Re: King of Beasts: Dan's comments

David Remington

Great comments from Dan based on experience and observation.
I'm going to jump in ahead of the chop with a mea culpa. I have been thinking that my 603 is a little green. Not drastically so but enough to look off.
I was aiming for "realistic" color with good detail and contrast. I still like my image and with a small adjustment to add red to the lion's fur I like it even better.
I find the par version a bit too red however and I prefer the contrast in my version. Layered with mine in luminance mode switching back and forth I find the par a bit washed out.
After reading Dan's initial comments I went looking for lion color and there is was in an archived version of the ISCC-NBS Dictionary of Color Names. "Lion" NBS-ISCC color numbers 76 and 77.
sRGB 196, 154, 116 and 136, 102, 72 for light and dark versions. Lab 67L 13a 26b and 46L 11a 23b. Right on Dan's 1:2 numbers.
I made a new version for myself using this ratio as a guide and it is an improvement. I also lit up the eyes a bit. This has been a great exercise. I enjoy seeing what the group comes up with and thinking through Dan's critiques. I look forward to reading the details to come on this one.

King of Beasts: Dan's comments

Dan Margulis

This exercise is the equivalent of the Monument Valley study of last year, in the sense that it’s the one image out of the ten that most clearly shows the advantages of PPW. Indeed, this is very like the canyon images that are commonly used to promote work in LAB: lots ofsubtle colors that need to get more variation, yet we can’t afford to make them too lurid.
There are not as many traps to fall into as in our last three case studies. Furthermore, the highlight and shadow points are obvious. For all these reasons, I consider this the easiest exercise of the ten, with the possible exception of Hotel Lobby. Like that one, here there are many blending possibilities but one (green into red, Luminosity mode) stands out and was adopted by many of us. Also, the MMM script, which is crucial for getting variation into the lion, was generally used. For these reasons we have a dozen or more decent entries that could reasonably be chosen for the par.
We expect, also, that we should do much better than the MIT retouchers, who presumably used none of these tools. And this is indeed the case. Their average result happens to be #601. Most of us did significantly better, and better also than their two best individuals, who are #623 and #631.
Yet a lot of our work that is obviously better than #601 doesn’t stand up so well next to the par. There is no disgrace is preferring the par to your own version; in our studies typically only one or two people, if that many, can honestly say they consider their version to be as good as or (occasionally) better than the par. And if we do have a slight preference for the par, it’s usually because the par tends to have more accurate color, not so much better contrast.
If you’re mystified as to why the par is better, here’s a valuable test. Put the par as a layer on top of your version. Toggle it on and off. Now, change its mode to Luminosity, so that what you see is your color, with the par’s contrast. Again, toggle between the two. Then, change the layer mode to Color, so that you see your contrast, its color. And toggle again.
The normal result is that you will decide that the par is slightly better in both respects. Occasionally, though, you will find that the two versions are about equal in one respect, but in the other, the par is grossly superior. We saw and discussed an example of that in the Mantillas exercise where one person actually had better color than the par’s, yet his contrast was much worse. I regret to say there are around half a dozen such instances in this set. That shouldn’t be happening.
If the par’s luminosity is much better than yours the explanation is probably simple. You probably didn’t do the appropriate channel blending.
If the par’s color is much better than yours the explanation is likely more complicated, and in a way that is applicable to other similar images. Start by asking yourself: what is the basic color of this animal? I think we can agree that it is neither lemon-yellow nor tomato-red, but something between those two extremes. Which of these is the best description?
*Reddish yellow
*Yellowish brown
What are the desired values, then, for a typical patch of darker fur, nearly neutral, in the top half of the animal’s flank?
Brown is a species of red, although much less saturated than a tomato. If we measure LAB values, in principle we should get something like A=B with both positive. That, however, can only be quite a dark brown, such as a walnut table, or a dark brown horse. As the brown gets lighter, it also needs a higher B value. So, a light wood like beech, or a lion for that matter, can have the B twice as high as the A. Going any further than that technically makes it a reddish yellow rather than a yellowish brown.
What happens if you ignore the need for a higher B, and have A=B? Well, then you get something like #625. The hue is perfectly fine for a dark brown animal, but it doesn’t work in a lion. Or, in another way, you get #614, which has a much better body. The mane admittedly needs to be redder than that. But it can’t go all the way to A=B.
I have measured a representative point in the body, and also in the part of the mane that we expect to be somewhat redder. What would acceptable values be for each area?
We should acknowledge that the lion is being hit by sunlight that could push it more toward yellow. So for the body, I think I’d accept anything up to about B=A*2.5. For the mane, which we know is redder, I’d say that anything worse than B=2A is definitely wrong.
I happen to have measured the same points in every version. I also measured the highlight areas, but we didn’t seem to have many problems there, so no need for discussion. With respect to the lion’s body, I have a list of all those who have a B/A ratio of 3/1 or higher. Also, a list of those having the mane at significantly greater than 2/1. In the first category there are way too many guilty parties, namely ##603, 605, 608, 610, 611, 612, 613, 617,  618, 619, 621, 623, 624, 626, and 635. On the second count, the following are indicted: ##601, 603, 621, 623, 629, 630, and 631. And on the other side, the following have it as essentially a pure red: ##605, 614, and 628.
What are these people guilty of, if the B is too high? Another way of putting it would be, the A is too low. Four other LAB-based descriptions might apply: too yellow, not magenta enough, not blue enough—or too green. Those last two words, if true, explain why only two of the above-named versions made it even into my top ten, which I picked without looking at any numbers. Maybe you can get away with such slight inaccuracies in a more difficult image like the three previous studies, but where almost everybody is getting something halfway decent the error is noticeable.
These images likely fall in that unpleasant category described above, where the par is markedly superior in terms of color. Translation: this is the end of a three-part series in which coolness vs. warmth is a key issue. In Beach at Sunset, those who engineered warmth into the scene were successful. In Bellagio, it was the reverse. And here? You be the judge.
Because a problem with these same colors often arises in other contexts, I’ll have a pair of demonstrations on how to rectify it with a simple LAB blend tomorrow when I post comments on individual versions.
A couple of lesser points.
First, it’s very helpful to lighten the eyes. A lot of us did so and it makes the animal seem more real.
As for desaturating the red nose, or any of the greenery, I’d say it’s personal preference. Some of us were willing to let the background have some color, others tried to suppress its saturation, or even make it darker. A big controversy was what to do with the yellow area in the background, Some think it suggests sunniness, even if unrealistic. Some say that lions are designed to blend into the environment. They therefore lessened, or retouched it out. OTOH, this particular lion wasn’t given a choice of background environment. So I am fine leaving that yellow in. It’s a matter of taste, as is leaving the log behind the animal slightly blue. In principle it’s a by-the-numbers violation; in practice, we live in an age of color grading and that blue helps bring out the subtleties in the yellowish-brown (repeat, yellowish-brown) of the lion.

