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When you make a localised adjustment to a photograph (such as darkening a sky or lightening up a face), you have to deal with the edge of that area. And that usually means using a brush tool of one sort or another.

If the edge of the area is too abrupt or ‘hard’, it is very easy to see (as shown in the examples above). On the other hand, if the edge of the area is blurred, feathered or ‘soft’, it is difficult to discern where the adjustment begins.

Invisible post-production requires us to make localised adjustments in a way that our handiwork cannot be seen.
Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One...

In most editing programs, we use a brush tool to determine where our localised adjustments will go. In other words, we use the brush to paint over the sky we wish to darken, or over the face we want to lighten.

In Photoshop, we are using the brush on a mask. A black area on the mask conceals the effect of the adjustment we’re making, a white area on the mask reveals it. What’s important is the transition between the white and black areas.

In Lightroom and Capture One, the same principle applies when painting in the adjustments or using the graduated filter. The use of the brush and its softness or hardness determines how gradual the transition is.

Size and Hardness

The brush is used to paint in large or small areas. A large brush makes the job quicker, but a small brush can be essential when adjusting fine details.

If you are wanting to lighten up a building, you probably want to use a brush with a hard edge so you can accurately outline the building’s sharp edges (or use another technique to make a selection for the mask).

In comparision, if you wanted to lighten up the middle of a landscape, a large brush with very soft edges is more likely to be used.

In both cases, the size and the hardness of the brush are changed to suit the subject and the type of adjustment you wish to make.

In some programs, you can also adjust the opacity and/or the flow of the brush. These affect the speed and subtlety of the adjustments you are defining.

Small = Hard

One really useful trick in getting the most out of your brush work is understanding that the softness of the edges you produce is controlled not only by the hardness setting, but by the size of the brush as well.

A large brush with a Hardness of 0% has a very large ‘feather’, while a small brush with the same Hardness of 0% will have a much narrower (harder) feather in absolute terms.

To produce very broad, soft transitions, consider using very large brushes. In Photoshop, you may wish to reduce the size of the image on the screen to make it easier to apply a very large brush stroke.

In many ways, brushes are the most important key to invisible post-production. The use of your brush determines how the adjusted area will sit with the rest of the image. If you can see where the adjustment begins, separately from the subject it is adjusting, then you have not been successful. This little secret is often overlooked, yet it can be the difference between a professional result and one that still needs work.

And you’ll only be sure to notice these important under- and over-editing issues if you’re working with a high quality monitor. And this is another little secret, because only with a high quality monitor will your image be faithfully displayed, guiding you when to keep going and when to stop.

Just as we like to work with 16-bit photo files for the best image quality, EIZO are the only monitors to display a 16-bit colour palette using 10-bit graphics, compared to the 8-bit of a standard computer or laptop monitor. And when you look at your images on an EIZO screen, the detailed tonal reproduction from corner to corner is immediately evident.

While many photographers are saving up for a new camera or lens, creative photographers are looking for an EIZO monitor because, every time you work on your photos, it’s the monitor that’s showing you what your files really look like.

And you always want them to look their best.

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