Category 'Compositing'

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"]

Photoshop brushes are a brilliant way to add interest to your photos but did you know you can use brushes on layer masks? Say, for example, you want to create a bird made of fire, you could take a picture of fire, add a black layer mask to it and then using a bird-shaped brush paint with white on the mask to reveal the fire in just the shape of the bird. Here, let me show you what I mean … [gallery columns="2" link="none" size="medium" ids="2112,2113"]

* Fire stock and bird brush courtesy of DeviantArt.

Yeah, phoenix baby! Using brushes on layer masks you can create a fun dispersion effect that makes your subject look like they're breaking into pieces and scattering away. Perfect for those moments when something really awkward has happened and you wish you could dissolve away into nothing.  

How to photograph for the dispersion effect

If you Google dispersion effect you’ll notice that 90% of the results show subjects against plain backgrounds, which is most likely because the effect would get lost against a busy background. So if you’re shooting a subject specifically for this technique I recommend shooting them against a plain wall or a seamless backdrop (since I can’t afford a seamless I use a bedsheet hung over a clothes rack. Fancy.). Then to save yourself a bit of work take a second exposure of the same scene without your subject in it. But really, you can do this technique with any subject you please. To show you how this is done I’ll use a single photo example for this tutorial. For interest's sake the photo I've chosen also shows the background and lighting I used to shoot my main image.

How to edit the dispersion effect

  1. Open your image and duplicate your layer twice using Ctrl/Cmd J so you have three copies. Make an optional fourth copy if you want to change the background. (If your background is already separate place it below the subject layer and duplicate the subject once).
[caption id="attachment_2114" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Dispersion effect base image My base image[/caption]
     
  1. Highlight the top layer and go to Filter>Liquify. Keep the default settings and use the Forward Warp Tool in a largish size start to push the edges of your subject in the direction you want the scatter to go. Press OK when you’re done. (It’s weird to me that Photoshop has misspelt Liquefy, but whatever). (Also weird that my spell check thinks misspelt is misspelt.)
[caption id="attachment_2115" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Pretty Pretty[/caption]
     
  1. Add a layer mask and invert it (Ctrl/Cmd i) and using the brush you wish to scatter with (I used Photoshop’s default maple leaf brush) paint white on the layer mask to reveal the liquify layer. If you’re not getting random scattering with your brush please refer to my previous tutorial on how to change your brush properties. I usually have to scatter a few times until I’m happy with the result.
[caption id="attachment_2116" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Dispersion effect on liquify layer[/caption]
     
  1. Now we’ll work on the background (bottom layer). Just skip this step if you have your background already separate. You need to have background behind your subject so that when you start scattering them there’s something behind them to see through to. I roughly selected my subject using the Quick Selection Tool and then chose Edit>Fill and selected Content-Aware in the ‘Use’ box. This replaced my subject but left a yucky outline, so then I created a new layer (Layer>New>Layer) and selected the clone stamp tool (s) making sure the sample was set to ‘Current & Below’. Holding down ‘Alt’ I clicked to select a blank piece of wall and then painted over the messy area. It doesn’t have to be perfect as you’ll only see small snippets.
[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="medium" ids="2118,2117"]
     
  1. With the middle layer selected, add a layer mask and paint black with your chosen brush around the edges of your subject to make some holes.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2119,2120"]
     
  1. And that’s the answer my friends! But if you want to take it a step further and give your subject a new background highlight the fourth layer and select your subject using the selection tool(s) of your choice. You may want to turn off the other layers so you can see what you’re doing. Go to Select>Inverse and then press delete to remove the background. Then add in your new background which can be as simple as a layer filled with a colour. You can even add a texture to give it some interest.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2121,2122"]   There is ANOTHER way to achieve this effect by using the clone stamp tool and it can be done on one layer. Press s to select the clone stamp tool, choose your brush and go to Window>Brush to change its size and scatter amount. Alt click to sample inside your subject and then paint the scatter around them. Alt click to sample your background and paint over your subject. This technique is not as easy to control but it’s handy if you only want your subject to scatter a little.  

About ‘Under the cloak of night’

I’ve seen a few people use the dispersion technique with bird brushes and I always look at their photos and think ‘that would’ve been better with bats’. With a bat theme in mind I set out to photograph a cave, settling on Kweebani Cave at Binna Burra National Park (which turned out to be more of a rock formation than a cave). I photographed myself in costume in my garage and Frankenstein-ed different body parts, hair, dress and cape flicks to make the final girl. I replaced the sky and composited in a moon from photos I’d shot separately and added the bats using the method above. The only difference is that my subject became all streaky when I liquified her and I didn't like how this made the bats looked so I used a black solid colour layer instead. Always better with bats! [gallery size="large" link="file" columns="2" ids="2123,2131,2129,2130,2126,2127,2125,2132"] [caption id="attachment_2124" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Bats added Bats added[/caption]  

One of Photoshop’s coolest features is the ability to customise and import different brushes. Until now you might only have used Photoshop’s standard round brush to paint masks that hide and reveal layers. But if you spend some time with the brush panels you’ll discover that using different brushes not only makes your work easier but will give life to your photography in ways you’d never dreamed were possible. And the best part is you don’t even have to be able to paint or draw! Hooray!Example of Photoshop brushes Here are some examples of Photoshop brushes. With a single mouse click I created grass, smoke, the moon, scattered leaves, hair, birds, blood and ink spatters, clouds, stars, fire trees and snow. And that’s just a small sample of the brushes available. You can then customise these further by playing around in the brush options, adding colour, and using the transform tool to move and warp the brush as you desire.

How to find and install Photoshop brushes

Photoshop comes with some brushes of its own but to get the really interesting ones you have to do a little hunting. If you just want to browse through the types of brushes available Brusheezy is a good place to start. But if you know the kind of brush you want, head to Deviantart or even just Google and type in (for example) “birds Photoshop brush”. And guess what? The majority of brushes are FREE! Just keep in mind that the more brushes you have, the longer your brush panel takes to load. Once you’ve found and downloaded your brushes you’ll need to install them. Firstly, if they come as a zipped file make sure you unzip them, then in Photoshop load your brush tool (b) and on the brush options bar click the drop-down arrow next to the brush size to load the Brush Preset Picker. In here click the cog icon on the right hand side and select Load Brushes. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2065,2066"] Navigate to the downloaded brush you wish to add (it will have the extension .abr). This adds your new brush(es) to the bottom of the brush list. If you get a message asking if you want to replace or append the brushes choose 'append' to add the brushes to the list rather than replacing the current ones. There’s other ways to install brushes but this is the method I like best. You can remove a brush by right clicking and deleting. This only deletes the reference in Photoshop and not the brush itself from your hard drive. To save Photoshop from getting bloated with too many brushes I like to load only the brushes I need for a project and then I’ll remove them afterwards. They can be loaded again if needed. You can change the brush for every Photoshop tool that uses a brush, so for example, the eraser and clone stamp brushes can be customised to give a more organic result than you’d get with a round brush. I find the brushes really hard to see in the brush preset picker but you can customise this by again clicking on the cog icon and selecting ‘Large Thumbnail’ or any other option you like.

How to use Photoshop brushes

When using brushes here’s a few shortcuts to help you work quickly:
  • If you have the brush tool loaded you can access the Brush Preset Picker by right clicking inside your canvas.
  • The [ bracket decreases the brush diameter
  • The ] bracket increases the brush diameter
  • If you hold down shift with these same brackets it changes the brush’s hardness (you can only change the hardness of Photoshop’s round brushes)
  • On a PC if you hold down Alt + right click + drag your mouse up and down this changes the brush’s hardness. Dragging right or left changes the brush’s size.
  • On a Mac hold down Control + Option and drag.
  • Command + option + control and holding down your mouse on a Mac brings up the colour picker. Alt + shift and right clicking on a PC does the same.
  • F5 (or fn + F5 on a Mac) shows and hides the brush panel (more on this later).
 

How to create your own brush (it’s easy!)

Create a new document using File>New set both the Width and Height to 300. Document for new brush     Edit>Fill the canvas with white (if it isn't already). Using black, draw the shape you wish to turn into a brush. Vary the opacity of your brush to give areas of transparency for depth. If you don't like to draw an easier way is to make a selection from another photo and drag that onto your blank canvas. Use Edit>Transform to resize the selection to fit your canvas and then Image>Adjustments>Desaturate. Whatever is white becomes invisible so you may need to go to Image>Adjustments>Invert to swap white to black (and vice versa) and then play around with Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast to get your tones as desired. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2073,2078,2076"]   Then go to Edit>Define Brush Preset, name your brush, press OK and your brush will now be at the bottom of the Brush Preset Picker ready to use! [caption id="attachment_2079" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Define new brush preset Define new brush preset[/caption]   If you have Photoshop CC you can also download the Adobe Brush CC app on your phone or tablet to create brushes that sync with Photoshop (although I found it I bit hard to create anything usable).  

