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Photo Manipulation Tips and Tricks
“Photo manipulation is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception (in contrast to mere enhancement or correction), through analog or digital means” – Definition from Webster’s Dictionary 2006 edition
Tip 1: You are doing it right now.
Reading tutorials is a good way to improve. Know however, that there is not one Tutorial that will teach you everything. So you have to read specific tutorials on different subjects, such as essentials, technical solutions (ex. what software to use or how to use specific tools in a software), specific techniques (ex. lighting, toning, painting). This tutorial is one that aims to help an aspiring photomanipulator to get a good glimpse of the essentials, assuming that one is knowledgeable of the functions of the basic tools available in photo editing softwares.
Tip 2: Get stock images to create your idea or get your idea from stock images you see.
Stock photography is very under-rated. But it is one of the most beautiful arts ever. Herein, stock photographers can manipulate a photomanipulator into doing what he wants to be done with a stock image he/she took. Stock photos make up a final piece of Photomanipulation. And if you begin from an idea to getting the stock required for that idea, take your time in doing so, and know that it is just normal to sometimes spend more time looking for the perfect stock than patching them up. One more thing, digital BRUSHES are one of the best stocks ever!
Tip 3: Crop Cleanly and touch up the edges
A photomanipulation that is cropped lazily will easily be noticed as something unpleasant even on a thumbnail view. So take time in cropping. Do not always rely on magic wand tools or rely on feathering edges as if it really makes that object blend with the rest. It doesn’t do that all the time. Sometimes, there are subjects with areas almost impossible to crop perfectly, such as a person’s hair or the fur of an animal. A better way than just feathering their edges or smudging them, is to paint over them and blend in.
Tip 4: The background is one thing. The Foreground is another thing.
Pre-made backgrounds save up time, but each time you use a background and leave it untouched, this diminishes the originality and creativity of your work. On the other hand, have fun in creating your own world starting with your background.
Tip 5: Toning is vital!
When you have this ‘new world’ which you want to populate with the subjects you desire, you might want to adjust the color balance, brightness, contrast, curves etc. of every image you put on it. Do not mistake putting a photo of a person taken in broad daylight into a background that clearly depicts night time, unless that is your intention. Of course, you can do the toning later on, after you have placed all your elements in the canvas. Sometimes, it would suffice to just blend in a layer filled with the color (or gradient of the color/s) that represent the hue you desire.
Tip 6: Before you merge layers, make sure you’re done with the shadows and highlights, and sometimes, reflections.
Lighting is a powerful thing! Shadows and Highlights give dimensions to a photograph. Unless you want to create a one-dimensional piece, you need not concern yourself with shadows and highlights. The direction of shadows is the same as the direction of the light. Identify first, the light sources in your piece (or create them), and render the shadows they create. Take note, every bit of matter affects the direction of light. Does your light touch a mirror? the let light bounce accordingly. Is your light blocked by a tree? The tree puts a shade where it has blocked the light.
Tip 7: Focus on the Focus!
Of course, your focus must be the sharpest and most defined area in your artwork. Know that even sharpness in an image can have a fade-in or fade-out effect. This transition makes one image gracefully blend in with another. Use the feather options from the selection tools you use to apply fade effects.
Tip 8: Textures give a sense of feeling
Textures bring certain moods to your final photograph. Textures can be applied to a certain area selections and to the whole image as a whole. Try out some textures but be careful in deciding whether it is better to apply them or not.
Tip 9: Smudge, but not too much
Smudge enough to make the effect you desire, whether you just want you just want to remove the noise in your image or blend some elements. Sometimes, people use built-in or plugged in noise reduction effects available in the software their are using such selective blurs etc. But these programs most often destroy the edges and flow of pixels in the artwork, that is why smudging is done instead. Herein, your control the flow of pixels and amount of smudging that occurs. If you have smudged enough to make the photo noiseless yet lacking in depth and detail, it is a good idea to paint over the image by running fade out brush strokes through the visible highlights (using a lightening color) or the visible shadows (using a darkening color).
Tip 10: Learn from Others
The world wide web is another world where we can find a multitude of good examples and bad examples. Yes, learn from both the good and bad. Look intently at the works you see and compare what you like with what you don’t like. Distinguish what makes one work different than the other. Try to imagine what tools were used on every part of each image and try applying what suites you. Lastly, embrace objective criticism!
You may find technique-specific tutorials in deviantart.com