So, you got our latest release, XeL: Local Adjustment Presets. You have played around some, seen the effects but now you are figuring out just how to integrate these tools into your workflow. Some of these effects just come off so heavy handed, that some of these presets seem like they would never be of any use to you. Well, I am here to help, and make sure you really have a feel for working with Local Adjustments in Lightroom and using our presets in particular.
My first tip is to flashback here on X-Equals and take a look at our overview of Local Adjustment presets. Here we cover some of the basics, just in case you are not quite used to using this toolset in Lightroom. This should get you a basic understanding of the basic concepts. Another good resource is available from Adobe Help.
Next, open up your XeL download and take a look at the included user manual. We have a full tip sheet for local adjustment presets in general and individual tips for the use of each preset, when applicable. If for some reason you lost yours, or if you still haven’t purchased our offering, you can grab the manual here and take a look for yourself.
Now that those basics are out of the way, let us take a look at some important concepts to keep in mind when using our presets. The first thing to remember is that the Local Adjustment process centers upon Adjustment Masks.
Adjustment Masks are applied with the brush tool, defining an area of adjustment to which your local settings will be applied. If an area is not covered by an Adjustment Mask, it is not altered.
Your brush settings will define size, feathering, rate and transparency of the application of desired effect while applying the mask. Using your brush tools you can control the amount of effect applied without having to alter the settings of the preset being used.
So let us look at the tools in more detail.
Know Your Brush
The concept of Local Adjustment presets is based around the idea of painting an effect on your image using a brush. Yep, just like Photoshop … more or less. There are a few variables that are part of generating a brush for applying local adjustments, so let us take a look at them and how to use them. Then we will take a look at how they work in unison.
- Size – This slider defines the radius of your brush tip. Further to the right, the bigger the brush. While you can define your brush size using this slider, I find it more useful to use my mouse wheel of the bracket ( [ ] ) keys. You can change the size of your brush whilst making adjustments, even while applying the stroke if you use the wheel or bracket.
- Feather – This slider defines an area of transition from the full effect transitioning out to no effect, providing a graduation of the applied effect. This area is represented in the brush tip as two circles. A wide outer circle defining the total area of effect, including feathering and a small inner circle defining the area upon which the entire effect will be applied.
- Flow – Flow defines the rate at which the effect is applied while applying the brush. A low flow means that only a slight amount of effect will be applied while brushing, but you can continue to brush over the same area allowing more flow. Or slow down more to allow for the desired amount of effect. A Flow of 100 applies the full force of the effect upon application.
- Auto Mask – Auto Mask is a checkbox you can select to confine your adjustment to areas of a similar color only. This can be useful for areas of high detail with varying colors, such as eyes, teeth flower petals and tree trunks. Auto Mask applies the effect to any area of similar color to where the brush was first defined.
- Density – The density slider controls the amount of transparency applied to the effect. The lower the density, the more transparency is used in the effect’s application. A density of 100 applies no transparency, applying the effect at full strength.
The combination of these settings allows for over 20 million possible brushes to apply any given adjustment. That is pretty good granularity, but honestly, you never have to worry about that level of accuracy. Just find the settings useful to you at the time.
Now here is the rub, you have to apply the settings at the time the brush is applied. Unlike the Local Adjustment sliders, you cannot simply alter a brush stoke after it is applied. You must define the brush at time of application, so some experimentation may be required to find what you need until you get used to the tools.
While applying the brushes, you can have two uniquely configured brushes at any given time. Just above the Brush slider, you will wind a few options labeled A | B Erase. Click on A or B, then define your brush settings, then select the other option and set that brush’s parameters. Then you can click between the two brushes or simply use the slash ( / ) key to switch between the two. The Erase option, when selected, converts the current brush into an eraser of the same brush properties, allowing you to erase your adjustment mask.
A final consideration in creating and applying brushes is using a Mask Overlay. The Mask Overlay allows for a preview of the area the brush was applied to. Often, when your adjustments will be drastic, this is not needed, but with subtle effects or high precision application, the Mask Overlay can dramatically ease your mask application.
Use the O key on your keyboard to toggle the overlay on and off. This can be done while applying the mask. It is good to toggle frequently whilst applying the mask, so you can see both the covered area and the actual effect. Sometimes you may find that the color of the overlay is not appropriate for your selection. You can change the color of the overlay by using Shift + O to cycle through available colors.
Now, knowing the basics of the brush, we can look at two methods by which to apply the Local Adjustments.
Flow Based Control
Often, you will find that the Local Adjustment preset you desire to utilize will be a bit overzealous in application, especially when applied at full strength. If your desired end point is going to be less dramatic, the easiest and least resource intensive method of application is to utilize the Flow slider in your Brush settings.
By setting a slow Flow setting, around 10-25, you can control the rate of application of effect based upon how long the brush remains over an area. The rate is accumulative as you run the brush across areas of the mask, cumulating up to the full effect of the adjustment settings.
And advantage of Flow Based Control is that you can vary the level of effect in the same selection area based upon how much time the brush is over a selected area. This is excellent for dodging and burning or adjusting skin tone, as you can control the level of effect quite simply. Notice in the image below where the center of the mask is shown with higher intensity than the outer sides. There was more brush focus on the center than edges, and the overlay shows the general difference.
Using the Flow Based Control method of applying Adjustment Masks allows you to control the amount of effect applied, gradually, whilst creating only one adjustment. This is a definite plus, especially for users of older computers, as the more adjustments applied to your image, the more it taxes your system.
