Faking a cool photo

EDIT: Unfortunately the photos on the post might be stretched weirdly because of the theme, I’ll try to fix this eventually.

So I play around with photoshop a fair bit, and sometimes get positive comments on my work (often I get negative comments, but I just ignore those).  Combining my basic understanding of photoshop and my ability to point a camera, press a button and occasionally get a good shot, I can produce something that people might think looks cool and demonstrates some sort of artistic talent (which I don’t have).

So I thought I would share a quick little walkthrough to show a trick or two that I use, in the hopes that someone else out there can fool people too.

Disclaimer: This isn’t my best work, it’s just something I whipped together without a lot of thought.  I’m not even sure if I like the result, it’s basically just to show whats possible.  Using the same techniques and some actual effort, someone could produce something decent.  I’m not attempting to claim that what I have produced is good, or that I am good.  This is merely for a little fun.

What you will need:

A photo! In some sort of RAW format.  The photo that I started with was taken at a downhill mountain biking event using my Nikon D90 and 70-300 f4.5-5.6 on a manual setting.  I wasn’t completely happy with the original photo, so I decided to butcher it a little.  Ideally you would want to start with a good photo.  The better the photo, the less effort you have to put into it in post.

Photoshop (or some other tool that can process raw photos and do image/post processing).

Some creativity.  Or if you are missing that (like I am), the ability to continually try new things until something looks ok.

A couple of things to remember:

Unless you have had a lot of experience with photography or post processing (I certainly haven’t) you won’t be producing the best thing in the world.  There will always be someone that can say it looks terrible, so just take anything they say as feedback and use that to improve for next time.  Try to learn something new each time you play with a photo and eventually you will be able to create things with skill instead of luck.

The final product doesn’t have to be (and probably won’t be) perfect.  There is always one little thing that you miss, and each time you look at the photo it will jump out and smack you in the face.  Luckily though, people will be looking at the photo differently to you (you’ll have spent minutes working on it and staring at the same photo, whereas they will probably only be looking at it for seconds).  If you upload the photo to a site like facebook, it will probably resize and damage the photo a little, this can help in hiding the small imperfections.  At the end of the day, if people pick on little things just remind them you aren’t a pro, are still learning, or claim that you meant to do it.

A brief walkthrough

I’ll now go through the process that I followed, with a picture for each step, to show you some of the tricks you can use.

Step 1: Import the photo.  Here is a photo that I randomly chose.  It’s not the best thing in the world but it will do.  It looks a little dark, but has some potential.

Step 2: Auto correct.  Many RAW processing tools will have the ability to automatically adjust the setting.  For this I just clicked auto.  It adjusts the brightness exposure etc.

Step 3: Tweak it.  Next adjust the colour balance, clarity, contrast etc to get the photo how you want it.  I warmed this up a little, added some fill light, vibrance and clarity.

Step 4: Import into photoshop and start playing around… Motion blur.  Next I brought it into photoshop and added some motion blur.  I just used the defaults, but you could play around a bit.  Before you start editing the photo, always make a backup of the original photo/layer (just incase you destroy it and want to quickly go back or do some funky blending).

Step 5: Quick mask.  Next I quickly masked out the rider so that they weren’t blurred.  I usually start by doing a quick masked with a big hard brush, then coming through and fixing it up.  This is all done by hand, but you could use some of the other tools (lasso etc) if you know how (I don’t).

Step 6: Zoom in and touch it up.  Next I zoomed in and with a smaller softer brush fixed up the edges.  The picture below shows the image before I fixed it.  You can see that around the arms looks really bad.  Feel free to experiment with different levels of transparency to get the best blending.

Step 7: Admire/check your work.  Once you are done zoom out, check the whole thing and make sure it looks ok.  It might take a couple of attempts to get it right.  Remember, it’ll take forever to get perfect, so just get it to a point where you are relatively happy.  Below is the image once I decided I was done.

Step 8: Start playing with some effects! I decided to check out some of the different effects that photoshop had available.  The palette knife looks cool.  I decided not to use it, but will definitely use it in the future.

Step 9: Find the effect you like.  I decided to go with the Neon Glow effect in green.  I’d never use it before, and thought it would be fun to try something new.  One thing I make sure I do is to create everything as a new layer, to make it easier to edit/remove/blend.

Step 10: Blend the layer.  I decided it was a bit too intense, so I set the opacity of the Neon Glow layer to 52%.  It means the colours blend through from the original layers, but they aren’t as vibrant and there’s a slight green tint.

Step 11: Add a texture.  One of my favourite tricks of making a photo look cool (and hiding all the little problems) is to apply a texture overlay.  I have a few different pictures that I use (just random ones I found on the net).  These are things like pictures of rocks, dirt, tiles and scrunched up paper.  It softens up the photo, as sometimes digital photos can look a little too sharp/perfect.

Step 12: Set the texture layer to overlay.

Step 13: Blend the texture (get the opacity right).  Often if the texture is something that has lots of definition you will need to turn down the opacity to get it to look right.  For this photo I set the opacity to 66%, it hides some of the details of the texture and allows you to see the original image a little better.

Step 14: Mask out the content.  Since I wanted the rider to stand out a little more, so I decided to create a masking layer, get a soft brush and mask some of the rider.  I still wanted to rider to have some of the grain from the texture, so I used varying K values for the masking.

Step 15: Get the blending right.  I spent a little bit of time experimenting with different sized brushes, softnesses and K values, to try and blend the texture right so the transition from background to rider was still there, but not too sharp.

Step 16: Vignette.  One of the classic tricks to make your photos look more pro is to apply a vignette.  It darkens the edges and draws your eye to the center/subject.  It also means the background and space not occupied by the subject is less consistent (for example the background might just be all the same colour blue, adding a vignette will make the edges darker and the edges of the photo seem less boring).  There are a million different ways to apply a vignette.  I decided to add a contrast/brightness layer and manually mask it.  Below is the image before I masked out the vignette.

Step 17: Finish making the vignette.  Here is the result after the masking was completed.

Done: Now you are finished.  You have a unique photo that people might think is good.  I wasn’t completely happy with mine, but most of that was because I didn’t really have an idea in my head when I started (just sort of winged it then decided it was finished).  Share the photo on facebook, or with your friends to show off your awesome photoshopping abilities (and claim that you have photography/artistic skillz!) or even if you can be bothered write a blog post about your experience!


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