Category 'Behind the scenes'

My next tutorial was going to be about making glass transparent so after some thought I came up with a concept that involved a girl in a vase gasping for air. I shot the base photo and the vase in my living room and set about compositing them together. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2819,2821,2834"]   But somewhere along the line I decided I didn’t really like the pose so I swapped it for another pose I’d photographed. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2822,2820"]   Then I couldn’t think of a suitable background that helped further her story so I experimented with various stock images but nothing was working and I started feeling disheartened. Experimental background for 'Wonder Falls' But I kept at it, deciding that I really liked the flow of her skirt and actually, she looks much better out of the vase than in. Flowy skirt for 'Wonder Falls' I began experimenting with stock images of water to make it look like her skirt was merging into the ocean (I usually work with stock images first because they live on my laptop whereas my own photos are kept on an external hard drive that I’m too lazy to plug in most of the time). When I found this stock image of a waterfall I knew right away that I’d found the direction this image would take.   [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2826,2825"]   But I always feel guilty using stock because it’s not an image I’ve photographed myself, however I only have a few images of waterfalls and none at the right density to become her skirt. So to compensate, I kept the waterfall part of the stock and then created rocky cliffs using my own images. In fact this is the first time that I’ve entirely built a scene out of composited bits of other scenes and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it’d be. Unfortunately my creative process usually resembles this haphazard approach and is why, when someone asks me what my photos are about, I don’t tend to know because they like to take a journey all of their own with a destination that barely resembles my original concept. The mountain and moss on the left were created from a photo of this crazy girl jumping off a cliff in Yamba and a moss covered tree stump photographed at Binna Burra. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2828,2827"]   The mountain and moss on the right were also from photos taken at Binna Burra. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2830,2829"]   The foreground scene is from a sunrise beach photo I took in Noosa. There was scum around the edges of the pool so I used various photos of lapping water to make this look more appealing. I also used a photo of the ocean to create the pool at the top of the waterfall. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2831,2833,2832"]   The sky is a sunrise image I photographed at Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland after a gruelling uphill hike. Then I added some blurry foliage to the image, also shot at Binna Burra. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2836,2835"]   The end result is nothing like I intended but it's probably my favourite image to date and, for the first time, I'm going to make a print of it just for myself. And, in case you were wondering, yes - the name is inspired by one of my favourite TV shows, Wonderfalls.  

It's been six whole weeks since I last released a photo which is probably more of a surprise to me than you. Back in November I photographed all the component pieces I needed for a photo that I hoped would be my biggest and best yet but I'm afraid to say that after weeks of work I became really disheartened with how it was turning out. I hear conceptual photographers say all the time that they had to abandon a project because they weren't happy with it but I've always believed I could make anything work. Until now. So I put it aside and started working on something new. Which didn't work out either. And then two others turned out to be a disappointment and I started to believe I'd lost it, whatever "it" is. It's a horrible feeling knowing something you've worked so hard at may have just been a passing phase. So I took some time out, worked on other things (including a new travel focused Instagram account at @hayleyrtravels) and thought a lot about what direction to take in the new year. But quite simply, creating photos is what I do and I wouldn't know how to get by without it. 'Run Red' was photographed at one of my favourite places, Yamba, NSW, Australia during a road trip I took after Christmas. The location was the beautiful Angourie Beach on a very busy and hot day. If you ever happen to go, there's a strange path by the blue pool that leads to a dense, dark forest and if you keep following it (after most turn back) you will find the place I shot this. I'm sure there were people walking down the path to the beach who spotted a flash of red in the forest below and weren't quite sure what they'd seen. [caption id="attachment_2786" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Angourie Blue Pool Angourie Blue Pool[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_2787" align="aligncenter" width="683"]Angourie forest path Angourie forest path[/caption]   The image is a seven shot pano and a frankenstein of different portraits. [gallery columns="4" link="file" size="medium" ids="2788,2790,2789,2791"]   My German Shepherd, Koda, needed MUCH coaxing to pose as the wolf. [caption id="attachment_2792" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Koda, wolf, woof Koda, wolf, woof[/caption]   It's not my best work but it is a work that worked which is exactly what I needed. And hopefully soon I'll be ready to retackle the pieces that WILL NOT DEFEAT ME!

Some people have a natural eye for shooting black and white but sadly I am not one of those people, I guess because I like how expressive colour can be. I took black and white photography in high school, the kind that used expensive film and meant extracurricular hours spent in dark rooms but I was never very good at it; ending up with muddy grey images of vegetables and carnival rides. It’s actually difficult for most beginning photographers to recognise light and contrast because they initially focus on the technical and the aesthetic. I can remember the very minute it all clicked for me and I started to see light, but that was a good year into my photography journey. Photography really is about learning to see and I guarantee that photographers view the world in much more detail than non-photographers. [caption id="attachment_2747" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The dappled light really highlights the subject The dappled light really highlights the subject[/caption]  

