Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers: Playing with Photographs
A Photographer/Designer Collaboration
During my time at KelbyOne, I have developed numerous relationships with prominent photographers around the world, and often find myself asking them to use their images for ideas I get when I look at their work. So, I thought it would make a good chapter in the book to use photos from some of these fantastic photographers, run them through the creative ringer, and see what comes out. The photographers who have so kindly agreed to allow us to use their images here are Glyn Dewis, Dave Clayton, and Moose Peterson. So, if you don’t do much shooting, then become friends with people that do. Most of the time, they are all too eager to give you images, or even sell them cheap, to see something cool done with them.
Going Down in Flames
My friend, and fellow Photoshop World instructor, Moose Peterson is most well known for his wildlife photography, but he also does some amazing aviation photography, especially with vintage war planes. Well, after seeing a couple of his images, I was inspired to make something interesting with them. It really gives you a good idea of how to look at a simple photo a little differently. Thanks, Moose!
Start by pressing Command-N (PC: Ctrl-N) and creating a new document measuring 1000 pixels wide by 1500 pixels tall at 125 ppi. Then, press Shift-Delete (PC: Shift-Backsapce) to open the Fill dialog, choose Black from the Use pop-up menu, and click OK to fill the background with black.
Once the main file is created, open the cloud movie file. (Yes, you can actually snag workable stills from video files here in Photoshop.) In the Timeline panel (under the Window menu), click on the playhead and scrub through the video until you find a frame you like, and then stop. All you need to do now is copy-and-paste or click-and-drag the image into the main layout.
Now, in some cases, video files may be small in dimensions like this one. In this case, it is merely an abstract sky background, so I do not mind greatly resizing the image to fit. Just press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform. Notice, here, I also slightly rotated and positioned the clouds for the best composition. When you’re done, press Return (PC: Enter) to commit the change. Now we have a nice sky backdrop, but it needs a couple quick tweaks. These next couple steps aren’t entirely necessary, but since I am all about detail, why not?
Press-and-hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and click on the Create a New Layer icon at bottom of the Layers panel. This will place the new blank layer under the current layer.
Click on the Foreground color swatch at the bottom of the Toolbox and, in the Color Picker, set the RGB settings to R: 86, G: 112, B: 138. Click OK. Then, press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill the blank layer with this new color. Then, click back on the cloud layer and drop its Opacity to 75%.
Click on the blue-filled layer again, then click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Gradient Overlay. Set the Blend Mode to Overlay and make sure the Style is set to Linear. Click OK. The enhancements here are subtle, but this lessens the contrast while maintaining a subtle coolness in the sky.
Click back on the cloud layer and make a duplicate of it by pressing Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J). Press Command-Shift-U (PC: Ctrl-Shift-U) to remove the color from the duplicate layer, then change its layer blend mode to Overlay and drop its Opacity to 50%.
Double-click on the layer to open the Blending Options. In the Blend If section at the bottom, Option-click (PC: Alt-click) on the black Underlying Layer slider knob and drag it to the right to split the knob. This will allow some of the darker areas of the layer below to show through a little more. Click OK.
Click on the original cloud layer in the Layers panel, make another duplicate of it, and move it to the top of the layer stack. Press Command-Shift-U (PC: Ctrl-U) to remove the color, then change its layer blend mode to Soft Light and drop its Opacity to 50%. Now, go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose Hue/Saturation. Turn on the Colorize checkbox, set the Hue to 360 and the Saturation to 30, then click OK. This will place a red cast over the image and will warm up the overall feel of the background sky. Now let’s add a plane.
Here’s where we make it interesting. We have a shot here taken by Moose. When I saw this image, it just hit me what I wanted to do with it. First, we need to extract the plane from this background. So, start by pressing Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to select the entire canvas area.
Now, get the Quick Selection tool (W) from the Toolbox. Here’s yet another approach to selecting, in some cases, I have found a little easier: Since the entire canvas is already selected, we are going to select by subtraction. So, press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and then start painting over the plane. You will see the selection appear to conform to the plane, but we are actually subtracting the plane from the selection. (Trust me, it will work.) Continue until the entire plane is deselected.
Go under the Select menu and choose Inverse. This will flip the selection from the sky to the plane, but we’re not done yet.
Get the Lasso tool (L) from the Toolbox, press-and-hold the Shift key, and draw selections around the areas of the blurred propeller (the Shift key lets you add to the existing selection). Don’t worry about being super-precise, but get as close as you can. Once you have all of the propeller areas selected, click on the Refine Edge button up in the Options Bar.
