In way, this is a hard decision to make. What are the two most singularly powerful features in Sagelight?
Sagelight has a lot of powerful features, especially with version 4, such as the Power Curves, Overflow Analysis, new RAW functionality, the Power Box, etc.
But, there are two features that keep popping out as tools to use (or at least try) on just about every picture:
1. Smart Light
The Smart Light tool isn’t new to version 4, but with the addition of the Power Box and other tools, it has become even more useful, both independently as a tool but also as a setup for other tools (like the Definition or Vibrance controls). It was one of the main reasons Sagelight was written, because it was felt than other forms of this tool were not providing realistic results. The Smart Light function analyzes your image on three different levels (shadows, midtones, and highlights) and gives you control over how these areas will be brightened or brought down.
The Power Box has a Smart Contrast control which works much better than traditional contrast.
However, the Smart Light tools have a much different set of algorithms that have been specifically designed to work together. I am working to get them in the Power Box so they are even more instantly accessible, but they do consist of a set of very intensive algorithms with serious memory requirements.
It’s always worth hitting the little “lightbulb with a graduation hat symbol” (Smart Light, see…) and to just hit your image with a little of the Smart Contrast Slider (which works slightly differently than the one in the Power Box) and then also try a little nudge on the highlights slider.
The results can be very powerful very fast.
An Original Image. Looks ok. Could use some contrast.
The problem with typical contrast is that it will make the image look too dark and ruddy, not to mention blowing out the highlights.
Done with just two slider movements in the Smart Light Control. Now, if you use the Definition and other controls in the Power Box, you’ll really get an amazing image from something that started out fairly plain from the camera.
2. Sagelight Vibrance
Sagelight Vibrance is quickly becoming the tool to always at least try on your picture to see what it will do. Most of the time just a little amount will really bring out the color in your picture. See the examples in this blog post: Introducing the Power Box – Some Simple and Powerful Controls in Version 4
Sagelight Vibrance is designed to be used as a Saturation/Vibrance Blend. This helps avoid the typical problems with Vibrance (i.e. too much starkness in your image as well as color noise) and to be used as a tool to just bring out the color. It has a very wide range and can be controlled with the “Saturation Percent” slider to control color vs. deepness.
The Power Box has an implementation of it, and the Vibrance function has even more controls. Here is an example of using the Vibrance Control (the above link has all Power Box examples) where I clicked on the image to focus on specific areas:
After using the Vibrance Function:
(see the section on the Undo Brush)
A few runner-ups:
2. The Undo Brush and Multi-Step Editing
Sagelight was designed so that you don’t have to worry about layers and so you can do just about everything you’d want to do in a layer.
The above image is a good example. In reality, I’d probably want to remove some of the color added to the tree. Adding color can really work in an image, but works much better if it’s focused to just one or two areas.
So much is made today out of making editing a one-step process. Much of version 4 was all about that — that’s why the Power Box is there. You can do an amazing amount of things just by moving some controls. But, let’s say you apply those changes and then treat that image as the original source? That’s multi-step editing. I mean, if you start with an image you can make it better in certain ways — if you then apply those changes, you start with a better image that you can then enhance. It’s probably better described as ‘incremental editing’ or ‘discreet editing’ and, in general, will get you a better result.
With the above image, I used the Vibrance tool, and then used the Undo Brush to put the tree colors back to where it was. Once I did that, it left me free to add even more color to the car. When I did that, I realized that, hey, I should just get rid of most of the color in the tree and darken the surrounding area around the car. Then I can make the focus on the car with the contrast of the colorful building in the background.
None of which had been possible if I left it where it was directly after using the Vibrance function.
The Undo brush gives you a lot of power to easily adjust and tailor certain aspects of your image — all without having to manually declare a layer for each step (not to mention manage these layers).The Undo Brush allows me to undo changes from an edit or to take the previous edit and add back in things I did.
Here’s the result:
Now it has a starker look with more focus on the car, with the building in the background nicely balancing the image.
3. Dodging and Burning
Dodging and Burning is a very powerful tool that helps bring out subject in your image. This will be the subject of a blog entry fairly soon.
The above image was Dogde and Burned. Notice that the sidewalk is brighter (but also has more contrast), as well as the pavement in front of the car. This helps make an image amazingly vibrant, because you can selectively add and subtract light to your image with a brush and pressure on the brush.
In some form or another, I add a subtle (i.e. non-discernible as such) vignette to every picture I edit. It almost universally makes pictures look better by putting more focus on the subject of the image. I’ve been thinking about “rules of thumb” for editing lately, and here is definitely one of them: edit unevenly and the picture tends to look better. For example, I mentioned above that adding color to the entire image generally doesn’t look as good as adding color to just one or two items — otherwise it looks like you turned up the color on your tv instead of using it to bring out certain items — that is to say, beyond just generally adding saturation to an image (which is just fine). But when adding deep color, it usually makes a picture look much better to stick to just the things you want to bring out — such as in this case with the buildings and the car complimenting each other.
With the Vignette, it’s the same thing. An even tone across a picture is fine, but in most cases, doing a very subtle vignette has a magical quality to it by focusing on the image without telling the world it is because of the vignette (I know I am repeating myself here from another blog entry).
In this image, I added a vignette and I think it really makes the car stand out — with the Undo Brush, I could have put the sky and the building back (I use the undo brush after a vignette a lot, mostly to undo the vignette in the areas that were already dark, and a lot of times on the bottom are of the image).
Also using the Smart Contrast control in the Smart Light after a vignette is a pretty good tool — for example, you could use the Smart Light to address the sky — it would still be darker but have more contrast making the vignette less obvious. I made the vignette a little obvious here (more than usual) because I thought it help the car stand out.
5. The Defintion Layers in the Power Box.
These layers are defined to add local contrast (or sharpening) in a way that avoids causing halos as much as possible. In general, just a light touch can really add depth to your image. I’ll be doing a blog entry on this, as well (these are runner-ups, after all). Use the ‘?’ buttons in the Power Box (and Dodge and Burn, too), which will explain more.