Introducing the LightBlender Part II — Using the LightBlender (Simple mode)

Introduction

(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.

Video Tutorial

Watch a video tutorial of the LightBlender (basic mode) with many real-time examples

LightBlender Basic Tutorial. Watch on Youtube in 1280×720 HD


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.

Example Image

Original Image

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.

LightBlender’s Power

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.

An Example

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:

  1. Lightblender Settings (highlights and shadows layers)
  2. Definition Slider
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Conclusion

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.


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3 thoughts on “Introducing the LightBlender Part II — Using the LightBlender (Simple mode)

  1. There now seems to be many functions doing the same thing … fill light, smart light, gamma, brighten, light box etc. Exactly how do they all differ ? A table would be useful.

  2. There’s definitely some overlap as some functions are becoming more advanced and more prominent. For example, the Exposure Slider in the Power Box is the same thing as the “Whitepoint” slider in the Pro Quick Edit Mode, and there really is no need for the traditional contrast control in the Quick Edit Mode now that the Smart Contrast performs that as a subset with far more control.

    There’s a crossover during the evolution of it all. On the other hand, there is a purposeful crossover in some areas. For example, the Fill Light Slider is a subset of the Smart Light, but since the Fill Light Slider is right there in the quick edit mode and pro quick edit mode, it is more accessible and instantly useable with all of the other layers in those modes, as opposed to the three specific layers in the Smart Light. So, it has a definite purpose, as opposed to having to split up something that is easily done by moving sliders around into separate functions as in programs like Photoshop. So, there is some duplication on purpose just to avoid that issue.

    With the Light Blender, it can perform a lot more functions than the Smart Light, but is also less subtle. The Smart Light performs a specific function and treats the light differently, so it is more of a preference issue. For general editing, I would still recommend the Smart Light over the LightBlender for just generally bringing up the light in your image — at least until one is used to Sagelight enough to understand the difference by experience and choose by perference.

    With the PQE mode and the overlapping sliders (i.e. the White Point Slider and Blackpoint slider), this gives me some room to change the function of the Exposure Slider in the Power Box when in the PQE mode (I want it to be a “reverse blacks” slider, but didn’t have room in the QE mode because the Exposure took precendence).

    A notable similarity with a purpose is the Blackpoint and Whitepoint sliders in the PQE mode that are both in the general PQE menu and the auto balance menu as separate layers. The interesting thing there is that the same sliders in the auto balance serve a different purpose, as they are calculated as the very first layers, where the other ones (outside of the autobalance and in the PQE panel) perform more of a control over the image as it is being manipulated — the ones in the autobalance are used to define the starting point of the image.

    So, there are overlap issues with a point, where some are areas where I have room to work with, such as the exposure slider.

    Some may look the same, but aren’t. Brightness and Gamma are two different functions, for example, as Gamma brightens or darkens from the shadows and brighten works from the midtones. So, they do have a difference that, at first is subtle, but when you combine them, that’s when you’re creating a composite curve that you can control in a multitude of ways to work on specific areas of your image, where each curve individually works over the entire image with a focus on certain tonal areas. It’s kind of like an interference pattern .

    The Gamma slider, for example, in the PQE mode is there as a basic substitute for the Shadows Slider because of RAW images and general technical issues, where Gamma as a specific function (i.e. value^x, more or less) because its used in a lot of other formulas, and adjusting the gamma is something that is a function that I think should be provided in the more ‘pro’ aspects of Sagelight (i.e. the PQE mode).

    I guess to really (and finally.. ha) answer your question, I would say that there are a couple things that are overlapping because of the Power Box, but, overall, most overlap is only that the functions are similar, but have a reason to be different, while other overlap is there on purpose to make it easier for people to find the same types of functions in their own way, to keep Sagelight easier to use.

    I think it would be good, though, to explain the difference, say, between the Smart Light and the LightBlender and where each has its strength. I believe I did put in the Fill Light Slider documentation that it is simply a subset of the Smart Light function put into the QE and PQE modes just to make it more accessible.

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