Category Archives: Advanced Stacker

Darken Mode Stack Tip Using AdvancedStacker PLUS 15

Published: March 15, 2018

The new Advanced Stacker PLUS 15 is our attempt to make processing simpler. One of the things we find we often do is run multiple stacks (Lighten, Darken, Streaks, etc) to determine which effect(s) work the best. Well, we did something for the first time that worked REALLY well, so we will start by sharing that, even though Advanced Stacker PLUS 15 is not yet ready for publication.

In a nutshell, we created this:

Orion, Falling

From this:

Long Streaks Stack Result – no modifications  f/4, ISO 1600, 15 Seconds. Nikon D600, 24mm x 250

There are several obvious differences between these images.

  1. Because there was strong moonlight (and other light), the sky is over-bright and lacks contrast.
  2. The wind together with surrounding lighting (including flashing red lights from a passing fire truck) caused strange artifacts in the palm trees.
  3. Different colored light sources lit the palm trees differently (notice the really cyan colored palm fronds in the second tree from the left).
  4. There was utility wiring intruding into the image.

The Processing

Stacker 15 allows you to simultaneously stack in multiple modes. For example, to create this effort I used Lighten, Long Streaks, Darkest, and Average modes. I ended up NOT using Lighten or Average modes in this case. Is there extra overhead keeping more stacks? Yes, there is. However we’ve paired down the stacks to as few frames as possible to keep the overall footprint low.

Once the stacking had finished, the result of the Long Streaks was a bit unappetizing due to the red and other artifacts in the trees (see second image). However the Darkest mode stack effectively removes all of the stars – and as it happens, all of the strange highlights in the trees.  First we applied a Curves adjustment layer to the Long Streaks and darkened it.

Blending a Clean Foreground with the Star Trails

Darkest Stack results

The next operation was to find a way to blend the darkest mode stack (right) with the Long Streaks stack while preserving the star trails  and getting the cleaner looking foreground.

 

Duplicate the Darkest mode result (it’s a single layer) on to the Long Streaks stack. Then drag the darkest mode stack to the top layer. Set the new layer blend mode to normal, 100%.

Next we need to mask out the sky of the Darkest stack so that the long streaks will show through. The tool for that is to use Select -> Color Range. Holding down the shift key allows you to click multiple areas of the sky to add to the selection. You can vary the fuzziness of the selection to determine how closely the color has to match the sample. The mask will probably need some manual cleanup afterward, but as you can tell from the selection in the image below, just clicking different areas in the sky produced almost exactly what is desired.

Photoshop Color Range Selection

After pressing OK you get a selection. The next step is Layer -> Create Layer Mask from Selection -> Hide Selection Once you have a mask, you can paint on it to clean up any artifacts. Adjust the opacity of the darkest layer to make it “look right”. In this example, the combined image looked best at about 93% opacity.

Correcting “Off” Colors Due to Light Source Issues

The penultimate step was to create a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer. Lock the adjustment to the Darkest layer (hold the Alt/Option key and click on the boundary between the adjustment and the darkest layer). Then click the “Finger selection”  (just below the word Presets). Now there is an eye-dropper which you use to select the color that needs correction. In this case, clicking the dropper on the cyan colored palm frond is the right move. Adjust the saturation slider way down, lightness down, and fiddle with the hue to make the bizarre color more natural.

Aggressively toning down the cyan colored palm fronds

Removing Wires (and other distractions)

Finally we also used the Spot Healing Brush tool to “heal out” the utility wires. Here is a short-cut for healing out a straight line. Click the beginning of the area with the spot healing brush, then hold shift and click the end of the line. Shift causes the brush to be applied in a straight line between the first and second clicked points. The shift-trick works with almost all brushes. Two other tricks with the spot healing brush tool are to:

  • Start where the surrounding area has a predictable substitution (not a busy area) and work outward from there
  • Use as small a brush as you reasonably can

For example you can adjust the spot healing tool brush size to about double the width of the utility line, then click the healing brush tool where the arrows point below. Next work your way outward toward the tree on one side, then the other.

Summary

Here is a summary of the steps taken – not including the palm frond “naturalization” or spot healing described above.One more trick worth noting… the histogram shown on the Curves adjustment will give you a clue what may need adjustment.

Want to know what we consider the top 5 most used photo editing skills? Read here (and part 2 and part 3).

Time Stacks

Published: March 6, 2018

One of the great things about developing a repertoire of tools  and tricks for processing photos is applying those tools in creative ways. While we were furiously working on Advanced Stacker PLUS for creating star trails and processing night sky images, one clever fellow: Matt Molloy gained great acclaim by stacking sunset and sunrise shots of clouds skittering across the sky. Matt Molloy coined the phrase Time Stacks for that type of image.

