My Favorite Little Photoshop Helpers

My Favorite Photoshop Actions Blog Post - Lido Sunset

Level : Pretty Advanced

Anybody knowing me and my style will approve that I use as little automated actions in shooting and post processing as possible. That means I do spend more time per image but also it means that all settings and retouches are optimized for this one image only.

Especially in post processing for long I resisted using any actions at all, and still their use for me is very limited. But since tending to use two main little helpers in my workflow very frequently at present I thought to share with you again.

Both tools I frequently work with do very different jobs to the images. One just saves a ton of hours in doing things we all could also do – just slower. And the other … it is simply magic.

Looks like advertising on my blog? Yes and no. As said, I also use these tools and found them to be extremely helpful. Both I recommend looking into and if you think they might suit your workflow I can wholeheartedly recommend buying them. Both are cheap and integrate very smooth into photoshop.

Let’s start with the magic one.

ALCE – Local Contrast Enhancer

This lovely tool I did not discover myself but I was pointed to by a fantastic printer in Milan. ALCE is all about sharpening, which as described in an earlier tutorial is nothing else than enhancing local contrast. So what? A tool for something I can do by hand? Not really.

ALCE does much more than just sharpening. It processes a series of actions following an own algorithm with the result of your image not only being crisp and sharp but also of making your subjects pop out more, sometimes it even creates kind of a 3D look by adding depth and dimension. You won’t believe until you have seen with your own eyes (Davide Barranca has a great tutorial for ALCE on vimeo).

I tried to copy the effect by my own with the little limited knowledge I have about photoshop. With the Unsharp Masking filter for example you can get close. But not even with help of others we managed to achieve the same results.

Is it a click-and-done-tool? Sure not. Though having a slider and and start button only, you will have to practice. You will have to get a basic understanding and feeling for what the tool does and how. But once you get it ALCE is a wonderful helper!

Alce can be bought from Roberto Bigano and his website knowledgetransfer. You’ll have to scroll down a bit.

Sometimes you will want the effect to be applied to some specific parts of the image only (which brings us into the direction of the next photoshop tool), which is all about masking. If you are not yet as deep into photoshop and if to you “masking” sounds more like Venetian carnival than like post processing, don’t worry. Just give me a couple of weeks, in the upcoming little tutorials I will take you into masking step by step. You will wonder how powerful your retouching is going to be afterwards. And finally you can jump back to here in a couple of weeks, then also understanding the following tool.

Tony Kuyper Action Panel

With adding a mask to an adjustment layer in photoshop we can influence where exactly in the image our adjustments will be applied. We might want to darken some bright parts only or enhance the contrast and saturation just in very specific parts of the image. Or we might want to sharpen just the main subject to make it pop out even stronger.

Simply painting a mask with the brush is rough but sometimes it works. Nonetheless mostly you will need a far more sophisticated concept for being more precise and hiding your path of retouch.

Have you ever tried creating a light mask? Have you ever tried masking based on colors? Have you ever tried to target just one specific luminosity level in a black and white image, e.g. like Zone IV in the Ansel Adams zone system, without even touching all other nine tone levels?

This all is possible, and if you research a little bit it is not even extremely tricky. You can do all this by yourself. Tony Kuyper who created a whole action set for masking even gives detailed instructions on his website how to do it on your own. Isn’t that kind? But to be honest, it will take you weeks creating all of those masks yourself. Though I do not use to say that, in this specific case purchasing Tony Kuyper’s Action Panel is way smarter.

Have a look at his website and give it a try.

Always Stay in the Driver’s Seat

Whenever using actions especially in photoshop or wherever else, make sure to understand what is going on in behind after you hit the start button. Any effect created is an intervention to the image’s pixels with the risk of lowering image quality or even of damaging it. Doing it yourself will put you on the same risk, of course, but here it is in your hands. With any preset action there might be a smarter way in achieving the same effect with less loss, unfortunately also with less speed.

I am looking forward to writing up some masking tutorials upcoming weeks, from a basic understanding what it is all about to pretty sophisticated masks for bw and color photography. As always: stay tuned.



We believe in the value of change.

Destruction gives place to new.

New mistaken for better.

Nature, monuments, traditions – nothing sacred.

No questions. No balance.

Emotions and senses vanish.

Lost vocabulary: dignity and respect.

Acting today impacts the future.

We shall better preserve.

We shall better take care.

Irreversible destruction is everlasting.

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Cameras, lenses, and accessories are tools for creating visions, not more and not less. Each tool has pros and cons in handling and capabilities, each has its raison d’être for different projects. The following selection simply reflects personal preferences for my photographic workflow, style, and philosophy.

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