Monday, September 20, 2010

Photoshop image editing technique of contemporary realist landscape in progress by Paul Baldassini.

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In a previous post I discussed how I prefer to use image editing software -- mostly Adobe Photoshop -- to develop compositions based on field photography source images.  My working method is to compose and crop images in the viewfinder paying attention mostly to the light and shadow of the subject or main foreground object.  For me these days, that would most likely be a tractor or a haywagon.  Very often when I get back to the studio to view the images I find that I don’t really like the background.  No problem.  I always have my camera with me wherever I go and constantly shoot new landscape reference images that might be used in the future to generate and develop new compositions.  So, over the years, I have amassed quite a large archive of background landscape images taken in all seasons, times of the day, weather and light conditions.  Removing and substituting a new background for an existing background is, with a bit of work, easily accomplished.

I’ll illustrate how here using the reference image for my next painting.  Below is the original image after color correction, Shadow & Highlight adjustment and cropping (more on that in a future post).  It was taken at one of the many tractor fairs I go to during the year.  Its a great composition but the background just doesn’t do anything for me.  Next to the original image is a landscape from my archives matching, for the most part, the light direction and time of day and should integrate convincingly into the background.

Left: original cropped  image;  right: replacement background image
First step is to silhouette the main subject of the composition and create a Mask.  This mask will then be used to delete the original background allowing easy substitution of the new background.  I have found that over the years, and because of my graphic arts training that the best way to silhouette part of an image is to use the Path (Pen) tool to create an editable vector path.  Making vector paths using the path/pen tool can seem very difficult, if not impossible, if you haven’t had much experience using this tool.  But its well worth the effort and produces VERY clean silos that seamlessly integrate into new compositions.  Like everything in Photoshop, there are many ways to accomplish the same thing and you should use any method comfortable to you to get the job done.  I’ve been creating silo paths for so many years in both Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, its just automatic and a natural way for me to work.  A path can be saved and then used to create a new Channel which itself can be modified as necessary to create a working mask.  Once thats done the mask channel can be loaded and used to clear and extract the old background.

The original image also needed some retouching before I made my silo path.  The headlight was cut off at the top and I wanted more image above the headlight, so I created a new headlight and extended the top of the image a bit. Once the path is complete is can be made into a selection by selecting the path and pressing the Command key and hitting the Enter key.  You’ll see the “marching ants” indicating a loaded selection.  Then Click on the New Channel icon in the Channel palette (dog-eared icon at bottom right of the layers palette next to the little trash can).  Below left is the edited image and on the right is the Channel mask generated from the carefully drawn path.  I added a gradation along the “horizon line” to soften the transition between the edited image and the new background.  Then I softened the hard edges by applying a 1-pixel Gaussian Blur filter to the entire image.  In the Channel mask image the black areas represent the part of the image that will be PROTECTED and the white areas represent the parts of the image that will be DELETED when the mask is applied.

Left: original silo  image;  right: silo channel mask image
Next, in the Layers palette ALWAYS be sure to duplicate the background image before altering the original image by hold-clicking and dragging the background image into the little dog-eared New Layer icon at the bottom right of the layers palette next to the little trash can.  By default the duplicate image is called “Background copy”, now has TRANSPARENCY and the title is no longer in italic. Name the layer something appropriate, and turn off the bottom (Background) image by clicking on the little eye icon left of the layer thumbnail.

Load the Channel Mask by Command-clicking it in the Channel palette, hit the Delete key and the old background is gone.  You can its gone tell because of the checkerboard default pattern showing through.  Deselect by pressing Command-D BEFORE placing a new background image underneath the layer with the deleted background.

Once I decided on a suitable new background image I made sure it was at least as large as my working file and had lots of extra image all around.  Its important that the resolution of the new background image matches the resolution of the original image or it will appear too large or too small and be unusable.  Then, open the new background image file so that both files are open at the same time and click-drag it over into the working file.  If you had the bottom most Layer (Background) selected (but turned off) then the new image should have been placed above it and below the silo layer.  If not then click-drag it under the silo layer.  You also could have copied and pasted the image but I like to click and drag.

You can immediately see the effect of new background below the silo image layer.  Because I did not crop the new background image, using the Move (V) tool I could move it around quite a bit until I had something that looked good.  Its a great way to compose and change in real time.  Once I was happy, I cloned out some of the bulls head, color-corrected, applied the Shadow & Highlight adjustment and retouched the sky and tree line.

At left below is the final composited image.  Below right is the same image with a Mexican beach scene background instead of a compatible CT landscape just to show how seamlessly this method can effectively integrate separate images.  I could have used an image taken by the Mars Rover (free public domain image),  a winter snow scene or an image of my livingroom.  The point is to experiment and see what happens.  You may end up with something interesting enough to spark an idea that you never would have thought of otherwise.  It expands and builds confidence in your image editing skills, and its also great fun.

Left: new composite  image;  right: new image with silly background

My next post will feature this demonstration image as my next in-progress painting.  Please visit again and follow along.



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