Phoenix Leaping

Phoenix Leaping – 20 separate frames combined in Lighten Mode plus an extra foreground frame.

Where Steven lives in the Silicon Valley, it is difficult to get good conditions for clouds. Indeed, the San Francisco Bay Area has so many blue sky days that having clouds is a stretch – in the Bay Area the options are either low thick clouds (fog), or zero clouds. However occasionally conditions are right – or Steven travels where conditions are right – for creating these shots. Of note are dry climates with mountains and high winds during seasons with moderate moisture in the air. In March in Palm Springs, California, for example Steven watched as clouds formed due to the uplift of the Mt. San Jacinto mountain range and dissipated quickly as the young cloud wandered eastward away from the peak. Literally you could watch clouds form and dissolve in a matter of minutes. In the image above, you’ll notice that some low clouds moved slowly and didn’t dissipate. Because the denser low clouds were in the shadow of the mountain they grew dark and ominous.  You can see more variations on the same theme by checking out this set of images.

Exit Criteria

Exit Criteria – Alviso, California on one of the few days when clouds were present

What Conditions and Equipment Do I Need?

  1. You need partially cloudy skies and the clouds can not be slow creepers. The clouds should be vigorous sailors. How fast? Fast enough to cross a significant field of view in about 20 to 30 minutes. They need to move into an open area of the sky – clouds moving over other clouds won’t be as interesting.
  2. Like any compelling shot, the frame should include a worthwhile foreground.
  3. And finally, it helps if these conditions all occur near sunset or sunrise so you can get extra color in the shot.

Equipment

  • You will definitely want to use an Intervalometer (or an on-board Intervalometer if your camera has one). Shooting at regular intervals results in a more pleasing outcome.
  • A sturdy tripod is also a must.

What Settings Should I Use?

  1. Select a moderate aperture (f/8, for example), and a low ISO (200). The goal is to get a shot that is relatively long to get a little cloud blur from the cloud motion.
  2. Since most interesting results occur right at or after sunset, start the exposures at 1 to 2 stops over exposed. Subsequent shots will get darker and finally dark to a point where the images will be too dark  to use (e.g. 2 stops under exposed).
  3. While it may be tempting to adjust the exposure during shooting, we have found that strategy does not work well.  You never really know which shots you will want to combine. Therefore it is best to do large sets (40-50 exposures) all using the same settings.
  4. Change settings (and optionally re-orient your camera), then get another substantial sequence.
  5. Be sure to include an exposure optimized for the foreground in the beginning and/or at the end of each sequence.

The trickiest part is selecting the interval between shots. The speed of the clouds across the frame is the key here – and that can vary dramatically depending on your conditions. One possible method is to shoot once every other second, then cull out the interval that works best (which could be 10 or 20 second intervals), but a less memory and processing intensive approach may be to use 5 or 10 second intervals between shots (or longer if your clouds are sluggish).

Also keep in mind that not all clouds will move at the same speed (or in the same direction!), nor will they be illuminated alike.

How Do I Process the Shots?

This is actually the easy part: use the same tools you would use to create star trails. That is, stack the images in Lighten mode. Understand that if clouds move over clouds the net result is sometimes quite unexpected – the brighter clouds (regardless of color) win.

How Processing Was Completed (Click for larger image)

Above is a snapshot illustrating how this shot (62 frames in the life of clouds) was finished in Photoshop. Two image contrast enhancements were added. The bottom layer is the stacked (lighten mode) image, the next image up is the intentionally over-exposed foreground. Notice that the “Darken bright foreground” is linked to effect ONLY the foreground image. Also note that darkening, and in many cases increasing contrast has the affect of increasing color saturation. No saturation or vibrance enhancements were done here. As with Star Trails, we also recommend that you do not alter any of your shots before you stack them – stack them in their raw form with NO adjustments. The result will look flat until you apply manual corrections and curves, but by not altering your shots before hand, the stack will work better and you are far less likely to introduce strange artifacts.

Variations on Time Stacks

Of course your Time Stacks do not have to be daylight subjects like this solar eclipse which was shot with a solar filter for all the shots except the last which was taken at sunset.

Annular Eclipse Sequence [C_040079+5s]

Time stacks can also include night events like a lunar eclipse

Plan C: San Jose City Hall Eclipse Sequence

Get creative and try other Time Stacks and share with us what you get as a result via comments!

Want to see the technique preferred by Matt Molloy, master time stacker? See his tutorial here.

