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After a number of people have asked me over these months about how I achieve certain things in my photo manipulations I decided to share with everyone some tricks, tips and insights that I have picked up during my journey. THESE OUTLINE THE BASICS OF THE CRAFT. Detailed effects are things which need to be researched or discovered according to your specific project requirements. There is a HELL OF A LOT more to be shared about this craft but this is just a starter kit :)

I must state to begin with that neither do I consider myself to be the world’s best photo manipulator, nor do I believe that anyone is. As art is so subjective – one man’s pleasure is another’s pain – and so I only offer some tips and tricks and thoughts that have been helpful to me. There is no one photo manipulation tutorial out there that can tell you how to become the photo manipulator of our age – but all they can do is offer some ideas and insights and teach us our way through our chosen abilities ie PS, Illustrator etc.

The first piece of advice I would offer to anyone either looking to do photo manipulation or who is questioning the standard of their own is give yourself a break – it is NOT difficult if you know how to do it and can be learned through habit very easily. Actually – it’s downright dirty addictive :D Taking some well valuable time to get to know your software like an old friend is the best thing to aim for at the beginning.

Still, in the interest of saving you some reading time – I continue assuming that you have some knowledge of the art and the software so far. There are NO RULES. But there are some universal requirements that will make your life a lot easier:

The best tool for cutting out an image is the pen tool. In some cases (depending on how contrasting the background is to the image you wish to extract and the levels of sharpness etc) PS’ new and very powerful quick extraction tool will help but not always as effectively.
TIP: Don’t get strung out if you find it difficult in learning how to use the second capacity of this tool to draw curved paths! Zoom right into your picture and draw lots of separate path points which in the end will give a very nice ‘cut-out’ finish when fully zoomed out. Also – become best friends with your liquify tool and it’s different settings – because should there be any nasty and unsightly bumps or sharp edges where the image should be rounded – a little nudging with this tool will sort it out :) As far as cutting out ‘delicate areas like horse manes and flowing wispy hair – it is often for me very helpful to draw an extraction path wide of that section . After adapting the next functions (below) it is often unnecessary to erase or cut away any of the background which leaves the appearance that the extracted image was always a part of the background you have chosen for your project.

The only three functions I use for bringing all the compiled images into the same colour spectrum and depth are COLOR BALANCE (don’t forget how effective working with the highlight, mid-tone and shadow settings can be), CURVES and HUE/SATURATION (all of these are found @ Image>Adjustments>). As with any project – playing around with these settings will produce the effect required for your certain art piece.

The eraser tool is another of your best friends, as the soft brush setting with a low flow setting applied with lots of care can meld together your images in an almost magical way before your eyes. If you really want a clean and realistic finish to your work it is really imperative that you practice getting the flow, size and the stroke of the eraser tool right. NOTE: Layer mask is of course something that eventually will make a difference to your life and the way that you adapt your projects but I find a much greater control using this as well as eraser – I feel it is equally as important to master the eraser as it is to master the fairly easy layer mask.

The smudge tool is wonderful to dull any pixelated areas. If you find that the stock image you have used becomes pixelated after blowing it up to make it sizable enough to sell in any format of print, the smudge tool ‘dappled’ over these areas will surely smooth things out. Play around with the strength etc.

And lastly – and this is my absolute favourite section – do not underestimate the power of transformation that your dodge and burn tools have. Applied on various areas (according to their shading) the Highlight, Midtone and Shadow settings along with the correct exposure settings can make the world of difference to your art. It is these tools that will bring you a depth, a sense of light and an overall control to adapting any final touches to your image. They can transform a mundane looking, photographed image into a fine art painting.

Simply – do not forget to try out different styles and opacities on your layers. Some of my best effects (in my humble opinion) have come about by sheer accident as a result of ‘playing around’. I find Soft Light’ often to be the most effective for things like textures, but overlay can wrap the skin of your choice around a B&W subject with the correct lighting and contrast to it. This works well as a clue with greyscale models brought into PS from Poser.

Also – as a habit now – I like to ensure that when my stock photo links have been followed, the viewer can see a very marked difference in the colouring and tones of the piece – which cannot always be the most effectively done simply with a hue/saturation altering. So – when my piece is finished, I take a look at the two or three most predominant and consistent colours in the picture. I then add 2 or three new layers and set them all to soft light. I then fill each layer (with paint bucket tool ) with one of those colors from the swatch. If there is jarring overlapping of color in some places – again – the correct brush and settings on the eraser tool (not forgetting layer opacity) make for very nice transitional blotting.

Hopefully you are now not asleep or wondering why this idiot thinks he has anything to share with you that you do not already know :)
I am self-taught, and learned these things the hard old-fashioned way – by experience. If they can help make anyone else’s photo manipulation journey a little shorter, then blessings to you all :)


PS. If anyone has any further tips they would like to share with everyone then please post them here in the comments. Similarly – any questions – I will try to answer them all as best as I can :)

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