To complicate matters

Many moons ago – eons in technology years – I tried to learn, or at least competently use Photoshop. Not even the full version – just Elements or whatever the light version was called back around 2003.

It didn’t take.

I never got the hang of it. Layers flummoxed me. The tool sets were distracting. It was blatantly non-intuitive. I gave up and switched to some freebie program off the net. Can’t remember what it was, but it helped me with the slide and negative scans I was doing at the time.

When I got into digital photography I switched to Lightroom pretty quickly and became proficient in a surprisingly short amount of time. To me it was intuitive – I understood the tool sets more readily and there weren’t layers to make me lose my mind. And despite a fling with Luminar, my relationship with Lightroom is still strong.

So what gives?

Well, my subscription includes Photoshop. The full, 900-pound gorilla version. And I got curious and decided to download it.

But I have a strategy. I’m not going to try to learn anything I can do in Lightroom. It’s not going to be my primary photo editor. Instead I’m focusing on the things I want to do, but can’t in Lr, and to a lesser extent, things Ps does better than Lr. I’ve known they work in tandem for years, but have never taken the plunge.

What put me over the edge was a big ugly sign hanging over a beautiful waterfall. With the help from an excellent book, I learned how to make it disappear in just a few minutes. And it wasn’t even hard.

Now you see it
Now you don’t

Maybe I could have removed that in Lr, but it seemed a little big to me, so why not give it a go in Ps? With the Content Aware Fill function it does a pretty good job. Traditionally I guess you’d have to use a clone or heal brush, but those seem for smaller things like removing zits from people’s faces and stuff like that.

I used it here to get rid of a distracting leaf –

Leaf be gone
And it’s gone

Here’s a shot that I really think benefits from spot healing, cloning and content aware –

A mourning dove in the morning sun. Waiting for a turn under the bird feeder.

And here she is with some distractions removed –

Another thing I’ve tried is the Blur tool. First to reduce the distraction of a busy background. The first example is a little rough, but it was my first try. If I did it again, I’d change the shape of the area the edit covers and get the bumper back to being sharp.

Busy background
Less busy

I learned I could do that with this second image so it’s more subtle, but I think it helps keep your eyes on the mushrooms.

Wish I’d used a wider aperture
That’s a little better

And then there’s the motion blur functions. For when you don’t have time for long exposure! My first attempt is was obvious because I just used a standard rectangle to select the area. If I cut too close to the treeline and the barn, the blur algorithm pulled pixels from those area and made weird smudges in the sky. I refined my selection and mask, but it never worked. I have played with it a million times, but keep getting too many smudges in the blur from the area that I masked out. Not sure how to fix this, but I’ve given up for now. Too bad since it could have been cool.

And then there’s sky replacement. The big controversial one, but honestly that reaction is just stupid. All Adobe has done is make it easier to replace a sky. The ability to do it (or make a composite image from just about anything) has always been there. Here’s one I did that I think works pretty well. The sky is from a shot I took over Lake Massabesic in NH about a decade before I shot the tree in Texas –

And here’s how it really looked –

No it’s not perfect, but I worked on it a lot and have decided this is as good as I can get it. The key is to select a sky that matches your scene in terms of light direction, brightness, scale and white balance. Yes you can manipulate many of those aspects in the Sky Replacement tool, but the closer you get it straight off, the better the end result will be.

So am I going to go all fake on you? Probably not. My style is my style, but I think adding some new tools to my kit will make for more impressive or at least interesting photos. You’ve already experienced some of this with the Fall Cypress Tour photos. I did a lot of work on those in both Lightroom and Photoshop and I like to think they didn’t look over-processed.

This isn’t a techie blog, but I thought I’d talk about this a little since it’s part of my growth as a photographer. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Photoshop master, but maybe I can be an novice with a few skills and use them well and to the benefit of my work. I’ve already altered my thinking in the field. When you know what tools you have to make your images sing, you can have more flexibility when taking them. Keeping in mind that I want realism, but also finesse, it’s going to help me create better pictures right from the start.

5 thoughts on “To complicate matters

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  1. Ah, this was very interesting to me, especially what you said about Photoshop being non-intuitive. I feel the same way; I keep popping into Photoshop to try some of the tools you described in this post, then end out back in Lightroom because everything seems so much easier there. I haven’t yet found the “use case” for including Photoshop in my workflow consistently. I know there are a lot of possibilities I could explore there, but have only tried a few of them so far … though I’d like to invest more time and learn more. I have a subscription to a site called Phlearn ( that has extensive Lightroom and Photoshop tutorials; I’ve been through many of the Lightroom tutorials and hope to get through the Photoshop tract this year.

    What you did with the mourning dove photo caught my eye; I could see trying to remove those branches in Lightroom and could probably do it but it would take a long time. I’ll have to try Photoshop next time I need to do something similar (I obsess over spots! especially pollen on flowers!) to see if Photoshop can make life easier.

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    1. Thanks Dale. Lr was intuitive to me right from the start in a way that Ps isn’t even now I basically understand my way around. I think there are some things they could do in terms of UI, but the sheer amount of tools and things must put them off.

      Anyway…object removal is a powerful thing now and I’ve had some really good results with it in all kinds of photography. There is a finesse to using the tools and I’ve gotten better with time and so I encourage you to keep learning and putting it to use where you think it fits in your workflow. I don’t think I’d have had any success in Lr removing the branches around the dove. It needs a pixel-based solution, not a filter for that.

  2. Excellent blog! I use Photoshop Elements and find it works great for pretty much everything. I don’t do layers either and manage to still produce decent pictures. Thanks for the picture examples, too. 🙂

    1. Thanks very much. I used only Lightroom for a decade and so no layers for me either, so I’m not saying you can’t produce good work without Photoshop, but with it there is so much more possibility. The learning curve is daunting, but with a little dedication and some good tutorials, I’m making progress.

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