Have Fun With Silhouettes
YOU’LL NEED THIS ADOBE PHOTOSHOP
Choose a suitable package to subscribe to at www.adobe.com. THE SILHOUETTE— a blacked-out subject contrasting against a lighter background—has been used in art for centuries. Photographers work hard to create the effect, carefully exposing an image to get the perfect balance of darkness and light, although it’s as likely to be done accidentally by a bright background, such as a sky, fooling the camera’s light meter.
Pliny the Elder, writing around 79AD, tells the story of Butades the potter, whose daughter was in love with a young man about to leave on a long journey. She used a lamp to throw a shadow of his profile on to a wall, and traced it so she could look at it and remember him. Butades filled in the outline with clay, creating a relief of the man’s shadow, before baking it hard by the fire.
Things have moved on a bit since Pliny’s time, however, and these days we don’t need clay—we have digital image manipulation. We’re going to look at a couple of silhouette techniques here, both of which use one of Photoshop’s most powerful tools: the mask.
1 CHOOSE A PICTURE The image you choose here is important—it needs a strong subject you can cut out, and which will still be recognizable once you’ve darkened it. Beloved family members posing by a lake work very well, for example, because you can easily select the water to replace it with something more dramatic. Our photo of a young lady on a jetty [ Image A] is going to need a bit of work, because the foliage on the other side of the water creates a busy background that intersects with her hair. You’ll also need to choose your dramatic background image.
2 SELECTIONS The first thing to do is to make a selection around your subject—anything that you want to be silhouetted [ Image B]. We used the “Quick Select” tool in conjunction with “Select and Mask,” and even then had trouble with the soles of her feet and her hair. We shrank a “Quick Select” brush down to only a few pixels across, and zoomed right in to get the small details selected. For the feet, “Select and Mask” (from the “Select” menu) couldn’t tell the difference between the dark areas of the model and the water, so we once again had to take matters into our own hands. Once we were happy with the selection, a bit of feathering softened the join between subject and background.
3 BACKGROUND Choose a photo that’s bright, colorful, and preferably taken from the same sort of angle as your subject was. If the angle is much higher or lower, you’ll end up with an unrealistic result—although there are ways to tweak this. Placing your selected foreground subject against this new background is a case of importing the new image as a new layer, double-clicking your background layer to free it, moving it above the new layer in the “Layers” palette [ Image C], inverting your selection (“Select > Inverse”), and clearing (Backspace) away the bits you don’t want.
4 DOES IT FIT? If your two photos don’t line up, they can look odd. In our original photo, the join between water and land was around the level of the model’s shoulders. In the composited version, the horizon is much lower, and it looks weird, as though the jetty is sticking up in the air. You can use “Content Aware Scaling” (on the “Edit” menu) with your background layer selected to fix this [ Image D]— it scales different parts of the image at different rates, so you can stretch the lower part down without affecting the upper part. If this isn’t working for you, try moving the entire background to a place from which it looks good, and using “Content Aware Fill” to fill in any gaps. Select the areas that need filling, and choose “Edit > Fill.” In the pop-up window, make sure “Content Aware” is selected from the drop-down, and hit “OK.” Photoshop fills in the selected area with its best guess, and as long as it’s something like water or sky—nothing too complex—it does a good job.
5 DARKEN THE FOREGROUND To make the full silhouette effect, select the foreground layer and open “Hue and Saturation” (“Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation”). Desaturate your subject by dragging the “Saturation” slider to the left, then use the “Lightness” slider to darken it by dragging to the left [ Image E]. When happy, hit “OK.”
6 OTHER SILHOUETTES Another way of creating a completely black silhouette to use as a graphic element in a composition is to make it a “Shape.” Again, you need an image that’s recognizable from its outline, such as the skateboarder we’ve chosen. You can use the “Pen” tool to trace around the outline, and this is the best thing to do if you’re extracting something from a busy background. If you have a plain background, like the image we’re using of a skateboarder on white, you can select the background, invert the selection, then open the “Paths” palette to create a path from the selection using the button at the bottom of the palette that looks like a circle with four drag handles on it. Whichever way you do it, decide which color you want to make your shape, and make that your foreground color. Select the “Pen” tool again, and click the button at the top of the interface marked “Shape.” Your path will be filled in with the color you just chose.
7 CLIPPING MASK Shapes exist in Photoshop as separate layers. Once you’ve created a silhouette, you can fill it with a pattern by importing the pattern from an image file as a new layer, and placing it on top of the silhouette. Rightclick its entry in the “Layers” palette, and choose “Create Clipping Mask.” The Clipping Mask [ Image F] uses the transparency information from the layer below to tell it where the upper layer should and shouldn’t be visible, so your pattern is inside the Shape you created, and nowhere else. Double-click the “Shape” layer to open the “Layer Styles” window, and use “Stroke” to add an outline.