Re: King of Beasts: Results

Robert S Baldassano



Sent from Mail for Windows 10

My entry was 619. Compared to PAR 636, it appears my colors were close to par but the differed in L with par being much brighter. While I can see that my version could be brighter, I am not sure if I would like it as bright as par, perhaps blending with par at about 50% to 70% in luminosity. I had commented to Dan that I had created 3 versions the other 2 were much darker, and that if I was in a hurry the auto version might even fit the bill. It seems  so far my entries are all a bit to dark. I do think I am slowly improving.


Robert S Baldassano

Re: King of Beasts: Results

John Gillespie

Mine is 608.

I have achieved a bright, sunny look - if you assume that the beast has been sent on loan to the Zoological Gardens here in London. In December.

The colour and weight of the par are very nice, although it is perhaps a little soft for what is after all an apex predator (albeit a notoriously indolent one). Mixing in a little of the luminosity from one of the harsher versions (such as my own) improves it I think.


Re: King of Beasts: Results

Edward Bateman

Hello everyone - been really enjoying this - and studying more with each challenge.

Mine was number 618. Some of my goals were to have no blue in the logs and good texture in the lion.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish was a greater sense of spatial depth by darkening the foreground and background. Cool (and dark) colors often seem to somewhat recede while warm (and light) colors seem to somewhat advance (or so I believe). So by darkening especially the foreground, I wanted to put more visual focus on the lion. While at first glance, my lion seems a bit dark (and perhaps it is), it is only about (an average) 5-6 points (measured in Lab) darker than the par. So I still think the par looks a bit spatially flatter than mine. A quick check shows that I like about 40% of par blended into mine.

I also used a small bit of an old darkroom trick - lightning the face just a small bit to put more visual focus on the lion’s face. One thing I often look at: I’ll squint at the image to see contrast - is my primary visual focus the area with strongest (within reason) contrast? (Since eyes seem to focus on areas with the best contrast). In this sense, I like mine better than the par- the lion face has better contrast when compared to the overall image in the par.

And just FYI - number 635 was created by a small group of students in one of my classes. Dan was kind enough to allow its submission, and they were very interested today to see how they efforts stacked up! I personally don’t know any other university level teachers who teach any of Dan’s techniques, aside from me. And I have to say, I’m proud of what they are doing - we all recognize that their critical color skills and ability to see more precisely has already made huge strides this semester. They themselves are rather surprised at how different they are seeing things. So thank you for letting them play along! And I too really appreciate the challenge from so many smart people! Thanks Dan!

-Edward Bateman

Re: King of Beasts: Results


Mine is 617. I went for the "golden hour" type of mood. After seeing the Par version, I now see I put too much gold into the "golden hour" mood.

I was very happy with mine, seeing it in isolation but once I compared it to the Par I can see how far from the "true" light of the original I ended up with.

I still like mine but not as much as I like the Par version.

All the best!


Re: King of Beasts: Results

John Furnes

Mine is 607


I obviously overdid ”get rid of the cyan”-thing, and it became more magenta and yellow than perhaps a lion is.

However I was content at the time, and even though my third attempt was more like the par is, I chose No.1

I need to learn more about the Blend If possibility as I tried to reduce the yellow patch to the right of the animal, but gave it up as more than the patch were affected.




John Furnes



Re: King of Beasts: Results

Said Nuseibeh

Well, mine is 616. I wasn't thinking Happy Hour as many others here were, just dappled light. I pulled the cyan out of the body and, especially, the face but left it in the environment... reading it as open shade bouncing a blue sky.

Post-Bellagio, I did enjoy pitching the warmth of the lion's mane against a contrasting cooler surround.

With the benefit of hindsight and this august assembly, I was clearly too damn judicious because the cyan sticks out like pee on snow. Oh, and I neglected to review my endpoints before converting to JPEG.

Hang down my head Tom Dooley

Re: King of Beasts: Results

john c.

Mine is 624 and my goal was to bring attention to the eyes, nose and whiskers. I purposely subdued the grass and the bright yellow in the background to help bring attention to the face and mouth. Other than that, I wanted a natural look with nothing else exaggerated so that the viewer would gravitate to the lion's facial expression of contentment about lounging in the warm sun. After seeing the par, I guess I might've gone for more contrast and a brighter look, but I think the greenery is too distracting in the par. I liked 609 for a snappier result and I believe it works very well when blended in luminosity mode with mine. 

Re: King of Beasts: Results

Gerald Bakker

Mine is 621. I think it belongs to the better half this time, but I missed at least one thing: the more saturated, orange manes. In the original the color difference is clearly visible, but somewhere during my processing (probably blend-if on a color boost layer) this got lost. Well, always something to learn.

I think this is a typical PPW image. There is a strong blue cast that must be fixed. A green blend works well to bring out detail. Color boost as the original is way too dull. I didn't do not much local correction this time. As Dan says, it's one of the easier exercises.

Among my favorites are 603, 609, 617, 626 and the par. But there are many more good versions.
Gerald Bakker

Re: King of Beasts: Results

Bill Theis

mine was 612

The biggest thing I missed IMHO was keeping the eyes bright when I did the channel blends!  But there are other things:  With no strong shadows, I felt the lion was in deep shade and so had an image much darker than par.  Adding Levels with center slider at 1.24 fixes it.  Also I should have been more liberal with the red-headed beast and allowed his mane to saturate quite a bit more.  Sorry, forgot that lions look this way.  Went on the internet to look at images and they were no help since they were all over the place. So 3 bad judgment calls.

It is always good to know one's shortcomings and this is a great learning experience.  Again.

As to a comment on the others:  There was a considerable variation with alot of dark ones, darker than mine, and contrasty.  I did a selection of 10 and blended to something that I liked more than PAR from (in order from the top layer down) 632 (color blend 50%), 633 (color ), 624 (lighter color-nice eyes), 615 (normal 30%) all atop 604. 

Re: King of Beasts: Results

Kent Sutorius

Disappointed with my result (#602) compared to others. I thought I had nice rich accurate colors and it is darker than most of the others.

Kent Sutorius

On 3/8/2021 7:06 AM, Dan Margulis via wrote:
I’ve posted the results of the King of Beasts exercise, the sixth in a series of 11 case studies.

Reviewing: This image from the San Diego Zoo is our final trip to the MIT study.
We have 35 entries. 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 #601 to #635. As with past studies, we also have a “par” version, #636. To get it, I chose five that I thought were among the 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.

Normally I don't comment on results for two days after they're posted. 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's Photos section, 2021 Case Study: King of Beasts,
I also have zipped all 36 entries and uploaded a 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. When I posted the Hotel Lobby source files, I remarked that I thought it was one of the two easiest ones we would be doing. The other, as you may have guessed, was this lion exercise. But never fear, you'll have plenty to make up for it in our next case study, which will be announced today in a separate post.

moderated Case Study: Choir

Dan Margulis

Warning: Clocks in the United States advance one hour on Sunday. That's one week before Canada does it, and two weeks before Europe. So most international members will have one less hour to work on this case study. I mention this because within the first hour after this morning's deadline for the lion image, I received two more entries. By that time, of course, our results had already been posted. This suggests to me that people were waiting until the last minute to send, and that there was some kind of delay in cyberspace. Alas, if you send it before the deadline, but I receive it later, you're out of luck.
We are now done with the four exercises that came from the MIT series. Three of our last four official case studies come from famous photographers.
Fame is all very well, but it can carry a price. If you happen to be a well-known color technician your wife may well promise that you will retouch 1,000 images at no charge, and will then complain if they are not world-class. If you are a famous photographer you can be called upon to shoot some keepsake picture for free under adverse conditions, and then people will complain if it doesn't come out perfect. 
Since the photographer was likely grousing about the conditions he had to work under, you get to complain, too. You have the usual flat and default versions in the folder--but no raw. Furthermore, your competition is a lot more skilled than those MIT retouchers.
In 2009, for the first and only time, I held two consecutive "Superadvanced" classes for people who had already taken two 3-day ACT courses with me. So, within reason, this can be considered to be the most skilled group available in 2009, probably not very prone to make the kind of silly mistakes that plagued our first five studies this year.
The PPW was then a recent development. I believed there was reason to think that it was better to start out with a flat rather than an open version as a general rule. This class offered a golden opportunity to test the theory. With 16 skilled retouchers plus myself, I could assign half the group to work on one version of an image and half on the other. Since I wouldn't expect anyone to skew the data by doing stupid things, it would give a good feel as to whether there was an advantage either way.
The classes had to correct a total, as I recall, of 28 images. They were set up as follows:
In half the cases everyone got the same original, whether raw or otherwise.
In a quarter of the cases half the group got a rather flat JPEG and the other half had access to the raw.
The remaining quarter (from which this exercise hails) offered only two competing originals, one flat, one open, no raw.
The class members knew that this was going on, but when they got a file to work on, they did not know whether everyone else had gotten the same thing. Also, when there were two versions, they had no choice about which one they had to work on. Everyone was forced to deal with half flat images and half open (or raw).
The two originals are in the folder. You may choose whichever you like, although if you want to get into the spirit of things you should flip a coin to see which one to take. You will perhaps be pleased to learn that the remaining case studies in this series *do* come with a raw. Also, that IMHO skill levels have increased since 2009, so I hope your versions turn out better than the folks from back then.
*This should be assumed to be some kind of keepsake or advertisement, though whether for the church, the choir, or individual member(s) is not known. 
*In the Photos section, 2021 Case Study: Choir
I have uploaded the two original files, as given to the 2009 classes.  There is no zipped sourcefile, no raw file.
*The designated size of this exercise is 2008 x 3000 pixels. Make sure that that's the size you downloaded, as makes it fairly easy to foul it up. Do not crop, rotate, enter any lens profile, alter the sizing, or delete any tangible objects, because any of these things will make it impossible to use your version as part of a par assembly. DO NOT WORK ON THE THUMBNAIL ATTACHED TO THIS MESSAGE.
*Except as indicated in the above paragraph, you can use whatever methods you like to improve the picture.
*Please keep clear records of what you did for discussion. List members find these very valuable. Be sure to specify which version you chose to start with.
*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 your brief explanation of how you produced it. DO NOT POST IMAGES TO THE LIST.
*Remember that some e-mail clients automatically downsize image attachments. Make sure you’re sending it to me at the original size.
*Entries close Monday morning, 15 March, at 06:00 Eastern Daylight Savings Time/1000Z/11:00 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. Once discussion begins, those who wish to identify themselves publicly may do so.
*If the filename of your version contains your name or initials, they will be deleted before posting. If you want to be able to identify your version by name once posted, throw in a few extra letters at the end of the filename; I won't delete them.
*I will leave discussion of the results to the group for the first two days after posting, and will then weigh in with my own opinion.

King of Beasts: Results

Dan Margulis

I’ve posted the results of the King of Beasts exercise, the sixth in a series of 11 case studies.

Reviewing: This image from the San Diego Zoo is our final trip to the MIT study.
We have 35 entries. 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 #601 to #635. As with past studies, we also have a “par” version, #636. To get it, I chose five that I thought were among the 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.

Normally I don't comment on results for two days after they're posted. 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's Photos section, 2021 Case Study: King of Beasts,

I also have zipped all 36 entries and uploaded a 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. When I posted the Hotel Lobby source files, I remarked that I thought it was one of the two easiest ones we would be doing. The other, as you may have guessed, was this lion exercise. But never fear, you'll have plenty to make up for it in our next case study, which will be announced today in a separate post.

Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments

Kent Sutorius

I applied your recommendations for #520 with #515. Greatly improved the contrast and clarity of the fountains. Very clever!
Thank you,

Kent Sutorius

On 3/4/2021 12:48 PM, Dan Margulis via wrote:

Three of these entrants come from the MIT study itself. Since sharpening was not permitted, I have sharpened them now to give a fairer comparison to what we produced here.

Also, as I pointed out in a previous post, the five choices for the par don’t happen to be my five choices for the best version. Rather, I was trying for balance of several ideas.

In the introductory post I said I had made two measurements in each image, and I’m posting them here. First, I measured some relatively dark (but still presumably white) water from the left side of the fountain. Also, to gauge the darkness of the hotel, I measured a point on its left side, about halfway up. That point isn’t interesting by itself, but as a means of comparison with others. My recommendations: for the water, 0a0b is neutral. I’d say that values between (3)a and 3a are probably OK. I’d be really careful about positive B values—we’ve all heard how disagreeable so many versions are for being too yellow. Blue water is acceptable. So I recommend between (15)b and 2b.

For the hotel, where higher values are lighter, I’d recommend staying darker than 40L, maybe 45L at most.

As suggested offline, I am highlighting interesting demonstrations that you can try out for yourself.



501 fountain (2)a37b; hotel 43L. Fittingly, we start right out with the yellowest water of all.

502 fountain 9a16b; hotel 39L. This person did not color-correct as such, saying that he could not find anything as a neutral. Don’t ask my why he didn’t think the darker water was. He selected the lake and the face of building for MMM Fine, and he used S/H and Lesser Hammer to get more detail in the fountains. See #506 and 507 for further comments about this version.

503 fountain 0a(5)b; hotel 41L. Chosen for the par version. The hotel is not really this shade of pink, but there is certainly a pinkish light source on its right side, so I think it’s fair to exaggerate it, just as it’s reasonable to exaggerate the yellow in the bell tower.

This person did much of his correcting in Lightroom and is one of the few successful entrants who didn’t use a Hammer action, so there isn’t as much detail in the fountains as others have. His approach instead was to use hiraloam sharpening of the water.

Although it’s already one of the top entrants, IMHO it tries to do too many things at once. I show a means of improving it at #523.

504 fountain 5a17b; hotel 46L. There’s that disagreeable strongly yellow water again, but that isn’t the only issue. #502 has very similar color but is much preferable for detail.

505 fountain (1)a19b; hotel 51L. Something bad happened in the center of the spray here, there is a sudden transition from white to yellow.

506 fountain 10a10b; hotel 46L. I did this version in 2017 when comparing my three-minute results to those of the MIT retouchers. Having access to the Bigger Hammer action made my version superior, but I wasn’t happy with it then or now. Some of the MIT retouchers had a very hard time with this photo, which is why you won’t see their average.

It looks like I thought sky detail should be suppressed. Looking at it now I wish the water were more neutral, but at least it’s a brown, not the yellow-green found elsewhere. Compare it to #502, which has competitive detail but will not be preferred to this version because of color.

507 fountain 6a12b; hotel 40L. Compared to some of the earlier versions this one moves in the right direction colorwise, but lacks punch. No Hammer action was used, so the water doesn’t have the pop it needs. Also, while this person did sharpen, it was at a much lower setting than what others are using.

Demonstration: Don’t get me wrong, this is still too yellow, but it can show us how devastating the extra yellow can be. Blend this one, in Color mode, over #502, which is only 3a3b warmer than this, and it’s a major difference.

508 fountain 0a(2)b; hotel 35L. MIT retoucher E, in my opinion, did a fine job considering that he wasn’t allowed to do any manual retouching, such as brightening up the bell tower. He stayed away from disagreeable colors, and the very dark hotel sets off the white water nicely.

509 fountain 0a0b; hotel 53L. This is like #508 in spirit, but not as successful. It demonstrates that one way to neutralize the water is to turn the whole area into grayscale. But pure neutrality in the foreground, darker water gives the show away. Note in comparing the two how much the darker hotel of #508 helps the presentation.

510 fountain (3)a29b; hotel 35L. Here’s that nasty yellow color again. Like many people, this guy correctly forced white into the lightest areas of the water but didn’t try to emulate it throughout.

511 fountain (2)a9b; hotel 52L. A reasonable version that represents something in early evening rather than the night conditions of almost everyone else.  Further notes about this version are at #513.

512 fountain 3a(13)b; hotel 40L. Another in the neutral-water-dark-hotel school of #508, with the addition of an attractive blue sheen in the center of the fountain that I wish were reflected in the foreground water. I rate #508 superior because it has much better detail in the water, but putting #508 on top of this one in Luminosity mode is better than either. This individual’s notes say

YouTube videos show fountain can be affected by colored lighting, seems most striking when almost white and when jets of water are somewhat distinct.

The first half of that last clause was achieved successfully, the second not.

513 fountain (6a)9b; hotel 53L. While Bigger Hammer is the majority choice for bringing out detail in the fountains, Frederick Yocum went with False Profile/multiplication. Since this left something to be desired,

Demonstration: when you need highlight detail, find another version that has it but is relatively light. #511 answers that description. Make a duplicate layer here, and apply #511 to it in Darken mode. As #511 is basically lighter than this one, the move only affects the fountains. Then, change mode of the duplicate layer to Luminosity, so as not to pick up #511’s color.

514 fountain 2a6b; hotel 56L. Chosen for the par version as a balancing move. The hotel isn’t that color in real life and I don’t find it an attractive choice, but then again it isn’t the color of #503 either. I also am not a big fan of the hiraloam sharpening of the water, but this is no disadvantage when it is averaged with four others.

Demonstration: As a matter of personal taste I would prefer a browner, or more golden-looking, hotel, also a darker one. LAB blending can make such moves easy. Here, seeing how yellow the Bellagio is, we understand that the B channel will be light. So, on a duplicate layer, blend the B channel into the A, Overlay mode, about 25% opacity or to taste. This will make the desired hue move. It is unlikely that anyone will notice that it also moves the blues slightly toward cyan, but I have no objection if it does.

Now, blend the B into the L, again Overlay mode, this time inverted, a bit higher opacity, let’s say 35%. This darkens the hotel, but it also lightens the blue lighting, which is welcome.

