Re: Seated in the Grass: Results

Robert Wheeler

For the Seated in the Grass challenge, I made a duplicate layer, applied a Camera Raw filter with the white balance dropper on a white area. Then applied green channel to the RGB in soft light mode with layer in luminosity mode. Shadows and highlights with PPW default settings was followed by the skin desaturation action. Then used the color boost action with end point layer curves adjusted with “Auto” and layer changed to luminosity mode. Finally moved back to sRGB and added a masked curves layer in luminosity mode to brighten her face. The result is #2011. I tried toning down the background several ways, was not happy with any, and finally decided to not be timid about bright color and enjoy the difference between bright green background and red hair. In comparison to other entries, I see that I missed an opportunity to tweak the face color to be a little warmer.


Sorting through the entries, I find wide variation in artistic choices. I learned that I tend to like the images with the subject fairly bright, that I like preservation of facial detail such as freckles more than the approach of smoothing the skin, and that I like warm skin tones better than cool ones. Others may choose differently. My top group includes 1002, 1005, 1006, 1011, 1021, and 1023 along with 1028 PAR.


With a mild vignette, blurred background, and smoothed skin, entry 1020 could easily be from a professional photo studio and many clients would like it well. I find the skin color of 1008 not pleasing. However, blending about 10% of that one into mine produces an interesting improvement. Many other images have aspects I like a lot along with aspects that do not work as well for my subjective taste, which would make it nearly impossible for me to generate a reliable rank-order of them.


It will be interesting to hear about preferences others have.


Robert Wheeler

Profile change

Thomas Hurd,MD

Dan et al.,

I sent this to Dan’s account but I meant to post to Dan and the group.

I had a problem with my profile changing From sRGB to generic RGB when I share from Photoshop. It does not occur when I send a new email and add an attachment. 

Although I have a work around, I would like to use the share button sometime.

If anyone has a thought on this for me, it would be much appreciated.

In the text body below is the explanation. It was not a quick export but rather the Share button on the right upper corner.

Tom Hurd

Begin forwarded message:

From: Thomas Hurd <tomhurd@...>
Date: July 20, 2020 at 10:37:27 AM EDT
To: Dan Margulis <dmargulis@...>
Subject: Profile change


I noticed that my colors were different when examining them online today.

My file went out as incorrectly as generic RGB, entry 1026.

I checked back and about half of my previous entries were mislabeled on export, as generic RGB rather than sRGB, which is what they all were saved in.

I’m using Mac OS with mail as my email program. Photoshop is 21.2.0. Sometimes I use an earlier version.

I tested the mechanism of emailing and discovered the problem in my specific case. If I start with email new message and attach the image from finder the image is tagged correctly. If I use the share button on the top right of the Photoshop interface, the file is sent out as generic RGB. There is no clue or warning that I could find.

I also went back over the past projects and did  to see anyone else had a generic RGB so it may be that there is a preference in Photoshop of which I am not aware. There were of course the occasional Adobe and ProPhoto RGB file entries which you pointed out at the time.

If anyone else knows how to fix this problem in Photoshop preferences or Mail, so that using the share button sends out the correct color profile, please let me know.

My export preferences in Photoshop are convert to sRGB.

Tom Hurd

moderated Case Study: Adirondacks

Dan Margulis

After the portrait we've just finished, we return to nature for our final two studies. Find the first one in our Photos section, labeled Case Study: Adirondacks. The original is a JPEG from a decent SLR camera.

Instructions and a thumbnail follow.

*Background: We are at the Whiteface Mountain ski area near Lake Placid, New York. In 1980, the world's best skiers were here for the Winter Olympics, but nobody remembers them today because a few kilometers away, one of the greatest upsets in sports history took place, as the then finest group of hockey players on the planet, the national team of the Soviet Union, was somehow defeated by a group of young American amateurs.

As 1980 was a special year for the area, so was 2018. An unusual combination of weather factors in the summer created conditions for a brilliant display of autumn colors, allegedly the best in half a century. I don't know whether that's true, but I did grow up in the area and never saw anything as vivid in the fall.

Therefore, you are instructed that the caption to this photo will indicate that this is the most colorful display in many years. OTOH, like so many of the case studies we've worked on, there is a limit to how colorful you can make these things without losing all believability. Plus, as a bonus, you get lousy lighting, an overcast day.

*You can use whatever methods you like to improve the picture, including unsharp mask.

*Please keep clear records of what you did for discussion. List members find these very valuable.

*In the Photos section, Case Study: Adirondacks, I have uploaded the original JPEG capture. No raw capture is available.

*The designated size of this exercise is the original, 3000 x 2040 pixels. Do not crop, rotate, or alter the sizing, and don't delete any objects, because any of these things will make it impossible to use your version as part of a par assembly.

*Your final file is to be sRGB with a proper tag. If you work in a different RGB you must Edit: Convert to Profile>sRGB before submitting the file.

*When finished, save in JPEG form, quality level 9. E-mail it to me, dmargulis (at), with a brief explanation of how you produced it, DO NOT POST IMAGES TO THE LIST.

*Remember that some e-mail clients default to downsizing image attachments. Make sure you’re sending it to me at the original size.

*Entries close Monday morning, 27 July, at 06:00 Eastern/1100Z/12:00 ora italiana.

*Rather than confirm every entrant I've received, I will periodically post the initials of everyone whose file I have.

*As soon as convenient after the deadline, I'll post all the entrants in a random order. Names will not be revealed except for those entrants that I or somebody else has declared to be particularly good, which will come later.

*A discussion will follow within a few days after posting the final files.

