Category 'Compositing'

How long I’ve wanted to shoot underwater! When girls in pretty dresses are combined with the weightlessness of water the results are elegant and ethereal. But shooting underwater is costly as it requires expensive purpose-built camera housing (around $2k) or an underwater point and shoot, which is cheaper (around $500) but offers less control. You can hire equipment but I’ve heard too many horror stories and the one rental company I spoke to said they couldn’t afford the insurance. It’s also a very physically demanding experience for both the model and photographer. All this AND I’m the only person on my street without a pool (which I sadly discovered while browsing Google Earth). So I’d love to do an underwater shoot some day but for now my options are limited to Photoshop. Please keep in mind this is an advanced tutorial.

How to photograph a fake underwater photo

First, find a blank background to photograph your model against so it’s easy to cut them out in Photoshop. I set up a black sheet because I knew this would roughly match the colour of the water I’d be compositing myself into. Light underwater is unpredictable but it definitely won’t have bright sun spots so shoot your model in diffuse light. I shot in my backyard in a shaded area as the sun was going down. [caption id="attachment_2242" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Testing the camera looking mighty impressed Testing the camera looking mighty impressed[/caption]   Set your aperture narrow enough to have all of your model in focus (you can blur them later if need be) and choose a shutter speed that gives the tiniest amount of motion blur, but not too much or your person will be hard to cut out. (My settings were 1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 800.) Resist any temptation to wet your model unless part of them will be out of the water and then only wet the exposed part. For my pose I first started out by leaning back on a chair in the same way I would pose for a levitation photo but it wasn’t until I tried jumping and posing mid-air that I started to like the shots because the movement was similar to floating. I also separately shot hair and dress flicks that I didn’t end up using but I wanted to have the option available for compositing. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2244,2243"]   For the water you have a few options including creating it in post or using stock, but I wanted to photograph my own elements. I again set up a black backdrop so it would be easy to separate the bubbles using a blend mode, half-filled a vase with water making sure the vase’s surface wasn’t reflecting too much light and photographed the water line and then the bubbles as I poured more water into the vase. [caption id="attachment_2245" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Bubbles for underwater Bubbles[/caption]    

