Your Pants Are Not Made Of Iron; Don’t Treat Them As If The Were

Yesterday I sat down to do a little work with curves in Photoshop. The result is above.

After working so much recently almost exclusively with Lightroom, it can be tempting to forget about the convenience of localized adjustments. The original shot here was taken in open shade, so the light was on the cool side and there wasn’t that much contrast; lights needed lightening, darks needed darkening. The problem in such a situation often is that when you lighten some of the lights, other lights go haywire, and when you darken some of the darks, others darks get petulant and block up on you.

The easy solution is to use curves adjustments locally and use layer masks to apply each adjustment just to one part of the image. The above image has an overall levels adjustment, then separate curves for the pants, the railing, and the stairs. After trying a few things, I decided I liked the shoes uncurved, and the bowl looked just fine as part of the pants layer. I focus just on, say, the pants, make them look good, and then brush everything else out (technically, I usually invert the mask and then paint the selection in, if you really want to know). ThenI work on the next element, doing the same thing. After everything is done and masked, I go back and tweak things to make sure that everything looks like it really belongs together…and sometimes there’s a fairly narrow margin of acceptability/believability. The result is that the pants, while having their contrast increased, don’t get as gritty looking as the stairs; the railing can have its textural details brought out without blowing out the brighter parts of the pants; and the stains and textures on the stairs can be emphasized much more greatly, coinciding with their harder nature, without making the orange bowl look as if it is on fire.

I don’t take a lot of time making exactly selections of the different compositional elements when I use this technique, especially on a shot such as this one; using a brush and varying its hardness to paint in layer masks works just as well and is much quicker. If there were harder layers, and it was important that those boundaries be clear and distinct, more exact selections would make perfect sense.

Then it was back to Lightroom for a little playing around with global color, and sharpening, and a bit of vignette.

Nikon D40 (have I mentioned how I love this camera?), 35mm f1.8; 1/200 @ f4.5, ISO 200