THE HISTORY BRUSH
Öthe quintessential tool to fine
tune a digital image.
We all agree, I hope, that
photography is about light or more correctly put, capturing light in its
simplest interpretation. Serious photographers always say, ďFirst get it right
in the camera.Ē I could not agree more with this statement. However, I think
there is a flip side to the it, which is, "Get your vision of what you saw into
the digital image and, if you print, into the print". It is always what you see
and what you feel that translates into how you work up your digital image. To
me, seeing and feeling are the big reasons many of us take up photography. Those
of us that use Photoshop CS2, CS3, or CS4 have developed a workflow for
processing our images. I highly recommend you add the History Brush
to the last stage of that workflow, just before sharpening,
which is normally the last step for most of us. Many might ask, what is the
History Brush? Or better still, what does the History Brush do? Well, in
concept and practice it goes back 500 years to Leonardo da Vince. Da Vinci
invented a system called chiaroscuro whereby, instead darkening or
lightening a color with black or white paint, he used a darker or lighter tone
of the base color itself. Well, that is what the History Brush does and this
technique can be used on color or black & white digital images. All right,
so how does the History Brush fit into the fine tuning an image?
When you have processed the digital
image using either Adobe Camera Raw tools or those internal to Photoshop or
Lightroom2, you arrive at what you think is your best effort. Now to create a
superb image takes time and, in many cases, continual reworking until you get
what you want in the final image or print. Fine tuning is where you focus on
local contrast and color using the History Brush to improve details of the image.
Have you every wondered why some images appear almost 3 dimensional, as if you sense depth
in the 2 dimensional image. It results from control of local contrast and tones. Thatís why
the History Brush, in my opinion, is such a powerful tool. You can use it to
create that sense of depth by separating elements in the image.
In addition, it is a more intuitive, faster, and friendlier tool than layer
masks for working on selected areas of an image. Best of all, it is a
progressive tool. You are always moving forward just like artist who paints,
only you paint with light. It lets you make corrections or improvements in the
image relying on your perception of whatís needed. If you make a mistake, it is
easy to correct. Now letís turn to setting up the brush and look at
examples of how it can change an image.
I. Setting up the History
is how I setup my palette window. Note, I place the History Palette on the far right of
the palette window.
All this setup does is create a
snapshot so that it can be copied to your active image layer. You must restart
Photoshop after making this change to save the setup.
Photoshopspeak: The History Brush tool lets
you paint a copy of one image state or snapshot into the current image window.
This tool makes a copy, or sample, of the image and then paints with it.
How to use History Brush
The brush itself is the 10th
icon from the top of your vertical toolbar.
Bring up the image you want to work as either a PSD or Tif file.
Hit Ctrl-J ( hit the Ctrl key then the J key) to make a copy of the
Select the History Brush and select Layer 2 (the copy) in the Layer
Next in the CSí main menu bar make selections as follows:
If you make a mistake either change
the mode and repaint or go to the History palette and delete the brush stroke.
Also, when you finish several strokes, go to Edit/Fade History Brush in the main
menu- get in habit of fading frequently.
As you can see, itís quite easy to
use this powerful technique. Just be careful on your initial selection of the
opacity or you will be deleting brush strokes all the time. Also, watch for
streaking especially when you are enhancing mid-tones. If the opacity is small,
you can gradually build up color luminosity or reduce it with no noticeable
III. Examples of Working with the History
Those of you who have visited the
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA,may recognize this painting by Rembrandt.
Image A is what was on the wall and treated in Adobe Camera Ready with vibrance = clarity =25
and saturation = 15. Image B is the result of 10 minutes working with History
Brush. Quite a difference between the two images I think you would agree. This
is a straight forward example of using the History Brush. One could try to
approximate Image B using Curves and it would be close but no cigar.
Itís somewhat hard to sense depth
with small images. Nonetheless, if you look at images A & B, Image B appears to
have more depth than A and elements in the image appear more separated then in
image A. The only difference between images A&B is that B was treated with the
History Brush. Itís darkening of trees and to the left of the tilted barn that
gave more depth to B. In bigger picture separation of the tree from the barn is
also more pronounced in image B as well.
Color images tend to reduce a sense
of depth in most images. The brain tends to focus on colors and less on the
prevailing geometry. This is especially true with front lighted objects; side
lighting also but shadows do help to separate objects more. In the case of B&W
images, separating objects with different tones is a lot easier for brain to do.
Image A was ACR treated but still was somewhat flat but after all, it is almost
monochromatic in its grayish-yellow tones. Image B is the conversion of Image A
using the Gradient method (see tutorial on B&WÖ Image to Print), and Image C was
a treatment of Image B with the History Brush. Image C definitely has a much
greater sense of depth and clarity of the elements than in Image B. Score
another one for the History Brush.
Note how the detail in Image C is
brought out by use of the brush compared to those of Image B.
Image 4B comes from Image 4A which
was treated in Camera Raw and then with Curves. The original image was shot on a
very foggy day; hence loss of contrast became a big problem- using the Black
light slider in the Camera Raw window considerably diminished the effects of fog
on contrast, hence its use brings out the detail. In a comparison of A&B,
definitely B (History Brush treated) has better contrast and more detail than A.
Score another one for the History Brush. Image A is pretty good but Image B is
superb in my opinion. The brush brought out more details in trees, leafs, rocks,
and even in the seaweed along the shore. Hopefully, at web screen resolution
differences in Images A&B will still be apparent.
Even if it sounds repetitious, I
cannot stress enough how the History Brush can change average image into one with
snap and appeal. Its ease-of-use is apparent and it offers the photographer the
ability to paint with light to get what he/she is looking for in a digital
image. Best of all, that image usually translates into a fine print. Be
aware, actually itís hard to get a good to excellent print without some
work but thatís another topic. Nonetheless, use of the History Brush for fine
tuning local color and contrast is a gift that one should not ignore. Sometimes
it takes time using the History Brush, hours in fact. But, if you want the image
to express how you perceive and feel about your image, itís always worth the
Have fun and be creative with this
powerful technique for painting with light.
J. R. Votano