The best methods for shooting black and white photos

When looking for good black and white subjects you need to seek out high contrast situations. Contrast is created in two ways:
  • Colour contrast - when something white is next to something black
[caption id="attachment_2739" align="aligncenter" width="200"]White vs black White vs black[/caption]  
  • Light contrast - when something bright is next to something dark (Chiaroscuro)
[caption id="attachment_2740" align="aligncenter" width="197"]Light vs dark Light vs dark[/caption]   Other things to look for are:
  • Lots of tonal variation. Different shades of grey (fifty?) give more interest and depth to the image.
[caption id="attachment_2741" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Shades of grey Shades of grey[/caption]  
  • Texture and detail make an image look crisp and interesting which is why HDR looks fantastic in black and white.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2742,2743"]  
  • Repeating patterns / shape and form – colour can sometimes distract from patterns but the simplicity of repeating lines can make a really dynamic subject in monochrome. The same goes for studies in shape and form.
[gallery link="file" columns="2" size="medium" ids="2746,2745" orderby="rand"]   If you can, shoot in RAW because the tones of the image will be easier to manipulate later. To help you recognise suitable subjects you can change your camera's picture style to 'monochromatic' and photograph real time in black and white. A great feature of doing this in RAW is that your camera is still recording all the colour info in case you need it. Try and shoot with a low ISO. Black and white conversions tend to make noise more pronounced. Having said that sometimes grainy black and white can look quite good stylistically. Photographing black and white is effective on a cloudy day because the skies look more moody and dynamic BUT photographing on a sunny day is also great because the sun naturally introduces a tonne of contrast (bright light and deep shadows) into your scene. Keep in mind that if you expose for your highlights you’ll get nice looking clouds but the blacks will go very dark. If you expose for your shadows you’ll get detail in the darks but the highlights will blow out and become very white. Decide which of these is most important to you and consider taking two images – one exposed for highlights and one exposed for shadows and combining them later.  

The best methods for editing black and white photos

Converting an image to black and white is so super easy that you’re probably wondering why I’ve devoted an entire blog post to it. The problem is that there’s SO MANY WAYS to do it that people get confused knowing which method is best. I’m not going to cover them all. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But here's my favourites.
  1. If you only have Lightroom (and if you don’t even have that I doubt your commitment to photography) press ‘v’. That’s it! You don’t even have to be in the develop module! BUT if you want to improve the result do be sure to play around with your sliders. If you want that super crisp HDR look that I adore pull your highlights slider down and your shadows slider up and then play with the black and white sliders to add contrast back in. I used this process on all the components of my image this week before opening them in Photoshop. If you won’t be doing any editing in Photoshop also open the HSL / Color / B & W panel, select B & W and experiment with those sliders as well. You can even click the targeted adjustment tool, place it over an area you wish to make darker or lighter and click and drag it up or down to affect only the colour sliders related to that spot.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2748,2749"]  
  1. In Photoshop if you’re looking for a really quick and effective black and white conversion add a Gradient Map adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, click on the gradient bar and make sure the third gradient ‘Black, White’ is selected. This maps all the tones in your image to black and white making the darkest area black and the lightest area white. This gives an effective conversion with punchy contrast straight away. You can play with the smoothness slider and add stops to the gradient bar to customise it further. It’s the method I used for this week’s image purely because someone once told me it works best and I tend to agree.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2751,2750"]  
  1. Adding a black and white adjustment will do the conversion for you but also provides six colour sliders for you to affect the tone of the original colours as you wish. Like the Lightroom method it also has a targeted adjustment tool. This offers the most control out of all the Photoshop methods.
[caption id="attachment_2752" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Black & White adjustment layer Black & White adjustment layer[/caption]  
  1. There is a further option that black and white photographers rave about because of the level of control it offers and that’s to use Silver Efex Pro. This is now part of Google’s Nik Collection and can be purchased for around US$150. I’ve never used it as it’s a little out of my price range but it’s definitely on my wishlist.
  There's a couple of other techniques you can try to complete your image:

Selective colour

Selective colour allows you to retain a little of the original image's colour as I have done with the umbrella in my image. A stern word of warning - this technique is frowned upon by photographers (in the same way that the font 'Comic Sans' is frowned upon by graphic designers) and I've seen many a novice photographer shot down in photography forums for using it. Like anything though I think it can be tastefully done in moderation and only if it furthers the story of your image. (The red umbrella in my image actually doesn't add anything to the story but I can’t get enough of red, white and black in photos so I couldn’t help myself.) To add selective colour in Photoshop you would just add a mask to your black and white adjustment layer and mask that area away. Then you can use a hue/saturation adjustment to change the featured colour if you wish. In Lightroom you can create the same effect by loading an adjustment brush and taking the saturation slider all the way to the left. Paint this all over the image leaving your desired colour intact.


I have added a bluish tint to my image to make it look more cinematic. I did this using a Channel Mixer adjustment layer (a Photo Filter adjustment layer also works). You can achieve the same effect in Lightroom using the Split Toning panel (pull up the saturation sliders slightly and then play around with the hue to choose a tint for your highlights and shadows). [caption id="attachment_2753" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Adding a sepia tint in Lightroom Adding a sepia tint in Lightroom[/caption]

About 'Storm Clouds Gather'

When I create my weekly images I always have a secondary goal that I rarely tell you guys about. For this image my goal was to build a scene from scratch incorporating a moody sky, an interesting landscape and a character doing something. I went through SO MANY images to find a suitable landscape but it was actually really tough to find one that looked good in black and white. I first settled on this dirt scene and shot a concept based on a girl lying on the ground protecting a seedling. But come time to edit it just wasn't working so for me I abandoned it. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2754,2755"]   Then I chose this desert scene and shot poses of a girl with an umbrella holding a cup up to the sky but the image wasn’t quite conveying the irony of a girl in a desert with an umbrella so I abandoned that one too. But I kept some of the outtakes of this shoot and experimented with different backgrounds until I found one I liked. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2756,2757"]   The final landscape image was taken at a beach in Yeppoon. I like this image very much in colour and was disappointed to convert it to black and white, but the contrast between the rocks and sand was too good to pass up. I started importing different cloud photos and masking them so it looked as if they were wrapping around her. The final black and white image uses both types of contrast that I mentioned earlier; a light contrast with the bright and dark clouds and a colour contrast with the black hair, skirt and rocks and white top and sand. The rain is a combination of two of Jessica Drossin’s rain overlays. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2760,2759,2758"]  

'Wallflower' came into existence because I found this tutorial by Andrei Oprinca, which is a technique I've always wanted to try (mainly because of the shirt/wallpaper scene in Garden State) and also because I've been debating whether to do a tutorial on displacement masks. In a nutshell, displacement maps can be used to make a texture fit a shape (so if you apply a wood texture and displace it to a rose shape you can make it look like a wooden rose). I decided not to do a tutorial though because I'm not convinced the results are all that great and I don't want to teach a technique I don't 100% believe in (I think blend modes work better anyway). [caption id="attachment_2725" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Garden State[/caption]   To create Wallflower I first shot this pose of myself pressed against a wall and leaning back towards the camera. I then created a mask that only showed my arms, face and hair. Main 'Wallflower' pose   Then I shot this photo of myself wrapped in a plain fabric, making sure there were lots of ripples in the material. I did things slightly differently from the tutorial posted earlier but I basically removed all colour from the fabric and emphasised the contrast so the fabric ripples stood out even more. Fabric for 'Wallflower'   The floor was photographed at a friend's house and the texture I bought from Adobe Stock and made into a repeating pattern big enough to cover the wall so it looked like wallpaper. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2720,2719"]   I created a second layer of the wallpaper texture and placed it over the fabric. Then using a displacement map I tried to make the flower texture wrap to the folds of the fabric so the effect looked more realistic. This has worked in some places (towards the bottom) but not others (towards the top). Silly old me forgot to take a before image to show you what the displacement map did, but to be honest it wasn't that different. It has mainly distorted parts of the texture which I'm not really happy with. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2721,2722"]   Then I applied a whole bunch of textures over the top to make the wall look solid. The image only started to come to life when I added the window (shot in Venice), bird (shot in Paris) and the fallen rose (from Adobe Stock). Then I painted shadows under the girl, the window, the rose, and the dado rails to make them look like they belong in the scene. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2724,2723"]   Full credit goes to my Mum for suggesting I remove a rose from the wallpaper to make it look like a flower has fallen to the floor. She's full of good ideas that one, and is also responsible for the name of the image, Wallflower.    

‘Breaking the fourth wall’ is a more a concept than a technique and explains situations when a fictional character acknowledges that they aren't real. In theatre or film this happens when a character directly addresses the audience. In works of art the character has to show in some way that they know they are part of a photo or painting. I brainstormed many, many ideas when coming up with this week’s photo and I’ll share some with you now so you know what I mean:

  • The character tears the paper over themselves
  • An eye looks out of a torn hole in the sky
  • The character writes ‘help’ in condensation
  • There’s a fly on the surface of the ‘paper’
  • The character jumps to reach the bent corner of the page so they can turn it
  • The character studies a lipstick mark on the paper’s surface
So to ‘break the fourth wall’ you either need to show your character reacting in some way to the medium they are a part of, or you have to make it obvious that they exist only as a 2-dimensional object by giving a glimpse of the ‘real’ world (the one the viewer exists in). My favourite example of this technique is Brooke Shaden’s ‘Invading Homes’. I just love how she’s taken the concept that little bit further by giving the birds a shadow so you can see that they’re flying across a surface. invading homes  

How to photograph a ‘fourth wall’ image

  1. You’ll need to shoot your scene just as you normally would. Have your character pose in a way that shows them reacting to the fictional element you’ll be compositing in later. Shoot variations of the pose just in case your main idea doesn’t work.
  1. Next, shoot whatever element it is that will give the game away. For example, a sheet of paper with a hole torn in the middle, condensation on a glass shower door, a fly on a window. That element should be photographed straight on against a flat surface, and it should be shot so the surface is in focus. Since you'll be compositing this element into your main scene, make sure it'll be easy to remove from its background. So if you’re shooting water drops perhaps place a black piece of cardboard behind them so you can easily get rid of the black with a blend mode. (I haven’t actually tried this myself so it may take some experimentation to get right.)
For my photo this week I photographed burning paper against a black piece of plastic using 1/320 sec, f/9.0 and ISO 1000. Burning paper  
  1. You can take the concept one step further and shoot whatever is happening outside of your main scene, so if you have a tear in the paper like Brooke Shaden does, this would be whatever you can see through the hole. Or in my case I needed something behind the burnt edges so I photographed a wall to have my print hanging on, as well as a moth and a hook to give context.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2680,2681,2679"]  

How to edit a ‘fourth wall’ image

Now it’s really just a matter of compositing your elements together. If you've decided to include an external scene, make it your bottom layer then add the main scene above it. Your element should be the top layer. Use the move <v> tool to drag each image into place. Using masks and your favourite selection tools remove all the parts of the ‘element’ image that you don’t wish to include. If you’ve photographed against white or black use the ‘screen’ blend mode to drop out the black or the ‘multiply’ blend mode to drop out the white. If that doesn’t completely work clip a levels or curves adjustment to the layer and modify the blacks and whites until the background disappears. When all your images are convincingly blended together, remember your principles of compositing and make them match in colour and contrast. A little insider tip on blend modes: For my image this week I photographed a lit match against a black background to composite into my character’s hands. Because fire is tricky to select I had to do some creative masking. I made a copy of the match layer and on the first layer I masked out everything except the burnt black centre of the match. The other layer I set to the blend mode 'screen' to get rid of the black surrounding the outside of the flame. Using this method I entirely removed the black background but still kept the black areas of the image I wanted. I then grouped the two layers using Ctrl/Cmd g so I could move them around together. Lastly you want elements such as a tear in the paper to look three dimensional so add depth by creating some shadows under the torn edges (or in my case add glow to the fire). This technique is fantastic for helping to tell a story so if you’re stuck for ideas try brainstorming the fourth wall concept!

About ‘Self-Destruct’

To create this week’s image I photographed myself just after sunrise at my cousin’s farm. I don’t normally like to work with sunlight but I wanted the soft orange light of sunrise to give a glow to the image and light my body where the match flame naturally would. The photo is an expansion of four images and was a pain to edit because it’s a really large file that tested my computer’s CPU. (My own stupid fault because I should have reduced the size of the stitched image before starting to edit it.) The sky was replaced with a more interesting one from a sunrise scene I shot at a beach in Noosa. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2682,2683"] I worked with two poses, one where I was making a ‘shh’ motion at the camera and another where I was reaching up to light the corner. If you look at the main image you can spot my cousin’s Clydesdales on the right of the image and if you zoom in REAL close you can even see my dad in front of the horses taking photos. Hi Dad! With my mum’s kind assistance I shot the match and the burning paper outside my house with a bucket of water to hand.   [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2684,2685,2686"]   I came up with the idea for this week’s image while on a long car journey to visit relatives. I thought my cousin Mary’s farm would be a great location for a girl setting fire to the world, but little did I know how much my cousin’s farm, as well as thousands of other Australian farms are suffering severely from drought and fire. When you live in a city and you hear about the plights of farmers I don’t think you can grasp how serious it is until you see it for yourself. I grappled with whether this image was in poor taste but considering how some farmers have been reduced to drastic actions to save their livelihoods, including killing off their animals because there’s nothing left to feed them, I thought it might help make a statement about the plight of our farmers. If you’d like to help Australian farmers please donate to the charity Aussie Helpers.

Every September my city (Brisbane, Australia) turns purple when the Jacaranda trees begin to bloom. The purple flowers are feared by students because it signifies exams are about to start and relished by locals and tourists because they're such a beautiful sight. For me it means packing up my camera and heading out on numerous day trips to capture the trees in all their glory. Of course I had to create a conceptual image featuring the iconic tree and so I've been traipsing all over the city trying to find the best location. Jacarandas can be viewed practically everywhere and if you can manage it I highly recommend flying over the city when it has turned purple, but if you're stuck on the ground my favourite locations are here:

New Farm Park

[gallery link="file" size="large" ids="2631,2632,2633"]  

The lakes and surrounds, The University of Queensland

[gallery size="large" link="file" ids="2634,2636,2637,2638,2639,2640,2635"]


Roma Street Parklands - where you can see the rare white Jacaranda, although the trees are still only small

[gallery columns="4" size="large" link="file" ids="2641,2642,2644,2643"]


Evan Marginson Park, Goodna - which holds its very own Jacaranda festival

[gallery size="large" link="file" ids="2645,2648,2646,2649,2651,2647"]  

Anzac Park, Jacaranda Avenue, Logan Central (Thanks Jeff for the recommendation!)

[gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2652,2653,2658,2656,2654"]  

Other recommended locations which I'm yet to explore:

City Botanic Gardens Brisbane River and Wilson's Outlook, Kangaroo Point Jacaranda Park, Yeronga The biggest problem in photographing jacarandas is that for some unknown reason there's always signs or poles or buildings or other photographers in the way. The location I chose for my image this week which I found by accident and I *think* might be Guyatt Park in St. Lucia had a bride and groom being photographed to the left and a guy photographing his girlfriend jumping up at the trees on the right. The base photo is created from a stitched panorama of three different images. [caption id="attachment_2660" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Brisbane, UQ, University of Queensland Original location for Dance with the Jacarandas[/caption]   Thanks to the magic of Photoshop I was able to replace the distracting elements in the original image with a new background of Jacaranda shots taken at other locations. Using the same tactic I also covered the ground with fallen petals. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2662,2661"]   I photographed myself in my backyard in a $5 dress I picked up at a theatre costume sale the weekend before. I had to be careful with posing because I was surrounded by dog poo and mushrooms. I added a different arm, a fuller skirt, and more hair, all toned to match the background image. Then I blended some real Jacaranda petals over my dress. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2664,2667,2666"]   To finish off I added some more Jacaranda branches behind the trees on the top left to block out the sky a bit more. I also added some falling petals by using a photo of a single Jacaranda flower to create a Photoshop brush and using that with a motion blur to paint in falling flowers. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2665,2668,2663"]   If you know where I can find other great Jacaranda locations in Brisbane, please let me know!

Dr Seuss has a story about a stalky pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them that I found deliciously frightening as a kid despite the main dude and the pants hugging it out at the end. So it seemed “fitting” to celebrate Halloween with a technique to create your own clothes with nobody inside (or maybe the person’s just invisible – who knows – either way it’s creepy).  

