Light is the Source of Color

by Joe Bridwell

“Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!”  Isaac Newton, c 1700

…by Dawn’s Early Light

Here is dawn at two famous New Mexico landscapes; White Sands and Bosque del Apache. But, where is the white sand and blue water? Yes, your eyes are working properly! Yes, so was that danged camera! So, why such visual confusion?   Magic Hour I must admit – I’m much fonder of shooting dusk at Magic Hour then dawn! Yet, so much of photography is all in the luck of the draw. OK, if you ain’t there at the right time you cain’t get such truly awesome fine art imagery!

That said, it’s all about light and color. The simplest image of how light truly affects color is Lavender Dawn. The foreground is simple; it’s just sand dunes at White Sands, New Mexico. But, as you read that sentence, doesn’t an alarm go off in your brain? Did you say, “White Sands New Mexico?” Clearly, though sand dunes are not white; their lavender, just like part of the sky! Let me repeat Newton’s famous adage “Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!” 

So what’s with this light? The simplest way to explain it is say direct light is usually pink to orange. Indirect light is usually bluish. Or here, lavender. The sand dunes, which normally appear white during daylight, were shot at dawn. The sun simply hasn’t come up over mountains in the background. So sunlight is indirect. And, from the bluish indirect light we have Lavender Dawn…   Well, looks like I’ve shot another Magic Hour dawn in Dawn’s Cacophony! Yet the visual light story here is quite different. It is Magic Hour, but the sun is above the horizon and imparts the same color thru most of the picture. Instead of just dunes and light, there is a truly significant impact from clouds and birds. Clouds are between the sun and birds. Clouds absorb much of the sun light. Flying birds become sharp black silhouettes. Sunlight adds another infectious element; clouds reflect in the water! Every bird, whether afloat or in-flight, blocks sunlight to create that sharp black silhouette. The reflections soften each clouds lighting effect. Continue reading

Hungry Birds at Dawn’s Light

by Joe Bridwell

Dawn’s Cacophony

Bosque del Apache is famed for its semiannual bird migration. If you shoot at Magic Hour, that hour around dawn and dusk, your chances of capturing incredible photos are high. Dawn’s Cacophony is a shot looking directly at sunrise. Granted, the sun is hidden behind clouds. Yet, most of its truly gorgeous light is spent inflaming the clouds.

Instinctively, your eye is drawn to the dark, sharp black silhouettes of birds pinned against the clouds. Each bird is distinct; yet, it’s the structured aspect of differing bird shape against changing cloud pattern which adds so much to the elegance of Dawn’s Cacophony…

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How You Can Create Award Winning Photos Using CFAM

by Joe Bridwell

Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!”  Isaac Newton, c 1700

CFAM Creating Fine Art Magic depends on Luminosity Masking. LM helps you process light in Photoshop. Your subtle ‘artistic’ lighting becomes award-winning fine art…

‘Lavender Dawn’ is really White Sands at Dawn…

Lavender Dawn

Creating Fine Art Magic deals with digital photography from capture to a final fine art image. Perhaps the most intriguing point of CFAM is the artistry you apply during final masks while processing.

To carefully control such artistry, I strongly prefer Luminosity Masking (LM). LM is a development process where you take the available light and enhance it to create dramatic impact for your viewer.

Direct and Indirect Light

When you take a normal daylight picture at White Sands, sand dunes appear like their name! If you want to add impact, choose to take that picture at Magic Hour. In this case, we were shooting at dawn.

All the pre-sunrise light was indirect. That’s to say, “No dawn light shined directly on White Sands.” Because light was indirect, it had a bluish tint. So, we were able to capture a truly marvelous Lavender Dawn…

Luminosity Masking

Here’s a direct screenshot from our principal Photoshop workspace for Luminosity Masking. We’ll show the Channels panel later…

Luminosity Workspace – Image and Panels

On the left, we have an image with a specific mask on top. The mask is shown by marching ants. In the center, we show Properties and Histogram panels. On the right, we show the Layers panel.

