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Posts tagged “free cloud brushes

How to Create an Image From Nothing!

This week on CreativeLive I watched a two-day webcast called Photoshop Mastery: Retouching and Collaging with Ben Wilmore – another totally fantastic webinar by the best Photoshop teacher around. Check out CreativeLive’s calendar for their list of upcoming free live webinars. After all this inspiration, I decided to try out a few things I learned. It took a while to create, and lots of mistakes were made, but overall it was just super fun – and to me that is what Photoshop is all about! A new 8X10 document was opened, and then Photoshop’s Grass brush in a pink color got me started. After that, just different items were added to it until I ended up with something I will eventually use on my website! Since several techniques were used, I thought I would go over some of the steps on how to get this graphics look – it was not hard – just time-consuming.

1. Started with an 8 X 12 inch, resolution 300, 16-bit New Document.

2. A New Layer was created on top and the Grass brush was painted on top using the color 8f618e. A Layer Style was opened up (double click on the layer to bring up the Blending Options dialog box) and the Blend If Gray – This Layer’s white tab was set to 191. (Ben gave a good explanation of this – basically by dragging the white tab left, it removes any white areas in the image up to the point you stop. So a 191 setting corresponds to all tones between 191 to 255 on a histogram being eliminated. This technique is used a lot to remove skies and background areas. Split the tab by ALT+clicking on it to make a smoother transition if needed. This step did not split the tab.) This removed a lot of the white in the grass blades that were painted. Also an Outer Glow in a light pink and a Drop Shadow were added. The layer was set to Multiply Blend Mode at 100% opacity.

3. To make the grass look like it was on a cloud my free SJ Cloud 4 in a light grayish color (#bfbfbf) was clicked once on a New Layer and placed under the grass layer. It was stretched across the bottom using the bracket key to make the brush large although the Free Transform key (CTRL+T) could have been used to do this. (Tip – it does not make a difference whether you make the brush larger first or Free Transform holding the SHIFT keep to in proportion – get the same result.)

4. I selected 2 Lil’ Owls Studio French Script Brush 4 (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) in a dark pink/purple. A Layer Style (double click on layer to open) was added using a Bevel and Emboss with Contour on, an Inner Shadow, and a Gradient Overlay going from gray to purple. The image below is where I was at – notice I had some birds that I removed later.5. This step would have been much easier if I had decided what I wanted to do with the French sign brush at the start – but I did not plan in advance so it took me a long time to get this right. Just realize that it would have been much easier to add the wood to the background sign (this used Caleb Kimbrough’s free Old Wood 3 texture), add one of my Overlays created in my How to Create Personal Overlays for Your Images blog and was in png format, and then displace the text on the wood using the steps in my Displacing an Overlay blog in a different file and add it back into this file. Otherwise this gets really messy, which is what I realized after-the-fact. I ended up doing all this as Smart Objects, and used three sub-groups within a top group to nest all the sign effects. The webcast did a very nice job of explaining how to use Smart Objects. At least I got some practice doing this. At this point, a layer mask was created on the top group and the sign post painted into the grass so it looks like it is coming out of it.

6. Since adding just brush strokes onto different layers gives transparent areas, a texture can be added behind them with no selection required. After trying at least 10 or 11 different textures, French Kiss Atelier Valley texture was chosen – I liked the subtle colors and the way it made the clouds look like soft grassy areas. It was placed just above the Background Layer set to Normal at 100% opacity.

7. Since there was no ground edge, a New Layer was created under the Grass brush layer and a Mixer Brush was used to add some straight lines to define the shoreline of the image. Used Fay Sirkis’s Palette Knife Classic FX Highlights #1 Brush, (one of the great brushes that can be downloaded for use with her Four Seasons painting online training classes on NAPP – she teaches you how to use this brush in her great Four Seasons painting series Fall training class on NAPP).

8. Another New Layer was created above the Clouds brush layer and using Fay Sirkis’s Cloud Moist Sky Blender 05 brush (included with the brushes in Step 7 – learn to use cloud brushes in her Four Seasons Spring training class), the clouds in the background were embellished a little to make them look a whiter and puffier. It was set to 54% layer opacity.

9. I wanted to add some kind of building structure to my image. I went up on the free stock photo site Stock.xchng and found an image called abandoned stone house – perfect for what was now getting that spooky feel. The house image was brought into the image above the sign groups layers and then Free Transformed (CTRL+T) to fit. A layer mask was added to paint out the road and green trees around the house. It was way too bright so a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped (ALT+Click between the layers) to the image and the Yellows and Greens sliders were adjusted to match the feel of the image. I put these layers into a Group called Old House Image.

10. The last major thing done was to add a reflection to the foreground grass by using Flaming Pear’s Flood plug-in – an oldie but a goodie. I do not know of any other filter that does this as well. A composite was created on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and the filter run. Just played around with the various sliders until I got just a slight wave effect and that was a a little darker than the image. See my The Flood Look blog for more details on this plug-in. (Here are the settings I used for this image to give you a feel for the amount of detail this plug-in contains: Horizon  83, Offset 0, Perspective 42,  Altitude 50, Waviness  9, Color Swatch Black, Complexity  20, Brilliance  44, Blur  9, Size  0, Height  33, Undulation  40, and Glue Normal.) Lots of fun to use! A black Layer Mask was added to the layer and just the reflection was painted back where I wanted it.

