Every man and his dog is going to use the new Vanishing Point filter in Photoshop CS2. It uses a perspective grid to automatically adjust the normal Photoshop tools for working in any plane that you set. It’s now far easier to clone at an angle as alignment is set for you, while Photoshop also makes sure that the new element fits in with the luminance values of its surroundings by use of a healing pop-up menu. Text is handled too, so designers are able to quickly lay down company names or advertising slogans directly onto packaging or for use in advertising or product mockups. Even better for this purpose is a new ‘3D’ Transform function, Image Warp.
Adobe has really played to the photographer’s gallery with this new release. The aptly named Reduce Noise filter is a one-click garbage reducer with controls for sharpening and reducing colour noise as well as removing artefacts caused by JPEG compression.
It certainly scores over the older Dust & Scratches filter, which tended to blur detail more.
Adobe has also expanded the range of options for Camera RAW. There’s now a whole photo lab for working with RAW files, able to adjust white balance, curves and other settings on one photo as before or on all images within a folder simultaneously. You can also apply tools such as Crop and Straighten across multiple images. Other new tools for RAW images include shadow and highlight clipping previews and auto adjustment options for exposure, shadows, brightness and contrast.
Photoshop CS2 also comes in handy when you want to remove whole objects from a picture without trace. The new Spot Healing Brush uses a one-click action to analyse the area around the offending element and calculate the pixels required to sample and replace it. Obviously, this needs to have a sizeable area and corresponding brush size to work with – and in most cases will need some extra work with the normal clone and healing tools, but again it’s a great time-saver.
A problem facing users of lenses from the cheaper end of the digital market is distortion, such as vignetting, perspective flaws and pincushion effects. Adobe has followed the lead of the likes of RealViz by implementing a lens correction tool into Photoshop, but here there are more slider controls to finely adjust for focal length of lenses and angle of view. You also have a more interactive option in the form of the Distortion or Straighten tools, which act directly on an image grid overlaid in the filter to manipulate the image.
Unsharp Mask is a popular part of the Photoshop process, but it’s now been superseded by another way to counteract image blurring. The Smart Sharpen filter allows more precise correction based on fixing specific types of blur, such as Lens, Motion and Gaussian, selected from a pop-up menu in the filter dialog.
An exciting way to add natural lighting to 3D scenes is image-based lighting, to be found in the latest high-end 3D applications. It makes use of a technique known as high-dynamic range (or HDR), where an image contains a wide range of exposures of the same scene. Now you can create and edit 32-bit, floating point HDR images with ease in Photoshop CS2. A dedicated tool command in Bridge lets you merge a series of bracketed images together in Photoshop’s HDR dialog, where you can adjust the final range of the composite by selecting fewer exposures. It’s not just for 3D artists either – 32-bit HDR images allow you to keep both extreme highlight and deep shadow detail together in the same image.
Animation has of course been available to Photoshop users via ImageReady, but there’s now an option to also use a similar animation workflow within Photoshop. It may make things slightly more streamlined, but also may herald the end of ImageReady as a separate application.
There is even greater integration between the various Creative Suite components with this version. Smart Objects are vector-based graphics created in and exported from Illustrator CS2 that remain ‘live’ and scaleable, with the effects of editing in one application being replicated in the other. Working in a similar way to Illustrator’s Symbols, if one instance of a Smart object is changed, every other linked copy changes automatically. It’s ideal for scaling or resampling because the vector component remains the original Illustrator graphic.
Data-driven graphics also come to Photoshop, courtesy of Variables. These use text-based data sets which can be served up from a database and cause dynamically changing graphics to appear – ideal for Web banners, but with no programming required Photoshop CS2 also introduces Smart Guides, a way to align objects in a design, even across multiple layers when used in conjunction with the Auto Select Layers option turned on. This is such a useful tool that I’ve no idea why Adobe never implemented it before, though Windows users have seen something similar in Encore DVD. Talking of DVD creation, there’s also now a feature for connecting over FireWire to a PAL or NTSC display for an accurate video preview of broadcast ready graphics.
Fonts too get a boost, with preview text visible in the Font menu, for true WYSIWYG operability and there’s greater compatibility with Acrobat 7.0 in the Photoshop CS2 PDF engine.
Adobe has delivered a blinding collection of features in response to user demands. If they seem bewildering at first, you’ll probably soon wonder what you did without them. Vanishing Point in particular is bound to prompt a dramatic increase in 3D and 2D photo manipulation, while increased the Camera RAW support and HDR tools will be welcomed by the professional imaging market.