Photoshop CS6: Top 5 Features for Photographers
Martin Evening | Software Techniques | Published Jul 6, 2012
Though it was many years ago, I can still remember the excitement that greeted the launch of Photoshop 3 – this was the first version to offer layers, forever changing the way we work with digital images. At the time there were even some within Adobe who regarded Photoshop as being essentially feature complete. I mean, what else could customers want Photoshop to do?
Well, quite a lot of course, as all the subsequent upgrades will testify. But today, more than 20 years and 13 major versions later (not including Elements) one can again rightfully ask, 'What more do we really need from Photoshop?' Or, to put it bluntly, 'Do I need to upgrade to CS6?' After all, Photoshop CS5 is still a very good program. But with CS5 it seemed the Photoshop team was tasked primarily with under-the-hood changes necessary to modernize the code, particularly on the Mac side. This time around they have been able to devote more resources to adding brand new features as well as simpler JDI (just do it) enhancements. So there's actually a lot that's new for photographers in CS6. Here then is a run-down of my personal Top 5 new features in Photoshop CS6. Click the links below to go straight to the different sections, or continue down this page to read the five-page article in order.
- Adaptive wide angle filter
- HDR editing in ACR 7.1
- Blur tools
- Patch Tool in Content-aware fill mode
- Color lookup adjustments
- Upgrade options
For me the most compelling - if under appreciated - feature in CS6 is the brand new Adaptive Wide Angle filter. This new addition to Photoshop's filter menu makes use of embedded lens profile metadata along with puppet warp technology introduced in CS5 to enable user-controlled perspective corrections. It has been designed specifically with ultra wide-angle and fisheye lenses in mind.
This is one of those features where you perhaps didn’t realise you needed it until you start using it. Over the last few months I have been able to remaster photos that were shot with extreme wide-angle and fisheye lenses to achieve a far more natural-looking visual perspective. I have been particular impressed, however, by the filter’s ability to process composite images. In the example shown below I shot a sequence of photographs and used the Photomerge tool to create an ultra wide angle view blended composite.
The important thing to know from the start is that the technique demonstrated below won’t work with Photomerge-generated composites created in CS5 or earlier; they must be created using CS6 to allow the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter to read the required embedded lens data.
As you can see, by applying constraint lines via the filter dialog I was able to produce a perspective-corrected result. I have been well and truly won over by this new feature. I would say this is a must-have feature for any landscape/architectural photographer.
HDR editing in Adobe Camera Raw 7.1
In a previous article, Extreme contrast edits in Lightroom 4 and ACR 7, I showed how it is now possible to process raw photos that recorded a wide tonal range and successfully edit the tones, just as you would if editing a high dynamic range master. Well, the latest Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 7.1 update now allows you to edit 32-bit HDR TIFF images, just as you would regular Raw, JPEG or TIFF files. This offers a huge improvement over the HDR Toning controls available in Photoshop, which though effective are still quite tricky to master. I find the Process Version (PV) 2012 Basic panel controls in ACR 7.1 (and Lightroom 4.1) are much easier to manage.
What’s most interesting here is that Basic panel sliders in PV 2012 were very much engineered with the challenges of high dynamic range editing in mind. Now I realize that the rise of HDR-processed images has its detractors. I'll admit I'm not much of a fan of the overly processed look myself. I also dislike the rather obvious halos that result from tone mapping HDR files to create a low dynamic range version.
The future direction of ACR and Lightroom seems clearly set to address such shortcomings though and provide an editing environment which can cope with HDR source files. For now, ACR allows you to edit single exposure images and faux HDR files. Looking forward to the future, I've no doubt camera sensor technology will evolve to the point where we're able to capture much greater dynamic ranges than we can today. The new ACR/Lightroom PV 2012 controls are going to be ideally suited to edit the files from such sensors.
The final version shows the results of an extreme adjustment, and while this does venture close to a kind of 'HDR look', the halos are nowhere nearly so obvious as when applying extreme adjustments using Merge to HDR Pro. My personal preference would be aim for a balance between this version and the original one at the top.
Photoshop CS6 can now make use of OpenCL technology to speed up certain aspects of Photoshop's graphics processing. The new accelerated graphics processing has allowed for a new set of Blur Tools filters. These customizable Field, Iris and Tilt-Shift blur effects offer incredibly fast and accurate previews compared to the older Lens Blur filter.
The Blur Tools filters may not have the same range of slider controls as the Lens Blur, but even so, they do provide a lot of flexible user control. For example, using the Tilt-Shift Blur and associated Distortion slider control, it is now possible to create Lens Baby style blur effects at the post-capture stage.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to apply these blur filters to smart object layers. One could conceivably use smart filters to apply Blur Tools filter effects as a smart object to a video clip layer and thereby achieve the miniaturisation effect that is so popular in time-lapse videos these days.
In the example below I replaced the Iris Blur with a Tilt-Shift blur effect using more or less the same panel settings as shown in the previous image.
The Patch tool in Content-Aware fill mode
A key new feature in Photoshop CS5 was the Content-Aware fill. This allowed you to make a selection and use the Edit>Fill command in the default Content-Aware fill mode to automatically fill the selected area, cleverly combining sampled image data from outside the selection area to fill the selection.
When it worked well it was great. Even when you couldn’t get a perfect fill first time around you could always try making repeated fills or use other repair tools such as the spot healing brush to tidy up the repaired selection. Photoshop CS6 now offers this content-aware mode for the patch tool. This allows you to make a selection and use the patch tool in content-aware mode by dragging the selection to define the area from which to sample. In addition, there are now five different adaptation methods to choose from - as you'll see below - which allow you to adjust the content-aware fill calculations after the fact for more seamless results.
|Here is a photo taken by my colleague Jeff Schewe on a recent photo trip to
Scotland as I'm taking a photo of a waterfall.
This image has lots of fine, organic detail; a perfect opportunity to test the Patch tool in its new content-aware fill mode. Using the Patch tool is typically a two-step process. You select the object to be removed and then manually specify the area from which ts replacement will originate. By using content-aware mode we'll have the additional option of choosing the most appropriate adaptation algorithm.
One of the keys to success lies in exploring the Adaptation menu options to the right of the Patch menu.
|Patch tool options in Photoshop CS6|
In the examples below you can see how I was able to vary the results simply by choosing among the different options in the Adaptation menu's settings.
|Very Loose adaptation||Loose adaptation|
|Medium adaptation||Strict adaptation: The tripod leg is now gone.|
In this case, I found that using the Very Strict adaptation setting (shown below) provided the best results. Results will vary of course from image to image so it pays to experiment with the different options, with the goal of saving yourself as much touchup work at the end as possible.
|Very Strict adaptation|
While not 100% perfect, the result you see above is quite impressive, given how little time and effort it required. Of course for a finished result you're going to have to manually heal or clone some small areas, as I've done to produce the image below.
|To create this final version I applied a few minor spot healing brush strokes to
tidy up the photo.
In CS6 there is also a Content-Aware Move tool. This provides functionality we just saw with the patch tool, except it allows you to make a selection, move the selection contents and automatically fill the original selected area behind it. This too is a great tool for retouching images. I have found it useful in handling small detail retouching problems, like the need to shorten a ribbon on a dress. When using this new tool to move bigger elements around in a scene I find that you do need to be aware of the perspective in the scene, which can limit how far you can do with the tool before the image 'looks' retouched. Maybe we'll one day have a content-aware move tool within the Vanishing Point filter. One can dream.
Color Lookup adjustments
Photoshop has never lacked for ways to manipulate colors. But the new Color Lookup image adjustments in CS6 provide an interesting approach, one based on the use of look up tables (LUTs). These have long been used in the film industry as a way to standardize color between different applications. Not just to achieve consistent correct color, but also to apply special effects. For example, a lot movies these days make use of color grading to achieve a distinctive color look, which might be applied to all the footage in a film, or may be applied selectively, to create a sepia vintage feel, or add a deep blue color to night time scenes.
In Photoshop CS6 you can add a Color Lookup adjustment layer and in the Properties panel select effects from one of three different menu options: 3DLUT File, Abstract or Device Link. These coloring effects are achieved by remapping every color in the image to a different one using a lookup table. It is interesting to click on each of the menus to explore the results that can be achieved when selecting different effects.
|This shows the Properties panel view when a Color Lookup adjustment layer has been added to an image.|
I suppose you can look upon these as being like Photoshop action recipes. However, one huge advantage of using these LUTs is that unlike Photoshop actions, you are not limited by the need to maintain the same RGB color space in both the created action and the image to be processed. The Color Lookup effects are consistent regardless of the RGB space you use.
|The effects (from left to right) are Normal, Candlelight CUBE, 2Strip, TealOrangePlusContrast|
|TensionGreen, GoldCrimson, FuturisticBLEAK, and ColorNegative.|
If the features I've just highlighted make Photoshop CS6 a compelling upgrade for you, there are a few purchase options you'll want to consider. Photoshop CS6 is available in both a standard and extended version (the features I've shown are common to both).
If you rely on other Adobe CS products like Illustrator or Dreamweaver for example, you can also purchase Photoshop as part of a broader CS6 Creative Suite package, with four different configurations - at different prices - from which to choose.
In addition, there is now the option to subscribe to Adobe's Creative Cloud service for a monthly fee. While this monthly service includes online storage space you must take into account whether upgrading by subscription is cost effective compared to an outright purchase. In the past, Adobe has upgraded their range of Creative Suite programs roughly every two years. With Creative Cloud priced at £46.88 per month here in the UK, that is equivalent to spending over £1,000 over a two-year period. For me then, the more sensible option was to buy a CS6 Design Suite upgrade. Your mileage of course may vary.
- Extreme Contrast Edits in Lightroom 4 and ACR 7
- Photoshop CS6 Blur Gallery Tutorial
- The 15-minute Makeover: Photoshop Beauty Retouching
- Filters after the fact: Digital split ND filters versus HDR
Martin Evening is an award winning advertising and fashion photographer based in London, England. He is also a best-selling author of instructional titles such as The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book and Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers.