Hassaku and ADP Pro

The geisha Mameharu of Gion Kobu with a sun parasol during Hassaku, an event held every August 1 in Kyoto

Photographing Hassaku in gion Kobu

As regular readers of my blog know, Hassaku is an event held every August 1 in Kyoto. In Gion Kobu, Kyoto’s largest and most famous geisha district, the geisha and maiko wear their most formal black kimono and walk around the district to thank the people who support them during the year.

Photographing Hassaku was always a challenge for me. For one thing, the average temperature is 87 Fahrenheit/31 Celsius, and with Kyoto’s high humidity and the sun beating down, it always seems much hotter.

For another, the geisha and maiko make their rounds from about 10:00 a.m. to noon or even 1:00 p.m., when the sun is directly overhead or close to it much of the time, casting harsh shadows under eyes, noses, and chins. Not all geisha and maiko have parasols to diffuse that brutal sunlight!

And, as you can see, geiko (the term for geisha in Kyoto) like Mameharu wear collars of white silk with their black kimono, making correct exposure a bit of a challenge. Overexpose too much and the collars are blown out; underexpose too much and the kimono are blocked up.

Oh, did I mention the literally hundreds of photographers, tourists, and other people with cameras who come out to capture the event?

Post processing before adp Pro

I never used to enjoy post processing my Hassaku photos. I’d always make a lot of photos (between 1,000 - 1,500), but I’d have a large number of misses because of unflattering facial expressions, random people popping up in the background, or simply my own miscues (poor composition or exposure).

But my number one pet peeve was those white collars. Even in photos where I was able to balance the exposure between the collars and kimonos, the collars were always too bright for my taste. This was not a very difficult fix in Photoshop, but it did take a few minutes and I just resented having to do it.

Irrational? Probably. Maybe that Hassaku heat was starting to get to me…

ADP Pro Makes selections Fun!

I almost always focus on traditional Japanese culture here on my blog, not photography techniques, so many readers won’t have any idea what ADP Pro is.

ADP Pro is a Luminosity Masks and Full Workflow Panel for Photoshop created by pro photographer Aaron Dowling (the AD in ADP). If you are interested (and if you are a photographer you should be), you can find much more information at the ADP Pro website.

Many are probably still asking, what’s a luminosity mask? Luminosity really just means brightness, and luminosity masks are a way to select areas of a photograph based on their brightness (or darkness).

In the photo of Mameharu I posted here, the brightest areas are of course her white collar, the bridge of her nose, and parts of her parasol. The darkest areas are the shadows in the folds of her kimono and the blacker areas of her katsura (wig).

In between the highlights and darks are the midtones (the soft shadow under Mameharu’s chin and the pinkish buildings in the background).

With ADP Pro, I can select any of these areas incredibly easily, and then brighten or darken them, change their color, and do several other things.

Most importantly, ADP Pro makes this so easy it’s fun, and I actually looked forward to editing this image of Mameharu because I knew I would be using the ADP Pro panel on it.

A secret weapon that should be better known

I decided to write about ADP Pro today because I can honestly say that it is the best tool for Photoshop that I have ever found, and I almost didn’t find it!

I started hearing about luminosity masks a few years ago. I didn’t pay too much attention because I almost always heard/read about them in connection to landscape photography, and I am mainly a portrait photographer.

I kept on hearing about one luminosity masks panel in particular (there are several out there). I kept on hearing how fantastic it was, and when there was a Black Friday sale, I actually bought it.

I installed it in Photoshop, watched the instructional videos on how to use it, played around with it a little… and then stopped. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it just didn’t do much for me. You could create luminosity masks, but that was about it. I didn’t really see what all the fuss and hype had been about.

Then I was watching a Creative Live class called Fine Art Landscape and Travel Photography by Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt. One of them mentioned a luminosity panel called ADP Pro. I scribbled a note to myself to investigate.

When I did, I was very cautious. I had already blown some money on a luminosity masks panel I wasn’t using much, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

I saw on the ADP Pro website that they offered a video tutorial on exposure blending and luminosity masks that was reasonably priced called Luminosity Masks Unmasked. I decided I’d buy the tutorial, see how the ADP Pro panel worked, and then decide to buy it or not.

I enjoyed the tutorial a lot. There were some techniques I knew already, but many I didn’t. I also just liked hearing how Aaron thought about working his way through his photos, which were beautiful to look at, unlike the photographs I see in many other tutorials!

The ADP Pro panel also seemed to be much more than a luminosity masks panel. It could be used to dodge and burn, sharpen images, and most importantly, it had many different ways to adjust the luminosity masks one you created them.

I purchased it, and am so glad I did. I was also kicking myself for falling for the hype around another luminosity masks panel. The ADP Pro panel offers so much more than just the ability to make luminosity masks at such a reasonable price that it is almost a crime that it isn’t better known.

I hope this post will help to rectify that in some small way. Over the years, I have purchased many plug-ins, presets, and even a panel or two for Lightroom and Photoshop. Most of them are overpriced and underwhelming compared to what they promise.

ADP Pro is reasonably priced and overwhelmingly delivers more than just luminosity masks. I hope this secret weapon finds more of the audience it deserves!