We’ll discuss why some layers are turned off and some turned on later…

Step 1 – Here’s a picture of the Channels panel with Kuyper Lights mask available. When you click on that mask and hold down Control key (CMD key/Mac), this step places a Lights mask on the image.

Channels Panel showing Lights LM

In later CFAM tone mapping workflow descriptions, we’ll show you how to expand this Channels panel. It usually appears directly above the Layers panel.

There is a ‘make your choice’ method for examining where each mask interacts with each image you’re working on. You may want to ask, “Do I want to use this mask here and that mask there?” For more advanced LM users, that’s usually the case…

But, for purposes here, we’ll just show this panel once.

Step 2 – Let’s take you through vital recast and revival of one of my favorite images.

Lavender Dawn with Lights luminosity mask

Lavender Dawn was shot as a JPEG late February, 2006. In 8 years since I took that shot, both software and skill set have advanced significantly.

I use Photoshop CS6. I also use Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masks.

This image has only had slight revision. The sky within marching ants has been darkened to reduce any option for blown highlights (BHL).

As of now, while pretty, the image is really soft and lacks impact.

In the next few pages, we’re gonna show you a preliminary Luminosity Mask Workflow to improve that impact.

We call this process Creating Fine Art Magic!  We think you’ll find tone mapping use of CFAM a distinct advantage in your final fine art result.

So, let’s go through that CFAM workflow…

Step 3 – Our Properties, Histogram, and Layers panel shows the 1st Curves layer. The Curves properties show a Histogram. That Histogram is darkened slightly. The darkened region is shown below in a Luminosity mask.

Properties, Histogram, and Layers panel for Lights mask

Chiefly, we’ve darkened the upper half of mid tones and highlights (see Luminosity Mask). Note: there is a slight difference between horizontal axes of 2 histograms. The Properties bottom axis is smaller than the Histogram axis. Yet, you can estimate the region you’re affecting by comparing these 2 histograms.

Curves, Vibrance, and Brightness Contrast (B/C) tonality controls all pass through a Kuyper Lights mask on the Layer group.

Vibrance nor B/C layers are presently turned off.

I think you’ll find this workflow layout quite a bit of help. Once you learn how to control LM buttons and sliders, you can visually see how much of the image is improved.

Step 4 – Here, we complete use of Expanded Mid Tones (EMT). We’re emphasizing the orange part of what’s becoming direct dawn light in our image.

Lights mask : Brightness and Contrast

Step 5 – You’ll note there is a Layer group called Lights. It contains Curves, Vibrance, and B/C. It also has the Lights mask on the Layer Group itself. Each luminosity masking change in the layer group must feed through that Lights mask to affect the final image.

Setting Brightness and Contrast

For the image above, when you click on the half lit circle between the eye and the word brightness, you bring up B/C Properties panel.

If you lower brightness -21% and increase contrast 20%, you pop just the region shown in the Lights luminosity mask above.

Since original dawn light is fairly subtle, we’ve minimized our saturation. By slightly emphasizing vibrance, we had a significant richness in tone. That richness is only seen in the region where the Lights mask controls our process.

Step 6 – We’re nearly done with our luminosity masking. Here, we show the limited effect of Make It Glow. Make It Glow is one of Tony Kuyper’s advanced TK_Actions. It adds a luster on top of the vibrance in the image…

Apply Kuyper’s Make-It-Glow : Reduce Opacity

Step 7 – The TK_Actions panel (not shown in this tutorial) allows us to impart a Make It Glow tone map to the entire image. In the layers panel, that’s called Smart Glow.

Lavender Dawn Darken Bright Lights

You’ll note to specific controls for Smart Glow. The 1st is Gaussian blur. I set the Gaussian blur control to one pixel. The 2nd is opacity. Originally, the opacity was 100%. I looked at it there and it was much too strong. I lowered it to 66%; it was still too strong.

Finally, at 30% I found the soft, subtle shading I wanted for indirect light. And it’s just that subtlety which creates the awesome impact of artistic light for Lavender Dawn.


