Tag Archives: Photoshop

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.


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.


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


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:


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


Et Voila, we’re done!


Foul Weather Warning: Creative Cloud and Photoshop CS6 are at enmity

Perhaps you paid attention to my ordering debacle v.v. Creative Cloud. Adobe was dangling a first year $20/month price in front of me then pulling out the football ala “Lucy” of Peanuts fame and telling me that I wasn’t eligible.  After a week, a dozen emails and more than a few phone calls that all seems to be straightened out.  Adobe people reset my password in the middle of the night (and forgot to tell me) but somehow magically made me eligible – after I created a new password, that is. Yippee.

Now comes the grisly, horrible news.

Photoshop CC doesn’t EXIST. It’s vaporware.

Shocking?  I thought so! Perhaps you didn’t notice the fine print:  “All-new tools and services will be available in June.”  I thought they meant that they were overhauling Creative Cloud – not hyping all the features that aren’t released yet. Hey, they don’t even say WHICH June this will happen so theoretically June 2021 is good for them.

But wait… it’s worse. Even more popular than our webinars here at StarCircleAcademy has been our Advanced Stacking Action for creating star trails and cool effects.  I’ve spent several hundred hours making sure the soon to be released Advanced Stacker+ works with all of the Photoshop versions I have installed: CS3, CS5, and CS6 so I figured… Hey… I should make sure it all works with the spiffy new Photoshop in the Cloud.  I joined the Cloud and discovered the next, horrible, gruesome problem:

You have to deactivate your perpetually licensed CS6 to get the new features!

[See here]

Apparently this is true. Because the not fancy new Adobe Application Manager that comes with Cloud insists that right now my Photoshop CS6 is Up to date. That old thing?


And because it’s up to date, I can’t install anything newer. New ACR 8? Nope.  You’ll have to install a trial version of Lightroom 5 to get that.  If, in fact that works… can’t verify that.  I do know that trying to install the Adobe Camera Raw 8.1 Beta says (and I’m quoting):

Adobe Application Manager 5162013 82117 PM.bmp

That’s the brand new Adobe Application Manager that came with the Cloud it’s talking about.

I am incredulous. I’m also feeling really smug. Many MONTHS ago I reported that there were problems for people who were trying to interwork between the Cloud version and the perpetually licensed versions. Adobe people repeatedly commented that those problems didn’t exist any longer after updates to the Adobe Application Manager – perhaps because their solution is to disable the perpetually licensed version!

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Adobe has given me so much material to write about. I’m working on a column for Photoshop alternatives which will be an interesting read if the new, mandatory perpetual payment system is not one you’re comfortable with.

Again, in the interest of fairness, the Creative Cloud *will* make financial sense in many cases, but perhaps not to those who like to own things and not merely hold them for a time.  And apparently not for those like me who would like to straddle both worlds.  The Cloud doesn’t make sense for:

  1. The once-in-a-while user.
  2. Users with restricted or unpredictable incomes (e.g. students, freelancers).
  3. Users with little or no internet bandwidth, or where that bandwidth is prohibitively expensive.
  4. Users who frequently go on assignments – especially extended assignments where there is little or no internet.
  5. Developers and designers who regularly use more than two computers.  You’ll have to pay for double licenses then.
  6. Anyone who is worried about untimely failures of the authorization process (hundreds of reports of this so far, including people unable to use their Cloud Licensed tools to make on-premise customer demonstrations, failures when visiting their cabin in the woods, daily re-authentication prompts, etc).
  7. People worried about long term financial stability.  Adobe has been very tight lipped about what pricing they will have in the future. If you want to do multi-year budget planning, you’ll have to assume that everything will at least double in cost.

Oh, and I found that Jeffrey Tranberry, Chief Customer Advocate at Adobe, is a saint – or should be. A lot of vitriol has been directed at him, but he’s been doing a great job answering questions. Unfortunately I didn’t find his column until after I discovered that Photoshop CC is vaporware.  It would have saved me from bothering to sign up for the Creative Vaporware, I mean cloud, and the week of “ineligibility” that ensued.

