Tag Archives: masking

Blobulous Revisited – Part 2

Last installment we covered the basic idea behind creating a star trail where a foreground element is moving. In this case the moving element is a radio telescope peering into the sky to discover planets and black holes.  A normal “lighten mode” stack produces the image at the left, below, while with just a little bit of work we can get the image on the right.

Before_After

To recap, we use a single frame from the sequence and some careful masking to remove the blurred part of the image. For effect, we also don’t use the stack in 100% mode. See the prior article for details.

In this article we’ll show you step-by-step how we achieved the total look.

Of course we start with the stack.

Illustration_A

Then we layer in a copy of the stack and a single frame (the last or nearly last frame).

Illustration_B

Here we have set the background (stack) to 36% Opacity, effectively darkening it. The single frame is 100% opacity and in Lighten blend mode. What we want to do is to remove the blurred part by replacing it with the unblurred single image. It’s easy to do. Select the STACK, create a “Reveal All” mask, and then go to town painting black on it (be sure to select the MASK, not the image). When done, the mask we create will look something like this:

Illustration_C

Notice how we used a slightly soft brush to “blend” the background and the still frame. We could stop right there, but I notice that the ground and the telescopes are a bit too bright, and I’d like to make the stars pop out. So the next course of action is to apply a curve, select the “Increase Contrast” option. Here I’ve adjusted the result just slightly.

Illustration_Ca

Next we want to tone down the bright stuff. We add another adjustment layer, and a “Hide All” mask and then paint white back on the mask to tone down what we want. You’ll notice that in the process, the colors intensify a bit.

Illustration_D

The next step we’ll want to take is to reduce the saturation – our radio telescope is moving from white to yellow. So the next step is to add a Hue and Saturation layer. As before we mask off everything, and then paint in only the radio telescope. We could cheat and use the same mask from the Brighten stack layer – and just invert it, but it’s not a complicated thing like a tree, so it’s pretty easy to change the mask to only operate on the radio dish and pedestal.  At the left, you can see how strongly we moved the saturation – and we upped the brightness a bit, too.

Illustration_F

If we didn’t mask off the telescope and instead applied the saturation adjustments globally, we’d see this – not what we want. (Shift-Click on the mask turns it on or off – in this case we see that the mask is off by the red X through it)

Illustration_G

You won’t notice in the small size, but the large image has a number of Hot Pixels (red, and blue) that stand out. To solve this problem we use “Alt-Ctl-Shift-E” (Command-Option-Shift E for you Mac-o-philes) to make a copy of the layer. I named the layer “Heal” because I then used the spot healing tool to fix up those little problems.  I recommend making the healing tool diameter just slightly larger than the area to be healed.

Illustration_I

To make the Radio dish pop just a little more, a little sharpening is in order. In fact, sharpening the ground will work, too.  Duplicate the Healed layer (Ctl-J or Command-J). Name it Sharpen then use Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpen.  However I don’t like sharpening my stars, they look harsh. As before we’ll create a Hide-All mask for our Sharpened layer and use a white brush to reveal the areas we want to have sharpened. This is called selective sharpening.  In the small image here, the effect is not as obvious as in the larger image.

Illustration_J

To get just a bit more pop, a little more contrast is in order. I created a curve and pulled up the midtones a fair amount while making minor negative adjustments to the highlights and the darks.  But, that adjustment brightened some areas a bit too much so I created a reveal-all layer mask and painted black on the areas that were then too bright.

Illustration_K

Et Voila, we’re done!

 

Blobulous Revisited – Part 1

It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish with just a little bit of effort.  Below you’ll see a star trail formed using the Blobulous technique that I described in an earlier column on Advanced Star Trail Tricks.  There are many ways to achieve this effect. The method I described in the prior article – adding the last frame using Screen or Add blending – works especially well if the skies are dark. But here, I used high ISO shots about an hour before moonrise. Because of the high ISO exposures with a soon to rise moon the sky was blue not completely dark.  Adding the last frame to the stack as described earlier will work but it makes the Milky Way blow out and the sky overbright. I wanted the Milky Way to remain noticeable.