Dan Margulis

Seated in the Grass: Results

Dan Margulis

I’ve posted the results of the Seated in the Grass Study.

Reviewing: This is the final portrait in our series of case studies and is another example taken from the MIT retouching set. The original file is much better than the other two portraits we’ve worked on but there are still some challenges as well as some artistic calls, such as how much if at all facial imperfections should be downplayed, and what to do with the green background.

We have 27 entrants. When a person submitted two or versions, I chose the one I thought was better. Most people also submitted a list of their steps, thanks very much. I haven’t read these, because I’d rather get a sense of who was successful and who wasn’t before investigating why. 

The files don’t have people’s names on them, and were random-generator numbered from #1001 to #1027. As with past studies, we also have a “par” version, #1028. To get it, I chose what I thought looked like the five best entrants, and averaged them, each one weighted 20%. This often creates a version that is superior to most if not all of its parents.

I’ll have some things to say about this assortment, but as usual I’d like to open it up to group discussion first. What do the successful versions have in common? Meanwhile, if you’d like to know how your own version stacked up, download the par version and compare the two directly. Do you think you got the same kind of quality? If not, I hope you’ll find further discussion useful.

The folder is in the group Photos section, named Case Study: Seated in the Gras

I also have zipped all 29 files and uploaded a 36 mb file to our Files section,
Search for
If you are going to study these versions I strongly encourage you to download these files. Many of these entrants vary only in a minor way and it is hard to see the impact of a change without toggling back and forth between them.

I look forward to your comments.

Dan Margulis

P.S. The next case study is announced today, look for a separate post. We are now down to our final two case studies.

Re: A Toast to Greece: comments on individual versions

John Gillespie

In my attempt (919) I tried very hard to kill the blue cast in the white tablecloth and clothing. No one at the scene would see this as it is caused by the flash, so it is quite unnatural.
However looking at other versions I can see that my zealousness has destroyed the attractive orange in the candles. Adding this back to my own is a big improvement in terms of enhancing the warm evening appeal of the scene. 
As for the blend of the A into the L in overlay, I can't take credit for that, it is explained in chapter 17 of Photoshop LAB Color to solve a similar problem of dark faces at a social gathering. It generally works better than blending with the red as it does not kill as much detail. Darkening the green of the trees was a happy unintended by-product.

moderated Re: Case Study: Seated in the Grass

Dan Margulis

A reminder that entries are due in this case study in 24 hours, at 06:00 eastern time Monday/1100Z/12:00 ora italiana.

Please make sure you are sending tagged sRGB. I have converted the incorrect ones.

I confirm receipt of entries from the following individuals:

*indicates that a corrected version was submitted

Entries from the following were at an incorrect size/cropping and would have to be resubmitted:


Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Lee Varis

OK... so, I haven't been vocal in the group, as I haven't really felt like I had a lot to contribute. I was not particularly inspired by this image, as I didn't see that It was particularly difficult. I find some of the approaches a bit surprising, but I especially like #920—mine was #918... Dan's criticism of the overly bright red stripes in the America flag for my version seems like a case of personal preference. Originally I had limited the brightening, using the red channel luminosity for just the faces at the back table (the "head" of the table)—I very consciously went back and saturated and brightened the red stripes as well as the blue color of the Greek flag. The US flag blue is fairly dark in reality, so I left that alone. When working on images of this type it is useful to think about the purpose of the image. This particular photo is documenting a family reunion with representatives from Greece and the USA, with the grand parents, or great grand parents in the place of honor beneath the flags. The audience for this picture is the family, and possibly their friends. This is not a fine art image that requires some kind of artistic interpretation, but highlighting the main purpose of the gathering, one has to assume that the group of people at the head of the table AND the flags are important to the meaning of the picture for those gathered. That is why I put a little more color into the flags! In retrospect, I would have brightened up the Greek flag a bit more, as the real color is definitely lighter–closer to a sky blue, and the flag at the far right is too dark. Perhaps this would have mitigated the overly bright appearance of the red stripes for Dan. Which brings me back to #920! The spotlight effect applied here is very effective at reinforcing the purpose of the image AND enhancing the night time feeling. I wish I had thought of this approach! The faces of honored group at the back look a little more dimensional than my effort, and I think that works well in the context of the image here! John's image #930 is good, but a bit flat in the shading of the white shirts and table cloth, and the faces—the par version brings back some of the dimension in the white objects, so better overall, really I don't see more dimension in those faces than my version (though my version is lighter) The winner again, in that regard is #920 !

Re: A Toast to Greece: comments on individual versions

Hector Davila

Yes, I used H-K twice on that photo because I remembered it did
something about black enhancement (i think, I wasn't sure)
(I'm like other people, i don't read the manual, i just click and see what happens).
It was the first time I actually used it on a photo because the
faces outlines were grayish.

But there are a lot of buttons on the PPW panel I have never used
because I have no idea how they work or how it is applied or
for what reason one uses it. Like for example:

False Profile: (I have no idea what False Profile actually means)

So, all those gamma buttons and False CMYK i have never touched.

SKY:  never had a use for those buttons

Skin Desaturation: ( that's a dangerous button to me. I prefer to manually  do that)

The Layers buttons, :  (i don't do layers that much )

COLOR:  The CB+MMM is the only button I use mostly when none of
my other color boost works any more. (I can always uncheck MMM or CB if needed,
but you need both always to start with.) (But it seems to boost Red more, I need to figure out how it can be used to boost the other colors like Yellow, blue and green.)

Of course, there are millions of tools I haven't used in Photoshop, like I never  used The Pen Tool.

