Category 'Behind the scenes'

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

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

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"]

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

What to shoot for your stock library

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

How to shoot your stock

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

Building your stock library

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

About 'The Parting'

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


The making of ‘Wonder Falls’

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


Back to the Future

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


How to 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 […]


How to build a stock photo library for compositing.

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