Brilliant Editing with DxO PhotoLab 5 Control Lines

by Dec 21, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Brilliant Editing with DxO PhotoLab 5 Control Lines

In this tutorial, I’ll explain how to use the DxO PhotoLab Control Lines feature. Control Lines are a new feature introduced in PhotoLab 5. Control Lines are one of the Local Adjustment tools. If you’re already a DxO PhotoLab user, you’ve probably used the Graduated Filter tool in the past. Other editing packages like Lightroom also offer similar tools.

Graduated Filters are great for editing landscape photos where there is a clear, level horizon in the image. But you can also use the new Control Lines for the same purpose, and they share some of the same features.

Why use Control Lines

The fact that Graduated Filters and Control Lines have common features may leave you wondering why use Control Lines. The answer to that lies in two editing advantages.

  1. Where the horizon isn’t flat, you can use Control Lines to produce a cleaner selection.
  2. When you apply an adjustment with the Graduated Filter, the same adjustment is applied to everything in the selection. But with Control Lines, you have an additional level of control that can produce better results.

This image shows why a Control Line is better than a Graduated Filter for selecting an uneven horizon.

Simple selection using a single PhotoLab Control Line

Here, only a single Control Line was added to the image, yet it’s created an excellent selection of the areas to adjust. This selection matches the contours of the land where if we used a Graduated Filter, it would have also selected the sky.

Now let’s look at a more detailed example of editing using PhotoLab Control Lines to demonstrate their advantage.

Adding a Control Line to an Image

Here you can see an image open in PhotoLab ready to start editing.

Starting Image in PhotoLab before editing wiht Control Lines

To add a Control Line, you first need to click the Local Adjustments button at the top of the PhotoLab interface (1). You should also select the Local Adjustments panel (2) when using Control Lines as it provides additional essential adjustments.

After clicking the Local Adjustments button, right click on the image using your mouse. This opens the PhotoLab Local Adjustments tools palette where you can select the Control Line tool.

Selecting the Control Line Tool in DxO Photolab

When you click the Control Line tool with your mouse you will see the mouse pointer change to a small cross. Position the cross over the image then click and drag with your mouse to draw the Control Line. As you do this just, you draw the Control Line which appears very similar to a Graduated Filter.

Control Line added to an image in PhotoLab

When you first click with your mouse, you set the Control Line centre pin (1). As you then drag, you create a graduated area until you release the mouse. When you release the mouse, you create a second pin (2). It’s then possible to reposition the Control Line by clicking and dragging the first pin (1). You can also click and drag the second pin (2) to resize the gradient or rotate the Control Line around the centre pin.

Having positioned your Control Line, you can apply adjustments using the controls (3) as you would any of with other Local Adjustments.

Adjusting the Control Line Selection

After adding and positioning a Control Line, you can control what is and isn’t selected. You can do this by moving the Control Lines sample point.

Positioning the Control Line Sample Point

The sample point for a Control Line is a small icon showing an eye dropper (1). Using your mouse, click and drag to reposition the dropper. When you release the dropper, that area is sampled by PhotoLab to determine the colour and brightness of point. PhotoLab then uses this information to create a mask (or selection) of the image within the area selected by the Control Line.

You can view the mask by clicking on the show masks option (2) at the bottom of the interface. The mask then appears as a black-and-white image. Areas shown in white are selected and will be affected by any adjustments you apply. The black areas of the mask won’t be affected by adjustments. By using a mask like this to apply adjustments you can create a more professional results with your editing.

Using the Chroma and Luma Sliders

In addition to sampling areas of the image using the sample point, you can use the Chroma and Luma sliders to refine a selection. These sliders allow you to control the sample point sensitivity to both colour and brightness. You will find the Chroma and Luma sliders in the Local Adjustments panel and you can set different values for each mask.

Chroma and Luma sliders for the PhotoLab Control Line

The Chroma slider controls sensitivity to colour whilst the Luma slider controls sensitivity to brightness (or luminosity).

When you move a slider to the left (a lower value) you lower its accuracy. By doing this, you include a wide range of colour or brightness, causing a larger area of the image within the Control Line to be selected. But if you move the sliders right (higher values) you increase their accuracy. There then needs to be a closer match of colour or brightness to be included in the selection.

Here are a couple of examples.

Control Line masks using different Chroma and Luma settings

Here you can see two masks created using a Control Line. Both masks use the same Control Line and both masks have the same sample point in the image. The only difference between the two are the Chroma and Luma slider settings.

In the mask on the left the Chroma slider has a high value whilst the Luma slider has a low value. This means there needs to be an accurate match to colour but not such an accurate match for brightness. In the mask on the right, we have low values for both the Chroma and Luma sliders. This increases the range of colours and brightness being selected. It’s why most of the area in the mask is white, indicating it’s selected.

By adjusting the sample point, Chroma and Luma sliders, you have a high degree of control where adjustments are applied in the image.

Multiple Control Lines

After creating a mask with a Control Line, it’s possible to add other Control Lines to that mask. All you need to do is click and drag on the image to draw another selection.

Here you can see a second Control Line added to the top part of the sky. At the same time, the original Control Line is still selecting the beach.

Additional control line added to the Mask

This behaviour often confuses photographers as they think they’re adding a new Control Line with another set of adjustments. Instead, the new Control Line is added to the existing mask. The controls used for adjusting the image are attached to the mask and not the Control Lines. If in this example we were to reduce the Exposure control, it would darken the selections made by both Control Lines as they are part of the same mask.

To apply different adjustments to another area of the image you would first add a new mask. You can do this by clicking the “New Mask” button at the bottom of the screen. After that, you can draw additional Control Lines on that mask to adjust an area.

Negative Control Lines

This tutorial wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one further feature which are negative Control Lines. You can use these to remove or protect areas of an image from being selected in a mask.

Using negative control lines in PhotoLab

In this screenshot, you can see the initial Control Line selecting the beach and above this is a second Control Line selecting part of the sky. Notice how the mask selecting the lower part the beach looks different. That was achieved by adding a negative Control Line. This works just like a regular Control Line, but the sample point is removed from the selection.

You can add multiple negative Control Lines to protect different areas of the mask. Each of these will then have its own sample point you can position.

PhotoLab Control Line Summary

In this tutorial, we looked at some of the ways you can use PhotoLab Control Lines in your editing. In most instances, using a Control Line is a better alternative to the Graduated Filter, especially when editing landscape photography.

The Graduated Filter applies the same adjustment all pixels in a selection irrespective of their colour or brightness. Control Lines provide additional control over the pixels included in a selection. Using a combination of the sampling tool and the Chroma and Luma sliders, you can control your adjustments much more precisely. Additionally, the mask used by the Control Line produces more natural and professional looking edits that blend with the image.

Next time you decide to edit an area using the Graduated Filter, consider using a Control Line instead.

If you don’t have Control Lines in your version of PhotoLab, or you haven’t used PhotoLab, do consider downloading a trial version (affiliate link). I’ve been incredibly impressed by the results I can achieve with this software, especially now that it supports the Fuji XT series of cameras.

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