Hector Davila

On 7/16/2020 5:21 AM, Dan Margulis via wrote:
901 Chosen for the par version. This person created the most exciting version with a relatively simple procedure. He balanced the colors normally and added a lot of Vibrance. He added shape with two applications of H-K (luminosity only) which he states was the first time he had used it on an image. This accounts for the very realistic shaping of the faces.

The color of the faces is perhaps another story. The younger people at the near table are fine but the warm lighting over the head table leaves a tremendous feeling of orangeness in the fleshtones. An easy solution would be another little-used action in the PPW panel: Skin Desaturation. Since it targets only reds that might be skin, it won’t damage the stripes of the U.S. flag as other methods might. Usually Skin Desaturation would be applied before Color Boost, but there would be no problem in applying it to this version right now, and it would improve things.

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Harvey Nagai

Here's how I started this case study (and as a matter of routine for all color images):

duplicate image to a new document:
color boost, color boost again: noted the red cast

back to the original image:
duplicate the background layer
auto tone: not so good
equalize: looked usable
add a layer mask
apply image a channel of the duplicate copy

With keyboard shortcuts and one action that took under a minute then, under 10 seconds
to replicate today.

Which caused a relative novice like me to say "it couldn't be that easy".

If Dan had handed out this image I'm sure there would have been many more entries
closer to the par version.  And as I explained in the note I sent to him, this was
close to what I would share with attendees and relatives who couldn't be there,
they would want to know who was there and what the event might have looked like.

But never one to leave well enough alone, I created challenges for myself that didn't
exist (it's what I do), chased some water fowl, and, well... 920.

At least I can say that I screwed up so badly as to create something that was actually
usable in a positive way.

The double color boost was an old tip from Dan to show possible color casts, similar to
his (ongoing) recommendation to apply auto-tone at the end of a correction to detect
suboptimal range.  It also provides a ready source for masks.

The equalize command was a more recent inclusion.  I don't recommend it, but it has
occasionally been effective for some awful images (mostly scans of badly-aged slides),
enough times to make it worth it for me to spend the 1 second it takes to usually
dismiss its results.

A Toast to Greece: comments on individual versions

Dan Margulis

901 Chosen for the par version. This person created the most exciting version with a relatively simple procedure. He balanced the colors normally and added a lot of Vibrance. He added shape with two applications of H-K (luminosity only) which he states was the first time he had used it on an image. This accounts for the very realistic shaping of the faces.

The color of the faces is perhaps another story. The younger people at the near table are fine but the warm lighting over the head table leaves a tremendous feeling of orangeness in the fleshtones. An easy solution would be another little-used action in the PPW panel: Skin Desaturation. Since it targets only reds that might be skin, it won’t damage the stripes of the U.S. flag as other methods might. Usually Skin Desaturation would be applied before Color Boost, but there would be no problem in applying it to this version right now, and it would improve things.

902 This one came in at the last minute and I did not check before posting. It is one of four versions where the entrant disregarded the requirement that the file be in sRGB. This one is tagged Adobe RGB which makes it necessary to convert it before comparing it to anything else. Please, everyone, in future double-check that you are entering in the correct colorspace.

As it stands the shape is very nice but the color is way off, the skintone seems very desaturated. The reason can be measured in the tablecloth overhang near us. It shows up as green, which can’t be right. That green kills the red in the fleshtones.

903 Since I’m complaining about the rules I point out that this person erased the two lights as well as some leaves in the upper right corner. That may be what a client would want but it isn’t appropriate in a group study, because if I had wanted to include this in a par version it wouldn’t work, any more than if the person had slightly rotated the image.

Other than that, it’s the opposite of #902: nice color, no shape. The reason? Compare it to the par version, #931. The fleshtones are about the same darkness. I find a typical 52L in the fourth man from the left in both versions. The highlight in his shirt, however, is 10L darker in #903. So, about a quarter of the transition between lights and skin is gone and all the white stuff looks dead. See note to #926, which has the same issue, for a solution.

904 This person’s notes confess that he became fixated on the lighting and on preserving the feeling that this shot was taken at night. That the background tree loses a lot of detail is no big deal IMHO. However, if we were present at the scene, we probably wouldn’t see the faces as bright as they are in #901. OTOH even by candlelight we would see the faces at the head table clearly enough to recognize them. In this version they couldn’t be, so I say that the presentation is considerably too dark (which does not mean he should be shooting for #901 or anything like it.)

905 “My initial approach,” writes this person, “was to start off very badly wrong and to spin my wheels for days/hours, then realize my mistake, and start over." He tried to juggle a lot of prioirities in his final workflow and came up with a reasonable result with faces slightly washed out. As #904 is too obviously a night scene it looks to me like this one is too much taken-in-sunshine. I do, however, endorse the nice touch of vignetting out the top of the center tree, which further directs us to the people. Compare that effect to #915, where the fleshtones are roughly similar.

906 Chosen for the par version. Here’s my entry. Like many others, I was bothered by the crossing light sources. Unlike others, I decided to concentrate on not letting the whites get out of control and let the faces fall where they may. I tried doing this first with curves; not being satisfied, I had the inspiration of starting over using H-K reversed, which lightens the image overall instead of darkening it, while neutralizing the whites even further. Unfortunately, I did not grasp what #901 demonstrated, that normal H-K is very helpful with the shape of the faces. So, my H-K reversed version, when complete, wound up being pretty good in the whites and bad everyplace else.

Nothing daunted, I tried a third version, using Selective Color in RGB to delete color from Neutrals. That, combined with my first version, produced something fairly decent except in the highlights. So I blended it into my H-K reversed version through an inverted mask that only permitted changes in the whites. Other than that the good shape in the faces derives from curves and Hammer actions.