How to customise Photoshop brushes

Some brushes just need to be stamped once to create the image you want. However for any that require some painting you can customise how the brush behaves. You need to do this in the brush panel which can be accessed by pressing F5 (Fn f5 on a Mac) or going to the Window menu and choosing Brush. On the left hand side are a bunch of options for customising your brush.
  • Brush Tip Shape – in here you can control the size, angle and perspective (play around with the round icon on the right) as well as the spacing of your brush. You can see how these changes will look by using the preview pane at the bottom.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2082,2081"]  
  • Shape dynamics – play around with the size, angle and roundness jitters to vary how each brush stroke will look. These make your brush look more natural. [caption id="attachment_2083" align="aligncenter" width="135"]Shape dynamics Shape dynamics[/caption]
   
  • Scattering – scatter and count control the spread of your brush and how often strokes occur
[caption id="attachment_2084" align="aligncenter" width="133"]Scattering Scattering[/caption]    
  • Color dynamics allows you to change the colour of your brush as it paints
[caption id="attachment_2085" align="aligncenter" width="133"]Color dynamics Color dynamics[/caption]  
  • Transfer allows you to vary the opacity of each brush stroke
[caption id="attachment_2086" align="aligncenter" width="132"]Transfer Transfer[/caption]   These are the options you’ll probably use the most but there are other options in the menu you may wish to play around with such as adding texture, noise and wet edges to your brush. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2088,2087"]   If you use a tablet with Photoshop you can use the brush panel to control how your pen pressure affects the brush tool so it will mimic your drawing. (I highly recommend using a tablet by the way – I have a small Wacom Intuos Pro which I love but sadly no desk to put it on! So I usually get by without it *sad face*)  

How to add colour to stamp brushes

Brushes that behave like stamps are usually designed to be painted with black (sometimes white) and have colour added later, otherwise if you choose the colour first they can end up looking flat. There are three ways to add colour to a stamp brush:
  • Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Click colorise and play with the sliders. You may need to clip this layer to your brush’s layer.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2089,2090"]    
  • Add a new layer and change its blending mode to ‘Color’ then using the round brush choose a colour from your Color panel or click on the foreground colour square in your tool panel to bring up the Color Picker. Hand paint your colour(s) as desired.
[caption id="attachment_2091" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use a Color blending mode to add colour by hand Use a Color blending mode to add colour by hand[/caption]    
  • Add a Gradient Map adjustment (advanced). Click on the colour bar to bring up your settings and then click on each of the handles under the colour bar to choose your colours. Add more handles (by clicking under the bar) to add in extra colour stops.
[caption id="attachment_2092" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use gradient map to add a range of colour tones. Use gradient map to add a range of colour tones.[/caption]   And that's it for my round up on brushes! Brushes are brilliant in compositing for tasks like drawing hair (because selecting real hair is too difficult), for drawing grass in front of your subject to make them look like they were really in a scene or drawing trees along a horizon line to hide a seam between your foreground layer and a replaced sky. Endless possibilities!   About ‘The Endless Delight of Delirium’ This week’s image is based on the character ‘Delirium’ from the greatest graphic novel series ever written, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’ve always wanted to create a photo around Delirium because she’s so visually interesting, often surrounded by fish and butterflies (and sometimes frogs and bubbles). Because each of the Sandman comics was illustrated by a different artist the appearance of the characters change, so in researching this image I looked at many different interpretations of Delirium and designed my costume around the common elements. For example she has red hair, sometimes shaved on one side, sometimes with stripes of colour. She has one green and one blue eye. She is always wearing fishnets, and sometimes mismatched socks and a tutu. Watercolour and swirls are used to allude to her delirious mental state. I shot the images of myself and the bubbles in my garage with a Speedlite. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2094,2093,2095"]   The brushes I found in various places on the Internet but after they were added I felt the image lacked depth so I composited in some real photos of fish I photographed at Underwater World, Mooloolaba and butterflies photographed at Penang Butterfly Farm in Malaysia. The background is a paper texture from Lost & Taken. [caption id="attachment_2096" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Composited fish and butterflies Composited fish and butterflies[/caption]   Working on this image was a joy from start to finish. Let me know what you think!

A little known fact about me is that I’m a bit obsessed with miniatures. There’s just something about dioramas, terrariums and the work of artists like Thomas Doyle, Slinkachu, and Lori Nix that thrill me beyond explanation. Because of this I went through a fun phase of photographing Smurfs and other toys around my house. But now with the help of compositing I can use myself instead of figurines to insert into small scenes, instantly turning everyday objects into magical worlds. There’s not a single object that doesn’t become significantly more interesting by the addition of a tiny person interacting with it. [gallery size="medium" columns="4" ids="1995,1997,1996,1994"]   For example, I am staring at a water bottle. If I put a small person in that scene I could show them jumping to try and reach the lid, I could place it on its side and have a person drinking or bathing in the spill of water, I could have someone trapped inside the bottle. Instantly, one of the most dull objects in the world becomes something fascinating. It’s a really fun exercise and I encourage you to give it a go. Even the least creative people would be hard-pressed not to come up with SOMETHING.

Tips for photographing a miniature

At its simplest a miniature is created out of two photos – one of your small scene and one of your person. The biggest problem you’re likely to face is that of depth of field. When you shoot a small object up really close your focus area becomes quite narrow. To get that same narrow focus on a full sized person you need to shoot with a very small aperture, say 1.8, which isn’t always available on inexpensive lenses. (Except the nifty fifty which should be in every photographer’s bag.) This is the most common error you see in miniature photos— when the person is way too sharp for the scene—and even the best photographers sometimes get this wrong. It’s a fine line because you want your subject in sharp focus to draw the eye to them but you also want your subject to look like they belong in the scene or the realism falls apart. So there’s two ways to get around this: The first is to shoot your small scene with a narrow aperture to get as much focus as you can, so f/16 for example. Then shoot your subject with a wide aperture of say f/5.6 so their eyes are in focus but their edges are a little blurry, but it’s a guessing game to get these settings right. The second method, which I prefer because it doesn’t need to be so exact, is to shoot both photos as in focus as you can and then use blur filters in Photoshop to selectively create your own depth of field. When adding your Photoshop blur, zoom right in close to the image because it’s much easier to see how blurry something is up close, then match the blur between your two images accordingly. Always get a second opinion on whether your person fits in the scene before you release the image to the world because your work starts to lose context when you’ve stared at it too long.

How to photograph a miniature

Start by setting up your scene. I say “setting up” because miniature scenes are rarely ready to be photographed as is. You may need to dust your items, or move your items to a new background to avoid distracting elements, or position your item where it’s getting a nice spray of window light, and then you’ll want to add all the little touches that make your scene interesting and help sell your story. [caption id="attachment_1998" align="alignright" width="300"] I couldn't use a telephoto this time because my scene (bottom left) was too close to a wall.[/caption] A macro lens isn't necessary but if your scene is quite tiny it would certainly help you get in close enough. If space allows I like to use a telephoto lens positioned far back from the scene but zoomed right in close because this gives good focus where I want it and a nice blurry background to remove distractions. Find your focus. You can’t exactly have someone stand in the scene for you while you find focus so put something in your scene to focus on. A small human shaped toy is ideal because it helps later to find the right sizing for your person and also because the shadow it casts can possibly be used in the final image, but do remember to remove the toy from the scene once you’ve found and locked your focus so you can take your main blank shot. [caption id="attachment_1999" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My scene - I focused on the ground where I knew the girl would go. My scene - I just focused on the ground where I knew the girl would go.[/caption] When you’re happy with the scene you’ll need to shoot your person. To preserve your sanity my suggestion is to try and shoot them in the same area so the light matches and you won’t have to do a tonne of work in post to make them fit. You’ll also need to shoot them from a similar angle. If you shot your scene from above you’ll need to shoot your person from above. When starting out I’d advise shooting both your person and your scene directly on. For this week’s image I shot my scene very low to the ground but still slightly above where my subject would be so I also shot the image of myself close to the ground but slightly above (although in retrospect I didn’t get high enough). To keep things easy for yourself have your subject pose in a way that is mainly flat to the camera. For my image this week I had myself laying straight and parallel to camera so I knew my whole body would be in focus. Had I laid with my head close to camera and my feet far away then I would have had some real issues with focus. [caption id="attachment_2000" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Subject for 'The Wrong Dress' The subject shot[/caption] Be mindful of where your subject is positioned to avoid any colour casts. For example, the ground of my scene was primarily brown rocks and mulch. I couldn’t fit myself into that same space to shoot the subject image so I had to shoot myself lying on grass nearby. I knew that grass would not only give my skin a green colour cast but that parts of it would obscure my body and since there’s no grass in my scene these would need to be removed. To avoid unnecessary work I instead lay on a brown coloured towel so the colours would match. This sort of forethought is so important when creating composited images to save headaches later. If the subject will be interacting with an object in the miniature try and recreate this in the full size scene, for example, if I want my person leaning against that water bottle then have them lean against a bookcase or a wall.