11. The French Kiss Atelier Valley texture was duplicated and placed at the top of the stack to add the canvas feel to the whole image. First a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped to the texture and set to Saturation -100 and Lightness +46. Then the texture was set to a Multiply blend mode at 12% layer opacity. Now the whole image has the texture but no color from the texture. See my Getting a Nice Painterly Landscape Effect with Topaz Simplify and Texture blog for more on this.

These were the basic steps. There was some clean up and a Curves Adjustment Layer added, but overall this was it. Sort of surprised how it finished up – the beautiful texture really added the overall effect to the image. Try just fooling around with some of the interesting brushes that come with just Photoshop (or check out some of my other blogs for some interesting brushes that can be downloaded free from the Internet) and some of the skills you know – you might be surprised what you come up with. Have fun creating!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Create a Winter Scene with Photoshop Brushes and Textures
Just Plain Fun Brush Effects!
Spooky Halloween Fun!
Hyacinths Deep in Reflection


How to Get That Creative Painterly Look

This week I decided to give a few examples of how I am getting the beautiful painterly look on images. This is the part of Photoshop I love the most – the creative part. And this is where I can take advantage of some wonderful plug-ins and textures that are now available.

I did not start out creating this fantasy painterly looking image, but I like it more the more I look at it. This image used just a basic cloud texture and Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Simplify 4 to get this dreamy effect. The image uses 5-shots taken along the road to Flagler Beach, Florida. I have always loved this house – it just looks like a Florida beach house to me. The HDR tone-mapped image was created using Photomatix Merge to 32-bit HDR in Lightroom and the resulting Tiff file was then processed. Once opened in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was selected where the Lighten preset was first applied, and then the Overall Medium Detail II preset with the sky painted out to keep it smooth looking. Shadowhouse Creations beautiful free Puff Clouds texture was added in Normal blend mode at 100% opacity. I added a layer mask and painted out the clouds and started getting this really dreamy look by only removing the clouds from the house. Next Painted Textures 2 for Friday Seafoam texture was added and set to Overlay blend mode at 50% opacity. The last step involved creating a Composite layer of all the layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and applying Topaz Simplify 4 Painting V preset to it. On a New Layer above, a Mixer Brush was used to blend in the rough edges of the clouds and give an overall painterly look. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and the Blue Channel Curve was moved to get the color of blue in the image. That was it! Not real hard but definitely a very abstract artsy look. This was a lot of fun to create!

Tips for Getting the Painterly Look:

  • If you like to get a quick painterly feel, Topaz Simplify 4 cannot be beat! The nice thing is that once you apply the filter, even though it may look somewhat canned, you can always use Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes, layer masks, and various textures to make the image your own look – that is exactly what I did on the image above. Topaz Adjust also has several presets that can also give a very nice base painting look. See my blog Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Simplify 4 for more information on this blog.
  • I cannot say enough about using the right texture. Most of the sites I listed have either free or fairly inexpensive small sets to try out to see if you like what they do. Try different textures, and when you find a few you really like, put them together in a special file so you can get to them quickly when needed. (Click on Categories Textures for several links on this topic.) If you like what the color is doing to an image at a particular blend mode, leave it in place. With a layer mask you can paint in localized areas of texture.
  • Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes just cannot be beat for getting some really nice artistic results. They are great for hiding that very contrasty background, or for smoothing out edges, or blending colors that have too sharp a transition. The pink flowers below have the whole background smoothed to get rid of a very contrasty green garden behind them. On a separate layer, a larger sized Mixer Blending Brush was used to fill in the dark contrasty areas, then a smaller size was used to smooth edges. You can always erase areas where you make a mistake since the Mixer Brush strokes are on a separate layer. A couple things to remember when using the Mixer Brushes is that (1) in the Options Bar be sure you are set to Sample All Layers and turn off the layer eyeball if you do not want to pick up color from some of the layers; (2) the Blender Brush is probably the type to be used the most and should be set to a higher Wet field in the Options Bar to work easily – at least 20% and up to 100% give really nice results; and (3) the larger the brush, the longer it takes to lay down a stroke so keep it under 75 pixels if you can. Also take History Snapshots every now and then (or add a Padlock to your base image so you cannot paint on it) so if you get on the wrong layer, which is easy to do, you can go back to a previous step without losing all your previous painting. If you want to add color with a Mixer Brush, just click on the “Load the Brush After Each Stroke” icon (5th one over) in Options Bar. Make corrections with layer masks and apply them (right click and choose Apply Mask) as you go along. Create clone and paint on layers above and merge down (CTRL_E) – then use a Mixer Brush to blend. See my blog Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes for lots more info on how to use them.
  • There are a couple other ways to get a really nice painterly effect. The brilliant Russell Brown has developed two scripts panels to use  inside Photoshop that guides you along as you paint. The oldest is called the Adobe Painting Assistant which has different download links for CS6 and CS5 versions – just keep scrolling. The newest panel is the Adobe Watercolor Assistant Panel that can only be used with CS6.  These are all free downloads at this link. The Watercolor Painting Assistant takes some practice to get a really nice result, but it will give a beautiful result. See my blog Dr. Brown’s Painting Assistant Panel for CS6 and CS5! and Think Pink! Rally for the Cure Pink Rose for more information on the older and more user-friendly Painting Assistant Panel.
  • The last effect that has proven to be a real hit the last couple of years is the new Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6, although it can be added to CS5 by using the Pixel Bender Panel. See my blog Photoshop’s CS6 (and Pixel Bender’s) Oil Paint Filter for more information on how to use this filter. It is a lot of fun and easy to do!

To create this painterly effect, the pink Belarusian flowers were brought into Photoshop and cleaned up. A New Layer was created and Fay’s Signature Watercolor Smooth Blender Brush was used to smooth out the whole contrasty background.  I have looked at lots of painting tutorials and Fay Sirkis tutorials make the most sense to me. If you are a member of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals), and you should be if you love Photoshop – best value and site for Photoshop nuts, Fay has several great webinars on line there and you can download all her brushes. Here is a link to a great article on her unique technique where she shows how she made one of her Monet Blender brushes – if you want to give it a try – Fay Sirkis: Painting Magic, Adobe Photoshop CS5. Next Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper magicfilm3 texture, which is a black scratched up texture, set to Linear Dodge blend mode at 56% opacity was added – it gives just a touch of texture without losing all the strokes from the Mixer Brushes. The Sharpen Tool was applied to the center of the two main flowers to draw the eye and a Darken Layer was added and set to 56% to emphasize edges. (See my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog for more info on this.)
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The painterly effect in the Flagler Fishing Pier image was created using a solarized preset and some soft painting with the Mixer Brush. Just had to get out and do a little shooting even though it was major chilly and windy at the beach. The original image was created from 5 images put together using Photomatix 32-bit Merge to HDR for Lightroom. Once in Photoshop I added two New Layers and added my Cloud Brushes SJ Clouds 1 brush (layer set to 60% opacity) and SJ Clouds 11 brush (layer set to 35% opacity) at 5000 pixels. A New Layer was added on top and filled with black, set to Soft Light, and the opacity set to 23% to increase the overall contrast of the image. (Check out Mark S. Johnson’s  Photography Site Photoshop Workbench 374: Creating Dramatic Lighting with Blend Modes on how to do this.) A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and Auto button pressed to get a nice contrasty image. Next Topaz (for website see sidebar) Adjust 5’s Solarized Dreams III preset was applied with Detail Strength set to 0.82 and Detail Boost set to 0. A New Layer was created and Fay Signature Watercolor Smooth Blend Mixer Brush was used to smooth out details in the foreground sand. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was used and the Blues Cyan was set to +17 and Yellow to +24 – the layer mask was converted to black (CTLR+I inside the mask to invert) and the sky was painted back with a soft white brush. Another Selective Color Adjustment Layer as added to make the sand look the right color in the foreground – Yellows Cyan was set to +100, Magenta -14, and Yellow +1, and Greens Magenta +19. Next French Kiss Artiste Fauve Rainbow texture was set to Hard Light blend mode at 28% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+click between the layers) and Saturation was set to -100 to remove the color from the texture but leave the canvas look. This is one of my favorite textures to give a real painted appearance to my images. A Levels Adjustment Layer was added and the center tab set to .85 to add just a little more contrast to the midtones. I really was surprised how painted this image turned out.
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This image uses Topaz Simplify 4 again and textures to get the painterly look. I decided to show this image as it is a favorite technique of mine to use the power of good textures to give that painterly effect. The basic image was very nice with to begin with and probably would have been fine with just the Lightroom tweaks, but I thought it would make a beautiful painterly piece. Topaz DeNoise was run on this image since it had a 2000 ISO setting. On a duplicate layer Topaz Simplify 4 was applied using the Watercolor II preset – in the Localized Adjustments section, the pink and white flowers were lightly painted back to bring back some detail but leaving the background with a very soft look. Once back in Photoshop the detail was still not strong enough so the DeNoise layer was duplicated and placed on top of the Simplify layer. A black layer mask was added and the flowers were softly painted back using a white low opacity brush to add a bit more localized detail to the image. Two beautiful textures from Melissa Gallo at Painted Textures were added on top: 2 for Friday Set 2 Creamsicle at Hard Light blend mode at 74% opacity, and Cyber Monday Set 1 Winter Wheat set to Linear Light blend mode at 78% opacity. On the top texture a Layer Style was opened and on the Blending Options page, the B channel was turned off. One of my new favorite textures is by French Kiss – Studio 3 White Wash – it was added using the Overlay blend mode at 65%. All of these textures are really great for getting the painterly effect. Once all these textures are added, you really have to try different blend combinations and opacities. It is not at all unusual to have to add a layer mask and paint out areas that are not working right. In this image I added a layer mask to the white wash texture and painted out just a little bit around the edges of the flowers to get them to stand out a little. In fact I had actually added a different top texture and decided I did not like it and started looking for a different texture when I came up with the white wash texture. I had to back and add a Mixer Brush layer to get rid of some distractions in the original image once the textures had been added and it looked bad. If you do not like the way the painterly effect is flowing, it probably is not quite right and you need to walk away and come back again later – it really is a work of art you are working on.

If you just want a nice painterly brush texture on top of the whole image, check out my Getting a Nice Painterly Landscape Effect with Topaz Simplify and Texture for a short workflow – this gives a nice finishing look to an image if there is not enough of a painterly effect already.

I hope you got some new ideas for creating that artsy look. Check out some of my related blogs for more examples and resource links that might help you along. This was a lot of fun to put together this week and I hope you enjoyed it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 6: Try Something New!
Photo Art Compositing For Fun
Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow
Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!
Using a Couple of My Textures
Simplifier and Simplify Filters
Topaz Adjust Using Painting Venice Preset – Beautiful Effect!
Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image!


Fun with Clouds – Brush Them In to Add Some Interest

I love landscapes but there are so many times when you take an image in the bright sunlight and the sky is just a blaring blue. My favorite method to add clouds is to brush them in using cloud brushes you create yourself or download from someone else. These are placed on a layer by themselves so that the opacity can be adjusted later if they start to distract from the main focus of the image. Add a layer mask and paint out with black over areas where there should be no clouds. Use a brush at 50% opacity to blend in some of the clouds edges if they are too bright or sharp.

In the shot of the side of the old Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) in St. Augustine, Florida, clouds were added before processing the image in NIK Color Efex Pro4. I used my Cloud #4 and #1 brushes in my SJ-Clouds Set. If you would like to download some other great cloud brushes, Obsidian Dawn has some beautiful cloud brushes on her site, especially her Cloud II Photoshop Brushes.

The Old Courthouse Cupola in Fairfax, Virginia, and the Ghost House Cupola at the Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, are both examples of brushed in clouds on a separate layer on top of the image and then masked out where the sky is not.

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The cupola sky was actually a blown out gray color as the day was very overcast. In this case the color of the sky was changed to a soft blue using the Color Replacement Tool (see my Tidbits Blog “Like a Chameleon – The Color Replacement Tool“) and then another layer was added where clouds were brushed on to get the soft cloud bank look. Finally the image was processed in NIK Color Efex Pro 3 using the Tonal Contrast filter to get the crisp vintage feel.

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In the Ghost House image the sky was changed to a blue color using the Color Replacement Tool and then it was processed using the digital workflow by Don Smith (see “Digital Landscape Effects with Nik Software“) where the cloud layer was created with cloud brushes before processing in Color Efex Pro 3. This is one of my favorite cupola images with the unexpected bat flying on top.

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One of the best ways to get the cloud effects you want is to photograph different types of clouds at different times of the day. Then create your own Photoshop brushes using you favorite clouds. I did a blog a while back that explains how to create your own brushes in detail – see “How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text.” It is really not that hard and it is fun to see your own images in the clouds!

I believe this is the fastest and easiest way to add clouds to images – I have added cloud photos to images with pretty nice results but the selection process can be tedious and the edges will need to be cleaned up. I like being able to choose the clouds I want and place them where I want. The flexibility is very nice. Just be sure to try a Hue/Saturation or Curves Adjustment Level or paint some slight color in your clouds if you are not getting the contrast you need. Also try stacking your different cloud brushes to create some new clouds – possibly add a bit of color on your brush to add some realism. This can all be done on different layers so the color effect can be faded.  Experiment!

Try out some of your own clouds or some I have supplied above and see what you think. It really is very easy to get good results!…..Digital Lady Syd


Pseudo HDR Using NIK Color Efex Pro 4

Yep, it can actually do a pretty nice job of creating an HDR effect. I am providing you with the information needed to get the same effect so here we go. The image above is of the inside of one of the most beautiful libraries you will ever see, the Minsk Library in Belarus. I love the results and how Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4) has turned this image into a reasonable HDR look with just a single image.

To create this effect, the following steps were done:

1. First process the image in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Lightroom to adjust tone and contrast. On four of these images, I used my SJ-Vivid Drawing Look preset as a starting point. Gives a nice starting point for a pseudo HDR effect.” Then adjust the exposure or any other settings to get the feel you want. (To get the actual settings, see my Tidbits Blog “Settings for Vivid Drawing Look ACR & Lightroom Preset and NIK Color Efex Pro 4 Pseudo HDR Recipe.”)

2. Next, either open the image as a Smart Object directly from ACR or Lightroom, or convert a duplicate layer to a Smart Object (right click on layer and choose “Convert to Smart Object.”) before opening the plug-in. This is really an important step since CEP4 will save your settings and control points when working on a Smart Object layer.

3. Go to Filters -> NIK -> Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in. My SJ Pseudo HDR1 recipe can be downloaded here. NOTE: Appears the link will not work if the download button is pressed directly, but if you right click it and select “Save Link As”, it will download. (To import, go to the Recipes section on left and at bottom click on the Import button, then navigate to file – it is put in the Imported section, or put the file in this folder for Windows Users: [User Name]\AppData\Local\Nik Software\Color Efex Pro 4\UserPresets). The Detail Extractor may need to be adjusted, especially if the image has too many artifacts or too much noise – try setting the Effect Radius to Large in this filter. Other filter effects may be added such as a Vignette or Color Effects. For settings, click on my Tidbits Blog link above in Step 1.

4. Press OK button to apply the filters . If you do not like the results or want to add another filter, change settings by double-clicking on the actual plug-in name (Color Efex Pro 4) underneath the Smart Object layer. If you click on the symbols to the right of the line, a Blending Options (Color Efex Pro 4) dialog box appears where the opacity and blend mode of the plug-in results can be changed. (Try this out to get  some more interesting effects.) Can also paint with black on the Smart Filters layer mask to reduce the effect of all the filters applied to the layer.

5. A noise filter may need to be applied at this point. It can be done right on the Smart Object layer – the filter will be added on top of the Color Efex Pro filter. Not all images need it, but it can happen whenever you are doing an HDR type effect. (If you do not have a noise reducer, the image can be brought back into ACR by using Dr. Brown’s script as explained in my blog “Edit Layers with ACR Script” and using the Noise Reduction panel – I do this all the time and it works great!)

Basically your image is finished unless you want to add a Curves Adjustment Layer to adjust contrast or add a layer style stroke or border around the outside.  Many resources say to sharpen the image at this point – try it but watch your noise carefully.

Once you have the Pseudo HDR1 recipe in place, it is very easy to get good results. Just remember to use a Smart Object so you can go in afterwards and tweak a slider or two or add another filter to the stack if you want.

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This Tower of London image was first processed in Lightroom using the SJ Vivid Drawing Look preset. Once in Photoshop but before going into CEP4, clouds were added onto a layer above the image from my SJ-Clouds brush set, and then a layer mask was created to paint out any overlap. A composite layer was created on top (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E) which was immediately converted into a Smart Object. This image was created using my recipe as in the first image, but then a Bi-Color User Defined filter was added to make the sky and clouds bluer (Upper color a blue R94/G111/B155 and Lower color off-white R192/G192/B192) – it started as an ugly gray.

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Another good example of what you can do with just one image in CEP4. This image just used the Pseudo HDR1 recipe. I did adjust the Detail Extractor slider in that filter and that’s it! The original image was adjusted a bit in Lightroom using no preset before bringing into Photoshop. The image was taken at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Oahu, Hawaii.
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This beautiful Great Egret was processed in Lightroom with the SJ Vivid Drawing Look preset and then in Photoshop using NIK’s CEP4 plug-in and the recipe provided, but also adding Vignette Blur and Vignette filters. Back in Photoshop a layer mask was added to selectively sharpen just the bird.
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This image (of me and my photography buddy, Gary, at the Old Drugstore in St. Augustine) uses the same Lightroom Vivid Drawing Look preset and CEP4 Pseudo HDR preset. I am actually shooting into a huge mirror on the wall!

I really wanted to present the range of images that can be converted into a fairly convincing HDR effect with just one image. I hope you get a chance to try this recipe out and see what you think. This may be the easiest way to get that pseudo-HDR look that I have found! I will show several other examples over the next few weeks – it is really easy to do and gives a nice look to just about any picture. Once again, it goes to show why this updated plug-in from NIK is really great!

Hope you enjoy the recipe and let me know what you think!…..Digital Lady Syd

Related Blog Links by Digital Lady Syd (or click under Categories – HDR Effect):
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – Digital Lady Syd’s Review!
Another Pseudo HDR Image with NIK CEP4 – Got to Love the Effect!
Pseudo HDR in OnOne Perfect Effects
The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter From NIK CEP 4
Digital Landscape Effects with Nik Software
NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – First Try!
With One Good Photo – Try the Pseudo HDR Effect

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Clarifying Clarity! Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom Quick Trick

I ran across this little video by Matt Kloskowski for Lightroom called “The Clarity Super Edgy Trick” but can just as easily be done in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The following image is an example of the technique.


To get this nice grunge/HDR effect, the following steps need to be done.

  1. First do adjustments to image and crop size in Lightroom or ACR. Set the Clarity slider to +100 at this time.
  2. Select the Graduated Filter (G) (11th icon from left at top) and set just the Clarity slider set to +100  (In Lightroom go to the Effect drop-down and choose Clarity – set slider to +100).
  3. Click and drag at bottom of image so the top line is totally off the image.  Clarity at 100% will have been applied again to the whole image. Everything above the green line in ACR or top line in Lightroom is getting the full 100% Clarity so make sure this line is dragged totally off the bottom of image. Hold SHIFT while dragging to keep the line horizontal with image and it is easier to control.
  4. Repeat Step 3 by creating a new Clarity Graduated Filter and do this as many times as you want. Usually this means 3 or 4 times.

If you want to apply the Clarity to just part of the image, use the Adjustment Brush set to Clarity at +100. The same brush can be applied several times by just creating New Brushes.

In the image of the cupola on the old historic courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, I started with Matt’s 70’s Look preset in Lightroom (here is the preset for ACR), applied the Clarity slider at +100 in the Basic Module, and then set two Graduated Filters with Clarity set to +100. The image was finally brought into Photoshop and a rather brown colored sky was changed to a blue color using the Color Replacement Tool Brush. (See my Tidbits blog – “Like a Chameleon-The Color Replacement Tool” on how to do this.) I added some clouds using my SJ-Cloud Brushes Set.

Do watch when applying the Clarity Slider to landscapes – a bright sky next to a treeline can look bad as it tapers away from the trees edge. Since Clarity works on contrast at the edges in the midtone areas, if you do not want the grungy look, keep your setting to 40 0r 50 and do not use this technique.