907 Similar in feel to #905 but more agreeable faces. It’s a good rendition if a bit lifeless. It seems that this person was dead set and determined to obliterate the crossing cast entirely so that the orangeness of the head table vanishes altogether and it seems that the scene is uniformly lit. The difficulty with such a doctrinaire position is that it seems to have a bleaching effect on the people at the head table and it becomes difficult to introduce more color.

Note how the handling of the warm cast on the right varies from that of #901, where the person didn’t care at all and just let the right side become bright orange, and from #906, where I tried to reduce the effect while not killing it completely.

Another issue: many of the techniques people used had the unfortunate side effect of reducing the redness of the stripes of the U.S. flag. No big deal: at the end we can just set the sponge tool to Saturate and paint the strong color back in. As this version is somewhat lacking in color interest, that should have been done here.

908 Another agreeable effort with good color and dubious luminosity. Rex Butcher concentrated on getting the fleshtones “right”, which he did, on the assumption that this is a normally lit picture. In context, however, they’re too light, because the background indicates that this is a dark picture. So, for example, in the woman third from left, the hair is too dark for the fleshtone. So, all the whites are in a compressed range, resulting in a flat appearance.

909 To some extent this one has believable features, at the cost of quite a bit of noise in the faces of the older people. Using this much sharpening, including ALCE, is dangerous in this type of picture. The man sixth from left seems to have a huge light source reflecting from his cheek, making him look like something out of a monster movie.

Roberto Tartaglione did an excellent job of neutralizing the cast as far as the people at the head table are concerned, it is hard to tell from them that anything has happened. But look at the tablecloth overhang beneath them. He eliminated the orange cast by adding blue, but forgot that the blue would turn the tablecloth into a color that doesn’t match the left half of the picture. So, this should have been corrected.

Also, this version offers a lesson about equalizing tonality. It isn’t a classic sun/shade image, of course, but Roberto correctly noted that there’s too much range between the lights and the darker half of the picture. So, he wheeled out two techniques that are designed to bring the two sides closer together: the Bigger Hammer and a false profile/multiply. But these methods presuppose that both sides are important. Here, I don’t think that it’s true. Compare this one to #919, which has somewhat similar people, but to my mind is preferable because it downplays the background trees, which we shouldn’t be paying so much attention to. Better, perhaps, to just darken the midtone originally rather than do something that enhances shadow detail.

910 A contestant from one of my classes who did not worry about the orange cast on the right. Fair enough; neither did #901, but this one would need to get lighter before it could be considered in the same league.

911 A careful workflow produced this excellent version. The person did three sets of corrections and blended them. One was aimed at enhancing color generally, the second was done in Camera Raw for a different result, and the third used a false profile, but unlike #909, care was taken not to allow the background trees to pick up too much detail. He decided not to attack the crossing casts directly. Instead, he painted neutrality into the tablecloths on each side of the picture, and he painted coolness into the faces of the older people at the head table to kill the orangeness. This appears to have been quite effective.

912 Arthur Margolin decided that this picture is not so much a family shot as a tribute to the older generation. He responded creatively by shining a spotlight on the head table, leaving the younger folk on the left in relative darkness. When I first opened the image I thought it was overall too dark but the more I study it the better I like it. Arthur writes, 

One significant challenge was to reconcile the various color casts such that the image made visual sense as a scene warmly lit, reflecting the emotional warmth of the gathering. The biggest hurdle was getting the color of the faces to be as close to not unbelievable as possible. Because each person's face interacted with the color casts in what turned out to be a frustratingly different way, I'm not convinced I have surmounted that hurdle (e.g.,I have multiple different and unsatisfactory versions of the woman standing at the head table at the far right).

My method was ad hoc and improvisatory.  In general I made much use of the dodge and burn tools as well as numerous curves targeting selected portions of the image, masking out others. The increase in contrast, which the original seemed to require, introduced or exaggerated odd shadows that I tried to dodge and burn and paint my way out of, not entirely successfully I'm afraid; for example, on the shirts of the three gentlemen and the sweater of the woman on the left.  
(Most perplexing to me throughout was what seemed to be a persistently higher than usually recommended cyan reading in the faces that could be reduced only by creating a strong red cast, which was objectionable and so dispensed with.)

That last should not have been worrisome. Normal fleshtone guidance presumes normal lighting. This is not; it’s a night shot. It’s to be expected that the fleshtones are more neutral than if in sunlight, thus, more cyan.

But, meanwhile, if you’d like to try this spotlighting effect on your own image, #920 gives you a golden opportunity to do so. See comments on it.

913 Recently, having some time to kill, I purchased a copy of Affinity Photo. Since this Greek image isn’t particularly in need of the PPW panel, I decided to leap into the deep end and do an Affinity version. I can say that Affinity Photo is a very serious application with a lot of useful tools that don’t necessarily have Photoshop equivalents, but there may be some PPW-crucial things that it doesn’t have, I don’t know for sure. Anyway, I felt like I was working wearing handcuffs. What came out was something more similar to #901 than to my own #906.

914 A nice conservative treatment done as a combination of three methods. First, a pretty standard PPW starting by blending the green into the RGB, and including Velvet Hammer and MMM+CB; second an auto-color like routine from a different app; third a PPW version that included H-K, mostly intended for the flooring.

915 Attempts to control the crossing casts with curves were successful in doing that, but unsuccessful in that it left the faces rather flat and without color variation. All the people at left have distinctly orange skin whereas at the head table the skin is pink. Also, it’s useful to compare this to #905, where the skintone isn’t all that different, but the person had vignetted out the top of the center tree, which was an effective move in directing attention back to the people.

