(The LightBlender comes with Sagelight and is located in the PowerBox)
The LightBlender has two basic modes: Simple and Advanced.
This article is about the simple mode where you can make dramatic changes to your image with basically one set of controls (a 5-band equalizer) and two buttons. The Advanced mode allows you to do much more, and I will discuss that in another article.
The LightBlender enables you to bring out the light in your image without blowing out the highlights or causing murky or lost shadows – which is typically hard to do in image editing.
Watch a video tutorial of the LightBlender (basic mode) with many real-time examples
The Strength Slider and the Equalizer Controls
The LightBlender initially comes up in the power box as a set of a couple sliders and a few buttons. The LightBlender consists of two layers that you control independently. Initially, these are set to a “shadows” layer and a “highlights” layer, where the focus of the LightBlender’s actions on these layers are in their respective tonal areas.
5-Band Equalizer (after the Strength Slider has set them)
When the Strength Slider is moved, the 5-band equalizer pops up. When moved to the right (and in the initial Shadows mode) the image will generally brighten from the shadows. When moved to the left, the image will deepen. The idea behind the Strength Slider is two-fold: it provides a good starting point where you can set up the equalizer values and then move the equalizers independently, as well as a way to learn how to use the equalizers by watching how the Strength Slider uses them. The Strength Slider is not linear and purposely goes through a number of variations of the Equalizer to get a good starting point for your image.
The Strength Slider provides a very small subset of total possible equalizer values and is only meant to form a starting point, though it often provides a value that is just fine, as well.
If we want to change the picture of this truck, for example ,one of the first thing we can do is to move the Strength Slider to a value that gives us something to work with. Since this image is already bright in areas, we will probably want to adjust the Equalizers, though this is an interesting picture in that it shows how the Shadows layer (layer 1) and the Highlights Layer (layer 2) work well together.
Step 1: Move the Strength Slider Out to get something to work with
If we set the Strength to 81, it would appear as above, giving us the following image:
This is the image after moving the Strength Slider to a value that gives us a perceptually nice image that brightens the shadows. Note that the midtones were brightened a little too, and that the colors were kept bright. You can adjust the how the colors are treated by pressing the “CLIP” button. Most of the time this will scale the colors back – especially when red become too bright.
When the Strength Slider is moved to a value of “81” this is how the equalizer will appear. The Equalizers move in real-time with the Strength Slider to give you an idea of how the Equalizers work as they are moved. The Equalizer window pops up automatically when the Strength Slider is moved.
That was just the beginning steps of using the LightBlender. You can use the Strength Slider to get a starting point or press the “Controls” button to open the Equalizers and use them directly. A good way to start with the Equalizers is to grab the leftmost equalizer, move it to the top, and then adjust the remaining equalizers downward. This will generally set up a good starting point.
The Highlights Layer
The second layer, the Highlights Layer, becomes useful here. In reality, we don’t need to do too much to the Shadows Layer we just created with the Strength Slider/Equalizer, because we really just wanted to bring up the shadows. The Shadows Equalizer could have been adjust to bring down the sky. But (here’s a tip), the Highlights Layer is performed before the Shadows Layer, so all settings performed with the Equalizer on the Shadows layer is based on whatever we do with the Highlights Layer.
The LightBlender is powerful with just one layer. You can do quite a lot with just the Shadows layer or Highlights layers alone. But, when you combine them, you get a synergistic effect that gives more power then A+B.
The Definition Sliders and the LightBlender in its Entirety
The actual, overall definition of the LightBlender includes the Definition Sliders and the Sagelight Vibrance Slider. Underneath the hood, the Definition Sliders work to help out the LightBlender Sliders. By definition, some settings in the LightBlender lose contrast. One of the great aspects of the LightBlender is that you can raise shadows and lower highlights, which is a great help in getting dramatic results without blowing out the highlights or shadows of your image.
A natural consequence of that is that contrast is sometimes lost and you want it back. You can use the LightBlender sliders to bring back the contrast, but you can also use the Definition Sliders to bring in overall local contrast. The fringe benefit of this is that, since the contrast is typically lowered, this helps prevent halos and the washing out problems commonly associated with Local Contrast functions.
Sagelight Vibrance Slider
The Sagelight Vibrance Slider is also very useful with the LightBlender. Sometimes you may want to use just the Saturation Slider in the Quick Edit or Pro Quick Edit panel. Outside of the LightBlender, the rule-of-thumb is that sometimes the Saturation Slider is useful and sometimes the Vibrance Slider is useful. Inside of the Light Blender, particularly if the Definition Sliders are used, the Vibrance Slider becomes useful more often than not (though, with skin tones, the Saturation Slider is usually a better choice).
A basic rule of image editing is that adding Saturation looks better as local contrast is added. Sagelight Vibrance is technically a superset of Saturation, so as you add definition, and since this already works well with the LightBlender, the Sagelight Vibrance function will add deep color as definition as added, which can help keep the newly created focus/definition in the image, where normal saturation can cause overflows and color brightness that doesn’t always look natural.
With just the LightBlender settings and one of the Definition Sliders used, here is a result:
Image with LightBlender and Definition Slider applied (i.e. without the Sagelight Vibrance Slider)
This image has a much more even tone, but also has more contrast than the original – but without sacrificing highlights are shadows.