When I upgrade to Creative Cloud will I have to uninstall CS 6 and reinstall a new version?

Photoshop CS6 will work side by side when Photoshop CC is released. There is no reason to uninstall CS6.

While Jeffrey says that the two will work, side by side, the official Adobe site also says to deactivate CS6… I’m not sure whom to believe.  I’m still actively using my Photoshop CS6, so I can’t risk deactivating it to see if it will all work out – or the “call Adobe hassle” to reactivate (went through that pain once before already).

If someone who has a properly working Photoshop CC, or whatever is the current version from the Cloud would be so kind as to try out our Test Stacker and let us know how it goes, we’d appreciate it!  The Test Stacker does all the things our original stacking action did, plus more, but, of course it has fewer features than our Advanced Stacker.

Facing the Onslaught [C_073278-32li16%]



What Photoshop?

Not long ago I took Adobe to task for a poorly executed upgrade path from their expensive Photoshop CS5 to Photoshop CS6. Today, I am calling them on the carpet for their most egregious mistake:

Confusing the H*LL out of their potential clients with an armada of similarly named, poorly differentiated, expensive products. To the casual observer the cost of that fleet of products ranges from expensive to “I have to forego buying a camera so I can edit my photos” expensive.  Nearly daily my students ask me whether they should buy Photoshop and WHICH ONE!

The discontinuation of sale of Photoshop through normal sales channels has simplified the picture considerably since this article was originally written. The choices are:
Photoshop CC (through Creative Cloud), Photoshop Elements, and Photoshop Lightroom (Creative Cloud OR retail sales).  However it’s worth reading through the rest of this article for some historical perspective. 

Isn’t Photoshop Too Expensive?

Let me weigh in on the expensive part first.  Photoshop CS6 Standard Edition (I’ll try to disentangle what that means in a moment) ranges from about $600 at Amazon to $700 directly from Adobe it sure sounds expensive.  But if you think of it as you would  say a sweet new lens for your camera it suddenly sounds less outrageously expensive. If you are willing to invest in Adobe’s future by taking a chance on their wobbly Cloud offering you can “rent” Photoshop for as low as $50 per month (or $20 per month depending on the plan – or even as little as $10/month).

So yes, it’s expensive. The question is: will it make your photos more impressive like a $600 lens might? My answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the time learning Photoshop’s incredible awesome power and escape Photoshop’s maddening quirks.

And for the kind of photography that I do: night photography with layers and complex operations there really is no equal that I am aware of.  GIMP is a free independently written Photoshop alternative. At the moment it is limited to 8 bit operations – though a 16 bit version is in beta. For many years I couldn’t bear the outrageous price of Photoshop so I used PaintShopPro with great success. Eventually I realized that the power I wanted required a payment so I stuck my toe into Photoshop CS3. Later it was CS5 and most recently CS6.  Of course since it is my business to produce prints and teach students about night photography, I get to deduct Photoshop as a cost of doing business. That doesn’t make it cheaper, though, does it.

What Version of Photoshop?

As I noted in the opening paragraph, Adobe has really made a mess of their products.  Here is a PARTIAL list of Photoshop choices for the LATEST version and the cost of each as reported on Adobe’s website. Costs are rounded to the nearest tens.

  • Photoshop CS6 $600
  • Photoshop CS6 Upgrade $200
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended $1000
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended Upgrade $400
  • Photoshop Elements 12 $100
  • Photoshop Elements 12 Editor ?
  • Photoshop Elements 12 with Adobe Premiere Elements $150
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 $150
  • Design Standard CS6  $1300
  • Design and Web Premium CS6 $1900
  • Production Premium CS6 $1900
  • Master Collection CS6 $2600
  • Creative Cloud $240/year OR $350/year OR $600/year

The underlined items are bundles that contain Photoshop in them, that’s why they are more expensive.  The items in italics are in fact not really Photoshop except in name.  Think of them as Photoshop Light with simpler interfaces and fewer features. And the above does not show the Student/Teacher pricing which is yet another kettle of smelly fish.