Of course in real life one would be more careful about getting the settings exactly right. See another comment about this version at #517.

515 fountain (1)a9b; hotel 43L. The person handled the water carefully, with both Bigger Hammer and a false profile. He also deliberately darkened the hotel and the sky. The problem, of course, is that it wound up colorless. How many of you, I wonder, took one look at it and decided it was terrible? If you did, it was a mistake. 

Just because a version has weaknesses doesn’t prevent it from having strengths. This one has excellent shape and sharpening, better then the large majority of entrants. So all that’s needed is a partner version with good color—or at least better color than this one. See further comment at #520.

516 fountain 2a6b; hotel 56L. Edward Bateman writes,

The aspect of this image that I puzzled over the most was the cyan around the base of the fountains... it made me wonder whether the fountain were illuminated by colored light... possibly because color in the bright fountains was beyond the camera's ability to capture due to exposure?  I did try more color in the fountains, but rejected that because the larger reflection in the water didn't show a strong color bias and went with a more neutral color edging towards the warm.

After going through this exercise I can explain that cyan lighting. I have seen this show many, many times and do not recall that they ever attempted to apply strongly colored lighting to the jets of water, although I think they have done it on holidays and other special occasions. In any case it would be quite difficult technically. This picture shows about 100 jets. The lake has, if I recall, 1,400.

No, the subdued cyan underlighting simply means that the designers understood something that we’ve all just learned the hard way: warm casts, especially yellow ones, are quite obnoxious in this context. So they’re making sure that we perceive the water as a cool white, not a warm one.

517 fountain 2a1b; hotel 52L. This is one of my favorites, but I did not choose it for the par because its eccentricities are too much like those of #503 and the par would get unbalanced if both were included. Since this one sways heavily toward pink as #514 does toward yellow, it shouldn’t be surprising that a 50-50 blend of the two is better than either.

518 fountain 8a(1)b; hotel 34L. Chosen for the par version. Excessive sharpening, and hotel is too yellow. but nice shape in water both foreground and fountain. Note that having the water too magenta, as it measures here, isn’t nearly as obnoxious as making it yellow.

519 fountain 6a16b; hotel 40L. Like several others, agreeable contrast, nasty color.

520 fountain 0a6b; hotel 40L. This person, like me, has seen the fountain show in person dozens of times, 

and unless the show is a fountain light show with colors, the water is always white not yellow in color. The Bellagio also turns on exterior purple lighting to hit the hotel. It doesn't reach the top. That is why I added a gradient tint to three quarters of the hotel. 

Although the hotel is properly dark, the fountains lack detail, as does the Bellagio name in the bell tower. This is therefore the opposite of #515: it has acceptable color, poor contrast. The two can be united but there are some complications, so

Demonstration: adding some of the contrast of #515 to #520 without changing color. Add a duplicate layer to #520 and set it to Luminosity mode. Now, apply #515 to that layer, but it shouldn’t be done in Normal mode because #515’s hotel is slightly lighter, which is undesirable. Therefore, choose Darker within the Apply Image command. The other problem with this blend is that it flattens the attractive sky. To correct this, move the layered file unflattened into LAB and use Blend If to exclude the blend wherever the B is negative. A slightly less effective way of doing it without leaving RGB is to check Mask=Red in the Apply Image box, still using Darken mode.

521 fountain (1)a(11)b; hotel 30L. Chosen for the par version, again for balance. I am generally not noted for conservatism, but this is my entry. As you can tell, my mindset was that this picture is not about the Las Vegas experience, but about these fountains only. So I wanted the hotel very dark (I originally had it even darker, and cut back, but even so it’s the darkest of any version except the weird #522). Also, I made a copy of the blue channel, increased sky contrast drastically, and used it to blend a cloud pattern into the deep blue. The idea of that was to further distract people from looking at the hotel. I also refrained from sharpening, trying for a dreamier look, which in retrospect may not have been too wise.

522 fountain 15a21b; hotel 8L. By comparison to this, my hotel in #521 hardly seems dark at all. As it stands, this has two major problems: if the scene was really this dark, nobody would be able to walk around without holding a flashlight; and much more detail would show up in the water. Right now the whole image is all highlight and shadow, very little of interest in the entire midrange.

523 fountain 6a21b; hotel 33L. Excellent contrast is derailed by horribly yellow water. The hotel is nicely dark. That means that this file could be used as an auxiliary with telling effect. 

Demonstration: #503 was good, but let’s make it better. On a duplicate layer, apply #523. You wouldn’t think that you’d have to use Darken mode for this blend considering that #523 is on the whole much darker than #503, but it has to be done that way to preserve all the yellow that #503 has crowbarred into the accents. After the blend, of course, the layer mode must change to Luminosity. You might also think that the proper opacity is 100%, since overall the contrast in #523 is much better. That wouldn’t quite work, however. If the hotel is as colorful as #503 is, it can’t be made hugely darker, it would look like something from another planet. So the overall move is, 1) duplicate layer; 2) apply #523 in Darken mode; 3) change mode to Luminosity; 4) reduce opacity to 67%.