916 My “official” entry into this case study is #906. As a test of my proficiency or lack thereof with Affinity Photo, I also produced #913 with that app rather than Photoshop. After doing so, it occurred to me that there was a third alternative. I did this one quickly in CMYK, which has no disadvantage because no colors are outside of the CMYK gamut and which does have the considerable advantage of a black channel that can be sharpened. Also, I did a second CMYK version using Heavy GCR, which I used to hold neutrality in the whites, thus fighting off the crossing cast. After merging the two CMYK versions I traveled to LAB to add color.

When I first compared the two I felt this one had the skin too dark and I preferred #906, but I’ve since changed my mind and now like this one better. The faces are more detailed, and all the people stand out better against the background, this being a result of curving the black channel in the three-quartertone.

917 Here are two examples of identifying a problem and then overcompensating for it. First, like so many of us, this person objected to the strong orangeness of the right side of the image. Second, we all admit that this photo, like many night shots, is grainy and is likely to have unacceptable noise unless we’re quite careful in sharpening. But it’s one thing to say we should minimize the problems and another to say that absolutely any trace of them must vanish. Here, the cast has been reversed: the head table is actually cooler than the table at left. And a noise reduction filter was applied too drastically, resulting in a blurry look. For example, the woman at the center of the table, with the wine held high, wears glasses—but you can’t detect that from this image.

918 A simple procedure led to a basically pleasing result. The person was concerned that the faces were getting too dark (as, perhaps, in #916) so he blended the red channel into the others, Lighten mode, on a luminosity layer. My view is that this washed out some of the faces at the head table, but moreover the U.S. flag should have been excluded from the blend, because its stripes came out bizarrely light. See #919 for a different strategy. 

919 Chosen for the par version. For anyone feeling that some versions are making the fleshtones too bright, this version should do the trick. This person decided that the color issues were complex enough that he would prepare one version to deal with the various casts and then take it from there. He felt that his faces were too dark, but worried that lightening them would cost too much detail. This is, of course, the same problem faced by the person who did #918. Both concluded that they needed some channel blending to lighten the faces since curves would not do what they wanted. In #918 the person did this by blending the red into the RGB, Lighten mode, Luminosity layer. Here, instead, the person in LAB, blended in A into the L in Overlay mode. This lightened the flesh, darkened the trees, and did nothing to the whites, just what was wanted. I like this version better than the par.

920 It is dangerous to fall in love with technique because it so rarely loves you back. It is reasonable to try to direct attention to the head table, where the wartime survivors are. It is not reasonable to try to add such an enormous light source that anybody who actually attended this dinner would know instantly that this version has been Photoshopped to death.  The idea of spotlighting the head table was carried out subtly and successfully in #912 and to a lesser extent in #926. Not here.

There are, however, two consolations for the rest of us. First, that this spotlighting is wildly exaggerated doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Think back to our Veiled Bride case study, and recall a “ringer” version, #319, which by itself was quite ugly and exaggerated. But I threw it out as a teaser, saying that almost every other version would be improved with a blend of 25% #319, and other list members verified that this was true.

The same is true with this monstrosity. As I posted to the main thread, blending 15% of #920 into each other version resulted in improvement in all but four.

The second useful hint: People has trouble finding an adequate start point for their correction because the original was so dark yet had light areas. This person tried several things and in pure frustration used the ancient Equalize command, presumably on a layer at about 50% opacity. I, of course, turn up my nose at this but must admit that it only takes a second or two to find out whether it works, and if it does, why not use it?

921 Here’s an intelligent way to produce a nighttime look without making the people look foreboding. This person created a reasonably colorful and correct group and flags, but then the image was overall too light. So he artificially darkened both the tablecloth and the trees.

922 Here careful attention was paid to maintaining neutrality. This causes the appearance of a neutral scene without a variation in lighting from one side to the oehter, yet the faces of the two men at left are somewhat green while the fleshtones of the older men at the head table are beet-red. Also, I say that this is too much of a daytime scene, too light in context.

In answer to a query about this image the person states he added stars to the sky.

923 Too contrasty.  Hair has become black. So have areas of the flags that are known to be blue. Faces at the front table appear to be posterized.

924 Too light overall. Whites lack detail, faces too. You can tell how tonal range is emphasizing the wrong things by looking at the wine bottles and the camera on the table. These things have excellent detail in this rendition, but unfortunately nobody is interested in it.

925 Chosen for the par version. A delightful combination of relatively dark people with warmth in the fleshtone by Robert Wheeler, who has described what he did in the main thread.

926 The basic problem with this near miss is that if the faces are this dark (certainly possible) then they can’t be this red. One nice touch: the faces at the head table have been lightened separately, creating somewhat of the same spotlight effect found in #912.

A friend submitted a somewhat similar version but I didn’t show it here because he had rotated the image. Since he had the exact same problem, I’ll duplicate here what I wrote him offline:

Your treatment is excellent in all respects except the big one—range in the important objects. The lightest parts of the image are of course the floodlights and the candles. But you are not supposed to take them into account when setting range because they are light sources themselves. Instead, somewhere in the white shirts should be a very light point, and you have not got that, so the whole effect is too flat.

To fix:
1) Open a curve and click the white eyedropper wherever you find the whitest fabric, like in the tall guy standing at center. 

2) Use a Blend If so that this doesn’t damage the candles or the floodlights.