How to edit a fake underwater photo in Photoshop

Before getting started I studied many underwater photos so I could try and replicate the look in Photoshop. The elements I decided I needed were these:
  • Bubbles
  • A water line / top of the water
  • Light rays
  • A reflection of the girl
  • Shimmers of light on her clothes and skin
  • Blue toning and matted highlights
  • Textures to give depth to the water
The following process is an amalgamation of tips from this video, other underwater tutorials found online and my own experimentation in Photoshop.
  1. Create the background. To do this I found an underwater photo with colours that I liked and opened it into my main document. Hit g to activate the gradient tool and click on the gradient bar. In the Gradient Options select the first preset ‘Foregound to Background’ and then double click the left bottom tab (‘stop’) to bring up the colour picker. Alt/Opt click on a highlight colour in the sample photo to select it and press OK, then double click the right bottom tab and sample a shadow colour. Keep pressing OK until you exit the Gradient Editor then draw a vertical line downwards over your canvas so that the lighter colour is at the top. (Make sure the 'reverse' box isn't ticked if you find this isn't the case.)
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2249,2251,2247,2250"]  
  1. Next you’ll need to create the top of the water. You can do this using stock photos (for example, waves at a beach) by going to Edit>Transform>Distort and playing around with the perspective handles, but I’d found a tutorial on how to create water from scratch that I wanted to try.
To do this create a new layer and draw a rectangle with your marquee tool (m) about 2/3 the size of your main document. Press d so that your colour swatch is set to default colours and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Press Ctrl/Cmd t to bring up your free transform handles and drag the edges of the box to the edges of your document. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2253,2254,2252"]   Now go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Artistic>Plastic Wrap (if the Filter Gallery is greyed out you may first need to change your image from 16 to 8 bit with Image>Mode and choose 8 Bits/Channel) and set your sliders to 14, 3 and 11. Click OK. Then go to Edit>Transform> Distort and pull your handles into place as shown. Change the blend mode to Linear Dodge. Add a mask to the layer and use a soft brush to remove the harsh edges. Add a curves adjustment layer above your water line layer and clip them together by pressing Alt/Opt and clicking between the two layers. Use curves to darken the layer to match your background. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2257,2258,2256,2255"]   Convert your water effect layer to a smart object (right click the layer in a blank area and choose 'Convert to Smart Object') and then go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects and add a small spotlight to a section of the water. Play with the sliders to get an effect you like and the handles of your light to shape it. Press OK when you're finished. It's sometimes hard to get an idea of what the final effect will look like until it's applied which is why it's a good idea to apply lighting effects as a smart filter so you can keep changing the effect until you like it. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2259,2260"]  
  1. At this point I made sure my subject was perfectly cut out and placed her above these effects.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2262,2261"]  
  1. Create rays of light by making a new layer and using your marquee tool to select the top half of the image. Press d to set your colour swatch to default and then go to Filter>Render>Clouds once again. Next go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold and use the default setting, press OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd D to get rid of the selection. Now go to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Take your amount to 100. Choose Zoom and Best and drag the centre point to the top of the box. Click OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd F a few times to repeat the effect. Change the blend mode to soft light and the opacity to about 50%. Use Ctrl/Cmd T and move your rays so they look like they’re coming from the spot light you created earlier. Add a mask and use a soft brush to paint out the rays wherever you don’t want them.
[gallery ids="2268,2264,2269,2267,2265,2266"]    
  1. I had no clue how to create the girl’s reflection so I created some tricks of my own. First I duplicated my subject layer and converted it to a Smart Object with Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. I then went to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and used Edit>Transform to move the reflection where I wanted it and dragged the top middle handle to make it quite squat. After playing around with all Photoshop’s filters I found I got the best result with Filter>Distort>Wave and played around with the sliders until I got a result I liked. Because I applied this as a Smart Filter I was able to apply and change the results as much as I liked.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2270,2272,2271"]  
  1. To create the shimmers of light I created a new layer and filled it with black. Then I went to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. I chose Gaussian and Monochromatic and set the amount to about 35%. Now I went to Filter>Pixelate>Crystallize and made the Cell Size 160. This is similar to how we created snow last tutorial. Now go to Filter>Stylize>Find Edges. Press Ctrl/Cmd i to invert the layer. Choose Filter>Distort>Ripple and make it about 300. Then Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and just apply a little to make the edges less severe. Change the blend mode to screen. Zoom right out of your document and pres Ctrl/Cmd T and make this layer larger. Clip this layer to the subject, change the opacity to 60% and mask it out where you don't want it.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2273,2276,2278,2277,2280,2279,2274,2281,2283"]  
  1. The bubbles were added using a screen blending mode and then I clipped a levels layer to the bubbles to get rid of any lingering background. You could also use a bubble brush to create the bubbles.
[caption id="attachment_2284" align="aligncenter" width="296"]Bubbles added Bubbles added[/caption]  
  1. I used a few curves layers clipped to the girl layer to introduce some bluey green toning and then darkened the bottom of her body. I also desaturated her skin tones and dragged the highlights down to dull them slightly. A good trick I learnt recently from Glyn Dewis is to make the opacity of your subject layer 95% so the background shows through ever so slightly and tones your subject to match the scene.
[caption id="attachment_2285" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Colour toning Colour toning[/caption]  
  1. Adding textures is optional but I thought the scene looked too flat without them. I added various bokeh textures and overall colour toning to give depth to the water.
[caption id="attachment_2286" align="aligncenter" width="297"]Final toning and textures Final toning and textures[/caption]   And we're done! It's definitely a lot of work but the more effort you put into it the more realistic your final result. And not a single camera was harmed.  

About ‘Rosewater’ and ‘I Tried to Drown my Sorrows’

The poses for both photos were photographed in my backyard wearing a $10 dress I found through a Facebook “garage sale”. Little known fact, I studied six different types of dance as a child and I finally got to use some of this training in my photos. Unfortunately my body is no longer primed for this kind of activity and my legs hurt for days. In Photoshop I was hoping to recreate the particular look used in this Adam Attoun photo. 'I Tried to Drown my Sorrows' started out with this in mind but by a happy accident when I opened a vase photo to use the bubbles I noticed how great the girl looked inside the glass, so this image took on a life of its own and was very quick to complete. To create 'Rosewater', I began by following along with the video tutorial posted earlier to see if I’d like the result which I did, so she ended up being in a bluey/green scene rather than black because the colours grew on me. I always planned to have flowers floating in the water so I shot some miniature roses in a vase and was most annoyed to discover that roses float so I had to poke them into the water with a gardening fork. Despite being miniature the roses still look way too big for the scene, ruining all my convincing underwater scene building but I like how they look and am happy with the final photo regardless. I Tried to Drown my Sorrows

Using special effects can instantly transform an ordinary photo into a magical scene, and they’re not nearly as complex to create as it seems. Traditionally artists use bright, glowing light to signify magic or special powers but if you set off fireworks or bring out your glowsticks during the day you’re not going to impress anyone. That’s why when working with special effects you’ll ideally want a dark base photo. I’m not saying it’s impossible to use special effects on a light background but they’re probably not going to be super effective.  

