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Hello – If you’ve come to my blog for work samples, please follow the related links, above. If you’re here for this week’s installment please read on….

This blog chronicles my progress learning new Photoshop skills from the book How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin, and my Friday Challenge submissions to the Forum linked to the book.

Friday Challenges – On the Wing & Amnesty

Here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for! Finally, another Friday Challenge post. If you’re new to the blog, you can view some previous ones to come up to speed. Otherwise, without further adieu, let’s dive in.

On the Wing
For Caplin’s 511th Friday Challenge he gave HotChiPs forum members this picture to work on: wingman

The narrative and his instructions were:

I’m indebted to Vibeke for this week’s image, which features a tourist sitting on the wing of a plane. He looks very relaxed here – but how laid-back would he be if the plane were up in the air? Can you make this plane fly?

I have to admit I received considerable direction from Gordon Bain, who not only is a forum member but also a pilot and photographer.  He gave me tips on how the propeller would look if it were photographed while spinning.  I have to say my image wouldn’t have come out as well if not for his advice.

OnTheWingMy caption for the image:

Clement always felt like his late mechanic, George, was with him whenever he flew and disapproving, as always, on how he was handling the plane.

Here is what Caplin had to say about my submission:

A great spin from srawland, and a very neatly inserted background. I like the way you’ve turned the man into a ghost sitting on the wing – subtly achieved, a clever idea.

The hardest part about this image was getting the propeller to look as if it had been photographed spinning.  I used the motion filter but had to run it several times at different settings until the image finally looked right.  Thank you, again, Gordon!

Friday Amnesty – A Fountain Revisited
The 512th Friday Challenged coincided with the 10th anniversary of Caplin issuing his first Friday Challenge. Here’s what he had to say:

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Friday Challenge, which posed its first puzzler on 2nd July 2004. Sadly, a move to a different server means most of the entries for that Challenge have now gone the way of all websites, although the original image still remains.

I’m indebted to Deborah Morley for coming up with this week’s Challenge idea: a global amnesty. She reckons there’s always at least one Challenge everyone thinks they should have entered but missed, or which they did enter but feel they could have done better.

So now’s your chance to revisit any Challenge from the last 10 years, and show us what you can do. Note: please provide a link to the original Challenge in your entry, so I can remind myself of the original image and entries!

Have fun with this one.

I went back  and looked at every Friday Challenge.  I kept coming upon ones where I thought, “Yes, I can do this one!” But, then I’d realize the reason for my enthusiasm was because Caplin had turned the Challenge into a tutorial in his book,   How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., so I’d completed them as an exercise.  Turns out Caplin sure got a lot of ideas from those Challenges and they weren’t just exercises for us. Very clever.  My only regret was not finding his book and joining the forum sooner.  And, I will never see one of my submissions as an example in one of his books because Caplin says the latest edition is his last. So much for my nanosecond of fame.

After visiting all of the Challenges, I decided to just work on one I had regretted not doing better or trying harder.  I came up with two entries. The first one was from Fill the Fountain.  At the time I had not tried making  spray.  It turned out to be remarkably easy. I should have tried it in the first place!

ChallengeAmnestyFountain I included images from four Friday Challenges that were before my time.  See if you can spot them.

Here is what Caplin had to say:

A fine revisiting of the recent Fountain challenge from srawland, with a neatly cut out spray bursting into the air. And is that someone playing the guitar behind it? I can’t see evidence of the other two Challenges you refer to.

Friday Amnesty – Creative Female Builder Redux
Not satisfied with one entry, I decided to work on another one.  In this case, Caplin had been underwhelmed by my original submission to Challenge 510: Creative female builder which featured an image of a woman standing next to a van that said “Kim Can, Creative Female Builder.” Caplin asked what a female creative builder was and what did she create?

For my original submission, I’d created a back story for Ms. Can. Then, I placed it in an image of on open magazine, subtly modeled after a noted U.S. thought leadership publication, The Atlantic, which I named The Pacific. If you need a magazine layout designer, I’m your woman.

But, it wasn’t what Caplin was looking for. It should be noted the Caplin is also a sculptor. Anyway, here is the explanation for my  second Amnesty submission:

While I didn’t actually miss the “Creative female builder” Challenge, the magazine wasn’t my original idea. The image below was. When I told my sister my idea, she said it was sexist and suggested I come up with something else. I worked hard at making that magazine look realistic, but it used words to tell how Kim was a creative female builder, instead of showing it. I did put this in the Reader’s gallery but it really deserved being here.

ChallengeAmnestyMuseumMy caption for this image was:

We’re all set for the opening on Tuesday, Ms. Can.

Here is Caplin’s Critique:

I’m interested in your second entry, creating a piano and what appears to be an artist out of some sort of shiny plastic material. Good old Plastic Wrap, eh?

Just knowing that I, as such a newbie to Photoshop by comparison, could cause Caplin to wonder how I did something was a huge thrill for me.   I did use the Plastic Wrap filter, but it was the next to the last step in creating the “statues.”  What really gives them that solid acrylic plastic look is the Chrome filter, set to a lowered opacity.

Well, I’ve had so much fun revisiting these that I think next time I’ll cover another set of Friday Challenges.  See you then!

Next: A Desk, A Comedian, and The French Resistance.

Shiny Surfaces – Part 7 – Grimy Windows and a Glass Case

Hello – If you’ve come to my blog for work samples, please follow the related links, above. If you’re here for this week’s installment please read on….

To all  my readers: Thank you for sticking with it and continuing to read this blog. As of March 25, 2015 I have completed all of the tutorials and self-tests in How  to Cheat in Photoshop 6th ed, by Steve Caplin.  Lest my readers worry, there are still lots more material to cover before I run out of things from the book. Even then, there will be  a steady stream of Friday Challenges.  No need to fret. So let’s move on to the final two tutorials in Chapter 9.

Through Grimy Windows
Glass is very difficult to photograph, which is why the majority of tutorials covering glass in Chapter 9 include creating it from scratch.  However, there are times when only real broken glass will do. To overcome the resulting challenges, the easiest thing to do is to cheat.  For example, to avoid a light flare the original image, below, it had to be photographed without a flash, which is why it’s so dark. Significant cheating occurred to accomplish the completed image on the right:

Through a Grimy Window bothFirst, a curves adjustment layer was used to lighten up the room. Then, the glass was selected, moved to a new layer and that layer copied.  One of the glass layers was set to Screen Mode and the other was set to Hard Light.  The opacities were adjusted and, finally, a more dramatic background was added.

 A Refracting Glass Case
The concluding tutorial for Chapter 9 is another instance where Caplin, again, does not supply all the images. Nor does he give all the steps needed to complete the project.  As is common in How to Cheat in Photoshop, Caplin expects his readers to use what they learned in previous chapters to complete this tutorial.

Make no mistake, this was a tough one. And not just because it required combing the Web for images of computer parts.  Indeed, it was also due to Damian Hirst. Caplin must be a fan of Mr. Hirst because this is the third time Hirst’s work is featured in Caplin’s book. In any case, the assignment involved taking the iMac monitor, below, splitting it in half, adding a keyboard (which also needed to be split in half) and then enclosing up the whole thing in a Hirstian box.  I was quite exhausted after finishing this one.

Besides splitting the monitor and keyboard, the “insides” needed to be added.  And it wasn’t just that the box needed creating, the reflection of the glass had to be created as well.  Caplin didn’t supply the image for the reflection, either.  I had to scour the Web for that, too.  Finally, as the title suggests, the refraction had to be added, which can be seen through the right side.  Caplin suggests only refracting through the side window because doing it through the front looks, as he put it, “awkward.”  However,  the refraction was perhaps the easiest step to do.

Now, we’ve finally made it through all the tutorials in Chapter 9! I think this calls for a couple of Friday Challenges.

Next: Friday Challenges: On the Wing & A Friday Challenge Amnesty

Shiny Surfaces – Part 6 – Jars and Bottles

Hello – If you’ve come to my blog for work samples, please follow the related links, above. If you’re here for this week’s installment please read on….

Clearly, shiny surfaces are significant to master as there are so many lessons covering them in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin.  But there’s only one more after this, so hang in!

The next three tutorials from Chapter 9 of take Photoshoping glass up a notch.  In this post, the first two tutorials cover putting things inside glass containers.  The final tutorial puts all of the glass skills together.

Enough introduction let’s commence.

Putting Things in Bottles
Caution: the images that follow might turn the stomachs of more sensitive viewers. Well, they did for  me anyway.  Caplin must have quite the sense of humor as this tutorial involved floating a brain in a jar. It took me longer than I expected, both to complete this task and to get the image panel ready for this blog, because I found I needed to take a break from looking at the pictures.

Many budding Photoshop artists put things in bottles. Where they fall down is creating the refraction caused by the liquid, as seen in the third and fourth images in the following panel:Things in bottles Original BottlePanel

To start, the green bottle is lightened using the Curves and Hue/Saturation Layer Masks, to enable making the brain more apparent through the glass.  Then, a desaturated Hard Light mode Layer of the bottle is put at the top of the stack, this puts the reflections from the glass in front of the brain – as they would be in reality. Next, the “liquid” around the bottled brain is created by drawing a shape made from a rectangle with ellipses at both the top an bottom.  This shape’s Layer mode was then switched to Hard Light and the section of the “liquid” behind the floating brain was masked out.

This is were most people  trying to create this sort of image stop.  But, to make the image look more realistic, another copy of the brain is made and a horizontal-only Spherize filter is applied to it along with brightening the color slightly so it looks like it being seen through the liquid.  Finally, the top  of the Spherized brain was masked out so that the original brain would be visible above the “liquid,” making  the refraction effect complete.

Distortion With Backgrounds
In the previous example, the jar didn’t have a background that needed distorting as well as the object inside the jar. Now we’ll cover that. To do so, Caplin uses a Friday Challenge called Put the fish in the glass, from July 9, 2004.   At the time, the latest version of Photoshop was “CS.” However,  when I took my CS3 course some years later, this skill still wasn’t covered. If you’re a regular reader, you know Caplin’s How to Cheat consistently goes beyond my CS3 course. But, I digress.

Like the brain in the bottle, distortion holds the  key to making a fish look as if it really is swimming around inside the glass.  But, this time, background distortion plays a starring role, as seen in the panel below:

Distortions PanelNote how just putting the fish in the glass without the distortion doesn’t look as realistic. Rather, it looks like it’s pasted to the outside of the glass. To get the fish inside the glass starts with reducing the opacity of the layer with the fish on it. However, doing so causes the background to bleed through the fins and tail in a most unrealistic way.  To compensate,  the part of the background that is showing through the fish is cloned out.  Now, doesn’t that make for an exotic drink?

Glass: Putting it all Together
This tutorial is a perfect example of how Caplin doesn’t give all the steps.  In fact, in this tutorial he leaves out a great many. Here’s what he gave us, and where we needed to go:

Putting it together BothIt would seem, at first, that it was just an exercise in changing a grey shape into a bottle and distorting the view of the window behind it. Caplin does provide instructions for that. However, there’s still the matter of creating the reflection on the table and on the greenhouse glass.  Caplin’s only instructions are to go back to the previous tutorials and figure out how to apply them to this situation. Now the vase just needs some flowers, but I’ll have to consider coming back to that another day.

So, we’re almost finished with Chapter 9. After one more post on the getting you surfaces all shiny, I’ll give you some more Friday Challenges. It’s worth the wait.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 7 – A Grimy Window and a Hirst Case.

Shiny Surfaces – Part 5 – More Reflections and A Bridge Too Far

Welcome back. If you like reflections, you’re going to love this post, as it discusses three reflective tutorials from How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin.

Glass: Reflection
Despite the title of this exercise, there didn’t seem to be any glass in the images Caplin provided.  Certainly the floor was shiny enough to be glass, but it looks to me more like highly polished marble.  At any rate, Caplin manages to take 4 disparate elements — sky,  floor, ornate picture frame, and businesswoman — and make them look a if they all work together.  At least he provides the instructions for doing so, anyway:

Glass reflections Both

Although either the Original and Completed montages could be used to enhance a business project on getting the big picture, the elements on the left don’t relate to each other.  By creating the reflections and moving the woman so she appears to be stepping through the frame, the whole image hangs together.

Creating the reflection of the sky on the floor was simple: Duplicate the sky layer, flip it vertically, reduce its opacity and change its Layer Mode to Hard Light.  Instant shiny floor without the laborious polishing!

The reflections of the frame and the woman were also flipped vertically and reduced in opacity. But, instead of Hard Light Mode, the layers were switched to Overlay. In addition, the frame’s reflection had to be sheared in perspective and a layer mask added – to both the original frame and the reflection – to make it look as if the woman is stepping through the frame instead of just walking next to it.

Once again, in this tutorial Caplin  goes above and beyond by giving his readers an art lesson along with a technical one.

Complex Reflections
This next tutorial I found extremely difficult to complete the first time I tried it, mostly because at the time I only had a mouse. As discussed in a previous post, I later acquired a graphics tablet drawing device. You an see the difference it makes, below:

Complex reflections Three Shearing the reflected camera layer and then moving the elements, such as the lens and lettering, wasn’t the challenging part.  The difficulty came with removing the highlights from the lens casing.  Even with the graphics tablet, it’s still a tricky business, but the result is much more convincing.

A Bridge Too Far
This tutorial was another former Friday Challenge.  The point of the tutorial was not the bridge itself, but the reflection on the water.  That said,  Caplin does have his readers build a very basic bridge even though he could have supplied it. That’s because many Photoshop users are uncomfortable with the Pen Tool, so Caplin used the bridge construction project as a Pen Tool practice exercise.   In any case, let’s focus on the water:

A bridge too far Both2

Typically, water images will already contain a reflection, such as in the Original. Simply duplicating the bridge, then flipping the copy and lowering its opacity of copied would allow the existing reflection to show through, but unconvincingly so.  To remedy this, Caplin has his readers make a new layer and use the bridge reflection as a Clipping Mask.  Then, some of the water texture is cloned over the mask.  Once the cloned water layer is reduced in both opacity and saturation, the resulting reflection is much more realistic, even if the bridge Caplin instructed his readers to create looks a bit artificial.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 6 – A Brain, A Fish and A Vase

Shiny Surfaces – Part 4

In this post we’ll see yet more uses for one of Steve Caplin’s go-to filters, Plastic Wrap, and create a view through a glass bowl.

A Massive Block of Ice

Once again Steve Caplin uses a Friday Challenge as the basis for one of his Tutorials in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed.   This time he has his readers turn plain text into an ice sculpture:Massive block of ice_bOTHCaplin reported in his book that most people were able to make the lettering sufficiently icy looking. It is accomplished by duplicating the layers, offsetting them – to produce the effect of a 3D object – adding some shading and then the Plastic Wrap filter. The trick that most people didn’t get during the Challenge was making the background distort though the ice, giving it more realism.  That effect is added by using a displace filter, as shown in the result above.

Getting the Glazing Bug

After 5 tutorials using the Plastic Wrap filter, Caplin finally has his readers wrap something in plastic.  In this case a scarab beetle: Glazing bug BothThis plastic effect is very simple. First, start a new layer and fill it with 50% grey. Next, use the Dodge and Burn tools to create highlights and shadows around the insect. Add a few random highlights and shadows to make the wrinkles. Then, apply the Plastic Wrap filter and set the layer’s mode to highlight. Instant polythene!  To make the beetle really look as if it is behind glass, create a reflection. It’s always the little details that complete a scene.

Glass: RefractionGlass refractionBoth

Caplin must be a very observant person. Most people would understand that making the image of a glass bowl look realistic should include a background visible through it. However, most people wouldn’t know to add the distortion, which is the key to making a photomontage look real:First, Caplin walks readers through using the Spherize filter to create the refraction distortion. However, glass is reflective as well. So, to achieve that effect, readers simply adjust the sliders in the Blending Options panel until the highlights and a bit of the reflection are visible. These sliders are found under the Layer drop down menu, much like the techniques used in the two tutorials in Hiding and Showing: Blending 1 & 2. And that’s it – your opaque bowl is now all clear. The only other thing to add is a layer mask on the stem and with a low opacity brush, reveal a little of the background.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 5 – More Reflections and A Bridge Too Far

Shiny Surfaces – Part 3 – Bad Weather and a Cold Drink

Welcome back! For the three tutorial’s in today’s post, we’re again creating water with Steve Caplin’s  How to Cheat in Photshop, 6th ed. But, unlike last week, these tutorials deal with water in other forms.

Snow and Icicles
As many winter holiday images are created months in advance, long before wintry scenes ca be photographed, our first tutorial has many work applications. It turns out creating snow isn’t hard, but it is a lot easier when using a graphics pen tablet drawing device  than with a mouse.  The first time I ran through this tutorial I didn’t have a graphics pen tablet and the results weren’t as convincing.  The image on the right was re-created using the graphics tablet and, I must say, it was ever so much easier to do.

SnowBothTo create the winter illusion, the snow began as a very light grey shape drawn on a new layer. Then the Dodge and Burn Tools were  used to give the snow some shadows and highlights.

The icicles also started out on a new layer as grey shapes, which also received a Dodge and Burn treatment. Then the Plastic Wrap filter was applied and the layer mode changed to hard light.

The snow bank creeping up the wall was created using a very low opacity brush set to  Dissolve and then applying white paint on another new layer.  Next Gaussian Blur was used to soften this layer.

Finally, curves adjustment layers were used to make the wall bluer and give the windows that warm glow.

Making it Rain
I love rainy days, which means  I loved completing this tutorial.  Recently, I used this same technique for a Friday Challenge submission, but that image will have to wait for a future blog post.  For now, you’ll have to be satisfied with the image pair below.

Making it RainBothFor this transformation, it helped that the original image was photographed on an overcast day.  Changing an image of a sunny day to a rainy one is much more challenging as there are hard shadows to remove.

As with the previous tutorials covering reflections in water, the background layer couldn’t just be flipped vertically to create the reflective puddle on the sidewalk and in the street. Instead, the buildings had to be sheared to match the perspective. The reflection layer was then masked so that the sidewalk would look damp and the street would have puddles. Next, the Ocean Ripple filter and the ZigZag filter made the reflection layer look more like water.

To produce the rain, a new layer set to Hard Light Mode was created and filled with a mid-grey.   To make the texture of the rain,  Gausian Noise was used and then the Motion Blur filter was added to develop the wind-driven look. 

The mist was created using the clouds filter on a new layer and then masked back so the mist appears only at the top of the image.

Finally, the lights were turned on in a couple of the windows using a Curves Adjustment Layer, resulting in a realistic effect.

A Cool Glass of Water
Since I originally completed this tutorial using a mouse, I planned to redo it using my graphics pen tablet device and then show only that completed image. But, I decided to let you see how much less convincing the results are with a mouse as seen in the middle image below:Glass of waterThree

Similar to previous water techniques, the ice started out as grey shapes on a new layer.  Again the Dodge and Burn Tools were used to create the shadows, with Highlights and the Plastic Wrap Filter giving the ice a shiny surface.  To make the ice look semi-transparent, the ice layer mode was changed to Hard Light.

The bubbles were created on a new layer with a brush that had it’s spacing set very high.  To make the resulting dots look more 3D, the Emboss effect in the Layers Styles was applied.  Then, the bubbles layer mode was changed to hard light.

Caplin apparently didn’t like the brown tint in the glass of the original photo, so he instructed his readers to make it bluer.  The shadow behind the glass was created by duplicating all the glass and contents layers, merging them and shearing them. Finally, the shadow was faded by using a gradient on a layer mask.

Still, I’m sure you’ll agree the middle image’s result is less convincing than the image on the right, where the graphics pen tablet device was employed.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 4

Shiny Surfaces – Part 2

Happy New Year! In celebration, this week’s blog entry showcases three wet and wild exercises from How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed, by Steve Caplin.  Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. They do all feature water, anyway.

Water: Moats and Reflections
Hampton Court Palace, which was the Royal residence for Henry VIII and all his wives, serves as the first water feature.   At one time the Palace had a mote as can be seen by the water stain in the original photo on the left, below.  Caplin tasks his readers with re-filling the mote.

Water moats BothThe first step was drawing in the shape of the water in a mid-grey.  The edges shouldn’t be perfect as they need to suggest a slight waving of the water. So, Caplin suggested the Lasso Tool instead of the Pen Tool or the Polygonal Lasso Tool.

The next step is duplicating the background layer, flipping it vertically and using the water layer as a clipping mask to begin to create the reflection.  Unfortunately, just leaving it at that won’t work. Sections of the buildings need to be selected and separately sheared so they fit the perspective.  These separate layers then need to be grouped and the whole group have the opacity lowered around 80% to look more like a reflection on water.

Caplin added a swan to his image but didn’t supply his readers with one.  I located one on Google Images, cut it out and added it.  I also had to match the swan and it’s reflection to the background by desaturating it using curves adjustment layers.  Next, all of reflected layers were merged and a wave filter was added to create the rippling effect.  Also, I made an eliptical selection around the swan on the reflected layer and applied the ZigZag filter to create a waving effect around the bird.

Finally, Caplin has his readers tint the water.  Instead of a nice blue, Caplin suggests a muddy green, as mote water wasn’t exactly “clean.” If you’re unfamiliar with castle sanitation of the period, you can Google that on your own.

Making Water From Thin Air
Since creating reflections is tricky, Caplin provides his readers with another tutorial on the subject.  This time  a reflecting pool is created from a sandlot, as seen in the image pair below.Water-from-thin-air Both Much like in the first tutorial,  water is created by painting in mid-grey on a new layer.  Also similar to the first tutorial,  simply duplicating the background and flipping it vertically will not create a convincing reflection.  The boy, the wall and the rest of the background all need to be put on separate layers and sheared separately.

This time, however, instead of applying the Wave filter, Caplin has his readers create a rippled water texture in a separate, much larger, document using the clouds filter and then the glass filter.  Next, the new document is then dragged into the image file and then the grey water shape is then used as a clipping mask.  Additionally, Caplin suggests deploying the Perspective mode of Free Transform to give the waves some depth, tinting it blue and then reducing the opacity to about 30%.

Finally, since the pool is shallow, Caplin suggests reducing the opacity of the original water layer so that the original sandpit just starts to become visible. All very realistic effects, I’d say.

Submerging in Water
The last watery tutorial of post was originally a Friday Challenge.  But, instead of creating water, an object (in this case a late-model Corvette) is submerged in a pool as seen in the image pair below.  Submerging in water BothTo create the partially submerged effect, the area of the car that you wish to place under water must be masked out with a layer mask.  Then, the layer containing the car and it’s mask is duplicated. Next, the mask in the duplicate layer is inverted so that the “dry” part of the car is masked in that layer.

At this point, the whole car can be seen again.  To create the appearance of the car being partially submerged, a wave filter is applied to the “submerged” part of the car in the layer with the mask that blocks out the “dry”part of the car and the opacity is then reduced to around 30%.  To complete the effect, a shadow is added under the car.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 3 – Bad Weather and a Cold Drink

Shiny Surfaces – Part 1

We end 2014 by moving on to Chapter 9 – Shiny Surfaces – of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin. In this chapter I discovered many fun tutorials compared to the workaday Chapter 8 – Heads and Bodies.  Naturally, even fun tutorials have practical uses.

Introducing… Plastic Wrap
If you joined this blog at the beginning, you’ll recall that my previous Photoshop course was a few years ago and covered CS3. The  book for that course had a paragraph on the Plastic Wrap filter, which discussed the technical aspects of the setting controls. However, like so many other Photoshop features, that course didn’t go beyond the obvious to explain the many uses for the filter.  By contrast, Caplin’s book uses this filter over and over. So much so that it seems to be one of his favorite tools.

In the first tutorial Caplin shows how Plastic Wrap can be used to create spilled liquid, but without the mess:

Introducing Plastic Wrap BothFollowing Caplin’s instructions, I first drew the irregular shape using a 50% gray and a hard-edged brush. Then, I used the Dodge and Burn tools to create highlights and shadows. Next, I applied the Plastic Wrap filter and changed the shape’s layer mode from Normal to Hard Light so that the gray would disappear.  Afterwards, I added the tint by using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer so the liquid would look like syrup.  Finally, to make the image that much more convincing, I duplicated the background layer, applied a wave filter and masked out all but the part of the jar’s rim that would be distorted by being viewed through the liquid.  A convincing spill and nothing to clean up!

Getting Hot and Sticky
You may recognize the next technique as the one I used to create the “hot dog” banner image for this blog.  If you haven’t seen the hot dog banner yet, click the “refresh” button of your browser until you do.  In any case, below is the image Caplin provided and my completed version:

Hot and sticky Both

To begin, I removed most of the mustard on the original dog.  After sampling the color from the mustard remaining in the lower right corner, I painted the lettering with a hard-edged brush.  I actually had to re-do the lettering because it turns out the color I sampled initially was too dark. Also, at the time, I was using a mouse as a drawing device and it took many tries to get satisfactory lettering. Now I have a graphics tablet, which makes this sort of project much easier. (Actually, it makes doing practically everything in Photoshop easier.  If you don’t have a graphics tablet, I strongly recommend you consider getting one. Or, ask for one as a birthday gift – which worked for me.) But, I digress.

After the lettering, I added some mustard drips with a smaller brush.  To make the letters look more three dimensional, I first used Emboss from the Layers Style dialog. Next, I merged the layer and then added a little Gaussian Noise and Gaussian Blur to give the lettering a little texture. Finally, to add a shiny look to the letters, I created a duplicate layer, desaturated it and set it to Hard Light and then applied (you guessed it) Plastic Wrap.

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
Originally, this tutorial was a Friday Challenge because there is a trick to getting bubbles to look realistic. In this How to Cheat in Photoshop edition, it’s in the book.  Below is the original image and the version I created following Caplin’s instructions:

Blowing bubbles BothAs in the “spilled liquid” section of this post,  the bubbles started out as gray shapes. However, this time I used a slightly lighter gray.  Similarly, I also used the Dodge and Burn tools to add shading and highlights.  Then I simply painted the colors onto the bubbles and also added four very light gray squares to suggest the reflection from a window.  Next, I changed the layer mode of the bubbles from normal to Hard Light.  Finally, I made a copy of the bubble layer, applied the Spherized filter and created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to add a little more color.  Not a bad effect.

“Well that’s it for 2014. I’ll see you all next year!”

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 2

Friday Challenge – Distorting Mirror

Sharp-eyed readers probably noticed the previous posts discussed Challenge #508 and #510, but skipped #509 altogether. As #509 was more involved than the other two, I thought I’d post it separately. And now the wait is over…

The Distorting Mirror
Caplin must have been in a rush for Challenge #509 because he shot the photo with his phone instead of his usual camera. Here is the image and his instructions:


“I was visiting a hospital this week when I noticed a curved mirror, placed high up in the corner of a corridor. I was intrigued by the extreme distortion of the view.

Can you remove me from the scene, and add someone else who matches the distorted view? I shot this on my iPhone, which was the only camera I had to hand, and that means the images is rather blurry and noisy – so you’re going to have to try to match that as well. It’s not going to be easy. Good luck! “

Well, Caplin was right. Just finding suitable images at the proper angle was difficult, let alone distorting them plus giving them the proper blur and noise to match the rest of the mirror.

After a little searching on Google images I found an image of someone who would work. Almost immediately, someone posted a submission using the very image I was going to insert.  My sister happened to call right while I was stressing out about it. She suggested that I not submit an entry, if it were that stressful. However, I am not one to admit defeat at the first little difficulty.  I took a deep breath and decided to look at this Challenge in a different light.

Right after that, another member posted that she’d planned to insert the same image, but then needed to switch.  Here is my reply to her:

vibeke wrote:
Mine’s pretty boring after looking at the other entries.

When Gordon posted his hint, I decided to find a suitable figure to replace Steve. I found someone right away, but before I could even begin to work on my entry, Frank used the same figure I had found. My sister suggested I just sit this one out, but then I thought, “This is not a contest. I can look at this as an exercise in learning how to remove one figure, replace it with another and match the background.” If I am successful at this, then I have accomplished something. The point is to learn how to do it, not to “wow” anyone.


Ultimately, I came up with the following (which includes the helpful feedback my sister and brother-in-law gave me during the process):


Caplin posted this critique:

I like srawland’s collection of assorted odd bods, who populate the corridor rather well – nicely achieved. I especially applaud your sentiment:

“This is not a contest… If I am successful at this, then I have accomplished something. The point is to learn how to do it, not to “wow” anyone.”

Absolutely. The spirit of the Friday Challenge in a nutshell.

When I made the “not a contest” comments, I’d intended to them solely to help another forum member.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that my remarks struck such a cord with Caplin that he quoted my posting to emphasize the point.

Next: Shiny Surfaces – Part 1

Friday Challenges – A Lighthouse & A Creative Female Builder

Thank you for being patient through the long, and important, chapter “Heads and Bodies” in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed. by Steve Caplin. Now for what you’ve all been waiting for – more Friday Challenges!! So, let’s get to it…

Oslo Lighthouse
For Challenge 508 Caplin posted the following image and instructions:


I spent three days in Oslo, Norway, this week…on a stroll around the harbour…I chanced upon this rather splendid miniature lighthouse, perched on the quayside next to the boats. Any chance of moving it to a location where it might be of some practical use? And can you get it to work?

Most people submitted lighthouses on a rocky coast.  However, having spent 5 years living in New England, where nautical motifs are very popular in residences, I had a different idea. Here is my submission…OsloLighthouse

…and Caplin’s critique

I like the idea of srawland‘s image, using the lighthouse as a domestic light. It’s surrounded by other nautically-themed interior design elements, making it blend in cleverly. The shadows of the table and chairs work really well, particularly the outstanding shadow of the glass table top. But should it be casting a shadow of itself on the wall behind? Surely not! And the shadow of the left chair does need to be pointing towards the light source.

I still get a thrill  when I read Caplin calling the shadow for the glass table top “outstanding.”   I used the grey brush technique I discussed way back in the “fruit fly” picture for Natural Selection.  On a cultural note, native New Englanders call their living rooms “parlors.” So, I wasn’t lapsing into British English with the word, but I did with the spelling.  I have noticed that spending time on the How to Cheat in Photoshop forum definitely has made my language usage more interesting.

Creative Female Builder
For his 510th Friday Challenge, Caplin posted:


I recently spotted this builder’s van, owned by KimCan – a self-proclaimed “creative female builder.” I realise I might be opening the forum to a gender war here, but can anyone suggest what such a builder might look like? And what might she build?

There were several very funny construction-themed entries for this Challenge. I ran my original idea past my sister, she felt it sounded sexist. So, I took a different tack.  On the KimCan website I  found an actual image of the builder. As an avid reader of The Atlantic, I used it as inspiration and created a magazine called The Pacific from what started out as a grey rectangle:  CreativeFemaleBuilderMagazineIn case it’s difficult to read on your screen, here is what the intro (or standfirst, as they call it in the UK), says:

When unemployed middle-aged administrative assistant Kim Carson decided to follow her passion in 2009, little did the mother of four cats know that blogging about her new remodeling business would inspire women worldwide to leave their dead-end jobs and follow their dreams.

