Thursday, April 24, 2014

Behind the Curtain

Most of the photos I post on my blog have very little manipulation done to them in Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. while others get more of the full "treatment."  I have no qualms about talking an image and playing with it until I get the image on screen that lives in my head.

My last post, which featured pics of dandelions, had almost no tweaking done to each image.  I think I made a small adjustment to the contrast on a few, while most were just cropped so that the image showed more detail of my subject.

Yesterday, while sitting in my bedroom, I noticed the bluebirds happily landing on the big iron plant hook next to our fence and so I grabbed my camera in hopes of capturing one so that I could create a composited image with some cherry blossoms I shot more than a week ago...see photo above.

I can count on less than one hand the number of non HDR, true composited images (two or more images merged together to create one) I have created since I began taking pictures, but every now and then I have to urge to create one.

It's not that I think combining images is bad, or less than other artistic forms of photography...though some snooty, photography types might beg to differ...the truth is that combining images, when done well, is time consuming and hard!  At least for me it is, so until I dramatically improve my skill set, I will stick with single images for the most part.

So, a happy bluebird obliged and I was off to the races to create a bluebird and cherry blossom extravaganza! :)

In order to combine have to first start off with really good quality pics.  Even if you plan to add layers, use actions, etc. to create the finished image, I believe that there is no real substitute for good original images.

In the picture above I have cut and copied the bluebird from the original picture, rotated and cropped the original cherry blossom picture, and combined the two...all using Photoshop.

As you can looks like a photoshopped image...the bird has way too much sunlight on it compared to the blossoms...and the whole image looks very cut and pasted.

The next thing to do is to soften the edges of the bird to make it blend more seamlessly into the other image, and to mess with the exposure levels, temperature, saturation levels, and contrast levels to make the two images appear more as one...but it's not there needs layer masks and other tricks to help the two images marry one another.

Time for a few texture layers to be added, all the while, adding and removing the texture from various parts of the image to make them recede or pop out more from the image.  Here, the bird is still too bright and his left claw is way too in focus compared to the out of focus branch he's standing still more work to be done.

More actions and many more layers later...I probably have 30 to 40 separate layers on here by now, and a multitude of actions...but I'm getting closer to what I want.  It looks less photorealistic...check. The brightness of the bird is now gelling better with the paleness of the cherry blossoms...check.  And I've added some decorative swirls and distressing to make it look more vintage...check.

When I say actions...I don't often use the pre-packaged actions sold by various companies, though I have used them in the past, I find they don't allow me to fine tune things as much as I sometimes want.  I prefer to make my adjustments by hand, using various software, to achieve the results I want...but if you find that you love pre-set actions, then go for it!  The beauty of photography, or any art form, is that there is no right or wrong!

In this final image I am pretty close to the image I had in mind before I even snapped the bluebird shot, and I'm pretty satisfied with the finished product...though I often go back in sometimes weeks or months later and play a little more...just for fun.

The only difference between the last shot and the one before it is the addition of a french script overlay from one of the documents I brought back from the fleamarket in Paris.  I laid it on top of the image and then erased 100% of it off of the blossoms and the birds so that it appears to float in the background.  

I spent a few hours on this...and had I been going for perfection I could have spent days on one image...something the real pros of photo compositing easily do.

I hope that if you are nervous about trying your hand at any type of art, especially photography, that you will explore all forms of it and throw back that curtain to see what you can learn from behind it taking on what might seem like an impossibly hard thing to master!

This post is dedicated to my dear, dear friend Jim "Papa Jim" Williams who lost his long battle with cancer on Tuesday night.  He will be remembered as an amazing...husband, father, grandfather, friend, police officer, gamer, gentle giant, and above all else, gentlemen!  You will be missed my friend, more than you know! 


  1. I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend. What a beautiful photo to dedicate to him. It's a work of art, my friend. I've always wanted photoshop....I love working on photos. Sweet hugs, Diane

  2. Never even considered playing with photos, I just shoot what I see and hope for the best. But your post has intrigued me... so I'll have to think about learning photoshop now.
    I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

  3. I'm very sorry to hear about your friend, Kat...I know you will miss him. The photos are beautiful and look like a lot fun to create!

  4. No words work for the loss of a friend. Your art image is beautiful.


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