How to edit a miniature

Open your chosen scene image in Photoshop. I’d then recommend opening your subject image and converting it to a smart object by right clicking on your layer and choosing ‘Convert to Smart Object’. Photoshop discards pixels from an image when you shrink it in size so that if you decide you want to make it bigger again you will have lost detail and resolution. Because you’ll probably be resizing your subject layer a lot to get them to fit your background you want to do this non-destructively. Smart objects allow you to resize as much as you want without losing quality. Add a mask to your subject layer which should be placed above your background layer. Create a rough mask at first by using a black brush on the mask to paint around your subject. This way you can see if the pose is working and play around with the sizing without going to too much trouble. When you’re happy, fine tune your mask using whatever selection tool you desire. Although it’s not the quickest or easiest method, the most accurate way for me is to zoom in really close and paint black carefully around the subject’s edges, switching to a white brush to add pieces back in if I make a mistake. If you’re new to my blog I cover masking in more detail in previous tutorials.

Adding shadows

Assess your scene image to see what shadows are being created and how they are falling. If you shot a version of the scene with a human shaped toy, add that image to the layer stack (above the background but below your subject) and mask in the toy’s shadow. Otherwise you'll need to create the shadows yourself. I've touched on how to create shadows before but they're really, really hard to get right and I am definitely no expert so I'd highly recommend spending a little time with Mr Phlearn and probably every other shadow tutorial you can get your hands on.To avoid shadows altogether as I like to do, shoot your scene and your subject in very diffuse lighting so there's little to no shadow although you should still darken the ground and the subject where they are touching.

Adding blur

The method I use to add blur to my subject layer to make it match the background's DOF (or vice versa) is to duplicate the layer (Ctrl/Cmd J), go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and, while zoomed in, move the blur slider until the subject's sharpness resembles that of the background. Then I add a layer mask to the blurred layer and use a soft brush to remove it from the areas I want kept sharp.

About ‘The Wrong Dress’

Homemade bowerI’ve always been fascinated with Bowerbirds and in particular the Satin Bowerbird which collects blue objects to surround their bower. Having never seen one in person I researched pictures on the Internet and created my own bower using sticks collected from my backyard, stuck into polystyrene and surrounded with mulch, and even with opposable thumbs it's still nowhere near as good as the beak created version. I then had great fun collecting blue objects from around the house. Those with a keen eye will spot a smurf amongst the collection. The ridiculous irony in this is that a week later I was holidaying at Binna Burra in Lamington National Park and actually got to see a REAL bowerbird bower. Oh life, you’re so hilarious. [caption id="attachment_2002" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Bowerbird nest A real bower with a poor blue collection.[/caption] The scene is a two shot expansion stitched together. I've had a terrible time making the girl fit and only just now realised that it's because she's too flat so I need to warp her midsection so it sits lower. However because I've done so much work to the image I'd practically have to start again to fix it. It's a good lesson that not every image will work so don't feel too blue about it (badum tish). The wonderful thing about compositing is that you're no longer limited by size so, not only can you make people small, you can also turn water features into waterfalls and rocks into mountains so don't forget to utilise this handy trick in your future work.

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignright" width="300"]Oh god, MY EYES! Oh god, MY EYES![/caption]   HDR is photography’s most controversial technique because when overused it produces garish results capable of making your eyes bleed. Cameras are limited in the tones they can capture, meaning if you expose to get detail in the shadows, your highlights will blow out, or if you expose to get detail in the highlights, the shadows go very dark. HDR, short for high dynamic range, is a processing technique that gives photographers the ability to create images with a higher range of detail from lights to darks, giving a sort of hyper-real effect. Used in moderation it’s a really effective technique that brings detail into every portion of your image, more in line with how our eyes actually see a scene. For three years I eagerly processed ALL of my images this way because I liked the look of it so much, even when it was probably overkill. HDR is traditionally created by taking a number of photos of the same scene with different camera settings and then blending those images together with post processing software. But using Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom you can also give a single image the HDR look, which is how I usually do it. I’ll touch on both methods today. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1957,1956"]  

How to photograph HDR (Canon instructions)

  1. Because you’re taking more than one exposure of the same scene you’ll ideally need a tripod to hold your camera. [caption id="attachment_1958" align="alignright" width="182"]Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon. Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon.[/caption]
  1. Press the AF-DRIVE button on the top of your camera and using the main back dial make sure you’re in a continuous shooting mode. This means the camera will take all the exposures for you. If you have a ‘single shooting mode’ selected you will need to press the shutter yourself for each of the three shots.
  1. In your camera’s menu, locate and highlight the auto exposure bracketing function called ‘Expo.comp./AEB’ and press the SET button. Using the dial on the top right of your camera move it to the right to set up bracket instructions. What you’re doing here is telling your camera to take a standard exposure (0) and then choosing how much darker and how much brighter you want your other exposures to be. The brighter exposure will expose for dark areas and the darker exposure will expose for the sky. The typical amount of exposures is three but your camera may allow you to do more. Press SET again when you’re done.[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="full" ids="1959,1960"]
  1. With the shooting modes dial (big button on the top left of your camera) choose aperture priority (AV).
  1. Choose the aperture you wish to use with your top right scroll wheel. The camera will automatically vary the shutter speed with each exposure. If you don’t want the exposure of your bright image to take too long (eg. for a moving subject) you can always boost your ISO.
  1. Set your camera on the tripod, find focus and press the shutter button. Step back and let the camera take all three exposures, starting with the standard, the underexposed and then the overexposed (which will take the longest – so don’t touch the camera until you hear all three clicks).
  1. The camera should stay in bracketing mode until you switch it off or deactivate it.
  1. While HDR is great for landscape scenes to bring detail into the sky, it’s also really wonderful at bringing out the texture in rusty metals or brickwork.

How to combine your HDR exposures

Because HDR was so popular a few years back there are a number of different products and methods to combine your exposures, but for the sake of this post I’ve experimented with only the most common. [caption id="attachment_1961" align="alignright" width="300"]Photomatix Pro using Enhanced Photomatix Pro using Enhanced[/caption] The most lauded HDR software is Photomatix Pro which retails for about $100 -  although you can play around with a trial version first to see if you like it. It’s easy to use and will walk you through the process of combining your HDRs. But while Photomatix offers the most options, the majority of them are way over the top. However you can customise the sliders to your own taste. The ‘Enhanced’ preset was the most natural looking option for me but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way Photomatix combined my exposures. It’s worth the investment if you’re serious about HDR but if you prefer subtle results I’d personally look elsewhere. [caption id="attachment_1962" align="alignright" width="300"]Photoshop HDR Photoshop HDR[/caption] Photoshop has its own HDR function which you can access with File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro. Open the files you wish to use and check the box to align them if there was some movement between exposures. In the next dialogue box, play around with the presets and sliders. Tone mapping HDR images is very much about personal taste so I won’t spend time explaining all the options as plenty of other bloggers already have. But I will mention that if you find an element in your images has moved, check the ‘Remove ghosts’ box and Photoshop will attempt to fix it. Because subtlety is key for me I found the results from Photoshop were still a bit too strong. Lightroom has recently added an HDR function to its workflow with version 6. Highlight the images you wish to merge and go to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR. On the next screen click to ‘Auto Tone’ and choose ‘Auto Align’ if your camera moved between exposures. Choose a deghost amount if necessary. The resulting image won't look typically HDR but it will throw you into your Develop dialogue box with the sliders moved to best enhance your photo, which you can adjust to taste. I was really not expecting to like this new feature considering it was added as an afterthought but I really love that I can play around with sliders I’m already familiar with, so this is the method I chose for this week’s image. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1964,1963,1965,1966"]   There’s one other method I experimented with this week which isn’t really HDR but it’s a good option for selectively combining your exposures … so if I only want my underexposed photo to show up in the sky and my overexposed photo to show up  in the shadows. This method involves ‘Luminosity masks’ which use Photoshop masks to obscure and reveal various light values. So I could use a ‘Brights Mask’ to select all the bright values in my image and have my underexposed photo show through in  just those areas. Now the guru in luminosity masks is a chap named Jimmy McIntyre so if you’re interested in this technique, please visit his website and download the free action panel which creates all the masks for you at a click of a button! You can then refine the masks as necessary. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1968,1967"]

