Category 'Compositing'

Shadows can make or break a composite. And while they’re easy to create, unless you’ve got a solid grasp of physics they’re hard to get right, which is why when someone is trying to figure out if your photo is a composite the shadows are usually the first thing they look at it. But since shadows are confusing for everyone, as long as you follow some basic principles you can usually fake them fairly successfully. The properties of shadows that most compositers use are:

  • Your shadow should fall in the opposite direction to your light source with the subject directly between the two. You should be able to draw a straight line between them. Light bounces off surfaces though, particularly bright ones, so keep this in mind when plotting the direction of your shadow because there may be light sources you haven’t considered.
  • The density of your shadow is dependent on the brightness of your light. Very bright light causes very dark shadows.
  • Shadows are darkest where they make contact with the object. This contact point also contains a little of the object’s colour.
  • Shadows become less dense as they travel away from the subject, so they become lighter and less defined.
  • The height of the light source dictates how long or short your shadow should be. Low is long, high is short.
  • If you don’t include shadows where your object meets a surface (even if they’re in diffuse light) they’ll look like they’re floating. Adding a simple contact shadow can make a world of difference.
BUT in reality shadows aren’t that simple. And here’s some examples I took with my iPhone to prove it. Ball shadow This is my dog’s squeaky ball in a ray of light. It’s actually LIGHTEST closest to the object because the ball is translucent and letting some light through. The shadow is long because the sun is low, and a little blurry at the farthest point from the object. Birdcage shadow The second is a bird cage I have hanging in my room. The light source is behind, to the right, and slightly above the cage which you can tell by the direction the shadow is falling. However there are TWO shadows because my lamp contains two light bulbs pointing in different directions. The shadows are WIDER than the objects because of the angle the light is hitting them. But because you can’t see the light source, if this were a composite you wouldn’t need to create the double or wide shadow because no one would ever know. So as long as you follow the basic principles of shadows no one can really prove you wrong. Let’s work through an example. Here’s a photo I took of myself in my garage. Don’t worry about my hands; they’ll show up in next week’s photo. I had an undiffused Speedlite on a light stand to my left so you can see that the left side of my body is brighter than the right. The floor and the wall are just photos of textures I’ve added in. Before adding a shadow the girl just looks like she’s floating. But by painting in a shadow using a soft brush and different opacities I can anchor her to the scene. So even though the angle of the floor is wrong and the shadow doesn’t match her shape it still looks like she belongs there. Painting in a shadow with the brush tool is the most basic technique but there’s more accurate ways to create shadows. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2418,2419"]  

How to create a shadow in Photoshop

First step – assess your light! Where is it coming from and what are its properties? This will help you plot how your shadow should look. Here’s two different methods to create shadows:   Method one:
  1. Make a selection of your subject/object. For accuracy’s sake I prefer to use the pen tool to make selections even though it takes the longest, but any method is fine.
  1. Press Ctrl/Cmd J to make a new layer from the selected area. Ctrl/Cmd click the thumbnail of this layer to load the selection again. Go to Edit>Fill and Use: Black. Press Ctrl/Cmd D to deselect the object.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2421,2420"]  
  1. Rename this new layer ‘Shadow’ and drag it below your main layer.
  1. Go to Edit>Transform>Distort and drag the middle top handle in the direction you want your shadow to fall. You can also play with the other handles to affect width and height. (Keep in mind that if your shadow is against a surface like in my image the shadow would change direction where it met that surface. You can see how this looks in my final image. This example photo isn’t accurate and is purely for demonstration purposes.)
[caption id="attachment_2422" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use handles to transform the shadow's shape Use handles to transform the shadow's shape[/caption]  
  1. Use the corner handles OR click inside and drag the selection to make sure the shadow lines up with the feet of your subject or the base of your object. Press the tick when you’re happy.
  1. Shadows are never perfectly sharp so go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose a radius to your liking.
[caption id="attachment_2423" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add Gaussian blur to make the edges less harsh Add Gaussian blur to make the edges less harsh[/caption]  
  1. I like my shadow to be blurrier the further away it is from the subject and the quickest way I’ve found to do this is to use quick mask mode. Select the gradient tool (g) and make sure the Linear Gradient is selected in the options bar. Press q to enter Quick Mask. Draw a line from the base of your subject to the top of the shadow. The red overlay will show you the area that is NOT selected. Try again with Reverse ticked if the selection is wrong. Press q again to exit Quick Mask.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2424,2425"]  
  1. Now go back to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and apply more of a blur to the top portion of your shadow. Ctrl/Cmd D to deselect.
[caption id="attachment_2426" align="aligncenter" width="298"]Blur the top half more Blur the top half more[/caption]  
  1. As well as making the farthest part of the shadow less sharp you should also make it less dark. So, add a layer mask to the shadow layer and select your gradient tool again (g). Click the gradient bar and select the third option ‘Black, White’. Press OK and change the opacity to 60%. Experiment by drawing in a gradient line. You will need to do this several times (the effect resets each time you draw) to get the fade going in the right direction and to get the right intensity (draw shorter and longer lines and vary where you draw the line from and to).
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2428,2427,2429"]   That’s method one done! The second method is best for giving just a little bit of shadow. For example, I have these vines climbing through a hole in my image but they didn’t feel like they belonged there so I added a little drop shadow to anchor them in place. [caption id="attachment_2432" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Composited vine Composited vine[/caption]   Method 2:
  1. Your object will need to be selected as we did in step 1 of the previous method. Add a layer mask to hide all the parts you don’t need. Ctrl/Cmd i inverts the mask if it has masked the wrong area.
  1. Double click on the far right hand side of the layer to bring up the Layer Style panel.
  1. Tick Drop Shadow and then click on the name to access its options. Play around with these to taste and click OK when done.
[caption id="attachment_2430" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Layer Style panel Layer Style panel[/caption]  
  1. Right click on the word ‘Drop Shadow’ in your layer. Choose ‘Create Layer’. This turns your layer style into its own layer which is super cool.
[caption id="attachment_2431" align="aligncenter" width="228"]Right click on Drop Shadow to create a new layer Right click on Drop Shadow to create a new layer[/caption]  
  1. Now you can add a mask to that layer and paint away any part of the drop shadow that you don’t like. You can also use this technique as an alternative to steps 1 and 2 in the first method.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2432,2433"]   And that’s it. Shadow achievement unlocked!   About ‘One Day I'll Fly Away’ Sometimes an image just works and you’re excited about it from the get go. This was not one of those images. I’ve spent two weeks massaging these pixels to within an inch of their lives and it still doesn’t make me happy - generally a sign that it’s time to put it aside and move on. Unfortunately you can’t win them all. But funnily enough I’m working on another concept from this shoot which I loved almost instantly. The image is composed of a shot of me photographed in my garage, a wall in Venice, a bird from Stradbroke Island, a Graphic Stock shot of clouds (which was just laziness as I have plenty of my own), and a vine from a garden in Melbourne. My photographs are very well travelled. I combined the shadows of the bird and the girl into one but I had to be careful using the blurring and fading techniques discussed in this tutorial so the bird didn’t disappear. I took plenty of shots of the girl lit by a Speedlite so I could see how her real shadow looked and replicate it in Photoshop but I ended up using a photo where the flash didn’t fire. I had to use Lighting Effects in Photoshop to light her side and back and make the harsh shadow believable.   [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2434,2438,2435,2436,2437"]   If you have any advice about shadows or wish to share a shadow photo of your own, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear/see them! :)

The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots for advertising purposes or for landscape photographers wanting to embellish a scene. You can add a reflection to most scenes but unless you’ve photographed your subject straight on you *may* have trouble with perspective so just keep that in mind.

How to create a reflection in Photoshop

  1. Duplicate your image layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).
  1. Next you’ll need to add space to the bottom of your canvas to put the reflection. There’s a few ways to do this but I prefer the lazy option which is to activate the crop tool (c) and drag the bottom and edges out to reveal the checkerboard. This doesn’t have to be exact because we can crop it back in later.
[caption id="attachment_2313" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection[/caption]  
  1. Highlight the top copy of your image and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and then hold down shift and drag that layer into place below your main image. Recrop your image (c) by dragging the handles back to the sides.
[caption id="attachment_2314" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Drag the vertically flipped photo into place Drag the vertically flipped photo into place[/caption]  
  1. If you're using this method to reflect an object rather than an entire scene you can use a gradient on a layer mask to make the reflection gradually fade out. You can see what I mean in the image below. The layer marked in red shows the gradient applied to the mask.
[caption id="attachment_2315" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Gradient applied to reflection Gradient applied to reflection[/caption]  
  1. This step isn’t crucial but I wanted to distort my reflection a bit to give the illusion of water movement so, select the reflection layer and make it a smart object by going to Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. Then choose Filter>Distort>Wave and play around with the sliders to taste but you probably don’t want to add too much. Being a smart object you can go in and change the filter until you’re happy.
[caption id="attachment_2316" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement[/caption]  
  1. Now we’ll add some ripples which gets a little tricky but builds on techniques I’ve covered in the last few weeks. I mostly followed along with this tutorial to get the following steps but I simplified a few things on the way. Create a new layer and Edit>Fill with white. Then choose Filter>Noise>Add Noise, set the amount to 70% and choose Gaussian and Monochromatic. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2319" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add noise Add noise[/caption]  
  1. Add a little blur to the noise with Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose 5 pixels as the radius.
[caption id="attachment_2320" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add Gaussian blur to noise layer Add Gaussian blur to noise layer[/caption]  
  1. Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves and drag in your sliders as shown to the ends of the histogram spike. This gives more contrast to the noise because while noise is great for these sorts of techniques it’s far too fine and dense without some adjusting.
[caption id="attachment_2321" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Curves give contrast to noise Curves give contrast to noise[/caption]  
  1. Now we need to visit the Filter Gallery which you can only access in 8 bit so if you’re working on a 16 bit image you’ll need to convert to 8 bit by going to Image>Mode>8 Bits/Channel.
  1. Choose Filter>Filter Gallery>Sketch>Bas Relief. Set both Details and Smoothness to 2. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2322" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Apply bas relief filter Apply bas relief filter[/caption]  
  1. Apply a motion blur with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur. Make sure the angle is 0 and the distance is 35.
[caption id="attachment_2323" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add motion blur Add motion blur[/caption]  
  1. Press Ctrl/Cmd T to transform the size of the noise. Drag the top handle down to cover only the area of the reflection. Right click the image and choose Perspective and drag the bottom handles out to make the ripples larger towards the bottom. Press enter.
[caption id="attachment_2324" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place[/caption]  
  1. Right click on the noise layer in the layer’s palette, choose duplicate layer and in the dialogue box change Document to New. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2325" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Move your layer to a new document Move your layer to a new document[/caption]  
  1. To get rid of the empty space in the new document go to Image>Trim, select Transparent Pixels and hit OK. Save this document as a PSD.
[caption id="attachment_2326" align="aligncenter" width="284"]Trim transparent pixels Trim transparent pixels[/caption]  
  1. Back in your main document switch off the noise layer we were working with earlier. Highlight the reflection layer and go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Distort>Glass. You’ll see a little box on the far right where it says ‘Texture’. Click this, choose ‘Load Texture’ and then choose the PSD we saved in the last step. Play around with the Distort slider to give more or less of the effect. As you previously made this layer a smart object you can go back in and change the sliders if needed.
[caption id="attachment_2327" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use glass filter to give ripple texture Use glass filter to give ripple texture[/caption]  
  1. A cool tip from the aforementioned tutorial is to turn back on the noise layer we created earlier. Change the blend mode to soft light and drop the opacity way down to give the water a glassy reflective look. I also clipped a levels layer to this layer and dulled the whites to make them less severe.
[caption id="attachment_2328" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light[/caption]  
  1. The last step is optional but I studied a bunch of different images of reflections to see how they should look. I decided to desaturate the reflection a touch, add some bluish toning with a curves adjustment layer and applied some Gaussian blur. I made it slightly brighter and slightly less contrasty and I darkened the area where the water and land meet. Here’s a close up of the result.
[caption id="attachment_2329" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Close up of water seam Close up of water seam[/caption]   And that, dear readers, is how you make a watery reflection!  

About ‘The Return of the Sword’

Because I am a conceptual photographer and therefore cursed with needing to include a magical element in all my photos I decided to be a bit tricky and change my reflection slightly. The scene is composed of a photo I took at Palatine Hill in Rome and two pictures of me shot in my backyard. The sword is courtesy of FantasyStock on DeviantArt. I'm really taken with the idea of a normal person suddenly finding out they are special or chosen (as all the best characters are) and that's how the idea came about. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2332,2330,2331"]   I created the reflection of the background first and then, because the girl had been cut out from her background, I created her reflection separately. I copied the bottom of her dress exactly and then changed the top half to the girl holding the sword. (I used a stand-in wooden sword when posing which I changed to the stock sword in Photoshop). GIrl's reflection   After much colour toning I needed to draw the eye first to the top girl which I did by making her the sharpest and most saturated thing in the image. Then down to her reflection by making the sword glow and brightening the bottom of the image because the eye is drawn to light. I applied all the effects covered above to the water but I masked most of them off the reflected girl so she could still be clearly seen. But will she choose to take the sword?

Although this isn't a tutorial week I got a bit carried away with the underwater theme after last week's tutorial and wanted to try filling half a room with water which is how 'The Blue Girl' came about. I photographed myself against a blank wall in my living room with a floor to ceiling window diagonally to my left for light. Isn't window light beautiful? [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2296,2297"]   In Photoshop I duplicated photos of the blank wall and skewed them to make the wall look like a room. Room created in Photoshop   The water and water line came from this shot of otters (aw, otters!) that I shot at some zoo or other. Otters   The tears were eye drops applied by my assistant (Mum). The Blue Girl fake tears   The ship and the birds were from my own stock collection. The Blue Girl stock   The rain came from Jessica Drossin's 'Force of Nature' weather effects pack. Various textures were used to give the image a stormy feel. And that's how I became the saddest girl in the room!      

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

How to photograph a fake underwater photo

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

How to edit a fake underwater photo in Photoshop

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

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

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

While it’s currently the height of summer in the only hemisphere that (supposedly) matters, where I live in Australia it’s so cold that the state I live in saw snow for the first time in 30 years. When faced with the prospect of driving 2.5 hours to photograph said snow OR hibernating under blankets, I decided to stay in the warmth of my home and research how to make my own snow. Problem being that no two tutorials use the same method to add snow and some weren’t even convincing so after much experimentation I bring to you the Photoshop-snow-makin’-machine that I like best. Note: This was the exact workflow I used in my image this week but to demonstrate some of the steps for creating snow I’ve used a forest image from Graphic Stock so it’s easier to see the results.

How to add settled snow

Stock images:

For my image, 'Rest Stop in Winterglen' I needed to replace the floorboards and snow was the obvious choice to add to the winter wonderland scene so I downloaded a bunch of snow images from Graphic Stock to use as ground cover. I get that not everyone is comfortable using stock images, just as not everyone is comfortable driving over two hours to photograph their own stock so when you’re weighing up your options sometimes there’s no other alternative. When you’ve found snowy stock that fits your scene, you can mask it in and colour correct to make it fit. And if necessary use Edit>Transform>Perspective or Edit>Transform>Warp to make your stock match the angle of your scene. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2181,2185,2183,2184,2182,2180"]    

Channels:

Channels are brilliant at creating selections and I personally need to use them more in my workflow. So here’s how to use them … Channels panel In your layer’s panel you should see a tab labelled ‘Channels’ but if you don’t you can access it with Window>Channels. Now you need to look at each of the colour channels to see which has the most white showing in the areas where you want your snow. Do this by clicking the eye next to Red and Green so only Blue is showing, then turn on Green and turn off Blue etc, etc. When you’ve chosen the channel you wish to work with drag it to the new layer button at the bottom of the layer’s panel to duplicate the channel. If you want to get fancy you can add a curves (Ctrl/Cmd M) or a levels (Ctrl/Cmd L) adjustment to the channel to create more or less white in your image. [gallery size="medium" ids="2190,2189,2187"]   Now stay with me here ... Ctrl/Cmd click on the channel to turn it into a selection and then switch back to your Layers tab. Create a new layer. Click on the top square of the colour swatch in your tools palette and choose a colour a little under white. Click OK. Go to Edit>Fill and choose Foreground Color. Ctrl/Cmd D to get rid of the selection. Pretty magical right? [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2194,2193,2192,2191"]   If you aren’t entirely happy with the result you can continue to create more snow by pressing Ctrl/Cmd J to duplicate the layer or follow this process again with different colour channels. You can also mask in some snow in areas that you feel need more. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2195,2197"]    

How to create falling snow

There’s two ways to create falling snow – the automated method and the brush method – and to get the best results I recommend a combination of the two.

Automated method

Create a new layer at the top of your layer stack and Edit>Fill with black. Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Make the amount somewhere between 80 and 100%. Choose Gaussian and Monochromatic and click OK. [caption id="attachment_2198" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add noise Add noise[/caption] Add a Threshold adjustment layer and drag the slider until you get a nice spacing between your snowflakes. Clip the threshold layer to the noise layer (by alt clicking between the two layers). [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2201,2200,2199"]     With the noise layer selected go to Filters>Pixelate>Crystallize and move the slider to 10. Press OK. Change the blending mode of the layer to Screen to get rid of the black background. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2203,2202,2204"]     Add some movement to the snowflakes with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur and adjust the angle and the amount to taste. Pull down the opacity of the layer a touch. Done! This gives a nice snowfall to use in the background of your image but it’s all the same size so we don’t want to stop there. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2206,2205"]  

Brush method

I created my own snowflake brush which I considered offering for download but what would you learn then? So let’s do it together! First you'll want to create two new layers. One will be for medium sized snowflakes and the other will be for large snowflakes to signify snow close to camera. Name your layers ‘medium snowflakes’ and ‘large snowflakes’. Highlight the medium snowflakes layer, hit b on your keyboard to activate the brush tool and select Photoshop’s standard soft round brush. Press F5 to bring up the brush settings. [caption id="attachment_2207" align="aligncenter" width="203"]Photoshop's soft brush in brush settings panel Photoshop's soft brush in brush settings panel[/caption]   Under Brush Tip Shape start off with a brush about the size of a grain of rice. Make your hardness 0 and your spacing around 230. Under Shape Dynamics, change your Size Jitter to 100%, your Angle Jitter to 10% and your Roundness Jitter to 35%. Under Scattering tick the Both Axes box and take your Scatter all the way up and make your Count about 10. Under Transfer take your Opacity and Flow Jitter sliders all the way up. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2211,2208,2209,2210"]   Now start to paint in your medium snow using a few clicks because it’s easier to control than dragging your mouse around. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2212,2213"]   On your large snowflake layer make your brush about the size of a small coin and just dot in some large snowflakes. Save this as a brush preset if you wish to use it for future use by clicking the menu icon at the top right of your brush settings panel and choosing ‘New Brush Preset’. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2214,2215,2216"]     If you have people in your scene spend some time brushing snow into their hair and clothes. Using the same brush we created, set the size to 25 pixels, scattering to 60 and with this you can draw little piles of snow. It’s time consuming but will really help make your scene convincing. Lastly, depending on the original colour of the image it might help to add some bluish toning. I chose to add a solid color layer filled with blue, set the blend mode to Hue and reduced the opacity slightly. Let it snow! Let it snow. Let it snoooow. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2218,2217"]   About 'Rest Stop in Winterglen' Every Christmas in Brisbane, Australia a magical world appears called Lollipop Land. The keepers of Lollipop Land, Jule Barten (visual designer) and Chris Boston (doll designer) were kind enough to let me photograph there after hours last January but I haven’t had the right project for the photos (until now). [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2226,2225"]   I chose to work with their gorgeous Enchanted Forest scene, posing myself on the unicorn (supplied by Natureworks) and taking a 25 shot panorama. I composited in snow and hedges to cover the wooden floor. I added icicles (from Graphic Stock) to the roof and and an ice cave (from DeviantArt) to cover the ceiling. The trees outside of the ice cave are also from Graphic Stock. The dragon was photographed in another area of Lollipop Land but moved into the scene. My favourite part is that the unicorn has a seat built into him so I had to composite in a real horse’s “ass” for realism. I added snow using all the methods above and spent days colour toning the image (only to later delete three-quarters of what I'd done). Lollipop Land is a magical place to spend time (their high teas are great fun) so do visit if you get the chance.   [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2220,2221,2222,2223,2224"]    

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!

Dubrovnik tilt-shiftContinuing on from last week’s miniature theme, another trick for making big things look small is the tilt-shift technique. Tilt-shift works by selectively blurring parts of your photo to give a very narrow band of focus, which you’d usually only see in macro photos. This has the effect of making a life-size scene look like a small scale model or toy. It’s most effective when used on cityscapes or urban scenes that have been photographed from above to give the kind of bird’s eye view you'd normally have when looking at a toy. But, like all good techniques, it's also become popular in wedding and Instagram photography because by adding blur to a scene you can really draw the eye to your subject. There are dedicated tilt-shift lenses that create this effect in camera but in my opinion they’re just not worth the expense for a gimmicky technique that can easily be created in Photoshop in less than 10 clicks. And I daresay there’s an app for that too.

How to photograph subjects for tilt-shift

Unlike all the other photography tricks I’ve covered in this blog creating a tilt-shift effect is super simple and doesn’t require any fancy in-camera tricks. While there’s no set rules for tilt-shift, your primary motive is to make a scene look toy-like so here’s a couple of tips to help achieve this effect.
  1. Try and find a simple, yet interesting scene. I like to include some people, vehicles or activity in the shot because that gives your photo interest and helps tell a story. My favourite tilt-shift examples are those taken at famous monuments or sporting arenas.
  1. Shoot a scene that has lots of depth. This is why tilt-shift scenes are usually photographed from an elevated position so there's objects of interest in the foreground, middle ground and background. Some will suggest that tilt-shift doesn't work on scenes that are photographed from directly in front or directly above but if you have enough depth and interest in your image it doesn't matter where it's shot from.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2013,2014"]

 