And, of course, here is Caplin’s critique:

I like the way srawland has built her montage into a magazine spread, compete with standfirst and headline. What is the builder holding, though? I can’t think of any tool you’d hold like that other than a sledgehammer! Oh, and small point: on the headline, don’t capitalise every word, only the first one.

Caplin’s comment about the headline perhaps belies a difference between British and American magazine headlines. Or maybe it’s that Caplin has spent so much time working for newspapers that he just doesn’t get around to reading magazines. In any case, as every Atlantic reader knows,  my headline capitalization is definitely correct.

Next: Friday Challenge – Distortion Mirror

Heads and Bodies – Part 7

Finally, we’ve made it to the end of this chapter in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin! Thank you for sticking with it.  Next week I’ll post a Friday Challenge. I promise.

Coloring Black and White Images
Sometimes, you need that retro look that only an old photo can provide.  In this tutorial, Caplin not only teaches how to colorize a monochrome image, but also provides some of the color swatches he’s created over time.

Colorizing an image isn’t difficult but it does require a light touch, with very low opacity brushes.  Here is the starting image and what I created by following Caplin’s instructions:

Coloring black+whiteBoth Before one starts colorizing, Caplin suggests using CYMK  swatches even when working in RGB so that the image will print true. Next comes giving the image an overall wash in a flesh-colored tone using Color Fill from the Edit menu, switching to Color mode and clicking on Preserve Transparency.  Then, with very low opacity brushes, color in the beard area, add some blush tones and pigment the lips, using the appropriate swatches Caplin provides.

For the eyes and teeth, Caplin recommends against using pure white as it will look unnatural.  Instead, he supplies an extremely pale beige swatch. And, if the results aren’t quite white enough, Caplin suggests using the Dodge tool on a low opacity to add the sparkle.

Finally, to color the clothes, make them into a new layer. Then try Curves, Color Balance and/or Hue and Saturation to recolor them.  I used a combination of all three.

Voila! Now our gentleman has that retro look.

From Light to Dark and Back Again
For our last lesson in putting a head on a new body, we learn how to match skin tones when the components are dissimilar. Caplin demonstrates with two extreme examples. Both use Curves to handle the task.

The first task is lightening a dark body to match a fair-headed man, as seen in the following image pair:

BOX.AM 44To start, I  copied the body skin to a new layer and then created a Curves Adjustment layer, ensuring that I checked “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.” Note that Caplin always prefers to use an Adjustment layer, instead of directly adjusting the layer, because it can be edited later.

Next, the dark skin was lightened considerably  in RGB. Then, the Green and Blue channels were adjusted to give the skin a better match.  At this point, Caplin’s instructions stops.  He expects us to remember a critical process for combining two body parts, which he covered at the beginning of this chapter. Namely, to use a layer mask to make a smooth transition between the new head and the body. Without the mask, there will be a distinct line.  I was on guard for this and added the layer mask.

Solving The Opposite Problem
Of course the second half of this exercise darkening the skin to match the transferred head.  Here is the original and my results using Caplin’s instructions:

1964 65As in the first case, a Curves Adjustment layer in RGB is used to darken the skin of the body.  However, Instead of switching to the other channels, Caplin a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer is used to lower the saturation and tweak the hue.  Then Caplin suggests going back to the Curves Adjustment Layer and removing a little of the green in the skin.  Also as before, Caplin omits the specific instruction to create a layer mask for a smooth join between the new head and body.

When doing this type of work, Caplin suggests getting up and going do something else at the point you believe you’re “finished.”  That way, upon returning, you can see the image with fresh eyes, identify deficiencies and make any final adjustments.

There was one thing Caplin doesn’t mention, but it seemed obvious to me. While the bulk of the changes should be with the skin tones of the body, the head’s skin tones can also be altered slightly for a more realistic fit.

Next: Friday Challenges – A Lighthouse, A Mirror, and A Creative Female Builder

Heads and Bodies – Part 6

I know it seems like this chapter has gone on forever, but we’re almost through!  The final post on this chapter will be next week. And it will even be short!!

Turning Heads with Liquify
In the last post, we discussed moving eyes to create the appearance of engagement. But, sometimes it’s not just the eyes that need to be moved – it’s a whole head.

Last week I showed how Steve Caplin used the Liquify filter to change facial expressions in his book, How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed.  This week a whole head gets turned as seen in the example below:Liquify turning heads BothTo get it done, Caplin instructs to first move the larger elements of the face first – nose, the middle of the forehead, and the  middle of the mouth – using a large brush in the Liquify filter.  Then, work on moving the left side of the face, followed by the right.  Pay particular attention to the eyes and the philtrum (the  groove under the nose).  Getting these two elements to look right is key. The above rendition of actor Patrick Stewart’s head is my result after following Caplin’s instructions.

Cosmetic Makeover
The next tutorial was originally a Friday Challenge. From the 34 examples of Challenge submissions Caplin included, it is apparent that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Here is the original and my attempt after following Caplin’s instructions:

Cosmetic makeover BothThe original model is attractive, but almost everyone can use a little Photoshop magic. Caplin instructs to first firm up the jawline using the Liquify filter. He also suggests getting rid of the bump on the model’s  nose and extending her eyebrows. He then proposes getting rid of the model’s jewelry.  Finally, the hair is colored and makeup added, which is done on new layers in hard light mode.

Portrait Restoration
Most of the time when people take pictures, there is some sort of flaw.  A common one with bald people is the creation of a “blown out” area on the head from the lighting.  In this tutorial, Caplin shows us how to fix this problem:

AsnerBothI followed Caplin’s instructions to make a selection from the non-flared side of the head and then use Free Transform to rotate and scale it to fit over the blown-out area.  All of the areas of the patch that overran the head were then painted out using a layer mask. Finally, the tones in the whole image were smoothed out, first using the Anistropic version of the Diffuse filter (under Filter>Stylize) and then applying an Unsharp Mask to bring back some of the crispness.

Next – Heads and Bodies Part 7

Heads and Bodies – Part 5

So, I’ll bet you’re wondering how many more posts will be on Heads and Bodies. Well, the human form, and all it’s expressiveness, is one of the most complex challenges to tackle when making altered photos look realistic, so just hang in. We’re almost in there! Besides, it’s worth it.

Reversing the Aging Process
Last week we ended with a tutorial from Steve Caplin’s How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed.  that made a a 40-something woman look 70-something  and then, using the original image,  20-something. This week Prince Charles gets the Royal Treatment when his age is reversed as seen in the following:

HRH prince Charles Visit to IraqFirst, I followed Caplin’s instructions to use the Median filter and the healing brush to get rid of the wrinkles. Then, I deployed a Curves Adjustment layer to get rid of his grey hair. Finally, applying the Liquify filter firmed up his facial contours.  Unlike the woman last week, the original image of Prince Charles didn’t get aged. I wondered why. Perhaps Caplin felt PC looks bad enough already.  Or, perhaps the Queen was not amused.

Lewis Shows His Age – but not in this blog!

At this point in the book Caplin included what he calls a “Case Study.”  He discusses one of his own assignments as a Photomontagist for the Radio Times. In the popular televised Crime Series, Inspector Morse, the aforementioned Morse is accompanied by Sergent Lewis, played by Kevin Whately, who is much younger and slimmer than the character in the original books by Colin Dexter.  In those books Lewis is old, bald and overweight.  the Radio Times asked Caplin to make Whately appear more like what Dexter had originally envisioned.  Unfortunately, due to copyright issues Caplin couldn’t include a file for us to work on. However, his discussion of how he aged Whately was very thorough and I was able to use many of the hints when I created the “Ugly” version of Caplin for the Friday Challenge: the  Woodwork Shop.

It’s All in the Eyes
Sometimes, when making a photomontage, you have two great images but they are both gazing out at the viewer.  The composite image would have ever so much more interaction if the subjects were looking at each other.  In the next tutorial Caplin shows his readers how that can be achieved as seen in this image pair:

It's all in the eyesBothRegular readers might recognize the woman in this image as being the same one from Composing the Scene – Part 1. For that exercise Caplin had already done the work of cutting out one of the irises, making new whites, putting the iris back and duplicating it on the same layer so that the irises would move together.  In this exercise I had to do that work The key is to be sure to place the second iris so that it is looking in the same direction as the first one.

A Change of Expression
In the final tutorial of this post, Caplin once again goes beyond the mere technical and enters the realm of the artistic.

Many times an image would be perfect except for the expression.  Caplin instructs that with judicious use of the liquify filter, an image’s expression can be changed to suit the mood of the composite as seen in the following panel:

216 - ExpressionsPanelpsdThe key is to be subtle! Make only small distortions by using a large brush and a low pressure. Now you, too, can take that scowl out of your 3-year-old nephew’s face to make him match the smiles of the rest of the extended family on your Holiday photo card!

Next: Heads and Bodies – Part 6

Heads and Bodies – Part 4

Last week, a “cheat” technique I posted from Steve Caplin’s  How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed. showed how to make President Obama go bald.  In this next tutorial Caplin redresses the hair deficit by teaching his readers how to create a bearded Obama, as seen in the following images sequence:A fuzzy hair brushThreeThe first step to beard creation is fashioning a brush, which is accomplished by using a small soft brush to make a group of squiggly lines that looks somewhat like a tuft of hair.  Then, to turn the squiggles into a brush, choose Define Brush Preset from the edit menu.  When the Brush Presets Panel opens, the newly created brush will be displayed. The default brush will create a dense line.  For realistic looking hair the brush must be adjusted for Shape Dynamics and Color Dynamics. This enables the bush to make a more random, spaced pattern when used for drawing your beard.

Using my new brush, I went to work. First, I gave Obama the full-beard treatment, as shown in the middle image above. To me,  he looks more like a baseball player than a politician.  In the right panel, I used a layer mask to sculpt his beard. But, instead of using the typical soft-edged brush, which would leave an unnatural edge, I followed Caplin’s instructions to employ the very same brush used for creating the beard to create the mask. My result looks more realistic, but still not exactly presidential.

Beards and Stubble
In the next tutorial Caplin shows his readers how to create a short,  stubbly beard as seen in the following image pair:

BeardsBoth This technique uses Gaussian Noise and Radial Blur to create the stubble effect, followed again by a layer mask.  Doesn’t the beard make him look much tougher?

Regardless, I discovered that this technique, along with the previous one, also came in handy for designing the fur for the monkey statue as seen in Friday Challenges – The Problem of Fur, and again in this week’s Friday Challenge, which will be posted at a later date.

The Aging Process
For the final tutorial of this post, let’s consider another common graphics challenge: aging. Caplin  teaches his readers how to first to turn a 40-something woman into a senior citizen and then make her look even more youthful than before:

The Ageing ProcessThreeFor the elderly image, creating the hair grey was a simple matter of generating a new layer set to Color and then painting on it over the hair with either a black or a white brush. This  de-colorized the hair.  Next, facial lines and bags were developed by creating another new layer set to Hard Light. Colors from the darker parts of the face were sampled and a low opacity brush was used to build up the shadows on the cheeks, under the eyes and on the neck.  Finally, the whole image is desaturated using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer to get rid of the youthful glow.

In the youthful panel, the process is even simpler. The Healing Brush tool was used on the original image to get rid of the mouth lines and the eye bags. Now if it were only so easy to take 20 years off of a real face!

Next: Heads and Bodies – Part 5

Heads and Bodies – Part 3

At the end of my last blog post I stated that Steve Caplin,  author of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., had an additional “cheat” for dealing with hair.  Well, your wait is over! In this post I’ll not only cover that cheat but also a third cutout technique and a Photoshop magic tutorial.

Flyaway Hair Solution
Most of the time an image from a royalty-free site will have the subject’s hair cutout just inside the hair edge, which produces a clean cutout, but also looks unnatural even on a white background as seen in the left image from the pair below:

Flyaway HairBothIn the real world, as we all know, hair just isn’t perfect, even on a good hair day! So, what’s needed is some flyaways. In the above image, the flyaway effect was created with the Smudge tool. First a small splatter brush was used to pull out sections of hair. Then, to pull out single strands, a small, soft, round brush was used.  Next, the image is placed in front of a complex background and, viola, “perfect” hair.

Cutting Hair with Refined Edge
As in my last post, Heads and Bodies – Part 2, for this lesson Caplin revisits using Refine Edge,  a technique he introduced all the way back in Chapter 1 – Natural Selection, where the subject was a cat’s fir. This time, its the wispy hairs from the late German actress, Barbara Rudnik as seen in the following panel:

Hair with Refine EdgeThreeThe Rudnik cutout is a particularly tricky because her hair is close in tone to the original background. However, by using the Refine Edge dialog box, all those wispy hairs are captured.  On a white background, it’s obvious the image isn’t perfect. But, against a more complex scene, Rudnik and her hair look very natural.

The Problem of Hair Loss
The title of this tutorial sounds like a late night infomercial on hair restoration.  However, Caplin’s readers are doing just the opposite.   This technique has real-life application as   the best quality image of a subject is often an older one and the person no longer looks like the picture.  With Photoshop magic we can make an image look up-to-date as follows:

Problem of hair lossBothGranted, in reality Obama has gone gray, and not bald, but you get the idea.  However, Obama’s high, clear forehead makes him an ideal subject for practicing this technique.  By copying the President’s forehead, moving that copy upwards and then adding a layer mask, Obama goes from fuzzy to cue ball.

Next: Heads and Bodies – Part 4

Heads and Bodies – Part 2

As discussed in Heads and Bodies – Part 1, Chapter 8 contains a wealth of employment uses. And, the next tutorial even demonstrates a significant value of Steve Caplin’s How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed: expanding on techniques learned previously. This was a failing of my previous two courses on Photoshop. In those courses, a technique would be introduced by never used it again.  Not so with How to Cheat in Photoshop!

In Chapter 8 Caplin revisits Puppet Warp, which you’ll recall from the post Transformation and Distortion, back in Chapter 2.  This time, Puppet wrap is used to help with straightening posture as seen in the following examples:

Stand up straightBoth The key to making the slouchy teenager stand up straight placing the first set of pins on the major joints, where someone would naturally bend.  In this case, the pins were placed on her shoulders hands and midriff.  The next pin is placed on the neck and pulled upward, which makes the chin look deformed. Fortunately, moving the shoulder pins up restores the chin’s appearance. Next, a pin is placed on the model’s right clavicle and pulled up slightly to straighten the shoulders. Then, the pin on the hands is dragged to the left slightly to correct the tilting hips. Finally, a pin is placed on the sternum and pulled slightly up and to the right.  Now, if only it was as easy to fix a teenager’s attitude!

Body Banishing
Part 1 of this post discussed switching heads, but head substitution doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes a person needs to be removed completely.  While this sort of thing has been going on almost since the beginning of photographic images, it is much easier to do in modern versions of Photoshop:

011207-F-9269H-015To remove Matt Damon, Caplin instructs readers to select George Clooney, plus the background and sky from where Clooney’s hair parts all the way to the right of the image. The selected features are then moved to the left until Clooney covers up Matt Damon. Next, Clooney is then scaled so that he is in proportion with Brad Pitt.  Finally, the lower half of Clooney is selected and stretched so that he now reaches the bottom of the page.

Beyond Banishing Bodies
I found the Damon-removal tutorial all well and good, but I’ve been asked in the past to swap out one person for another.  I decided to try using the techniques learned so far with this image by swapping out Damon for the Dali Lama.  Using a Google Images search, I located the original image of the Dali Lama,  below. On the right are my results:

dalai-lamaAdditionBothFirst, I removed the microphone from the Dali Lama image.  Then I desaturated the image so it would match the Pitt/Clooney photo. Finally, I straightened the Dali Lama’s posture and gave him a sterner appearance so he now looks like he’s joking around with Pitt.  I also did a little clone stamping in the composite image to cover up the parts of  Damon that were sticking out behind the Dali Lama.

Then, I posted the composite image to the How to Cheat forum in the “Problems and Solutions” section.  Here is Caplin’s response:

Very nicely achieved! I like the way you’ve tilted the head back and removed the microphone – but especially, I like the way you’ve desaturated the new image to match the background. Very good work!

“Very nicely achieved” AND “very good work” – well, now that is progress!

A Hairy Situation
The final tutorial of this post introduces another technique for creating realistic hair cutouts, which is one the trickiest tasks in Photoshop.  In this tutorial Caplin uses the background eraser, but he cautions the technique works best if the hair is photographed against a plain, preferably white background, and even then it’s not easy as discussed regarding the image pair below:

The perfect haircutBothIf the original image had been cut out and then placed on a light and/or complex background, the job it would have been a much more straightforward selection.  A light, varied background will hid the light tinge at the edges of the hair caused by being photographed against a white background.

However, sometimes the hair cutout will go on a dark, plain background.  In this case, the light tinge needs to be dealt with so the cutout looks like it belongs in the new image.  Caplin suggests using the burn tool set to Highlights or the Clone Stamp tool, or even a combination of the two, to darken the light edges of the hair so the cutout looks as if it belongs in the new image.  He also suggests there is another cheat but leaves that for the next tutorial – as will I.

Next: Heads and Bodies – Part 3

Heads and Bodies – Part 1

Welcome back! This chapter, number eight, in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed, by Steve Caplin has a wealth of employment uses.  Companies frequently take pictures of their staff to use in promotional materials. But what to do when one of those staff members leaves and the company now needs a new person in the photo?  With Photoshop, it’s possible to swap out heads in a believable way, or even remove one person and add another.  This chapter has tutorials covering these workaday techniques.

Making the Head Fit
The subject of this tutorial is simple swapping of one head for another, in this case the tennis player Nicole Vaidisova with Anna Kournikova.  In the following image panel, note how the end bit of Kournikova’s pigtail is peaking out behind Vaidisova’s back in the Combined image, which is subtle but key to creating a realistic affect:

186 - Making the Head FitThreeIt’s easiest to swap heads that have been photographed from similar angles.  Here, the smooth transition is created by using a layer mask and then painting out the highlight under Kournikova’s chin.

Complex Head Attachment
In the previous example the skin tones were similar between the two images.  Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.  Mostly the skin tones don’t match, faces are obscured by objects, the lighting is different, image sizes are dissimilar and/or the grain of the images may be different. In this tutorial Caplin teaches how to address all these concerns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABesides scaling Gates head to fit, his skin tones needed to be adjusted using a Curves layer mask.  Then, I copied the microphone and placed it on a new layer above the Gates head layer so it would be in front of his face, as in the Eric Clapton original image. Finally, the lighting effects and the grain of the original image needed to be added to the Gates head layer.  Now Gates looks like a rockin’ dude!

Combining Body Parts
Sometimes Various body parts need to be combined to achieve the proper look.  Here’s how it’s done in the following humorous tutorial:

Note the differences in skin tones between the three components.  Again, I matched these using Curves adjustment layers.  In addition, the woman’s torso was subtly rotated and all three parts were blended together where they joined using layer masks. While the subject matter makes the result an obvious composite, it’s easy to see how these techniques can be useful for shuffling employees – or even refreshing an executive who is sporting a modernized hairdo.

Next: Heads and Bodies  – Part 2

Friday Challenge 4 – A Procession, A Woodworking Shop and A Beach Hut

As regular readers will be happy to discover, this week’s post features three Friday Challenge images.  I know you’ve all been waiting, so lets get right to them.

The Procession
For the 505th Friday Challenge Caplin posted this image:

processionOriginal His comments and instructions were:

“I photographed this church procession in a back street in Cambridge. I have no idea who they were, or why they were in such an incongruous location. Can you move them to a more appropriate setting?”

Wanting something humorous, I created this entry:take shotsProcessionThe caption: “Father Dunphrey had no idea why the tourists were so out of hand this year.”

Caplin’s critique:

“A splendid choice of background from srawland, with crowding camera-wielding tourists pressing right in on the procession. 

The Woodworking Shop
Then, for the 506th Friday Challenge, came this image:


Caplin’s comments and instructions were:

“I visited a remarkable renovated windmill near Sandwich, on the south coast of England, last weekend. In the grounds of the windmill stood a number of workshops, including this rather splendid woodworking shop (as you may know, woodworking is a passion of mine).

It’s a shame the scene is lit by a strip light behind the beam, though, especially since there’s a convenient lantern hanging right next to it. Can you move the light source? And remove that cable? And perhaps add a carpenter to the scene?”

Since Caplin noted his passion for woodworking, I decided to put him in the picture. However, I soon discovered there is a dearth of photos of Mr. Caplin. But,  there aren’t exactly many of myself to choose from either. In any case, I finally found one I could use.  I also decided that, if the tables were turned, I would like it if my head were put on a lovely body. So, I decided to do the same for Caplin and located a very well-muscled woodworker:

Right after submitting the image it occurred to me that Caplin might get the wrong impression as to why I made him look so buff. So, I decided to make him look bad.  And, I have to say it was much more fun making Caplin look bad than it was making him look good. I actually deleted the first two submissions I posted because I felt they were mean spirited.  Finally, I submitted this one:


Caplin’s critique:

“Great shadows from srawland, with the scene now definitely lit by that lamp. The scene seems rather foggy around the light, though; best not to just paint yellow over the lit area – and the light itself could be brighter. I don’t think I’ve ever been depicted quite as musclebound as that – it’s rather impressive. I’m sorry to see you felt the need to delete the later entries, though, as I thought they were progressing really well. Seriously, I wasn’t offended! Always amused to see how I’m treated, and I assure you it’s been a lot stronger than that in the past. I do like the remaining entry, though, featuring one of my sculptures and a rather neatly stained T-shirt. But… who’s going to get inspiration from Red Bull? Every great artist needs Absinthe! Oh, and of course you’re welcome to use the image on your blog. I didn’t know you had one, and it’s not listed in your profile – what’s the address?”

While I was astounded that he actually interested in a blog written by a lowly student, I was also pleased that he cared enough to ask. So of course I gave him the address!

The Beach Hut
Next up, the 507th Friday Challenge image:


As always, Caplin posted comments and instructions:

“I spent the weekend in the charming seaside town of Whitstable recently. On a stroll along the beach I noticed a long series of colourful beach huts, which may be a peculiarly English phenomenon: people fit them out with little gas stoves and sit outside them on deck chairs, drinking tea. This newly-renovated example has yet to be painted. Can you brighten it up? And perhaps open the doors so we can see inside.”

Apparently, people in the UK buy these tiny buildings in order to have a a place to change at the beach.  They tend to be very spartan, but some do have electricity to ensure water can be boiled for the all-important tea. Anyway, here is my submission:

One of the apartment houses I lived in Providence, RI, was painted with this color scheme. I had originally intended to find some images of children peaking around a corner as I wanted it to look like they were playing hide-and-seek.  However, when I googled “sneaking around” the gentleman on the porch popped up.  I decided to use him, but then I needed an explanation for why he was sneaking out of the beach hut.  Since he might be eluding the police, I went in search of an appropriate police officer by  googling “back to wall with gun.” This netted me the woman with the gun (at the back right corner of the building), which I knew would make for a much more interesting picture.

Apparently Caplin liked the paint job a bit more than the cloak-and-dagger additions:

“Dazzling colours from srawland – I think there are probably rules preventing this sort of outbreak of enthusiasm! I like the picnickers, although the woman with the gun does confuse me slightly. As to the interior – yes, plain wood is usually the right approach, but isn’t yours rather too brightly lit for an inside view?”

Despite Caplin’s ding on the interior wood lighting, I was amused enough by my creation I decided to make it into a birthday card. Here is the image from the front of the card along with the message I put inside:


Hopefully it gave you a laugh, too.

Next: Heads and Bodies  – Part 1

Light and Shade – Part 4: Explosions, Neon and Day-Into-Night

In this, the last of the posts on Chapter 7 of Steve Caplin’s fantastic book How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., I’m going to cover 3 “special effects” tutorials.

Explosive Effects
In this tutorial Caplin shows how to make a fireball by starting with a white shape.

176 - Fire without SmokeBothFirst, the rays are pulled out of the shape using the Smudge tool. The he blotchy colored effect is created using the clouds filter and setting the layer mode to Linear Light.  When the resulting shape is placed on an appropriate background, it really comes to life.

Neon Lights
In this tutorial Caplin shows how ordinary block text can be turned into a stunning neon sign.  It’s the technique I used to create the flashing neon banner for this blog.

178 - Lighting up neonBothFirst the text’s corners are rounded using the Refine Edge Dialog box. Then the neon tubes are created by selecting the text, making a new layer and creating a stroke by using Edit/Stroke (NOT Layer Effects). Once the Stroke is created, the original text layer is hidden and all the rest of the work happens on the Stroke layer.  Small portions are erased, to mimic the look of the tubes on a real neon sign. Then the inner glow is created by using Select/Modify/Contract and adding a white fill. The outer glow is produced by making a new layer behind the Stroke layer. The Stroke’s pixels are loaded by control-clicking on the layer’s thumbnail.  The new layer is used to feather the selection and then filled with the same color as the Stroke. Finally, a background is added and the effect is complete.

Day Into Night
In the final Chapter 7 tutorial Caplin shows how a daylight scene can be turned into a nighttime one, as seen in the following image pair.  This is the same  technique I used to create my submission for the Friday Challenge: The Rear Window.

180 - Day for NightBothl

First, the original sky was removed.  As you can probably guess, Curves Adjustment Layer Masks feature prominently in this exercise – not only to darken the whole scene, but also to create the lit windows and the street glow.  Learning how to use Curves Adjustment Layer Masks is one of the most useful tools I picked up from Caplin’s book.  (See Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part 1)

Next: Friday Challenge 4 – A Procession, A Woodworking Shop and A Beach Hut

Light and Shade – Part 3

A special effect is the highlight of this section in Chapter 7 of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed. But, first, author Steve Caplin teaches three different shading techniques for skin tones, all of which are now staples in my repertoire.

Dodge and Burn
Although my CS3 course had a tutorial on using the Dodge and Burn tools, they were only for restoring old black & white photographs.  Using the tools on skin tones is trickier, but can have very satisfactory results.  Just one critical note: these tools permanently change an image.  Once done, and the image file closed, the changes cannot be undone.  So, definitely  work on a duplicate of the original layer, just in case someone decides they don’t like the outcome.

As for the technique, Caplin suggests making  using low opacity brushes along with a combination of both the Dodge and Burn tools, set once to highlights and once to midtones.   In the image pair below I used Caplin’s technique to create a more striking appearance:

168 - Shading Dodge & BurnBoth The image on the left was photographed with neutral lighting.  As Caplin instructed, I added  subtle shading and highlights for a more visual interest.

Adding Some Drama With Light Modes
In this tutorial Caplin shows how three light modes  – Hard Light, Soft Light, and Overlay – can produce a Hollywood-style lighting effect.  Much as theatrical lighting creates drama by using colors, Caplin suggests using various color and light mode combinations to do the same for still images.  In the pair, below, I used his techniques to create the image on the right from the neutrally lighted figure on the left.

170 - Shading Light modesBothUsing a dark blue shade for the shadows, a purple one for the midtones and an amber shade for the highlights, Caplin shows how each combination looks with the three different light modes.  The image I created on the right uses Soft Light mode for a muted effect. However, by using Hard light for one or more of the layers, a more dramatic effect can be attained.

Reversing Shading With Curves
The next technique is one I’ve use over and over again in Friday Challenges.  When combining different images to create a new composite, more often than not the images will have different light sources.  A sure sign that an image has been produced by combining two, or more, separate images is having lighting that appears to come from different directions. Such inconsistent lighting is a common error. So common that Caplin frequently dings people for it in his critique of their Friday Challenge submissions.

However, correcting lighting issues has many real-work applications.  For example, creating a balanced image of an individual such as U. S. President Barack Obama:

172 - Reversing ShadowsThreeUsing curves layers, I created to both the neutral in the center and the right lit image of Obama, on the right, from an image that was originally lit from the left. By using Curves as an adjustment layer mask, instead of working directly on the image, the shading can easily be adjusted if you need to go back and do so.

Smoke Without Fire
Now, for the special effect I told you about. In this tutorial, Caplin teaches readers how to realistically add smoke.  Again, using layers in different light modes and the Clouds filter to add texture, Caplin created an image with a lot of smoke billowing from all the stacks in the version he used in How to Cheat in Photshop.  It’s my experience that refineries, at least around here, tend not to  produce copious amounts of smoke during daylight hours so as not to enrage the public.  Thus, my image is more subdued:

174 - Smoke without FireBoth

Next: Light and Shade – Part 4: Explosions, Neon and Day Into Night.

Light and Shade – Part 2

If Steve Caplin had stopped at creating relatively simple shadows in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., it would have been far more than most people learn from most Photoshop books.  Luckily, he continues with the art lessons, giving readers increasingly  complex shadow skills. As the great Renaissance painters taught us centuries ago, it’s correct shadows that ensure images look realistic.

Stacking the Deck
Making a stack of cards could require as many layers as cards, but Caplin teaches otherwise as seen in this example:


The original card looks flat and unrealistic.  Note how adding a shadow under each card makes the stack look three-dimensional.   It would be a clever trick, as is. However, Caplin goes further by explaining how to create the whole stack on one layer, thereby making a much smaller file. He also teaches readers how to use QuickMask mode along with the Levels control dialog box to get rid of unwanted shadow areas.

What’s more, Caplin doesn’t just use this technique once and never come back to it.  Nope. In Chapter 10 How to Cheat in Photoshop readers use this technique to create realistic shadows for a stack of bills being cut by a meat cleaver.  But, more on that when we get to Chapter 10.

A Basket of Shadows
When objects are grouped together they will cast shadows on each other.  In the following tutorial Caplin shows how to use Hard Light layers  and the Burn tool to create editable shadows, while making the image  look as if it its a photo of basket filled with toys rather than a photo that’s been altered to include a bunch of images of toys:

162 - Shading on Hard LightBlogFirst the ball, book and blocks layers are selected. A new layer is created in Hard Light mode and filled with 50% grey.  However, since grey is invisible in Hard Light mode, the Burn tool is used on it’s layer, instead of the actual objects, to create the shadows.  Note how realistic the basket on the right looks compared with the original.

Lighting Effects
When trying to convey a lamp lighting a dark room, the light must be hyper-realistic.  A lit lamp just doesn’t look like the example on the left, below:

164 - Visible light sourcesBothThe original image was created using three layers.  Caplin demonstrates how, using QuickMask mode, to selectively blur the light and paint on the shadows. On the right, the image now looks as if the light had been turned on in a dark room.

Turn the Lamp On
The next example was an earlier Friday Challenge that Caplin incorporated into the 6th edition.  The challenge was to make a table lamp in a room lit by daylight look as if night had fallen and the lamp had been turned on.

166 - Turn the lamp onBothAgain,  I am thankful I did not have to work on this challenge without the instructions! Since everything was originally on one layer, it turns out that all of the elements must be copied to separate layers before the light can be added to create the desired effect. On the right is my nighttime lamp with the light “turned on.”

Next: Light and Shadow – Part 3


Light and Shade – Part 1

Two of the most important, and often overlooked, elements in a good photomontage are the shadows and the light source.  Here, again, my CS3 coursework failed me.  The CS3 textbook used only had one sentence on shadows in a three-paragraph section on how to make combined images look more realistic.  And, the course didn’t talk at all about light sources  at all.

Steve Caplin,  on the other hand, wrote 15 tutorials on the subject in his book, How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed. Again, because I learned so much in this tutorial, I am splitting it up into several parts. 

Basic Shadowdry
The simplest shadows to create are along the ground and up walls.  In the first tutorial of Chapter 7 Caplin discusses fast and easy ways to create this effect. In the image below a simple shadow is added to the floor to make the two element image look more realistic.

152 - Shadows on wall and groundLong BothNote how in the image on the left the boy looks like he was photoshoped into the room because he appears to be floating just above the floor.  On the right, just the addition of the shadow places the boy firmly on the floor and in the room. Following Cpalin’s instructions I created the shadow  simply by duplicating the boy, filling that copied image with black, reducing the opacity, transforming the image and then adding a slight gradient so that the shadow would appear to fade as it got further away from the boy.  A bit of black shading was also added with a soft brush at a low opacity underneath his shoes.

The foregoing technique works fine if there is a large section of ground space.  However, subjects have an awful habit of appearing closer to the wall.  Caplin demonstrated how to do this in the second half of this tutorial as seen in the image pair below:152 - Shadows on wall and groundWallBoth

Once again, on the left the boy appears to float in the room, he’s just closer to the wall this time.  To remedy the situation, Caplin instructs his readers to use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the top half of the shadow, where it meets the wall, and then transform the selection so that it has the proper vertical. Note how much more realistic this looks in the image on the right.

 Tricky Ground Shadows
Images don’t always allow for shadows to be created using the previous technique.  Sometimes due to the light source, or light levels, the shadow needs to be made only from part of the image.  The following image pair demonstrates:

154 - Tricky ground shadowsToasterOriginalBothIn the right image, the shadow was created by making a selection of just the bottom part of the toaster. To complete the shadow, the same process of creating a new layer, and filling it with black at a reduced opacity, was used.

Sometimes a shadow has to be created from scratch, as it were, by painting it in. This is seen in the following image pair:154 - Tricky ground shadowsClockBothIn the image on the right, first a shadow was painted directly beneath the clock and then one was painted behind the clock.

 Complex Shadows
The next tutorial came from a previous Friday Challenge and, judging by the 26 images from submissions, no one got it completely right.  I’m glad I wasn’t part of the forum at that time!  This would have been very tricky to figure out:

156 - Complex ShadowsBothlIn order to create the shadow in the right image, Caplin instructs to first select the lenses, make a copy, fill them with black, and then reduce the opacity by using the Fade dialog box.  Next, he instructs adding to the selection the sunglasses frame and filling it with black.  Now comes the trick. Instead of trying to transform the sunglasses shadow as a whole, Caplin instructs his readers to separate the glasses into  three pieces: the frame with lenses, the far bow and the near bow.  Then, transform the pieces separately.  However, he also says to discard the near bow shadow and make a duplicate of the far bow. This is because the light source is from the side and it would be easier to get the correct shape using a duplicate of the far bow.  As I said before, I am thankful I wasn’t a forum member for this challenge.

Light From Windows
Instead of shadows, light is the focus of the last tutorial from Caplin’s book I’m going to discuss in this blog post, using the following images:

158 - Light from WindowsOriginal

The image on the left is perfectly respectable and looks like something out of an interior design magazine. On the right, the added light as if coming from out doors that throws window pain shadows makes the room look as if something dramatic is about to happen. Will Philippa receive Alistaire’s letter in time to prevent her from marrying Harold? Will Reginald’s love for Fiona ever be returned? And, what about Naomi?

Next:  Light and Shade – Part 2

Friday Challenges: On Rheas, Fountains & Leopards

I often wonder whether it’s difficult for Steve Caplin, author of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., to keep coming up with ideas for the Friday Challenges after 500-odd consecutive Fridays.  But, you came here to see some pictures – not participate in idle speculation –  so lets get to it.

A Game of Hide and Seek
Caplin entitled his 502nd Friday Challenge “Rhea on the Loose” and posted this picture of the ostrich-sized flightless South American bird:


Regular readers might recognize this bird from an earlier post, Transformation and Distortion.

Caplin provided the following instructions:

A series of news reports in the UK this week detailed the escape of a pet Rhea from captivity, and detailed the difficulty the authorities had in tracking it down. How would such a large beast go about concealing itself? This week, I’d like you to take this rhea (or choose your own) and see how well you can hide it in your own choice of background.

As my sister will attest, when I was a child playing Hide-and-Go-Seek, I could not be found. So this Challenge was right up my alley. See if you can spot the Rhea in the image I submitted:RheaInRuinsBlog

If you had trouble, apparently Caplin did, too, as he said in his critique of my submission:

It took me ages to spot srawland‘s rhea, and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got it – is that it in the foreground, a third of the way from the left? A tricky one indeed! I think the image may be just too small to be able to make it out clearly. (Unless it’s larger and much more camouflaged, that is.)

I found Caplin’s critique amusing as he did challenge us with how well we could hide the bird, after all! I’m pretty sure Caplin found the Rhea but for others viewing this post who might not have spotted it, here is where the  bird is hiding:RheaInRuinsPointed OutBlog


Getting All Wet
Caplin’s 503rd Challenge was called “Fill the Fountain,” with this accompanying image: fountainOriginalBlog

Caplin’s instructions:

I was in Paris for Easter, where I went to the outstanding Bill Viola exhibition at the Grand Palais. Outside the entrance is this rather splendid fountain. Well, it would be splendid if it had water in it. Can you oblige?

Caplin has the uncanny ability to come up with challenges that are either right where I was working in his book, or very close to it.  In this case, I’d just started the chapter that deals with creating water. Here is what I had to say about my submission and the image I submitted:

When Steve announced this challenge I had just completed the “Hot Dog” lesson in Chapter 9 of the 6th edition. In order to have something to submit, I got through the “Making Water from Thin Air” lesson, despite working full-time this week. However, I couldn’t figure out how to create the water spray in a beautiful fountain, as so many of the other entries. I hope someone can give me pointers on how to do that.

Here is my humble pool. I stand in awe of all of the other members’  greatness:


Caplin’s critique:

Some very nice water from srawland, with reflections of the fountain – sorry I couldn’t work a hot dog in there for you! I suspect the fountains other people have used have been taken from photographs, but extracting them must have been a tricky task.

Another forum member, Puffin31939, also posted this response to the comment I posted with my entry.

Sara, I also attempted to draw my own fountain but it ended up looking like a glass mushroom! I had expected cutting out the fountain to be a nightmare but Select > Colour range worked like magic. I was really surprised how easy it turned out to be.

Later, for the 10-year anniversary of the Forum, Caplin provided a “Challenge Amnesty,”  where we could resubmit any previous Challenge. I chose add a spray to my fountain, using Puffin’s  suggestions. But, that image will be for a later post.  However, astute readers might have already noticed that I added more than just water to today’s fountain!

A Dangerous Situation
“Snake in the Grass” was the title of the 504th Friday Challenge, for which Caplin posted this image:grassOriginalBlog

And the instructions:

I’m indebted to Michael Sinclair for this week’s photograph, a close-up of a field of grass. What manner of beasties might be hiding in this verdant meadow? And how hard will it be to conceal them amongst the grass?

Many forum members had difficulty with the perspective of the original image.  I noticed right away the steep angle of the scene.  I called my sister and asked if she and my brother-in-law could stage a photo shoot for me. (They were on vacation but were game to oblige.) Even their dog, Sox, got into the act (at my sister’s feet on her right), in the image I created: grassBackgroundLeopardBlog

To which Caplin said:

I liked srawland‘s entry, with the leopard neatly hidden in the grass – and the man looking over his shoulder is perfectly placed to look directly at it, making a great interaction between the two. Well judged perspective here.

Now if the “man” in the picture had only been a male and not my sister in layers of hiking clothes on a cold spring day in northern Minnesota! Luckily, she’s a good sport about that sort of thing.

Next: Light and Shade

Getting Into Perspective – Part 3

Finally, we have come to the end of Chapter 6 in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin.  Next week I promise more Friday Challenges.   However, there’s still more perspective to learn so let’s get to it.

Vanishing Point Filter, Part 1
This filter is something unique in computer software. It allows for a two-dimensional image to be moved, copied, and cloned in three-dimensional perspective.

While I can’t say my CS3 course didn’t mention this nifty filter, I can say it didn’t get much coverage.  In fact, the only mention was a call-out box saying there was a filter that could be used for correcting the perspective of an object with multiple planes, such as adding a duplicated window to a building:140 - Vanishing Point filterCompositBlogThe original image in the upper left has lots of planes but none of them are square on.  In the Chapter 6 tutorial, Caplin shows his readers how to clone the upstairs window in perspective.

First, the perspective grid is set up, using the Vanishing Point Filter, as seen in the upper right image.  Next, the marquee tool is used to  select the window, as seen in the bottom left image.  Then, pressing the shift and Alt keys enables a copy of the window to be dragged to the left in perfect perspective.

Vanishing Point Filter, Part 2
Even more amazing, is that the perspective grid can be dragged to the side of the building.  This enables the window copied, in perspective, to the side of the building too:

VanishingPoint2 Side GirdAs seen on the left, the perspective grid is dragged around the corner. Then the window is duplicated using the same technique as before and dragged to the side of the building. On the right, Caplin has instructed the reader to insert an image file of graffiti, however this same technique could be used to add a logo or other image to a building.

Cropping in Perspective
Sometimes, instead of creating or manipulating perspective, you simply want to get rid of an existing perspective. It turns out the crop tool has a perspective check box. It turns an image that is in perspective at an angle to be cropped so that the angle is removed as seen below:

144 - Perspective cropOriginally, the picture was photographed at an angle to keep the flash from creating glare on the glass.  The right image shows the perspective angle is removed after checking the perspective box on the crop tool and adjusting the crop boundaries accordingly.

A Piece of Cake
In the final tutorial of Chapter 6, Caplin once again uses a past Friday Challenge image.  The Challenge was titled “A Piece of Cake” because Adobe had sent Caplin a cake on the 20th anniversary of Photoshop.    Below is the original image and how I completed it:

146 - A piece of cakeBoth

The Challenge then, and in the tutorial, was to cut into the cake and show it with a piece missing.  While Caplin did not supply the interior of the cake slice for the tutorial ( I searched for a suitable one online) he did supply the directions. This was far more assistance than the forum members originally received for this exercise, proving its sometimes wise to wait for the second slice.

Next: More Friday Challenge Fun

Getting Into Perspective – Part 2

Last time I discussed how to determine simple and complex perspectives for images built “from scratch” as demonstrated in Chapter 6 of the book, How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed. To recap, the chapter teaches artistic lessons, not just software functionality. In this post, we’ll take things several steps further.

Correcting Perspective
Below, How to Cheat author Steve Caplin demonstrates correction of a two-element street scene consisting of a truck and its background:

130 - Correcting perspectiveBlog2CompletedAt the top left, the original image looks “photoshopped” because the truck is not in the same perspective as the rest of the image. To create a realistic image, first  the perspective lines for both the background(red) and the truck (yellow) are applied. Additionally, there is a green the horizon line.  Note how the vanishing points (where the two red lines and the two yellow lines intersect) are very different for the truck and the background.

On the bottom left, the truck’s perspective lines are brought into alignment with the background’s lines using Free Transform.  Unfortunately, there is still a big problem with this image.  While the front of the truck is in perfect perspective with the background, the back of the truck looks completely distorted.  To remedy this, just the back end of the truck was selected and Free Transform applied, with a shadow added underneath the truck.  In the finished image on the bottom right, the truck looks like it belongs on the street.

Fixing Wide Angle Objects
Sometimes an element would be fine if it were in the front of a composition, but looks unnatural when in the back. Here, Caplin uses a car to demonstrate:

132 - Fixing wide angle objectsBlogBy using Free Transform and Image Warp the car can now be placed farther back in the image.

Using Existing Perspective
In the previous post I discussed the importance of the horizon. However, most of the time an image doesn’t have a clear horizon.  When that is the case, look for hints in the image to figure out the perspective.  For this tutorial Caplin used an image drawn from an early Friday Challenge entitled “Open the Door:”

134 - Existing perspectiveBlog2

In the top right image, the door is removed and the perspective inferred by Caplin using the bookcase on right wall (red lines) and the table, picture frame and skirting boards on the left wall (green lines).

On the bottom left, I added a hallway image I found online, transforming to fit the perspective lines Caplin provided in the book.  Then, I worked on the door. I cutout the door panels, added frosted glass, the narrow side and the hardware. Finally, I added a shadow behind the door.

The bottom right shows the completed image, without the perspective lines.

Boxing Clever: Doubling Up
For the next lesson Caplin uses a cash box to demonstrate how to increase the height by making a copy and placing it in perspective on top of the original. The technique can be used to increase the size of any rectangular object, such as an office building:138 - Boxing cleverBlogCompleted2

From the original image at the top left, the box is duplicated and the copy dragged directly above the original.  The sides and top of the box are then cut apart and put on separate layers, as seen in the middle image screenshot. Next, as seen in the bottom left image, the box components are individually adjusted to fit the perspective of the bottom box by using Free Transform.  The bottom right image shows the completed, double-height box.

While it’s clear Chapter 6 has much to offer, there’s still more perspective to be gained.

Next: Getting Into Perspective – Part 3

Getting Into Perspective – Part 1

Although my earlier CS3 course covered the mechanics of creating images, in Chapter 6 of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed.,  author Steve Caplin gives readers important fundamentals in art. These lessons make the difference for creating truly realistic images.

Like chapter 5, Caplin begins chapter 6 with an instructional tutorial, rather than a hands on lesson. But, a very important lesson in perspective it is.  Incorrect perspective is high up on the list of errors for Friday Challenge submissions.   Caplin’s Golden Rule is:

“The horizon is always at the same height as the eyeline of the viewer.”

While I had certainly heard of perspective, it was previously only a vague theory to me. Thus, I found this chapter highly instructional.

Introducing Vanishing Points
Before Caplin’s book if I heard the term “Vanishing Point” I thought of a 1997 movie starring Viggo Mortensen.  I knew the term had something to do with perspective but didn’t know what it meant. Caplin gives a very good lesson in both how to determine the vanishing point and the use of repeat transformation as seen in the following series of images:

124 - Introducing vanishing pointsCombined images1In the top left image, the tops and bottoms of the store fronts make natural perspective lines.  In the top right image the perspective lines (red) have been added and the horizon line (green) has been calculated by drawing a horizontal line (hold down the shift key and drag horizontally) from the point were the perspective lines cross back to the left side of the image.  Note how the people’s heads in the background are intersected just as in Caplin’s rule.

The bottom left image shows the added elements (security guard and first row of the shutter). They are duplicated in perspective by using Free Transform repeatedly.  The bottom right shows the completed image.  Caplin did provide the shutter element in the exercise, but the technique he used to create it isn’t explained until Chapter 12.

Two Point Perspective
When I was in grade school I used to spend time in class doodling boxes.  I didn’t know how to create them in perspective and sometimes they came out looking more like crushed boxes.  In this tutorial Caplin shows how to box up a cow realistically and create a Damien Hirst-style image.

126 - Two point perspectiveCombinedIn the original image, besides the cow and one side of the box, Caplin also provides a nice clear horizon to help his readers create the perspective lines.  In the top right image, the perspective lines have been drawn and turned into a selection and filled. This is because copies of the side of the box will need to be distorted along the perspective lines using Free Transform and paths must be turned into objects or they will distort too. This is an important fact to remember because the final Chapter 9 tutorial requires making another Hirst knock-off. However, in the later tutorial the reader not only must draw the perspective lines, but the sides of the box must also be drawn as well.  The bottom image shows the cow neatly boxed up.

