Foliage Photo Album + Quick Thoughts on Photoshop 2021

A very vibrant fall leaf.

First off: Hey, you like fall foliage? I happen to have a lot of it around my house, and I’ve collected some photos of this year’s foliage in a Flickr album. My plan is to add to it, not only this year but also in subsequent years, so it’s just becomes this amazing album of autumnal splendor. Get in on the ground floor!

Second off, a new version of Photoshop has arrived and as someone with a Creative Cloud membership, I downloaded it and have been playing with it. It comes with some nifty-but-not-always-useful new features, including Sky Replacement, “Neural Filters” and more substantive color grading features.

And how are they?

Well, the one I’m most impressed with is the “Replace Sky” feature, because it does both a very good job of replacing the sky without a whole lot of obvious artifacts where the sky meets the foreground, and with then color grading the photo as a whole to match the sky, uh, atmospherics. Photoshop has presets for skies or you can upload your own, and they don’t even have to be real skies — I uploaded a photo of one of my cats and was treated to a seamless photo of a Godzilla-sized Spice peeping over the roof of my house.

The feature is impressive and also one that I don’t think it’s likely I will use a whole lot of, one, because the skies around my house are generally impressive enough, and two because it feels a little on the wrong side of the “totally ‘shopped” line. More accurately I might use it for amusement purposes (see: Catzilla), but if I were to use it otherwise I would probably feel obliged to disclose. I’m not exactly a sky purist — I fiddle around with levels for my skies and am not above ‘shopping out a contrail or two — but I do generally feel like the sky you see has some relation to the sky I shot.

(On the other hand, I can see someone doing portrait photography where the focus was a person swapping out a notably crappy sky for something nicer, because why not. I’m not judging, unless you take a stock sky are and all “look at this perfect sky that just happened to exist where I am” or something.)

The Photoshop “neural filters” are a real mixed bag. I showed off some of what they can do the other day with the “Fake Young Scalzis” entry, and my thought was the “de-aging” filter was fun to play with but not especially useful in the real world — it would have to be a lot more fine-grained in its controls for that (Adobe is aware of this — it’s listed as being in “beta”). Other features are even less fine-tuned, including the ones that are meant to change expressions but mostly just make the face you’re playing with look creepy as hell.

The most successful of the neural filters is the one that offers “skin smoothing,” which is best understood as virtual foundation makeup, and which, when used appropriately, does a very decent job in de-blotching skin, which I think is an entirely acceptable use. Go too far and then suddenly you’re in the Uncanny Valley, which is not great. A little goes a long way. But it is nicely done. This is one of the neural filters that is not in beta.

Finally this year Photoshop offers better color grading options for RAW photos, similar to the color grading you might find with video programs. It’s cool but it’s not something I’ve personally found a use for yet. I figure I will with time.

My overall impression of a lot of these new Photoshop features is that they are fun but not actually essential, with the one thing I can see being essential-ish (the color grading) something I personally don’t have much call for. I’m not sure any of them will make my pictures better, more than they give me something else to play with when I’m processing my photos. This is not a complaint, and anyway since I have the subscription these aren’t upgrades I paid an additional fee for. So why not. They do no harm to the Photoshop program or the way I work with pictures, so ultimately I feel vaguely positive about these features. It’s nice to have new toys.

— JS

16 Comments on “Foliage Photo Album + Quick Thoughts on Photoshop 2021”

  1. I moved to Affinity Photo when Adobe decided you couldn’t buy the software anymore you could only rent it and I haven’t looked back. Adobe is a despicable company. Several times they have screwed content creators by cutting support for products and forcing them to buy new products and worse.

    I will never buy anything from Adobe again.

  2. “a Godzilla-sized Spice peeping over the roof of my house”

    Way to bury the lede. Why are you not showing us this?

  3. Thanks, that was everything I’d hoped it would be. And yeah, that really does look seamless. I’m impressed.

  4. I have never purchased software in the 30-40 years when that might have been a consideration for me. For one thing, I never owned a computer until about 5 years ago, since I would normally use campus computers. (I consider myself lucky to have burned out on video games back when they cost a quarter at the arcade and other places.) But the main software I needed was at some point poorly installed and maintained, and I had to get my own. I didn’t stop using Photoshop though, until Adobe required campus users to register their university account before they could use the software.

    Well, yes, I suppose you could say I paid the Windows tax. Of course I deleted Windows as fast as possible.

  5. Photoshop and Illustrator have been “mature” products for over 15 years. As such, new-version enhancements have been nothing but features for fringe use cases. I stopped paying attention to “what’s new” when I retired from teaching about them and hosting a user group for them. People stopped upgrading, and -poof- we got a subscription model.

  6. I foresee the Replace Sky feature getting a lot of use in real estate listings. I’ve seen a lot of exterior shots with not-so-high-quality sky replacements. On the other hand, the people just airbrushing in a bunch of bright blue are probably going to keep doing that.

  7. I, too, came to the comments for Godzilla cat.
    Also, could you photoswap my dog for the neighbor’s dog, and any one of my cats for Spice?

  8. Dear John,

    The fabulous photograph of SpiceZilla got me wondering if you ever did a column about how you found your house in Ohio? If so, could someone provide a link?


    Dear folks,

    I, too, have a very strong aversion to “renting” software. Not just because I like to *own* my stuff but because sooner or later EVERY company goes under — or gets acquired by someone who kills off half their product line. With that said…

    Used copies of Photoshop CS6 are readily available for people who don’t need the latest and greatest features and want to own their software. I’m talking about legal copies; Adobe has always been okay with you selling the program to someone else so long as you’re not still running it on your system. You’ll pay in the neighborhood of $150, which is less than a quarter of what it cost new.

    Beware of “OEM Photoshop” scams that claim they’ll sell you a copy for $50 or some other nonsense. There is no such thing. But it’s pretty easy to tell from looking at the listings and the sellers who is legitimate and who isn’t.

    As for Adobe being a “despicable” company for renting Photoshop for $10 a month instead of selling it for $700… nuh uh. It was good for the code monkeys (and the code!) who were no longer enslaved to marketing’s requirements that they roll out a new, sellable product each year, because that was the only way Adobe had any cash flow. Any of you who’ve worked for high-tech companies that operated on the “you have to get that product out by Date X because marketing promised it” work model know how painful and stupid it is.

    Also, it was good for the customers. There are a whole lot more people out there who can afford $10 a month for Photoshop than people like thee and me who can afford $700 to buy it outright. Please remember that most households in the country can’t even come up with a quick $500 for an emergency if they need to.

    Yeah, I’d really love to be able to own Photoshop, but for every person like me who is suffering there are several who are benefiting.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. 
    — Digital Restorations. 

  9. ctein:

    Krissy found it, actually. She wanted to move to Ohio to be closer to her family, and I told her fine, but I wanted five acres of land (on the thinking that we probably couldn’t afford it; I didn’t know how cheap land was in rural Ohio). This house had everything she wanted, was close to her family and was on five acres of land, so there we are.

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