How to edit a tilt-shift photograph

  1. Load your photo (or photos if you’re playing around with a few) into Photoshop. Make sure the image is cropped how you desire. [caption id="attachment_2018" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Original photo - Dubrovnik Original photo - Dubrovnik[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2015" align="alignright" width="51"]Quick Mask tool Quick Mask tool[/caption]
  1. Enter Quick Mask mode by pressing Q or using the Quick Mask tool in your tool palette. This tool makes your selected areas turn red so you’ll easily be able to see your area of focus when you draw in your gradient.
  1. Press G to load your gradient tool or select it from the toolbar. In the tool's options bar select the 'Reflected Gradient' which is the 4th icon along.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2016,2017"]  
  1. Take a good look at your photo and decide exactly where you want the focus to be before you draw in the gradient.[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2035,2036"]   The first point of your gradient will be the area that is most in focus and the centre of your focus area. Draw a line upwards from this point to where you want your focus to start to fade away. Because you’ve only drawn the top half of the gradient, the tool then analyses this area and reflects it to the bottom portion. When drawing your gradient, keep in mind how focus works so if a subject is straight on to camera, its whole surface should be in focus and everything in front and behind will be out of focus. When you’ve drawn your gradient a red bar will show you the selected focus area and everything that’s not red will become blurry. It’s difficult to get this right on your first go so keep redrawing the gradient until you are happy.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2019,2020"]  
  1. Exit Quick Mask mode by pressing Q again and the red bar will disappear and become a selection.
[caption id="attachment_2021" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Your selected focus area Your selected focus area[/caption]  
  1. Make sure your layer is selected.
  1. Go to Filter>Blur>Lens Blur
[caption id="attachment_2022" align="aligncenter" width="242"]Select Lens Blur Select Lens Blur[/caption]  
  1. Play around with the Radius slider to create your blur. I haven't noticed much difference by changing the other sliders. Click OK when happy.
[caption id="attachment_2023" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Lens blur sliders Lens blur sliders[/caption]  
  1. Press Ctrl + D to deselect your focus area and check your results.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2024,2025"]   There’s a couple of extra steps you can take to really sell your miniature effect. Because scale models are brightly coloured it helps to saturate the colours of your image and add some contrast.
  1. Go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and boost the saturation of your image to taste.
  2. If you’re familiar with S curves, add a curves adjustment layer and create an S curve to boost contrast. Otherwise a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer may be easier to use and control.
[caption id="attachment_2026" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Subtle saturation and contrast added Subtle saturation and contrast added[/caption]   And that’s it! Another effective technique to add to your post-processing arsenal to give some creative flare to your shots. Here's a few more examples I've created from photographs I took during a trip to Europe in 2013. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2027,2028,2030,2031,2032,2033,2029,2034"]  

About this week's image 'Hats off to Venice'

'Hats off to Venice' is an idea I've had for quite some time that I thought would work well to demonstrate the tilt-shift effect. It's a composite image created out of a photo of Venice taken from a cruise ship with the tilt-shift effect applied, a sky from an image of Stonehenge, a balloon lantern shot in my backyard, a photo of me shrunk down to fit inside the balloon and a falling hat. I wanted the result to look like a vintage postcard so I added a bunch of textures, some colour toning and tattered edging. Bon voyage! [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2041,2037,2038,2039,2040"]  

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.

20
Sep

How to create shadows in Photoshop.

Shadows can make or break a composite. And while they’re easy to create, unless you’ve got a solid grasp of physics they’re hard to get right, which is why when someone is trying to figure out if your photo is a composite the shadows are usually the first thing they look at it. But since […]

6
Sep

How to create a reflection in water with Photoshop.

The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots […]

30
Aug

The Blue Girl

Although this isn’t a tutorial week I got a bit carried away with the underwater theme after last week’s tutorial and wanted to try filling half a room with water which is how ‘The Blue Girl’ came about. I photographed myself against a blank wall in my living room with a floor to ceiling window diagonally to my left for light. […]

23
Aug

How to fake an underwater photo with Photoshop

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

9
Aug

How to create snow in Photoshop.

While it’s currently the height of summer in the only hemisphere that (supposedly) matters, where I live in Australia it’s so cold that the state I live in saw snow for the first time in 30 years. When faced with the prospect of driving 2.5 hours to photograph said snow OR hibernating under blankets, I […]

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 […]

14
Jun

How to create a tilt-shift photograph.

Continuing on from last week’s miniature theme, another trick for making big things look small is the tilt-shift technique. Tilt-shift works by selectively blurring parts of your photo to give a very narrow band of focus, which you’d usually only see in macro photos. This has the effect of making a life-size scene look like a small scale […]

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 […]