Our CFAM efforts:

  1. In-depth tutorials with clear tone mapping step of LM workflow.
  2. Google Plus posts.
  3. WordPress blog.
  4. E-books.
  5. Videos.
  6. We will have Hangouts of:
    1. Teaching Workshops.
    2. Private Tutoring.
    3. Providing Critiques.

If you would like a copy of this tutorial as a free eBook, please send us your email request.

Prerequisites: Lightroom, Photoshop (CS5, CS6 or CC), TK_Actions, a working knowledge of layers, masking, and channels.


Here’s clear, exciting visual proof; you can create really superb fine art with skillful application of luminosity masks.

This tutorial uses Photoshop CS6 as base to apply luminosity mask plug-ins. Each image will tell you about different light. As you learn how the image talks of light, you also learn which mask to apply to create the fine art your eye recalls.

We’re at a point where we can begin to show you how to apply tone mapping CFAM techniques. Lavender Dawn is a relatively simple image. We didn’t have to do a lot of creative tone mapping to bring out its truly salient fine art.

We typically work with high dynamic range (HDR). 1st, we clean up HDR images (Lightroom). Next, we combine them in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2 and save as a 16 bit TIF. Finally, we use that TIF in Photoshop and apply CFAM luminosity masks techniques!

As Paul Harvey said, “And now, The Rest of the Story!

Stay tuned for more clear descriptions of luminosity masking as we dig deeper.

Let us hear from you about Luminosity Masking and how it might add to your skillsets?

Would you do this work with a different workflow? How do you use LM to enhance more complex images? We look forward to interacting with you…

Please comment and share with other interested fine art digital shooters…

©2014 Chopawamsic LC, Bridwell,,

Blog ~, Business Brand CFAM

#CFAM #luminositymasking #luminosityPainting #TonyKuyper



Luminosity Masking and Image Recovery

by Joe Bridwell

Six years ago, I took 6 HDR shots with a 6 megapixel Nikon D70. At the time, Lightroom was doing 2003 raw conversions. Photoshop masking with the selection tool created a poor black/white mask. I was quite frustrated with masking trees against the skyline. So this HDR image sorta went by the wayside… The tools were not adequate to address neither its richness nor complexity!
With Luminosity Masking, you examine every pixel in the HDR result to create a grayscale mask. You get tree edges against sky. You also get automatic self feathering – which adds strong drama.
I’m now on a very interesting path. I’m redoing all my classic landscape images with Tony Kuyper’s luminosity masking actions.
I resurrected the original HDR images. I submitted them to Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2. I took that HDR image and began applying luminosity masks.
Finding incredible detail in Cave Towers is like landing on the moon.
Your eye glories in a forgotten cornucopia of color, texture, and detail!

CaveTowers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Cave Towers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Thank you, Jesus…

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Masking a Luminosity Mask for Local Curves Adjustment

by Joe Bridwell

When Jack Houser first looked at my LastEoL image, he made a comment, “Reflections in a pond are always darker than the sky!” Time has clearly taught me; when Jack makes a color or textural remark, I’d really better pay heed…
So here’s the workflow I devised for modifying luminosity masks to darken the pond. Before I could make any progress, I had to study Sean Bagshaw’s luminosity mask tutorials regarding local adjustments, based on Tony Kuyper’s luminosity mask work.
Beyond that, I faced this fact; skies had been color coordinated over time lapse of these photos. So I had to be quite careful to make similar darken pond ranges in luminosity and texture. Here’s the workflow to create that subtle difference…
Bagshaw defines both Custom Masks and Local Adjustments. His videos carefully work you through each workflow step. Under custom masks, he covers magic mid tones, increasing tonal separation, burn or Dodge a mask, and painting on an enhanced mask. For localized adjustments, he covers painting a mask, masking the mask, and luminosity painting. Here, we create a Local Adjustments mask atop a luminosity mask.

Preliminary Steps to Create an Expanded Mid Tone Mask of the Pond

Preliminary Steps to Create an Expanded Mid Tone Mask of the Pond

Preliminary Steps to Create an Expanded Mid Tone Mask of the Pond

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