How to create HDR from a single image

[caption id="attachment_1969" align="alignright" width="300"]Create three exposures from one image Create three exposures from one image[/caption] The most well-known way for creating HDR out of a single image is to duplicate the image three times and then raise the exposure of one and lower the exposure of the other and then combine these together using the methods covered above. This is completely unnecessary and just adds noise to your image. The way I do it, which I was so overly fond of for so many years is by opening your image in Lightroom and copying these sliders. As each image is different you’ll need to fine-tune the sliders to taste but I have these sliders set as a Lightroom preset so I can apply it quickly and at least see if an image has potential. This is my biggest editing secret! It's also a technique that photographers like John Wilhelm and Adrian Sommerling use to achieve their almost cartoon-like effect (I think). [caption id="attachment_1985" align="aligncenter" width="197"]Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste. Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste.[/caption]  

About 'Siren's Sorrow'

Siren's Sorrow was photographed on location at the Gayundah Wreck in Woody Point, Brisbane. Considering it's a large rusty structure it's been on my mind as the perfect HDR location for some time. I didn't realise until I came to photograph it that you have to ignore 'trespassing' and 'danger' signs and climb down a large wall of rocks to get to the wreck itself so I had to leave my assistant (Mum) behind. I was losing light quickly, the tides were coming in and the area is overlooked by afternoon walkers and a busy construction site (if I'd moved the camera 1cm to the the right you'd be able to see it) and so I was feeling both rushed and self-conscious. The image was expanded so I shot four different angles (main, left twice, and up) with three exposures each. These each had to be converted to HDR (using Lightroom), combined into one using Photoshop's Photomerge and then edited to taste. The mermaid tail is courtesy of DeviantRoze on Deviant Art. To be honest I really didn't like this image for most of the editing process but I'm quite fond of it now it's finished. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1986"]   So if you’re of the opinion that HDR is a horribly overrated technique then you’re just not using it properly. :)

Compositing gives photographers the magical power to change the weather. Most people crave a sunny sky but for conceptual and landscape photographers the more colour and cloud in the sky the better. We go to so much effort to make a scene beautiful and interesting and are often let down by those bright, washed out skies. This is why photographers like to be up at the crack of dawn capturing sunrises. It’s also why photographers who don’t use Photoshop buy expensive filters, why photographers who do use Photoshop take two exposures—one exposing for the land and one exposing for the sky—and blends them together. And then there’s the third camp who are perfectly comfortable messing with reality and swap their skies for entirely different ones. This is the sleeper-inners method so stick with me to learn how to replace a sky if you’re not a morning person. [gallery size="medium" link="none" ids="1925,1926,1927"]   If all horizons were straight and not covered by mountains and trees then replacing a sky would be a breeze but things just aren’t that simple. Because of this there’s more than one way to replace a sky in Photoshop and it can take some experimenting to find the one that works best for your image.

Choosing your new sky

In last week’s lesson I talked about collecting photos of clouds and skies for the purpose of swapping them into new scenes. So when looking for a sky image there’s a few things to keep in mind:
  • You’ll want to find a sky lit the same way as your foreground. If your subject is side lit from the left you should look for skies where the sun is also on the left. You can always flip your sky image to get the lighting in the right spot.
  • To save on colour work it also helps if your sky is a similar colour to the foreground. A dark overcast sky probably won’t work with a sunrise lit landscape.
  • If you want your image to look realistic try and line up the horizon lines in both images or the sky may look unnatural. Skies look different near the horizon than they do in the middle of the sky. If you’re a conceptual photographer you have some leeway with this because you’re building an ‘otherworldy’ scene anyway.
  • To save on work make sure your sky image is free from distractions like light poles or power lines, though you can always clone these out if there’s a sky you particularly like. Or you can hide them by dragging your sky layer lower behind your subject image.
  • Keep in mind that skies are pretty flexible and can usually be stretched and resized a fair bit before they start to look weird.
[caption id="attachment_1928" align="aligncenter" width="300"]In desperate need of a new sky In desperate need of a new sky[/caption]

How to replace a sky in Photoshop

[caption id="attachment_1933" align="alignright" width="300"]Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to[/caption] I personally like to experiment with a few sky options rather than limiting myself to one. So in Lightroom highlight all your chosen skies and go to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop and then one by one, use the move tool (V) to drag each sky up to the document tab of the foreground image and then down onto the canvas. Lower the opacity of your sky image using the Opacity setting in your layers palette and move your sky into place. Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal if you think the sky will work better flipped. If you want to scale or stretch your sky image press Ctrl/Cmd T and drag the corners of the bounding box to resize. Hold down shift if you want to resize with the same proportions. In no particular order here’s all the different methods I know of for adding a new sky.

Method one for replacing a sky – selection tools: Color Range

[caption id="attachment_1929" align="alignright" width="300"]Color range selection Color range selection[/caption] This method works best if your original sky is primarily one flat colour. Drag your sky layer below your subject layer. With the subject layer highlighted go to Select->Color Range. I prefer to use ‘Sampled Colors’ and then use the eyedropper to sample the original sky’s colour but you can also try choosing ‘Blues’ in the dropdown menu. In your preview box you can see what will be selected (areas of white) and what won’t be selected (areas of black). Play around with your fuzziness slider to refine the selection and use the + and – eyedropper tools to add and remove from your selection. Click OK when you’re happy. If the selection has missed any bits you can choose the lasso tool and holding down Shift draw around any bits of the sky you want to get rid of. Press the add layer mask button which might apply the new sky to your foreground. Obviously this is not what you want! So press Ctrl/Cmd i to swap your mask’s colours. And there you have it—a new sky! [gallery link="none" size="medium" ids="1931,1932,1930"]  

Method two for replacing a sky – selection tools: Magic Wand

I find the magic wand tool a little more flexible than Color Range as you can use it on skies that vary in colour. Grab your magic wand tool (W) and click on your original sky. Play around with the tolerance settings in your options bar if it’s not selecting enough or too much. Shift click any others areas you wish to add to the selection and Alt/Opt click any you wish to remove. Your aim here is to make sure the horizon line is properly selected. If the magic wand tool has also selected some of your foreground you can activate the lasso tool (l), hold down Alt/Opt and just draw around an areas you don’t want included in the selection to remove them. Then, as above, hit your add layer mask button and invert the selection if necessary. [gallery size="medium" ids="1935,1937,1934"]   If you find the magic wand tool has given you jagged edges you can click on your mask and go to Select->Refine Edge. Play around with the sliders, particularly ‘Smooth’ and ‘Feather’ until the edges look better. With these first two methods if you find you’re getting haloing around leaves on trees I recommend watching Glyn Dewis’s video for advanced tips on how to fix this.

Method three for replacing a sky – Blend If

'Blend If' is a cool little feature that's useful for many things. It doesn’t really matter what order your layers are in but for this example I’ve placed the sky layer below the subject layer. Now with your subject layer selected, double click it to open the ‘Layer Style’ dialogue box. Make sure Blending Options: Default is selected on the left hand side and down the bottom you will see two sliders. Your aim here is to 'Blend if the underlying layer is darker'—so the washed out sky of your subject layer will disappear in the areas where your replacement sky layer is darker (this works best if your original sky is very pale and your new sky is darker). It’s trickier than it sounds. Alt click the left hand triangle on the ‘Underlying Layer’ slider and drag it to the right until your new sky begins to show up. Refine this by dragging the second half of your black slider to the right. Play around until you like how it looks. If this method messes with your foreground, place a layer mask on the new sky layer and brush it away from where it's not wanted. * This method left horrible white fringing around my subject layer that I couldn’t get rid of so if you’re finding this too I’d try another method. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1939,1938"]

Method four for replacing a sky – blend modes

[caption id="attachment_1773" align="alignright" width="234"]Blending-modes-with-arrow Blend modes[/caption] For this method I’d drag your sky layer above your subject layer. With the move tool selected (V) press Shift and + or – to cycle through your blend modes which can be found in the layer’s palette under the drop down menu that says ‘Normal’. If your sky is close to pure white you might find ‘Multiply’ works best. When you find one you like, add a white layer mask to your top layer and with this mask selected choose a big soft brush set to around 50% opacity and brush the new sky away from your subject and foreground. You may have to switch between black and white brushes to refine the mask until you’re happy. Be sure to erase the seam of the new sky image at 100% to get rid of any harsh lines. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1941,1942"]  

Method five for replacing a sky - gradient

[caption id="attachment_1943" align="alignright" width="150"]Gradient bar Gradient bar[/caption] This method is my favourite for replacing skies although if you’re looking for a very exact horizon line you won’t find it here. I like this method because it brings some of the sky over your image which adds atmosphere. It was particularly great for my image this week to mask out the distracting trees in the background (see my final image for the result!) Place your sky layer above your foreground layer. Add a mask to the sky layer and grab the gradient tool (G). In your options bar at the top, click on the drop down arrow next to the gradient bar and select the third Gradient optionsoption along the top which is black->white. Also make sure that the linear gradient is selected (the first box to the right of the gradient bar). With the sky’s mask selected drag your gradient tool from the bottom of your image towards the top. This creates a smooth gradient mask that makes your new sky fully visible at the top, tapering off to reveal the foreground underneath. If you didn’t get the gradient quite right keep redrawing it until you're happy. Vary the position where you start drawing the gradient and the length of the gradient you draw. With your mask still selected you may then have to use a soft brush tool loaded with black to erase the effect fully from your subject. Time Flies wm If you’re experimenting with different skies and you're working with one of the above methods that uses a mask you can Alt-click and drag your mask from one layer to another without having to create it again each time. When your new sky is in place I’d suggest playing around with the colours of the overall image (a selective colour adjustment layer is my go-to method) to make your sky and your foreground look like they belong together. A texture or noise layer may also help.

About 'Time Flies'

I chose a location to shoot this image which put the girl on a hill so I could shoot from below and see the sky behind. But I just wasn’t able to get back to the location to photograph it. Instead I cheated and shot myself in my backyard against a white sheet with the camera on the ground pointing up. So I’ve actually already replaced the background in this image once by painting a white mask around her. I then flattened her layer with a white solid colour layer and the lavender image for the purpose of this week’s example, however sometimes cutting out your person and sticking them on a new background might be the best (although not the easiest) solution to replace a sky. The lavender was photographed at Maleny Botanic Gardens, while the clouds were shot from my front yard. Three textures were used. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1945,1946"]   Let me know which method works best for you and if you know of any others please add them to the comments!  

[caption id="attachment_1888" align="alignright" width="300"]Too many photos Too many photos[/caption] I’ve been serious about photography for about five years now but even before that I always had a camera within reach. As a result I have over 80,000 photos in my Lightroom catalogue that I thought would never see the light of day, and the really exciting thing about compositing is that I can now choose any one of those 80,000 photos and build something out of it. The bad thing about compositing is that you start hanging on to every photo, even the truly awful blurry ones, because you just never know if it might one day make a great texture. [caption id="attachment_1889" align="alignright" width="200"]You can walk through my shot and I don't even care! You can walk through my shot and I don't even care![/caption] When I decided I wanted to be a conceptual photographer I noticed that my shooting style completely changed. Before, I always waited until exactly the right moment to click my shutter so that the composition was perfect and free from distraction. After, I started caring less about that perfect shot and more about the elements in the photo, knowing that I could cut them out later and create something new with them. So I no longer cared if people were walking through the shot or the horizon line was askew because all that mattered is that the subject I wanted looked good. There are plenty of purists out there who think compositing is cheating but I think they’re missing out on all the fun, so if you decide you’d rather join TEAM FUN and let compositing into your workflow you’ll want to start building a stock library. Of course you can always purchase stock from a stock photography agency which is great when you need a photo of something you just can’t capture yourself, but it’s always better to create something for free that is purely your own work. My initial goal this week was to make an image entirely out of purchased stock to demonstrate how to create something out of nothing but I realised it’s much more fulfilling working from your own stock library so I want to talk about how to build your own.

What to shoot for your stock library

If you already have an idea you want to work on then you’ll be guided by the elements you need to make it a reality. Otherwise these are some general things that every compositor’s stock library can't do without:
  • Landscapes – shoot environments to put your subjects into. If you can’t shoot your entire concept at the time it can help to take a blank shot of the scene and then a shot of the scene with someone in it so you can try and replicate their shadows and colouring with your new subject later on.
  • Skies and clouds – replacing skies is compositing’s greatest gift to photographers so photograph the sky in all its moods. Where possible, try to include a horizon line to match up with the horizon line in your composited image. More on this next week.
  • The moon – expose for the moon and not the sky or you’ll lose its details.
  • Foregrounds – I have sucked at this over the years and I regret it now so try and collect photos of interesting grounds and surfaces for your subjects to stand on.
  • Mountains – a mountain range will always make your horizon line more interesting and give depth to your image.
  • Buildings – think castles, churches, abandoned buildings. You can add these to the background to help set a scene.
  • Animals – it’s great fun sneaking animals into your images so find a zoo and spend the day shooting some creatures.
  • Birds – Shoot clusters of birds silhouetted against the sky. These are easy to add to your images using the blend mode ‘multiply’ and a levels adjustment layer to refine if needed. Also get close ups of different types of birds. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I recently found a dead Kingfisher outside my house and spent half an hour photographing it before giving it a dignified burial.
  • Props – interesting items that will help tell a story – ideas are balloons, lanterns, picture frames, vintage suitcases, clocks, birdcages etc.
  • Water – how you shoot this may depend on your idea – try throwing it around, shooting water lines in fish tanks, waves on the beach.
  • Textures
  • Fire – try shooting it against a dark background so it can be added easily with a blending mode.
  • Smoke – the wispier the better – You'll need to light the smoke and photograph it against a plain black or white background for easy blending.
  • People – I don’t have a single plain flat wall in my house so when I find one I try and photograph myself in different costumes and poses to add to landscapes later. I also like to go to events where people are in costume so you can cut out the costumes and use them on your model.
  • Flora – photograph interesting trees and flowers, mushrooms, moss, roots, vines.
  • Light rays and flares – these are really fun to include as special effects in your images. You can capture star-shaped flares by shooting a light with a high aperture.
[gallery size="medium" columns="2" ids="1890,1891,1892,1893"]

How to shoot your stock

Here's a few tips for shooting stock:
  • Shoot in RAW so you can easily change colour casts, exposure, contrast etc. later. [caption id="attachment_1894" align="alignright" width="200"]Speckled lighting sucks Speckled lighting sucks[/caption]
  • Expose for your subject, even if everything else in the image is blown out or underexposed.
  • Aim for flat, overcast or diffuse lighting. If your stock has harsh light or shadows falling across it you will be limited as to how you can use it.
  • Shoot props, animals, plants etc. as large as possible. You don’t want to have to scale these up to fit your image or you will lose resolution and image quality.
  • Shoot your stock in focus. It’s easy to blur an item later in Photoshop.
  • Try and shoot your stock from different angles. Eye height, waist height and crouching are good options. You never know how you’ll end up using your stock and you want as much scope as possible.
  • As I covered extensively last week, if you already have your base image and you want to shoot stock to composite into that base image, you must shoot it with matching light and angles.
[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="medium" ids="1895,1896"]

Building your stock library

If you’re building a stock library you’ll need some type of image organiser to help you sort your shots. I personally swear by Adobe Lightroom but others use Photoshop Bridge or Capture One. On1 also has their own version called 'Perfect Browse' which you can currently get for free through Fstoppers. When you import your photos you’ll need to go through them and assign keywords to the ones you’ll want to find in future. Decide on your keywords early on to keep them uniform. I use words like ‘texture, location, composite, sky, prop, tree, flower’. It’s important to remember to do this. Then when I need a sky I can just type ‘sky’ into my keyword search bar and have all suitable images at my fingertips. Whenever I import photos I always instantly hate them and can’t bear to look at them for at least a few days (it’s weird, I know) so I need to make time later to keyword them. Because of this only about a third of my 80,000 images are keyworded which is obviously not recommended! You are likely going to need more computer memory to store your stock as well as at least one external hard drive to keep a backup on. I’m a big fan of Western Digital products, particularly their palm-sized 2TB ‘My Passport’ external drives.

About 'The Parting'

Coming up with a concept for this week’s image was tough. I wanted to create an image entirely out of pre-existing stock without having to shoot something new but it seems my imagination doesn’t extend as far as building scenes from scratch. I first started out browsing the reasonably priced stock site Fotolia for photos of elements I haven’t been able to shoot myself. The great thing about stock sites is that you can download low res ‘comp’ images to play around with before committing to purchase. I built two concepts out of these but ditched them because they only included a couple of stock elements and I wanted a concept that used more. Abbey Medieval Festival boyNext I browsed through my own catalogue using the ‘composite’ keyword and settled on an image that I’ve always liked taken at the Abbey Medieval Festival of a boy in costume. I went searching for a ‘location’ to place him in and found these images of Eilean Donan castle which I shot in Scotland a few years back. I think they’re really nice landscapes but as my landscapes never see the light of day I thought I’d repurpose them in a composite. I liked that I’d shot the castle from a few different angles and I started thinking about how I could tell a story using companion photographs that takes place on different sides of the bridge. The two birds of prey and the dog were also photographed at the Abbey Medieval Festival, as was the girl. It took a bit of experimenting to find a costumed girl in a pose that worked. As I don’t have permission from either the boy or the girl to use their photos I covered both their faces in masks, also composited from photos of different people at the festival (taken on a different year). This was quite handy in the girl’s case because her face and chest were overexposed which is damn near impossible to fix. The boy’s horse was photographed at my cousin’s property, his sky was shot while I was riding a local ferry, hers in Malaysia. Her silhouetted birds were shot in Bath and his at a local beach. Because the light hit all these components in different ways it took a tonne of editing to make everything fit. I finished by overlaying the images with four different textures. [gallery size="medium" ids="1900,1909,1898,1904,1906,1911,1902,1907,1901,1903,1908,1905,1899"]   A stock library is not only handy for creating composites but shooting stock is also a fantastic way to improve your photography skills. Plus a great little money spinner if you decide to sell your stock to an agency. So grab your camera and start collecting!

The word compositing has a boring textbook definition that in a nutshell means “how the magic happens”. Compositing made it possible for Harry Potter to fly around a Quidditch pitch, for Spider-Man to swing between buildings, and for men to walk on the moon. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?) By combining elements from different pictures into one, compositing allows photographers to trick you in more ways than you could possibly fathom . It's used by wedding and school photographers to remove blinking faces in group shots, by newborn photographers to create those baby sleeping with head on hands shots, by landscape photographers to switch a boring blue sky with a moody cloud-filled one. So how does compositing work? Let's say I want a photo of me climbing the Eiffel Tower. I take a picture of me pretending to climb something, use Photoshop to cut myself out and paste me onto a picture of the Eiffel Tower and voila, there I am climbing the Eiffel Tower. However without following the rules of good compositing there’s no guarantee it’ll look convincing. Admittedly compositing TERRIFIES me, not only because it offers unlimited possibilities—the indecisive person’s worst nightmare—but also because there’s a lot to get right for a composite to look real. I’ve done compositing in previous tutorials but in most cases all the components were shot in the same location with the same lighting and camera position so the chances that something wouldn’t fit were low. The stakes are much higher when you’re trying to piece together images from entirely different situations.

How to photograph for a composite

To work through the process of compositing I'm going to use the image I created this week, 'Dream's Quest' as an example. It wasn't until I finished the piece that I realised it vaguely resembled the painting 'The Lady of Shalott'. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1871,1863"]   The first thing you need to do when creating a composite is to choose / take the photo that you want all your other elements to match. I have hundreds of photos of locations that I’ve photographed over the years specifically for the purpose of one day compositing a person into because it’s rarely practical to have the costumes, equipment and time needed to create a conceptual image whenever you see a pretty scene. This base photo becomes the one you have the least control over because it’s probably too difficult or costly to go back and shoot it again. So you need to assess this photo so you can make all your other elements match. Dream's Quest composite base imageFor Dream's Quest my base image was a photograph of a lovely painterly garden I took in Pitlochry in Scotland. I wanted to ease into compositing with the simple aim of shooting myself separately and making myself fit into the garden scene. When shooting your composite components you’ll need to consider the following:
  • The location – Where was your base image shot? In a grassy field? In a desert? In water? To make your components fit their new location it helps to shoot them in a similar situation - on grass, on sand, in water. Also, what colour was the original background? If the base image is a green field you might want to shoot your subject on a green background so their skin reflects the right colour. Alternatively, consider shooting your components on a contrasting background (ie pale skin on black, dark skin on white) or using a chroma key style blue or green backdrop to make it easy for you to cut them from the background.
Dream's Quest composite postBecause my base image was an overgrown garden I shot myself sitting in grass in my backyard so the foliage and the colour would match between scenes. Had I not been wearing a green dress, shooting on green would also have made it easy to select myself out of my background by using Select->Color Range, selecting the greens and them adding a layer mask that hides the selection.
  • The lighting – Where is the scene lit from? Is the light hard or soft? What is the colour balance of the light—white 12pm daylight or tungsten 6pm sunset? When shooting/sourcing other elements to composite into your base image you have to ensure this lighting matches in each shot so you’ll need to recreate the lighting using natural or studio lights or attempt to fake the light quality in Photoshop.
My background image was shot on a very overcast day close to dusk so I made sure to also photograph myself on a cloudy day. I noticed the light in my backyard was bluer than my base image so I changed my camera’s white balance to make it warmer although I could also have achieved this in Photoshop. The two birds were photographed on sunnier days and I couldn’t quite get them dark enough in Photoshop to fit my scene so I decided to paint in some motivated light on the right of the image to make their lighting look realistic. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1866,1867"]  
  • Perspective / Angle – If your scene is shot front on then all other elements also need to be photographed front on. If I tried to make an overhead shot fit a front on scene the perspective would be wrong and it would look ridiculous.
I don’t know what height I shot my garden image from (which is why it’s handy to use a tape measure when shooting for composites) but I made a fairly safe assumption that it was from eye height. So I set my tripod to eye height to match. Because the boat was the feature of my original image I also guessed that I’d angled the camera down slightly, so I did the same with my tripod. The boat was lower than camera height and was positioned facing slightly towards camera so I sat on the ground and angled my body to match.
  • Dream's Quest composite oarPosing – Be sure to position your person, prop or scene so it will fit your base image. If you’re compositing a prop onto a person make sure they’re posed in a way to accommodate this prop by giving them something of a similar size or shape to hold.
I didn’t have an oar, however I remembered I’d shot one while staying at a friend’s house so I played around with that oar photo to see if I could make it fit. When I posed myself I held a rake as a stand in for the oar so that my hands realistically looked like they were holding something. I also had to be mindful to pose my hands so they’d roughly cover the original hands in the oar photo.
  • Distance – It helps to shoot all your elements from roughly the same distance and with the same lens set at the same focal length to ensure consistent perspective and scale. This isn’t always crucial (although it would be if you shot your scene with a very wide angle lens and your subject with a zoomed telephoto lens because of the distortion and compression the different lenses create) but it will mean that your components are less likely to look ‘off’.
This one scared me a bit because I wasn’t shooting with the same camera or lens. The original scene was shot at 15mm on a cropped frame while I shot myself at 50mm on a full frame. I tried to position myself in the same rough area as the boat so that the area of contact between my body and the new ground would meet (although weeds ended up covering this spot anyway). You can always paint in shadows or place something over the area of contact to stop your person look as if they're floating. I had some trouble resizing myself accurately which is where replication of distance would've come in handy.
  • Focus / Aperture – If you shoot your subject so their eyes are in focus and everything else is blurred [caption id="attachment_1869" align="alignright" width="300"]A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus.[/caption] and yet the background is shot so everything is in focus, as soon as you put that blurry person into that sharp background it’s going to look horrible and fake. You also need to ensure that the area you focus on in the second image matches the focal point in your base image.
I shot my original scene at 1/200, f/5.6 so I made sure to shoot myself with the same settings. Because I’d focused on the boat originally I knew that if I sat in the boat then I should shoot myself in focus also. It’s best to shoot all your components as sharp as possible because it’s easy to blur things in Photoshop. Much harder to make something sharp.
  • Image quality – If I shoot my person in RAW with a full frame camera and then composite them into a background photo that’s a low quality JPEG, there’ll be a mismatch in resolution and noise.
I always shoot RAW which avoids these issues but if you're working with a purchased stock image it might be lower quality. So while it’s not ideal you could always add noise to the RAW image to make the two match. If you’re worried your composite won’t work you can try doing a test shoot and a rough composite first to see if there’s anything to it. Learn to make peace with the fact that sometimes you’ll need to shoot your components more than once to get them to fit. As frustrating as this may seem it’s all part of the learning process.

How to edit a composite

Once you’ve shot all your elements you’ll need to cut them out so they fit into your scene. Which selection tool you use for this task is personal choice. They’re either wildly inaccurate or time consuming so I personally use either hand painted masks or the pen tool. Obviously the more accurate your masks are, the more convincing your end product will be so don't take shortcuts here. Also remember to feather your selections a little using the 'Refine Edge' or 'Refine Mask' commands so your cut out pieces don't look too sharp. Dream's Quest close up detailIn Photoshop I placed the girl layer underneath the garden layer and then masked out the garden to see through to the girl below. It didn’t occur to me when I was creating this composite how difficult it was going to be masking through all the flowers, plants and the structure of the boat to see through to the girl so I zoomed in as close as I could get and painted a black mask on my background image using a square brush. Seriously guys, using a square brush for fine masking has CHANGED MY LIFE. Pixels are square so why use a round brush! Now THE most important thing in making your components match is to assess their saturation, colour and contrast. You don’t want one element too bright or too green because they’re going to stand out so use clipped adjustment layers to get each element to match. For this I use Phlearn’s fantastic ‘Checks’ method which is available as an action when you purchase a Phlearn Pro compositing tutorial and is a handy tool if you’re serious about compositing. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1878,1877,1879"]   When you’ve cut out your subjects and placed them on their new background you need to think about how to make them look like they belong there instead of just slapped on. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Shadows – Giving your subject a shadow will connect them to the ground. Study the other shadows in your base photo and try to replicate them in Photoshop for your subject.
For my image I was lucky that the contact point between myself and the ground was hidden by weeds so I didn’t have do any work here. It was also very soft diffuse light so shadows would be unlikely. However, I did draw some grass in front of the pelican’s feet and the oar to make them fit.
  • Blur – Adding blur to your background image will give some depth to your scene and pull focus to your subject.
I added a little blur to the front left of my image and some to the sky so the busy plants weren’t so distracting.
  • Depth – Adding depth to your photo so it has a foreground, middle ground and background helps pull everything together. Composite something from the scene in front of your subject. Maybe part of a tree or plant can cross over their body. Adding mountains into the background gives dimension and draws the eye through the scene.
My scene already had its own depth with the path and the hedge but as mentioned above I did use weeds and grass from the background to cover parts of my subjects. When you’re done there’s a couple of other tricks that will help sell your composite. First, add a little of the same colour to your entire image to tie the pieces together. I like to add a Selective Colour adjustment layer to the top of the layer stack and play around with the colours. Also try adding a small amount of overall noise with a noise filter or a texture as discussed previously to give your components a common element. So yes, compositing is one scary beast! But after dipping my toe into the waters this week I discovered that it’s not nearly as frightening or exact as I thought it would be. And considering compositing makes ANYTHING possible then it’s surely worth the work to get it right.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150"]Double Exposure Sara Byrne[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="150"]Set them free 'Under the waves' by Aneta Ivanova[/caption] If I were forced to choose one photography technique to spend the rest of my life perfecting it would be the double exposure portrait. This involves taking one portrait and one scenery shot and smooshing the two together. The popularisation of this technique is attributed to Sara Byrne but for me it’s Antonio Mora who truly made it an art form. I also think the work of Aneta Ivanova is really beautiful. My biggest problem with this technique is that it has such a dull name—the double exposure portrait—so I’d really love to coin a new term for it. The ‘portscape’ perhaps? For a long time I assumed this technique would be really hard to do. Anything with such utterly stunning results could never be simple, surely? Well fortunately I was wrong. Not only is this technique easy it’s also SO MUCH FUN.

How to photograph a double exposure portrait (aka portscape)

There’s two ways to shoot a double exposure portrait depending on the tools you have to hand.  If you’re lucky you may have a camera that has this feature inbuilt, like my Canon 5D Mark III, so be sure to check your manual. If not, you’ll just have to photograph your two exposures separately and combine them in Photoshop—a method which offers much more control. Plain portraitIn either case you’ll need to shoot the portrait first. Your second image will show through in the areas where your first image is darkest. Therefore it’s best to shoot your portrait against a light background to retain the silhouette that will contain your second image, whether this be against a white sheet or a blown out sky. I shot my image in my garage against a white sheet. I used a Speedlite with a shoot through umbrella to spill light onto my face because I wanted less of the second image to be visible over my features. I kept my hair dark because I wanted more of the second image to show here. Then you’ll need to shoot your second image although if you don’t have a multiple exposure capable camera, feel free to just use images from your back catalogue. I expected there’d be some exact science for capturing the precise lights and darks for your chosen images to match, and maybe there is, but because of the unpredictable nature of this technique I’m yet to put my finger on it. From my own experimentation I can tell you that flowers and buildings look the best and blue skies look the worst.

How to create a double exposure with a Canon 5D Mark III

The really great thing about doing this in camera is that you don’t have to shoot your portrait DIRECTLY beforehand. All you need to do is make sure your portrait is on the same card that you’re shooting your second shot on. So I shot my portraits, imported them to Lightroom, chose my favourites and loaded those back onto my card. The other cool thing is that when the camera creates your combined image it also keeps a copy of both the single exposures separately so you can then play around with the two images later in Photoshop if the merge didn’t come out exactly how you wanted. When you’re ready press the Creative Photo button, choose the middle Multiple Exposure button, and press SET. Select ‘Multiple exposure’ and choose On:Func/Ctrl. I’m not going to cover what the other settings do because our purpose here is just to create a double exposure portrait. For ‘Multi-expos ctrl’ I find ‘Additive’ works best but feel free to play around with the other options. Choose ‘Select image for multi. expo.’ and find the image you want as your base portrait. *Images courtesy of Canon. [gallery columns="5" size="medium" ids="1813,1815,1816,1812,1814"]   You’re almost ready! Switch Live View on so you can actually see how the two images look overlaid. Choose the exposure for your second image and move your camera around until the two images are combining in a pleasing way. Sometimes you may end up with your camera upside down, which will be sure to amuse any other photographers standing nearby. Don’t let them ruin your artistic genius! Focus and press the shutter button and you’re done. This shooting process takes time so you don’t want to be in a hurried situation. Annoyingly you’ll need to load your base image each time you want to take a different double exposure. (If you choose ‘continuously’ in the Multiple Exposure menu the next photo you take becomes the base for the following image and so on. If anyone knows a way to keep an image loaded please let me know!)

How to edit a portscape

If you’ve shot your double exposure in camera then it may not need further editing but I was interested to see what variation I could get from the same images when combining them myself. The camera gives you four blending modes and three aren’t so great whereas Photoshop gives you over 25. In finding images to combine with my portrait I wanted to experiment with three different options:
  1. The secondary images I’d shot when photographing double exposures in camera.
  2. Photos from my back catalogue that I thought would work well in a double exposure.
  3. A special image I’d shot to use as this week’s feature image – my aim was to create an image that told a story, which I haven’t seen much in multiple exposure form before.
Interestingly I found the images I’d shot specifically while creating double exposures in camera worked much better than any I selected from my catalogue, even though I hadn’t really liked how they’d originally looked when combined in camera.   [caption id="attachment_1817" align="alignright" width="960"]Shot in camera. I should have cleaned up the portrait backgrounds first but they grey backdrop allowed more of the second image to show through. Shot in camera. I should have cleaned up the portrait backgrounds first but the grey backdrop allowed more of the second image to show through.[/caption]     [caption id="attachment_1821" align="alignright" width="240"]Cleaned up the background Cleaned up background[/caption]   Load your portrait image into Photoshop. Because the background of my image wasn’t a uniform white I had to do some clean up work so I used the magic wand (w) with contiguous turned ‘off’ to select my background. I turned this selection into a layer mask with the 'Add layer mask' button and then chose Select->Refine Mask to fine-tune the selection around my hair. Had I shot my  portrait against a cluttered background then this selection process would have taken much longer. I created a ‘solid color’ adjustment layer filled with white and dragged this underneath the portrait layer. Now I had a perfectly white background behind my portrait. Next load your second image(s) in layers above the portrait. I usually select these images in Lightroom, choose ‘Edit in-> Open as layers in Photoshop’ and then from the resulting document I use the move tool (v) to drag the images one by one to my main portrait image. I’m sure there’s a better way but this is just my process. Blending-modes-with-arrowStart playing around with your blending modes. I introduced these to you last week but to recap … Your blending modes live at the top of your layer’s palette in the dropdown box that says ‘normal’. Click the drop down menu and select each of the different blending modes until you find one that blends your images together best (a shortcut for this is to make sure the move tool is active (v) and then press Shift + or Shift – to cycle through the modes quickly.) The blending mode that worked best for me was usually ‘Lighten’. You will probably have to move your top image around so it fits to your portrait in a really nice way. I tried to line up aspects of my second image with my facial features. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1838,1837,1836,1835,1834,1833,1832"]   At this point you can get really fancy and start messing with things like levels and curves to change the contrast and colour of your images, masks to paint out anything you don’t want seen and duplicating parts of your second image to fill in areas that need more detail. But it’s totally up to you. For now I chose to spend more time on double exposures that just work, rather than forcing them to look better. Sadly the MacBook Pro I use for editing died during this process (happily it was saved ten days later) but I didn’t get to play around as much as I’d hoped to with this technique so I’m really excited about future experiments. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1828,1827,1829,1830"] [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1831,1839,1841,1840"] [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1825,1824,1826"]

Composite image for The IdeaHow I shot The Idea

Right after I shot my self-portraits in the garage I photographed myself holding a lantern shaped like a lightbulb (purchased from the Leukaemia Foundation). I wanted the scene as dark as possible with just some light on the lantern and my face (from a Speedlite with a shoot through umbrella) because I only wanted the face and lantern showing up in the hair of my main portrait image. At the time I didn’t know if it was going to work but I’m pretty pleased with how the two shots combined using the blending mode ‘Lighten’. Good idea don’t you think? ;)

This week I found myself in a rut when I realised all my photos were starting to look alike—the posing, the colouring, the framing—and while that’s all part of developing a style I got frustrated that after 12 weeks I’m not coming close to capturing the look I set out to achieve. I particularly struggle to get my colour toning right even though you’d think that’d be the easy part of creating a complex image. So I decided to start playing around more with texture. In most of my images I’ve used a texture or two but on such low opacity that you’d barely know they’re there. This week I wanted to create an image where the texture is as much a focus as the subject. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="none" ids="1766,1767"]

What is texture?

