Introducing the LightBlender – Part I (a look at the LightBlender)

Version 4.1 (beta) is now available, which features the LightBlender. See the next blog entry for the details and location of version 4.1 (beta).

Sagelight LightBlender (version 1.0)

(The LightBlender comes with Sagelight and is located in the PowerBox)

The Light Blender is a powerful “program within a program”-level tool in Sagelight that allows you to adjust and manipulate the light in your image in many different ways.  It can help you brighten shadows, add or remove contrast, make small changes, dramatic changes, and make surrealistic images.

This article has many different examples, all of which are clickable to their larger sizes – the larger-sized examples is important because one of the main elements of the LightBlender is that it allows you to get these powerful changes without halo effects and without blowing out highlights, which is a typical problem when dealing with bring out the light in your image.  At the larger sizes, you can inspect the results and see how well the LightBlender is doing.

LightBlender Examples and Descriptions

Normally this is the wrong order, but I am going to put all examples below before I discuss LightBlender.  This is because you can do so much with Light Blender, it’s worth keeping in mind all of the varied examples as I discuss how it works.  Scroll through the examples, and then you can refer back to them as I refer to various elements of the LightBlender.

There are notes about the LightBlender on most examples.

The LightBlender can help in just about all areas of your image, as well as open up new ideas.  The set of examples is fairly small in relation to what the LightBlender can do.  The examples run through a few different types of images and effects you can do with LightBlender.

Below are the examples, split into logical sections where certain aspects of the LightBlender is useful.  They are more-or-less in order of general types of images to more specific types.

Bringing up the Shadows and Brightening Images

One of the most straightforward and general uses for the LightBlender is to bring up the shadows in an image.  Sagelight already has the Smart Light function, which is very useful and still the “go to” tool for brightening up your image and bringing down the highlights.  Sagelight also has the “Fill Light Slider” to bring up the shadows.

The LightBlender extends these  principles.  It works on its own and also works with the Fill Light Slider and Smart Light (read more in the general description section).  In fact, the LightBlender has been carefully crafted to work well with all of Sagelight’s tools, particularly the Fill Light Slider, Definition Sliders, and Vibrance Sliders.  The LightBlender works on the principle of using different blending modes (such as Overlay, Vivid, etc., depending on the setting you choose), and can bring up the light in a way that also keep the colors brilliant.

Mono Lake

Original Image (Picture Credit: please let me know who sent it to me!)

After using LightBlender (click for larger image)

It’s important to note here that this image was also augmented after using the LightBlender.  The LightBlender helps you bring up, down, or otherwise change the light.  It can make an amazing difference, and sets you up to be even more artistic with your image.  As such, this image (and some others – which will be noted as they occur) in its primary result is what the LightBlender was able to do to the image.  That is, the brightness and overall light came from the LightBlender.  Some of the more subtle factors, such as Dodging and Burning and a subtle vignette, were added after the LightBlender was used.  In the case of this image, for example, the LightBlender put me in a great position to do very little work once the LightBlender was used.

For this picture, that really is the notation: the LightBlender brought it out nicely and then I was able to do just a few things to it to get this result.  All I really had to do is add the vignette and then unevenly dodge and burn the foreground to get the scattered look that looks like a nice uneven (i.e. realistic) tone, as if the sun was coming through some cloud or the texture was even more varied.

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, one of the things that can really subdue an image and really make it less plain and generally work is adding a very subtle vignette.

Statue

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

This is a good example of a few things going on with the LightBlender:

  1. No Halos or blown-out highlights. This type of image is very difficult to brighten without halos and without blowing out highlights
  2. Low Resolution Source. The original source for this image is a highly compressed 8-bit jpeg, and look at how much definition was in the shadows that were so deep the face does not show at all.
  3. LightBlender retains data. One of the end-results of the LightBlender is that it is able to keep a high quality level when bringing out data from the shadows.
  4. Imagine RAW, or high-quality compression. If this is the sort of definition available in such a low-quality original, imagine what can be brought out of a RAW image, lossless or even a JPEG with maximum quality set.
  5. Definition (aka Clarity for Lightroom users) is part of the LightBlender. The LightBlender is located in the Power Box along with the Definition Sliders.  The LightBlender image clearly has a much higher definition to it than the original. The LightBlender, in total, actually consists of the LightBlender controls and the Definition Sliders together.  They’ve been programmed to work together when the LightBlender is active.  It’s a little involved, but basically the Definition Sliders work in a very integral manner with the LightBlender to help the Light Blending along and to achieve great results.
  6. LightBlender sets you up for more. There is definitely a “wow” factor for how this image was able to change this image so drastically in basically one set of controls.  But, its still a little dry.  It’s a technical result in that it really gives me a lot of room to work with it now.

After Augmentation (click for larger size)

After I used the LightBlender, I was able to get this result, which really darkened the image even more than it was originally.  I gave it a nice, cool blue hue, a vignette, and otherwise sought to make it moody.  Only this time, I had a lot more to work with and was able to get the dark image I wanted but with the face and hands showing, as well as a whole lot more definition to the image in general – with no halos.

City Street

Original Image

After LightBlender (click here for larger size)

I could have left the sky alone here, but I thought it looked too unnatural to leave it a the same darkness, so I brightened it up a little, too.

Pictures Taken Directly into the Sun

Pictures that are taken with the sun directly in front of the camera deserve their own class.  This is because they traditionally very difficult to deal with.  The LightBlender makes it easier.

Thanksgiving Day

Original Image (picture credit: please remind me!)

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

This image is the result after the LightBlender and some other functions to bring out the foreground and subdue the background.  The light factor comes from the LightBlender.

Multiple LightBlender-Pass Images (and Pictures Taken Directly into the Sun, continued)

These next two images are specific examples of how you can use the LightBlender, apply your image, and then use the LightBlender again in another pass.  The first image was also taken directly into the sun.

Ancient Arch

Original Image

After LightBlender (pass 1) (click here for larger image)

Pass 1 looks great and sets up the image for even more work.  It really brought out the rocks in the upper arch nicely, and I’d like to see some more brightness, contrast, and definition.  In this case, we can just use the LightBlender again.

After LighBlender (pass 2) (click here for larger image)

Now it looks much better.  It has more definition and a nice overall tone.

This image points out a couple things about the LightBlender:

  1. False Halos.  When working with bringing out light in pictures, halos often occur.  An interesting thing that happens is false or imaginary halos.  Sometimes a halo will appear that is natural to the picture.  This can be important, because if a natural area is mistaken as a halo, a lot of time can be wasted fixing something that doesn’t need to be fixed.  For example, in this image, the fact that the white area in the middle-left of the picture is not a halo is easily seen, especially since we have the original as the reference.  But, this is not always true.  Sometimes apparent halos appear after the LightBlender has brought out the contrast of the image when these are natural parts of the picture.  You can use the various controls of the LightBlender (especially the Reduce Halos Slider) to determine whether or not it is natural to the image.
  2. Uneven Light. In somewhat of an example of a “false halo” mentioned above, note the upper arch area and that it is brighter in the middle than it is on the edges.  Sometimes this can be an artifact of light blending in general, but in this image it is not the case.  The original picture shows the same issue – it’s just that it has such a low brightness and contrast it is hard to see.  However, upon inspection, you can see the same light issues in the original.  On the other hand, uneven light can make a picture look much more natural.  As an example, the second pass picture didn’t create the uneven light but it did magnify it as the contrast and brightness was brought out simultaneously.  Realistically, this probably looks better than completely even light which can sometimes give an artificial “HDR” look.
  3. Adjusting Uneven Light.  Even so, it is very possible to adjust for the uneven light if desired.   Using the LightBlender with the Undo Brush or the Dodge and Burn Brushes are very useful for this.
  4. LightBlender sets up the Dodge and Burn Brushes. The Dodge and Burn brushes turn into very natural resources for use after the LightBlender.  One of the reasons for this is that one of the main uses for the LightBlender is to bring up the shadows and to bring down the highlights.  This removes contrast for the image and basically prepares the image for a much wider range of editing.  For example, notice that pass 1 did exactly that – it reduced contrast and gave me a canvas to work on with a wide range of possibilities.  As it turns out, I just used the LightBlender again for the most part, but I also Dodged and Burned the image here and there.  The Dodge and Burn helps you create contrast where you want it, which is exactly what the LightBlender helps you with.

Gate Lion

Original Image (image credit: Paul Lawrence)

After LightBlender, pass 1 (click for larger image)

After LightBlender, pass 2 (click for larger image)

If you’ve looked at other articles I’ve written, you’ve seen this image before.  The first time I wrote about it, I was pointing this image out as an image that was an example of an image that is rather hard to deal with. This particular image is hard to deal with for a couple reasons, most notably the sky can get blown very easily with just about any operation.  Brighten the image, add definition/local contrast; just about anything will kill the sky because it is a bright areas mixed in with very defined dark leaves and branches.  This is a formula for halos or blown-out highlights, so the sky needs to be handled with care.

Another reason this image is hard to deal with is because it has a bright centerpiece surrounded by a dark area.  We want to brighten up the image and keep the contrast all at the same time, while preserving the sky.   This image started off as a RAW image, and, while I haven’t seen the JPEG image, I doubt very much it remained intact as a camera-written jpeg.

In the previous example with this image, I used it to point out the power of the Power Box.

Now that the LightBlender is part of the Power Box, bringing out this image is that much easier. Here were the steps involved in create this image:

  1. Pass one with the Light Blender (as shown)
  2. Pass two with the Light Blender
  3. Small amount of Dodging and Burning (pretty much as shown)
  4. Small amounts of touch ups here and there

This image points out another thing about the LightBlender

  1. Sagelight Vibrance is part of the LightBlender.  As mentioned earlier, the Definition Sliders is a part of the design of the LightBlender.  If they didn’t already exist when the LightBlender was designed and implemented, they would have needed to be created anyway.  In the same vein, this is true of the Vibrance Slider, too.  It isn’t so much an integral part of it, as much as dark images, or images where you’re reducing contrast tend to look better if you can add some color to it.  As it turns out, the Sagelight Vibrance Slider in the Power Box works great for this, and typically works much better than just adding saturation.  So, the LightBlender consists of the LightBlender controls, the Definition Sliders, and the Vibrance Controls.  Or, the Power Box just encapsulates all of it.  Either way, the controls work very well together.

Subtle Tones, Skin Tones and Black and White Images

The examples so far have introduced some drastic changes to the samples shown, adding brightness and contrast.  Many more examples show a lot of work with the same sort of philosophy because that is a popular thing to do with images.

Adding subtlety to images is also a strength of the LightBlender.  The LightBlender is great for bringing out elements in images and is very good for bringing down highlights and bright skin tones. It also turns out that the LightBlender is great for black and white images.

Dolphins

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

The Lightblender was used to bring down the brightness but to also bring up the shadows while keeping the contrast reduced. The end result is a much more colorful image (see note below) that adds a lot more detail to the dolphins.

This image points out an interesting factor with the LightBlender

  1. The LightBlender can Deepen Color. The fact that the LightBlender turned the water to such a deep blue was fairly surprising.  It turned out that the deep blue is the color in the image corresponding to the lower light level.  You can adjust this with the LightBlender controls.  The end-result is changing the image from a mid-day image to a late-afternoon image. Note that the colors of the dolphins deepened, as well.
  2. The Color can be Blended Back into the original image. Since the color is the natural color for the image, a great side-effect of this is that you can blend the image back into the original very naturally (i.e. with the Undo Brush).  Wanting to blend the result image back into the previous or original image happens often.  However, to get deep colors, this can mean masking and otherwise changing the color and the light, which makes blending back in difficult and can lead to unnatural results.  The benefit of the LightBlender keeping the correct, though more saturated color (due to the lower light level) is that you can blend it back into the original image much more naturally, because the color will blend back in accurately with the light changes.

Mohammed Ali

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

As mentioned above, it turns out that the LightBlender is very suited towards black-and-white images.  This image, for example, was adjusted with the LightBlender, and then the noise in the upper-left was removed with the Image Smoothing function in Sagelight.  The result is a very nice black-and-white image with subtle tones and high definition.

notes:

  1. This (and the next picture) are examples of very low-resolution, highly-compressed pictures.  This was more-or-less done on purpose to show how the LightBlender keeps the quality very high as it adjusts the light dramatically.

Restoration

Original Image

After Light Blender (and then some) (click for larger image)

This image points out a couple things about the LightBlender:

  1. The LightBlender helps set a picture up for further editing with other tools. Once the cracks and tears were removed from the image, the Lightblender was used to bring the shadows and highlights in the image to a more natural look.
  2. Sagelight is a multi-level, multi-faceted image editor.  The Light Blender adds to the large volume of tools already in Sagelight, and can help make the most out of what is already there.

Flower

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

This is another image I’ve used in another article.  This turned out to be a good example of reducing the light while keeping the contrast low.  This image has more contrast than the original, but it is also a very light touch.  It’s a little hard to see in the thumbnail, but you can see the larger image to see how the LightBlender brought down the light but still kept the shadows a little higher to keep the definition in those areas.

Portraits and People

The LightBlender is great for dealing with portraits, either in bringing out the definition in a picture or providing for or setting up various effects.

Homeless Man

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

This is an example of taking a dark picture and bringing out the definition.  The larger picture provides much more detail.

The LightBlender really brought out the definition, and I purposely made this a high-contrast picture to bring out the details of the man’s face and expression.  The beard, for example, really shows up now, as well as the blemishes which really are an integral part of the picture and were subdued before.

This picture now has almost a 3-d effect on the 2-d monitor.

Guy in Airplane Lavatory

Original Image

After LightBlender (et. al) (click for larger image)

With this image, I was just playing with different aspects of Sagelight, such as the Color Contrast and Blending controls.  The LightBlender set up the initial deepening of the contrast without killing the highlights.  I also added some monochromatic noise.

The reason I liked this picture is because I added two vignettes, around each face, and now the picture in the mirror looks like his evil twin staring back at him.  Strangely, the man in the mirror not only has a sneer the man on the left doesn’t have, but he also seems more in control, and seems as if he is peeking around the corner with some ulterior motive.  It was a strange juxtaposition, and now when I look at the picture, I see the man in the mirror looking at the man in the bathroom, not the other way around.

The Dramatic (and other various images)

This sections presents some various examples using the LightBlender, many of which have a flair for the dramatic statement.

The Cat

Original Image

After Light Blender (click for larger size)

Now “Evil Cat

This image was made with two passes of the LightBlender.  One pass was for the overall tone, and the second pass was specific to the eyes – to bring out the reflections and to make the image that much more dramatic.

Stunt Planes

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger image)

A couple points with this image:

  1. No Halos. This image really works well and couldn’t work as well with a larger feather or with halos.  With Halos, the image wouldn’t work, and it was important to have an even tone across the clouds.  This represents a very technically challenging image.
  2. The People are not falling.  If you click on the larger image, you’ll see the people are attached to the plane.  Just thought I should mention that.

HDR Arch

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

Notes:

  1. LightBlender as HDR. The LightBlender (when using the more advanced features such as the Halo Reduction) is technically an HDR tool.  It is not promoted too much because its real purpose is to help you with creating realistic images. But, this image turned out well, and I left some haloing in on purpose to give it an artificial HDR feel, and because I was just experimenting with it.
  2. Real HDR.  By the same token, you can use “real HDR” techniques in the LightBlender to accomplish some surreal and photo-realistic effects outside the range of the typical process. The picture of the homeless man above, for example, uses some of those to bring out a very details, somewhat surreal quality.  I will be writing some articles in this specific subject.

HDR Docks

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for large size)

Another HDR approach to the LightBlender.  As mentioned, though its not its main purpose, the LightBlender is capable of a very wide range of changes to your image, including images like the HDR-look above.

Medieval Girl

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

  1. In many ways, this image represents nothing special.  But, that’s exactly the point with a lot of what the LightBlender can do.  While the LightBlender is very powerful and there is a natural tendency to show examples of its power, it can also be used as a tool to do some fairly easy things, such as bringing out the definition and clarity in this picture.

The end-result is a picture that has a lot of color and much more of a 3-D effect that the original.  I focused on the reds in the wall, the woman’s hair, and the girl’s dress and complexion (and, to some extent, the red in the bricks) to give this picture a theme.

This operation is very easy with the LightBlender, and the LightBlender, an addition to its more powerful elements, is a great “go to” tool for general editing.

Condor

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

This image represents how you can really get definition from an image.  This image has a totally different look than the original image. The LightBlender was used in two passes, one to get the overall result, and one more to bring out the eye.

The detail in the eye is really the LightBlender comment for this example – the eye really makes a difference, especially for such a small part of the picture.

Tiger Cub (Artistic Example)

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

This image is a good example of how different an image can be that is not so apparent.  The LightBlender was used to bring the light down quite a bit on the tiger cub while keeping the contrast at a nice level.  It was also used to bring out the eyes.  It turns out that the light levels are very different even though they don’t look too different from picture to picture.  If you desaturated both pictures, for example, they would look very different.

I then used the duotone feature in Sagelight to add the brown tone to the tiger cub.  My intention was more artistic, rather than photorealistic.  I could continue on this image, such as blending it, softening it, adding a vignette, etc.

Truck

Original Image

After LightBlender (click for larger size)

A couple notes:

  1. An Easy LightBlender Example.  This is a good example of a very easy-to-do example of the Light Blender.  It uses both layers with simple movements on the 5-band equalizers on each layer (shadows and highlights), and that’s it.
  2. LightBlender brings out the color.  As mentioned earlier, the LightBlender really bring out the color, which you can control.  In this case, I went for the colorful image on purpose, so I also added a touch of Vibrance.

Coming in Part II

The examples above just scratch the surface of the capabilities of the LightBlender.  I will add more examples and tutorials over the next few weeks.

Part II will be about how to use the LightBlender, the controls and the the multi-level approach.  I Will have that out tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “Introducing the LightBlender – Part I (a look at the LightBlender)

  1. What is the best way to bring out detail in very dark areas, whilst avoiding over brightening other areas and avoiding over saturation ?

  2. There are a couple ways…

    With the LightBlender specifically, you can do two things:

    1. Use the Fill Light Slider to help bring out the darker areas. This works ok, but I prefer the next method.
    2. Use the “Backlight” slider in the “shadow layer” (or, in the advanced modes, set one of the layers as “shadows”) to bring out the shadows — its similar to a weighted gamma function. Then, use the leftmost slider in the Equalizer (or the same area in the curve window if you’re using that) to yank down the black point to whatever level seems the best. Then use the sliders/equalizers next to that one to bring up the low-level light while keeping an overall contrast.

    3. as an addendum to #2, you can also compensate for the contrast lost in the low shadows (caused by the Backlight Slider) with the Blacks Slider in the Power Box OR the Definition Sliders (in the case of the Blacks Slider, just watch for the blackpoints being clipped in the histogram).

    Another option, which I mention in the post today:

    Use the Smart Light Controls but in a more subtle way than normal. The LightBlender (without the Backlight Slider) can use a small amount of help from the Smart Light with really dark areas, but overall is better at avoiding halos and brings out the colors better. So, if you use the Smart Light to help it along, but less aggressively than you would if that was all you were going to use, this will help the LightBlender pickup the light. As I mentioned, the Fill Light Slider (which is easier to use because it’s not in a submenu) can help here, too, even though it is just a subset of the Smart Light Controls.

    Another way:

    Use the “Super Fill” blending mode in the Light Blender with a “Full Range” Frame type. This spreads out the blending more evenly and gives the shadows more range. It’s a little more coarse but will bring out the shadows very well. If you combine this with the Backlight Slider and/or the Fill Light Slider, no shadow will survive! :)

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