Photoshop CS and the Event Videographer
Posted Jan 17, 2005

Photoshop has emerged as a de facto standard for photo retouching and bitmapped image creation. And the latest CS version offers a host of new advanced features. But how can we, as videographers, use it most effectively to enhance our productions?

As videographers, we tend to concentrate on editing software, and maybe an effects or compositing application like Boris Red or Adobe After Effects. But after a very short time editing, it's a good bet that you'll run into something that requires the use of a digital imaging program. That's where Adobe Photoshop CS comes in.

Adobe Photoshop has long been the "industry standard" program for photo retouching and the creation of bitmapped graphic imagery. Adobe's latest version, Photoshop CS, expands on the already impressive capabilities of this program, making it a must-have addition to your software arsenal.

The CS in the name stands for Creative Suite, and indicates that this version of Photoshop is revamped to work in close harmony with the other CS graphics products in Adobe's desktop publishing and design arsenal, such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive, and Acrobat. Used together, these products provide incredible power for any graphics professional to create and organize work; prepare it for print, video, or the Web; and coordinate with others either locally or via the Internet. Photoshop CS comes bundled with another CS application, ImageReady, especially designed for getting images in proper format for the Web.

In Any Event
Let's look at some of the ways that an event videographer can use Photoshop CS. While some of the tools we'll look at have been around in previous versions, I'll try to highlight the new features of CS that make the videographer's job easier than ever before.

The "growing up" montage is offered by most wedding videographers, either as a part of their service or as an add-on package. You find similar sequences in the honeymoon photo montage, or in a video "scrapbook" or life history. All of them have something in common: They consist of a series of still images. Those images may have motion added, and there may be fancy transitions between them, but they all started out as a stack of pictures, or a CD full of picture files.

Let's say you have a stack of pictures from a client. You could put them on your flatbed scanner and scan them one by one. But there's a quicker way with Photoshop CS. Lay out several photos on the scanner bed, leaving at least 1/8" of space between them. Scan the whole bed as a single large image. Next, use the File>Automate>Crop and Rotate Photos command to detect the individual images automatically and create separate files for them.

Photoshop offers a host of tools for retouching photos, and whole books have been written about them, so I'll just say a couple of things here. First, you can set up frequently used commands as Actions, and use them to process a whole batch of files with a single mouse click. For example, you could use Auto Levels, Auto Contrast, UnSharp Mask, and NTSC Legalize on a whole directory of files.

Another great tool is Shadows/Highlights. With this, you can bring out hidden detail in over- or under-exposed areas without affecting the rest of the image.

There's a new color balance matching feature in Photoshop CS that lets you match lighting and color levels between images. This makes it easy to make images taken at different times and locations, by different photographers, and with different cameras and settings look as if they have all been created from the same source.

Speaking of color balancing, Photoshop CS has a new histogram palette. You can keep this open all the time to get an interactive view of your black level, midtone content, and highlights.

The Healing Brush has been available for the last couple of versions, but it's also a frequently used tool for correcting scratches, tears, and smudged areas. The Healing Brush addresses not only areas of physical damage to the original photo, but also simple blemishes on a face. In either case, the Healing Brush can be used to retouch the image.

Shape-Shifting
For a long time, we've had to struggle with the difference between square computer pixels and rectangular video pixels. NTSC video has a pixel ratio of 0.9—the pixels are a little taller than they are wide. This means that if you import a scanned photo directly into your editing program, everyone will look a bit thin (you may recall this same problem with early DVD players—some required changes to their default settings to make the necessary pixel shape adjustments). On the other hand, if you export video to your computer, everything will look a little squashed down.

Most editing programs have a setting to help handle this, but Photoshop hasn't until now. As a result, the last step before exporting a photo to video has been to re-scale it. Photoshop CS hasn't made this process completely automatic, but has added some presets that make it a lot easier. For example, there's a DV video preset for 720x480 images, and Photoshop will automatically correct an image that's pasted into a video-preset image window. It will also display action-safe and title-safe guidelines to help you in scaling and cropping your images for video.

Working with Layers
Photoshop images are composed of "layers," like a pile of acetate transparencies. This gives you the ability to change one element of an image without affecting the rest, and to combime elements in interesting ways. Since Version 6 or 7, the creation of layers has been made more automatic. This can lead to the creation of layers that you didn't intend, but you'll quickly get used to the way Photoshop works in this regard.

Layers can be linked, nested, or grouped. Photoshop CS has added even more power to the Layers feature, improving the ability to export images as separate layers. This is useful if your editing program or DVD authoring tool doesn't allow the direct importing of Photoshop document (.psd) files with the layers separated.

Managing Files and Metadata
Photoshop CS features a number of improved tools for file management, starting with a new File Browser. This is now a full window in its own right, and can show large, detailed thumbnails of images, as well as show the currently selected image in a sizable Preview Window. The browser is referred to by Adobe as a "digital light box," and that's really how it works. You can rearrange thumbnails, flag them, and even perform a number of image-correction operations on them directly in the file browser, before even opening them in Photoshop itself.

Photoshop also saves a great deal of metadata with its images. What's more, you can customize this data. So you can tag images with the creator's name, company, date, time, and lots of camera information, among other things.

Titles, Captures, and Labels
If you don't have a character generator, or if the titling capabilities of your editing software won't do what you have in mind, Photoshop CS is a great tool for creating titles and graphics for your video. There are new tools that allow you to fit text to curved paths or within shapes, and there are many text effects including drop shadows and glows that can make your text look great in video.

What about grabbing still images from your video? You'll need to do this often. For example, during a wedding's formal still photo session, start with a closeup shot of the bride, and then zoom out to show the posed group.

During editing, grab a still frame of the group shot and import it into Photoshop CS. Apply the de-interlace filter. Scale the image down a bit, rotate it, and put a frame around it. Export that image back to your editing program. Transition between the live clip and the still image with a "flash" transition to show another "picture for the wedding album."

Perhaps more importantly, stills from your videos can be used in all sorts of ways outside the video itself. You'll find them invaluable in making VHS tape labels, tape box artwork, DVD menu backgrounds and buttons, Web site promos, DVD and jewel box labels, and advertising flyers. Photoshop CS has tools that make it easy to transfer imagery from your video into its "new home."

Back to Front
Another new tool in Photoshop CS is improved lens blurs. This tool can help you give your frame grabs that "professional photographer" shallow depth of field look, throwing the background out of focus.

Speaking of backgrounds, there's a popular special effect appearing in a lot of event video lately: the "false perspective" look, where a person in the foreground of an image is "cut out," like a paper doll. The background of the image is then either blurred or painted in some way to cover the "hole" left by the cut-out person. The image of the person, and the background image, are then imported into Adobe After Effects, or into a video editing program that will let you do the same thing, which is to place the images at different "depths" along the Z axis (the axis into and out of your monitor), and then move the camera point of view. As the camera moves, the person in the foreground moves in relation to the background, giving the image a "3D" look.

The first two steps in creating this effect are done in Photoshop. First, the selection tools are used to isolate the foreground image, cut it out, and save it in a new image with a transparent background. Photoshop CS has some great new selection tools that let you cut out even fine details like hair from the background. The second step is to cover the "hole" left in the original background. Tools like the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush are useful in this process.

Photoshop CS is one of those programs that can do far more than most users are aware of. The learning curve for basic operations is pretty easy, but there are many "power features" and techniques that aren't all that obvious. Therefore, it would be a good idea to get one of the popular third-party books on Photoshop to go along with the program (see sidebar, "Recommended Photoshop Resources," next page). There are a couple of these that are aimed squarely at the Photoshop-for-video user. Many colleges also offer Photoshop courses, and there are video training courses available, too. But no matter which type of training you choose, you should definitely add Photoshop CS to your editing suite's software arsenal.

SIDEBAR: Bitmapped vs. Vector Images
Still images from video and scanned photos are bitmapped, or raster, images. They're made up of an array of pixels. As such, if you zoom in too far, the pixels begin to become visible, and the image becomes blocky. Bitmapped images come in a wide variety of file formats, such as .bmp, .tga, .png, .psd, or .tiff. Vector images, on the other hand, are made up of lines and curves and shapes defined by mathematical expressions. They can be resized without losing any resolution. You'll find vector images in corporate logos, clip art, and similar objects. Common file types include .cdr (Corel Draw) or .ai (Adobe Illustrator).

While Photoshop CS is primarily a bitmap program, it blurs the lines considerably with its text and drawing tools. These create vector-based objects that are completely scalable, and they aren't converted to raster images until you "rasterize" the layer they occupy, or export your file as a non-.psd bitmap.

SIDEBAR: Recommended Photoshop Resources
There are tons of training resources available for Photoshop, including DVDs, books, classes, and tutorials on the Web. Here are just a few to get you started: