Category Archives: Photoshop Creativity

Re-composing an Image to Realize Your Vision

While driving to Duluth to visit my grandson (forget about visiting his parents) I passed these buildings often and was quite taken with the unusual way they were painted. On a grey day last November, I stopped to take some pictures, and when I got home and looked at them I was disappointed. Once again, my vision did not match up with what the camera captured. This winter I went back to the photo to see if it could be transformed to what I envisioned. What was done went from thisphoto of agricultural buildings in Clayton, WI











to this.The Final


How it was done

The first thing was to simplify the forms with Topaz Labs’ Simplify plugin, then much of the highway was cropped out.  The remaining highway was cloned over as well as a few other distractions. This took the most time. I knew that the sky could use a little help but that bank of clouds was impossible to overcome. That area of the sky was selected with the Lasso tool and filled with content-aware fill, taking care of that problem. The next step was to brighten the buildings and this was done with a Curves adjustment layer. After pulling the curve up, I created a mask and filled it with black  Then with a white brush at varying opacities the effect was brushed in on select areas, revealing the brightening effect. Next a Color Fill layer was added using a  deep red color. The blending mode for this layer is Soft Light, and the opacity was reduced to 67%. It left the sky a bit purple, but that was okay. A nice dramatic cloud photo was put on a layer at the top of the stack. The blend mode for that was Overlay at 100% opacity. The clouds were quickly masked away from the buildings and foreground. I liked how the cloud streaks on the left created leading lines into the building, so I selected the cloud layer and warped it to approximate the same thing on the right. Then came a couple of adjustment layers that were clipped to the clouds. One was to increase the contrast of the clouds with a Curves adjustment, then a Hue/Saturation adjustment to modify the color of the clouds.  A free texture from Shadowhouse Creations went on the top of the stack. The texture was resized so that the dark edges went out of the frame. The blend mode was set to Soft Light with an opacity of 100%. I liked the way the texture diffused the clouds.The cropping of so much of the bottom of the image to remove the highway gave this the look of a panorama, which I didn’t want. The layered image was duplicated. then flattened. With a free transform,the right side was pulled towards the center to bring this back to more of a 4 x 6 aspect ratio. The final touch was an Exposure adjustment to brighten the overall image.

OriginalSimpliedClone and content-aware fillCurves to lighten buildingsColor fillThe cloudsClouds addedWarping the cloudsWarped CloudsCurves to add contrast to the skyHue-Saturation to modify sky colorShadowhouse Creations textureTexture added to skySqueezing the imageFinal with an exposure adjustment
Is this still a photograph? I don’t think so, but with some creative re-composing, it is the way I like to remember the scene.

HDR for Creativity

Going to the Grunge side of HDR

I was on a photo shoot this week and came back with a set of photos that begged to be processed as HDR images.

Rusty Door Even ExposureRusty Door HDRRusty Machinery Even ExposureRusty Machinery HDR

With most of them, they could have been captured in one single shot since the dynamic range was within what my camera could capture with one shot.  Instead, five bracketed shots were taken for each so that the grungy textures could be brought out.  Here you see the single “even exposure” next to the tonemapping that was completed in Photomatix Pro.  The grunge look was brought out with 100% strength, 100% detail contrast,  and a boost in saturation. I also moved the color temperature all the way to the blue side.

Watch Your Step

This one started out with five exposures that were tonemapped in Photomatix Pro.  After processing, instead of closing the image, I tonemapped the tonemapped image one more time.  To take this one step further, I added a scratchy texture layer above the result and used a blend mode of overlay at 80% opacity.

Watch Your Step First ProcessWatch Your Step Double ProcessedScratchy TextureWatch Your Step with Texture

 Single-Shot HDR

These were made from one single shot tonemapped in Photomatix Pro.  In addition to increasing the strength, detail contrast and saturation, the lighting effects presets were used.

Cap OriginalCap ProcessedHeart OriginalHeart Processed

The Rutledge Building

This started out with five exposures that were necessary since outdoors the sun was so bright that the shadow side of the building was dark and lacking detail with a single shot.  After processing, a texture layer was added with the overlay blend mode at 100% opacity.  I liked the effect but wanted more, so the texture layer was duplicated with the same blend mode, but turned down to 65% opacity.  The texture helped to distract from the power lines and fences.

Building TonemappedBuilding with one texture layerBuilding Final

The Final Images
Rusty MachineryRusty DoorWatch Your StepCapHeartRutledge Building

This grunge look is not my normal style, but for the subject matter, it worked for me.

Making a Little World in Photoshop

Minneapolis Little World

Minneapolis “Little World”

I’ve been watching some great videos at and saw a couple by Ben Long in his “The Practicing Photographer” series. There were two videos and the first outlined how to shoot for a pano, and what to look for in a scene. The second video showed how to stitch three frames together in Photoshop for a panorama, and then went on with instructions to create the “Little World”. Since it was only ten degrees outside with patches of dirty snow everywhere, I looked on my hard drive to see if I already had something that would work. You want to start with an image with objects poking up above the horizon and that will be twice as wide as it is high.   In a perfect world, the borders on the right and left sides will have matching subject matter and tones. The photo I started with did not fulfill that criteria, but I decided to give it a try, anyway.

How to

1. Open the cropped image in Photoshop. If your image layer is titled “Background” you will have to double-click the layer and let the dialog rename the layer to “Layer 0”.  I get a kick out of how Photoshop will not allow you to do a lot of things to the layer named “Background”, but if you hit the trash can in the bottom of the layers pallet, it is gone without warning.

2. Not all filters will run on 16-bit images, so go to the Image menu and choose “Mode”. If your image is 16-bit, change it to 8-bit so that the filter you need to apply can be used.

3. Go to the Image menu again and choose Image Size. In the dialog, toggle off the lock that maintains the aspect ratio and in the width dimension, enter the same number as the height dimension. Whether you are using pixels or inches doesn’t matter, but getting the height and width dimensions the same does . Check “Resample”, choose “Bicubic Sharper” and click OK. The result will be a square image and will be squished in on the sides.

4. Go to the Edit menu and choose “Transform”.  In the sub-menu, choose “Rotate 180 degrees”.  The squished image will be up-side-down.  That’s good.

5. The last step is to go to the Filter menu, and choose “Distort” and then “Polar Coordinates”. There are only two choices in the dialog that comes up.   Choose the one at the top, “Rectangular to Polar”.

City OriginalImage Size-01Image Size-02Image Size 03Polar Coordinates Filter

When this was complete, there was an obvious seam where the right edge abutted against the left edge. The difference in tonal values, especially in the sky, caused this.  With a bit of clone stamp work in the sky and where the bridge ended on the left side, I was done.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

At my photography club this week, members brought images to discuss and I brought the before and after of this little world. This jogged the memory of one of the club members, Amanda, and how she had done a technique similar to this one a few years ago. After the meeting, Amanda was kind enough to send me a link to some little world images on Flickr which were inspiring.

Below are the two little worlds that I made, the one that Amanda did a while back and one that she created from some shots she took today.

Minneapolis Little WorldLittle Farm World.jpg"Mendota" Little World by Amanda"Postmark Grill" Little World by Amanda

Thanks for sharing, Amanda! This is an example of how great it can be to belong to a photography club and share ideas and techniques with fellow members.

Getting Creative with Textures and Overlays

Church at the New Richmond Heritage Center

This church was captured on a very gray day the end of October and with all the negative space in the sky, I thought there might be room to add something creative.

Image Prep

First, I cloned out the building intruding on the right with content-aware fill and then cloned out all the parked cars in the background.  I also wanted to make this a little less photographic with all the detail, so I used Topaz Labs’ Simplify plug-in and used a preset I created.  I then added a color balance adjustment layer and moved the red-cyan slider towards the cyan side.

ClonedTopaz SimplifyColor Balance

Adding Textures

The real fun started with adding textures and overlays on separate layers. The first layer was from a digital scrapbook kit. I loved the color and texture and put it on a layer above the background. It was not large enough to fill the frame, so did a free transform to scale it up to fill the image. This totally obscured the background until I started trying blend modes to change the way this layer would interact with what was below. Although I sometimes use multiply and darken, more often the contrast blend modes of overlay and soft light work best, and I usually modify opacity. With this layer, I ended up using hard light for the blend mode and kept the opacity at 100%. I like what this did to the sky but not what it did to the church and especially the foreground.  I added a layer mask and with a soft black brush at 100% opacity, I brushed out the effect in the foreground and church.

Scrapbook TextureScrapbook Texture before masking0Scrapbook Texture with MaskScrapbook Texture Masked

Adding More Clouds

I wanted a little more interest in the sky so I went through my collection of cloud photos I’ve taken over the years and put this one at the top of the stack and transformed it to fit. This time I used Soft Light for the blend mode and kept the opacity to 100%. I made a layer mask and brushed away the cloud layer from the church.

CloudsClouds Masked

Making a Moon

I liked this, but thought the sky needed a little more interest. I could have taken a photograph of a moon that I had but I didn’t like the idea of introducing something so photographic compared to the rest of the composition. I made a moon by adding a new blank layer at the top of the layer stack and created a circular selection with the elliptical marque tool and then filled it with white. I gave the moon a Gaussian blur to remove the sharp edges, which would have drawn too much attention. Since I didn’t want a full moon, I added a layer mask to the moon layer and with a soft, black brush, I masked away until I got what I liked.  Making the moon on a separate layer made it possible to reposition it anywhere in the composition by just moving it around, and using a layer mask to change the moon left more future options open.

MoonThe moon layer in PhotoshopImage with the moon

Final Adjustments

NightnCurves AdjustmentWith a moon showing the whole image should be darker to give the feeling that this was at night and to make it more dramatic. I added a curves adjustment layer to darken the brighter areas, using the target adjustment tool to pull down the highlights. This also darkened the shrubs at the base of the church and so I masked the effect out in that area.Curves adjustment to darken edges

To help keep the eye in the picture, I added one last curves adjustment layer to darken the edges. I pulled down the darks, created a layer mask and filled the layer mask with black. This black layer mask prevented the adjustment from showing, so I took a large, soft white brush at low opacity and gradually added the effect in where I wanted it.

 The Final Result

Church composition with textures and overlays


Using Textures

There are times when I think some of my photos could use a little punch and that is when I start pairing them up with textures. If you do a search for textures on-line, you will come up with no end of possibilities. There are tons of both free textures and ones that cost money, but my favorite place to find textures is at Shadowhouse Creations. Besides being very creative, the texture sets are free and a few include recipes for using them. There are also some Photoshop brushes at Shadowhouse and the terms of use is very liberal.

Work Flow

Generally, you open your photo and the textures you want to use as separate documents. With the move tool, you click on the texture layer and drag it to your photo document and the texture becomes a layer above your photo. If it doesn’t fit exactly, you use the transform tool to resize and position it. Then you play with blend modes and opacities. At different times, I will try Multilply, Darken, Darker Color, Color Burn, Overlay, or Soft Light, trying them all out. When I start to see something I like, I usually end up reducing the opacity of the texture. Sometimes you will want to make a mask for the texture layer and paint into it with a black brush to reduce or eliminate altogether its effect in parts of the image. Often, I will add more than one texture to an image.

Tulip Bouquet

Tulip Bouquet OriginalTexturesOn this photo of tulips that I took on my tabletop studio last year, I used two textures from a set at Shadowhouse Creations titled “March 2013”. This set includes a recipe that I followed and got the result below. Tulips Stage 1


The textures and the darkening blend modes took away some of the brightness of the flowers, so I created a layer mask for one of the texture layers, and with the mask active, I painted into it with a soft black brush to reclaim the brightness of the flower centers. When done, I Ctrl-clicked on the mask then went to the second texture layer and clicked the mask icon at the bottom of the layers pallet. This is a way of duplicating the mask of one layer to another. Then I decided I would alter the color of one of the texture layers so that it was more harmonious with the flowers and I did that with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.


Tulips Version 1 Layers-2You can see I moved the hue slider pretty far to the left where I got a nice purple hue. I “clipped” that color adjustment to just the top texture layer by holding the Alt key and hovering over the border of the adjustment layer and the one below until a square looking icon with an arrow pointing down on the left appeared and then clicked on the border. That “clipped” the adjustment to just the layer below so it would not affect any other layers, since I didn’t want the color of the tulips to change. In the layers pallet, that Hue/Saturation adjustment layer is now indented above the texture layer.  To finish this off, I added a Vibrance adjustment layer, adding just a small amount, and then I brightened the centers of the tulips by adding a Curves adjustment layer. I pulled the curve up in the middle which brightened everything, then added a layer mask to that, filled it with black and then painted into it with a soft white brush where I wanted to brighten the centers of the flowers.

This whole exercise took about only about 15 minutes, not exactly a simple push of a button, but it was fun experimenting and was worthwhile in my view.


Tulip Bouquet Final

Other Examples

Here is another interpretation of the tulip bouquet, using a couple of other Shadowhouse Creations textures. The farm buildings were done using the same recipe as above.  The one of my grandson, Cole, was done using a recipe and textures from Shadowhouse’s recent “Simply Adorable” collection.

Tulip Bouquet OriginalTulips Version 2Farm Buildings OriginalFarm Buildings FinalCole OriginalCole Final

Textures can add depth and interest to all kinds of photos including landscape, floral and portrait images.