Density Based Control
Also minimally resource intensive, but require more knowledge of how effects are applied or a bit of trial and error. Using Density to be your primary control of effect, you can alter how much of any given effect is visible. As Density controls the level of transparency of the applied effect, you can limit how visible the effect will be.
When using Density Based Control, the full effect is applied, but modified by the level of transparency. Since you don’t really know how the effect will appear until applied, you may find yourself deleting and starting anew a few times.
Density Based Control endows the same benefit as Flow Based Control in that it creates only one adjustment, creating little system overhead. The downside is that the application of effect is flat, and can take some time to get the desired effect as well. The image below shows 4 bands of Local Adjustments using Density Based Control. The top row has a Density of 100, the row beneath 75, then 50 and finally 25 at the bottom. Notice the difference, with no other settings changed?
I do not feel Density Based Control is the optimum method of applying adjustments. However, when used in conjunction with Flow Based Control, Density can control the maximum level of effect while Flow Based Control allows you to slowly build up effect.
Layer Based Control
Wait a minute, Lightroom does not support layers! You are right, but that type of layer is not what I am referring to. I speak of layering adjustments on top of each other. While this is the most powerful method of applying local adjustments, it is very easy to overtax a slower system and be heavy handed with your adjustments. The effects are cumulative and add upon each other, magnifying the effect.
If you find that you desire a more strong effect than what your preset provides, layering allows you the ability to do that. This is especially handy when doing dodging and burning via preset in Lightroom. You do not have to adjust the effects settings, and you can push the total effect well past what Lightroom allows in a single Local Adjustment.
Aside from allowing a stronger effect than normal, Layer Based Control allows a much finer grained control over your adjustments. By combing Layer Based, Flow Based and Density Based Controls you can apply a series of differing brushes of the same effect, building up the desired effect quickly and intuitively. This of course, is done at the expense of system resources.
By using the different methods of controlling your masks, you can completely control the application of effects to your images, without actually having to alter the Local Adjustment settings directly. This allows a relatively small amount of presets a great amount of versatility, simply by changing the manner in which they are applied.
These brush hints apply to any Local Adjustment. Be it a custom application, any preset or even or XeL presets; using you mask brush intelligently endows you with levels of control only rivaled by Photoshop.
Now that we have looked at the application of brushes and you brushed up on Local Adjustment presets in general by checking out our past article, we can look at how you can utilize many of our XeL presets.
Dodging and Burning
The Dodge and Burn presets, both alter Exposure. Dodge increases Exposure, Burn lowers it. The effect is not too drastic, but noticeable. These presets are designed to be used using the Layering Control Method, applying a base and building up the effect as needed.
Normally, I will start by applying a base layer of the preset to the area that I desire to alter. I start the base layer using Flow, Feather and Density all set to a value of 75. I then apply the mask and adjust the Local Exposure as needed.
Then as I need to further lighten or darken within my mask, I will apply Dodge and/or Burn as new adjustment masks, adjusting the brush as needed. Make sure not to layer without selecting the preset again, as you will impart any Local Exposure adjustment you made. By building up my Dodge and Burn presets I can gradually brighten or darken, much like making print in the old school darkroom.
The Feather setting is of utmost importance when dodging and burning. Light scatters, and so will your effect. Without feathering, you will have noticeable lines where exposure differs, so use Feather on your base layer and all additional layers. Auto Mask is fine to utilize with the adjustment is localized, but if you are adjusting large swaths of image, it is best turned off.
Adjusting Eyes and Teeth
When using XeL presets to alter eyes or teeth; Contact Presets, Eye Enhance, Whiten and so forth, you want your mask to be very accurate. Also, as these presets can be rapidly overdone, I recommend using Flow Based Control on these presets.
Often, Auto Mask will nail your desired selection, but not always. Be sure to toggle the overlay frequently to be sure your mask is well constrained. Use Erase if you find you need to.
Apply these presets with a Flow value somewhere in the range of 50-75. Often one pass is enough, but you may want to build up more.
Use the Sharpening presets with accurate selections of the edges you want to apply additional sharpening to. Use Flow to limit the amount of sharpening and build up the sharpening using layered adjustments.
Auto Mask is useless, as you only want to sharpen along edges. You want to make precise masks by hand with moderate feathering to blend in the sharpening.
Focus Softly, Softer and Softest are presets designed to soften parts of your image. These tools can be used for selective defocus of to reduce wrinkles. The strength of effect is evident in the preset names, and is designed to be layered, building up the effect.
The softening presets can also be used as Graduated Filters, layered together to aid in simulating a Tilt/Shift effect.
One of the few sets of presets best applied at full strength, altering the adjustment settings instead of the brush itself. Lip Enhance, Lipstick and Lipstick Bright require accurate masks, but are designed to be used in one stroke, not layered. Do not use Density Control either, apply with Density and Flow at 100.
Instead of adjusting the brush, try adjusting the Local Saturation and Contrast and Color settings to alter effect.
While this article did not cover the entirety of presets in the XeL: Local Adjustments collection, this brief overview gives you a good idea of how you can get the most out of these presets. But by experimenting and applying these techniques to all of the presets, you will find the tricks that work best for you. This gives you a good start to learning how to manipulate these tools.
One other brief comment, if you apply a Graduated Filter on an image, the Effect drop box will still contain these presets. As mentioned, using softening presets can be used to fake a Tilt/Shift lens, simply by layering a series of Graduated Filters. You may find other XeL Local Adjustment presets may have some versatility when utilized as Graduated Filters. Experiment and have fun.
Michael W. Gray – LifeInDigitalFilm