Since the beginning of my adventure into photography, Photoshop has been the go-to tool for cutting out a subject and creating complex masks. With ON1 Photo RAW, this process has become so much simpler.
In an effort to explain all the various tools that ON1 Photo RAW has to offer in terms of masking, I thought it would be good to just walk through a specific image where I used all the tools. To start, this image was shot at Red Rocks in Las Vegas during WPPI. The sun was setting so the model still had some light on her, but not enough light to give me the drama I was looking for. So what I did was expose for the scene in an effort to maximize my dynamic range. Because of this, the image straight out of the camera is far from impressive.
After bringing the image into ON1 Photo RAW, I applied my base preset. From here, I created two different versions of the same image. For one version I dropped my exposure so that I could get the darkness of the sky to where I wanted. For the second version, I bumped up my exposure so that the light was what I wanted on the model. I also warmed up the color temp quite a bit in an effort to mimic the light you would get from a more direct sunset light.
Now that I have the two images I want to work with, I now need to combine them using layer masks. The great thing about ON1 Photo RAW is that I don't need another program to do this. I simply select both files and click into the layers panel. This is where I have access to all the masking tools. The first tool I’m going to use is the masking brush. The important step here is that I’m going to turn on the perfect brush setting. This setting makes it so the brush can distinguish between different colors and edges so that I can quickly mask out a subject.
Although the perfect brush can give you perfect results, it’s generally meant to get you most of the way. As you can see above, in this example we are most of the way, but we have some fine tuning to do. The first tool I’ll use to fine tune this is the chisel tool. What this tool does is allows you to brush over the edge of a mask and remove or add to that mask by a defined number of pixels. This makes it so you can quickly and easily adjust the edge of a mask a couple pixels at a time. So as I use the chisel brush over the hair, I can easily remove some of the fringing you see as a white border around her head. There is also a refine edge brush (N) that has a really cool color decontamination option that works really well in certain situations.
The next step I took was to get rid of the fringing on the left of the model. This part was a bit easier because I want the left of the model to fall a bit darker. So what I did was use the masking brush with the perfect brush option turned off this time. I set the opacity to 10 percent and simply blended the mask into the model. Not only did this get rid of the fringing, but it also gave the light on her a much more dramatic falloff.
For this step, I had the feather set to 40 so that I didn't have a very hard edge, but it still did have some unevenness because of how I was building up the brush strokes. To fix this I used the refine tool which allows me to blur the parts of the mask that I brush over. This allowed me to make the transition much more even and less spotty. As you can see below where I have already brushed, the gradient is much smoother than the top of the image where I have not brushed yet.
For the bottom of the image, I actually didn't want to rely on a brush tool because I wanted the transition to be a lot smoother then I could paint in manually. So I opted to use the masking bug. This bug lets you apply a gradient mask to the image and then fine tune everything as you see it applied. So I can now rotate, move, adjust the falloff, and opacity as I see its effect on the image. You can also adjust the shape of the bug if you rather use a circular gradient, mirrored gradient, etc.
The last step to finalize this image is to attack the fringing on the right side of the model. Due to the nature of combining two identical images with such drastic exposure differences, there is nothing I can do to the mask to fix this section. But thankfully, ON1 Photo RAW also has built-in healing and cloning tools. So to fix this, I simply selected the clone stamp tool, sampled a section right next to the fringing, and painted over it. If I was not combining two identical images and instead was dropping in a new background, I could have used the chisel tool to fix this section. It's during this step that I also removed some of the signs and poles that were visible on the right of the image.
From here the Image image is complete
Just to recap what we did, we started with a base image as seen right out of camera. We then applied a preset and created a darker version and a brighter version. We then combined both images together so that the model was from the brighter image and the background was from the darker one. We did this with four simple tools that allowed us to mask and blend everything very easily. Lastly, we fixed some fringing and cloned out some distracting element. We did all of this from within a single program which saved a ton of time not needing to jump around and wait for files to load and save. Because the masking tools allowed me to work faster and less precisely, I was able to complete the entire edit in less than a few minutes. In addition to the tools mentioned here, ON1 Photo RAW also has a host of other features. From a fast and easy file browser, a raw editor, and even an effects panel that allows you to add filters and effects such as tilt-shift blurs. If you haven't given ON1 a try since their recent update, I definitely recommend checking out their free trial.