by Pu the Owl
What you’ll learn
I will show you how I assemble and process photos creatively to create conceptually captivating imagery that goes beyond the individual “matter-of-fact” shot.
Euterpe (from Ancient Greek Eὐτέρπη), also referred to as “The Delighter”, is one of the nine Muses and the protectress of music. I’ve always been an admirer of Greek myths and of their fantastic and enigmatic character. This is why I was into the idea of creating a series of images portraying the Arts following classical stylistic features and conceptions. In the case of Music, the idea was to suggest the notion of a beautifully restrained external form, almost frozen in time, within which resonates a luminous world of imagination. I had this photo I had yet to use of a delicate female bust which I took one day as I was passing by a row of antiques shops and it occurred to me that it would suit my idea once refined and improved.
What you will need
- Shooting app with advanced exposure controls, like Camera+
- Laminar iPhone
- Modern Grunge
- Vsco Cam (optional)
Step 1: Collecting material.
The time this will take may vary… a lot. For some pictures I use photos I have been collecting for a couple of years, for others I will gather the necessary images in a single afternoon. Some of the best places to find great material for this kind of project are antiques shops, flea markets, museums, historical sites, and so on. The final image of this tutorial is pretty much straightforward and I only used three actual photos, the bust, the clouds on a blue sky and an old sheet of music. The rest is from the various apps.
Step 2: Creating a background.
I create a blank document in Laminar, the same size as my statue image. I choose white as its color. From Laminar’s Vintage Filters I select Vintage Print and apply it to the white layer.
Step 3: Adding the foreground character.
I open the statue image through Add a Layer. In the Layers panel, I tap on Mask. This will take me to the mask editor. With the default tool, the brush, I proceed to erase the original background to show the texture layer behind it. I use a soft brush by decreasing hardness value to around 50 in the Properties panel. While erasing, I resize the brush and zoom in and out with pinch gestures for precision. If I make mistakes, I go back to a previous state with History or I switch to the eraser tool to bring back parts of the image I accidentally brushed out. I tap on Apply when I’m done masking. I save what I have so far.
In this case it was not needed, but after masking, you can use Laminar’s Adjust and Edit tools to match color tones and luminosity between background and foreground.
Step 4: Distressing and opening rips.
This doesn’t sound nice, but it’s actually where the magic begins. I open the saved image into Modern Grunge. The random effect automatically generated by the app doesn’t concern me too much as I will make changes to it. In the bottom bar I go to Adjust. For the inside grunge I choose a light bluish color and a clear texture and for the outside a sepia and a scratchy texture. I set edge to zero and lower inside and outside grunge opacity to keep the effect subtle. I draw with the finger an irregular elongated triangle to follow loosely the natural shape of the face. I set the rip to Cut In and adjust shadow height and strength to make it visible. I save the result. If I intend to use the same formula again, I can save it as a preset.
Step 5: Stamping Birds.
I open a blank 2448 x 2448 pixels white image in MasterFX. The size is not that important as the app will resize it. I always keep plain black and white image files in my library so that I can apply various effects as separate layers on my works for more control over my final pictures. This is not necessary all the times, but in some case it is, like with apps that force you to crop your originals into squares. In the Tap FX menu I select the first effect in the Nature category. I stamp a few birds on the white background, increasing and decreasing their size, and I save. In other instances I would use an actual photo of birds, but here I need to position the animals with precision for the rip I created in Modern Grunge.
Step 6: Blending various elements together.
Back to Laminar, I load Modern Grunge’s image. I load my sky photo as a new layer. From the Layers panel, I use Transform to reposition the sky over the rip area and I lower opacity to 50% so that the eye and the rip’s shadow will show through. In the Mask editor, I erase parts of the sky falling outside the rip with a soft brush, so that it will look like the sky is only inside. When the sky is ready, I open the birds’ image as a new layer. I move and resize it to fit the rip and I change blend mode to Multiply to make the white background disappear. I lower the layer’s opacity slightly. I save what I have so far.
Step 7: Creating depth with more textures.
I open the image in Mextures. The purpose here is to make the image dusty and faded, to emphasize its mysterious aura. After trying different textures and blend modes, I eventually find the look that I am after. The formula is:
Layer 1 – Vignette, Difference, Orientation 1, Opacity 29%;
Layer 2 – Sand Blasted, Soft Light, Orientation 1, Opacity 16%;
Layer 3 – 120MM, Screen, Orientation 2; Opacity 41%;
Layer 4 – Sqwibbles, Difference, Orientation 1, Opacity 8%;
Layer 5 – Vignette, Overlay, Orientation 1, Opacity 21%;
Layer 6 – Erosion, Screen, Orientation 3; Opacity 31%.
I save the image and the new formula, in case I want to use it again. Finally, I bring the image back to Laminar and I open as a new layer the music sheet. I resize it to cover the whole area of my artwork then set its blend mode to Multiply and opacity to 45%. Again in the mask editor, with a soft brush I carefully erase the texture from face and hair of the statue. I save the artwork.
Step 8: Final color toning.
The image is all right as it is now, but I want to improve its overall color and bring some drama to it. I import it into Vsco Cam. I tap on the edit icon and try a few of the presets available as in-app extras. I like the F1 preset, but I want to make adjustments to it. I tap on the black arrow at the bottom of the screen and in the menu I select the toolkit icon. I change contrast and saturation, lowering both slightly through their respective sliders, to better blend the effect with the overall feel of my picture. I go again to the black arrow and confirm my choices by tapping on the check mark. Back in the library, I tap on the Share icon and select the Save option.
My Favorite Apps: Camera+ and Laminar
I always start with a general idea or concept. As I take photos and blend them together, the original idea changes, often turning into something completely different. Working on a given project makes me realize if my idea works and what must be changed or discarded. However, I find it useful to have mental references, even if I know I’ll be altering them. Starting with a good image for me is very important, so I always try to get the best exposure possible and the largest resolution. For this reason, I prefer shooting with apps that give me some degree of control over settings, like Camera+. The rest of the process varies, but since it often involves layer stacking, I like apps that allow editing several layers separately. Laminar is my current favorite because it’s very practical: it has layer masking and blending capabilities and many advanced editing features, while being faster than other apps in the same league. Filters and textures vary from one project to the other, but good shooting app and layer editor are the staples of my workflow.
In this tutorial I explained how to create an image of some visual impact through basic collaging and editing. The same techniques can be adapted to very different projects and are in part independent from the apps used. The process starts with collecting material and selecting the shots that will go with the original concept. Apps with advanced exposure features were preferred in the shooting stage. In Laminar or other editor I started combining images, switching in the meantime to other specialty apps to add effects and coming back to layer editing to assemble the artwork piece by piece.
About Pu the Owl
Pu the Owl (real name Rossella Nisio), is a graphic artist, freelance writer and indie game developer currently based in Lisbon, Portugal. She studied cinema in Rome, before moving on to embrace photography and illustration as her primary means of expression. While she was living in Iceland, she published her work as a photographer and writer under different names for several accredited media. She shares her knowledge and thoughts on mobile photography on her blog, Appotography.com.