How To Adapt A Photoshop ‘Channels’ Technique to DaVinci Resolve

February 19, 2024

Patrick answers a member's question about simplifying their node tree, adapting a Photoshop color grading technique to DaVinci Resolve.


Answering a plea from the Mixing Light Forums: “Help me simplify my node tree!”

In the Mixing Light Forums, member Overture recorded a screen share showing his color grading technique that he’s been using in After Effects. As I watched this video play down, I quickly recognized it as an adaptation of a common Photoshop technique from the mid-1990s. It’s still very popular among still photographers and uses Photoshops channels.

Here’s the node tree that we’re tackling today:

Original node tree
This is the original node tree that we’re simplifying in this Insight.

Photoshop Channels – A quick backgrounder

Before we had digital color grading tools for video, there was Photoshop. And early on, Photoshop introduced ‘Channels’ and ‘Blending Modes’. Very quickly, Photoshop artists started using ‘Channels’ to isolate non-contiguous pixels and apply Blending Modes to them to create amazing-looking images. In fact, the description for the most famous of these books, Photoshop Channel Chops, says it all:

This must-have guide reveals the secrets of the true power behind the most popular image processing program-Photoshop. In no time, users will build a solid understanding of alpha channels, masks, layers, and compositing, and master the advanced features of Photoshop to create stunning digital effects. Description, Photoshop Channel Chops

If you have trouble understanding alpha channels and/or blending modes. This is one of the classic texts on the subject.

TK9 plugin – A modern approach to color grading with blending modes in Photoshop

The TK plugin is a collection of actions that automate and extend techniques from Channel Chops. It’s latest iteration is TK 9 and is worth checking out their YouTube channel to see how it’s used.

Modern digital film and video Resolve colorists will recognize the actions being performed. In Resolve we’d us tools such as Qualifiers + Composite Modes, Hue/Sat/Lum curves, and the Color Warper. The main point is to manipulate non-contiguous pixels – and to do so in a variety of different color models, beyond RGB.

In this Insight

My main goal in this Insight is to show how to break down Overture’s node tree and rebuild it as efficiently as possible. I managed to reduce the size of his tree from 18 nodes to 9 nodes.

More importantly, the revised node tree clearly delineates between alpha channel manipulations and color grading manipulations. If he were handing off this node tree to someone else, it can be explained in minutes.

I also decided to run this Insight a little longer and show how the blending mode order of operations works when applying the same blend mode multiple times (to increase its effect). Finally, I show why I don’t really use these techniques anymore and just use the core tools that our color grading software provides.

Share your comments and workflows

Have you tried color grading with blending/composite modes? How well has it worked out for you? What are your favorite uses for these techniques? Discover+ and Premium members can let us know in the comments! I’m interested in hearing other thoughts on this topic.

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