Adobe Customer Dis-service

Recently, a customer reported a problem installing Advanced Stacker PLUS.  The customer indicated that there was no “Place” in the menu so the ASP did not work with their Photoshop. The Place option is used by the action almost exclusively for adding a watermark, and we have observed the issue with some Mac installations and have a published workaround.

We thought perhaps the absence in this case was due to the new CC 2015 release, which by default REMOVES content when upgrading – specifically all ACTIONS will need to be reinstalled unless the customer does NOT follow the default upgrade process. While looking into the customer problem, I, Steven, decided that I did not need to keep paying the $50/month for the full suite on Creative Cloud when in fact I only use Photoshop and Lightroom.  So…Angry

I went to my account on the Adobe site to downgrade my license.  Not possible. The options are to Cancel or to UPGRADE to an even more expensive plan.  So I clicked “Cancel” which took me to a FAQ where I had to search for Cancel again.  Then I selected “Cancel product” and typed “I’m disappointed, I wanted to DOWNGRADE to the Photography license, but can’t find the option on my account page. I am not using the full suite, so I want to switch to the Photography Package“. After 3 minutes Ankan came on to the chat and typed “Welcome to customer service”. Ten seconds later “Hi Steven”, how can I help you”.

You can probably guess where this is going… downhill, fast. Wait, downhill very slowly.  40 days prior my “Full CC” had automatically renewed for another year, and now Adobe insisted that I was on the hook for an early termination fee should I change plans. And there is still no way to indicate you “DO NOT WANT AN AUTORENEWAL”.  How very convenient for Adobe!

After 50 more minutes of very slow responses from Ankan I had been offered “2 free months”, and the CC suite for $29.99.  I kept reminding him my goal was very simple: downgrade to Photography license: NOT to create a new contract, not be on the hook for another year, and not to pay a fee for an auto-renewal I didn’t see or authorize (my email had been broken).  I finally had enough and told them I was canceling.  Whether I sign up for a Photography CC license again will require a week of thinking about the horrible customer service, and a clear indication that Adobe had STOPPED charging my credit card.  I’m still thinking about whether I want to continue. Indeed… if I did not need to continue to support and develop Advanced Stacker PLUS, I would retreat to my PS CS5/CS6 perpetually licensed products.

My experience with Adobe left me with some clear takeaways for you, our reader:

  1. Chat or call Adobe and tell them you want to cancel (even if you are not planning to!)
  2. Explain your reason for wanting to cancel, is you do NOT want to auto renew for another year and there is no option to disable autorenewal (or that you want to downgrade to another package and there is no option for that).
  3. Stick to your guns until they offer you a better plan.
  4. Remind them that under their “auto renewal, can’t get out” scenario, if you do not take action on exactly the right date, you’ll end up on the hook for $240 in “early termination fees” – or worse.
  5. Also remind them that having to contact customer service to cancel is wasteful of your valuable time.  You can certainly cite my 55 minute ordeal if you like.
  6. Warn them that additional charges will be disputed with your card carrier.

About Advanced Stacker PLUS and CC 2015

The customer was incorrect. The Place option is present in CC 2015.  We are checking further, but we are not finding any issues… HOWEVER you may have to REINSTALL the Advanced Stacker PLUS for the reason we gave earlier… Adobe doesn’t migrate when upgrading – at least not by default and not everything you would expect.

We did notice a problem installing on our Mac (running Yosemite) which has CS5, CS6, CC, CC2014 and CC2015. The problem occurred when installing CC – it said it could not synchronize color. Whatever that means. Seemed fine after reinstall – though we doubt many of you have so many versions of Photoshop installed on your computer.

The Transcript (aka The Shady Underbelly of Adobe)

Below is the unedited transcript of my chat session with Ankan.  I wonder if it is Adobe’s plan to wear down every customer who tries to cancel their plan with 50 minutes of drivel.  And I didn’t start with the intention of cancelling! Make note of the time delays.  That was perhaps the most frustrating part.  Do notice that I had to twice request to Cancel my plan – and that it took 40 minutes for “customer service” to supply the requested service.


 

Your case number: 0215924254
Creative Cloud change
Membership, account, payment change
Cancel your membership change
Hi, we are currently helping other customers in line ahead of you. We’ll be with you as soon as possible.

While you wait, you can try our community forums where experts are online 24/7.

