Mountains in snow, Georgia. Separating the layers of trees, snow and sky for editing couldn't be achieved satisfactorily (by me) with any automatic selection algorithm, or even luminosity masking. A manual approach was the only solution I could find.
I think we will see more photographers experimenting with more post-production in the near future - and that's a good thing. Adobe has released new masking tools for both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, making it both easy and almost intuitive to decide on what you want to 'select' and 'edit'.
For instance, a person standing alone in a field can be easily selected and separated from the sky and the grass. Once selected, the person can be lightened, darkened or coloured as desired. Similarly, the sky can be selected and darkened or the blue removed and then, using the opposite selection of the sky, the grass and landscape can be turned to, say, purple or green as you choose!
Adobe is to be congratulated for introducing these new masking tools which work remarkable well in many situations. Perhaps it will also change the language of photography so 'purists', while not changing their personal approach, will be more accepting of others who choose to look further than the reality captured by a camera.
However, where does that leave photographers like us? Is it a complete solution?
Sometimes it will be, but we need to be wary. Over the years, Adobe and others have delivered many 'automatic' selection tools and, as good as they are, there are two main limitations.
The first limitation is the subject or area you're selecting - while human eyes can see it clearly, can a mathematical equation describe it precisely? The more complicated your subject and the more the background looks much the same, the less effective any software is in selecting the subject. And that hasn't changed. Think of how you select the loose strands of hair in a portrait (on a subject other than myself) - even manual techniques require us to manually paint in fake hair to make it look believable.
The second limitation is the degree of precision. To make selections that are invisible on a 1000 pixel image is much easier than for a 5000 or 10,000 pixel file. What looks great when the image fits our computer screen can look rudimentary when enlarged to 100 percent. Adobe (and other software designers) offers a number of 'tweaks' that can improve an automatically captured selection, proving the point that smart programming doesn't yet match experienced craft and technique.
Perversely, there's a part of me that thinks this is a good thing. Where's the joy in making a perfect selection, without struggling to get it absolutely right?
Then again, wouldn't it be wonderful!