Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photo Thoughts: Content Aware Goodness

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Mouse over to see the before, mouse out to see the after

One of the major features of Photoshop CS5 is Content-Aware Fill which is also a feature of the healing brush. Personally I use the new content aware feature via the spot healing brush more than I do as a fill, but either way it is simply worth the price of the upgrade for this one feature alone.

In this shot, this photography student that I was teaching at Bryan Peterson’s workshop here in Seattle, had to tilt her head back into an uncomfortable position on the aggregate and look into the sun. This caused the natural reaction of an eye squint and forehead crinkle. By taking several shots I managed to avoid getting the eyes squinted, but the forehead wrinkles were inevitable. They also weren’t very flattering on what is otherwise a nice shot of youthful woman. 

I made heavy use of the content aware spot healing brush on this photo. Here’s a shot of what the toolbar looks like so you can see how to enable the content aware feature for both PC & Mac:

Content Aware Healing Brush - Windows

Content Aware Healing Brush - Mac

Using this tool I did my typical skin blemish removals as well as well as removing some minor distractions like hair, grass, spots on the LCD, etc… I chose to use a whole new layer for removing wrinkles on the forehead as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get it removed in a way that seemed realistic. I decided to take a two stage approach and remove the light ones on one layer and the heavy ones on another layer. The Content-Aware Spot Healing Brush saved my bacon as I had the forehead in good shape in about 20 minutes. Sometimes you have to undo and try a different approach and other times the first swipe isn’t perfect so you just try it a few more times again. In rare cases I might grab the Clone Stamp Tool to take care of a stubborn spot (like the stain on the left shoulder of the tank top), but generally speaking the healing brush did the trick.

Here’s a look at my palette in Photoshop CS5.1 for Windows:

Photoshop CS5 Layers

Once I had things looking good I just went to my favorite skin softening product, Portraiture. I decided to go for heavy skin softening on this one because the Sigma 85mm lens that I reviewed was so sharp that it showed every little pore in her skin. This is one scenario where a sharp lens is actually a bad thing!

Nik Software Viveza 2

With the skin in good shape, I did typical red reduction and eye enhancements like you’d typically find in books like Portrait Retouching by Scott Kelby. At that point the shot was good enough to call it a day, but I decided to do some creative adjustments using Viveza. I wish I would have grabbed a screen shot but I didn’t. The gist of what I did was to add a little more color to the lips and hair, as well as a little brightness to the hair, face and shirt area. I brightened up the grass and darkened some of the background to keep the eyes from wandering out of the frame.

Nik Software Tonal Contrast in Color Efex

I was pretty satisfied overall, but I love Color Efex Tonal Contrast so I decided to see if it would help any in this shot. I fired it up and immediately set Midtone Contrast to zero to avoid giving the skin that super wrinkle look. I went a step further and put a negative U-Point control on the forehead to remove any chance that all my hard work in skin softening would be undone. Here’s a screen shot of what I did:

Nik Software Color Efex Tonal Contrast Window
Nik Software Tonal Contrast in Color Efex Pro

Since I had already adjusted my saturation where I wanted it in Viveza, I also set that value to zero in Tonal Contrast to avoid double saturation. I chose Brush and filled the mask with white using Nik’s Selective Tool and then brushed in black over the hair to avoid giving it that over sharpened look which makes hair look greasy.

Lightroom 3 – Edge Effects - PC Vignette 2 Preset

Lightroom 3 – Edge Effects - PC Vignette 2 Preset

After that it was time for some lightweight sharpening using Sharpener Pro and then I was ready to go back to Lightroom. In Lightroom I used the Vignette preset shown above to keep the eye in the frame, but I began to wonder if it was too much. Had I lost the appeal of the picture by darkening the edges too much? Mouse in and out of the shot below to see it with and without the vignette, and let me know which you like better:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Mouse in and out to see with and without the vignette added in Lightroom


Overall I was pleased with this shot which was just a candid snapshot while I was testing out the Sigma 85mm lens during the workshop. The total time I spent editing it was about 2 hours, but it would have been much worse (and probably less successful results) had it not been for the Content-Aware feature of Photoshop CS5. For those with older versions of Photoshop and the lack of cash to upgrade, Adobe also includes this wonderful feature in Photoshop Elements 9(Amazon).

Don’t forget that you can pick up most of the products mentioned here at a discount via my discount coupon code page, and you can read my reviews by clicking the links. I also discuss my thoughts on a bunch of plug-ins in my What plug-ins should I buy? (for Photoshop & Lightroom) article.


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jim boyle said...

Didn't even realize there was a vignette on the photo until you called it out. Thought for sure I would prefer it without, but I like it better with. Maybe I need to try more subtle vignettes - I maybe doing them more intense than needed.

Jim Rector said...

I like the vignette except I might like it better with it masked out in her hair. Otherwise it works keeping the eye on the subject.

Jim said...

I thought you did a great job with this image, the vignette really adds to drawing your attention to the subject. Your blog provided a very informative step by step to post processing.

Jim said...

I thought you did a great job with this image, the vignette really adds to drawing your attention to the subject. Your blog provided a very informative step by step to post processing.