Rounding Action

I’ve run into a number of photographers entering the Joseph Miller 5th Annual Abstract Photography Exhibit who are taking advantage of what I keep referring to as a Rounding filter.

Although I am not especially fond of the effect, with the right source image it can produce a very appealing final image.

Because it simply takes advantage of the Polar Coordinates filter in Photoshop, I wrote a quick action to execute the filters in the right order.  I could not find an effective way to produce the square image.  So I did not include that in the action.

This technique allows you to take an image like this:

Harris Theater at Millennium Park

And Rounding it to produce an image like this:

Rounding Image of Millennium Park
Rounding Image of Millennium Park


The action takes only seconds to run, even on full-size images.  It is included in my Tools Action set.

The technique is simple, using the Polar Coordinates filter by doing the following:

polar-to-rectangular for RoundingConvert the image using Polar to Rectangular coordinates:

  1. Filter -> Distort -> Polar Coordinates…
  2. Select Polar to Rectuangular
  3. Press OK

Rotate the image 180°:

  1. Image -> Image Rotation -> 180°

rectangular-to-polar for RoundingConvert the image using Rectangular to Polar coordinates:

  1. Filter -> Distort -> Polar Coordinates…
  2. Select Rectangular to Polar
  3. Press OK

For my images, I prefer a square format because it makes the image more symmetrical.  This is an effect that I continue to strive for, despite the fact that it can be considered a static composition.

resizeCreate a square format:

  1. Image -> Image Size…
  2. Uncheck Constrain Proportions
  3. Set a Width that is equal to the Height
  4. Press OK

Of course with the action it is a simple press of the Run button to produced the Rounding image.

If you are looking for something artistic to do on those cold winter days this could be the solution to your problem.  Because the action runs so quickly it is easy to try it on image, after image, after image.

If you decide to print one of these images, you may find that the circle created by the polar coordinates comes too close to the edge of the print and you can’t matte it without covering part of the circle.

To resolve this problem, use the eyedropper tool to select the color of one of the smooth corners of the image.  Then you can extend the canvas by 10% using the foreground color (just selected by the eyedropper tool).  The extended canvas will be transparent, since it matches the edges of the image.


New Actions as Editing Tools

I was reading some blogs about photography this past week and ran across this article with a unique and effective tool for identifying editing flaws, particularly in smooth texture areas.

The technique was not complicated, so I wrote an action to create the layers.  I included this technique in a Tools Action along with some tools that I’ve written about before and will write about in the future.

To use this action you need to import the action into Photoshop.  Once it is imported you can expand the “mgs Tools” folder in the Actions panel, select the Solar Cleanup Detector.  Just press the run button “›” and it will create the two layers.

Solar Cleanup

The top layer will be a Solar Cleanup Detector which consists of the absurd Curves layer.  The selected layer below that named Cleanup is where you can use the Clone Brush or Healing Tool to make edits.  Like the original article, you need to choose sampling from Current and Below.


Your image will likely look terrible with this effect turned on, however even minor variations, like the left edge of the image below, can be identified.  You do not have to disable the Solar Cleanup Detector while you are editing on the Cleanup layer, so you can see how effective your edits are while you are working.


Once your edits are complete you can disable or delete the Solar Cleanup Detector layer and save your edited image.

In the future I’ll provide more details on the other tools included in this package, like the Lab Color and Rounding actions.

Rounding Action Effect Copyright © 2015 All rights reserved
Note:  Some of my actions will automatically flatten your layers to reduce the variables while running the action.  If this is not something you want, make sure to save your edit as a new image.

Fstoppers is a photography/videography community started in 2010 by founders Patrick Hall and Lee Morris.  Their blog has become a regular read for me because it covers so many topics so well.

Everyday Abstracts

I presented a brief version of an earlier presentation titled Everyday Abstracts at the National Institute of Health Camera Club this week.  I had the opportunity to judge their Abstract themed competition on the same night and I was very impressed by both the quality and breadth of their work.  I was also pleased with their patience, as my early comments were so long that I made it a VERY late night for everyone.

Photoshop Actions

reverse-4After the presentation portion of evening, several people had requested a copy of the presentation, which I promised to post here on my website so that people could easily access the presentation and the references to the Photoshop Actions that I mentioned during the presentation.  These actions are free to use and greatly simplify the repetitive tasks of creating montages from digital images.

The image at the right was the starting point and by applying a Reverse Montage effect, which was based on a technique that I was taught for slide film produced the featured image.  Taking 2 copies of the same image, both overexposed about 1 stop and putting them in the same slide mount, with one of them flipped over.

The affect of this treatment is highly saturated colors on a perfectly symmetrical composition.  As a by product, almost any image becomes an abstract.  This is one of my favorite techniques, and I will take many images of areas with strong graphic lines to produce an image based on line, shape and color.

Creating abstract photographs is something that I do routinely because it allows me to express some creativity and create something that comes completely from my mind.  Even with a “found abstract,” the way that the image is cropped, exposed and the depth of field all play an important and expressive role.

Judging at Charlottesville Camera Club

This is a Mirror Montage of an architectural detail of the Native American Museum.

I had the pleasure of getting invited to judge and speak at Charlottesville Camera Club on September 13, 2012.  Charlottesville is a bit of a drive from Northern Virginia, but I have been assured that it is worth the commute.

CCC has a competition and presentation on the same night, so I get to  judge the themed competition A SLICE OF SOMETHINGand I am also going to present a program titled “Montages, Interpreting Reality” in which I demonstrate some of the montage Photoshop Actions that I have developed and show how to change documentary photographs into something with a little more depth and feeling.

Painting with Light and Shadow

Gordon Campey referred me to an article by Mark Johnson that is in the Member’s area of the NAPP website that deals with painting light and shadow onto an image to give it more depth.  When combined with the Orton Effect, it can make that technique even more interesting.

With some input from Gordon I created a Painting with Light and Shadow action set.  I’ve got two actions in the set, one that simply creates a layer to lighten and layer to darken the images.  Select the layer mask of the appropriate layer and paint with White on that mask to lighten or darken an area of the image.

Not the greatest example, but I had this shot of a fender from a tricycle:


To add some depth and contrast into this image, I applied the Paint with Light action, and painted Light onto the yellow areas and Shadow onto the blue, red and black areas.


You can see how much darker and more saturated the reds and blues are, and the yellow becomes more yellow and less orange.

The Paint with Light action simply creates a layer with a Screen blend mode (makes things lighter) and a Multiply mode (makes things darker).  The layer masks are filled with black, so they do not apply any affect to the image.  By selecting the layer mask and painting with a soft brush with White, it will reveal some of the lighter color underneath.  I’ve seen a number of people use brushes with differing opacities, but I personally like a very low opacity, in the range of 20 – 30%.

I normally paint in Light first, then follow that up with Shadow, but a different approach may work for you.

I thought that I would show this one again, using this alternative to the Orton Effect technique from my earlier post.


To this one:


This action creates a blur layer, then adds a single Levels layer that will probably require adjustment in terms of both the White point and the mid-point sliders to achieve the desired neutral effect.  It creates the same Paint with Light and Paint with Shadow layers as the above action, and the same adjustments should be applied here.

In this image I needed to lighten the trees in the background, and darken the barn and the foreground bushes and flowers.

Orton Effect Action

I’ve been impressed with some of the Orton Effect montages that I’ve seen over the years.  I have seen many methods on the web for producing the effect in Photoshop, but was happiest with the method that André Gallant taught me when I was attending his workshop.

I was later introduced to another Canadian photographer, Gordon Campey, by a fellow student at the Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant workshop.  Gordon introduced me to an NAPP  article that added a unique, but critical in my opinion, step to the creation of the Orton Effect.  That step was an increase in the size of the blurred layer of 1% – 2%.  It helps to give that larger “glow” in the overlay that so often occurs when creating this technique with slide film.  I have incorporated that transformation of the blurred layer into this action.

The Orton Effect allows you to take a relatively bland image like this:

orton-3 copy

Into something like this:


There are two separate actions in the Action Set to account for Smart Objects.  In the default action I used a Smart Object so that you can adjust the Gaussian Blur that is applied to blurred image after the action is complete.  To account for Photoshop prior to CS3, I included a version that does not use the Smart Object, but it requires you to set the Gaussian Blur appropriately when you run the action.

After you run the action, you may need to set the White Point on the Levels 1 copy layer as it has a tendency to be pretty dark.  That is the only adjustment that I made to the above image.

I have to give credit to Michael Orton for creating this technique.  Although I have not read it yet, I recently purchased his book “Photographing Creative Landscapes, Simple Tools for Artistic Images and Enhanced Creativity”.  I look forward to reading it.

Multiple Exposure Compositions

Multiple exposures are something that are relatively easy to do with many Nikon cameras, but are not available at all with Canon.  I am a Canon shooter (too much money in Canon glass to change now) and I was intrigued by the multiple exposures that I had seen Freeman Patterson produce, like “Rudbeckia Swirl” and “Maple Spiral”.

While I am no where near that proficient at creating the spiraled multiple exposure images, I have made a number of attempts, and developed a series of actions to build multiple exposure images from 9, 10 and 16 images.

To create them you start with a series of images with a zoom and rotation (you can work with different camera movements to create other effects that are also pleasing) with the rotation working around a point of interest.


When you stack these images you create an image that looks more like this:


Definitely quite a departure from the original series, and it creates an impressionistic interpretation that I find very appealing when done well.

You will find 2 separate series of actions.  The first stacks the individual images as layers and then uses a formula of 1/# of layers to set the opacity of each additional layer.  I find that this Opacity method produces somewhat flat colors at times, so I will frequently use a Lab color adjustment layer that I adapted from Dan Margulis’ technique.  This generally produces WAY too much color and requires a reduced opacity and frequently a layer mask to shield some of the color.  I’ve include a Lab Color Boost action in this Action Set.

The alternative method uses a blend mode of Multiply and brings up a Curves layer that is a rough estimate at a one stop lightening of the image.  Individual images generally require an overexposure of the square root of the number of images, so with a 9 and 10 image stack the action creates 3 of these Curve layers (one stop each) on top of each image, and in the case of a 16 image stack the action creates 4 of these layers.

Either series of actions can be used on fewer images, but it will attempt to close the background image when it runs out of images to process, so if you get a dialog with an option “Don’t Save,” press the “Cancel” button and the “Stop” button when it appears.  If you are using the Multiply methods, you may need to delete some of the layers that lighten each layer.

As always, please provide some feedback or suggestions so that I can improve the actions.

Mirror Montage Action

Like so many people, I tend to be deadline driven, and these first few posts are definitely that way. On Tuesday this week I am scheduled to give a presentation on Montages at my camera club, NVPS.  In preparation for that presentation, I’d like to have a number of my actions posted so that people will be able to download them following the presentation.  So that is why the double post on Sunday.

I had never even heard of a Mirror Montage until a couple of years ago when one of our members did an entire portfolio of Mirror Montages.  I believe that all of them were glass and steel buildings, so lots of mirrored glass and strong lines running out of the frame.  If you’ve never seen (or noticed a Mirror Montage) before, you essentially create bookends by duplicating an image and flipping it over, then butting the two halves together.

I took this image of a building with the highlighted tree:


And created a Mirror Montage with it to get this:


Many might argue about the rotation of the final image, but I liked the broader base holding the decreasing width building better than having the dark colors at the bottom and moving to the lighter colors.  Flipping it also has the benefit of creating a strong “peak” with the converging lines of the building. Oh well, you just can’t win them all!

The action set has 4 actions in it, depending on whether you want to mirror on the Top, Left, Right or Bottom of the existing image.  How you rotate the image after that is really up to you.

Overlay Montage Action

Another action that I have been working on a for a while is an Overlay montage action. I love a well done overlay, but I have difficulty myself determining which pairs of images will really compliment each other.  Over the last year I have found myself very attracted to shots of pure texture, and I’ve been working at merging those with appropriate images to produce nice overlays.  I’ve developed an action that creates the overlays by prompting you to open a second image, and then overlaying the two images.

Here is an original image, just some nice Babies Breath in front of a Rose:




Here is the texture image, a close up of a canon from the Yorktown Battlefield:




Here is the resulting overlay montage:




To run this action you do the following:

  1. Open the subject image.
  2. Run the action.
  3. You will be prompted to open the overlay image.
  4. Press Continue and an Open dialog will be displayed.
  5. Select the texture image and press Open.
  6. Use the Levels layers to adjust the relative brightness of each of the images, and the overall brightness of the image.

There is a “Stop” function at the end that displays a dialog with my website and blog address.  You can disable this by opening the action clicking on the check mark next to the Stop step.




For that matter, you can turn off the Stop function between images too if it is slowing you down.

Reverse Montage Action

I created this Action Set to produce a Reverse Montage. In simple terms, the background layer is duplicated and then the Duplicate layer is either flipped vertically or horizontally, or it is rotated. I’ve created separate actions for each of these types.

One of the actions was used to convert this close-up shot of a Ferrari F430


to a much more abstract-looking image like this:


I’ve worked with two separate techniques for creating these montages, one is based on the Opacity of the layers and the other is based on a Multiply Blend Mode. In many images, the two techniques are hard to discern, but in most images the techniques produce markedly different results. One may routinely work better for you, and personally I prefer the Multiply method in general.

To create the final image, it is often desirable to select the Duplicate layer and use the Move tool to adjust where the images should overlap. Then crop the image to the size and shape that is most appropriate for that image.

These actions are not intended to provide a completed image, but create all of the layers necessary to complete the effect. They simply eliminate all of the repetitive functions with approximate adjustments that can be fine tuned for individual images.

You can download the 6 separate actions as a single Action Set. Instructions for loading the Action Set are pretty simple. If you don’t understand mine, there are numerous other references on the Internet.

The actions are developed and tested on Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Mac, but they should function with most versions of Photoshop CS and Elements. If you have any difficulty, please drop me a comment here.