12:02:11 PM Ankan: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.
12:02:21 PM Ankan: Hi Steven .
12:03:03 PM ME: Do I need to retype my request?
12:03:40 PM ME: Hello?
12:03:45 PM Ankan: No.
12:03:48 PM ME: Are you there?
12:03:53 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:03:59 PM Ankan: I am sorry for the delay.
12:04:13 PM Ankan: I have received your request.
12:05:12 PM ME: Can I assume that you’re switching my plan now?
12:05:51 PM Ankan: I see that you have Creative Cloud membership (one-year) registered with your account.
12:07:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry, we don’t have option to downgrade the current plan to Photoshop. However, I will help you with the link to purchase the subscription and once you place the order, I will cancel the current subscription for you.
12:08:33 PM ME: Wait, are you implying that I will be on the hook for another year by purchasing the Photography plan?
12:09:42 PM ME: Ankan?
12:10:24 PM ME: Hello?
12:10:34 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:10:40 PM Ankan: I am checking your account.
12:11:06 PM Ankan: Once you purchase the subscription, it will be valid for one year.
12:11:15 PM ME: Yes, what? Are you answering my question that I will be on the hook, or are you indicating that you’re partially paying attention?
12:11:35 PM ME: So is there a PENALTY for terminating in less than a year?
12:12:06 PM Ankan: If you cancel the subscription in the mid of the year, there will be an early termination fee.
12:13:00 PM ME: I see. So your policy is to stick the long term customer with ANOTHER penalty.
12:13:44 PM Ankan: It is an annual subscription which offers lower monthly payments and requires a one-year cycle. This plan is ideal for someone with an ongoing need to use Adobe’s Creative software.
12:14:49 PM ME: Nice try. But I have a plan, I’ve fullfilled the contract. And you’re telling me I have to have a NEW plan with a NEW contract. That’s evil. Plain and simple. I suppose you’re going to also tell me that if I UPGRADE my plan, the same hook applies.
12:16:26 PM Ankan: Steven, we don’t have option to change the plan to Photoshop from the current subscription.
12:17:09 PM ME: Oddly, you have options to UPGRADE plans, though.
12:17:33 PM ME: This is another reminder to me of the unpleasant experiences I’ve had with Adobe. So I will just cancel my plan.
12:18:54 PM Ankan: I can understand why you would feel that way.
12:19:28 PM ME: Doubtful. So is my plan cancelled yet? Or do I need to call my credit card company and report fraud?
12:20:02 PM Ankan: I have checked and see there would be an early termination fees if you cancel the subscription now because you are under one year annual commitment.
12:20:32 PM Ankan: I see that subscription was renewed on May 16, 2015 .
12:20:44 PM Ankan: I like to inform you that, all Adobe subscription renew automatically, if you don’t cancel the subscription in 12th month you will be moved to next year cycle.
12:21:16 PM ME: Great, then I will use the 30 day opt out. And you’ll extend me 10 grace days.
12:21:56 PM ME: Or I’ll call and my credit card company and dispute the charges.
12:22:29 PM ME: Since I never received ANY notification that annual plan was going to renew.
12:22:43 PM Ankan: We have sent the notification email regarding the second year commitment for the subscription as we send a notification email for every renewal of the subscription.
12:24:15 PM ME: Just searched my mailbox. Last email from adobe was 11/5/2014.
12:25:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry if you missed out the email. The email will be sent at the 11th month that is one month before the renewal.
12:25:47 PM Ankan: Steven, if you are willing to continue the membership till the end of the commitment, I can help you with two month’s free service so instead of paying for 10 months more , you will pay for the 8 months and cancel the subscription between May 16, 2016 and May 16, 2016 without fee.
12:26:09 PM ME: By the way it says “One year payment” which is incorrect since it’s actually a MONTH’s worth of payment.
12:26:57 PM Ankan: Steven, Creative cloud month to month subscription will cost you $74.99 per month and you can cancel it anytime.
12:27:09 PM ME: I am willing to cancel my account with no penalty. My second choice is to dispute the charge with my card carrier. Your choice.
12:27:29 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, may I know the reason for the subscription cancellation?
12:28:50 PM ME: Isn’t it obvious? I tried to change to a Photography plan, you told me I cannot without a NEW contract. Then you told me I’m under an annual plan that I didn’t authorize. (Apparently had to opt out last month but never saw a notification).
12:29:46 PM ME: You left me with no choice except to dispute charges.
12:30:33 PM ME: Oh, and this has taken exactly 30 minutes longer than it should have. So you’ve also wasted that much of our time.
12:30:55 PM Ankan: Steven , please allow me a minute . let me check what best can be done regarding the issue.
12:31:10 PM ME: Why didn’t you do that 25 minutes ago?
12:31:41 PM Ankan: I am really sorry to see that you are not happy with the Adobe policy.
12:31:49 PM Ankan: Can you allow me a moment while I walk to my supervisor and check for the exception to cancel the subscription with no fee ?
