Have Fun With Sil­hou­ettes

Maximum PC - - R&D - –IAN EVENDEN


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.

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