You are cordially invited to share in the development of two new actions that are likely to be included in a forthcoming release of the PPW panel. These should be considered beta actions, but the Applied Color Theory list has already tested them and certain problems have been corrected. The reaction to these actions has been very positive, as they are quite powerful for certain image types. For the moment they must be loaded into and played out of the Actions palette.
The two actions are tentatively called Lesser Hammer and Velvet Hammer. As the names suggest, they have some similarities to the Bigger Hammer action that already is found in the PPW panel. Each one has its own uses; the Bigger Hammer is not being replaced.
The package you can download here contains the two actions, plus a lengthy PDF documentation of the Lesser Hammer, plus a text file suggesting when each should be used, as opposed to the alternatives of the Bigger Hammer or applying a false profile and then multiplying. The reason for this confusing structure is that initially I thought Lesser Hammer would be the only new action. I did not plan for it to be effective on fleshtone images, but it turned out to be so, sometimes. This occasional success was so tantalizing that I fell into the claws of temptation and developed the Velvet Hammer to deal with the specific problem.
Here’s a quick look at what they can do, and why users so far have found them so interesting. In all cases, I’m just showing before-and-after of the default setting for the action.
The Bigger Hammer is a violent action. It was designed for images like waterfalls, where we need absolutely every bit of highlight detail possible. Originally, that was the only kind of image I used it for. As time went on, I found that it was applicable to many other kinds of images. Usually, however, I had to use a low opacity, because the violence of the action would leave traces otherwise. So the gain, while there, was small.
The Welsh village scene of Figure 1 does not depend on highlight detail. If if did, for example if it were entirely a picture of the white clock tower in the foreground, I would still use the Bigger Hammer. Here, however, I would just like an overall deeper feeling in the lighter half of the picture. The Lesser Hammer does this. The houses, street, and sky are darker and more detailed. There is also a soft addition of detail in the shadows.
The Lesser Hammer does well with strongly colored objects, such as darker flowers. But even with something as delicate as the flowers of Figure 2, it adds detail without going overboard with color. In fact, the user can tone down the color even more within the action, to leave room for something like the MMM action later on.
My first experiments with fleshtones using the Lesser Hammer were impressive. Just when I decided that I had revolutionized fashion retouching. reality set in, in the form of some faces that the action damaged. It could be controlled with a lot of work, but the potential improvement was so tantalizing that I finally gave up and came up with a modified action, the Velvet Hammer, which doesn’t have the shortcomings. It’s a safe way to attack light and dark areas in almost any image. It doesn’t replace the more violent Lesser Hammer in something like the village of Figure 1, any more than the Lesser Hammer replaces the more violent Bigger Hammer in an image where highlight detail is the absolute priority.
Figure 3 shows what the Velvet Hammer does by default. The face is better shaped and more realistic. The hair is softened and highlighted. These two things are controllable individually; you can have one without the other.
We now have three different hammers in the toolbox, not to mention the possibility of applying a false profile and multiplying through a blurred layer mask (which is another variation on the same idea), plus Photoshop’s Shadows/Highlights command, and the Highlights and Shadows commands within Camera Raw. It is certainly tough to keep straight which action works best on what.
As noted earlier, a text file in the download offers from answers. But it’s probably just as easy to try two or more options. Figure 4 shows an original, plus defaults of the Lesser Hammer and the Velvet Hammer. Either one beats the original, but which is the better of the two? It depends on your point of view. Lesser Hammer has better contrast, Velvet Hammer a certain smoothness. You can choose one or the other, or split the difference between the two, or, if you don’t feel that the effect is strong enough, play one action and then the other.
If you decide to check these out, please let us know how well they work for you, so that we can make whatever changes are necessary if we decide to include them in subsequent versions of the PPW panel.