Three Point Perspective

If I had heard the term “three point perspective” before this tutorial, I would’ve thought it had something to do with an op-ed piece in a newspaper.  Not so. When an image you need to create isn’t at “street level,” that’s when you need to use the three point perspective technique.128 - Three point perspectiveCombinedThe left image demonstrates the type of perspective lines that need to be drawn.  Since the angle is now off the actual horizon, the verticals in the image will no longer be straight up and down.  An additional vanishing point is needed either above the object (if it is being viewed from below) or below it (if it is being viewed from above).  The right image shows the completed box as if it were being viewed from one of it’s top corners looking down.

That’s enough for now. As this chapter was so full of new concepts for me, I’m splitting it into three posts. Nest time I’ll cover correcting the perspectives when combining elements into one image. Stay tuned!

Next: Getting Into Perspective – Part 2

Composing the Scene – Part 2

As discussed in the previous post, Chapter 5 of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., is more about learning than doing – at least compared to the chapters that come before. The first three tutorials provide valuable information about working with figures (the human kind, not numbers).

Urban Farming
In the fourth tutorial of Chapter 5, Caplin finally provides an exercise to work on. In this case, he explains that just placing a figure in a background is rarely convincing.   To make figures look like they actually belongs in an image, it’s usually necessary to have the figures interact with the background in some way. Take this image:Back to foregroundBothOn the left, the farmer looks artificially inserted. On the right, notice how the farmer looks much more convincing. Not only is the farmer behind the fence, his feet are in the grass (instead of on the grass) and the pitchfork he’s holding is now on the other side of the fence.  In addition, the background is blurred, using a gradient, to give the image more depth.

Making it Work
When you’re trying to get a message across in an image, you’d think the best way to do so is by making it the most prominent item. However, that in-your-face approach is about as subtle as a slap, and frequently less effective.  Instead, adding other elements can draw the viewer’s attention to the right spot: composition tricksBothOn the left, the sign with the message is in perspective with the rest of the image and it’s the most prominent feature. But, due to the perspective, it appears to be pointing towards the statue in the background.  Very distracting.  On the right, the background is moved and blurred and a figure added (which, according to the book, is a picture Caplin himself). Now the focus of the image is clear.

In the Driver’s Seat
The final tutorial in Chapter 5 involved placing a figure in a car.  It seems like this ought to be an easy enough. But,  there’s the windshield and the interior of the car to deal with.  Caplin shows how, in nine steps, to take car from empty to occupied (and appearing to be driving down the street, too):People and carsBothThe first few steps cover removing all of the glass, including the sides and rear windows.  Next, a new interior, driver and steering wheel with a hand are added.  The car and new driver are then placed in another background that matches the perspective of the car.  The windshield and other windows were added by painting diagonally, in white, with a soft-edged brush set to a low opacity. Finally, the car was recolored by filling a new layer with blue, using the car as a clipping mask and then erasing the parts that didn’t need to be colored and a shadow added underneath. I could have also fixed the dent in the hood, but if someone makes it a habit of speaking on his mobile phone while driving, he probably has a few dings on his car.

Of course this exercise is drawn from an older project of Caplin’s. In a modern photo, the man would be texting. But, that project will have to wait for another day…

By the way, for the American audience, the driver seems to be on the wrong side of the car.  Keep in mind that Caplin is from the UK.

To summarize these last two posts: the Chapter 5 tutorials offer far more lessons on the art of photo montage than all of the content in both of the books used by the curriculum in my previous graphics courses.  So, don’t skip the first three just because there aren’t any exercises to work “on.”

Next: Getting Into Perspective

Composing the Scene – Part 1

In How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., Steve Caplin doesn’t just provide tutorials on how to use the software. He also spends considerable time explaining the art of creating a good photo montage.

For example, of the six tutorials in Chapter 5, the first three don’t present any exercises.  Instead, each tutorial contains valuable information about positioning figures in a scene, combining figures and varying the positions of the figures in association with one another to create relationships between them. In addition, the discussion includes the subtle effect of eye contact – or lack thereof – and how it can alter the entire meaning of an image.

Ascending the Mountain
Below is an illustration of the importance of placement. On the left, the climber has his goal in sight.  On the right, there is still a daunting challenge in front of him:LocationBoth

It’s All Relatives
Next up, combining figures for good storytelling:

Relative valuesCompositeOn the left, the two individuals are not relating to each other at all.  For all we know, they could be two people at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change.

In the center, with both individuals flipped horizontally and the addition of the man’s hand on the woman’s shoulder, we now have a picture of a proud, but perhaps protective, father and his affectionate, albeit somewhat stroppy, daughter.  (For you Americans in the crowd, the British term “stroppy” roughly translates as ill-tempered. Caplin, is after all, British.)

The image on the right tells a completely different story.  Although it’s still a father/daughter story, the daughter is separating herself from her father as all children eventually will. For his part, Dad is showing concern, possibly due to his daughter’s growing independence.

The Eyes Have It
In the next three images, the only thing different is the placement of the eyes. But what stories they tell!

I only have eyes Composite

On the left, the gentleman is clearly happy about winning the trophy he’s holding, but the woman is non-committal.  In the center, the man looks as if he can’t believe the trophy is his, while she looks totally bored.  On the right, he’s looking to see whether winning the trophy might win her as well. Her expression, on the other hand, reveals he hasn’t got a shot.

Even though there wasn’t an image to work on in any of the above examples, skipping them would have meant losing out on some valuable lessons on image composition.

Next: Composing the Scene – Part 2

Friday Challenges – Seeing Double & Back to School

Since last week’s post was so much fun, I decided to post a couple more Friday Challenges.  We will get back to lessons next week.

Managing Multiples
For the next Friday Challenge Steve Caplin posted this:

“Welcome to the 500th Friday Challenge! When I started this series back in 2004 I thought of it as most likely a one-off that, with luck, might keep people’s attention for a couple of weeks. And here we are, nearly 10 years later, able to look back on a vast body of outstanding work.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how to celebrate this momentous anniversary. Rather than setting a standard challenge, or even one of the compilation exercises that have marked previous centenaries, I thought that since, above all, you are the stars of this section, then you really should be the stars of this special edition.

You may remember that a few months ago I posted this image, photographed by the man who cuts my hair and featuring his father: barberdadIt’s an outstanding piece of work. Not only does his Dad feature as every single character in the image, there are several changes of clothes and – this is the best part – there’s a lot of apparent interaction going on here between all the participants.

So for this 500th Friday Challenge, I’d like to see you feature yourself in a similar montage. Position yourself in as many poses and changes of clothes as you can manage, placed at various locations in a scene. I know some of you are camera shy, so if you really can’t bear to appear, you may choose to portray a family member or friend instead.

Remember, interaction is the key here. Show me what you’ve got!”

I don’t have an abundance of pictures of myself nor was I about to go out an take some. However, I knew my sister and brother-in-law took lots of photos so I decided to contact them.  They agreed to put in the effort culling photos, and taking more if needed, with the caveat that I use the product as a networking opportunity by starting a blog to showcase my Friday Challenges.

Sara Cheats Is Born
On the one hand, I knew I really did need to up my networking game. On the other, I’m uncomfortable “bragging” about myself. After further reassurance from my sister and brother-in-law that blogging doesn’t mean I’m braggart,  I decided to start Sara Cheats In Photoshop about my progress working through How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin. And, to my surprise, I’m enjoying myself.

In any case, I waded through my sibling’s standing-in-front-of-something-and-smiling photos until I found some that detailed a few of their traditional Christmas activities. Some activities were food-related. This gave me an idea. So I asked my sister and brother-in-law to take a picture of their kitchen, which I used as the backdrop.

Below is my creation.  When I posted it to the How to Cheat forum (aka HotchiPs), I also issued a challenge as to which people were in the original image. Can you figure out who is original and who I Photoshopped in? (Forum members please don’t give this away.)KitchenScene11

Caplin’s critique and his guesses (not all which are correct!)

A personal challenge from srawland, as her kitchen scene features one original sister and brother-in-law, and three added-in extras. And it is hard to work out. I’d guess from the lighting that the one with the calendar is real – the tomato chopper looks convincing, …  As to the brother-in-law – the one at the back?

Post a comment and I’ll let you know if your guesses are right!

School Days
For the next Friday Challenge Caplin posted this image:EtonCaplin gave these instructions:

“As I was looking for a 501-themed idea for this week’s [501st] Challenge, I came upon the wartime 501 squadron of the Royal Air Force, and its Honorary Air Commodore Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. One of the images on his Wikipedia page shows him as a young schoolboy at Eton in 1914, dressed in the uniform of top hat and short coat.

Dressing like this today would lay young Henry open to public ridicule. Can you adapt the costume to make its wearer blend in better with modern fashion styles? You may wish to bear in mind that 501 is also a trademark of Levi’s jeans.”

Coincidentally, I’d  just finished  Chapter 8, “Heads and Bodies,” in How to Cheat, where Caplin explains that swapping out heads is relatively easy compared to changing clothes. So, I didn’t even consider putting young Henry in a pair of jeans.  Instead, I came up with this: EtonModern4Caption: Much to the chagrin of his father, King George V, Prince Henry started hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Caplin’s critique:

“An excellent image from srawland, with an electric guitar-playing Prince dressed in decidedly casual clothes. I like the new hat, and the hair that goes with it – a very good updating. Nice work.”

 Now, if changing bodies were only so easy to do in real life…

Next: Beyond the Basics: Composing the Scene

Friday Challenge – Madge Triumphs

Welcome back!  I know you’ve been waiting for this post because, let’s face it, Friday Challenges are way more fun than reviewing my progress through the book.   Although How to Cheat in Photoshop by Steve Caplin is very entertaining, creating something from scratch is much more interesting .

Madge Gets Her Way
On his How to Cheat in Photoshop online forum, Caplin eventually gives regular participants a nickname when he feels their work has improved enough to deserve one. The Friday Challenge entitled “Open the Pod Doors”  finally earned me a moniker: Pixel Perfectionist.

It also happened to be Caplin’s the 499th Friday Challenge, for which he posted this image:3Dcar

His instructions were:

One of the exhibits at last year’s 3D Print Show in London was a prototype of a futuristic car, in which it was claimed that 3D printing played a part – although I’m not quite sure how big a part. The car itself, though, is intriguing. How, exactly, would you get into such a car? How does the door mechanism work? And how hard will it be to take it out of the showroom and put it on a city street?

When I originally saw this Challenge I thought that there was no way I’d be able to open the door. So, I submitted this image, instead:StreetScene2To create the scene I used the Warp tool so the car  would be in perspective.  I also added a dark, stormy sky to dramatically reflect how Madge felt about her neighbors.

I’d planned to post just this image. However, another HotChiPs (How to Cheat in Photo Shop) forum member posted an image he had found of the real car, which showed how the door opened. Then, yet another member – who posted a closed-door image – posted  a new image where she opened the door.  So, I decided if she was willing to make a second try, then I would too.

For my second effort, I created a prequel to the first image:StreetScenePrequelTo get the man’s arm to appear to be holding onto the door I used Puppet Warp. For the woman,  I had to make her clothing  match the original image. I re-colored her dress and put yellow sweater in her hand. To make the sweater appear folded, I used the Liquify filter. Since this it was a prequel, I added a slightly less stormy sky to hint at Madge’s mood.

Here’s what Caplin had to say:

A very strong image from srawland, whose car is well integrated into a suburban street. I like the view of the woman inside the car, although it’s hard to see exactly what she’s doing – and the woman peering out of her front windows. Very nicely achieved. The second entry is splendid: a perfectly integrated scene. See – I knew you could do it! And it’s certainly good enough to earn you a much overdue title. Shall we say Pixel Perfectionist for your great attention to detail? Good work, Sara

I was so happy to receive my appellation that I didn’t bring up the deep ambivalence I felt surrounding being called a perfectionist.  If he knew the story, I’m sure he would have come up with a different title. But, all the same, I’m still pleased Caplin felt my efforts deserved bestowing a nickname.

Buoyed by my success, I decided to add a final image to complete the series. Now it’s all blue skies for Madge:StreetScene3

To give you an appreciation for the whole story, in the proper order, I created this graphic:StreetSceneWholeStory

Like Madge, hope all is well in your world too!

Next: Friday Challenges: Seeing Double & Back to School

Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part 2

As we learned in the previous post, the final “basic skills” chapter in Steve Caplin’s  How to Cheat in Photoshop introduces key techniques extensively used in photomontage. Next, Caplin demonstrates that he expects his readers have systematically followed the book thus far.

Major Color Changes
This lesson uses both a Hue/Saturation adjustment and Curves adjustment to change a black Mini Cooper into a red one with a British flag on it’s roof, a la Michael Caine’s film The Italian Job.  It’s also the first lesson where How to Cheat in Photoshop leaves out specific instructions. For example, Caplin gives hints in the steps for creating the Union Jack, but leaves it up to the reader to know how to complete the task.  I’m sure people who expect an author to provide them with all the necessary lesson components were cursing Caplin, and perhaps even throwing his book against the wall, when they attempted Step 6 (see below). I grumbled a little, myself. Then I realized that, in real-world situation, Caplin most likely would not be there to tell me what to do.

Step 6 reads: “Now for the flag. The roof is selected from the red layer, and made into a new layer; then desaturated using the Command-Shift-U (Mac) or Control-Shift-U shortcut.”92-Major-color-changesExamples-1024x543


Note that Caplin says “the roof is selected” leaving it up to the reader to determine which selection technique to employ.  I chose to use the pen tool, as I am quite comfortable with it. (See blog post Pixel Perfectionist – Part 1; First Encounter: Photoshop 7). I also used the pen tool for Step 10 where he instructs: “The red portion of the flag is created by drawing it’s outlines, and then deleting that area from the white roof to reveal the read coloring that’s already beneath it.”

I did have one bone to pick with Caplin about this project. Step 11 discusses creating the license plate using a certain font most people are not likely to have on their computer, as well as a technique not covered until Chapter 10 – Metal, Wood and Stone.  I also had to go onto Google Images to find “GB” sticker image.  Actually, I didn’t complete this lesson until I reached the “Metal with Layer Styles” lesson in Chapter 10, at which point I also uploaded a similar font from the Internet. It seemed a bit unfair that Caplin didn’t supply layers with the license plate and the sticker to for this lesson in Chapter 4. Maybe he was just trying to weed out the wanna be photosynthesists from the serious students. But I digress…

Selective Hue and Saturation
Sometimes an image is almost perfect except for one element being a little too bright or dull.  Such as in the case of the original of the image below:OS20069

It’s been possible to select a broad range of colors using the Hue/Saturation adjustment in many previous versions of Photoshop.  However, starting with CS4, it’s been possible to click and drag directly on an image to change only selected colors.  This is demonstrated in the “after” image, where the technique enabled lowering the red saturation in the boxer’s gloves and robe without drastically affecting his skin tones.  His shorts were also re-colorized to more closely match the new robe and gloves.

Natural Healing
Back in the post Just Thumbing Through I hinted at the power of the Healing Brush. In this chapter I learned the basics and a solution to a common problem.  The Healing Brush works by using the texture of the source area and then blending that with the lighting of the target area.  This works just fine if the target area only contains pixels of a similar hue and saturation. However, when there is a sharp difference, the Healing Brush produces an unsightly bleed as it tries to combine the pixels. My CS3 course did not address this shortcoming.  However, How to Cheat in Photoshop does.

In the example below the model had her blemishes removed by sampling a clear spot on her forehead and painting over the blemishes. This works well for all blemishes except the mole on her right cheek. In the middle image, notice how that “fixed” area includes white bleeding through from the background:100-Natural-HealingExample-1024x530

Caplin provides an excellent solution:  select that area of the face, subtract the white background and then apply the Healing Brush.  The image on the right shows the result.

As you can see, this chapter taught me a lot. I’ve used all of the techniques in Chapter 4 to complete subsequent lessons and the Friday Challenges. Speaking of which, stay tuned for more Challenge fun next week!

Next: Friday Challenge – Madge Triumphs

Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part 1

Although it’s the last “basic skills” chapter in How to Cheat in Photoshop by Steve Caplin, “Chapter 4 – Image Adjustment” introduces some key techniques are used extensively in photosynthesis. I learned so many new skills in this chapter that I’m splitting it into two blog posts to cover them all.

Another example of a technique that was available in CS3, but not covered in my CS3 class, is the Shadow/Highlight Adjustment dialog box. It can be found under Image>Adjustments. Below, I only used the default setting to considerably brighten the background without washing out the statue:86-Shadows-Highlights-1Example-1024x462

However, images often need further adjusting, such as in the next series. In the original image the sky was so bright that the camera compensated by making the rest of the image too dark to keep the sky from washing out. In the second image, the default Shadow/Highlight Adjustment setting lightened the other elements but not quite enough. For the third image, the picture is greatly improved by increasing the amount and tonal width:86-Shadows-Highlights-2-Example-1024x650

Now let’s consider the opposite problem. In the original image, below, the woman’s face is fine but her white coat is too bright and looks washed out.  The default settings take care of the coat but also darkens the woman’s face too much. Finally, reducing the tonal width in the Highlight section a balance between skin tones and coat can be achieved and the picture vastly improved:86-Shadows-Highlights-3Example-1024x653

Throwing Some Curves
A far more powerful tool is Curves. This is yet another tool that was not covered in my CS3 course even though it was available all along. Curves are tricky to master and I’d wanted to learn to do so ever I saw an Adobe demonstration video on the technique in the spring of 2011. I purchased How to Cheat, in part because I could see Caplin covered Curves extensively. If you don’t know how to use Curves, it’s worth purchasing the book to learn this technique alone.

One attribute of Curves, unlike the Shadow/Highlight Adjustment, is that the technique can be used as a Layer Mask. This means that the original pixels are not changed or lost. If necessary the original image can be recovered.While HotChiPs (How to Cheat in Photoshop) devotes two tutorials to Curves in Chapter 4, almost all the following lessons use Curves as one of the steps. The first tutorial demonstrates how, in nine steps, Curves can be used to take a dull image and make it into a bright one. Here is the original and the result:88-CurvesExample

The second tutorial demonstrates how the Curves technique can be used on a problem that commonly occurs when combining two or more separate images: Variations in tone and color cause the completed image to look like it was composed of separate elements. Here’s an example. In the original image on the left, the man’s hand is the correct size for his face. But, the face and hand clearly don’t belong to the same body. The right-hand image demonstrates how to use Curves in five steps to change the tone, contrast and brightness of  the hand to make it more closely match the man’s face:That’s enough of Chapter 4 for now. Tune in next week when a drab Mini Cooper gets a flashy 90-Matching-colors-with-CurvesExapmlesnewmulticolor paint job!Next: Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part II

Hiding and Showing

Of the first 4 chapters in How to Cheat in Photoshop  6th ed., by Steve Caplin Chapter 3: Hiding and Showing has by far been the most useful to me.

The chapter covers two very important technique: Clipping Masks and Layer Masks. Every one of my Friday Challenge submissions required at least one, if not both, of these techniques. Plus, most of the future lessons in How to Cheat in Photoshop also require mastery of these skills.

While my CS3 class did include a lesson covering both Clipping Masks and Layer Masks, neither of these techniques was touched on again. So, I didn’t understand the usefulness of them until I started working through Caplin’s book. However, now that I do understand them, Masks are near the top of the usefulness scale for all the skills I’ve learned thus far. That and Curves, which I’ll discus in a later post.

Well Suited
Caplin only has one tutorial on Clipping Masks, which he combined with a demonstration on layer modes. When I ran through this lesson, I did not immediately see the utility of it. That would come with later chapters when Clipping Masks are used extensively.  The two images below cover the gist of the lesson.

The lesson started out with a gentleman and an image of what looks to be Victorian era wall paper:Clipping Mask Original
The instructions are simple enough: Create a clipping mask. Below are the results with the wallpaper layer changed to various modes.  Some actually look like they could possibly be worn by a man, although I’m not sure in what situation it would be appropriate.Clipping Mask - with Layer Modes

Unlinking a Layer Mask
As mentioned, my CS3 course covered layer masks, but it never discussed unlinking one. Being able to move an object behind a mask is very useful when creating a photomontage. In fact, I’ve used the unlinking technique in every Friday Challenge so far.

Here is Caplin’s example:Original Layer Masks 1

Now, let’s say you’ve been given the assignment to put the man behind the desk for a corporate brochure. Here’s how it looks with the basic Masks technique:Layer Masks 1EditedOriginal
This is as far as my CS3 class went. I know because I went back and checked the book.

But now let’s say your boss (or client) wants the man to stand between the desk and the chair. With the basic Masks techniques, moving the man would move the desk as well.

As Caplin teaches, click on the chain icon in the layers panel to remove the link as follows:Unlink Mask


With the link removed the man can be moved and the desk stays put. The man can be move behind the desk as long as that desk section was masked. Otherwise he would just pop out in front of the desk again.Layer Masks 1Edited

A Soft Touch for More Realism
There’s even more I learned about Layer Masks from Caplin’s book. For example, while most layer masks are created with brushes, it turns out any of the painting tools can create a mask in order to make the image look more realistic.

Consider this original image:Layer Masks 2 Original

Note in the layers panel, the image is composed of three separate elements: a “people” layer, a “sky” layer and a “grass” layer.  Notice how it looks like the people are floating above the grass. Also, the sky and the grass come together along an unnaturally hard, straight line.

Layer masks can be used to fix it like this:Layer Masks 2 Completed

First, the sky was masked using a gradient, making the horizon line look more realistic. Also, an inverted mask, that has been streaked with the smudge tool to simulate blades of grass, has been applied to the people to give the appearance of being on the ground rather than hovering above.  Finally, a new layer was added to create a shadow under the people.  Note how the couple now look as if they really are lying in the field. Why they are doing so is still a mystery.

Masking Using Color Ranges
My CS3 course can’t be faulted for not covering color-based masking as Adobe didn’t introduce the technique until CS4.  Like the background eraser tool, a range of colors can be selected to be removed from the image. But the big difference is that nothing is permanently erased. It is only hidden.
Take this image:Layer Masks 4 Original
What if you want to give it a more dramatic background? No problem. Using a mask and the masks panel, you can select the color range for the blue sky and that area will be masked. This allows for adding the desired background:
Now that’s dramatic!Layer Masks 4EditedMtFuji

Blending in Some Fire Power
The final technique I’m going to discuss from  How to Cheat in Photoshop, is blending. This really isn’t a mask. But it does fit in with this blog’s theme of hiding and showing.

Take this original image:Blending options 1Original

It consists of three elements: The hand holding the gun, a picture of lit fireworks that has been rotated on its side and a background that looks like a library. Caplin wrote that whenever he thinks of gunshots, libraries come to mind. I concur. If a firearm must be discharged indoors, it should be in the library.

However, to make this scene look real, the black box around the fireworks needs to be removed.  It could be removed using one of the previous Masks techniques. But, there is another way. By using the Blending Options dialog box, under Layers>Layer Style, nothing gets erased, it just gets hidden. This technique definitely wasn’t covered in my CS3 course despite the capability being there all along.

Here is the image after adjusting the Blending Options:Blending options 1Edited

Now it’s ready to insert into that Who Done It? story you’ve always dreamed you’d write!

Next: Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustment

Friday Challenge – Mouseton Abbey

Prior to starting this blog, I previewed this challenge to a few folks and received resounding accolades. Please do leave comments if it strikes a cord with you, too!

Caplin entitled this Friday Challenge “Anthorp that mouse” and explained as follows:

“I took my first ever evening class, as a student, this week: Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy. Each of us was given a dead mouse, and over the course of the next four hours we were taught how to skin it, clean it, preserve it, stuff it and mount it.

The ‘anthropomorphic’ part of the title refers to the fact that the trainer brought along a whole range of doll’s house props – hats, rakes, chairs, benches, clocks and so on – which we were encouraged to attach to our completed beasts.

I just couldn’t decide, so I opted to leave my mouse more or less au naturel, rearing up in a pouncing pose. Can you complete the task, and give the rodent some more human qualities?”

He gave us four different angles and I chose this one:mouse3Blog

Of course I used some of my newly learned skills from How to Cheat in Photoshop 6th ed. for this submission. However, I do have to admit the text, and the black banner it sits on, were skills I learned previously in my CS3 class.

Having just finished a Downton Abbey marathon on DVD, I came up with this:MousetonAbbeyBlog

I didn’t like the way the mouse’s teeth stuck out in the original image so I closed it’s mouth using the Liquify Filter.  I only used that modified head one time, it’s the second in from the right. For the others, I decided I didn’t like the way the eyes were set. So, I used the Liquify Filter again to make the other mice heads. Oh, I did go back and correct my spelling error and put Caplin’s recommended shadows under their hats.

Caplin’s Critique:

“A very neatly constructed Mouseton Abbey from srawland, neatly replacing the cast of Downton. And very aristocratic they look, too! Some shadows under the hats would help them to look more in place, though – and do watch your spelling of “Abbey”!”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Friday Challenges. I certainly enjoyed coming up with the material! Stay tuned for more, including some with actual story lines.

Next: Hiding and Showing

Friday Challenges – The Problem of Fur

After my early successes, I was starting to look forward to Friday Challenges. Then came “In the Wild.” It turned out to be quite a learning experience for me, but only because I was dissatisfied with my entry.

Here is Caplin’s original image:elephantStatueBlog

His instructions were:

“I photographed this remarkable statue of an elephant outside the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It’s beautifully detailed: tied to a lump of masonry, it’s being molested by a monkey. It’s a very realistic scene, apart from the fact that it’s all made of dull bronze and is on a pedestal in Paris. Can you return both these beasts to the wild, and make them real?”

Below is my second submission.  In the first one, I forgot to add the monkey.  In case you’re having difficulty seeing it, the monkey is on the stone wall in the background toward the left side of the image.Lodge BalconyCompleted3Blog

Caplin’s critique:

“A very fine image from srawland, with the elephant nestled into the jungle. I found the original of your background image with TinEye, and I like the added woman with binoculars – she draws the viewer’s eye neatly across the scene to the new elephant. Perhaps the monkey could have made an appearance on the terrace? Aha – there it is in the second entry, although it is a little difficult to make out. And as for following my instructions – no-one else takes any notice either!”

I put the monkey so far back in the scene because I couldn’t figure out how to make it look more realistic.  By that time, I completed How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., through the middle of Chapter 8, but had not yet started on the two lessons about beards and stubble.  Once I completed them, I had a brainstorm.  Below are comparisons of modified versions of just the monkey.Baboon statureFurComparisonBlog

The monkey on the left is a simple cutout from the original image.  The center monkey is what I was able to create for “In the Wild.” Clearly, it’s not very realistic.  However, I created the monkey on the right using variations on the techniques discussed in the lessons covering beards and stubble. Granted this monkey wouldn’t fool anyone by itself. But, inserted in the appropriate background, it could pass for real.BaboonFurInBackground

Although I’m still working on my beard and stubble skills,Caplin responded:

“…[Y]our technique, Sara, is excellent: that’s a really good way of doing it.”

Next: Friday Challenge – Mouseton Abbey

Friday Challenges – The Fun Begins!

Steve Caplin might have stopped with the publication of his book, How to Cheat in Photoshop, and just gone back to freelancing. Or, he might have gone back to freelancing after setting up a Web site to advertise the book.

Instead, he chose to invite contact with his readers by setting up a forum. I am forever grateful he took this path.

Any time I am having difficulty with a lesson in the book, I can post a question to the forum. Most importantly, Caplin posts back within 48 hours. His answers and critiques are both illuminating and constructive, as befitting a top-notch Professor. The whole experience is much more like taking an online course than simply running through exercises in a book. I’m also grateful for “The Friday Challenge” feature of the forum. Every Friday Caplin posts a photo with very general instructions for what he wants done with it. This is very much like a real-world work experience than simply following directions in a book.

On the subsequent Friday, Caplin critiques all of the previous week’s submissions and, of course, posts a new Challenge. His critiques not only point out errors, but also provide the remedy. Caplin seems genuinely interested in helping people not only learn the craft of photo-montage, but also the art of it.

Enough talk. Let’s get on to the Challenges!

The Disused Railway
I began submitting Friday Challenges after I had completed Chapter 5, as I was working on my skill level and building confidence. That week’s challenge was entitled “The disused railway:” Disused-railwayOriginalBlog

Caplin’s instructions were:

“I’m indebted to Michael Sinclair for this week’s Challenge, which features a rather fine shot of a disused railway line.  As you can see, it’s now quite overgrown.

Michael didn’t feel the most was being made of this public resource. What could you do to liven it up? Turn it into a canal, perhaps? Or back into a railway? There must be some good use for a very long, rather narrow tract of land.”

There were many impressive entries. My simple entry used the Refine Edge technique, which I discussed in my “Natural Selection” post, around the feathers in the knight’s helmet and on the Disused-railwayWithKnightBloghorse’s tail. I also used a Gaussian Blur in a Quick Mask gradient, a technique in a Chapter 5 lesson:

Caplin’s critique:

A new member this week, and srawland has added a splendid knight on horseback hurtling towards us. A great cutout, and the tones match well with the scene. I think I’d have made him a fraction smaller and moved him back a little in the shot, so he blended in without dominating quite so much. Welcome to the forum, Sara!

A Night at the Opera

Caplin’s enthusiastic welcome definitely bolstered my confidence so I took on the next Challenge, “A night at the opera:operaOriginalBlog
Caplin’s instructions:

I went to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, this week to see a rather splendid production of Don Giovanni. Our seat were in the second row, with a view of the orchestra.Of course, I wasn’t allowed to film during the performance itself. Can you give me an idea of how it might have appeared once the curtain went up, the house lights went down and the conductor put in an appearance?”


My immediate idea was a “joke” entry. But, as a newbie, I felt I might be breaking some rule about poking fun at the opera.  At first, the other submissions were very serious indeed.  Finally, someone posted an entry that featured Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Emboldened, I posted this submission.  I noticed that other forum members gave their submissions captions so I entitled mine “How Children View Opera:”operaWithSheetMusicBlogI used a Layer Mask to place the cat’s heads on the Opera singers bodies. Unfortunately, after getting Caplin’s critique, I went back and changed my original Photoshop image and deleted the original .  I darkened the gold using a Curves Adjustment Layer and added the sheet music by using the stands as a clipping mask and Free Transform to get the correct angle.

Caplin’s critique:

“A clever and funny entry from srawland, with animal heads on the performers – and a neatly inserted conductor in the pit. You’ll soon realise that nothing is sacrosanct on this forum, Sara! A strong and entertaining entry – although I’d have, darkened the gold on the right to bring the house lights down.”


Rear Window

The next two Friday Challenges, while they did help me hone skills didn’t require any new ones so I am skipping them in this blog. Then Caplin posted a Friday Challenge entitled: “Rear window:”rearwindowOriginalBlog
Caplin’s instructions:

“This is the view from the window of our hotel room in Paris. It’s all quiet enough during the day, but of course it really comes to life at night…or does it? What sort of French farce might be played out against this backdrop?”


I was pressed for time due to minor surgery and a temporary position (now ended). Having previously managed to progress through Chapter 7 in How to Cheat in Photoshop, which covered changing a building scene from day to night, I created a scene with the party on the roof. I hadn’t decided to start this blog so I deleted that image after modifying it due to Caplin’s critique. In addition to moving the party’s location, I changed the placement of the figure holding his ears by switching it with the figure holding the broom, moved the bra from the roof.
Caplin’s critique:

“A very well lit entry from srawland, despite not having enough time for it – but those rush jobs are often the most compelling. I like the subtlety here: the man banging the broom on the floor, and the one clutching his head at the bottom, both suggest noisy goings-on in the apartment between them. I probably agree about the music. A good entry!”


My post-critique image:rearwindow2BlogIf I were to give this version a caption it would be: “The tenants at Crowne Royale Court always knew when the adults in apartment 3D were away for the weekend.”

Next: Friday Challenge – The Problem of Fur

Transformation and Distortion

This post is a little longer, but it’s photo-rich and a quick read. So, don’t be afraid to scroll down.

Chapter 2 of How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin is similar to Chapter 1 in its concentration on more “basic” techniques. But, like the previous chapter, there is also a surprising amount of new material. Most of the really new and interesting stuff is located under the Edit menu.

Free Transform and Image Warp
Almost every time two or more images are combined in Photoshop, at least one will need to have its perspective changed to make the composite look realistic. This can be achieved by using Free Transformation and Warp, both of which are found under the Edit menu and have been available since CS2. Free Transform allows for perspective changes on both horizontal and vertical axes. Warp (found under Edit-Transform-Warp) enables distorting an image in numerous ways, including creating the appearance of going around a curve.

For example, say you needed to add the poster image on the left to the three sigh boards on theater image on the rightTransformation in practiceOriginalAllSimply scaling the poster just doesn’t fit, especially around the curved side of the building for the middle sign board. And, you can’t put the poster on the right-hand signboard at all:Transformation in practicePostersUnrealistic
However, using Free Transform to scale the left and right posters while applying Warp to the middle poster yields a much more realistic result:56 - Transformation in practiceEdited
Further realism can be achieved by changing the mode of the layer from Normal to Overlay.

New in CS5: Content-Aware Scaling, Content-Aware Fill and the Ruler tool

Content-Aware Scaling
Let’s say you have a picture like this with some boring “blank” space in the middle:Content Aware ScalingOriginal
You need to add this picture to a publication, but space is limited. Simply cropping the edges causes the loss of interesting subject material. Previously, your only option was to crop out the middle, move the two ends together and spend hours hiding the join. Now, with Content-Aware Scaling, you just scooch the ends together without an unsightly join to remove:58 - Content Aware ScalingEdited

Content-Aware Fill
I have to admit I stumbled on to this new feature before encountering How to Cheat in Photoshop. However, because I tried to figure out how to use it on my own, I didn’t get a good understanding of this tool.

Content-Aware Fill has many useful applications for professional and home photography. For instance, you’re visiting an exotic tropical location and you want a picture of a pristine beach. So, you head out early in the morning to get the shot. But, darn it, someone is already there!beachOriginal
No sweat. Using CS5, just make a gross selection of the people using the Lasso tool then under the Edit menu go to fill and select Content-Aware in the dialog box and press OK. Presto-Chango! Now you’ve got the beach all to yourself!EmptybeachNote that with some types of photos you might also have to do a little work with the healing brush and the clone stamp tool, but at least Content-Aware Fill has done most of the grunt work for you.

The Ruler tool
Another addition to CS5 is the Ruler tool, which is located under the Eyedropper. It takes the guesswork out of straightening a crooked photo. And, combined with Content-Aware Fill can make even a skewed photo look professional. Here’s an example:

Oh dear, it looks like the ocean is going to pour right out of the picture!Content aware fillOceanViewFirst, use the Ruler tool to draw a line that matches the horizon and press Straighten:Content aware fillOceanViewStraightenandCroppedBut, with only the tiny bit of sky at the top, it looks as if a giant tsunami wave is about to crash down upon the viewer. YIKES!!

Fortunately, the Ruler tool is actually a two-step process. Undo just the last step. See how Photoshop tilted the picture to level the horizon as specified:Content aware fillOceanViewStraightened
Now, with the Magnetic Lasso tool draw just inside the perimeter of the image and inverse the selection to capture the white area. Then, select Content-Aware Fill and voila! Photoshop fills in the white area, and everyone stays safe and dry:62 - Content aware fill 2Edited
Also new in CS5: Puppet Warp

What a great innovation Puppet Wrap is. Often, an image would be just perfect if you could just move an arm, make it look like the subject is looking up, or even move the subject’s fingers. Now, you can do this without spending hours, or days, putting each element on separate layers, fiddling with Image Warp, joining everything back together and then trying to make it look seamless. What a nightmare!

Puppet Wrap is also located under the Edit menu. With it you can create life-like changes in an instant.  It works by creating a “mesh” in which you insert “pins.” The trick is inserting the pins at natural joints. Take this open hand:Front&back
Using the miracle of Puppet Warp, it’s closed:Front&back

Here’s another example. Say you wanted to make this rhea, a South American flightless bird similar to an ostrich, look as if it’s about to pluck some fruit off a tree.rhea
Simply place a pin at the base of the neck where it joins the body, a pin where the neck starts to curve up, one at the base of the skull and one at the tip of the beak. Now alternately drag the pins at the base of the skull and the beak until the rhea is looking up at the proper angle. Finally, place your rhea in the background and now you have a bird caught in the act of stealing some fruit:AppleTreeWithRheaPhotoshop is truly miraculous, if you know how to use it.

Next: Forays into The Friday Challenge

Natural Selection

As explained in my post Pixel Perfectionist – Part 2″, I intended to dig into How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin when my temporary job at LGS Recreation ended December 2013. However, I didn’t get down to business until mid-January 2014. Sure, I had excuses like the Holidays and then a bought of Swine Flu. But my real reluctance was due to the first chapter covering selection techniques. After all, making selections is SO basic. I began to question all the great reviews I’d read before I bought the book.  Was I wrong! When I finally did buckle down, I discovered that How To Cheat in Photoshop offered a wealth of little tricks in every lesson. Here are three from Chapter 1.

Trick #1 – Black vs. Grey 10 - QuickMask 2Flies

Both of these flies were selected and copied from a plain white background using my favorite selection technique: Quick Mask. On the left, I selected the fly using a traditional black, hard-edged brush.  On the right, I also used a black, hard-edged brush for the fly’s body, but the transparent wings were created by using a 60% grey brush, hard-edged, except for the veins in the wings. They were still selected using the black brush. Clearly, the right-hand fly looks much more realistic against the background. This technique was available way back in Photoshop 7, but neither of the books I learned from for Photoshop 7 or CS3 mentioned this trick.

Trick #2 – Combining Quick Mask & a Soft-edged Brush8 - QuickMask 1Blog

On the left is the original image. On the right, I made a selection using a Quick Mask with a soft-edged brush of just the deeply shadowed area on the right side of the man’s face. Then, I lightened just this selection with a curves adjustment layer. The Soft-edged Brush allows for making the adjustment without creating an unnatural-looking hard line.

Trick #3 – Selecting with Refine Edge & Refine Radius
A couple of lessons in Chapter 1 did provide me with completely new skills. Both lessons covered the Refine Edge dialog box that accompany the Quick Selection tool. This is new in CS5. One of the best things about this dialog box is how it allows for the capturing fuzzy edges such as in the example below:16 - Refine EdgeBlog3CatsGalleryPageBlog

The cat on top left is the original. Note all the little tufts of fur sticking out from the edges of the cat. The image on the top right reflects life before the Refine Edge dialog box – note the unnaturally smooth edge of the selected cat’s rounded back. Prior to Refine Edge, adding in the tufts required selecting each hair – beyond tedious! I selected the bottom cat  using the Refine Edge dialog box’s Refine Radius tool. Note how the wispy bits of fur make this cat look much more like it belongs in the grassy field. Adding a shadow and pulling some of the grass up around the cat’s feet would create more realism, but that would wait for later lessons. Suffice it to say, How To Cheat in Photoshop had my attention. I was impressed to learn such valuable tips even when the lessons seemed to cover only the basics.

Next: Transformation and Distortion

What I Have Learned So Far

Having just completed chapter 8 in How to Cheat in Photoshop, 6th ed., by Steve Caplin, I can say the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the devil truly is in the details. To make a convincing photo montage its all about matching levels, shadows, including the fuzzy bits, reflections, etc. Here are three images to illustrate.

#1 – The original from one of my CS3 exercises in 2010:


This image is, by the way, very reminiscent of something Caplin would offer as a “Friday Challenge” exercise, only he wouldn’t have provided any other instructions other than to embellish the house as you saw fit.

#2 – A completed assignment I submitted for my CS3 course in 2010

House CompleteCS3Low Res

I received an A+ on this assignment because I used all of the techniques as instructed. However, if I submitted this for a “Friday Challenge” exercise, Caplin would probably give me a very poor review and possibly take away my title, Pixel Perfectionist.

#3 – A revised version showcasing how to “Cheat:HouseCS5Blog


Using my newly developed Photoshop skills, I followed the instructions as to placement and sizing of the other elements that were in the CS3 lesson. I did add a new sky and a fence. Note that even though I was using CS5 to recreate this image, all of the techniques I used to create this version were available in CS3.

Cheating rocks.

Next: Natural Selection

Just Thumbing Through

When I purchased How to Cheat in Photoshop, I was working full-time but I figured I’d run through it on my spare time. Ha! Who has time when they’re working 40 hours a week?

Lucky for me Caplin had set-up the book so that someone can just flip through the pages and find a technique they’d like to try. So, I tried couple. This one was used as part of a Constant Contact eAnnouncement for my employer. I made it to tell Parade entrants they could now find where their entry was being staged. (See Pixel Perfectionist, Part 2 if you want to know more about the Parade.)

Constant Contact banner announcing street numbering

The painted on numbers are just regular text that has been run through a displacement map to make them look as if they have been painted on the street. The pavement was turned green  by using a photo filter so it would match the colors of the rest of the announcement.

A Healing Touch

The back story for this next series is a bit sad.     On June 27, 2013  I came home from work and found my partner of 19 years dead on the bathroom floor.  His death wasn’t completely unexpected, but it was still quite a shock. I held a memorial service for him in August. His relatives sent me some childhood photos to use in the service.

JeffCommunionBlogSeriesThe left photo is the original. Notice the torn top edge and wrinkled right corner. Using the Adobe CS3 techniques I learned several years ago, I tried to patch it using the clone stamp and spot healing brush tools. The middle image is the result. On the right, I cropped the photo and applied the healing brush tool, the latter of which Adobe has vastly improved in CS5.  The healing brush is now a great tool and Caplin has hints to make it even more effective. Had I gone through How to Cheat in Photoshop first, I’d have also used content-aware fill (located under the “Edit” menu) instead of cropping the photo. Regardless, healing the photo had positive affects all around.

Next: What I’ve Learned So Far

Pixel Perfectionist – Part 2

As suggested in the previous post, my fortune began to change in mid-2012 when I was hired by Los Gatos-Saratoga Community Education and Recreation (LGS Recreation). It was a temporary assignment to work on the Christmas Parade the organization sponsors every year in early December.  Initially, I was hired for my MS Access expertise (thanks to those Community Ed classes back in ’06)  but my manager soon discovered I was capable of far more than just entering the data from parade entry forms.

Ultimately, my manager leveraged funds in the budget to keep me on past the Parade. By then, there had been turnover at LGS Recreation so I was given the responsibility of creating their Constant Contact e-newsletters.  I was a happy little clam working at LGS Recreation and, more importantly, I decided to purchase some books so I could finally learn some of the new (at least to me) features in CS5.

Let the Cheating Begin
One of the books I purchased was How to Cheat in Photoshop,  6th ed., by Steve Caplin.  I bought the book because the reviews on Amazon said while it wasn’t for someone who had never used Photoshop, it was a great book to learn new techniques for a more advanced user. While I was working at LGS Recreation I did not have time to do more than just thumb through the book and try out a couple of the techniques Caplin writes about.

Alas, my manager (who I loved working for) was unable to squeeze me into the budget for 2014 and my temporary job came to an end after the 2013 Parade. However,  like the Chinese saying, “within every disaster is an opportunity,” I decided to use my time out of work to actually work through the How To Cheat lessons from start to finish.

I highly recommend How to Cheat, as it has really helped me improve my skills. However, the best thing about the book is that Caplin didn’t just publish it and go back to doing freelance work for The Guardian. Instead, to accompany the book, Caplin created an online forum, which he actively manages. If you get stuck on an exercise, you can post a question on the forum and Caplin usually responds within 48 hours, even if one of the other forum members has posted an answer to your question.

New Challenges Lead to a New Title
Caplain also posts what he calls “The Friday Challenge.” These generally consist of a photo that he asks forum members modify in some fashion, such as making a statue come to life. But, Caplain doesn’t give any other instructions, leaving it up to your imagination and creativity to figure out. As forum members finish their versions of the Challenge, they post them to the forum. The following Friday, Caplin posts a critique of each person’s submission.

I have never owned a book where the author stayed so involved and was so willing to communicate with his readers. I have no idea how he finds the time. A forum member offered the suggestion that Caplin has robots handling all his day-to-day minutiae.

Regardless, after a forum participant completes and submits several Challenges, Caplin awards them an appellation that reflects his impression of their work.

And that’s how I came to be known as Pixel Perfectionist

Next: Just Thumbing Through

Pixel Perfectionist – Part 1

After the hurricane season of 2005, The American Red Cross began consolidating due to their losses and, by June 2006,  my long-time San Jose,  California.,  job was “centralized” to Pamona, California. As I needed a new position, I worked at a part-time temporary job while looking for something permanent. During that period I discovered  my mainstream computer skills were rather rusty.

First Encounter: Photoshop 7
By the spring of 2007 I decided to enroll in the self-paced Santa Clara Unified School District Adult Education program called Computer Office Specialist. After completing the entire Microsoft Office Suite (including Access) early, I decided to learn Adobe Photoshop.

I did so well with both the Beginning and Advanced Photoshop 7 courses that the Instructor pulled me aside and told me that Adobe Illustrator 10 was still available on the center’s computers.  Although she was unfamiliar with Illustrator, she said I was welcome to run through the lessons in the book.  I quickly completed all the lessons and, shortly thereafter, I landed a job at the Blood Centers of the Pacific (BCP) in November 2007.

I obtained a copy of Illustrator 10 and I also purchased a book on the software by Friends of Ed.  (The book has an entire chapter on the Pen Tool with ten lessons.  If you are having trouble using this tool, I highly recommend the book.)  I thought I might never use Photoshop again, particularly because there was little call for it at my new BCP job.

Second Encounter: CS3
The economic collapse of 2008/2009 caused a steady reduction in my hours at BCP and ultimately resulted in being laid-off in June of 2010.  This time, I decided to avail myself of some of state job retraining funding to gain “Second Act” career skills. I enrolled in a formal web design program, which included a course in Photoshop CS3.

Sadly, the economy had not recovered when I completed the Web design program.  For 2011 and about half of 2012 I completed freelance Web and graphics design projects as well as holding a series of temporary positions, only some of which utilized my new Web and graphic design skills.

Fortunately, things were about to pick up.

Next: Pixel Perfectionist Part 2