12:33:43 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, would you be willing to continue with complete Creative cloud membership for next year, if I offer you at $29.99 per month?
12:34:45 PM Ankan: Also, avoid the early termination fee.
12:34:46 PM ME: Really? So I go through this again a year from now? Why didn’t you just try to do what I asked to begin with? Switch me to a Photography plan without extending the contract!
12:38:35 PM ME: FYI: Adobe pulled similar crap over a year ago. I actually HAD a photography plan because adobe said only those who had PS 5/6 would qualify, and the plan would end in December. Guess what. They then opened it up to EVERYONE no qualifications.
12:39:36 PM Ankan: Steven , there is no option to downgrade the plan to Photography plan. However, once you purchase the subscription, it will be for one year contract. Even, if there was a option with me , again the commitment would be for one year only.
12:41:23 PM ME: So let me get this straight… I get smacked for an early termination fee of a plan I didn’t willfully extend. Then get ANOTHER annual contract under a different account? In what world does THAT make sense except to racqueteers and criminals?
12:43:39 PM ME: While I can sign up entirely online, apparently I have to waste 40 minutes to CANCEL a plan I didn’t ask to extend. Another ZERO for Adobe.
12:44:06 PM Ankan: Steven , In that case, I will make an one time exception for you to cancel the subscription without fee.
12:46:04 PM ME: So YOU do have the power to make an exception. How about we do it this way. You make the exception cancel the plan with no penalty and TRUST me to sign up for a Photography plan (which I stated 45 minutes ago was my intention!)
12:47:42 PM Ankan: Thank you for your patience.
12:47:44 PM Ankan: I have successfully cancelled the subscription for the Creative Cloud membership (one-year) . However you will have the access to the subscription till: Jul 16, 2015.
12:47:59 PM ME: And there is NO penalty?
12:48:02 PM Ankan: I will provide you the link to purchase the Photography plan.
12:48:20 PM Ankan: Yes, I will waived off the early termination fee.
12:49:17 PM Ankan: Please click here to purchase
12:51:06 PM ME: Ok. I am going to sit on this for a few days to decide if it is worth trusting Adobe any further, because frankly I have had zero positive experiences with Adobe.
12:51:41 PM Ankan: I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused to you.
12:52:36 PM ME: It’s not just you, of course, it’s a whole company that seems to care more about $ than customer service.
12:53:04 PM ME: By the way, is it STILL the case that 1 year contracts AUTOMATICALLY renew and the only way to cancel is to go through this nonsense?
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Steven,you can cancel the subscription in the first month and at the last month before the renewal of the commitment.
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Once again we apologize for any disappointment caused and hope to serve you in future.
12:54:46 PM Ankan: Is there anything else I can help you with?
12:55:28 PM ME: But not via the web. Can only cancel by “contacting customer disservice”… sigh.
12:56:06 PM Ankan: I am happy to inform you that you can stop the renewal of the subscription from your Adobe account after the last renewal of the contract.
12:56:15 PM ME: Thank you for canceling the contract. I suppose I’d be much more grateful if it didn’t take nearly an hour.
12:56:44 PM Ankan: I am sorry for taking much of your time.
12:56:56 PM ME: Good bye.
12:57:02 PM Ankan: It’s my pleasure assisting you today.
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Have a nice day!
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Thank you for contacting Adobe. We are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Goodbye!


 

Look What You Did!

First we really appreciate the mastery of Matt Molloy who has been using the Advanced Stacker PLUS to reach creative new heights in “TimeStacks”.  This is one of his images below in which he stacks part of the image with Comet mode, and the rest with lighten mode. Click the image to read more.

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

We invited users of the Advanced Stacker PLUS to give us feedback on their experiences with our Photoshop Add-in. We asked folks is if they had an image that they made with the software that they’d like us to see. Wow. We are impressed! Take a look for yourself. We used the links provided so none of the images shown are on our server. In other words, if an image does not load properly, there is nothing we at StarCircleAcademy can do to fix the issue.  Where possible, clicking the image will take you to the photographer’s site.

Version 14E is available now, by the way.

If your image appears here and you’d rather it did not, let us know and we’ll remove it.

Exit Criteria

Exit Criteria by Steven Christenson (channeling Matt Molloy)

Rocky Mtns

Rocky Mountains by Bob Gibbon

The Chalice by John Mu

The Chalice by John Mumaw

Church by Bob Edwards

Church by Bob Edwards

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens


Starflight over Pointy Land

Starflight over Pointy Land by Steven Christenson

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet