I fought Po!!
Really, I did. I was at home minding my own business. I had bought home momos to snack on. Don’t know how Po found that out but he jumped me. I fought for my momos. Don’t believe me? I know you wouldn’t. That’s why I had this picture taken just before we started the fight.
Ok, all jokes aside, this is just one of the few things that you can do when once you get familiar with the concepts involved in photo manipulation. No two photo manipulations will ever follow the same steps. Every image is unique and so is the work flow behind it. In this tutorial here, my main focus was to show how to add shadows to make a manipulation look realistic. It’s what exactly that I am going to show to you in this post.
- A camera: Just about any camera will do.
- A tripod: Very much necessary. It helps you add realism to your manipulation by giving a clear idea of lights and shadows. You’ll understand this as you go through the tutorial.
- Photoshop: This is where we will create magic.
- Compose your scene and place your camera on the tripod. Start by taking a blank picture of the scene. This will give you a clear idea of how you scene has been lit by the ambient lights.
- Position the model and take the picture. In this case, it’s yours truly. I set the self timer to 10 seconds and took this shot. I took this shot without changing the camera settings or it’s position. So that Even if I had to cut out and place the model any where else, it will still be in the ambient light conditions.
- Now here’s the tricky part. The action figure of Po is very very small compared to the model. Still, to preserve the light conditions on the action figure, I placed it on the ground opposite to me, lied down and took this shot. Only as I write this, I realize that I could have placed a black sheet of paper or cloth at the bottom of the action figure to avoid the reflection of light from the white tiles on the ground. Just goes to show that planning is crucial in creative processes.
Once you are done shooting your images, it’s time to manipulate them.
- Open the images in photoshop.
- Using the pen tool make cutouts of the model and the action figure. (Here’s a little tutorial on using the pen tool.)
- Make a path along the contours of the model and the action figure. This is the most tedious part. You will need a lot of patience at this stage to get the cutout right.
- Once you have completed the path right click on the image and select make selection, this will create a marching ants selection along the path you drew with the pen tool.
- Press ctrl+c and then ctrl+v to bring the cut outs on a separate layer. You can see that here in the layers panel.
Do the same for the image with the model as well.
- Copy these two layers and paste them on the picture of the blank scene. To do that, right click on the cutout layer in the layers panel and select duplicate layer. A new window will appear, select the file name of the blank scene image and click on ok. Here, I’ve named the file with blank scene as merge.psd.
The cutout layer will get copied on the blank scene. You can see it here in the layers panel too. Do the same for the action figure and bring it too in the blank scene.
- The layers will get randomly placed on the blank scene. You will notice that the position of both the cut out doesn’t make any sense.
- Select the layer of the model in the layers panel and press ctrl+t on the key board. You will notice that a rectangle has appeared around the model. This is called free transform.
- Click with the box and drag and you will be able to drag and reposition it as you see fit. Click on the small boxes at the corners and the edges and drag; you will be able to alter its dimensions. Press and hold the shit key (option ⌥ for mac) and drag the corners and now you will alter the dimensions but without affecting the aspect ratio. Use this to reposition and resize both the cut outs as you see fit. You can reposition without activating free transform. Just select the later, press and hold ctrl key then click and drag with the mouse.
At this point you will have an image that is now where close to completion. The moment you look at it you will know that it’s fake. Time to add some realism to it. Go back to the image in step 2 and take a close look at it. The position of the model in this image and where we placed the cut out on the blank scene is more or less the same yet anyone can easily say that the one with the blank scene and the cutout is fake. Why? Lights and shadows.
If you study the step 2 image, you will see that I am throwing shadows on the floor and the wall. This is because in this particular scene, there are two light sources. One that’s falling from the left and another that’s coming from right above the camera.
- The one coming from left is a hash light source and it’s creating a sharp edged shadow on the ground.
- The one coming from behind the camera is a diffused light source and it’s throwing a soft shadow on the wall.
Create these these shadows and you will see a tremendous change. In fact they will look as if that life size structure of po is actually there.
Creating soft shadows:
- Select the background layer and press ctrl+shit+n on your key board. Hit enter in the resulting window and you will insert a new blank layer in between the background and the cut out layers.
- You will see a drop down window menu on top of the layers panel. Open this menu and select the blending mode of the layer as multiply.
- Making sure that this new layer is selected, take a soft brush and set the opacity to about 20-30%. Select black colour and start painting in the shadows. Use the image of the model from step 2 of shooting as reference. And since you are painting in on the blank layer which is below the cut outs, don’t worry about getting the black colour over them.
You are already seeing a big difference didn’t ya. Doesn’t look so fake any more. Let’s spice things up a bit. There is one more light source pending, the sharp edged one. You can paint it using a hard brush but there are chances that you will not get the shapes right. There is another easy way to handle this.
Creating sharp shadows
- Duplicate the cut out of the model. To do that simply hit ctrl + j (command + j on mac) after selecting the cutout layer from the layers panel.
- Hide the layer on top.
- Press down the control button and click on the thumbnail of that layer. You will see marching ants selection running along the contours of the cut out.
- Take a thick hard brush and paint it all black in the selection. Don’t worry about making mistakes, the marching ants selection will ensure that you only paint inside the selection without any spill-over. Change the opacity of that layer to about 20%.
- Now, unhide the layer on top.
- Select the bottom layer where you just filled with black and press ctrl + T to free transform that layer. Right click on the layer and select skew.
- Click and drag on the corners of the free transform frame to skew the layer and make it look somewhat similar to the hard shadow.
Once you are satisfied with the transform, hit enter. Take an eraser and erase away the excess shadows that are falling on the cupboard behind.
- Repeat this for the panda as well.
Now you will have a realistic looking image. Isn’t that a tremendous change from the previous work flow where we just placed the cut outs on the blank scene? Yes? Yes.
That is why, understanding the lights and shadows is crucial in photo manipulations.
Now to wrap things up. I will start with cropping the image to get a better composition. From here, I can just merge these layers and save my image as a jpeg file however, before I proceed from this point, I would like to create a fail safe. Many a times it happens that after I am done with the processing, I notice some mistake and because I have merged the layers, there is nothing much that I am able to do about it. To avoid that situation, here’s what I don.
First I select all the layers. To do this, select the first layer and then while pressing down the ctrl+shift button on the key board click on the last layer. Once you have selected all the layers, press ctrl+j on the keyboard. Now right click on the selection of layers and select, merge layers. So now, you will have the merged image plus all the previous layers underneath it separately.
To finish it off, I use the nik colour efex plugin. I will do a bit of tonal contrast adjustment and then add a bit of vignette for a gritty look.