Q&A: Using photos
Conrad Boulay, France
Using photo textures for concept designs is a common practice, especially in movie pre-production or VFX development. Usually I try to use my own reference photos for my professional work, to avoid any copyright issues. Of course, there are cases where you simply can’t go out to shoot some pictures of snowy mountains, but there are several free or creative commons-based images online that you can use in your personal or professional art. Family holiday photos are ideal because they often have more natural lighting than most over-saturated and colour-corrected images online.
For fantasy concepts/landscapes I often combine various pictures with similar lighting conditions and tones. Try to use photos that match each other as closely as possible. The easiest way to tweak the various images is with a Photoshop Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, but using Color Balance and Selective Color can also achieve good results if you’re keen to adjust the colours more accurately. To give extra depth to your image, introduce subtle extra ‘ fog’ layers.
To give an image an epic, larger-than-life feel, mix slightly different landscapes and foliage, and introduce dramatic lighting. Picking a distinctive time of day or type of weather will strengthen the mood of your concept. I’ve chosen the time before sunset, just after a storm has passed. This enables me to use more fog and mist in the forest, and emphasise the focal point by adjusting the lighting. For man-made structures, keep the overall shapes recognisable and then add something out of the ordinary. Here, my castle has unrealistically high towers that lack side supports. This minor architectural detail instantly adds the fantasy element, what is what I’m after.
Here I’ve used photo manipulating and basic matte painting techniques on my brother’s holiday photos. I removed any modern features and change the lighting, then add a castle to create a focal point.