Don't be a slave to the original photograph
Video: Don't be a slave to the original photographIf you come from the world of photography, you very likely have a bias towards preserving the veracity of a photograph. You need to put your painter's beret on and understand that you are painting a visually compelling story. In this light, it is acceptable, no, required, to prep your image with compositional and storytelling elements that serve the subject. Forget the photo. It's a painting and you're a painter. Now, if you don't get anything else out of this particular video, I want you to understand that you don't want to be afraid of changing a photograph.
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Learn to think like a painter and render images that look like they were created with oils or acrylics, using the latest digital artist's tools. Author and artist John Derry introduces the process of interpreting a photograph into a painted work of art. He begins by explaining his system of visual vocabularies, which describe how to replace the visual characteristics of a photograph with that of expressive painting, and also shares the custom brush sets and actions he uses to achieve these results in Adobe Photoshop. The course also covers working with filters, layers, effects, and more to add further detail and texture.
- Setting up a Wacom tablet
- Removing lens distortions
- Correcting distracting image elements
- Making shadow and highlight adjustments
- Simplifying details with filters and Smart Blur
- Modifying color
- Cloning layers
- Using a traditional paint color swatch set
- Using custom actions
- Working with canvas texture
- Creating physical surface texture effects
- Painting with custom brushes
Don't be a slave to the original photograph
If you come from the world of photography, you very likely have a bias towards preserving the veracity of a photograph. You need to put your painter's beret on and understand that you are painting a visually compelling story. In this light, it is acceptable, no, required, to prep your image with compositional and storytelling elements that serve the subject. Forget the photo. It's a painting and you're a painter. Now, if you don't get anything else out of this particular video, I want you to understand that you don't want to be afraid of changing a photograph.
You're telling a story, and you can do anything you want to tell that story. You are not a slave to the photograph. So, let's consider what we've done so far. We've got our castle image, we've straightened it out. We've removed any distractions, and now what I want to do is start to change things up. And for this, I'm actually going to take this castle, and maybe not even all of the castle, and replace the environment at its end. The first thing I'm going to do is go in and I'm going to crop this.
And I want to maintain this aspect ratio. So I'm not going to change that. And if I hold down the Shift key, as I adjust this, it will maintain the aspect ratio we have here. So, I'm going to start to squeeze this in a little bit, and I'll tell you right here, one of the things I'm going to do, this whole extension to the castle, I don't care about. I only care about, really, this main area here. All of this background is going away, and so I want to center the castle pretty much in the image. So, knowing that now, I can go ahead and start to use my guides here to more or less center this.
I want to get the doorway pretty much kind of right in the center here, and I can also adjust this so that we don't need so much of this foreground. I'm going to remove it to about here. Again, keeping in mind that I want to more or less center this within my image. And I can fix things that are going to be in a mess up here in a little bit. Let's go ahead and say OK. So now, I've reduced this and what I want to do is twofold. I want to cut this out so that I've literally got a separate element that is just the castle.
So that's my first task. The second task then will be getting the background image, which you'll see here after we cut this out, and applying it to the background, so that it's in a new environment. We're going to take it from this more kind of urban environment and place it out in the country. Because as I introduce some more of the little storytelling elements in this, you'll see that kind of the idea, the feeling of being isolated and not so comfortably surrounded by buildings and architectural elements is going to help tell my story.
So, there are no end to the different tools that you hear about being able to instantly extract and cut things out. But I can tell you from years of experience, the best tool for me is still the good old Pen tool. We've got a number of different conditions going on this image that, you know, simply using the blue sky background isn't going to work because we've got non-blue areas here, we've got areas instead of very close in value. It's just, its not going to work to do all of these other kinds of tricks.
In certain images, some of the newer kind of image isolating tools are great. But probably with respect to most images, I find that I spend more time playing around with these filters trying to get it to cut something out. In the same amount of time, I could've just gotten the Pen tool and cut it out. So, that's what I'm going to do, and again, this is going to take a little bit of time. But it's really the way to do it. So, I'm going to zoom up here and I want to get really close. At least, let's go switch here so we could see, we're at 100%, I'm going to take it up to at least 200%, and we'll go up to this edge here.
And I'm just going to cut the building out starting here, so that we're going to get the left forward edge of the building and go around and follow, more or less, its silhouette. So, I'm just going to begin doing this, and we'll follow along here for a little bit, but then I'll probably cut you loose and you'll come back when we're on the other side of this. But I generally go through and, one of the things I'll do and, in fact, I might even go a little closer here so you can see this. When I use the Pen tool, what happens when you enlarge this much, you can see there really is no distinct edge.
There is this work, and if we get even closer, there's always kind of an indefinite edge in a pixel image, where it's sort of an in-between, and as I'm working, what I kind of do is place my line about halfway through what is the building and what is the not-building, in this case. And I just go through and I also use my arrow keys here to adjust a point that I've applied, if it's not exactly where I want. Also we're so close now, you kind of lose sight of what is the building and what is the background.
