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Getting Down & Dirty with Corey Barker: Corey's Favorite Photoshop Tricks

Corey Barker, author of Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers, Volume 2, shares some of his favorite Photoshop tricks.
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The Rebirth of a Franchise

"You did that in Photoshop?" That is perhaps one of the most asked questions when people see some of my work. While I always had an eye for design, like many artists, I had to find my voice as an artist. Having gone to art school and being trained in many of the traditional methods, I struggled to find a medium to work in until my fourth year at art school hdrwhen I discovered Photoshop (which was version 2.0 at the time). I started playing around with it and over several years of reading books, attending seminars, and just practicing all the time, I eventually mastered the program. As I progressed I started to bend the rules and use Photoshop's features in unusual ways. It was actually fun! This was when I started to get noticed by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals; I was awarded a Guru award at Photoshop World and just a couple years later was hired to be one of the Photoshop guys along with Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski.

Not too long after I started I found myself writing for the Down & Dirty tricks column in Photoshop User magazine. This was certainly a bizarre twist as I was always eager to see the new D&D every time I got my copy in the mail, only now I was writing the articles. Sweet! Determined to do the kind of tricks I would have always wanted to see, I quickly developed quite a following on what I was doing for the magazine. It wasn't too long before they decided to revive the Down & Dirty Tricks seminar tour made famous by Scott himself. It was this tour that essentially launched NAPP, and now I was going on the road to teach it myself.

Well, after a successful near two-year run of the tour I was asked to revive the Down & Dirty Tricks books, a series also made famous by Scott. Talk about some hefty shoes to fill, but I was indeed up to the challenge. I wanted to keep the same feel of the original series but, of course, put my own flavor in it as well. So I decided to call it Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers, though photographers would benefit just as much. I wanted this book to inspire as much as instruct, so the imagery had to pop. It needed to be something no one had seen before, or at least show someone how to create it in a way no one had seen before. This is, of course, the essence of the Down & Dirty concept: pushing the boundaries and using the tools in way we perhaps never thought of.

When Volume 1 of Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers rolled out in 2011 I was nervous and excited because it was my first book and I was having a lot to live up to. It would have been like George Lucas handing over the Star Wars franchise to a first time writer. Despite having been on a hiatus of several years the book was met with critical acclaim and the once dormant franchise was successfully revived. I was excited to hear about its impact on so many artists and how the book got them thinking in very different ways.

After a couple years of continued success I was asked to do a second volume, this time with all new content using all the latest new features in Photoshop CC including some more advanced 3D techniques. While the technology continues to evolve we must never lose that desire to see things others don't and continue to show the world things in Photoshop it has never seen before.

Some of My Favorite Tricks

With so much content in Volume 1 and 2, I wanted to point out a few of my favorite techniques from the books that have stood the test of time--ones I still use to this day despite numerous advances to the software. Here is an example from the first Down & Dirty for Designers book I did on creating a custom brush to create a bokeh effect. This arose from a photo shoot I was watching Scott do one day here at the office. He was trying to achieve a bokeh effect with some Christmas lights in the studio. As I observed the process of setting up the shot and seeing the result I was quite impressed with what he had done. But I also was thinking, what if you already have a shot and want that same bokeh effect? I went into Photoshop and started playing around with the brush options and finally achieved a convincing bokeh brush. The effect can be used for realistic background effects or even as a special effect. When I showed it to Scott he was mad that I didn't show him that before he set everything up. He was kidding, of course; he in fact asked me to do a video tutorial to go along with his tutorial on the shoot to show alternative methods.

From Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers Volume 1: Particles from Video

Of course this only scratches the surface of what is possible with brushes. There is another aspect of Photoshop that has added value to designers and photographers alike, and that is the ability to import HD video into a Photoshop workflow. Yes, you can actually open an mpeg file and use the timeline panel to scrub through and even do some simple video editing. However, as a designer I am looking at something else. You can import high res video and extract specific frames to use in static design. You can see this trick from Volume 1 where I used a video clip to extract a dirt particle effect for a movie poster. I also use this same trick in Volume 2 to extract a sky element:

STEP ELEVEN: Now for the particle effect itself we are going to use a new method. You can certainly use a still image to create the particle effect but I found it difficult to find a stock image of just flying dirt. Apart from shooting it yourself, here is an alternative if you have Photoshop Extended. I have here a video clip of someone off camera just throwing dirt into frame. I actually did find this video clip on Open the video clip inside Photoshop. Then open the Animation panel and grab the playhead and move through the clip and find a frame that has a good amount of flying particles. Press Command-A to select the entire frame. Then press Command-J to load the selected frame to a new layer. It is now a static image.

Go ahead and drag or copy this layer into the design layout. The cool thing here is that you have several choices of frames to use rather than a single image which gives you one option.

STEP TWELVE: Now make sure this layer is also under the color layer so it picks up the orange hue. Scale and position it at the bottom of the image just above where the black gradients are.

STEP THIRTEEN: Next change the layer blend mode to Screen to make the black areas invisible leaving only the dirt particle effect.

From Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers Volume 2: Fire Brush

Here is another cool trick on creating special effects from scratch. I would often get frustrated because I could never find the right image for certain effects so I would end up creating them. This is part of an airplane dogfighting composite in the book where I create the fire effect for the burning engine. Funnily enough, it was created using a picture of a cloud.

STEP TWENTY-FOUR: 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%.

STEP TWENTY-FIVE: 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.

STEP TWENTY-SIX: 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.

STEP TWENTY-SEVEN: 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.

STEP TWENTY-EIGHT: 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.

STEP TWENTY-NINE: 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.

From Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers Volume 2: HDR Toning

This trick I use probably more often than I should but it yields such a cool effect and is not entirely what it was designed for. The HDR Toning feature was added to Photoshop with a great deal of influence by Scott Kelby. With HDR on the rise he suggested that users who do not necessarily shoot for HDR could still achieve that HDR "look" with a single image. While this feature is pretty effective in this regard, I use it a bit differently. Here's how:

STEP ONE: Start by opening the image for this exercise. It will open in Camera Raw, so just click OK to open it into Photoshop.

STEP TWO: Make a duplicate of it by going under the Image menu and choosing Duplicate. Since it is only a temporary file, I would not worry about naming it. Just click OK.

STEP THREE: Now, with the duplicate file open, go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose HDR Toning. This feature will only work on flattened images. So, if you want do this effect and maintain layers, then make a duplicate and flatten it, and then run HDR Toning on that duplicate.

STEP FOUR: I like to run this effect, and then bring it over to the original file. So, when the HDR Toning dialog appears, I start by going to the bottom of the Advanced section and taking the Saturation all the way down to -100 to remove all the color. Then, I move up to the Tone and Detail section and first push the Detail really high. You can see the effect on the image as you adjust it, so you can decide how much detail and grunge you want. Next, you might need to drop the Exposure just a bit to compensate for the bright areas left from the Detail adjustment. You can also push the Gamma up a little to lessen the really bright areas.

STEP FIVE: Finally, move up to the Edge Glow section and turn on the Smooth Edges checkbox. This feature is not required, but I find myself using it 8 out of 10 times. Now, just adjust the Radius and Strength sliders to wherever the contrast and detail look the way you like. In my experience, I always tend to keep the Radius set a little higher, but keep both to the left side of the slider. The higher you go, the more blown out the image becomes and detail gets lost. Once you have the grungy look you like, click OK.

STEP SIX: Now, bring this HDR-toned image back to the original file. If you use the Move tool to drag-and-drop it onto the original file (instead of copying-and-pasting it), make sure you press-and-hold the Shift key as you drag the image over, so that it lines up with the original. Once they are in the same document, change the HDR-toned layer's blend mode to Soft Light. You can see the dramatic difference this makes. But wait, there's more....


Finally, I have to share one of my favorite tricks--well not really a trick, but perhaps what has become my most favorite feature in Photoshop, and that is 3D. In the first book I had a short 3D chapter that really just gave you a good idea of what you could do with the new 3D features in CS5. Now in CC the 3D features have gotten exceptionally more powerful and easier to use. This 3D logo is an example of how far you can really go with 3D logo effects, but there is so much more you can do with 3D in Photoshop, and this newest book not only shows this effect step-by-step but also several other ways to take advantage of this new 3D world. Explore and enjoy!

So there you have it: just a few snippets of what type of learning and inspiration are to be had in both Volume 1 and 2 of this newly revived series. Also be on the lookout for the newly updated Down & Dirty seminar tour as it will be launching to a city near you in just a couple months. Hope to see you all there! Always remember to be creative, experiment, and most importantly, have fun!

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