Photoshop 2020 For Photographers With Greg Benz

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon1 Comment

Before we get into the episode, I wanted to do a really quick reminder here that we have a listener survey we would love everyone to help us with.  It is a single question survey about what post-processing software you primarily use to edit your photos. Several hundred of you have already answered the survey, so thank you, but I would love to get a few thousand responses if you would take less than 5 minutes to go to the show notes and click on the link.

Post-Processing Listener Survey 

Photoshop 2020

Greg, Adobe had their annual Max event here in early November 2019.  A number of big updates to their software were announced and made available and there are two about Photoshop that I think our listeners are going to be most interested in.  One is that Photoshop for the iPad has been released. Everyone covering it has downplayed it a little bit, trying to make sure nobody is expecting all of the same features we love on the desktop available on the iPad.  I wanted to mention it is there quickly, and that I am excited to give it a try, but I don’t really want to spend much time on that in this episode because I need to get some time to play with it first.

The other announcement Adobe made at Max was the release of Photoshop 2020 for the computer.  That is what I want to dig into in this episode and I couldn’t think of anyone who would be able to help me go through what has changed than Greg Benz.

Greg Benz Knows Photoshop!

For listeners who may not know him very well yet, Greg has spent a lot of years developing his Lumenzia extension panel for Photoshop.  He has been down as deep into the bowels of Photoshop as one can get without being an engineer for Adobe. Photoshop is such a large application even an engineer at Adobe isn’t likely to have a complete understanding of all the code that makes up the application

Greg has an excellent blog post (What’s new for photographers in Photoshop CC 2020) about the new features in Photoshop 2020 over on his website at that I will link to in the show notes.  Go check that out because he also links to a few free tutorials on how to use some of these features. Greg let’s walk through the new features in Photoshop 2020 going through them in the order of the features I am most excited about to those I am least excited about.

Wait To Install Adobe Updates!

I talk about this constantly and it is important enough to reiterate here.  If you rely on Adobe products to keep your photography business running and absolutely cannot afford to have any speed bumps costing you time, don’t apply software updates from Adobe as soon as they are made available.  Let us early settlers, those of us who are installing the software immediately, take the arrows so that you don’t have to.

I have been giving that advice for several years now and have heard from hundreds of photographers who have been bitten because they didn’t heed this advice because they had been immediately installing updates for some time without any issues.  Then they had a problem and it cost them deadlines and problems with their clients enough that they made sure to let me know they will be following this advice going forward.

Of course you are not guaranteed to have a problem if you immediately install updates.  Adobe is doing all (well, OK, maybe most) they can to not have issues when they release an update and for the most part are doing a decent enough job.  No software vendor has a chance at never having a problem and it is just safer to take this approach with all software you rely upon as the lifeblood of your business.  Same advice goes for Windows and MacOS updates. In fact, as of November 2019, I strongly recommend that photographers do not yet upgrade to MacOS Catalina that Apple released in October of 2019.

That all said, in this case with Photoshop 2020, you can actually have it installed right next to the previous version of Photoshop and go back to it should have run into any problems.  So you do have a really good safety net with this one and can actually have the best of both worlds in being able to try out the shiny new stuff while having a stable version to go to if you run into issues.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – Smart Object Selection Tool

To me this was hands-down the most exciting feature I was looking forward to really testing out with the new Photoshop 2020 release.  I was so excited about the new Smart Object Selection tool because I do a fair amount of composite work with my photography. I shoot the team and individual photos for local high school basketball teams and I love what I can produce by extracting the athletes from one photo and placing them into a more exciting background than there is at the high school gym.  I also do a lot of individual portraits where we take them the photos in my basement and I composite them into other backgrounds.

I have tried a lot of things to improve my process over the years and as far as software goes there just hasn’t been a whole lot that has really helped make the extraction process much easier.  Adobe teased the new Smart Object Select feature a couple of weeks ago showing videos of how the tool would use AI to do a better job of letting you use the marquee tool (that’s the square selection tool) and it would figure out what object you are trying to select.

Greg likes the tool for what it is, a smarter selection tool that aims to get you 80% of the way towards creating the selection you need.  If you are expecting magic here where using the new Smart Object Selection Tool is always going to do a perfect job of figuring out what you are trying to select and nailing that selection right off, you will be disappointed.  If you can temper those expectations down to that 80% of getting the selection you need then you will likely find a lot of value in the new Smart Object Selection Tool, saving you time, and be very happy.

Greg isn’t quite sure yet when he will reach for the Quick Selection Tool vs. this new Smart Object selection tool, needs more time to figure out what kind of selection works best with each.  The great thing is you can use either or both to get your job done and the more tools we have the better.

I was super excited to test the new Smart Object Selection Tool out based on the marketing videos Adobe released prior to the MAX event to get everyone excited about the feature.  I spent some quality time with this tool in particular as I prepped for this episode so that I could let everyone know if it worked well or didn’t. I tried it out on at least fifty different portrait photos and was a little disappointed that it didn’t do as good a job as the Quick Selection Tool.

The issue I found as I attempted to select people on a portrait so that I could mask out the background was that the new Smart Object Selection Tool didn’t do a great job of getting the selection all the way out to the edges of the model.  It looked initially like it did a pretty good job, but as I zoomed in to take a look nearly none of the edges were selected well. I tried holding down the shift key to tell the Smart Object Selection Tool that I wanted to add the edges and it wouldn’t change much or it would de-select even more of the model getting further away from the edges.

One specific example is an image where I had my two-year-old niece holding a chalkboard that had “TWO” written on it – the classic Pinterest kind of young child birthday shot that is so popular today.  Using the Smart Object Selection Tool most of the model was selected but the chalkboard was not. Thinking that it is reasonable for the AI to assume I wanted just the model and not the chalkboard, I held down the shift key and select just the chalkboard and it still didn’t add the chalkboard to the selection.

I will give it some more time, but my initial testing has led me to believe I will be faster in selecting my models in a portrait and masking the background using the Quick Selection Tool over the Smart Object Selection Tool because I will have to touch up the selection too much and that means more time rather than less.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – Auto-sampling with the New Content-Aware Fill

The feature I was next most excited about trying out was the new auto-sampling with content aware fill.  Something that was added only a few months ago was the ability to tell content aware fill what areas of the photo you wanted it to use as it generates pixels to fill in a spot.  Something that has really helped me make better adjustments to my photos. Prior to that update the tactic I was using was to just do content aware full multiple times until it finally looked like I wanted.

Back in June Adobe made changes to the content-aware fill workspace so that you could see a rectangle area where Photoshop was going to pull pixels to fill in the content.  By default it is a green rectangle that shows you what pixels would be used. You could paint or erase from that area to help Photoshop use only the pixels that will match the area you a filling in.  It has helped me so that I rarely need to run content-aware fill more than once now.

What has changed with Photoshop 2020 is the use of AI to analyze the photo and take an educated guess at what pixels Photoshop thinks should be used to do the content-aware fill.  When you first open up the Content-Aware Fill workspace it defaults to “Auto” mode and the green mask is still shown over the top of the pixels Photoshop will use to do the fill, but instead of being a rectangle around the area you have selected it is refined to those the AI thinks should be used.

My experience has been that the AI here is doing a pretty good job.  I haven’t tested it out as much as I did the Smart Object Selection Tool, but the tests I have done the Auto mode saved me time and I didn’t feel like I had to change what was put in green to be used to do the content-aware fill.  Content-aware fill is one of the biggest reasons to use Photoshop. It has been a really strong feature in Photoshop for many years and this only makes it better.

Greg’s experience has been the same.  The AI seems to be doing a pretty good job of guessing pretty accurately what pixels should be used to do the content-aware fill.  It works just like it did in the previous update to Content-Aware Fill but takes less work.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – Enhanced Transform Warp (Quilt Warp)

The warp tool in Photoshop has long been an amazing feature that allows a selection of pixels to be changed kind of like you are pinching the pixels and having Photoshop figure out what the pixels should look like as you move them around.  I have used it many times to change perspective on things in my photos that I want to look different, compensating for issues with wide angle lenses for example

The problem for me has been the way the tool works.  I have used the tool occasionally but haven’t really had many photos where I needed warp.  I have used it to fix distortion from wide-angle lenses a little. The task I have used it the most for was to fake reflections with high school athletes.  I extracted the athlete from the photo and wanted to place them on a background where there was a black gym floor and have their reflection show on the floor.  It sounds simple to do that by copying the athlete, inverting them, and changing the transparency but doing that just doesn’t quite make it look right.  

I have had to use warp to try and change the perspective of the shoes on the athlete to make it look right and it was kind of a struggle for me not being overly familiar or practiced using the Warp tool to figure out how to make it work well.  Seemed like using warp to change something at the top of a selection would affect the bottom of the selection too much. I know it is an issue with me and not being too familiar or comfortable with the warp tool, but the result was that I could only really do what I wanted with it about fifty percent of the time.  The other fifty percent of the time I would give up and just not do what I was trying to do.

The changes that Adobe made to the warp tool in Photoshop 2020 look as though they may solve my problem.  You can put grid lines anywhere on your photo you want now and create control points so that you can warp things exactly like you want it.  It is more like liquify and puppet warp now, which have always been a little more intuitive to figure out how to use them.

You can select multiple control points and shrink or expand them in the tool now.  It is a lot more like perspective warp and do something like selecting a mountain or a sea stack and make it look bigger to match what you saw in real life instead of the distortion that was introduced by a wide angle lens.  The camera destroyed reality and you can bring reality back using the warp tool and now it is more intuitive in how to use it. It is hard to talk about it and you just have to give it a try.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – Erase While Brushing

There are other features Adobe has in the marketing material of the Photoshop 2020 update they would put ahead of this feature with it being a more minor update, but I am really looking forward to using this one.  In Photoshop 2020, while using the brush tool, you can now hold down the grave accent key (the key to the left of the 1 key on the keyboard that you can hit shift on to get the tilde and when you don’t hit shift looks like a backwards single quote) to erase.

For years and years you could easily switch between the brush and erase tool quickly by hitting the “e” key and then erase brush strokes.  The problem with doing that is the settings with size and hardness of the brush tool is different than those of the eraser tool, so when you switched to erase you had to set that to match what you were doing.  Now you can seamlessly switch between brushing and erasing with all the same size and hardness settings even faster.

The one thing to make sure you are aware of here is that erase works differently on layer masks than it does in all other situations.  The change Adobe made in Photoshop 2020 didn’t introduce this, the eraser tool has always worked differently on layer masks vs anywhere else.  Just remember that if you are on a layer mask the eraser tool doesn’t actually erase, it paints with whatever is set as the background color. If that background color is set to 50% gray it won’t erase the black or white that you have been painting with by making those pixels transparent, it will paint with whatever the background color was set to.

I am really excited to use this.  I think it will save me some time now because of the issues with switching between the brush and eraser tool.  Learning the keyboard shortcuts really helps save photographers time. I have to retrain my muscle memory now because I am so used to hitting “b” for brush and “e” for eraser but I think this is going to be well worth the time to do that.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – 32-Bit Support in Extensions

Not a feature that will really be talked about much but has Greg really excited is the expansion of 32-bit support in Photoshop 2020.  In particular this Lumenzia extension panel will now be able to support luminosity masking with 32-bit images.

It isn’t that luminosity masking will work so much better with 32-bit images, because that won’t really change anything from a luminosity masking perspective.  It isn’t a luminosity mask quality thing. The reason Greg is excited is that photographers who have processed using 32-bit images will now be able to use his Lumenzia extension panel to do luminosity masking where they could before.

I personally prefer working with 16-bit images because 32-bit images are so much larger and more intensive to process.  You need more computer resources for 32-bit images over 16-bit images and the final results aren’t so different most people could really tell a difference.  It is great though that Adobe is enabling developers like Greg to better support 32-bit images for those that do want to use them.

New Photoshop 2020 Feature – Improved Lens Blur

With Photoshop 2020, if you use a device that can capture depth information along with the pixels (like a supported smartphone) then you can apply lens blur based on the depth information to tell Photoshop where to blur without having to do a selection.  Not a huge feature, it is pretty limited based on the devices that are currently capable of capturing depth information, but another thing I am glad to see Adobe working on.

Lumenzia Version 8.0 and Photoshop 2020

For listeners who don’t know, Greg is the creator of a really good extension panel for Photoshop that helps simplify a lot of tasks so that you don’t have to dig through menus.  Lumenzia is especially useful for simplifying luminosity masking. If you have heard about luminosity masking but have been afraid to try it then you really need to check out Lumenzia.  

Version 8 was released in October 2019, a couple of weeks before the Adobe MAX event, but the two things aren’t really very tied together.  Greg was managing a lot of personal things through the summer in 2019 and had hoped to release the update sooner than October but it just didn’t work out very well.  There are 350+ changes with version 8. Most of them are just polish kinds of changes that make the features easier and faster to use. Same functionality for the most part.

Lumenzia is compatible with Photoshop 2020 so you should be good to go with that if you are looking to upgrade and use Greg’s really solid extension panel.

Jeff’s Small Issue In Photoshop 2020 – Remove Background

Don’t take this as a condemnation of Photoshop 2020. This is a single data point and something that is probably specific to me, the hardware in my computer, and the way I am using Photoshop. One of the new things in Photoshop 2020 is better use of screen real estate to put buttons and information into the properties panel. One of those is a new “Remove Background” button in the layer properties panel. Very cool new way to make it so that you don’t have to go to the menus.

When I hit that button it has crashed Photoshop 2020 every time for me. I have done it probably ten or so different times, and Photoshop has completely crashed all ten times. I have done a little bit of troubleshooting to see if disabling the GPU or extensions/plug-ins that I have installed may be the cause for the problem and so far none of that has helped.

Again, not something that I think is happening for many people and certainly not something that should keep anyone from giving Photoshop 2020 a try, but I wanted to bring it up just as an example of how things can sometimes go wrong. Remove Background is not an essential feature for me, I almost always prefer to make a selection and mask the background myself, but it is interesting that it has crashed Photoshop 2020 for me.


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  1. Do you know if there is a way to change the new Erase while Brushing shortcut key? Previously I had a script bound to a hotkey that would toggle between “Normal” and “Clear” brush modes. That did basically the same thing, but you don’t have to hold in the key. So I might just stick with that.

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