So, you got to find the best spot in the magnification that's going to work for your image. But then, I just go around and I follow this edge all the way through and I think there's one or two spots in this image where I may have to deal a little bit with cutting out an element or two so that we're not seeing part of the old background. But basically, I'm going to go through and do this and I will see you on the other side once I've got this completely isolated. Okay, so I've gone through and I've completely outlined the castle.
I did have to make a second element right here, which is actually kind of looking through that portico into the background, so I've cut that out. And by selecting all of this now, I can go ahead and, while I'm in the Pen tool, if I hold down the right mouse button, I can make a selection. So, we'll make a selection. I'm going to do zero pixels so we'll get a nice clean anti-aliased edge, and we've now got a selection that exactly matches the area that I've cut out. I'm going to go ahead and copy and paste.
So I did Command+C or Control+C and then Command or Control+V, and if we look over in the Layers Palette, you'll see there is now a separate element. In fact, we can shut the background off, and you can see that I've now got a nicely cut out version of this building, but it's isolated. And now, I'm free to drop a new background into it. So, let's do that. I'm going to go temporarily here to the desktop, go to our Exercise Files for Chapter two here.
And if we go into the folder for the third video, we have a background here. No, this is a raw file, so when I open it up, it's going to open it up into Adobe Camera Raw. And the reason I want to do this is I want to show you there are some things I can do before I even convert this into a normal file. And this is a little bit blown out so I've got some controls here that I can take advantage of to play around a bit with the contrast within this image and so if I, for example, drop down my Highlights, see how I'm getting much more detail in the clouds.
We can also adjust the Shadows here, either up or down, as you can see. And what I want to do is, this is going to be a background image, so I'm going to lighten it up. And I'll probably, at some point, even lighten it up some more so that we introduce almost the effect of atmospheric distance where color starts to get desaturated with distance. And I might shoot the Vibrance up a little bit. If we shoot it way up here, see how it's too much, the sky is just kind of unbelievably blue. Although, in a painting, you don't have to stay necessarily constrained to photographic-style colors.
We'll be playing around with that in a later chapter but don't be trying to necessarily make this be a 100% accurate to a photograph. This is a bit much, so I'm going to turn it down a bit. I'm not even watching the values on the slider, I'm just looking visually at what I'm seeing in the image, and that looks pretty good. So, let's go ahead and we'll say, OK. And now we've got our second image, and I'm going to go ahead and do a Select All and then Command or Control+C to copy this. And let's move back to our other image.
I'm going to go back into full screen here, and I want to place it behind this so I'm going to select the background so that it positions it one layer above it, which will put it behind our background. So, I'm going to do Command or Control+V to paste, and there's our background. Now, it's probably not in scale, let's just take a look here. Actually, that's not too bad. And so, what I can do now, is kind of play with this. And what I want to do more than anything is just to make sure that perspective-wise, it seems fairly correct.
You know, if this was like way up here, that looks a little odd to my eye. If I take it way down here, assuming we had more sky, that looks a little low so you have to kind of play around with what just looks fairly correct to your eye. And I like what I'm seeing here. So, I've now combined these two images and we're on our way now to starting to take this original photograph, in fact, two original photographs, and use them in completely different ways to start to create an environment, a mood, a story, whatever you want to call it. One thing I do want to point out here that's very important.
When you're going to start doing this kind of compositing, it's very important to pay attention to lighting. The light on the building is coming from a sun that is somewhere, you know, off in the distance, of course. But it's about, I'd say, about this high in the sky. And you can tell that from the shadows, how they're casting the angles of them. So you've got a sun that's kind of like that. When I was considering adding a background to it, I looked through a lot of different images to find a sky in a scene, which in this particular image, I remember from shooting it, that the sun was off basically in that same direction.
If you don't match the lighting amongst the various elements you're going to composite, the brain is pretty good at picking those little inconsistencies up and it would be noticeable. So, you do want to make sure that when you start to add things together, particularly photographic like this, that you do pay attention to the lighting, because if you don't, you will get these odd sort of mismatches that the eye can pick up on. It might not even know what's wrong, it'll just know something is not right and I want to fix it. So in finishing up here, just remember that you don't want to let a photograph's supposed veracity be an impediment to crafting a compelling interrelationship of visual elements, particularly when you want to tell a story or communicate a message.
Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Digital Painting: Architecture .
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- Q: I'm unable to install the custom Wacom settings included with the exercise files. Any advice on how to load them?
- A: After the course was recorded, we discovered that the Wacom preference files are not cross-platform and are specific to the machine that created them, which limits their use. However, in the exercise files you'll find a PDF labeled Intuos4 Mapping_PS_CS5.pdf; using this document, you can manually enter the settings in the Wacom control panel. Also, please note that the settings are not necessary to complete the course.
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