One of my favorite shooting spots in Mesa, Arizona, is this old Buckhorn Motel in the center of town. In this case, the image was adjusted in Adobe Lightroom and the Graduated Filter was also applied twice. The image was processed using OnOne’s Perfect Layers Lightroom plug-in. In Perfect Layers, the image was duplicated with the new layer set to Screen at 52%, a Shadow Creations Another Mixed Texture Set – Texture Seattle was added as a texture layer set to Normal at 88%, and then the Masking Bug Tool was used on it to get the interesting side borders. This can all be done in Photoshop if you wanted to create this same effect without the plug-in. After opening image in Photoshop, a NIK Color Efex Pro 3.0 Tonal Contrast plug-in effect and an OnOne PhotoFrame were added to finalize the look. The tonal contrast could have been adjusted without the plug-in by using a Curves Adjustment Layer and/or Levels Adjustment Layer. Use Hue/Sat Adjustment Layer to pop the color.

The Magnolia Tree pod image was created by applying my Vivid Drawing Look Preset in Lightroom (here is the preset for ACR) first, adjusting the exposure and clarity sliders, running the Graduated Filter three times with Clarity set to +100 and once with Clarity set to +37,  and opening it up in Photoshop. Three effects were then added on separate layers to get this final result, all using NIK’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Tonal Contrast, Glamour Glow and Vignette Blur effects were applied – they are coming out with a new version shortly so I will report back on this when available). Sharpening and an OnOne PhotoFrame finished up the photo. It gives a very different feel from the two images above.



With this beautiful Great Egret, Matt’s 70’s Look preset was applied (same preset as first image-link to download above). The Adjustment Brush was used to selectively apply the Clarity/Sharpening as too much tends to give the whites a very dirty look. The Adjustment Brush was used with Clarity set to +100 and Sharpen +100. I painted over the head and beak of the bird. I then applied one more new Adjustment brush and painted just the beak and eye area. The image was opened in Photoshop, and NIK Color Efex Pro 3.0 Glamour Glow (default settings) and Brilliance and Warmth effects were applied. An OnOne PhotoFrame was added and that was it. Very easy and the face is very sharp using the Clarity technique in Lightroom or ACR.

I just have too much fun trying out this technique. It is a very easy one to do and the possibilities are many. Try using a couple different settings in the Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush. Save the Filters as presets (they can then be used for both). I have to hand it to Photoshop Guy Matt Kloskowski for coming up with this interesting technique. Give it a quick try and see what you think…..Digital Lady Syd


Just Plain Fun Brush Effects!

This week I am going to show pictures I basically created from scratch some of the great Photoshop brushes available for free download. You might get a really nice special effect to fill that space on your wall. A few weeks ago I did a blog called “How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text” which contains basic information on how to make and save your brushes and might be useful here.

This image was created using Vintage Grunge Brushes by alex16 at DeviantArt, the great Summer Texture8 by Caleb Kimbrough (one I use a lot – love the warm tones in it) and some plain ole splotches and lines I made just by playing with the brush settings in the Brush Panel. Please note that on the DeviantArt downloads, please be sure you look at the terms each individual requires – these people work very hard to bring you all the many free downloads and you should be kind enough to follow their terms for use. Most have very reasonable requirements such as letting them know when you used their items and back-linking to them on your sites.

Once again, brushes from DeviantArt were used to create this image. The flowers were created using Flowers 1 Brush Pack for Photoshop from Texturemate using flower01.png and 03.png brushes. These are really nice large flower brushes that I also used in an image in my linked paintbrush blog above. For the grunge background, abstract grunge brushes pack 2_by xaliasx at DeviantArt were used. Finally a layer style was created using a Pattern Overlay called Noise (in Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Texture Fill pattern set) at 100% opacity and 1000% scale, an Inner Glow using a cream color at 75% opacity and Size of 144 pixels, and the basic Stroke at dark gray, inside and 4 pixels size.


The Fantasy Look was made by selecting a Radial Gradient called Singing the Blues by cazcastalla (Blues21) centered on the flair (my 3 Lens Flare brushes – SJ-Brush Flare). The snowflakes background is from Obsidian Dawn (SS Glitter Photoshop Brushes – snowflakes-glitter brush), the clouds uses several of my clouds SJ-Cloud Brush Set that contains 6 brushes can be downloaded here), white fog from DeviantArt  BB-Brushes Fogs and Mists using Sampled Brush #11. The Female Figure was supposed to be from an image I found on DeviantArt, but was unable to get permission in time to use their photo for this blog, so I improvised with clip art from a book called Dragons & Wizards. The clothing had to be painted in so I used a soft blend brush I created (can be downloaded here). I think in the end it may be as nice as my first attempt. When I get permission, I will post for comparison. Finally a cracked texture effect, I used the one from PhotoFrame plug-in but there are many out there that will give a similar look, was added. Pretty easy and fun to do!

I found this really nice pack of grass brushes and had to experiment. This is what I ended up with. I really love the colors and the image of the girl – and it was a fairly easy image to create. Used my cloud brushes that can be downloaded above, Midnightstouch Grasslands Brushes at DeviantArt (really nice grass and plant brushes), Charfades Ultimate Grass Brush Set (more very nice brushes), Obsidian Dawn’s Flying Bird Brushes (always the best brushes), papyrus brushes in Trees by Horhew Brush Set. The beautiful young lady is from an image called “By the Window” from Eirian Stock at DeviantArt.