How to shoot a photo for special effects

You can add special effects to any image you like but if you’re shooting specifically with special effects in mind there’s a few tricks you can do to really sell the effect.
  • Shoot against a dark backdrop – even if you’re going to replace the background later you’ll probably be replacing it with a dark scene so you want the tone of the scenes to match. (This was the first time I’ve shot against a black background cos I was under the mistaken impression that it’s easier to cut out brown hair from a white background. N.B. It’s not. Just try and match the tone of your “studio background” to the tone of your replacement background and everything becomes much easier.)
  • Try and replicate the light your effect will create. For example, I was shooting with a top hat and I knew I wanted light coming from the hat so I put a small torch inside the hat shining out and then lit the top of the hat with a lamp so the rim was lit up. What I didn’t do but should have was to remove the hat from the scene and position the lamp so the light was shining upwards roughly where the hat would be and then photographed myself next to that spill of light so my face was properly lit. You can recreate this lighting in Photoshop but light and shadow are always going to be more accurate if you shoot them for real. You should also colour the light to match the final effect if you're comfortable working with gels.
Hat with lighting

How to add special effects in Photoshop

There’s a tonne of different way to add special effects so I’ll go over a few of them.

Using stock

This can be stock you’ve shot yourself (light painting, sparklers, smoke – all techniques I will cover in future) or stock from an agency. I’m no graphic designer and I don’t have the talent or the know how to create graphics from scratch so I prefer to use a stock agency for graphic art. I signed up for a 7 day trial with Graphic Stock and searched for images using search terms like galaxies, rays, flare, glow, bokeh and fractal. Images on a dark background are best. Open up your chosen stock as layers above your main image, and working through them one by one choose the move tool (v) and cycle through your blend modes using Shift + or – until you find one that gets rid of the dark background (I used Screen, Soft Light and Lighter Color the most). If you can’t entirely get rid of the black background add a levels adjustment layer (clip it to your stock layer by alt clicking between the two layers) and move the sliders until the background disappears. Then just move your stock into place and mask parts out if necessary. Remember you can also use warp (Edit>Transform>Warp)and liquify (Filter>Liquify) to shape the stock to fit your image. So easy! [gallery link="none" ids="2151,2152,2153,2154,2155,2156,2157,2158,2159"]

Flame Painter

Flame Painter is a nifty little tool that creates light effects. You can have some control with the free version or full control with the paid version. Play around with the settings and draw! Then just download the result and use a blend mode to make it fit your scene. So cool! [caption id="attachment_2149" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Light effect from Flame Painter Light effect from Flame Painter[/caption]

Layer Styles

To make it look like my top hat was glowing I used a couple of layer styles. To access the layer style menu double click on the layer of the object you wish to give a glow to (this will have to be cut out and on its own layer). Click on outer glow (make sure the check box is ticked to apply it to the image) and play around with the sliders until you’re happy. Photoshop defaults to a glowing yellow colour but you can change the colour by clicking on the colour swatch. This gave my hat a glowing outline but for realism I wanted it to have some inner glow too so I also ticked the Inner Glow checkbox and making sure the name was highlighted I played around with the settings in here too. Layer styles can sometimes behave in odd ways but I learnt some super useful tips from Phlearn on how to manage these. So glowy! [gallery size="medium" ids="2163,2161,2160"]  

Brush tool

Which brings us back to our old friend the brush tool. Using a soft brush and a bright colour you can paint in glows wherever you like. If you need to light a lamp / lantern a great trick is to create a new layer set to Color Dodge, choose a medium hardness small brush with a yellow colour loaded and dot it once on the lamp. Then make the brush softer and larger and dot it again. Do this a few more times until you have a realistic effect. I also created the smoke in my image using a smoke shaped brush and a bright lavender colour, painting some on a layer under the girl and some on a layer above her to make it look like it was wafting around. So handy! Photoshop brush glow   If you expect to use special effects a lot in your work the designer sevenstyles creates and sells amazing actions designed to add special effects with a couple of clicks.  

