Photoshop CS4 And The Nature Photographer

The gold standard in imaging software has been updated. OP takes you through the new features most useful to nature photographers.
photoshop cs4

Many photographers anticipate the arrival of a new version of Photoshop. Should I upgrade or not? Photoshop CS4 offers outstanding tools, naturally, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily for everyone. CS4 includes some tools that are valuable for my workflow, but I also use Photoshop Lightroom—it’s a major part of my digital image workflow. While it’s certainly possible to use only one program or the other, there are real benefits to using both. Adobe recognizes this because an important feature of Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 is more integration and ease of flow between the two programs. Let’s look at Photoshop CS4 and how some of the new controls might benefit you as an outdoor photographer.

The Adjustment Panel
The first thing you’ll notice in CS4 is an Adjustment panel at the right side of the interface where palettes traditionally have been. The engineers working on Lightroom and Photoshop talk with each other because the interface uses ideas that work so well with Lightroom (Figure 1).

This panel offers direct access to adjustment layers, which are called Adjustments, layer masks, which are called Masks, plus the usual layers, history and so forth. By putting Adjustments and Masks into one accessible location, Adobe has made working with adjustment layers and layer masks faster and easier. You don’t have to open individual dialog boxes or search for your adjustments, as they’re out in the open, ready to go, just like in Lightroom. This can make a huge difference in workflow. In addition, some new icons at the bottom of the panel allow you to quickly affect how your adjustments are being made.


photoshop cs4 Figure 1
photoshop cs4 Figure 2a photoshop cs4 Figure 2b

To add an Adjustment, click on the appropriate icon for the Adjustment or choose a preset (Figures 2a and 2b). All of these Adjustments are applied as layers and appear immediately in the Layer palette. This means that these Adjustments are nondestructive, just as adjustment layers always have been; they’re now much easier and faster to work with. Many nature photographers don’t want to spend too much time in front of the computer; this answers that need.

Adobe also has provided handy presets that can help you quickly make an adjustment without even knowing much about using a particular Adjustment. You could use a preset to get you started and then tweak it for the needs of your particular photograph.

The Adjustment panel includes all of the standard adjustment layers from earlier versions of Photoshop, but it also adds a Vibrance adjustment, which is similar to Hue/Saturation, but not as heavy-handed. It strongly affects skies and doesn’t oversaturate colors as fast as Hue/Saturation does.

Once you create an Adjustment with the Adjustment panel, you can add additional Adjustments. You don’t even have to know a thing about layers as this is done automatically. When you want to change any of these Adjustments, click on the layer of that Adjustment, and the Adjustment controls show up again in the Adjustment panel.

In order to use the Mask panel, you still have to know how to use a layer mask, i.e., painting on black blocks an adjustment and white allows the adjustment. However, this panel has simplified the control of the layer mask by allowing you to control its density and the feathering, or smoothing, of the mask.

The Color Range button on the Mask panel is a great feature for nature photographers. Often, we need to control the brightness or color of specific parts of the image because the camera didn’t capture it correctly. Color Range always has been a good control for this, but it was isolated in the Selection menu. Now, just click the Color Range button in the Mask panel and immediately go to the dialog box.

photoshop cs4
Figure 3

In addition, Color Range has been refined and improved. The new Localized Color Clusters check box helps you control selections to a specific group of colors for use in creating a mask. This new version of Color Range is an outstanding refinement for nature photographers, which I’ll use a lot.

Camera Raw With Local Adjustments
With the new version of Camera Raw, local adjustments have been added (Figure 3). These are the same basic adjustments that are in Lightroom—an Adjustment Brush and a Graduated Filter. They allow you to quickly and easily affect parts of an image without changing the whole thing, and they’re nondestructive. You can affect elements such as exposure, brightness, contrast saturation and sharpness over a large area with the Graduated Filter or over a small area with the Adjustment Brush.

These local adjustment tools give you direct contact with your image. You can balance brightness, for example, to better match your vision of the scene just as Ansel Adams used to do when working in the traditional darkroom.

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