C_072887-935+934_AFTER

Selecting Images to Work With

There are few important things to note here. The radio telescope tracks the sky and slews from location to location causing blur. Each 20 second exposure was shot at ISO 3200, f/2.8 using a 15mm fish-eye lens on a Canon 5D Mark II. I carefully picked a range of images where the start of the sequence through to the end of the sequence included only images where the dish did not move “too far”. The next four frames show how dramatically the dish moved in subsequent shots. Had I included them it would have made quite a mess.

JPG

The dish moves far in 80 seconds…

To say it clearly: looking at the individual frames is what allowed me to zero in on the specific images I planned to stack. After selecting the range of images (C_072887 to C_072935),  I stacked them using good ‘ol brightness mode stacking. You can stack using a ton of methods but our favorite, of course, is to use the Advanced Stacker+ from StarCircleAcademy.com though the free TEST Stacker can do the job, as can a variety of free tools that we describe in this article and in our Star Trails Webinar.

To create the shot below on the RIGHT you’ll need Photoshop or some equally featured program that allows layering and masking like GIMP. Even the lowly, stunted Photoshop Elements will do the trick. After doing a normal brighten mode stack, the output looks like what you see on the left.  After some image manipulation magic, we achieve the result on the right.

Before_After

Before (left) and After (right)

From BEFORE to AFTER

It would be tedious to show step by step what I did, so I will start with a “one shot” view. You’ll notice there are 9 layers that contribute to the final image.  The top – SLC-SCA – is obvious, it’s my watermark.

Results with all layers shown.

Results with all layers shown.

However you can also see the brighten mode stack (at the bottom), and a copy of that same stack with a layer mask.  If you look carefully it’s pretty obvious that the black on the mask corresponds to the upper part of the moving dish.  Sharp eyes will notice two additional blacked out parts corresponding to the other radio dishes.  Notice that above the stacked layer is a single frame: C_072934 – the next to last image from the set used in the stack. All the layers above the single frame are adjustments to correct color, white balance, hot pixels (the Heal layer), and to do some sharpening.

BlendModeLighten

The single frame (934) is blended in Lighten mode with the stack. The stack is at 36% opacity.

The essential bit of magic here is that the Brighten layer is only used at 36% opacity. 36% was chosen by eye. I slowly reduced the opacity until the Milky Way became noticeable rather than a blur and yet the star trails remained noticeable.

The image was nearly complete by painting out (excluding) the blurred stack areas using a black brush at 100% opacity with a small amount of feathering – i.e. a brush that was not 100% hard.  It’s easy to paint on the mask and watch how the blurry dish from the stack is replaced by the non-blurry single image from C_072934.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t use the final image, C_072935, it’s because it was a tiny bit blurrier than the preceding image.

The rest of the adjustments are straight forward – they were all meant to fix contrast, darken the overbright areas and then correct for the color saturation increase that occurs when you darken an area with color.

We cover complete details in the PhotoManipulation webinar series.

Here is the image obtained from the next set of exposures after the dramatic dish move. This image used the “Streaks” stacking method available in the Advanced Stacker, but is otherwise identical in creation.

C_072941-67

For yet one more take – using yet another Advanced Stacker Mode (long streaks), there is this.

Long Streak Runnin'

In the next column I’ll show all the steps I took to produce the first image on this page.

 

Advanced Star Trail Tricks

Published: Oct 11, 2012
Last Update: February 14, 2018 (remove Flash)

I have been playing with Star Trail processing for quite a while.  Ever since I wrote the StarCircleAcademy Stacking Action I’ve been tweaking processing to try different things. Sometimes failure is inevitable, sometimes… well, you’ll see.

First, you may want to look back through my earlier columns on shooting and processing star trails because this is not a primer on star trails – it builds on what I’ve previously written and this is not a good place to try to understand what stacking is.

Second, please understand that I use a variety of tools but almost all of my more successful endeavors end up as layers that are combined in Photoshop (CS5 at the moment).  You could combine your layers in GIMP if you don’t have Photoshop, but you’ll be out of luck if you try to use Lightroom.

Here are my star trail effects:

  1. Smoothee – Averaged sky and/or foreground to reduce the grittiness that sometimes results from brighten stacks. I’ve been espousing this for quite a while. See the Simple Astrophotography Processing Technique.
  2. Blobulous – stars at the beginning (or end) of a trail are made to stand out from the rest of the trail.
  3. Comets – star trails appear to grow brighter and the end of the trail looks like the nucleus of a comet.
  4. Streakers – Like comet only the trails are longer
  5. Blackened – A clever trick removes sky glow from light pollution, the moon, or twilight.