In a nutshell for the kind of photo processing I do, Photoshop CS6 (not Extended, and definitely not Elements) is the tool of choice.

If you’re wondering whether you need the latest version: probably not. CS3, CS4 or CS5 will do just fine if you find them discounted somewhere and are careful to buy the FULL package, not an upgrade. Beware as there are many counterfeiters and scams – only buy from a reputable company.

What Adobe Tool Do you Need?

One more frustration for me is that Adobe does a very poor job differentiating its products.  You have to be a student of Adobe to understand how Illustrator differs from Photoshop from In Design, from Lightroom, etc. Or worse if I want to make a timelapse video which tool is the best one: Premiere Pro, Premiere Elements, After Effects, Photoshop, Photoshop Extended, Encore?  It’s hard to say unless you have an PhD in the Adobe marketspace – I don’t.

But You Haven’t Mentioned Lightroom!

You noticed that, eh? I own it, but I don’t like Lightroom. The photo editing interface for Lightroom is much more intuitive than the one in Photoshop, and Lightroom lets you sort, tag, organize and catalog photos with some really great features. My pet peeve is that Lightroom is slower than a frozen slug in a snowstorm and it forces me to “Import” everything I want to work on. Lightroom doesn’t do layering which is the key thing I need for optimum photo results.  The free Picasa tool (from Google) does the cataloging, sorting and keywording I want along with less impressive, but passable photo editing.  The Picasa method for straightening photos is awesome, quick and dead simple. Besides, most everything Lightroom can do Photoshop or Photoshop plus Bridge (or Adobe Camera Raw) can do more powerfully – if you can figure it out, that is.

Still, Lightroom does provide some pretty powerful features and allows non-destructive editing. But at a cost both in $ and time.

Bottom Line?

Photoshop is powerful. You can go farther with it than without it, and best of all there are a LOT of resources around to help you learn Photoshop – like StarCircleAcademy.com and books by Harold Davis (and many others).  Unfortunately lots of resources are needed because while Photoshop is a powerful weapon it is also a many-headed monster that requires developing some good wrestling skills.


Photoshop CS6 Upgrade: A tough row to hoe

I finally succumbed. I saw a few articles touting the video features that were moved out of the Extended versions of Photoshop into the standard version. Since I’ve been doing a fair amount of opportunistic timelapses using the free tool Picsasa it seemed like the experience was worth the $200 upgrade outlay.

With some of my past escapades with upgrades of Adobe Photoshop still searing my psyche (3 to 5 was especially traumatic), I proceeded anyway. First I made sure to buy the upgrade ON DVD. It means I have to store something, but it also means it’s a physical thing – not a space eating behemoth to add to my bulging file archives that might get lost or deleted.

Let me step back a moment and explain that I do my photo processing on two different machines. A laptop which is with me much of the time and a desktop machine at home. The desktop machine is my wife’s and she’s beginning to get the idea it’s not really for her use. I should also point out that I am an “IT Professional”. Herding around arcane settings on Windows is just one of the many things I do on a daily basis. I also do not have or use a Mac. There, I said it. I’m not a Mac hater. Heaven knows I’ve spent a great sum of money on iPhones and other Apple gear. But I’ve never been able to convince myself that switching to a Mac and giving up all my fancy PC-only software was worth the risk, frustration and significant additional expense. But I digress.

AlienWoman.bmpI tackled the upgrade on the desktop machine first. The DVD arrived 5 days after I ordered it from Adobe. Inside the packing box I came face to face with creepy Pale Faced Scaly Woman. It happens she’s not really a box, but a slip case covering another box. Inside the box is yet another box. And inside the box that is inside the box inside the other box is another box – a CD jacket actually. You have to inspect all the edges of the slip case to find out this is an “upgrade” – I thought at first they had sent me the wrong thing – a full version (which I’d have welcomed). I hurled the DVD into the drive. Since I have disabled auto install (no smart person would allow an inserted DVD to automatically run anything), I hunted down the rather odd place where the setup program lived and started it. It whirred and eventually it offered to install. After some more whirring it asked me for the serial number. Crap, I thought, I don’t know where I had written that down and then I remembered it’s registered under my Adobe ID. I looked it up, wrestled with the serial number entry tool that tries to be helpful but which actually makes entering the digits harder and pressed GO. Invalid serial number. It told me unceremoniously.  Perhaps I made a digit mistake. Yes, I did. I fixed it and THEN:  “Invalid Serial Number”.  How can it be that my serial number which is recorded at Adobe is wrong, I wondered.

I began a search of the Adobe Website. Call me dense, but after trying to use the “contact an agent” pop up that gets in your face when you visit Adobe and getting no contact;  after scanning a half dozen useless articles that were returned from my Adobe site search I discovered that it didn’t want my moldy OLD serial number. The elusive Serial Number I needed was written on a sticker or printed on the packaging material.  It WASN’T on the CD case.  It wasn’t on the alien lady slip case. It wasn’t on the box held by the alien lady. Oh wait, it was on the box inside the box, inside the box just NOT on the DVD or CD cover.  That’s consistent with the way you find things in Photoshop. You know, when you need the ruler tool you have to first consult the eyedropper (or sampler or note) tool.

Of course I did what I always do and I immediately wrote the serial number directly on the DVD in indelible ink.

Sharp Poke in the Eye

The upgrade proceeded pretty quickly and Photoshop 13 installed.  13? Yes, for arcane historical reasons you need to know that Photoshop CS6 is REALLY Photoshop 13.  The luckiest Photoshop yet!  When you look at your Adobe account you’ll notice that it doesn’t say CS6 apparently that would have been too many digits and letters to add after “Photoshop” on the web page and it might have made it just a bit too clear what it is.

Here is what my “Product and Services says”

Adobe Photoshop     12 Win Aug 20, 2010
Adobe Photoshop 13 Win Jan 17, 2013

But I guess I should be thankful that now it has an icon!

Now comes the sharp poke. When I started CS6, er, I mean 13, it asked me if I wanted to import my presets from the previous version. Why YES, thank you.  Except apparently “presets”  means ONLY presets – my custom settings for correcting light pollution using the Levels adjustment tool.

Presets do not NOT include:

And to add insult to injury… guess what you CAN NOT DO… you cannot have both CS5 and CS6 (I mean 12 and 13) running simultaneously – so you can NOT do a head to head comparison to figure out what is missing.

After reading some more about “migrating filters” (and great good luck to you on finding something on that since Adobe calls them Plugins even though I have only ever known them as filters) I realized that I am on the hook to reinstall all my filters and actions by hand on EACH machine that I use Photoshop on.

And it MIGHT exist, but why, oh why does Adobe not have a findable page on the 99 things you may need or want to do when you “upgrade” their product(s)?  I have a suspicion that they don’t publish an all-in-one compendium because if people found it they would have justifiable fear and trepidation about attempting an upgrade.  It might in fact, lessen their sales.

Now before you conclude that I hate Adobe that’s not at all true. I only hate SOME of them – the ones who fail to anticipate how new and veteran users are likely to suffer when trying to use their heavily featured product(s).  I’m sure my loathesome-ness will subside, eventually. Meanwhile I am REALLY glad I didn’t go with the Cloud thing.  I am subscribed to several discussions and every day there is a new horror story about failure and misadventure that make my serial number search look like a vacation.

When I get a bit more of the “Motion” features under my belt, you can bet I’ll be writing about those too. Of course I won’t be the first or that last to write about the subject. My first feat will be to find the elusive “stop watch” (aka Key Frame).  Apparently it’s located under a triangle somewhere.  Maybe the triangle is hidden under the ruler tool…