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[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2787" align="aligncenter" width="683"] Angourie forest path[/caption]
The image is a seven shot pano and a frankenstein of different portraits.
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My German Shepherd, Koda, needed MUCH coaxing to pose as the wolf.
[caption id="attachment_2792" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 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!
'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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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:
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"] 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.
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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.
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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.
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If you know where I can find other great Jacaranda locations in Brisbane, please let me know!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.
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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.
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. :)
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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?
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In Photoshop I duplicated photos of the blank wall and skewed them to make the wall look like a room.
The water and water line came from this shot of otters (aw, otters!) that I shot at some zoo or other.
The tears were eye drops applied by my assistant (Mum).
The ship and the birds were from my own stock collection.
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[/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.
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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[/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:
A water line / top of the water
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.
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.)
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.
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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.
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At this point I made sure my subject was perfectly cut out and placed her above these effects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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[/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.
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
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.
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Channels are brilliant at creating selections and I personally need to use them more in my workflow. So here’s how to use them …
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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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[/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).
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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.
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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.
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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[/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.
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Now start to paint in your medium snow using a few clicks because it’s easier to control than dragging your mouse around.
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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’.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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 …
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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
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"] My base image[/caption]
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.)
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]
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.
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[/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!
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.
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[/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.
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[/caption]
Scattering – scatter and count control the spread of your brush and how often strokes occur
Color dynamics allows you to change the colour of your brush as it paints
[caption id="attachment_2085" align="aligncenter" width="133"] Color dynamics[/caption]
Transfer allows you to vary the opacity of each brush stroke
[caption id="attachment_2086" align="aligncenter" width="132"] 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.
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[/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.[/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[/caption]
Working on this image was a joy from start to finish. Let me know what you think!
[caption id="attachment_1752" align="alignright" width="200"] Ugh[/caption]
A few week’s ago armed with my camera, my mother (who was convinced I was going to get murdered) and a $20 piece of fabric I disappeared into a forest to try and build a dress. But we got there too early and the sun was all wrong and I had to shoot all the components three different times because although I kept moving out of the sun the sun kept following me and my props weren’t working and the mosquitoes kept biting and my makeshift dress kept falling off and tripping me, and really, the whole thing was just a disaster. And it makes me wonder how many photos are born out of similar stories. Certainly most of mine.
However, were I a more emotional person, I would probably weep with joy on a daily basis at Photoshop’s magical powers. Honestly, I don’t know why they haven’t changed their motto to … “It turns out you CAN shine sh*t!’ Because so often I’ve taken a photo I wasn’t feeling good about and watched Photoshop transform it into something well beyond expectation. For example, I can buy a $20 piece of fabric, throw it around in a forest and manage to create a beautiful, unique, priceless dress fit for any mosquito-bitten princess.
How to photograph dress and hair flicks
So, how to make a pretty outfit out of next to nothing? For the sake of elegance you’ll likely want to create a dress with a cinched, flattering waist and a full, flowing skirt so I recommend working on the top of your dress first. You can either wrap your top half in fabric or simply put on a dress that has a skirt you’d like to make longer or fuller. If you’re really ambitious you can choose to use a patterned dress but for the sake of your sanity when matching up all the pieces later I’d suggest working with a plain fabric. From my own stupid mistakes I also wouldn’t advise using a translucent fabric. Sheets work wonderfully, which is how my shoot started out, but clever old me changed my mind last minute.