And of course you can make “Blobulous Comets” and “Blobulous Streakers” and “Blackened Smoothee Comets” and more.

Building Blocks

To creatively combine exposures, I usually create the following stacked frames.

  • Dark (Darken in Image Stacker/StarStax)
    The darkest elements emerge – especially the hot pixels
  • Brighten (aka lighten) stack
    The Brightest of everything is present, including hot pixel and more noticeable noise
  • Average
    Contrast is reduced, smoothness increased.
  • Additive (called “Stack” in Image Stacker)
    Hot pixels become really bright.
  • Scaled (called Stack/Average in Image Stacker)
    Allows some increase in brightness but more smoothness, too. Experiment with different divisors.

Normally I create all of these combinations using Image Stacker against my JPG files because it is really easy to do.  I end up with a set of frames something like these although I’ve significantly brightened them so that they are easier to see.

Smoothee

In a Nutshell: Combine the Average stack over the Brighten stack using Normal mode at 45% opacity.

I’ll start with the Smoothee technique since it’s probably the easiest to do and perhaps the easiest to understand.  The problem with “Brightness” (or lighten as it’s called in Photoshop) is that it will also pick up all the hot pixels, and the brightest bits of noise.  Averaging on the other hand tends to smooth out everything except for truly hot pixels since most noise is random. By putting an averaged stack as a layer over the brighten stack and then adjusting the blending modes and opacity you get a smoother sky and foreground.  Exactly what settings to use depend on the images, but surprisingly many of the blending modes for the Average layer work here including Darken, Multiply, Overlay, and Normal. The starting place for Opacity is about 45%.

Hint: You can also use an Additive stack instead of the average stack but usually only the Normal blend mode will work.  For even more fun combine the Additive stack and the Average stack.

For additional smoothness you can also subtract the “Darken Stack” while adjusting the opacity to prevent halos and weirdness.

Blobulous

In a Nutshell: Add one of the single frames more than once.

What do “Blobs” look like? Like this…

“Fat Star” processing.

There are two ways to produce “Blobs”. One way is to add “Comets” to a smoothed star trail. The other is to simply pick an image (usually the last one in the set) and add it in using “Add” or “Screen” mode. To make the blob more pronounced duplicate the last frame so it’s added twice. BUT remember when you add in any single image the hot pixels are going to come out… and even more so if you add an image twice.

Comets and Streakers

These two techniques require some fancy stacking techniques. Fortunately I’ve created an action to do all the fancy stuff.  I’ll be rolling out the action and the explanation to my Photo Manipulation Webinar participants first <NOTE: The Advanced Stacker PLUS action has been released and is available for purchase in our store>.

Oh, here is a peak at what the Comet action looks like:

What's The Point?

And here is what an animation of comets might look like:

Star Rise

 

Settings

I know you’re going to ask so let me save you some typing. Except for the “Comet” image above, all images used in these illustrations were taken during the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Workshop in the Patriarch Grove on White Mountain, East of Bishop, California.

The 34 or so images that I’ve combined in the examples above were all taken with the following settings: Canon 50D, ISO 400, f/3.5, 79 seconds, 10-22mm lens at 15mm.

Foreground – o – Matic

Published: 2011-Dec-24
Last Updated: 2018-Jun-04

One of the lovely things about stacking star trails (or stacking in general, for that matter), is you are presented with many opportunities for a choice of foreground. Did someone walk through your shot wearing a flashing nametag? No problem. Did a passing car blow out that wonderful rock in your foreground… no worries.  Did you play around with different lighting and find none of them quite met your desires. No cares.

Invariably at workshops and shooting events something will go wrong with hours long shots. But with a plethora of shots to select a foreground from the odds are greatly improved that you can get what you wanted even if it means working around problems created by uncontrollable elements.

Consider my effort atop Mauna Kea.  All the shots are here in this video.

Last Night at Mauna Kea

But as you may have noticed, the radio dish was moving nearly constantly and is thus blurred in many shots.  When I stacked all the images together in the normal fashion, this is the result:

Unless you’re into that Dali-esque melting radio telescope vibe you may not want that result.  Or perhaps some dunderhead walked through the scene with a flashlight making a wicked blow out – or any number of possible complications. What to do?

