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:

QG0F9953-Edit_pwl_800

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.

QG0F9953-Edit_pwl_800

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.

freeman_wed_0181-Edit

To this one:

freeman_wed_0181-pwl_800

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.

Post Processing Adjustments

After running the Overlay and Orton Effect actions that I have created, there are still a number of adjustments that need to be made before the images are complete.

When I created the actions, I inserted some Levels layers that brighten each layer about 1 f/Stop.  This is a simple estimate and may not work well at all for a given image.

Take this image, which is pretty bright

overlay-1_main

I wanted to add some texture, so I added this cracked paint to give it a more worn feel:

overlay-1_texture

When I ran the Overlay action, it created a composite that looks like this:

overlay-1_raw

This adds the feel, but the color saturation is off and the strength of the texture is really more harsh than I wanted.  The action set the following levels:

overall_levels_default

Overall Levels

texture_levels_default

Texture Levels

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Background Levels

So starting at the Background Levels, I started making adjustments.  Because I wanted more saturated color, I wanted to darken the Background Layer.  Moving the mid-point slider (grey triangle) to the right (lower numbers) will darken the image.

overlay-1_raw

 

background_adjust

Adjusting the Background Levels layer to a mid-point of 1.16 gives me slightly richer colors.

Next I make an adjustment to the Texture Levels to lighten the mid-point so that it will soften the texture a little.

overlay-1_text_adjust

 

texture_adjust

Moving the mid-point slider up to 1.89 lightens the texture and makes the effect just a little bit softer than the default.  The image is getting closer to where I want it, but it is just a little bit lighter than I wanted.

overlay-1_final

 

overall_adjust

Then slightly darkening the Overall Levels by moving the mid-point slider down to 0.94 and resetting the white-point slider to 229 finalizes the image for me.

The changes that I made in this image are pretty minor, but the end result is significantly better in my opinion.  The point is that some adjustment is not only desirable, but necessary.  The actions do not necessarily produce a finished image, but they significantly reduce the amount of work that you have to do with each image.

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:

orton-3_done

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.

multiples-1_contact_sheet

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

multiples-1_16_opacity

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:

mirror-4

And created a Mirror Montage with it to get this:

mirror-4_done

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:

 

overlay-3_main

 

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

 

overlay-3_texture

 

Here is the resulting overlay montage:

 

overlay-3_done

 

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.

 

action_stop

 

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

reverse-2

to a much more abstract-looking image like this:

reverse-2_done

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.

My Photography

For the last several years I have been concentrating on becoming a better photographer. Not particularly in the technical aspects of photography, like exposure, depth of field, focus and choice of shutter speed, but in the more abstract concepts of photography, such as composition and evoking an emotional reaction from people.

That is really what got me started making actions to create more artistic interpretations of my photographs. After attending the Freeman Patterson and André Gallant Workshop where I learned some new techniques, like panning and multiples, my photography has changed significantly. Much more of my photographs are created with the intention of applying some techniques that make the image more abstract, or at least less representational. Freeman helped me tremendously with my technique on choosing and shooting multiples, where 9, 10 or 16 frames are all stacked on top of each other to create a sense of motion. And André helped me learn how to pan, convincing me to buy a neutral density filter to make the panning much easier. It was also André who helped me develop the Photoshop techniques that I would eventually turn into a series of actions.

As I studied more of the montage techniques, I developed an entire series of actions. After distributing those to a few close friends and acquaintances, I got additional feedback that helped me to refine many of the actions.

I am always open to new techniques and methods. Feel free to contact me through this blog to give me feedback about improvements that could be made to these actions, or new techniques that I could add to the collection.

Import – Export Photoshop Actions

mgs_10Photoshop actions are a very powerful tool for automating repetitive tasks in Photoshop and they are simple to import and export.  For instance the technique that I learned from Dan Margulis to apply a L*a*b color boost to a photograph.  It is simple, produces beautiful color without a luminance shift, and is a standard adjustment that is blended by layer opacity.  So all of the work except for the final opacity adjustment is the same every time you used the technique.

An action can be used to duplicate the image, convert the image to the L*a*b color space, increase the slope of the A and B channels, copy the image, paste it as a new layer in the original image and adjust the opacity of that layer to ~50%.  With the action, all of these steps are condensed down to a 2 button clicks, one to select the action and one to run the action.

Tools

I have created a number of actions to make tedious processes less cumbersome, they can be found in the right panel under Actions.  Some of these tools work better under previous versions of Photoshop, for instance I have run into occasional issues with the Multiple Exposure actions under CS5 that I cannot explain because I cannot consistently reproduce them.  My best advice is, if it doesn’t run the first time properly, try reopening the images and running action again.

Installing Actions

I also wrote up a quick PDF on how to import or export actions in Photoshop, but there are also numerous tutorials on the web.  Do a search for “Import Photoshop Action” and there will be plenty of videos and tutorials from which to choose.