3) Darken the midtone to your taste, needed because the first step lightens things too much. (Probably not needed in #926)

927 This is more like what #926 should have been, with a full range in the whites yet the candles have been preserved. This was done in Photoline rather than Photoshop and, according to the individual, took 30-45 minutes to produce.

928 I find this a little gloomy for such a joyful occasion because the faces are so gray. There is also objectionable noise in the faces at the head table.

929 This version came from an ACT class and I find it somewhat successful. The person spotlighted the head table, as was done in #912 and #926. I don’t think he cared that the left side is rather blue because that further emphasizes the older people at the head table. If this were a tad lighter overall it’d be pretty competitive IMHO.

930 Chosen for the par version. The overall effect is quite pleasing. My only quibble: John Lund, like many of us, thought the trees were distracting, so he darkened and vignetted them. Quite sensible, as we’ve seen elsewhere, but I think the move implies that the midtone of the image overall should get a tad darker, otherwise the people are a bit too light in context. The move would help fleshtone detail as well. John did most of the overall adjustment in Lightroom and then used a modified PPW, including H-K, with a lot of individual tweaks. He writes:

I found this image to be less challenging than it looked at first (or maybe I just did a poor job? - we shall see)…

[After completing my submitted version,] for fun I did another, starting with the original jPeg un-modified, and used only conventional Photoshop layers - CRVs, etc. - to get to a pretty good version quickly. Both this one and the re-processed in Lightroom versions are about "85% as good" as my final image described above. And they took maybe 15-minutes each, while I put in at least an hour & a half for my submission. But I like the latter much better with its cleaner color with more subtlety, better contrast & a more natural look. And it was more fun playing with various techniques & options, always a good learning experience.

931 The par.

Re: Toast to Greece

Raymond St. Arnaud <starnaud@...>

Hi to all

I am #924
So there seems to be 2 big issues.
The color balance of the flash portion in the foreground and the tungsten balance at the far table.
Second issue is shapness of foreground figures and softness of far figures.

I examined the possibility of trying to match the skin tones of the 2 groups but eventually
came to the conclusion that Greece means sunshine which equates to sunburn and various shades
tanning to no tan, (probably someone from the Canadian west coast).

I gave up on skin tones and looked at whites, which also have variables and eventually
found a couple of spots in the modesty panels draped over the front of the tables.
The material in the flat surfaces in foreground and the ruffled material at the back
are different, but decided they were close enough, lacking other close choices.

In RGB I created 3 curve adjustment layers and added some Gradients to the layer masks.

Adj. Layer1: I decided to move the foreground figures from daylight color to a warmer color.
Adj. Layer 2: The reverse of the above and adjusted far figures to be less warm.
Adj. Layer 3 I selected a section that centered on the corner where tables meet that feathered
out to the sides. Some fiddling with Adjustment curves to balance the image.

I then copied the image 3 times and used the same kind of Gradient Masks and
applied small amount Unsharp Mask to the figures on the left. More Unsharp mask
applied to the far figures  and Unsharp masking the centre.

I took the liberty of eliminating the small branches in upper right and the Yellow bowl on the floor
Where the tables meet. I thought both are distractions to the event.

The next day

I decided that the far figures needed more "bones". So i made a duplicate in Lab,
copied the L channel as a layer above the image and added a Gradient that started
on the right edge and ended the last man standing on the left near the corner, Opacity at 24%.

A week later

In addition, I would like to comment on the large areas of white. There was a famous exercise in B&W film photography.
Photograph a white object on a white background, without there being a sense of "grayness".

I thought it important to preserve the white of the tables and the costumes worn by the participants.
My guide for flesh tones was the forearm of the woman on the left side closest to the camera.
I decided the skin tones should be light, thinking it more appropriate to the scene and occasion.

Hope you are all well.

Raymond St Arnaud
Victoria, BC              

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Thomas Hurd,MD


One of the great things about this group and these exercises in particular is learning the principles of what is right. I know you talk in your books about what is a matter of taste and what is right or wrong. (Based on your own experience and many polls)
By the end of this stage of review, with your general comments on principles as applied to this week’s image, I have a better idea of what I was supposed to be looking for. 

And, many people have shared how they achieved their ends.

I seem to have missed a key ingredient (or more) in each of the images this summer. But the general guidelines and the critiques are fabulous. (We non-professionals just suck up compliments from our friends). 

Every week I also redo my personal workflow and write out my guidelines.
But guidelines are technique, and there is more than that to put it all together, like the five parameters you mentioned. I think I can see the ones I missed. 

And the spotlight did help my image.
Earlier in this workflow I had placed a spotlight, but wider, across part of the left table as well. But I think I readjusted the effect out later when I tried to put my final curve on.

 Even though the Colosseum and the Greek toast were both at night, with evening light, this picture did not hold the same luminosity range as the one in Rome. Or maybe I did not get the right places for the highlight and shadow. Putting the spotlight at 15% on my 915 did help the image. 

I’m looking forward to trying some of the other particulars you mentioned, such as keeping the candles significant. But only after I get the first five priorities in line.

Tom Hurd

On Jul 15, 2020, at 8:57 PM, jwlimages via <jwlimages@...> wrote:

On Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 11:34 AM, Dan Margulis wrote:
Nevertheless, spotlighting the head table is a sensible thing to do. It’s all a matter of degree. What happens if we blend this over-the-top version into yours at, say, 15% opacity?
Hmm, yes of course. With mine (#930) it's very subtle, but positive nonetheless. Thank you for yet another reminder about using blending in a clever way I would not have found on my own...

