Photography Photoshop

Learning About Lab Color – and Other Tricks

My good friend Jim Rowson took a delightful vacation to New England this fall. He’s posted many of his photos of lighthouses and waterfalls on Google+. His lighthouse images, in particular, have really caught my eye. See, for example, this great shot below of the Portland Head Light in Maine.

New england 24

While Jim was exploring New England with his camera this fall, my photo buddy Doug Kaye and I have been exploring some new post-processing techniques for our images which are anchored in the Lab colorspace in Photoshop. Doug’s going to share some of these techniques on his blog. In parallel, I’ve been experimenting a bit as well with a more sophisticated post-processing workflow that’s anchored in several things:

  • Dealing with color casts – and getting them adjusted correctly.
  • Adjusting the fundamental tonality of the image, adding depth, making it much more interesting to the eye.
  • Using the power of the Lab color space to adjust color in the image.
  • Adding tweaks to enhance local contrast, and special sharpening techniques which are, again, based on the Lab color space.

Doug and I are still evolving our techniques here.

We initially benefitted greatly from a private workshop with Mark Lindsay. Mark taught us about the basic flow: adjusting color casts, then tonality (mostly using channel masks and Luminosity blend in RGB mode) and, finally, enhancing color using Lab.

Building on the foundation that Mark provided, we’ve learned more from the 10 Channel Workflow video tutorials of Lee Varis, and from the master of Lab – Dan Margulis – and his LAB color/Picture Postcard Card workflow videos on, his book “Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace“, plus some other new tricks.

Earlier today, I applied my current workflow using my “de jour” combination of these techniques to that earlier image of Jim’s. Here’s the final result:

New england 24 lab color edit

See a difference?


Aspens and New Learnings

Photography is such an amazing and satisfying hobby. Here’s my latest example…

In late October, my photo buddy Doug Kaye and I headed east over Hwy 120 through Yosemite to Lee Vining for an Eastern Sierra photography workshop led by Michael Frye and Mike Osborne. We’d never made this trip – over the ridge and down into Lee Vining and Hwy 395 that runs on the eastern side of the Sierras.

I’d done a private workshop with Michael and my son David two years ago in Yosemite Valley and knew that he was a great teacher. That experience is what caused me to sign up for this Eastern Sierra workshop when it was announced almost a year ago. (Michael’s workshops fill up very quickly – often the same day they’re announced!)

This weekend turned out to be an amazing experience – one that I’ll never forget. Doug and I both agreed this workshop was the best workshop experience we’d ever had. We came home exhausted – but amazed at what we’d learned along the way.

I have many favorite images from this weekend – but one of my favorites is an image I shot from a special spot in Lee Vining Canyon where we spent the late afternoon on Saturday.

When we arrived, the sun was just beginning to set over a ridge to the west. We shot a bunch of canopy shots before the sun went down behind the ridge to the west. When the sun went behind the ridge, the most amazing color shift began. The trees in the distance began to pick up a beautiful blue cast – while those up close continued to reflect the aspen yellow from trees down the road whose canopies were still in the late afternoon sun. I was completely captivated by this shift and how the colors changed.

Here’s my original shot as that was happening:

Aspenglow - Lee Vining Canyon - 2012

After we got back, I looked at this image and post-processed it a couple of different ways. I import my images into Lightroom and often do basic adjustments there. I had fun making some basic adjustments and shared the photo online in a couple of spots.

But, as it turned out, I was about to learn some new tricks – thanks to a photo workshop that Doug had arranged with Mark Lindsay. Mark is a very talented artist, image editor, and photographer based in Marin. We spent a day with Mark learning some new techniques for using Photoshop to further enhance our images. Mark’s workflow steps through image adjustments by focusing first on color cast and then on getting the tonality of the image right. “Good bones” is what tonality is all about – ensuring an image has the right tonal range. And, then, Mark uses the tools of Lab color mode to enhance the saturation and colors of an image. The combination of these steps takes an image from being average and flat to being very special.

Here’s my post-processed version of that original shot – applying the core techniques of what I learned from Mark:

Aspenglow - Lee Vining Canyon - 2012

You can see how striking the differences are between the two. The original is soft and flat, the adjusted version is so much more three dimensional and, frankly, realistic to what I remember having taken the shot in the moment.

I still have lots to learn – but what a great time I’ve been having – both in the field shooting in amazing places like the Eastern Sierra and back home applying new techniques to creating even better images! My focus is on taking images off the page – from flat to three dimensional in a way that keeps me and viewers engrossed inside the image. Great teachers like Michael and Mike helping me at amazing places in the field and Mark helping me post-process back home are my “sherpas”!