About ‘The Magic Show’

Photo 26-07-2015 8 31 56Photo 26-07-2015 8 30 46Because magic is the underlying theme of my blog I decided that turning myself into a magician would be a good way to illustrate how to use special effects. Coincidentally, I recently realised that the bird on my business card (created for me by a designer in the UK) is almost the same bird on the cover of the book I'm currently reading, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which just happens to be a book about two magicians. I photographed myself in my garage against a black sheet using a household lamp and Speedlite for lighting. It took forever to get a flattering light set-up. The girl is made up of different photos of parts of my body while the hat and flying hair were shot separately. The rabbit came from a Graphic Stock image that I turned into a Photoshop brush and added a glow to. The background curtain and all light effects are from Graphic Stock. I was thinking about Donnie Darko while conceiving this image which might be how I ended up with a Frank-like light flare over my eye. This is why it's important to ingest as much culture as you can if you're a creative person so all this stuff can swirl around in your psyche and manifest itself in interesting ways. Hey presto!   [gallery link="none" columns="4" size="medium" ids="2167,2168,2166,2165"]

Telekenesis seems to me to be the lazy person’s superpower of choice—which is probably why it’s my favourite. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ I spent many hours as a child trying to make things move by the force of my mind alone but sadly gravity always won the battle. Now, with the power of Photoshop and some trick photography I’ve become a master sorcerer, able to make objects fly at will, which is almost as good, right? Although it’s a tonne more work so it’s not exactly fitting for the lazy person’s lifestyle.

How to photograph floating objects

As you’ve probably guessed, making objects float is not so different from making a person levitate as covered in last week’s lesson. Again, there’s two methods—the first being to throw your object around, which is great for your non breakables like paper, but you have to get your throwing, your shutter speed and your camera click right to really capture the object at its best. Still, this way is pretty fun. The second is to hold your object in the air and try not to obscure it too much with your fingers. When layered in Photoshop with an empty shot of your scene you can simply erase yourself out of the image and your object becomes suspended in mid air. For easy editing it’s important not to stand between your object and your background, but more to the side of it. Though if you do, you can just use your selection tools to accurately cut the object out and place it on your blank scene wherever you want it. I’ve used a combination of all of these methods in this week’s image. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1725,1727,1726,1333"]   What’s really great about this technique is that it combines both levitation AND multiplicity. You just photograph the same object several times, moving it all over your scene, so you can layer them together in Photoshop and make one object look like a hundred. Here’s how to set up your camera. It’s almost exactly the same as previous weeks but it’s worth repeating because it’s so crucial for conceptual photographers to master this:
  1. Place your camera on a tripod and compose your scene. For minimal effort in Photoshop you want to make sure that your camera doesn’t move between your object shot and your background shot.
  1. Switch your camera to manual and set your exposure. Do not change this between shots.
  1. Focus on your subject. If you’re including a person in the scene you’ll probably want to focus on them and not the floating object. Lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing. Changing your focus at any time during this process could ruin the entire shoot.
  1. You’ll need a remote or to use the 10 sec timer. Even if you’re shooting a model you’ll probably be the one holding the object within the scene which takes you away from behind the camera.
  1. Photograph your subject and object. Move your object around the scene between shots and photograph it as many times as needed. Be careful that your hands don’t wrap around the front of the object too much. If this is unavoidable take 2 shots of yourself holding the object but hold it by the top in one photo and by the bottom in the other so that you have one intact top and one intact bottom which you can blend together in Photoshop.
  1. Make sure you’re not standing between the object and the background because when you try erasing the scene around your object to reveal the background behind you’re going to have a you-shaped problem. But it’s not the end of the world if you’re willing to spend time on accurate masking which you're going to have to do anyway to fully remove your hands. Also try not to stand between the object and your light source because, where possible, you want to capture natural light and shadow.
  1. Remove your object from the scene and photograph the blank scene behind. I’d suggest doing this with and without your model just so you have both options.

How to edit floating objects

With your images open as layers in Photoshop (and you may have many if you’ve been duplicating your object around the scene), make sure your background image is at the base of the stack. If you’re concerned about having that many images open in Photoshop at once you can open the images separately and just lasso the portion of the image you need (making sure you include something for reference that will help you match it up to the background) and then copy and paste that onto your document. I like to turn off the visibility of all my layers (click their eyeballs) except the background layer and work up my layers one by one. I add a white-filled mask to each layer and using a black brush I erase around my object, switching between a white and black brush if I erase too much (use x to toggle brushes). If you don’t like the position of a particular object, you can either select it accurately with a selection tool, then choose Select -> Inverse and delete everything else from that layer OR paint a very accurate mask around it and then, for both methods, use the move tool to drag it somewhere else in your scene. If you choose to do this, be sure to assess the direction of light and shadows in your image and make sure you place the image where the light and shadows are still convincing. Also make sure the perspective still looks correct. Even though you’re creating an image that wouldn’t be possible in reality you still want it to look realistic. This is the foundation of magic after all. [caption id="attachment_1733" align="alignright" width="252"]Clone stamp tool Clone stamp tool[/caption] To get rid of areas where your body is obscuring the object, try using the clone tool. Choose the clone tool (or press 's') then create a new layer making sure 'Sample: Current & Below' is selected in the tool's options. Alt-click an area that you want to clone from and then start painting over the area you want to clone to. The clone tool is tricky at first so I'd suggest hitting YouTube for further information. Once you’ve fine-tuned all your layers it’s important to think about shadows. While erasing yourself from the image you may've also erased the object’s natural shadow so if you can see that shadows are being cast in your image you will need to recreate these for believability.  I hope to talk about this more in future but for now the best thing to do is select a portion of the background that resembles the shape and location of your potential shadow and use a curves or levels adjustment layer to darken it. I tend to make it quite dark at first but then on the adjustment layer’s mask I erase the edges with a soft brush at a low opacity. Study the shadows in the room around you right now for inspiration as to how shadows look. They’re darkest closest to the object and then they fade and spread at the edges.

About my image '793.8'

I work in a library and I wanted to create an image to illustrate the expectation that is placed on library workers to find the perfect book for a customer. If only I could go into the stacks and use magic to pluck precisely what they want. I stayed back one day after work to photograph 793.8 (lying to my colleagues about what I was up to). I used two Speedlites (one with a shoot through umbrella) that were placed in front of me and to the right hand side behind the shelves. The shooting process took about two hours and I was terrified the entire time that the cleaner would come in and bust me. The outfit is made entirely of paper and was photographed separately at a different location (Barwon Park Mansion during Brooke Shaden’s workshop) and knowing I wanted to use it in this photo I had to pose in a very particular way so that I knew I could cut out the dress and hat and make it fit my body. This is called compositing and it’s where Photoshop fun truly begins. To complicate matters I had to try and obscure the mannequin’s hands that originally covered parts of the dress. Sadly I think the dynamism of the pose suffers a little for these reasons. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1714,1713"]   In case none of this worked I also shot myself a second time in a completely different outfit that never ended up getting used. [caption id="attachment_1715" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Back up pose Back up pose[/caption]   After photographing my pose (twice) I then photographed some books scattered on the floor. Next I held up books to make them look like they’re flying. Then I tore up a book from an op shop and threw the same set of 5 pages around a number of times before photographing books moving and falling from the shelves. I expanded the frame by moving my camera right and left and finally I moved my camera to another section of the library and shot a different set of shelves to composite as a background behind my character. The edit was particularly hard because trying to stitch panorama shots of converging lines that have to line up EXACTLY was an almost impossible task. But thankfully I could use my flying books and paper to obscure the dodgy seams. Because I decided to use a different background in the final image I had to mask my objects exactly rather than using the cheat’s method described above, which was frustratingly time consuming. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="1719,1716,1717,1718,1720,1721"]   But it’s not every day you get to play the sorcerer’s apprentice while throwing stuff around at your workplace, wondering the whole time if those security cameras in the roof are actually being monitored by someone. Good times. 793.8 library jump

23
Aug

How to fake an underwater photo with Photoshop

How long I’ve wanted to shoot underwater! When girls in pretty dresses are combined with the weightlessness of water the results are elegant and ethereal. But shooting underwater is costly as it requires expensive purpose-built camera housing (around $2k) or an underwater point and shoot, which is cheaper (around $500) but offers less control. You […]

26
Jul

How to add special effects to your photos in Photoshop.

Using special effects can instantly transform an ordinary photo into a magical scene, and they’re not nearly as complex to create as it seems. Traditionally artists use bright, glowing light to signify magic or special powers but if you set off fireworks or bring out your glowsticks during the day you’re not going to impress […]

12
Apr

How to photograph floating objects.

Telekenesis seems to me to be the lazy person’s superpower of choice—which is probably why it’s my favourite. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ I spent many hours as a child trying to make things move by the force of my mind alone but sadly gravity always won the battle. Now, with the power of Photoshop […]