How to photograph the clothes for an invisible person

Creating an invisible person is just a combination of masking and compositing, both of which I’ve covered in previous tutorials but here’s some tips for shooting your outfit that will make the Photoshop process easier.
  1. Stick your camera on a tripod and grab your remote. Even if you’re shooting someone else I still recommend a tripod and remote so you can help your model with their outfit as you’re shooting.
  1. Lock down the focus and exposure on your model.
  1. If you want to keep the background you’re shooting against remember to take a blank shot of the background. Skip this step if you plan on cutting your character out and placing them on a new background as I did. If you’re using a new background analyse this scene first so you know what angle you need to shoot your subject from and how they should be lit.
  1. Get your model to pose. For my photo this week I started with some static poses but then I began to spin around as I clicked the shutter which gave movement to the outfit and made the poses more dynamic. If you’re trying to make your outfit look as if it’s alive giving it some movement will certainly help sell your effect. Just be sure that your shutter speed allows you to adequately capture the movement and your aperture is narrow enough to still allow focus if your subject is moving around. Also use a wider frame to allow an area for your subject to move in. (I ended up having to move my camera farther back from my subject.)
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2604,2603"]  
  1. When you’re shooting make sure that the parts of your model’s body that you’ll be masking out are not covering any portion of their clothes. So if they have long hair, make them tie it up and ensure their hands aren’t over their sleeves, etc. If you want to pose the clothes in a way that requires you to shoot with body parts obscuring the outfit (like hands folded over the chest) make sure to shoot the outfit both with and without the body part across it (so photograph the chest without the folded arms and then with the folded arms) so that when you remove the body part in Photoshop you can still see through to the clothes below.
[caption id="attachment_2605" align="aligncenter" width="200"]My final pose with hands, hair and legs not covering the clothes. My final pose with hands, hair and legs not covering the clothes.[/caption]  
  1. For the most realistic effect you now need to photograph the holes of the clothes without the body parts in them. Take my neck hole for example, I could have masked out my head and left only the front part of the collar. But for realism I photographed the back part of the collar too because that’s what you’d actually see in a headless dress. So either have your model pull their hands inside their sleeves and photograph the empty hole positioned similarly to how it was in your main pose, or have them remove the outfit and hold the neck hole up so you can photograph the back.
[gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2607,2606,2608"]  

How to edit the clothes for an invisible person

  1. Set up your Photoshop document so that the background is the bottom layer, the holes are your middle layers, and your main pose is the top layer.
  1. Add a white mask to the top 'pose' layer and carefully paint with a hard black brush to remove any areas of skin. Or you can use your preferred selection tool to select the area you don’t want and Edit>Fill that area of the mask with black. I personally used the pen tool to create a path, loaded that path as a selection, feathered it by one pixel and then filled the selection with black.
[caption id="attachment_2610" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Mask out the background and the body parts you don't want Mask out the background and the body parts you don't want[/caption]  
  1. Next you’ll want to work on your holes by masking out everything but the hole (I just add a white layer mask and roughly paint black to remove whatever I don’t need), then using the move tool (V) and the arrow keys, line up the hole with the main image. Use Ctrl/Cmd T if you need to make the holes smaller or larger to fit. Then you can carefully refine the mask on the hole’s layers until they look perfect.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2612,2611"]  
  1. Clip a curves adjustment layer to the holes layers and change the brightness and colour to match the main image if necessary. Though since you shot everything at the same time they should ideally match without extra work.
  1. If need be, go back to the mask on your main pose layer and use a soft brush to blend the garment so the front and back holes match up seamlessly.
  1. If you wanted a pose where the body parts obscured the outfit, once you have masked out the body parts you will have gaps in your image. Drag that blank shot you took of the outfit into your main document and place it above the background. Blend it in using steps 3-6 above.
  1. If you find that body parts obscured your clothes when you DIDN’T want them to, create a new layer and use the clone stamp tool to Alt/Opt click a sample from another part of the outfit and then paint it over the problem area.
  1. Post the image to social media and freak all your friends out!

About ‘The Dark Side of the Tomb’

I knew I wanted to create a headless Halloween image with a jack-o'-lantern head so I photographed a bunch of poses against a plain wall in my living room. I then went looking for spooky backgrounds in my image library and even spent an afternoon at Toowong Cemetery collecting various shots. In the end I chose an image I took at the Glasgow Necropolis. I don’t recommend shooting the pose before finding the background but sometimes that’s just how things pan out. Glasgow Necropolis   I was going to create a Halloween pumpkin in Photoshop myself using this wonderful tutorial but I downloaded an image of a jack-o’lantern from Adobe Stock as a placeholder and ended up liking it so much I decided to purchase it. The fire is from Graphic Stock, the skeleton parts were photographed using my neighbour’s skeleton, the spider is from a Butterfly Park in Penang, Malaysia and the moon and clouds are images of the sky I shot at one time or another. I used layer styles and motion blurs to add glows and swishes. [gallery columns="4" link="file" size="medium" ids="2614,2616,2617,2615"]

Happy Halloween!