For years I’ve been photographing walls and wood and rust and rocks. I even have a friend who, when he sees me, usually remarks, “there’s a rock over there you might want to photograph”. I do this to build up a texture library because when you add a texture over the top of your main image and start playing around with Photoshop’s blending modes the textures can make your image come alive in wild and unpredictable ways. Textures are also beneficial for when you’re compositing elements together from lots of different photos. By adding a texture over top it helps to tie the elements together in a believable way. Using textures is a favourite technique of conceptual photographers because by adding texture to your work you’re showing your viewer that what they’re looking at has been manipulated in some way, suggesting an element of make-believe and distinguishing the photo from a fashion or beauty image. Using textures over still life or macro images also adds an extra level of interest and a tangible feel to the photo. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1768,1769"]

How to build a texture library

You’ll find many photographers offer free texture packs for download. Digital Camera World is a good start and the source of some of the textures I played around with in my image this week. While I like to shoot my own textures I also download free textures whenever I find them because I see no harm in having a wide range of textures available at my fingertips. Shooting your own textures is easy and really only limited by your imagination. I’m positive if you grabbed a camera you’d find five decent textures in the room you’re in right now. Try and find textures with lots of detail and textures with minimal detail, textures that are both in and out of focus, brightly coloured and muted textures, textures with lots of contrast between light and dark and textures with almost no contrast. Just about anything can work as a texture. I’ve used clouds and flowers and leaf litter, dirt, fabric, lights and fur. When I visited Malaysia last year the textures were so magnificent that I shot more photos of walls then I did of my travel companions. You can even buy a book on Georgetown street art where half the pages are photos of textured walls. So I’ve decided to offer a free pack of Malaysian textures to get your texture library started. Click to download your free Malaysian texture pack! [caption id="attachment_1774" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Texture example Example images[/caption]  

How to use textures

When I’m looking through photos in Lightroom I’ll tag anything I think might work as a texture with the keyword ‘texture’ (groundbreaking) so I can easily sort and find them later. Many photographers convert their textures to black and white because after spending so long on colour toning they don’t want to apply a texture that’ll mess it up. Personally, I prefer to use coloured textures because they help me see which colours enhance my image so I can then recreate those colours how I want. I don’t start to apply textures to an image until I’ve finished arranging all the other elements in my photo to perfection and done any required sharpening. I’ll then cycle through my Lightroom textures choosing about ten. If my subject is in the centre of the image I’ll look at textures with light centres and dark edges which might add a natural vignette; I think about how much detail I want my image to have and choose a texture accordingly. And then I usually throw in a couple of crazy textures just to see what they’ll do to my image. If you can’t get a texture to do what you want, remember you can use filters and adjustment layers to change the texture’s colours, saturation and contrast and use masks to paint them in only where you want. It’s generally advised to mask a texture from a model’s skin so they don’t appear unnatural and it also helps draw attention to them. Blending-modes-with-arrowWhen I’ve finished working with my main photo I open my textures as layers in Photoshop at the top of my layer stack. I resize each texture (using Ctrl T) so that they cover my whole canvas. I’ll lower the opacity of the layers to about 60% and switch the eyeballs off on all but one. Then, at the top of your layer’s palette you’ll see a box that says ‘normal’. This is where your ‘blending modes’ live. Click the drop down menu and work through the different blending modes to find one that blends your texture into the main image in a way that you like best. (A shortcut for this is to make sure the move tool is activated and then press Shift + or Shift – to cycle through the modes quickly.) You may find a couple you like so duplicate your texture layer (Ctrl J) and apply both for comparison or, if the texture isn’t working at all, just delete the layer. When you’ve found a few you like, click your layer eyeballs on and off for comparison. Remember to change your layer opacity for more or less of the effect and then narrow down your textures until you have a favourite. Of course, you can use as many at once as you like and use layer masks to apply them to only certain areas of your image. [gallery size="medium" ids="1775,1768,1778,1780,1779,1776"]   [caption id="attachment_1781" align="alignright" width="200"]Disaster Disaster[/caption]

How I photographed ‘She Brings the Night’

Photographing 'She Brings the Night' was the most mortifying shooting experience I’ve ever had. Here’s me in a long blonde wig and a black velvet dress taking photos of myself on a busy beach at twilight. It took 20 minutes to blow up the round balloon I was to cradle as a placeholder for the moon and it blew away along the beach before I even got the chance to use it. It was really windy so my wig and dress were blowing all over the place and I was worried about getting sand in my camera bag. I wanted my flash to illuminate the spot where the moon would be but I couldn’t get it to trigger and I was well over this shoot before it began. As a result the pose and the camera angle are really awkward. I forgot to shoot a blank shot for compositing and I stupidly expanded my frame without it occurring to me that the sea is moving and so my shots would never line up. I nearly didn’t edit the images at all because I figured the whole thing was just a disaster. Thank god for Photoshop. Using layer masks I blended together different shots of the sea, my feet, my dress, my upper body and my arm. Because I forgot to take a blank shot, my feet were in every image so I had to clone extra sand and water around my feet to match the sea image I liked. The moon and the “moths” (really butterflies from eBay) were shot separately on contrasting backgrounds while the clouds are from a stock image. Blending modes are not only great for applying textures but can also be a fast and wonderful way to composite in other elements without having to make complex selections, so you should always try playing around with blending modes first before hitting the selection tools. I was able to composite in the clouds using the ‘soft light’ blending mode so I didn’t have to spend time cutting them out, but the moon and moths didn’t work as I’d hoped so I had to select these with the ‘quick selection’ tool to remove them from their pre-existing backgrounds. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" ids="1783,1785,1787,1788,1782,1786,1784,1789"] I used the following five textures to get the final look: [gallery size="medium" ids="1790,1793,1794,1792,1791"]   So with the addition of some textures I was able to create an ethereal deity out of an awful shooting experience and it was one of the easiest edits I’ve ever done. Amazing. Feel free to use my Malaysia textures in your work however you’d like. I’d love to see the results!

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
Jul

How to create the dispersion / scatter effect with Photoshop.

Photoshop brushes are a brilliant way to add interest to your photos but did you know you can use brushes on layer masks? Say, for example, you want to create a bird made of fire, you could take a picture of fire, add a black layer mask to it and then using a bird-shaped brush […]

28
Jun

How to use and create Photoshop brushes.

One of Photoshop’s coolest features is the ability to customise and import different brushes. Until now you might only have used Photoshop’s standard round brush to paint masks that hide and reveal layers. But if you spend some time with the brush panels you’ll discover that using different brushes not only makes your work easier but will give […]

7
Jun

How to photograph and edit a miniature person.

A little known fact about me is that I’m a bit obsessed with miniatures. There’s just something about dioramas, terrariums and the work of artists like Thomas Doyle, Slinkachu, and Lori Nix that thrill me beyond explanation. Because of this I went through a fun phase of photographing Smurfs and other toys around my house. But […]

31
May

How to photograph and edit HDR for everyday use.

  HDR is photography’s most controversial technique because when overused it produces garish results capable of making your eyes bleed. Cameras are limited in the tones they can capture, meaning if you expose to get detail in the shadows, your highlights will blow out, or if you expose to get detail in the highlights, the […]

24
May

How to replace a sky with Photoshop.

Compositing gives photographers the magical power to change the weather. Most people crave a sunny sky but for conceptual and landscape photographers the more colour and cloud in the sky the better. We go to so much effort to make a scene beautiful and interesting and are often let down by those bright, washed out […]

17
May

How to build a stock photo library for compositing.

I’ve been serious about photography for about five years now but even before that I always had a camera within reach. As a result I have over 80,000 photos in my Lightroom catalogue that I thought would never see the light of day, and the really exciting thing about compositing is that I can now […]

10
May

Introduction to compositing

The word compositing has a boring textbook definition that in a nutshell means “how the magic happens”. Compositing made it possible for Harry Potter to fly around a Quidditch pitch, for Spider-Man to swing between buildings, and for men to walk on the moon. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?) By combining elements from different pictures […]

3
May

How to create a double exposure photograph (portscape).

If I were forced to choose one photography technique to spend the rest of my life perfecting it would be the double exposure portrait. This involves taking one portrait and one scenery shot and smooshing the two together. The popularisation of this technique is attributed to Sara Byrne but for me it’s Antonio Mora who truly […]

26
Apr

How to improve photos with textures in Photoshop

This week I found myself in a rut when I realised all my photos were starting to look alike—the posing, the colouring, the framing—and while that’s all part of developing a style I got frustrated that after 12 weeks I’m not coming close to capturing the look I set out to achieve. I particularly struggle […]