed.  I teach basic to advanced PS users this technique and even the basic users have done very well with it.  

I'm not saying this is the only way to make a B+W, just one of the more flexible/powerful ways I have found.

 

Quote from: Mike Arst
Thanks for posting these steps. The action was easy enough to record. I did add one step in which the history state of the original document is tweaked to undo the effect of converting to LAB mode.

The aftermath seems a bit limiting in this respect (or else I'm the limited one): if opacity of the uppermost layer (Lightness, unless you've moved them) remains 100%, clicking the others on and off to toggle their visibility has no effect at all. This means either setting the uppermost layer to less than 100%, or moving one of the others to the top. In which case, its characteristics are the only visible ones unless its opacity is reduced below 100% -- and again clicking the others on and off (or changing their blending mode) has no effect. Finally, if the first layer copied (Blue) is made the active one and its opacity is reduced, this introduces obvious transparency into the file... all of this leaves me wondering if I might have missed something obvious in the procedure. Why would clicking individual layers off and on, wherever they might be in the stack, not make their effects immediately invisible/visible? How to transfer transparency "out" of that Blue layer?

Sorry if I am having a hard time tracking with the question(s).

Hopefully this helps. Just leave the eyeball on that you want to see.  Turn them all off then toggle each one on and off to see the differences.  You can also move them (the layers) around in the stack to compare or blend.  If you like the L and the green for example, then move the green underneath the L and turn off all the other eyeballs.  Then clicking on the L channel you can mix the layers to whatever opacity you like.  That is a simple way of doing it.  The real power, for myself, comes in when incorporating things like the Layer Styles "Blend If" sliders.  Maybe I like the highlights of one and the shadows of another.  The blend if's allow for that type of blending, among many other things.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2010, 09:06:44 PM by MarkIV » Logged
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« Reply #57 on: February 21, 2010, 09:18:30 PM »
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Quote from: Mike Arst
Well...better news yet, then.

If you are still using Camera Raw 3.x in Photoshop CS2, then I suggest you step into the new millennium...Camera Raw made a HUGE change with version 4.1 in Photoshop CS3 an moved even further to the head of class with Camera Raw 5.x in Photoshop CS4. Now, Lightroom 3 beta is even FURTHER removed from your experience...

When Photoshop CS5 (Lightroom 3/Camera Raw 6) ships, you'll prolly want to jump on it to advance to at least current tech. Also note that CS2 will be the OLDEST version that can update to CS5 (Adobe has adopted a 3 version back upgrade policy).


At this point, doing either ACR/LR B&W conversions and printing with recent printers (such as 2880/3880/x900 series) means really great Digital B&W prints have been around for a few years now...
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stamper
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« Reply #58 on: February 22, 2010, 03:07:16 AM »
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Quote from: JeffKohn
LR may export B/W images as RGB, but if you convert them in ACR using the Grayscale option, you'll get a grayscale image (not RGB), unless you also use the toning controls.

I tried as you suggested. Used the toning controls. Also exported as a smart object and not as a smart object. Still a one channel gray background layer. Could it be the settings in Photoshop?
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« Reply #59 on: February 22, 2010, 11:32:27 PM »
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Sometimes when I use the 3 or 4 layer method and I make adjustments I don't see any differences or changes. I use the split to layer action that I download from adobe so I know the basic action is performed correctly. Then maybe I can adjust 1 layer and then to others don't seem to have any additional effect. I've also used the gorman technique but I usually need to adjust the midtones to a level that I like. Here's and interesting observation: sometimes I use both techniques and have both images on the screen and I can use either technique to replicate the look of the other technique. I'm beginning to think that difference techniques can lead to a similar outcome, so perhaps the specific technique is less important than I originally thought since I seem to be able to get the image to where I want it. I do wish I understood why, sometimes, adjusting the layers in the 3 layer technique do not seem to result in any visible  changes in the image
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