Step 0: This Tutorial
I will start by noting– my use of ‘Better’ in this tutorial’s title is meant to reflect more fun, more interesting, awesome, or OMG wow. Not necessarily cleaner or more accurate. 😉
In this simple tutorial I will explain how to go from taking the first picture (left) to creating the final image (right) in Photoshop. For this tutorial i’m using Photoshop CS3 Extended. However, this also applies to many past and future versions of Photoshop. As a disclaimer, this style of editing is not for everyone. However, this will teach you a technique that will be useful in the future. If you hate it or me, please let me know in the comments section ^_^.
Step 1: Taking the Picture
You will need 2 good images– one of your subject, and an environment image of a texture that has something to do with the subject. Nothing really high contrast. Something like sand, clouds, silk, or gravel.
What I’m using for this tutorial is a woodworker (our favorite one) creating a laminated box. The environment image is a piece of the laminate, and sawdust, with adhesive on both of them.
Photography in it’s whole is a bit much for one tutorial, so let’s just cover what affects this style.
First, get the exposure right. If your images are too bright or too dark, it will only get worse after applying this technique.
Second, get the composition right. The rule of thirds is the easiest and fastest way to do that. If you aren’t familiar with it, read now at Wikipedia.
Step 2: The Vignette
Vignettes are great for creating a focal area for your subject by darkening the edges. Originally it was unintended and undesired, but some of today’s graphic artists and photographers flock to it.
I personally am a big vignette fan, if you aren’t you should skip this step. If you are (or remain undecided), at the top of the screen, go to Filter > Distort > Lens Correction. In the window that comes up, under Vignette, I changed the amount to -36. Hit ‘OK’ once you are happy with it.
That value would be a bit severe for most things, but I like the effect for this photograph.
Step 3: Duplicate and Blend
Now we are going to duplicate the current layer and change the blending mode. In the Layers palette, right click your current layer (most likely called ‘background’) and select ‘Duplicate Layer‘ from the context menu.
Now we are going to change the blending mode. Click once on your new layer. Just above it you will see a drop down menu to the left of the word ‘Opacity’ in the Layers Palette. Click on that menu and select ‘Soft Light‘ instead. You will notice the contrast and colors of the image change.
You are now mixing your two layers to create one image. If you want to know more about blending modes, click here. Otherwise, let’s move on.
Step 4: Blur
Blurring your duplicated layer will spread the color around, simulating a sort of warm glow. It will also help restore some of the areas that have become too dark.
In the menu at the top of your screen, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. I used a value of around 20px for this image. That value will change depending on the size of the image.
The idea is for the blur to be big enough so that the original image doesn’t look blurred, but not so large a blur that it makes the duplicated layer pointless. Play with the value until the image has a look you desire.
Step 5: Equalize
Equalize makes an image fill the brightness spectrum from black to white. What this means is the shadows of your image will become closer to black, and the brightest points closer to white. This does wonders for washed out or muddy gray photographs.
This step is very simple. You should still have your duplicated layer selected. On the menu at the top of your screen , go to Image > Adjustments > Equalize (I meant in photoshop… You just looked at the top of your browser, didn’t you?).
Step 6: Bring in the environment
Go to File > Open, and find that environment image we talked about in step 1.
This will open up a new window in Photoshop with your environment texture. Now we are going to place that image on top of the work we have done so far, and blend accordingly.
At your top menu, go to Select > All. Now, go to Edit > Copy. Finally, click on the title bar of your original image, and select Edit > Paste.
Position and re-size if necessary so that the environment image covers the original image.
Step 6: Mix and Mash
Let’s blend this new layer in. Make sure the layer with the environment texture is selected. Now like we did before, select the drop-down list on the layers palette and choose overlay. Ah, it’s a bit too severe… Let’s go with soft light instead.
Now we have a good gritty texture that brings environment into the image. However, our friend Shannon Russell’s arms now look a bit diseased. No worries, let’s mask out that part of the layer.
Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. You will see a white rectangle appear beside the thumbnail of your image in the Layers Palette. This is your layer mask. Black hides the image, white shows the image, and you can paint on it. This is preferable to the eraser because you don’t damage the original image, you just hide part of it.
Select the brush tool from your toolbar on the left (it looks like a small paintbrush). Now at the bottom of that toolbar, make your foreground color black. Your layer mask should be selected on your Layers Palette. If it isn’t, click on it.
Now use your black colored brush on the image. You will see parts of the environment texture disappear. If you find your brush is too large or too small, right click on the image and you can resize the brush in that context menu. If you erase something that you didn’t intend to, don’t worry. Just change your brush color to white and paint it back.
Having done this, we accomplished two things: The texture not covering the subject’s arms creates an additional layer of depth to the image, and Shannon looks less leprous.
Step 7: You’re Done
I will always reccomend saving a PSD of any work you are doing in photoshop. Many times while admiring the incredible work you have done, you’ll find a flaw. The PSD format retains all layers and changes you’ve made, allowing you to edit the image further without starting over.
So, at the top menu, go to File > Save As. Type a file name, and choose PSD as the file type. Save it.
Now, you’ll need a version that you can post to websites, email, etc. So, do the same thing you did for the PSD except select JPG as the file type. You’re Done =)
- Duplicate original layer
- Set blending mode of new layer to soft light.
- Gaussian Blur
- Add a picture of environment as a new layer.
- Also set that layer to the blending mode soft light.
- Mask out any parts of the environment texture that disagree with the image.
- Save in PSD and JPG and you’re done.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the tutorial. I’ve tried to make it so that any level of photoshop ability should be able to get through the tutorial just fine. If you have any questions, comnments, concerns, or objections, please add a comment and I will respond as soon as I am able.