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Photoshop LAB Color

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was working with Dan Margulis and several other beta-readers to complete Margulis’s book Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace (2nd Edition). We completed our task and his book has been available on Amazon since late July.

Although the beta-reading process was demanding, I thoroughly enjoyed working with Margulis and the other beta-readers. It was demanding because we had to read each chapter carefully, perform the exercises, and provide comments that might be helpful to Margulis. He read our comments and decided whether to use our suggestions. After each chapter was complete, in a private forum Margulis singled out beta-readers who spotted something unusual and who had particularly helpful insights. For example, if we all spotted the same item, none would be singled out. However, if three or less of us found something, then he would mention our names. While we beta-readers worked hard, I know that Margulis worked much, much harder at creating the content, reviewing all of our comments, and then reworking his chapters.

In choosing his fourteen beta-readers, Margulis picked people who represent different segments of his audience. I represented the advanced amateur. Thus, I might have had to work somewhat harder than most because my skills and experience are not as strong. I had an advantage, however, in that I had to rely on what was written and not my own background and skills.

The reason I enjoyed the process so much is that I worked hard, learned a lot, and met some great people in a virtual setting. It’s fun to be part of a successful project where I can contribute and give back to the larger photography and Photoshop communities. And, of course, I am always happy to help my friend, Dan Margulis. I am grateful that he allowed me to be a part of his team.

I wrote a review of the book on Amazon, which I have included below. If you are a Photoshop person, I highly recommend Margulis’s book.

My Review on Amazon.com

Many years ago, I purchased Dan Margulis’s book “Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace.” At that time, I didn’t understand Photoshop’s channels and certainly didn’t understand LAB colorspace. Being relatively new to Photoshop, I was eager to dive in and learn. When I finished the book, I had an understanding of channels and LAB.

To many people, LAB seems like an esoteric and foreign colorspace. I found, however, that LAB made more intuitive sense than RGB. For example, I know that for the A and B channels, positive values are warm and negative values are cold. I like that the L channel is luminosity. To me, LAB readouts are logical and intuitive.

While I still do some of my work in RGB and occasionally in CMYK, my workflow makes extensive use of LAB. It’s in LAB where I boost or strengthen colors. Once you read the book, you’ll have a better understanding as to why more than one colorspace is used to complete an image.

Dan’s latest book is, of course, even better than his original book. Over time, Dan gained more knowledge through experience, and much of that knowledge has been passed along in his latest book.

In reading both books, I found that some of the supposedly easier chapters were more difficult than some of the supposedly more difficult chapters. Dan’s books require concentration to fully absorb the material. My process with the first book was to read the book cover to cover and then to reread it again. Then, I selectively reread portions where I needed further review. Having the good fortune of being chosen as a beta-reader for his latest book, I read each chapter as soon as it was released. Even with my prior background, I still had to work at fully understanding everything. Furthermore, I often read the chapters more than once.

While the prior paragraph might make the book seem overly difficult, that would be the wrong impression. Instead, you must be prepared to work to understand the material, especially if you are still on the steeper portion of the learning curve with respect to Photoshop. I am not a Photoshop guru. If I can learn the material, so can you.

Is LAB a cure-all or some magical colorspace that solves all issues? No, neither. Instead, LAB provides you with more arrows in your quiver. As you read through the book, you might find yourself occasionally thinking “I might tackle this issue in another colorspace using a different approach.” That’s perfectly acceptable. Dan’s book is geared toward LAB. So he does everything in LAB to show you some different alternatives. You might find that you combine some of your techniques with his. There are, however, many methods or techniques within LAB that can’t be duplicated in other colorspaces. And, that makes LAB extremely powerful. Dan’s book provides you with additional resources that you might not have possessed.

Having said all that, let’s quickly review the chapters.

Chapter 1: The Canyon Conundrum

It’s a quick introduction to LAB. You will see LAB at work with some easier examples.

Chapter 2: LAB by the Numbers

Readers begin to understand how numbering systems work and how the channels work.

Chapter 3: Freedom and Responsibility

You learn about the power of LAB. One of challenges is not going overboard with LAB. The overall aesthetic you are trying to achieve will determine how much extra color you may decide to add.

Chapter 4: Too Much is Just Right

Throughout his book Dan teaches us that it is better to go too far, and then back off the intensity. He presents several methods for doing so. Another key learning is that it’s okay to go too far so long as critical elements of the photograph are kept in check. One challenge when working on images, however, is that we often become desensitized to our own creative work.

Chapter 5: Knowing Right From Wrong

Earlier I mentioned that I found LAB more intuitive because positive values in the A and B channels are warm. This chapter takes that whole discussion much further.

Chapter 6: Sharpening for The Impressionist

Dan provides a comprehensive discussion on sharpening, including why you might sometimes want to sharpen in LAB.