Seeing as Back to the Future day is now in our past and even I, a committed fan, am quite done hearing about it for the time being, I no longer want to dwell on why I made this tribute image. But I do want to talk about how I made it and what I learnt in the process. The easy solution would have been to Photoshop Michael J Fox out of the original image and replace him with myself but that'd be cheating! Instead I wanted to photograph myself and my Lego DeLorean and then recreate the scene using stock, which ended up being a fantastic exercise because I had to analyse every little piece of the image, figure out what stock I could use to replicate it and then draw on various Photoshop techniques for the effects. I wouldn't normally recommend copying someone else's image and releasing it to the world but this is an exercise I firmly believe every budding Photoshop artist should try to really hone those skillz. Back to the Future poster   I first had to figure out what I could wear to look like Marty. This ended up being a pair of my jeans, one of my dad's shirts, a red tunic with the sleeves and buttons removed in Photoshop (I had nothing else resembling a puffy red vest), a pair of 12 year old white sneakers that were literally crumbling whenever I walked, a denim jacket, a black Fitbit and my every day sunglasses (I didn't have mirrored ones). I used a stepladder to rest my foot on and I had a Speedlite set to full power facing up from about waist height to mimic the bright light from the car. I shot the image back to front and flipped it because I don't like the left side of my face. I also learnt that underlighting turns me into Seinfeld's girlfriend from 'The Strike' (the one who looked okay in certain light and bloody terrible in others) and all of these images will soon get deleted so I never have to see them again. To get the pose and camera angle right I had to keep running between the garage where I shot it and the living room where my computer was to reference the original image and it was hot in all those clothes and uncomfortable in those flaky shoes. Why I didn't just print out the image is a mystery for the ages. I shot the pose both with and without the tunic so I could easily remove the sleeves in Photoshop and still see the jacket below. Original pose   In Photoshop I smoothed the line of the jeans, replaced my watch hand (because I was holding the remote in it), replaced the shoe that got cut off, fixed the tunic and my messy hair, retouched my face and changed my eyes because they weren't open enough which explains why I look like I've had a botched facelift in the final image. Body fixes   I photographed the Lego DeLorean on my kitchen bench, trying to keep it in as much focus as possible, particularly in the area where I knew I would be standing. I had to shoot it down low to get the angle right and my mum shone a torch on the inside of the car where the bright light would be coming from. I then liquified the front of the car in Photoshop to make it look like its melting. Lego DeLorean   To create the scene I bought an image of a road from Adobe Stock because none of my pictures of roads had the right angle. Despite actually buying the image (I promise!) I somehow ended up with the low res preview version in the final image - oops! Road from Adobe Stock   I used my own photo of dark blue clouds for the sky and then overlaid a bunch of other cloud photos to get the billowing smoke effect. The pink and orange sky came from a sunrise photo I took in Edinburgh. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2580,2581"]   The light rays came from a band photo I took of the Presets, which was duplicated over and over and moved to match the ray positions. I used this image of a streetlight for the lights and a Graphic Stock image of a flare for the light itself which was added with the 'Lighten' blend mode. The mountain was shot out of a car window in Malaysia which I then blurred heaps so the trees weren't so detailed. [gallery columns="4" link="file" size="medium" ids="2585,2584,2582,2583"]   The fire is made up of about 6 different stock images purchased from Graphic Stock and Adobe Stock that I also blurred a bunch. I added a noise layer over the background and the car to get the really grainy look of the original. Finally I added a yellow outer glow around my body, drew in the shadows and bright light, and then toned the colour and lighting using about 50 different adjustment layers. Fire from Adobe Stock   The funny thing is there's a lot wrong with the original image - why the weird blue spot over the car on the left? why is there a bright white square on the road bottom right? why is Marty brightest on his right side when the light is coming from the rays on the left and the fire below? why are the shadows on his face and arms really red? why did they make the DeLorean look like it was melting? why are the fire tracks a weird angle and shape? Anyway! It was not up to me to wonder why, but how. And hopefully my image is more of an 'homage' than an insult to the world's greatest film franchise. :)   [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="2575,2587"]

We’re all aware that celebrities and models are retouched to within an inch of their lives but until I started using Photoshop I didn’t realise just how easy it is to entirely change someone’s features. Good retouching though is an art and a science and one that I’ve not yet mastered, but since I shoot primarily self-portraits I’d be crazy if I didn’t at least know how to pretty myself up a bit. Everyone’s method for retouching is slightly different but here’s the workflow that currently works for me:

