Brian's Photo Blog — Article 79
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A Tale of Three Masks
Thursday 12 April 2012   —   Category: Processing
Each Easter, my wife likes to dye eggs using a traditional method with onion skins which she learned growing up in Switzerland. This year, she arranged them in a beautiful pottery bowl which my mom had given her for Christmas, adding a bit of guinea pig hay for a nice effect!

After seeing how great this bowl of eggs looked, I knew I just HAD to take a picture of it! So I walked around outside, bowl in hand, to find a good place to take the photo. I set the bowl on the grass, but the vivid green detracted from the muted colors of the bowl and contents. Then I tried setting it on some small rocks and gravel, but that background was too busy and distracting. Next I tried the patio bricks, and it was just right!

Then I grabbed my Sony Alpha α77, using my everyday 24-​70​mm lens zoomed all the way to 70mm (35mm-equivalent focal length of 105mm), and no tripod. For the camera settings I had a shutter speed of 1/125 second, ISO of 100, and an aperture of f/10 to make sure everything was in focus. I hate finding out later that a shot is ruined because some part of the photo that needs to be in focus is not!

When I looked at the picture on my computer, I was pleased with the results, but felt that it would look better if the bricks were more out of focus. I guess I should have tried some shots with various wider apertures, so I would have had a variety of depths-of-field to choose from. But, alas, I did not, and now four of the eggs are eaten, and it’s raining outside! So I needed to do the work in Photoshop.

With the pieces of hay sticking out over the edge of the bowl at the bottom of the photo, it was a lot of tedious work to mask the bricks. Even though there are tools in Photoshop to help make masks quicker, I found that they did not give the precise results I was needing. I for sure did not want to ruin this photo with sloppy masking! So, for optimal quality, I made the mask by hand with my Wacom Intuos3 6 x 8 Inch Pen Tablet. You can see a close-up sample of the red-tinted mask over the hay in the photo to the right.

After an hour and a half of detailed masking, I was finally done. I save the image in the native Photoshop format, closed the file, and opened it again. To my dismay, the mask was gone! GONE! An hour-and-a-half’s worth of work down the tubes! I just couldn’t believe it! Apparently, Photoshop does not save active masks — you have to save the selection first, and then save the file. Stupid me! I should have known better!

So I wearily set to work recreating the mask all over again. It wasn’t a total waste, as the first time I had used a hard brush to create the mask, but this time I used a soft brush, which would give better results once I blurred the bricks. (Check out this awesome video clip about Photoshop soft and hard brushes!) After another hour-and-a-half, I finished the mask for the second time, making double sure to save the selection.

But for some unknown reason, I decided to close the file, and without thinking about what I was doing, I clicked on the “Don’t Save” button rather than the “Save” button. As all my twice-done hard work disappeared down the drain again, it suddenly hit me what an idiot I was!

I just sat there for a while, in silent shock, not able to grasp what I had just done! It was bad enough to loose an hour-and-a-half of work through my own ignorance — it was horrible to loose a second hour-and-a-half of work through my own stupidity!

Sadly, I started creating the mask yet again. After a third hour-and-a-half — four-and-a-half hours total! — I finally complete the mask for the last time. I made triple sure to save the selection AND save the file. WHEW! Maybe I CAN beat an ape at the intellegence game after all!

I worked on getting the blur just right — not too much and not too little — and it really improved the shot by making the brick background less busy, thus focusing your attention on the bowl and its contents. Mission accomplished — with some hard lessons learned on the way! So ends my tale of three masks!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 79
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