This final brush painting was once again created after downloading these great Photoshop Daily Chinese Painting Brushes. Used my Textures – Pastel Watercolor for layer 2  by creating a watercolor texture for the background (see “Create a Colorful Paint Background in Photoshop” by EntheosWeb.com) which is a really fun tutorial to do.  I created a Texture Dots texture and then applied the Plug in Galaxy Warp-Flare Warp to the composite. Painted using the Chinese painting brushes one side of flowers, duplicated the layer and merged. Added a few layers styles, adjustment layers, and the frame from PhotoFrames. That’s it.

Sometimes it seems that the images are so complex you forget to see the beautiful colors and the simplicity of a design. Photoshop brushes bring this back into perspective when creating a document. And it never ceases to amaze me how much you can actually create with brushes, whether from others or your own. Hope you got some ideas on what to do when you just need to try something different. It seems I tend to make these images when I discover new brushes to try out. Maybe you will find some inspiration from the ones I mentioned here. Have fun!…..Digital Lady Syd


How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text

I keep finding cool brushes and started wondering how to make them.  Lots of times they are not of the quality or the look I want. In this post I want to go over what can be done with your own images to create really nice paintbrushes and how to save them so you can find them easily. This all began last week when I was catching up on my Photoshop User TV videos – Corey Barker, one of the Photoshop Guys, came up with this really simple way to make a Lens Flare Brush in Episode 259. It was a short tutorial – the blooming oleander tree image below is how it turned out.  The text tutorial was by Dave Cross in Photoshop User TV video Episode 258.

The most important thing to know about Photoshop brushes is that they are all created in black and white – anything that is white in the image will not show up in your final brush (it is transparent), all that is black shows up clearly, and anything in gray tones shows up partially.

Creating a Brush Document:  Before starting to make a brush, first create a New Document in Photoshop – the all important size issue needs to be addressed here. BittBox, in a great little article called “How to Make a Photoshop Brush” stated that it is best to make your brushes as large as you can and reduce the size later when using the brush.  Since CS2, you can make the size as large as 2500 pixels each direction.  Therefore, in the New Document dialog, set up the width and height to 2500 pixels at a resolution of 300 (this creates a high resolution brush), Color Mode Grayscale, 8 bit mode, and White background. Save and name this document (Brush) so you can use it again anytime you want to create a new brush. Grayscale is used for a color mode since defining a brush automatically creates it as a grayscale brush.

Here’s how to create a good brush.

  1. In Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, open an image that has an object you want to make into a brush.  For my example, I will use a cloud from one of my images. Crop to create a rough selection around your object, it does not have to be a square. In my case it will be one of the clouds used in the image below.
  2. There are many ways to adjust the contrast to create a good brush. I found that by first putting my image into black and white in Lightroom and then adjusting the sliders mainly in the Basic Panel, a lot of definition in the object could be obtained. For the clouds below, the following sliders were used:  Blacks at 95, Contrast at +100, and Clarity set to +47. Experiment with all the sliders to get a major contrasty look – you want a really extreme black and white with lots of detail in the object.  It does not have to be perfect at this point. (Alternate method:  If you want to experiment, do not convert you object to Black and White in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, but do this in Photoshop using any method you would like – Black and White Adjustment Layer, Image or or Image -> Adjustments -> Desaturate (as used in Corey’s tutorial above) or maybe a plug in like Nik Silver Efex Pro, for example. Just be sure that you either merge any adjustment layers down into just one black and white layer, or do a composite layer (turn off all the layers but the ones you want to composite and highlight the top layer – then CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E to create).
  3. Open your object in Photoshop to begin the final adjustments.
  4. Look at your image to see if it needs to be inverted so the details you want to appear in the brush are showing up in black. For my clouds, the image needed to be inverted so the clouds looked black and the background was white – otherwise the clouds would not show up in the brush, only the dark background since only black and gray tones create the brush. To invert the image, just CTRL+I or Image -> Adjustments -> Invert.  A Curves or Levels Adjustment Layer may need to be applied if the contrast and detail is somewhat lost with the inversion. Be sure to merge adjustment layer(s) down so there is only one black and white layer, or do a composite layer (turn off all the layers but the ones to be combined, then create composite by highlighting the top layer and CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E). (For my Mountain set, this step did not need to be done – see below to download.)
  5. Next clean up any extraneous edges you do not want in the brush. I used a soft edged brush and painted white at a fairly low opacity to reduce hard edges around my clouds to get rid of the the distinct sharp lines around the outside of the document.  This can be tricky, but if the final brush turns out a little off, just come back to this document and try again.  Save your document now so all your work does not accidentally disappear if further adjustments need to be made.
  6. If a brush document is not already created, make one now (as described in “Creating a Brush Document” section above).  Drag your black and white object layer into into your new brush document. Use the Free Transform (CTRL+T) to adjust to fit the document if it is comes in too large. With the Crop Tool cut any extraneous areas not needed in the brush.
  7. Now in the Brush Document, go to Image -> Define Brush Preset.  If the Define Brush Preset is ever grayed out, the brush is larger than the 2500 pixel maximum Photoshop allows.  This is why you move it to a new document. I had this happen with Corey’s Photoshop User tutorial referenced above. It has you create the brush in the original document (which I do not recommend doing because of this issue) – it took a while to figure this out.
  8. It is important to save your new brushes in a set so click on the Open Preset Manager icon (2nd icon from the left) at the bottom of the Brush Presets Panel. In the Preset Type field, be sure Brushes is showing.  Now select your new brushes in the table by ALT+clicking on each one to highlight, and click the Save Set button. In Explorer, make sure you are in your Brushes folder in Photoshop to make it easy to keep track of where they are on your computer. (On a PC, it is located at User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 ->Presets -> Brushes.)  Name the .abr file, in my case SJ-Clouds.abr. I use my initials first so I can find them quickly in the fly out list when I want to choose them later. The brushes can now be loaded anytime by going to the Brushes Preset Panel and clicking on the fly out menu (the little arrow to the left of the Done button) and clicking on the brush set name. If brushes are present that you do not want in your set, you can Alt+Click them to delete the brushes and resave the set. This trick also works in the Brush Presets Panel – just highlight the brush name and ALT+click to delete. I found I had way too many brushes – some I use all the time and some I do not. I created a Favorite Cloud set, for example, by adding all my cloud sets into the Brush Presets Panel, appending each so I had a full list of the cloud brushes.  Next eliminate the brushes you do not use much (CTRL+click) and go to the Preset Manager to save as “My Favorite Clouds” set. (Be sure to CTRL+A to select all the brushes so they all appear in the set). Keep the original cloud brush sets in a folder called Extra Brushes so they can still be used by clicking Load Brushes in the Brush Preset Panel’s fly out and navigate to the folder if you need them. This has reduced the size of my brush list considerably.

For the image below, the sky was just a flat clear blue. To get the pretty cloud effect, I used three of the brushes I created using three different images. Two new layers were added and just one dab of each brush was used over the sky area. Then I erased out what I did not want to use and set the layers to Screen blend mode at different opacities to get this effect. I think it is a realistic look. The clouds can be set where you want them for effect. If you would like to see an example of some nice cloud brushes, here is a link to some very beautiful clouds that I also use often called by Clouds by Rubina119 (see my “Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brush” blog’s last image). Click link to download my 12 cloud brushes called SJ-Cloud Brush Set.

Text can also used to make a brush and used as a repeated pattern in an image. Using the steps above, but creating a much smaller sized brush, the image below uses text layers repeating the word “daisies.” Each layer used a different size and color to create the receding type effect.

I feel the hard-working people who create so many of the wonderful resources should be given credit for their work. The brushes I did not create but used on this photo include:  the bright purple daisy is a beautiful brush from Texturemate and can be downloaded here and one of their grunge brushes was used on a layer to add texture. This site has a lot of very nice resources for your images; and a texture from Caleb Kimbrough‘s set called Color Grunge Texture, texture no. 295, and BittBox‘s Ice and Snow Textures – Ice Texture bluer (I could not find these two textures still available on the internet). BittBox has several other beautiful textures available on their Flickr account. Also, the font is my favorite Fantaisie Artistique that can be downloaded for free from daFont.com.



One of the really cool free programs I came across is called abrMate that allows you to view all the brushes inside a set before adding them to your Photoshop brushes. I use this little program all the time since I like to download interesting brushes.  Here is the link under the abrMate download section.  If the program comes up with a Brush Reading Issue dialog that says “Issue Reading brush file, file may be protected.”, it is because the brush was saved as a 16 bit file – when the brush is selected in Photoshop’s Brush Presets Panel, it can be used but it shows a 16 in the top right of the brush icon. The size of the thumbnail can be adjusted and the name of the brush can be displayed by clicking on the top menu Settings. Below is an example of what the program looks like when open.


These beautiful free brushes are from Mel’s Easter Eggs set. The reason I am showing these is that this is another great example of how you can create nice brushes by making different parts to fit together. The decoration for the eggs fit exactly over the basic egg brush so different brushes can be stacked to create a very colorful design. See my blog on “The Incredible Editable Easter Egg” from a few weeks ago.


If you are interested, the following all totally free brushes were used in this image:  Two of the clouds from my cloud set you can download above, a mountain image brush set contains this mountain in Nevada from a trip last year, the flying bird brush and grasses and plants  are great sets from Obsidian Dawn (this site has some beautiful brushes and other resources), 20 people brushes by digitally present, trees from Larrydnjr, waterfall brushes from Midnightstouch and Redheadstock water brushes.  To finish off the image, in Nik Color Efex Pro a Custom Bi-Color preset was created using a blue tone on top and brown tone on the bottom to give a late in the day feel, and an OnOne PhotoFrame was added. I was surprised how realistic this image came out! There are some really nice brushes out there.

Well that should wrap it up for this blog this time. It was fun to learn so much about the basic object brush and I feel I can now make better brushes when I need them. I hope you learned some new tips too! See ya next time!….Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Just Plain Fun Brush Effects!
Create a Winter Scene with Photoshop Brushes and Textures
That Flaming Fire Brush!
Brushing up on Circles!