  • A quick note on compositing and retouching before we get started. My image this week had fairly bad lighting. My neck has weird shadows and there is an eyelash shadow under my right eye. I could have retouched these areas but I thought it would be easier to find other photos from the shoot where these shadows were less of an issue and mask them over the problem areas in the main image. You can also try mirroring features as covered in last week's tutorial.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2515,2516"]  
  1. Make a copy of your background (Ctrl/Cmd J). If your portrait is made up of different layers as mine was, group the layers (Ctrl/Cmd G), make a copy of the group (Ctrl/Cmd J) and merge the layers together (Ctrl/Cmd E).
  1. Load your healing brush tool which we will use to fix blemishes and wrinkles just as you would with concealer. Hopefully you’ve used either this or the clone stamp tool before and are familiar with how they work, but if not, you need to sample a smooth area of skin that is a similar colour to your problem area by holding down Alt/Opt and clicking the clean spot. Then you paint over your problem spot. If the brush accidentally clones things you don’t want, just undo (Ctrl/Cmd Z) and try again. Paint over all your problem spots this way, remembering to resample often. Use discretion when removing scars and moles because they are part of someone’s appearance. Rename the layer you’ve been working on to ‘healing’.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2526,2525"]  
  1. Now for frequency separation! Duplicate your healing layer twice. Rename the layer directly above it ‘colour’ and the one above that ‘texture’. Turn off the eyeball next to the texture layer and apply a blur to the colour layer using Filter>Blur>Surface Blur. Adjust the sliders just enough so that the detail starts to smooth out and lose clarity.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2528,2529"]  
  1. Turn the texture layer back on and highlight it. Go to Image>Apply Image and in the layer drop down box choose the ‘Colour' layer. Apply the settings from the image below. What this does is analyse the two layers and subtracts out what is different - which is the texture - so you're left with a layer containing ONLY the texture from your image. When finished with the dialogue box change the blend mode of this layer to ‘linear light’.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2532,2531"]  
  1. Now for the part I struggle with the most - applying foundation and contouring. Skin generally has blotchy colours so we need to even out the transition between these colours but also be mindful of the areas where the face has contour and enhance these. For example, in this image I want to soften the gradation of dark to light on my cheek, add more highlights to the ridge of my nose to even out the bump, take the redness out of my chest and just generally make the skin look more even. SO, with the colour layer selected choose a soft brush (b) and change the brush’s opacity to 10%. Sample a skin tone colour you wish to paint with (Alt/Opt click) and then paint over the area of colour variation to even it out. Don’t go overboard though because you want to keep the face’s natural shape and not make it look like a flat surface. It took me much experimenting to get this right so take your time with it and resample often. If you’re really struggling I’ve seen another method for this which is to lasso areas of skin, feather the selection A LOT and then add a small Gaussian Blur to smooth out the colour differences. The beauty of doing this technique on the colour layer is that because we have a texture layer, any changes you make to the colour layer only affect the colours and leave the textures intact.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2538,2537"]  
  1. Add a curves layer and create a very soft S curve to put a little contrast into the skin and even out the skin tones further.
[caption id="attachment_2539" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Curves adjustment layer Curves adjustment layer[/caption]  
  1. If you’re noticing that the texture of the skin is still too pronounced (for example, if your subject has quite large pores) you can paint with the blur tool on a low setting to blur these areas a little more. Zoom right in while you do this to ensure that the blur isn’t too obvious.
  1. Decide if you need to reshape any of your subject’s features and if so head to Filter>Liquify. The main tools to use here are the ‘Forward Warp’ tool which allows you to very gently push and pull features around (good for things like minimising waist lines or smoothing flyaway hair). The bigger the brush size the broader (and more convincing) the change. The ‘Pucker’ tool makes things smaller so with a brush just big enough to cover the area you wish to reduce, tap a couple of times until you’re happy. I use this on my nose. The ‘Bloat’ tool does the opposite to the ‘Pucker’ tool and is good for areas like lips. You can use the undo shortcut in this dialogue box at any time if you go too far. I'm sure there are other useful Liquify tools but I've never used them. Press OK when you’re done.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2527,2522"]  
  1. Make two new layers and label them ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’. Set the blend mode for both to overlay. Load a soft brush tool with white and change its opacity to 10%. Paint over any areas of light to make them even lighter. Areas to concentrate on are: the bridge of the nose, under the eyes and the top of the cheeks, the eyeballs and iris and the middle of the lips.
  1. On the burn layer change the brush to black and paint over dark areas to make them darker. Concentrate on the cheekbones, the sides of the nose, eyelashes and brows, pupils, on the neck under the chin and around the hairline.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2541,2540"]   The point of dodging and burning is to further contour the face and add contrast and sharpness. It’s similar to the contouring technique used by makeup artists because it flatters and enhances facial features. In this example photo I’ve used this technique to enhance my shoulder bones, painting black on dark areas and white on light areas to make them more pronounced. If you feel your dodge and burn is making your image look cartoonish lower the opacity of your layers a touch.
  1. If you wish to add makeup to your subject add a new layer and change the blend mode to colour. Select a colour and paint over the lips, the eyes or the cheeks. Reduce opacity if needed or add a hue/saturation layer to change the colour and intensity.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2543,2542"]  
  1. If you didn’t capture any catch lights in the subject’s eyes you can add your own with a small, medium hardness, white brush. Just dot in a spot of light on each pupil. Heal any blood vessels on the eyeballs using the healing brush. You can then enhance brows and lashes by drawing in more hair with a very small hard brush if you need. And you’re done!
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2545,2544"]   [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2554,2553"]  

 About 'Gaia'

I had two goals for this week’s image: to try and recreate the look Paul Apal’kin uses in his portraits, and to create a scene similar to a print I bought a few year’s back off Etsy by TheNebulousKingdom. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2547,2546"]   I failed at both goals. I did a very rough mock up of Paul’s technique in Lightroom but when adding the animals I discovered that my stock were all shot at different angles in different light and I couldn’t work them into my hair successfully. Eventually I just started throwing images into Photoshop to see if something would stick. I hate this period of experimentation but I love it when an image begins to take shape. In this case I loaded a photo I shot out of the window of a moving train window and I liked the way the mountains followed the shape of her hair. So I started to bring in more shots from the same train journey, building up a mountainous scene and sprinkling some animals throughout for interest. The composited animals are way too large for the scene but when an image is this fanciful you tend to get away with a bit more thankfully! [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2548,2550,2552,2549,2551"]

One of the fundamental design principles in art theory is ‘balance’ which means that an artwork is more pleasing if its elements are arranged equally. Symmetry is one method of achieving balance and occurs when half of something is mirrored to create a whole, much like a face. So I want to show you how to mirror an image and talk about why you should consider it in your workflow. Mirroring an image is one of the easiest things you can do in Photoshop and it’s an incredibly effective and striking technique for a few reasons, which I’ve illustrated below using photos I took in Malaysia:

It directs the eye

If the elements in your main photo are anything but straight, mirroring the photo creates an interesting v shape where the photos meet, which is perfect for leading the eye to the centre and works well if you want to composite someone into the scene (just imagine someone standing at the juncture of this pier). The eye is also repelled by sameness so rather than the eye bouncing around the image it’s first drawn to the centre before travelling around the rest of the scene. Just be mindful when creating your mirror image that the two sides line up exactly (this image is a poor example). [caption id="attachment_2454" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Malaysian Clan Jetties mirror image Clan Jetty, Penang, Malaysia[/caption]  

It’s interesting

Without really trying, mirroring an image immediately makes a scene interesting because it creates something unusual that we don’t see much in everyday life. This photo was taken with a wide angle lens which are known to make buildings lean, however the leaning buildings become really interesting in a mirrored scene. [caption id="attachment_2455" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia[/caption]   I can imagine a multiplicity scene taking place here with the same person peeking out of different alcoves. Here’s another. This is a fairly dull picture of a staircase that I hoped to use in a composite someday. Now, if this was the venue of a wedding I could pop my camera on a tripod and photograph the bride posing on the stairs looking to the centre, then the groom in the same position. Then I could flip his photo and suddenly you have this unique image of the bride and groom gazing at each other in a visually interesting scene. [caption id="attachment_2456" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang[/caption]  

It helps stimulate ideas

I shot this photo at a tea plantation. The light in the scene is diffuse and moody but really there’s not a lot happening of interest. If I flip it one way all of a sudden it looks like there’s a staircase in the middle and the clouds form the shape of a Chinese dragon face so I could create some kind of deity descending the stairs. [caption id="attachment_2457" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia[/caption]   When I flip it the other way the scene curving around the ground makes it look like a stage. I can imagine some kind of ritual being performed here while people watch on from the surrounding hills that resemble theatre seats. I usually have to work pretty hard for my ideas but these two popped straight into my head based on the shapes that the mirroring created.  