John Lund

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results


On Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 11:34 AM, Dan Margulis wrote:
Nevertheless, spotlighting the head table is a sensible thing to do. It’s all a matter of degree. What happens if we blend this over-the-top version into yours at, say, 15% opacity?
Hmm, yes of course. With mine (#930) it's very subtle, but positive nonetheless. Thank you for yet another reminder about using blending in a clever way I would not have found on my own...

John Lund

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Arthur Margolin

Blending 15% of #920 with my image (#912) makes # 912 look much more than 15% better, that's for sure. Thank you for that!

On Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 7:34 PM Dan Margulis via <> wrote:

On Jul 15, 2020, at 1:28 PM, Dan Margulis via <dmargulis@...> wrote:

There’s only one version here that was deliberately intended to be unrealistic. That one is #920, about which I’ll have more to say in a separate post.

Let’s now turn to a lesson about alternate versions that we last saw in the Veiled Bride exercise.

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Doug Schafer

Oh, and I forgot in previous msg:

Several submissions did not correct for chromatic aberrations; most noticeable in pennant flags edges over people in left side of scene.

Doug Schafer

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Dan Margulis

On Jul 15, 2020, at 1:28 PM, Dan Margulis via <dmargulis@...> wrote:

There’s only one version here that was deliberately intended to be unrealistic. That one is #920, about which I’ll have more to say in a separate post.

Let’s now turn to a lesson about alternate versions that we last saw in the Veiled Bride exercise.

I’ve posted about some of the mistakes we made, and also some of the basics that are requisites for making an acceptable image. In my forthcoming comments on individual images I’ll talk about how certain maneuvers, PPW or otherwise, can be helpful. Here, though, I’ll talk about certain creative ideas specific to this Greek image.

In this type of work we often want to direct the viewer’s attention to the things we consider important. Usually this is done by global changes, such as curves, or MMM. Less often, we try to interfere with things that might distract. For example, we might desaturate a background to make it less interesting.

Here, some of us who wanted to direct attention to the dinner attendees decided that the background trees were too intrusive, and darkened and/or desaturated them. A couple of people went further, and vignetted out the top of the center tree, which was effective.

One person had the intelligent idea of darkening the tablecloth drop in front of the tables, thus making it less obtrusive.

Some went further and tried to focus attention specifically on the head table, the first generation. This was done subtly in ##912, 926, and 929. The method was either to do some contrast-enhancing retouching to these particular faces but not to the ones at the left table, or to add an artificial light source to spotlight the head table.

It was done not so subtly in #920, which is an example of why we should not fall in love with our own brilliant retouching conceptions, because they rarely love us back.
Who could possibly accept this version as realistic?

Nevertheless, spotlighting the head table is a sensible thing to do. It’s all a matter of degree. What happens if we blend this over-the-top version into yours at, say, 15% opacity?

I can tell you, because I’ve done it on every entrant. And according to me, blending it in at 15% opacity improves every image but four. (I felt that there was no significant improvement in ##908, 913, 914, or 919.)

Food for thought. You may recall the same thing in Veiled Bride, where I had deliberately made an over-the-top version, #319, that while ugly in and of itself, nevertheless incorporated several desirable features. Blending into other versions at a low opacity almost invariably improved them.


Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Dan Margulis

On Jul 15, 2020, at 1:28 PM, Dan Margulis via <dmargulis@...> wrote:

As to whether this is one of the hardest exercises, I guess I agree but am not certain. For sure there are more opportunities to go wrong here than with Monument Valley, which accounts for why we have more outright bad versions this time. We probably don’t have quite so many really good ones, either, because there are so many priorities to juggle. Still, I find nearly a dozen first-rate efforts among those posted.

And what are these priorities that need to be juggled? Well, forgetting about all the fancy local stuff and other good things we can bring to this scene, there are certain basics that have to be fulfilled, otherwise the version can’t be considered a complete success. I can think of five such priorities and have gone over each entry to see whether it complies. They’re all independent, you can get a yes answer to one and a no to another. But, the objective would be to look at your own version, and see if you can honestly answer Yes to the following five questions. I say that 11 out of the 30 entrants can do so; many more can answer Yes to some but not all. So FWIW, here are my categories, and how I think the group did.

1. Ignoring all questions of darkness/contrast, is your color reasonably acceptable as accurate? Yes 21, No 9.

2. Ignoring color and darkness, do you have good shape in the faces? Do they seem three-dimensional, and free from excessive noise? Yes 19, No 11.

3. This picture is so full of white objects, however insignificant, that we have to pay attention to them. Would you say that you have retained a reasonable amount of detail in the whites? Yes 24, No 6.

4. Is the overall weight of the image believable? Not too light or too dark, and with the weight of the faces consistent with the background and the overall feel? Yes 20, No 10.

5. Are the heads reasonably distinct from the background, so that the people stand out nicely? Yes 22, No 8.

As you can see, we did fine in each individual category, Putting them all together is the hard part.


Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Doug Schafer

I will be most anxious to hear Dan's per his usual views and comments,
But also specifically on the color(s) of the lady's jacket (first lady starting from the far left of the picture).

In my mind too many submitted images show the jacket in two colors: pink and blue or blue and white, or dark/light...and to me it looks blotchy and not what a jacket should look like....and result is viewer attracted to that part of the image. Even the par result seems wrong to me for the jacket.

Mine is #921 and I tried hard to neutralize the discrepancies of blue flash and incandescent lighting. Tho now it looks a bit flat.

I agree with other comments: I see things I should have done differently in my image after seeing all the others and that is very valuable to learn from these efforts.

Doug Schafer

Re: A Toast to Greece: Results

Dan Margulis

I agree with most but not all of the posted comments and find that the issues were particularly well stated by John Lund.

