08 April 2021 (A Photoshop Retrospective)

This week we were delighted to welcome Libby Smith of Carluke Camera Club and the Scottish Photographic Federation.  Libby had last visited the club in 2018, only this time she didn’t need to trek from Carluke to Musselburgh in the foul weather. Libby’s talks are always fascinating and enlightening and usually contain valuable snippets of information about Photoshop techniques. This time Libby gave us a complete Photoshop perspective, describing how she first got into digital photography in the 1990s by scanning slides and film.  Photoshop began as a digital alternative to darkroom techniques. It could be used to correct the tones and colours from digitized slides, or combine slides together for special effects. Colour slides could be converted to black and white. Using Photoshop to add film grain noise to the digitized images helped lower the contrast and create an atmospheric effect. Libby learned that you can’t use the same effect on everything, and it pays to experiment and find which techniques work best for your own style of images. For example, a watercolour art effect can enhance some images by removing background detail, as long as the effect doesn’t destroy important detail in your subject. The “find edges” filter can also be used for special effects. A layer mask can be use to apply the effect only to certain parts of the image (e.g. to some tulips but not the sky behind them). You can experiment with different brush textures for creative effects. You can also change the mood by hand-colouring parts of your image.

Libby moved on to show us how she learned to make composite shots using Photoshop layers. Composites give you more creative freedom. You can take components from several different images (a lighthouse from one place, a clifftop from another place, a dramatic sky from somewhere else…) and combine them. Libby warned us that if you become well known for making composites, people will start to think every image you show is a composite! Dramatic images can be made by blending a portrait or still life image with a textured background. Libby makes textured backgrounds by photographing interesting objects (such as dried petals, plants, seed heads and feathers) against a plain white background. The white background helps you to select the objects. You can also capture images of flat objects using a flat-bed scanner. The backgrounds can be placed in separate layers and combined using “soft light”, “hard light” or “overlay” blending modes. These blending modes tend to add contrast, so it is important to reduce the contrast in the background before blending. Libby went on to show us some stunning landscape images, dramatic images of derelict cottages and mining equipment, and some beautiful portraits; all enhanced by Photoshop techniques.

During the evening we also learned the following hints and tips:

  • When using a digital camera with Photoshop, try to expose so the peak of your histogram moves as far to the right as possible without losing highlights. Unlike slide film, which is best exposed to give rich dark shadows, digital cameras give the best results when the shadows have as much light as possible.
  • Photographs tend to look darker when printed than when viewed on the screen. Libby lightens her images by half a stop before printing them.
  • The “magic wand” selection tool can be used to select a white background, enabling objects placed on that background to be selected without leaving a halo around them.
  • If you are applying special effects to a portrait, make sure the face is not affected.
  • Using a negative clarity setting in “camera raw” can create a soft focus effect (as an alternative to blurring).
  • Try removing just a subset of the colours from an image to create a black and white image with a little bit of colour. Libby often removes green to reduce the distracting effect of grass but keep the subtle colours of rocks and stones.
  • A colour print can sometimes be improved by boosting the saturation in yellow and red (using the “hue and saturation” adjustment), which will emphasise the light on the print. A sunset image can similarly be improved by reducing the saturation in the blue.

Libby was our final speaker of the season, but she gave us lots of creative ideas to try over the summer and take to next season. Thank you Libby for a very entertaining and fascinating talk.

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