Precision Photo Styling with the Perfect Effects 4 Masking Brush
Begin the Perfect Effects workflow by opening an image in Photoshop that you’d like to modify. Choose File > Automate > Perfect Effects 4. This will launch the plugin and open your photo inside Perfect Effects, shown in Figure 1. (By default, the process of using the plugin will generate a new layer in Photoshop later on.) As you can see, the user interface has a similar appearance and is organized in the same way as the Perfect B&W plugin we covered recently.
Figure 1 The Perfect Effects 4 user interface benefits from the improvements found throughout the latest version of the Perfect Photo Suite.
To create the initial photo style, you’ll need to look at the available effect presets, stored on the left side of the UI. Open the Basic Brushes category and take a look (Figure 2). Notice there are individual effects for things like enhancing color, highlight (or shadow) details, contrast, glow effects, and several others. As you experiment with each, you can go back and click the little flag icon (bottom-right portion of each preset’s thumbnail) to add the ones you like best to the Favorites area. This will make your most frequently used presets easier to find in future sessions.
Figure 2 The Basic Brushes presets in Perfect Effects 4. Note the Brush Glow and Brush More Color effects have been marked as “Favorites” for quick recall later on.
Understanding the Effect Stack Concept
Next, choose the preset you’d like to work with first. I started with the Brush Glow preset for this example. This effect tends to soften and add a slight “glow” the details in your image. When you click the preset, a new layer will be added into the Effects Stack panel (right side of the window). You can think of the Effects Stack as a simpler version of Photoshop’s Layers panel, and serves a very similar purpose. Notice that the brush effect layer you just created has a black mask attached to it. Each time you use one of these special presets, the effect is applied to the entire layer and then completely masked. That is, there will be no visible change to the preview at first.
Notice also that when you collapse the presets area in order to display a larger preview, a small toolbar remains on the left side of the window. The Masking Brush tool is selected by default with these presets; the options for modifying the tool’s behavior appear across the top of the preview, similar to the Options Bar in Photoshop CS6. By default, the mode is set to “Paint in”, which is another way of saying you’re going to paint white onto the preview (technically you’re modifying the mask), in order to reveal the effect in different parts of the photo.
The Perfect Brush option is available also; this is new in Perfect Effects 4 and allows you to work around high contrast edges without “overlapping” into areas you don’t want to modify. This is similar to Lightroom’s Auto Mask option, when using the Adjustment Brush. There is also Brush Size, Feather, and Opacity controls. These options are shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 The Masking Brush and its brush options allow you to accurately paint effects onto portions of your photo.
To customize the effect’s mask, zoom in to a level that allows you to work around the details in your image, then use standard Photoshop shortcuts to increase or decrease the brush size. The [ key will decrease the brush diameter, while the ] key will increase it; in addition, pressing Shift - ] will increase the Feather value of the brush (the distance between the inner and outer circles that make up the brush cursor). Shift – [ will decrease the feather value.
Once things are set, use your stylus or mouse to brush around the important details that you would like to remain unchanged. As with other masking tasks, if you need to work around smaller details, zoom in a bit more and reduce the size of your brush. It’s a good idea to pick up the brush occasionally so that if you must undo a small area, it does not undo the entire mask change.
Figure 4 shows where I brushed over the parts of the stream that needed to be smoothed out. I turned up the default Amount setting from 50 to 100 so the effect is easier to see; notice also the white area on the small mask.
Figure 4 The Masking Brush makes it easy to apply your effects to specific regions of the photo.
Before adding additional effects, adjust the Amount setting back and forth until it’s close to the result you’re looking for. You can come back to each one afterward as well, but it will save you time in the end to get the effect just where you want it to start. To see a before/after effect, turn the visibility of the effect layer (in the Effects Stack) on and off by clicking the eye-shaped icon. It may take a second or two for the preview to turn on and off.
When you’re ready to add a second effect layer, click the Add button in the Effects Stack. An “Empty Layer” will appear, along with a white layer mask. With the Empty Layer highlighted, re-open the Presets and click on the next Brush effect you’d like to add. I chose Brush More Color from a group of Favorites I had created prior. When you make your selection, the layer’s mask will turn from white to black, allowing you to paint in the effect where needed.
For the second effect, I turned off the Perfect Mask option because I wanted to brush some color into the trees (where there are too many contrast lines that are close together for this new option to be effective (Figure 5). To be sure I didn’t brush over the wrong areas, at the end of the process I switched the mode to Paint Out and brushed over the sky and other areas I did not want to over-saturate. I also reduced the Amount slightly before moving to the next step.
Figure 5 The Brush More Color Effect allows you to increase the color saturation or intensity in select areas of the photo.