For this next piece I was inspired by a photo I took on a particularly poor weather day at the Getty Villa Museum. The ground was damp with fresh rain pools and the sky had white haze cast overhead which provided a flat, even lighting and allowed the unique, complex architecture lines to pop out amongst a blank canvas backdrop. The shot came out well with a Canon Powershot SD980 IS, and for this project, I wanted to play around with a few new effects.
Step 1 – Adjusting the Background Layer: To create the dramatic effect on the visible background I created a series of layers with various blend modes, filters and adjustments. Using a combination of high pass filters and image overlays to desaturated image adjustments and hard light blend modes, I was able to achieve the following visual effect:
*Note, to preserve and enhance the image’s unique lighting I created a new adjustment layer and modified the image using the curves pallet.
Step 2: Enhancing the Subject: After adjusting the image, I noticed the subject of the photo lost a significant amount of quality. Rather than return the image to its original quality, I applied one of my favorite filters using the Cutout function. This is a very simple way to “cartoonize” any image by adjusting the number of levels, edge simplicity, and edge fidelity. After finding an appropriate combination for this particular subject I noticed the background concrete lost its integrity… however the unintended effect sparked a new idea. There are a number of strong lines in the natural concrete wall that would have been a shame to lose, however the cartoonized effect blended well with the subject, so I copied the initial layer, re-applied the effect, and erased around the layer until the image achieved the desired balance.
Step 3 – Template Creation: This step was the most crucial for saving time and creating a basic tool to drive the rest of my work. There were a lot of different iterations I envisioned for this particular project and I wanted to be able to easily interchange different options so I created silhouetted template that boxed out all but the elements I’d be altering. The purpose of this was to drop in new fill layers and photos and be able to easily crop out all but the skyline by using the magic wand selection on the template layer, selecting my target layer, and deleting the excess area like a cookie cutter. The result left me with a perfect cutout of the desired fill image while leaving the remainder of the photo untouched.
Step 4 – Altering the Skyline: This is where the project started to bring out it’s vibrance and strong contrast. For this next step I played around with a series of colors and natural skylines, utilizing the Multiply blend mode. This blend mode is key for overlaying new images over detailed elements. Traditionally it’s easiest to work with a clean background, however, I wanted to preserve the trees and finer details bordering the sky, so rather than painstakingly editing around every single detail, I used a simple blending layer to overlay the various backgrounds.
*The beauty of Photoshop’s layering function is the ability to create fresh, unique images by overlaying a series of simpler ones and using various saturation levels, opacities and blend modes. For this project I used anywhere from 4-6 independent layers with a series of hand drawn and sampled layers to create a skyline that captured the true essence of the piece.
Step 5 – Further Subject Enhancement: In this next step, I had originally gone with the fire red skyline and wanted to create an angelic contrasting subject to mirror the light and dark struggle between the upper skyline and lower elements of the piece. To create this “halo effect” as we’ll call it, there isn’t one correct way, however this method allows for widespread trial and error with minimal time wasted between adjustments. First, I cut out and copied the subject into a new layer above the background. Then, I created a secondary layer behind the subject and traced around the subject with a soft brush to create a white glow surrounding the figure. This step is very easy to customize and adjust by simply altering the brush size, hardnesses, and opacity, or even adding gaussian blur and multiple overlain layers.
*While it’s easy to get carried away with the halo effect, a subtle glow with a contrasting background should be more than enough to highlight the edges of the subject.
Step 6 – Shadows and Highlights: This last step is key to making the image believable by strategically drawing all the elements together through the use of subtle shadows and highlights. At the start of this phase, I had a relatively bland looking image (in comparison to the finished product) so I heightened the saturation of the color elements and added naturalistic shadows to the ground elements to blend the image into a smooth visual. Additionally, to frame the picture I added a custom darkened border to close the wandering edges and draw focus to the important elements of the piece.
The high-res can be seen in my “Photoshop” section by clicking the image below: