Before and After Forum; Splitting Channels for Light

Benjamin Rowe Before wk 20The Before and After forum is organised by Stacy Fischer, it is a place where amateurs as well as seasoned photographers explain the wow and how about their photo and editing decision.You can read more here about how to take part.

When I first started working in digital the first thing I did was convert an image to black and white. There are so many ways to do this; using the Black and white adjustment layer, Channel Mixer adjustment layer, image-desaturate, hue saturation adjustment layer, convert to greyscale, black and white lab conversion and not to mention all the plugins that are available. One way I like to create black and white images is to use the channels split them and then blend them back together. A channel holds all the tonal information of the light or colour of an image. An RGB image that comes from your camera has 3 channels red, green and blue. When looking at a channel the information is represented as a greyscale image. Since each channel has recorded the information differently you have three potential black and white images.


ba-wk20-aFirst thing I did with this image was to make some basic adjustments in Lightroom to balance the image, reduce noise ect. I opened the image in Photoshop CC and went straight to the channels tab. On the right of this tab there is a drop out menu with the option split channels. This opens each channel in a spate greyscale image. I placed all the new images in one file as layers and named them their respected colour.


I reviewed each layer; from the red channel I liked the tones generally as well as the tones in the tree trunks, the Blue I liked the darkness in the trees and the green for the lightness in the grass. Adding a layer mask to the blue and green layer I masked in roughly these areas.


Although I had gotten what I wanted out of each layer (channel), I wanted the trunks of the trees to be a bit lighter and created a dodge layer (new layer filled with 50% grey using a low opacity white brush) and dodged out the tree.


I felt like the image was missing something to keep and direct the viewer’s attention. I decided to add sun rays to the image. I doubted nobody would notice as there were already spots from sun shining through the leaves. The process is explained in detail here; Briefly you need to duplicate the layer, apply levels and apply a radial blur before changing the blending mode of the layer to screen.
The rays looked artificial, as they normally do; I added a layer mask and hid the areas that I didn’t need.


I sharpened the image using the high pass techniques and applied a bit of contrast via a combination of brightness and contrast as well as curves.


The image didn’t feel dynamic enough and quite flat. While increasing the contrast would relieve its flatness, it would dramatically wash out the tones. I decided to create a vignette to give the image some dynamism. I created the vignette by filling a new layer with black and setting the blending to multiply. With a reveal all layer mask, I use soft brush with a very low opacity and mask in the main focus of the image. Once the main area is revealed I adjust the opacity, duplicate the layer and set the blending of the new layer to overlay.

Park Life

This is a process that I rarely use mainly because it has a long winded process to get a base image to then edit from, it is great for landscapes what have varying tones across the image. It also brings an artistic flair to an image as the same process will be different each time. I like that the rays aren’t really obvious and that they work well highlighting and adding some dynamism to the shot.

Let me know in the comments what you think.

Please to head over to Stacy’s Blog and check out all the others participating in the forum today.

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17 thoughts on “Before and After Forum; Splitting Channels for Light

  1. A beautiful image Ben, a very interesting and complicated process with great results. I love the depth this image has, it just seems to keep on going. Thanks for sharing.

    • For me it has that old film/postcard feel the more I look at the image. I think the depth is from the processing because I used the highlights from the green channel in the foreground and the darkness of the blue in the background, accentuating the depth.
      Thanks for commenting Katie.

  2. Wow, Ben, once again your knowledge of all things Photoshop astounds me. I love the creative vision your brought to the photo, and I’m definitely going to read up on the how to do light rays. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and beautiful works on the ABFriday Forum!

  3. Ben, you continue to amaze me with your knowledge and the ability to describe exactly what you did and why. The result is a beautifully realized image that has so much depth! Thank you for the Photoshop lesson!

  4. Ben, I just stumbled into your blog via Lisa Morley and really appreciate your technical discussions. They hit on subjects I need to understand better and you happen to express yourself in ways I understand. Thanks very much for your contributions to making us better photographers.

    • Thanks for your comment Dave and I am glad you have found my blog. I really like sharing what i know to help everyone. At the moment on Tuesdays I am writing a series about photo editing starting the the beginning called Digital Darkroom and on Fridays I share workflows as part of the After and Before forum. I hope you can pop by in the future.

      • I certainly will. And I plan on using some of your ideas in a couple photo classes I teach in my school. Best wishes, and I’ll be back.

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