I agree with Gerald Bakker that this image doesn’t show PPW to its best advantage. The ordering of these case studies is deliberate. In Monument Valley, PPW gave the biggest advantage of any of the ten we’ll be looking at. It is sensible to bracket it with Colosseum and Toast to Greece, where PPW is not much of a factor. Our last three studies will not absolutely require PPW for best results, but will offer opportunities to use certain features of it to advantage.

As to whether this is one of the hardest exercises, I guess I agree but am not certain. For sure there are more opportunities to go wrong here than with Monument Valley, which accounts for why we have more outright bad versions this time. We probably don’t have quite so many really good ones, either, because there are so many priorities to juggle. Still, I find nearly a dozen first-rate efforts among those posted.

The really bad mistakes were somewhat as I expected and somewhat not. Everybody agrees that there is a huge lighting imbalance and that the head table starts out much more orange than the left side. Also, that there is a fair amount of digital noise.

This brings up the question of what we would have seen if we had been present at this scene. We all know that the human eye is more adaptable to strange lighting than a camera is. We would move both the overall scene and its right side more toward uniformity, and specifically more toward like what we would see under sunlight.

Of course, we wouldn’t get quite to sunlight. So I disagree with John Gillespie that #912 and #904 represent what we would have seen in real life. We would have adjusted to make the scene lighter. And that’s at the time: months later we’dprobably remember it as having been even lighter than that.

No matter how adjustable our visual system, however, we can’t ignore a lighting variation as violent as at the head table. Yes, we don’t perceive it as strongly as a camera does, but we can’t ignore it altogether. It follows that anybody who decides they are going to blow that cast off the face of the earth is making a big mistake. For sure there are ways to make it less offensive without obliterating it completely, and we found some good ones.

It follows also that the individual who decided that the large lights above the front table were distracting and deleted them shouldn’t have done so. They help explain why the lighting is so strange. Far better to take the view of Bill Iverson that they can be attractively reduced without eliminating them. I also point out that certain people were able to preserve strong detailing in the candles, whereas others made them indistinguishable from glasses of water. I say that obvious candlelight helps explain the scene and should be preserved.

Similarly, the noise. I am sympathetic with Hector and Roberto when they say it is a natural part of the image. But I can’t go as far as to say it should be ignored. It certainly isn’t desirable, so any sharpening etc. that makes it more pronounced is bad. If there’s a convenient way to reduce it undetectably so much the better, but anyone who is determined to make the skintone as perfectly smooth as if it had been shot in a professional studio is out of his mind. It brings back the Panama 1978 study. The original had a texture imparted in the photofinishing. Some of us did a good job of making it less offensive, but those who insisted that it totally disappear failed miserably.

What mistakes did I expect more of? Well, there was a lot of hand retouching and some of it was in the faces, or in other areas that draw attention. Normally I’d expect some obvious hamhandedness, but by and large what people did wasn’t detectable.

John Gillespie is right when he says that this is likely a warm summer evening and will be remembered as such. Therefore we will tend to prefer a warmer look in the fleshtones. But we also face the question of how much to lighten the scene and things start to get more complicated. John seems to see a clear distinction between those trying to make a night scene out of it and those looking for something happier. There’s some truth to this because certain people tried to have it both ways. They made rather dark fleshtones with strongly red skin. That doesn’t work. Darkness implies grayness.

For sure we can all agree that #919 is a more conservative treatment than #901 (both of which I think are excellent). But envisioning a hard line tough on the many versions that fall between these two extremes. This is not like Monument Valley or Niagara Spray or Cinque Terre, where people were freely admitting they were departing from reality for the sake of a pleasing image. Here, I can imagine that some people will recall the scene as being that portrayed in #901.

There’s only one version here that was deliberately intended to be unrealistic. That one is #920, about which I’ll have more to say in a separate post.


Re: A Toast to Greece: Results


This photo presents a question of preference, a technical problem, and a challenge perhaps best ignored.  The matter of preference is, of course, how light to make the scene.  My version (904) is among the darkest.  I've been lucky enough to have dinner or drinks in a number of Greek restaurant gardens and patrios.  They've all been softly lighted.  That's how I remember them, how I like to remember them, and perhaps how the Petropouleas family would like to remember their reunion dinner.  But, as my grandmother often said, "'De gustibs non disputandum est,' said the old lady as she kissed the cow."

The technical issue was what to do about the mixed lighting.  The flash brightly lighting the people on the left is much cooler than the presumably incandescent lighting of the head table and background.  If I'd paid more attention to correcting this earlier in my processing, I think gradients adjusting highlights and termperature, and perhaps tint, would be the way to go.  But by the time I got around to this, time was short and I limited myself to several local adjustments tinkering with the problem.  No points there.

The challenge is the lights under the roof shining into the picture.  If I asked people who don't pixel peep as a way of life what was wrong with the picture, I'd be surprised if any of them would notice the mixed lighting or be troubled by it.  And they'd probably be all across the spectrum as to how bright the lighting should be.  But I'd bet a lot of them would say, "Can you do something about those two lights?"  I briefly tried taking them out of the picture, but I was stymied by the halos.  Only one person (903) persevered with that approach.  The results were better than mine, but not really successful in my view.  So I tried instead to reduce the prominence of the lights.  I darkened the halos, and reduced the size of the lights themselves (using content aware fill in Photoshop, with some additional ad hoc adjustments).  The success of this approach is a matter of degree, but IMHO it's better than the oginal.  I was surprised that no one but 903 and me (904) apparently paid any attention fo this issue.

This was a good challenge.  Not to sound forlorn, but I hope I get to go to Greece again.

Bill Iverson

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