Chapter 7: Entering the Forest: Myths and Dangers

Some common misconceptions and myths are explored. As an example, is the best way to convert to a black and white image simply to use the L channel from LAB? While I won’t provide the discussion, the answer is, no.

Chapter 8: The Readers Sum It Up

Here the beta readers contribute some of their knowledge and experiences.
As we enter the second half of the book, the material generally is more advanced. As mentioned, sometimes you may find the more advanced material easier than the earlier material.

Chapter 9: The LAB Advantage In Selections and Masking

I found this chapter very powerful because it unleashes how to use LAB and its channels to create very effective masks.

Chapter 10: The Product Is Red But the Client Wants Green

For those that often change colors, say of garments, this might be the most important chapter for you. For others, it is more arrows in your quiver.

Chapter 11: The Imaginary Color, The Impossible Retouch

LAB allows us to create colors that are impossible, imaginary colors. We can sometimes create these colors to put color back into blown out and overly dark areas.

Chapter 12: The Best Retouching Space

For certain types of retouching, LAB has advantages over RGB and CMYK colorspaces. Dan provides some great examples of where LAB excels.

Chapter 13: The Music of Noise

Marco Olivotto, another beta-reader, largely wrote this chapter. It was one of the most popular chapters for our beta reading group. The topic, of course, is noise reduction.

Chapter 14: Command, Click, Control

I enjoyed this chapter because I learned how to easily create color differentiation amongst items that have a similar color.

Chapter 15: LAB and Video

Dan shows how LAB can be used in Photoshop to add more punch to your videos.

Chapter 16: The Universal Interchange Standard

Dan provides a discussion on colorspaces, color models, conversions, and calibrations.

Chapter 17: Blending With the A and B

A and B channels are used in creative ways for blending purposes. Even though A and B contain no detail, they can be used as blend sources to separate objects based on their color.

Chapter 18: Canyons, Concepts, and Changes

In many respects, this chapter is a review and discussion of the prior material readers have been exposed to.


The book contains a tremendous amount of information. For those of you who have read his first edition, you should know what to expect in terms of difficulty and rewards. For those who are new to LAB, this book will be extremely beneficial. At times, you will likely find it challenging, but your prize at the end of the process will be worth your effort. You will have a much better understanding of channels, LAB colorspace, and what LAB can do for you.

For my own personal work, when working with LAB, I am faster and more efficient. And, most importantly, I get much better results.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Donna August 31, 2015, 10:20 am

    Thank you for writing this. I enjoy reading your work. I had no idea so much is involved in being a photographer and now you’ve taken it to another level with digital imaging. I will look at images differently from now on.

  • Stecyk August 31, 2015, 7:53 pm

    Thank you very much Donna for your kind comment. Your check, or cheque as we write in Canada, is in the mail.

    The cold hard reality is that almost any great picture has had a significant amount of retouching. Even the masters that created beautiful pictures prior to the digital age used techniques to enhance the final image. Now with digital, it’s easier for everyone to alter their pictures. The challenge, of course, is to create a pleasing image.

    Whether it’s pictures of landscapes or female fashion models, almost all undergo some form of retouching.

    • Donna September 1, 2015, 3:29 am

      Thank you for the early morning chuckle! As for the retouching, I suppose that is a given although a layperson such as I does not take this into thought when looking at the images.

      I do have a question as to how you make a decision when it comes to retouching – do you change the image to please yourself or how you perceive the general public wants to view the image?

      I have a sister who is an artist and I know she sees colors and images completely different from how I see these things. We are almost opposites when it comes to visual perception. Personal awareness is the same with all art forms. I hear music different, see colors and observe movement different from the next person. This is what makes art so wonderful. So…what is the determining factor in how you retouch an image?

      • Stecyk September 1, 2015, 7:12 pm

        If retouching is done well, it should not draw your eyes’ attention. It should look natural, but supernatural. That is, an idealized beauty. It’s amazing to look at some before and after pictures to see the differences.

        Regarding my retouching, you ask if I aim to please myself or the general public. For almost all professionals, they aim to please their clients. The photography world is extremely difficult and competitive. For amateurs like myself, the answer varies. Some look for the public’s adulation. And others, only take their own preferences into consideration. I am in the latter group.

        I will never be a professional. Photography is a creative outlet where I can challenge myself to become better. As long as I am happy with my desired result, that’s good enough. That said, I sometimes receive feedback from those I respect. I take their viewpoints into consideration.

        Peer review is probably the most effective means of becoming better. Through others’ experiences, you learn to see and do things you didn’t or couldn’t before. It’s also very humbling when your prized possession is dissed by someone you respect. Yet, it is also a great learning experience.

        I am sure your sister has her own take on similar questions. There are no right or wrong answers.

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