Basically, this is one session and one set of control settings in the Power Box, which consists of the following:
- Lightblender Settings (highlights and shadows layers)
- Definition Slider
- Sagelight Vibrance Slider
So, not really too many settings for such a change. Here are how all of the settings as they appear (note that the Equalizer Window only appears once with one layer showing at a time; two are shown here for clarity):
I wanted to show you this image because the idea of adding color is different for everyone. The next example is the image with the same exact settings, but with a bump on the Vibrance Slider:
Same image with Vibrance Setting applied.
As you can see, each successive thing done starts to bring out different elements of the image more and more. The image now has a nice overall tone, is bright and colorful, but is not overflowing in the highlights or too murky in the shadows.
Notice that the Shadows Equalizer in the end-result did not really change from using the Strength Slider. This particular image did not require too much from the LightBlender to change as much as it did.
Other controls and notes
- The Clip Button. As mentioned, the “CLIP” button will cut the colors back. The LightBlender tends to bring out the colors, making the image to appear bright and vibrance. Sometimes this can be too much, especially with the reds. The CLIP button will clip the colors back to prevent this from happening.
- Natural Button. The “Natural” button will use a different type of blending to apply the light. This can make quite a difference and is always worth trying. Once you’ve used it a couple times, you’ll see how it works. Typically, it can give a more even and natural tone, where the default mode can be harsher.
- Backlight Slider. This slider provides a backlight function which can brighten the image or darken the image from the type of layer. For example, the Backlight on the Shadows Layer will add (or remove) a backlight from the shadows, where the Backlight Slider in the Highlights Layer will work more on the highlights. The Backlight Slider is a great way to control the result. For example, if you move the Highlights Slider to the left, the image will brighten quite a bit. If you move the Backlight Slider (in the Highlights Layer) to the left as well, it will start to balance out the image, and this is a great combination with the Shadows Layer to bring up the light and keep it looking very natural at the same time.
- Backlight Slider with very dark images. You can also set a small positive setting on the backlight in the Shadows Layer to help the LightBlender work with very dark images. Also see the Fill Light section below
- Fill Light Slider and Shadows Layer. These two layers work very well together. The Fill Light has a much more subtle approach and can help with very dark images. Also, since the Fill Light Slider does not brighten the colors, you can mix it with the Shadows layer of the LightBlender to mix-and-match subtle vs. more harsh tones for a great result.
- Smart Light vs. the LightBlender. One of the questions that immediately comes up with the LightBlender is “Is the Smart Light replaced by the LightBlender”. The answer is “not at all” and “in some sense”. As with the Fill Light Slider, the Smart Light uses a much more subtle approach and has specific and intensive algorithms to bring out the light and bring down the highlights in your image. The three sections of the Smart Light (Shadows, Smart Contrast, and Highlights) have been carefully developed to work together and provide very natural results. The LightBlender, on the other hand, is more extensible and can have a wider range than the Smart Light, but this is more for the advanced areas of the LightBlender not discussed in this article. The LightBlender has more controls where the Smart Light is setup for one set of functions, so it is overall easier to use in some sense, though the LightBlender is also easy to use. If you’re not getting the results you want in the LightBlender (i.e. they’re too bright, too harsh, or not picking up the shadows you want), try the Smart Light. In fact, for a lot of images, a great way to start is to use the Smart Light and then use the LightBlender, because the Smart Light will help the LightBlender – just do a more subtle approach on the Smart Light so the LightBlender can work with your image more.
This discussion has been about the Simple-mode of the LightBlender which consists of basically a 5-band equalizer that allows you to adjust the light in every area of the image. The LightBlender is powerful with the use of just one layer, but consists of two layers (a highlights layer and shadows layer) that, when combined, make the LightBlender that much more powerful.
In its simple form, the LightBlender is easy to use and can make a dramatic difference in your image with just a few settings, especially when combined with the Definition and Vibrance Sliders, which are part of the overall and integral design of the LightBlender.
A preview of the Advanced Mode.
When the “Show Pro Controls” button is checked, a number of other controls and options come up which will be discussed in another article. However, they are fairly intuitive and are explained with the help (activated by pressing ‘?’) and the tooltips that come up when you hover over any control.
Here is a preview of the controls that are available in the LightBlender Advanced/Pro mode:
In the Advanced mode, you have access to a 7-band equalizer, as well as a number of sliders that make the LightBlender much more powerful. You can also use the curves window to get a very high-resolution approach to the LightBlender. You also have control of the blending modes (Highlights, Shadows, Full) as well as the type of light that is applied to the image (such as Soft, Natural, Vivid, Hard, etc.) which adds much more range to the LightBlender.
The Curves window gives you a 1024×1024 canvas to define the LightBlender curve which has much more resolution than regular curves (i.e. you can place points very close together with far-apart settings and not create banding).
note: notice that the 7-Band Equalizer and the Curve have the same shape. The Equalizer is setting nodes on the curve, which makes it easier than manipulating the entire curve. Much as the Strength Slider sets up a good starting point for the Equalizers, the Equalizers set up a good starting point for the Curves Window.
Press the ‘?’ button in the Equalizers when the window is extended for a description of the extra controls.