Answer: Find the image or images with a more desirable foreground and fix it!  Fortunately I have LOTS of frames from my 7 hour-long star trail. When I created the image originally I chose this foreground:

Resulting in this image which was selected for the shortlist of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2011.

Listening to the Sky [B_025555-714]

But, in putting together this article I noticed a foreground I think will work even better. This one:

The result will be the radio dish “staring” into the center of the star circle. So lets replace the Dali-Esque portion of the original stack with the foreground above.

Overview

Here are the steps we’re going to take – you can download the images using the links below and try for yourself if you wish – of course you may not post your derivative work or claim it as your own.

  1. Start Photoshop
  2. Load the foreground and background (stacked) image.
  3. Plop the foreground image onto the stacked image.
  4. Set the foreground opacity to 40% to see what you are working with
  5. Use the quick select tool to capture the foreground elements you wish to remain.
  6. Use “Layer -> Layer Mask -> Reveal Selection”
  7. Adjust the foreground opacity to 100%
  8. Flatten and save!

Step By Step

Easiest for me is to drag and drop my images into Photoshop. Choose your own method if you’d rather but beware that depending on your approach, Photoshop may decide to do your layers as “smart objects” which creates more constraints and steps.

Note that you might decide to load more than one foreground so you can mix and match to choose what result you like best!

Once you’ve got your two (or more) images loaded select the foreground image, then Ctl-A (Select All), Ctl-C (Copy) then select the background image and do Ctl-V (Paste). If you have more than one foreground, repeat the process of overlaying the foregrounds onto the background stack.

When done this way with equally sized images, the layers will be exactly over one another. You can accomplish the same layering goal by using the “move tool” and the process described by Harold Davis as “Plopping”. Or if you were really on the ball, you could  load the images into Photoshop as Layers. For me that method “Files -> Scripts -> Load Files into Stack -> File / Folder Selection tool” is unnecessarily complicated and forces me to use the more impoverished Photoshop file selection tool. Plus I can almost never remember to look under “File -> Scripts” (I always expect it under “File -> Open” or File -> Automate. Even File -> Import would make more sense!)

 

Though it is not necessary here, it is usually a good practice to convert your background to a layer, and name your layers to keep them straight.

We will also adjust the opacity of the foreground to around 45% by selecting it in the Layer tool (Window -> Layer)

 

 

 

 

After adjusting the opacity, we can see clearly how the layers align and make a determination about which parts of which photos we want in the final image.

A quick look indicates that we can replace everything below the mountains with our foreground making the task trivially simple.  We will use the quick selection tool (look under “Magic Wand” if you don’t see it). Select the foreground, then click the selection tool somewhere at the edge and below the sky. Drag across the frame to the other edge and if you’re lucky, the selection will be like this:

The next step is to turn the selection into a mask so that the sky remains intact and the foreground is replaced by our selection.  Layer -> Layer Mask -> Reveal Selection does the trick.

After completing the Reveal Selection we adjust the foreground to 100%

For fun and excitement we can clean up the final concoction using various adjustments. Here I’ve used Curves and Hue/Saturation adjustments to reduce the green cast and crisp the image up just a bit.

Final image with replaced foreground

Now we flatten and save and post and brag!

What if Quick Select Doesn’t Work?

If your selection area is more complicated there are other alternatives.

One alternative is to use a gradient mask. But that may not work either such as when a tree reaches up into the sky with lots of tiny branches. Another approach is to do hand masking/layering. The following provides a rough idea of both how to approach the hand masking problem and how much more difficult the process can become.

Here I used a “Hide All” mask on the foreground. Next I painted in white on the foreground mask (notice that the mask is selected in the layer window). Wherever I paint white in the mask allows the foreground to “replace” the background. In this case it’s messy because the foreground is clearly darker than the background.  However this technique can work very well for small improvements. For example did you notice that there is a red streak of car tail lights in the middle mountain above?  It would be simple to replace that small area with one (or more) frames from the rest of the stack using this hand masking technique.

If you want to get the full scale, nitty gritty detailed write up of this hand blending technique, I heartily suggest you purchase Harold Davis‘s “The Photoshop Darkroom” book. It will be money well spent!

Or, join us on our next workshop or webinar.