Lighting The Way; Software & Other Tools For Photographers

“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? Fifty. One to change the bulb, and 49 to say, “I could have done that!”—Anonymous

I wanted to kick off this month’s column with an old trick that gets better every year: green screen photography. Lighting considerations are extremely critical when shooting against a green or blue background. Your lighting ratios should be flatter than normal as you strive to keep the light on the backdrop as even as possible so there’s no wide variation in tones. Making the lighting look that I typically refer to as “flat and bright” may not produce a dramatic portrait but makes extracting the subject from the background a lot easier. Tip: When to use blue or green screen? The general rule of thumb is to use a background that doesn’t have a color your subject is wearing. You’ll also need some compositing software to combine your foreground image with its new background, so why not try one of the best green screen software products that I’ve ever tested?

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Green Screen For You & Me
FXhome Limited’s ( PhotoKey 3 ($149) and PhotoKey 3 Pro ($299) are applications that provide a quick and easy solution when working with green screen photos, while the PhotoKey 3 plug-in ($99) makes compositing available within Adobe’s Photoshop. The plug-in is less expensive than the applications and has fewer features but enables you to do some impressive green screen compositing for what I think is a bargain price. Enhancements to the PhotoKey 3 applications include a text feature, additional filters and effects, along with a masking and positioning interface that separate PhotoKey from every other compositing program or plug-in that I’ve tried.

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Out of the box, PhotoKey creates perfect masks most of the time. If it doesn’t, you can fix problematic green screens and color clashes using PhotoKey 3’s hand-drawn mask feature that uses the software’s color grading filters to seamlessly blend foreground and background. PhotoKey 3’s effects capabilities such as light spill, sepia, and silhouette let you add a few finishing touches to your photos. Event photographers can use PhotoKey 3 Pro’s batch processing system to quickly power through compositing hundreds of foreground photographs onto a customized background. You can even add and position a semitransparent logo for a further custom touch.

Plug-In Of The Month
The indispensable Adjust plug-in from Topaz Labs ( has been updated to Version 4. Adjust’s power comes from controls and presets that offer a variety of different effects, yet all work seamlessly together. The plug-in’s main controls are divided into four groups: Exposure, Details, Color, and Noise. The Exposure section controls the software’s exposure-related capabilities and you can use its Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders in conjunction with each other to produce a pleasing tone-mapped effect. You can also adjust contrast or brightness, and protect highlights and shadows. Details can enhance or remove details in your photo, allowing previously unseen image minutiae to be recovered and enhanced. Strength and Boost parameters let you specify the exact amount of detail you’ll enhance while the Threshold and Radius options deal with size. You can also get detail Sharpening when you need it.

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Color specializes in manipulating color using the Adaptive Saturation and Regions sliders to create brilliant color effects while Saturation, Saturation Boost, and Hue controls can be accessed for additional tweaks. The Noise reduction option will destroy noise while preserving detail, but I typically reach for Topaz’s DeNoise. In fact, the company’s Plug-In Bundle includes Mac OS or Windows versions of Adjust, Simplify, DeJPEG, Detail, Clean, Remask, and DeNoise for $179.99. Since Adjust itself costs $49.99, this is a good deal when you consider the other useful plug-ins that are included.

Outstanding Photoshop Actions

In a previous issue I showed you some actions from Seim Effects ( and this month I want to introduce you to their Hollywood Effects 2 Portrait Actions. The four effects that make up the Portraitist skin series let you smooth skin by detecting skin tones, making corrections, and auto masking the eyes so they stay sharp while leaving you with a completed image in one click. Camelot is a fantasy effect that makes almost any image look better, especially outdoor portraits. Sexy Soft is a smooth glamour glow that’s perfect for romantic portraits and glamour photographs; I used it for some images appearing in my forthcoming 2011 book, Available Light Portraiture (

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved