Triple Play

The Triple Play ( Tony Kuyper)

The “triple play” is an advanced Photoshop technique for improving an image’s brightness (darker or lighter) and contrast in specific tones while simultaneously enhancing detail definition in these tones. The term “triple play” refers to this ability to affect the brightness, contrast, and detail in one process. Separate methods are needed for the light and dark tones in an image, but the process is similar for both tonal groups.

A radius for the Gaussian blur of 10-20 pixels has been a good starting point. Smaller numbers can help to lessen halos, though this isn’t an overriding concern since it’s relatively easy to remove them using the halo mask created with the actions. There are many times that I like the

enhanced detail and texture created by the larger radius blur, and depending on the image, halos don’t even show up. In general, I’m finding that using a smaller blur radius with the LIGHTS triple play works well. Ten to fifteen pixels for my images files is about right. For the DARKS triple play, a larger pixel radius (20-30 or more) does a really nice job of enhancing detail in the dark areas of the image. Enhanced detail seems to work better with the dark tones than the light tones, so a large pixel radius for the DARKS triple play can be useful in accomplishing this. These are, however, just some general guidelines. Each image is its own creation, and I would encourage using the actions to quickly experiment to see what a different blur radius might do and to be open to what works best for a particular image.

While the triple play frequently improves a finished image, it’s also proving to be surprisingly useful early on, right after cloning and healing the converted RAW file. To a large extent, it simplifies the whole development process. The layer group offers many possible combinations, and it’s unexpectedly easy to find just the right one for each image. Afterwards, only relatively minor details in image need additional attention.

Fine-Tuning: Adjusting Layer Opacity

Once the two layers for the triple play are in place, it’s possible, and sometimes necessary, to tweak how these adjustment layers affect the image. Like much of what is done in Photoshop, the degree of fine-tuning applied at this point is strictly personal preference. It is a way to impart individual style to the image that an action or preset can’t, and is entirely at the discretion of the photographer. The fine-tuning adjustments described here can be applied to any adjustment layer using luminosity masks; they are not specific to the triple play. So like the luminosity masks themselves, these adjustments should be seen as tools that might be useful in a variety of situations.

There are several ways to fine-tune adjustment layers and layer masks. The first and easiest is to change the opacity of the layer. By default, all layers are created with 100% opacity, meaning that the effect produced by the layer is full-on. While it’s not possible to increase the layer’s effect by turning up the opacity, it’s very easy to turn it down when the effect is too strong. Adjusting layer opacity with the triple play is particularly convenient since there are two layers doing opposite things with regard to brightness. The layer in Screen blending mode is lightening the image and the layer in Multiply blending mode is darkening it. So it’s possible to adjust overall image brightness, either darker or lighter, simply by turning down the opacity of the layer whose effect is too strong. A little care needs to be exercised, however. Lowering the opacity of the layer with the blurred luminosity mask also means turning down the detail enhancement that this layer facilitates, so it’s somewhat of a balancing act to find what works best. If opacity of either layer needs to be turned down significantly—more than 50%— it’s probably best to think about trying a different luminosity mask or combination of masks.

Fine-Tuning: Adjusting the Mask with a Levels Adjustment

Another possibility to consider for fine-tuning the effect of an adjustment layer is to adjust the tones in the mask itself. Remembering that black conceals and white reveals with layer masks, the layer’s adjustment will be more pronounced if the mask is made whiter and will be less pronounced if the mask is made blacker. The menu command Image > Adjustments allows the mask to be adjusted using Curves, Levels, or Brightness/Contrast dialogs. I generally prefer to use Levels for adjusting the mask as it’s relatively straightforward.  Moving either the shadows or mid-tones sliders to the right darkens the mask thereby concealing the layer’s adjustment. Moving either the mid-tones or highlight sliders to the left lightens the mask, revealing the adjustment.



  1.  Experiment using several different images with trying different radii for light and dark masks.  Which values seem to work the best for your images?
  2. Experiment with fine tuning by adjusting the layer opacity. Which values seem to work the best for your images?
  3. Experiment with fine tuning by using adjusting the mask with a levels adjustment. Which values seem to work the best for your images?

Post all before/after LABLED images on your digital portfolio under TE