It helps fix faults in an image

I photographed this bridge on the weekend in Toowoomba (not Malaysia) during their annual flower festival. This Japanese garden was BUSY and I could have waited all day and not got a clear photo of this bridge. But as long as I have ONE SIDE clear, I can just flip it and voila, all the people are gone. Then I could just cut it out and composite it into another scene if I wanted. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2460,2459"]     Or, if I take a photo of someone who has partially blinked, or has a weird reflection in one of their glasses lenses, I can load that photo into Photoshop, create a new layer and use the clone stamp to make a copy of their good eye onto the new layer. Then I just flip that layer and move it into place over the bad eye, masking out any bits that don’t fit and then I have two great eyes. [caption id="attachment_2461" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My right eye looked a little cross-eyed so I cloned my left eye and moved it over my right My right eye looked a little cross-eyed so I cloned my left eye, flipped it and moved it over my right[/caption]  

It can make a prop or scene look bigger than it was

I have been collecting fake flowers for YEARS so I could one day create this image. Despite that I still didn’t have quite enough to cover the floor all around my head without leaving gaps. BUT, I knew that by bunching them up on one side I could mirror them to make the floor look full. Alternatively I could have changed the arrangement of the flowers for the second shot so that the two sides would look different when mirrored. Flowers for portrait   And of course, last of all mirroring an image creates that all important balance.  

How to mirror an image in Photoshop

I’ve been trying to think of ways to do this without Photoshop but I don’t think it’s possible, so please leave a comment if you know how.
  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  1. Duplicate it into a new layer with Ctrl/Cmd J. If you only want to mirror a portion of the image select this area first.
  1. Go to Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal.
  1. Press c to activate your crop tool and drag the edge of the image outwards to add roughly enough canvas space to fit the flipped image. Press the tick when you're done.
[caption id="attachment_2463" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Resize your canvas Resize your canvas[/caption]  
  1. Press v to load the move tool and hold down shift as you drag the second image into place (shift stops it moving up and down).
[caption id="attachment_2464" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Move your mirror image into place Move your mirror image into place[/caption]  
  1. Zoom right in to check that the images line up exactly (you will stop seeing a definite line between them). With the v tool still loaded you can use your arrow keys to nudge the photo exactly into place.
[caption id="attachment_2465" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The seam line disappears when lined up exactly The seam line disappears when lined up exactly[/caption]  
  1. Choose your crop tool again and drag the crop back to the sides of your image.
  1. If there are parts of your image you don’t want mirrored (ie my face looked weird mirrored so I wanted to keep my original face while still mirroring all the flowers) add a layer mask and paint black on the areas you don’t want mirrored so the underlying layer shows through.
[caption id="attachment_2466" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Hey good lookin. Hey good lookin.[/caption]  

About ‘Deer Petal’

Deer Petal was shot in my living room right under a floor to ceiling window. I arranged the flowers on one side of a white sheet and laid amongst them. In terms of colour and light the final image is almost straight out of camera because that’s just how amazing window light is. I had to shoot the image with a tripod that lets you tip the camera parallel to the ground and away from the legs so they weren’t in shot (I meant to take a set up photo but I always forget *sigh*). [caption id="attachment_2467" align="aligncenter" width="225"]A crappy iPhone pic I took as I was packing up A crappy iPhone pic I took as I was packing up[/caption]   I moved some of the flowers around in between shots so I had some variety later on when ensuring the scene was completely full of flowers. I mirrored the image but as previously mentioned my face looked strange so I kept my original face. However my face is pretty wonky so I did mirror my eyeball and my lips and I had to do some liquify work on my nose to reshape it. I have quite obviously retouched my skin to make it look smoother. I own one antler which I shot in the same light but thanks to mirroring I now have two! I included the antlers purely to give the scene a little magic. :) Antler  


The making of ‘Wonder Falls’

My next tutorial was going to be about making glass transparent so after some thought I came up with a concept that involved a girl in a vase gasping for air. I shot the base photo and the vase in my living room and set about compositing them together.   But somewhere along the line I […]


Run Red, and some musings about failure

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Back to the Future

Seeing as Back to the Future day is now in our past and even I, a committed fan, am quite done hearing about it for the time being, I no longer want to dwell on why I made this tribute image. But I do want to talk about how I made it and what I […]


How to retouch a portrait.

We’re all aware that celebrities and models are retouched to within an inch of their lives but until I started using Photoshop I didn’t realise just how easy it is to entirely change someone’s features. Good retouching though is an art and a science and one that I’ve not yet mastered, but since I shoot […]


How to mirror an image in Photoshop.

One of the fundamental design principles in art theory is ‘balance’ which means that an artwork is more pleasing if its elements are arranged equally. Symmetry is one method of achieving balance and occurs when half of something is mirrored to create a whole, much like a face. So I want to show you how […]