Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Course Notes 3 - Blending new backgrounds (Sky)

I'm still experimenting with the possibilities of blending photos together using Photoshop. The camera magazines merrily talk about 'putting a new sky in' when photos have dull skies - but it seems to me harder than you might think. I had a go with this silhouetted statue of Billy Fury, taken on Albert Dock in Liverpool one evening.

I like the rim light and the form of the statue - it's quite an iconic silhouette. But the background is undoubtedly a bit too cluttered. I couldn't get any closer or lower to take the photo, as the area was cordoned off and a policewoman standing there! (All to do with the Tall Ships Race a couple of years back). So...what to do?

Well, I also have this attractive sky picture. (It's actually dawn over the Sea of Galilee, but could just as easily be sunset over the River Mersey... ?)

In order to blend the two images together I had to lift the silhouette off its background and place it on the 'new' sunset sky. Easier said than done, to make it look realistic! You need a very precise selection around the part of the image you want to move.

So, firstly working with the photo of Billy Fury, I needed to make a selection right to the edges of the silhoutted statue. I have found that for me the easiest way of making a selection in this kind of scenario is to use Photoshop's 'Magic Wand' tool to highlight the sky behind the statue. The selection can then be tidied up and made more accurate by clicking on the 'Edit in Quick Mask Mode'
icon (bottom of tools palette) to make the selected area coloured, and then using the brush tool (with black as the foreground colour) to paint more into the selection or alternatively (with white as the foreground colour) to subtract from the selection. It's easy to toggle between the modes and to vary the size of the brush to get it neat.

I only have the basic Photoshop CS, and that doesn't have a 'Refine Edge' facility but using Select - Modify - Contract, set to 2 or 3 pixels, you can pull the selection in fractionally. Using 'Create a New Layer' and 'Apply Image' I pasted the cut-out statue onto a transparent layer (which isolates the statue from its original background.) Then using the Move tool I dragged it onto my sunset sky background photo. Resizing and repositioning the image to fit the background is easy enough, by dragging the 'handles' around the statue image.

I then flattened the image, slightly adjusted the whole new image using Adjustments - Levels
and cropped it, before adding a stroke border.

The finished picture may not look wholly realistic, but it gives the silhouette more impact, I think.

A similar technique can be used to drag a picture onto any nice sky - blue with white fluffy clouds, storm clouds or whatever. But I find this only really works for images that have strong edges. For example, it is difficult to move a picture with trees on the skyline because you can't get a good enough selection on the delicate edges. In my picture above, the rim lighting works quite well, in itself sharply defining the shape of the statue. But with some subjects the precise selection necessary to drag the image onto the new background leaves the composite image looking very much 'pasted on' and unreal.

The method outlined is only one of several ways to achieve much the same outcome in Photoshop. As time goes on and they continue to refine Photoshop, I have no doubt it will all become much easier. As it is, we just have to be thoughtful about what images we can give this kind of treatment to.

So, not a cure-all for every dull sky by any means, but sometimes this can be a trick worth trying. Far better, as always, to try and get good results straight out of your camera! Though we all know that English weather, in particular, can be prone to flat grey or white skies.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Course Notes 2 - Blending two photos

Sometimes it's useful or interesting to blend two photos together, for example to add a texture behind an image, as I did in my photo of Salts Mill chimney:

It is a relatively simple matter, once you have the idea and the base photographs. Firstly you have to prepare the two images as you would normally - adjust levels, contrast and so on until you are satisfied with the quality of the images. Today I chose two images related to Milner Field House, Titus Salt Junior's home a mile or so from Saltaire: a picture of the house itself and a photo of all that remains of it now - a pile of moss-covered stones.

I used the elliptical marquee tool to select an area in the middle of the stones image, feathered it by 150 pixels and decreased the brightness and contrast of the middle of the picture (so that it would not compete too much with the main part of the house image when overlaid.) I then dragged the house picture on top of the stones picture (use the Move tool) and sized it (by pulling the 'handles') to cover the stones image underneath completely. I adjusted the opacity of the (house) layer to about 60% (basically experimenting until it looked right) so that the mossy stones showed through. You can also try different blending modes at this stage to see what effect that has, though here I decided to leave it at 'normal'.

The next step was to desaturate the image (in Channel Mixer - mono) and then add sepia toning by using the Colour Balance sliders. I then added the text and a stroke border.

The result is intended to hint at the mystery behind why a great house like Milner Field should have been reduced to rubble. Its story is well-known - and outlined on my other blog (see January 11 & 12 2010).

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Course Notes 1 - Spot Colour

My course (referred to in my earliest post) has now finished and I didn't have time to write up my journal online as I had envisaged. I have ended up with lots of random notes on using Photoshop, so perhaps the best thing to do is to write a few of them up now, so that I don't lose them.

One of the simplest (but very effective) techniques is spot-colour or colour-popping - making an image monochrome and then bringing back selected parts of the colour image.
I tried it on this image of guards at the recent Trooping the Colour rehearsal in London's Horse Guards Parade.

In Photoshop, first I cropped it, then I made a background copy and, using the monochrome button on the Adjustments Channel Mixer, converted it to a black & white image. My notes then say to select a brush and, making sure the black is on top (on the black & white squares, on the RH side in the tools list), use the brush to erase the top layer to reveal the colour underneath. This only seems to work if you do the monochrome adjustment as an adjustment layer. Otherwise, it just paints black on the picture! In which case, the alternative is to use the eraser tool and rub away the black & white layer to reveal the colour underneath.

It's easiest if you enlarge the picture and use the right sized softish brush. The advantage of using the brush (as opposed to the eraser tool) is that you can correct mistakes simply by swapping the white square to the top - with the eraser tool you don't seem to be able to correct mistakes except by 'stepping backwards'.

Anyway, it gives (in my opinion) a pleasing effect that makes the colour stand out.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

2. Experiment with Photoshop - Twirly Trees

I have not really got my act together on this blog yet, partly due to time constraints, but I want to use it at least in part to record my progress as a photographer and Photoshopper.

Thanks to Martin H at Square Sunshine I have had a little experiment with his 'twirly trees' effect, which involves taking a picture of a tree, solarizing it and then inverting the effect, darkening it in Levels and then applying the distortion filter 'twirl'. The effects obviously vary according to the original photo and the degree to which you apply the effects and filters. But it's fun, surprisingly quick and produces some wonderfully fantastical images, rather like illustrations for a children's fantasy book.

I made the picture above from two original photos of mine - a pathway with trees and a 'tall ship'. I don't know what I could use it for but I think it has made an interesting image.