As usual you’ll need to set up your camera on a tripod. Compose, expose and focus, as covered extensively in my previous posts, then lock your settings and camera position so nothing can change. Begin by shooting you or your model’s pose first. You really want to concentrate not only on getting the pose right but also that the top of the dress looks just how you want it, even if you have to capture these in two different shots to blend together later.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1743,1742"]
Now’s where things get interesting. Next you need your model to take the dress off. This part CAN be done while still wearing the dress but it all depends on how billowy the skirt is and how you want your final dress to look. You want to start throwing your dress or fabric around. Your aim is to photograph the dress moving in different ways so you can combine the photos later in Photoshop to make the dress look much larger than it is. If you’re still wearing the dress you can try flicking your skirt to the sides. If your model is now semi-naked you want to hold the dress (by the waist) or the fabric (by the top) and start throwing it up and around but try and pull the area you are holding back into your waist just as the camera clicks so that the fabric looks like it’s naturally billowing from the waist area as it would with a real dress.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1745,1746,1747,1748"]
The same principle works with hair. If you want to make your model’s hair look longer or more full get them to either put their head down and then flick their hair back or use their arm to flick it out to the side. They’re going to get dizzy and their face will probably look stupid but it’s all for the sake of beauty. Now hair is incredibly hard to cut out and I don’t want to go into great detail about it but there’s two ways to minimise the horror. The first is to make sure you’re shooting on the same background that the main pose was shot on. If that background is neutral or blurred, even better, because you won’t have to be masking between individual hairs. The second way is to shoot against a colour that is the opposite to their hair colour. It’s great to have a sheet or reflector handy so you can shoot dark hair against a white background and blonde hair against a dark background. The selection tools in Photoshop look for areas of contrast so this makes it much easier for it to recognise the hair. It also allows you to use blending modes (more on this next week) to speedily mask the hair into your image. This may all sound too hard but trust me, it’s worth it in the long run. And I know, because I never follow my own advice and have wasted far too much of my life trying to fix stupid hairs.
[gallery size="medium" ids="1749,1750,1751"]
And of course don't forget to take a blank shot of your scene!
How to edit dress and hair flicks
Firstly you want to open your background with the main pose image layered above. Then cycle through your RAW shots and pick the fabric and hair shots you want to composite onto your main image. The dress is usually easiest so I like to start there. To save on file size I prefer to cut my fabric out of its background before I paste it onto my main image (even though this image STILL ended up being 18GB which actually BROKE my MacBook Pro). For ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ I worked through all the selection tools to see what would work best. I suggest trying the magnetic lasso, the magic wand, the quick selection tool, the background eraser, the blending modes and color range (under Select ->Color Range) until you find one that works best. I thought color range would work great for me considering I had a red dress on a primarily green background but I was seriously having zero luck with all of these tools (although color range is best at preserving transparent areas so keep this in mind when working with translucent fabrics). Eventually I got fed up and drew a rough lasso around each piece of fabric, feathered the selection (using Refine Selection or Refine Mask) until it looked OK, then chose Select -> Inverse and deleted the rest of the image. I moved the fabric that remained onto my main image and placed each piece where it fit best and formed the shape I liked. I had to do this roughly at first and then fine-tuned it with a second pass.
For the hair I had much the same trouble with my selection tools (I suspect because the ends of my hair and fabric have quite a bit of motion blur) so I chose the photos I liked (with some I had to Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal to get the hair flying in the right direction), roughly lassoed around the area and copied these onto my main image, moving them into a position that looked natural. If you’ve shot on a contrasting background your selection tools should work a treat. (For a more advanced technique you can try using the Refine Radius brush in your Refine Mask options to force Photoshop to better detect the hair but I find it a bit hit and miss.)
[caption id="attachment_1753" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Hair flick horror[/caption]
In both cases I had some images where the colour and luminance of one flick was wildly different to the colour of the others so I had to clip an adjustment layer to the problem images Alt click between the adjustment and image layers) and use curves or levels to make them match.
For some areas of the dress I wanted it to look as if there were many panels of fabric flying in different directions but usually I like the dress to look like it’s fully intact, so to blend your fabric together add layer masks to each fabric flick and using a low opacity and very soft brush, mask away parts of the fabric until it blends into the underlying fabric layers. Best to work through the layers one at a time while switching the other layers off. Sometimes the healing and spot healing brushes work great for blending fabric also. Just use them to paint along the seams. Be mindful to assess the direction of light in your image and how shadows are falling and ensure to replicate this in your dress.
The easiest way I’ve found to blend hair together is to vary using a brush of soft to medium hardness on a low opacity to brush around your hairs (and because I always work non-destructively I paint on the layer mask, not the layer itself). It’s not foolproof but it’s generally good enough.
If your hair is giving you real grief you can also sample a colour of the hair (alt click with paint brush tool) and use the smudge tool to paint fake hair in, or use a specially designed brush for the purpose of drawing in hair such as the one at this link.
The thing I most love about using hair and dress flicks in my images is that it adds that extra element of magic to your story by bringing motion to a static image and turning your hair and dress into characters of their own.
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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 […]
A few week’s ago armed with my camera, my mother (who was convinced I was going to get murdered) and a $20 piece of fabric I disappeared into a forest to try and build a dress. But we got there too early and the sun was all wrong and I had to shoot all […]