Set the View pop-up menu to On Layers, which will show the transparency grid behind the selection. Then, with the Refine Radius tool (press the Left Bracket or Right Bracket key to change the size of the brush, if needed), paint over all the blue area around the propeller. Try to avoid getting in the area of the plane too much. When you’re done, you’ll see that Photoshop has magically erased the sky, leaving just the dark blur of the prop. Be sure to also paint in the area of the cockpit and any other areas where there might be some residual sky elements. Now, in the Adjust Edge section, increase the Contrast to 15, then, in the Output section, turn on the Decontaminate Colors checkbox, and choose New Layer from the Output To pop-up menu. Click OK when you’re done.
Press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) a couple times to make a couple duplicates of this layer. This will fill in any subtle transparent edges that might have been created with Refine Edge. Then, Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) to select all three layers and, from the Layers panel’s flyout menu, choose Merge Layers.
You can now copy-and-paste or click-and-drag this image layer into the main file. Press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform and scale it to fit in the canvas, as you see here. I also rotated it slightly to the left. Press Return (PC: Enter) when you’re done.
Let’s take care of any anti-alias noise that we might have picked up by going under the Layer menu to the very bottom, under Matting, and choosing Defringe. Set the Width to 1 pixel and click OK.
Make a duplicate of this layer, press Command-Shift-U (PC: Ctrl-Shift-U) to remove the color, and then change the layer’s blend mode to Soft Light. Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a white layer mask to this layer.
Get the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox, then, in the Options Bar, choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient from the Gradient Picker and click on the Radial Gradient icon (the second icon to the right of the gradient thumbnail). Since the blend mode makes dark areas darker, with your Foreground color set to black, just add some random gradients in the areas on the plane that got too dark to lighten the effect.
Press-and-hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and click on the top layer’s thumbnail to generate a selection in the shape of the plane. Create a new blank layer and press Shift-Delete (PC: Shift-Backspace) to open the Fill dialog. Choose 50% Gray from the Use pop-up menu and click OK. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect.
Change this layer’s blend mode to Hard Light and then get the Burn tool (press Shift-O until you have it) from the Toolbox. In the Options Bar, set the Range to Midtones and then set the Exposure to 25%. Now, paint in areas of the plane that should be darker to help adjust the contrast, so it seems to fit in with the lighting in the sky more.
With the same gray layer active, click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Inner Shadow. Set the Blend Mode to Vivid Light, then click on the color swatch and choose a hot orange color from the Color Picker, and click OK. Drop the Opacity to 25%, increase the Distance to 34 px and the Size to around 18 px, and then click on the image and drag to position the shadow manually. This will create a glow effect that will enhance the fire effects we’ll be adding in a minute.
Now, get the Brush tool (B) from the Toolbox. For the fire effect, I am going to use a brush I created from a picture of a cloud. You can download this brush from the book’s companion webpage (mentioned in the book’s introduction) or use one that is similar. It just needs to be abstract with varying tones. With the brush selected, open the Brush panel (under the Window menu), click on Shape Dynamics on the left and set the Size Jitter to 100%. Then, choose Fade from the first Control pop-up menu, and set the Fade to 40. Also, set the Angle Jitter to 100%.
Create a new document measuring 1500 pixels wide by 350 pixels tall at 125 ppi, and then create a new blank layer and turn off the Background layer (by clicking on the Eye icon to the left of it). Click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Inner Glow. Set the Blend Mode to Hard Light, then click on the color swatch and choose a hot orange color from the Color Picker, and drop the Opacity to 75%.
Now, click on Outer Glow in the Styles section on the left to turn it on. Here, set the Blend Mode to Screen, and then click on the color swatch and choose a bright red color from the Color Picker. Click OK.
Press D, then X to set your Foreground color to white. Then, press-and-hold the Shift key (to paint in a straight line) and, starting on the left side of the canvas, click-and-drag to the right. You will instantly see a fire trail. Pretty cool, huh? Do this two or three times to build the effect, as seen here.
Go back to the Brush panel and, in the Shape Dynamics options, choose Off from the first Control pop-up menu. Then, click on Transfer on the left to turn it on. Choose Pen Pressure from the first Control pop-up menu, if you’re using a pressure tablet. You can also choose Fade here and even adjust the Opacity Jitter amount above.
Create a new blank layer and then press D, again, to set your Foreground color to black this time. Now, start painting in the smoke effect trailing off the fire effect. Just a few passes should do.
Now, let’s blend these two elements. With the smoke layer still selected, double-click on it to open the Blending Options. In the Blend If section, Option-click on the white Underlying Layer slider knob and drag it to the left to split it. This will allow the lighter areas below to peek through, making the fire and smoke appear to blend naturally.
Command-click on the fire layer to select both it and the smoke layer, then Right-click on one and choose Convert to Smart Object from the pop-up menu.
Now, bring this fire trail over to the main design file (copy-and-paste or drag-and-drop it). Press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, then click inside the bounding box, and choose Distort. Using the corner handles, reshape the object, so that the fire appears to be emerging from the exhaust vents and trails to the back. Notice how the smoke appears to whip around the tail wing, here?
With Free Transform still active, Right-click inside the bounding box again, and choose Warp. Click inside the grid and drag down just a bit to give the fire trail a subtle curve, so it looks less straight and linear. Press Return (PC: Enter) to commit your transformation.
Now, here is another layer style trick: Click on the Add a Layer Style icon and choose Outer Glow. Choose Overlay from the Blend Mode pop-up menu, then click on the color swatch and choose a hot orange color once again. Leave the Opacity set to 75% and increase the size to around 100 px. This will create a nice warm glow around the fire element.
Next, let’s add some other special effects. Remember that particle brush we created in Chapter 1? If you didn’t create it, you can go and do that now, or you can use any particle brush you’d like. We are going to use this to create flying debris around the plane. Once the brush is selected, click on Brush Tip Shape on the left side of the Brush panel and set the size to around 175 px (this may vary depending on your document). Then, increase the Spacing to around 65%.
Click on Shape Dynamics on the left, and set the Size Jitter and Angle Jitter to 100%. Then, click on Transfer on the left. Here, just increase the Opacity Jitter to 100%.
Now, create a new blank layer at the top of the layer stack and then just use this brush to dab particles on different parts of the plane. Press X to toggle between the black and white colors to randomize the tones. Notice that I added some particles around the engine where the flames are coming out, and here, I’m adding some to the wing.
Create another new blank layer and, from the Add a Layer Style icon’s pop-up menu, choose Inner Glow. Again, we want a hot orange color and set the blend mode to Hard Light. Also, lower the Opacity to around 60%.
Now, click on Outer Glow on the left and, this time, choose a deeper orange, but set the Blend Mode to Hard Light. Also, drop the Opacity here to around 50%.
We’re going to add some gun effects (they’re on the wings), so with the Brush tool selected, choose a standard round, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker and set the size to be just a bit bigger than the guns themselves. With your Foreground color set to white, just dab in the three spots where the guns are located on the wing on the right. The layer style will add a hot glow around them.
Get the Smudge tool from the Toolbox (it’s nested beneath the Blur tool) and then, in the Brush Picker in the Options Bar, click on the gear icon in the top right, choose Natural Brushes from the flyout menu, and just append this brush set. Choose the brush called Spray 56 Pixels. Set the Strength to 95% and turn on the Finger Painting checkbox.
Now, click on each burst and drag in the direction they would be firing to create a muzzle flash. Again, the layer style will update the glow.
Next, we’ll add some bullets. So, select a standard round, hard-edged brush from the Brush Picker. Then, in the Brush Tip Shape section of the Brush panel, drop the Roundness to 24% to make it more of an extreme oval. Then, increase the spacing all the way to 1000% and set the Size to around 15 px. Click on Shape Dynamics on the left and, under Angle Jitter, set the Control pop-up menu to Direction, so the dots will follow the direction of the brush.
Create a new blank layer, click-and-drag it beneath the muzzle flash layer in the Layers panel, and change its blend mode to Overlay. Press D to set your Foreground and Background colors to their defaults of black and white, respectively. Press-and-hold the Shift key and click on the first burst, and then, using the flash line as guide, position the cursor at the edge of the image and click to paint the line. Do this for each flash to create an array of bullets.
Get the Smudge tool, again. You can use the same brush tip we did a moment ago, but drop the Strength to around 50% and also turn off the Finger Painting checkbox in the Options Bar. Then, do the same as you did painting the bullets—press-and-hold the Shift key, click on one end, and then click on the other end. This will smear the bullets, creating a motion blur effect. I went ahead and made two passes on each line here.
Now, let’s adjust the fire smart object. Double-click on the smart object thumbnail in the Layers panel to open the fire file. Using the same Smudge tool, smear the fire from left to right. Increase the brush size, so you can get it all, and do this to both layers. Save and close the file when you’re done and you will see the effect updated. Aren’t smart objects cool?!
To finish my overall design, I added a second plane with other smoke and fire effects. To see this how this part was created, watch an exclusive video tutorial over on the book’s companion webpage, mentioned in the book’s introduction.