Doing this results in something not just much better than either parent but better than any other entrant except #528, IMHO.

524 fountain not accurately measurable due to retouching; hotel 35L. Bill Theis explains this version as follows.

The fountains at the Bellagio are numerous, impressive in their height and patterns, and colorfully lit from below with lights.  Since I couldn't make bigger or more fountains, I went for color.  After all this is Vegas, baby.  This involved a mask and I added a second MMM+CB and went extreme with the settings.  So the colors that were there, were there. No painting in anything. However, the color looked posterized like it does in 505 so I did a blur of both A and B channels to distribute it using a radial blur at 90.  If you are going to photograph one small fountain out of many at a point when it is not tall and powerful, go for color.  Artistic choice.  Replacing the color on the par version with my color looks pretty good (and maybe 50% of my luminosity?)  

I also went with something I heard someone say that "when everything is colorful, nothing is colorful" so I intentionally didn't go overboard with the building behind the fountains or the sky.  In fact I removed all the purple at the lower part of the building so as not to distract from the fountain as well as keeping the entire background a bit dark

comparing mine to the other entries, I took the fountain color way over the top (the most colorful of any fountain) because, hey, it's Vegas and that's one of the things that impressed me about Bellagio's fountains.  others that went this way were 528 (which looks like the colors may have been painted it-they were not the actual residual colors) as well as 501 523, 529, 531 so I am not alone in the approach.  Colorless water is for waterfalls, not Vegas.

It is true that Vegas is noted for garish lighting, some of which is found on the shore. I understand that they occasionally attempt to light the jets of water but they couldn’t possibly get an effect like this one. Besides, as pointed out by Edward Bateman at #516, it’s clear that there’s some kind of subdued cyan lighting at the base. That’s an attempt to make sure the fountains are seen as chilly, and not of the objectionable color that so many of us engineered in.

525 fountain 7a9b; hotel 51L. Done entirely in Camera Raw in two minutes, yet one of the minority with good color as well as good detail. I would recommend blending #523 into it in Luminosity mode.

526 fountain 0a(2)b; hotel 44L.  The objectives, according to Harvey Nagai: 

Throughout the process I had the Niagara Falls case study in mind, so my correction portrays
the fountains captured at a singular instant, a freeze-frame, a single cel in a movie, so to
speak.  Maybe that's the best that be can done with this image.

But maybe the artist was presenting changing shapes, and rather than what I saw as two rings
of fountains, maybe the concept was shells of light, like a time-lapse presentation of a
flower blooming.

In that case maybe the fountains were meant to be seen as a translucent collective rather
than rings of individual skeletal sprays, morphing shapes rather than arcs moving in unison.

Blending the luminosity of a more blown-out image softened the raw details and made the sprays
brighter and more opaque.  Not quite what I had envisioned, I don't see anything more than
softer, brighter and more opaque (and more blown out).

Harvey then kicked the can down the road by submitting two versions, one with the familiar strong yellow feel and the other being corrected into #526, with the instruction that I should choose one. That wasn’t a difficult choice. It would also not have been difficult for Harvey to have moved away from the yellow cast in the quartertone without taking it out of the rest of the image as well. As it turned out, it has the flavor of a grayscale image, although certainly not to the extent of #509. That the water should basically be neutral doesn’t rule out all variation within it.

Demonstration: assuming that there’s no desire to make the hotel darker, or even more colorful, all we need is a version with roughly neutral water in the fountains but some variation therein, with some color in the foreground but a subdued hotel. That would be #521. Blend it into this one in Color mode and the hotel barely changes, but the lake becomes more believable and so do the fountains.

527 fountain (2)a10b; hotel 53L. The fatal yellowness here may have come from a creative move. The person states that he blended the blue channel into the red, Lighten mode at an unspecified opacity. Presumably, his motivation was to accentuate the cloud pattern in the sky. That’s OK, because the red channel was so heavy that the sky could not be made any other color than blue without replacing it entirely. But it was not OK in the foreground water, the reflections of which now tend to measure something like (3)a12b, very greenish-yellow.

528 fountain not accurately measurable due to retouching; hotel 36L.  Chosen for the par version. Paco Márquez has scored again with a version that seems to me clearly better than any other—if you are after the “Vegas” look, which some people aren’t. So this picture is in the same category as Bill Theis’s #524, but more tasteful. Paco has found ways to  emphasize every kind of light that might create excitement without overwhelming us with overall color. 

As Paco has posted his steps and there have been other comments about this version I won’t get into technique. I will discuss psychology, however.

Anyone who has ever visited this attraction will know that this presentation isn’t realistic but is intended to set a mood, to fool us into thinking that we are in a different reality. Its success in creating this illusion is shown by Steve Jenkins’ criticism that it seems to suppress the reflection of the fountain swarm in the dark water in the foreground. After all, many other versions that aren’t nearly as bright as this one have that area almost white, no?

No. Well, yes, they have that reflection brighter, but the idea that #528 is a brighter version a victim of Paco’s trickery. In fact, he has the second darkest hotel of any reasonable version. Only #521 has it darker. A large part of the success of this version depends on that darkness to set off the brilliant colors, and the white of the fountains. The reflections aren’t as light as in other versions because the other versions have a lighter lake.

529 fountain (9)a14b; hotel 43L. The production notes to this one state that the person doesn’t know how the water became green, but that it was even worse than it is now, so he toned it down with Hue/Saturation. He should have gone further. We know that we can’t tolerate yellowish water. A bluish fountain and lake might work. As it stands this version is appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day only.

530 fountain 1a7b; hotel 58L. This one puts the ball in play, but as we’re about to see, it can be greatly improved. The person messaged me his reasoning, with which I don’t always concur.

The casino and fountains are of equal importance.

Certainly that’s one valid interpretation.

The building is underexposed and needs lightening.

It may perhaps be that way from the standpoint of pure photography but in this context lightening it is a bad idea.

The fountains need detail brought out in the water to give a sense of motion.


Neutral highlights are at the base of the fountain and neutral darks in the windows top right. 

I don’t think the windows are necessarily black, they tint them heavily so that the sun can’t make the room unbearably hot.

In between there are no neutral areas to be concerned about.

Yes there are—those parts of the fountains that are significantly darker than a highlight.

Images on the web show both cool white lighting or warm yellow lighting on the fountains so I assume both are valid treatments. I have opted for colder lighting.

Three versions were merged each with a different starting point. Very colourful end product but this is Las Vegas!

Now by Las Vegas standards I don’t consider this very colorful, perhaps in some other city. But two problems remain: first, the water measures slightly yellow, though not as bad as others. Secondly, though acceptable, it’s slightly weak because the hotel shouldn’t have been lightened so much.

Demonstration: So, the temptation is to add #523 as a Luminosity layer to this one, let us say at 50% opacity. That’s an improvement, but the yellowness in the fountain persists. Instead, try a Normal layer at 50% with #521. That doesn’t seem to make contrast any worse but it does wipe out the yellowness, making IMHO a really excellent version.

That concludes my comments of substance. I hope that people will try this last demonstration, as well as the one at the end of #523, which produced really good results. And I hope you will have a good grasp of why this is so, and how it could be duplicated if you’re faced with such a challenge again.

Just quick comments on the remainder:

531 fountain 11a17b; hotel 49L.Water is blown out.  Strong warm cast. 

532 fountain 4a10b; hotel 39L. Here’s the effort of MIT retoucher B. It hardly stands up to that of his colleague in #508.

533 fountain 3a20b; hotel 59L. Bell tower blown out.

534 fountain 0a14b; hotel 48L. Gerald Bakker has already posted his own mea culpa about this one, so I won’t add anything.

535 fountain 2a15b; hotel 42L. Yellowish water, lacking in detail.

536 fountain 4a(6)b; hotel 39L. The par version.

Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments


Dear Dan,

Thanks for the comments and the detailed critique/analysis of my submission No. 530.

I did deliberately back off a bit from the icy white colour and  left some warmth in the water. As mentioned in my notes I thought of emphasizing the building as well be lightening it. As well as being too light it also looks flat/lacking in any kind of texture. In hindsight the sky and darker parts of the water are too bright as well.

I tried your suggestion at improvement as well well as blending with par as a low opacity luminosity layer, both improve it considerably.

Best regards,
Robin Mark D'Rozario

moderated Re: Case Study: King of Beasts

Dan Margulis

On Mar 1, 2021, at 10:25 AM, Dan Margulis via <dmargulis@...> wrote:

Halfway through our case studies, we head west from Las Vegas to visit the San Diego Zoo.

A reminder that entries are due in this case study in 48 hours, at 06:00 eastern time Monday/1100Z/12:00 ora italiana

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:


Dan Margulis

Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments

David Remington


Thanks for the review and suggestions for improving my 514. I tried your suggestions and agree that the hotel looks better with more red. When I blended the B into the A I see the blues shift toward magenta not cyan. I like that effect though. Agreed that a bit darker is better too, but I have to go back to review MPCW on blending. I'm not sure I am doing it correctly.

Ditto on your take on the hiraloam sharpening. Too heavy handed and no sense of spray. Funny, my first version was much cooler but I went warmer as my last entries were judged to be too cool. But, as you say, every image is different.

Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments

Dan Margulis

On Mar 4, 2021, at 6:58 PM, Edward Bateman <capteddy@...> wrote:

Just a quick question. (I'm not afraid anymore to show my ignorance :)

Wouldn't the cyan/blue under lighting make the fountains visually seem more warm in contrast?

A nearby *object* makes its neighbors seem to take on some of its complementary, red in the case of cyan. A *light source* casts its color onto the recipient. In the Sunset on Beach exercise we saw something analogous: in a sunny scene the beach takes on some of the warm coloring of the sun.


Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments


William, no apology needed. Anyone who takes care to put an accent on the "a" of Márquez has to be a special person! 😉👍

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