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I've been using the analogy of actors on a stage to represent the distinction between a painting's subject and background. Now is a good time to again utilize this analogy. Assuming you are creating some sort of storytelling element to a painting, you should examine your importance hierarchy. The actors in your scene should be the beneficiaries of detail, saturation, contrast, composition, all of the techniques we've discussed, in order to focus the viewer's attention on them. Everything else is secondary.
When I refer to an importance hierarchy, my hierarchy goes: actors, then secondly any storytelling elements, and then finally your background. So you want to use that hierarchy to examine your image and determine, Is my hierarchy correct? Is there anything I can fix to improve it? The image we have here, we've really worked quite a bit in the preparation stage, so that it's largely set. So, I don't even know if I would necessarily do what I'm going to show you here. But I want to show it to you, just so you can see how you can, with just some simple lighting, add a degree of importance to areas of the image.
For this one we're going to kind of focus here on the tricycle and the ball. I want to somehow just lend a little more importance to this. And to do this, we need to create a new layer. So I'm going to go over to my Layers palette, and right down here at the bottom is the new layer icon. If you hold down your Option or Alt key when you click this, it brings up the New Layer dialog. And what I want to do is for my mode, I'm going to say Overlay. And we're also going to select this and check this option to fill it with neutral gray.
So when we do that, nothing seems to have changed, but the thing about these modes, from overlay down to here, is they treat 50% gray as transparent. And anything you paint onto it, if it's darker than 50% grey, it's going to add density to the image. If you paint towards white, it's going to lighten the image. So, it's a way to dodge and burn non-destructively, essentially, is what we're doing. I'm going to start with overlay, but I may switch to soft light in the end, and the reason I'm doing that is it's a little more easy to see what you're doing in overlay mode, but soft light is kind of that 50% rule that I was talking about.
And I'm using now just the normal airbrush, and I'm going to set my colors to black and white. Let's do black, and I've got my brush set really large here. I've turned it down to twenty percent or lower will work for this. And what I want to do is just add a little more emphasis into the center of the image. So I'm essentially going to vignette it, and I'm doing it very lightly. In fact, like I said, we'll probably even tone this down by the time we're done with it. But I just want to add a little bit of emphasis into the center of the image, and because we seek out highlight and shadow and detail, just adding that little bit, I'll turn it on and off.
See how that makes a difference? Now it's still a little over- emphasized, and we'll reduce that. But let's do the opposite now. I can just click on my X key here, to swap between my foreground and background colors. So now I've got white. I'm going in here and I am just going to add just a little bit of highlight in there. Let's again, turn this on and off so you can see the difference. See how that is now a brighter area in the image? The other think I would do, to kind of de-emphasize this, but keep it there, but make it so subtle, you almost don't notice it, is I like to go in and soften this up.
So, I'm going to the Filter menu. I will go down here to blur, and we want Gaussian blur. I want to crank this up quite a bit, and you can see it a little bit, it's pretty subtle what happens, but I know by cranking this up 100 or more pixels, it just softens the image. Now let's turn it on and off. Still there, and still a little bit obvious, so the last thing I generally do is I'll switch this to soft light. Now, lets try turning it on and off. Now, it's even more subtle.
And, the final thing you can do is, you can play with opacity here. Let's take it down about 50%, turn it on and off. Now it's even more subtle, and yet it's there. It is adding some light to our subjects and we are adding a little bit of darkness around the edges of the image, which helps lead the viewer's eye into the central part of the image. And that's basically the trick. So, by evaluating a painting's importance hierarchy, we can make decisions about what adjustments may need to be made to the image in order to further control the viewer's eye in reading the image.
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