Many digital imagers have found that the program they use the most is no longer Adobe Photoshop but Lightroom, or its Mac dedicated counterpart, Aperture. Color correction, cropping, spotting and printing tools can all be found in these two easy-to-learn and use programs. Even so, they do have their limitations. Simply put, if you need to add special effects to a photo, such as Liquify to apply a digital tummy tuck, then Photoshop is your tool. But most everything else can be done in Lightroom or Aperture.
Built into both of these programs, especially Lightroom, is the ability to use third-party plug-ins. One of the companies vying to be a leader in this arena is onOne Software located in Portland, Oregon. Among their plug-in solutions is what I believe to be the most exciting and useful plug-in for both Lightroom and Aperture, Perfect Layers 2. Perfect Layers 2 adds the power of Layers using tools similar to those found in Photoshop.
Perfect Layers 2 will import any changes or enhancements previously made in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture, and allow you to blend multiple images together to create a perfect balance between foreground and background, composites of multiple images, enhance colors through Blending modes, swap skies and heads, in less time than it takes to perform the same task in Photoshop.
I do not believe there has ever been a portrait and wedding photographer who has not had at least one group photo ruined by one of the subjects blinking, or preferred the look of one subject over the same subject in another image. While this may have been more of a problem with film when the image could not be previewed until after development, it is still a problem for digital imagers.
As part of a personal project, “Mothers/Daughters, Fathers/Sons,” I had the opportunity to photograph a mother and her four daughters. In Figure 1, I preferred the mother and the two older daughters in the image on the left. Unfortunately, the youngest daughter is blinking in that image.
Before jumping into Perfect Layers 2 to make the swap I made virtual copies of both images (Ctrl/Cmd ’ WIN/ Mac), highlighted the copies, and then chose Perfect Photo Suite from the pull-down menu in Lightroom (File>Plug-in Extras>Perfect Photo Suite), (Figure 2). Perfect Photo Suite includes seven programs in one bundle (Perfect Layers, Mask, Portrait, Effects, Blur, Frame and Resize; also available as stand-alone programs). When the suite is installed Perfect Layers 2 opens by default (the other six programs can be opened by clicking on their name at the top right of the Perfect Layers screen).
The first thing I do is to rename the files so I know which is which. Double-clicking on the file name, I renamed the top file ‘Blink,’ and the bottom file ‘Base,’ keeping the original file number so that I could quickly match them with the original. The target image should be on top, as it is in Figure 3 (Blink-527). This is because you will be erasing unwanted areas in the target image in order to allow desired areas from the source image to show through. If the wrong file is on the bottom drag and drop it above the other.
The next step is to choose the masking brush from the Tool Palette, on the left side of the screen and paint out the parts of the image you do not want, (Figure 3). I will mask out both of the subjects on camera right, as I have decided I prefer the smile on the daughter in the source image. You can choose one of four mask viewing options: Overlay (shown), White, Dark or Grayscale, from the Composite pull-down menu at the lower left side of the screen, or from the top menu, Masking>Show Mask>Overlay.
When you are through erasing the areas of the target image you don’t want, all you need to do is save the file. Perfect Layers 2 saves the file as a PSD (Photoshop Document file) with the name of the source image, and exports it directly to Lightroom (or Aperture). The entire process of opening the two images, masking the top image and saving the results took me less than three minutes using Perfect Layers 2, (Figure 4). Were you to decide later to open the PSD file in Perfect Layers 2 to do more work on the image you would find that the layers were still visible and workable.
Perfect Layers 2 can do more than just swap heads. As an architectural photographer I often run into problems that go beyond the capabilities of Lightroom. For example, I arrived early to photograph the Kroc Community Center. I knew the Center stayed open until 7 P.M. and wanted to be in position to catch the fading light when the parking lot was empty. As I was leveling the camera on a tripod the rainbow appeared; unfortunately there were still cars in the parking lot. I captured the rainbow and then waited until the last car had left. By that time the light and the sky were significantly different and the rainbow was long gone, (Figure 5).
After creating virtual copies in Lightroom I opened them in Perfect Layers 2. I renamed the rainbow image and dragged it to the bottom of the stack. The first thing I did was to reduce the opacity of the top layer to 50%. This allowed the bottom layer to show through as a ghost image. I then used the Transform Tool at the top of the Tool Palette to align the two images, (Figure 6).
Although I could have as easily used the Brush Tool for this image I chose to use the Masking Bug, an innovative tool created by onOne which is already finding its way into programs by other software developers.
The Masking Bug, found in the Tool Palette, can be used to create either a rectangle or a circle on the image. This shape can be manipulated for angle and opacity by dragging the arms up and down or in and out. In Figure 7 you can see how cleanly it created the mask right down to the sidewalk without having to brush and erase. The Masking Bug can also be combined with the Brush Tool if you need to refine an area by adding or removing some of the mask.
Back in Lightroom I added further refinements, such as cropping, the LR Brush Tool to open the shadows, saturation, clarity, sharpening, and the spotting tool to remove my own shadow. Photoshop was not required at any step along the way. The final image can be seen in Figure 8.
Perfect Layers 2 can be used to create a layered work-flow from within Lightroom, Aperture or on its own, heretofore only possible in Photoshop. It allows you to combine images into a layered file and control the size, blending mode, and opacity. You can erase parts of layers using the familiar masking brush, or the unique Masking Bug, an innovative feature unique to onOne software. When you are through it will save your composite as a PSD file, preserving the layers so you can work on them later or make changes.
Resources: Websites: onOneSoftware.com