Friday, April 30, 2010

A Riff On Rockwell's "Main Street" in Adobe Photoshop CS5

In the post of March 22th I told about visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge Massachusetts with some friends. One of the things I mentioned in the post was that I wanted to try doing some “recreations” of Rockwell’s paintings in photography. I thought (still think) it would be interesting to come full circle, since Rockwell used photography to help with his visualization process, to attempt to “update” his paintings as digital images. Rockwell was not a photographer and employed the services of various professionals for his needs. He oversaw the staging , angles, posture, costuming, and any other aspect or what went on during a shoot. He just didn’t click the shutter. Once he had the reference photos he’d take liberties (artistic license I guess you’d say) and make adjustments or enhancements where needed. On one hand he was more than willing to alter “reality” and on the other he’d do things like giving a female townsperson money to go out and buy a yellow dress to pose in. The irony was that his reference photos were in Black & White. With his painting “Main Street” he took the liberty of putting in some of the nearby Berkshire Hills into the background behind the stores on Main Street. The Berkshires are lovely, but cannot be seen from the center of Stockbridge. I took the same “artistic license” in today’s image. The big difference is the hills in the background are from a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a pretty “fer piece” south of anywhere in New England. To find out about the machinations I had to jump through to make today’s image, hit the “read more”.

Rockwell’s painting is a straight on shot of the street. It’s actually an impossibility in that he shows no perspective. Each building is front on with no sides showing. It’s as though he stood in front of the library and painted it. Then he walked down the street fifty feet, set up his easel again and painted Theeler and Taylor’s Real Estate. Step and repeat for the Art Shop, the Stockbridge General Store, and on and on down to the Red Lion Inn. I tried doing the same thing. I took a shot in front of the library, walked down the street (tried to maintain the same camera height and focal length), shot the Art Shop, walked a little more and shot the General Store, etc. You can see, when the series of three shots were manually stitched together there was still perspective.

First thing I tried was using Adobe Photoshop CS5s Photomerge feature to have it do it’s typically great job of making a panorama. No such luck. Because of the shoot and walk, shoot and walk style of gathering the images the Photomerge went crazy and threw up its hands. So, everything was stitched “old school”. Each piece went through its own Free Transform to nudge it into place. The Opacity of the overlapping image was lowered to be able to get the right alignment with the underlying image. It was pretty painstaking and took longer than I would have liked.

Once everything was lined up I had to go through my own Blending of the images (something Photomerge does so well) by using clipped Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layers. With a big, soft Brush I feathered the seams using the Masks that come with Adjustment Layers. At that point I had a mangled car sitting in front of the General Store. I cloned the car right next to the wreck overtop using the Clone Stamp Toll (S).

Next trick was to create a Mask to get rid of anything behind Main Street in preparation for inserting the foothills. I started off with the Calculations dialog box (Images/Calculations) to get a baseline Mask. I figured CS5s Refine Mask would do a great job cleaning up any problems. What a rude awakening. I sat there going back and forth and the Edge Detection kept making things worse rather than better. Thought “this has to be ‘user error’”. It was. I was applying the Mask to the wrong Layer. Duh! Once I figured that out (after about a half hour of futzing around) the Refine Mask worked great. It’s always “user error”, but determining what the “error” is isn’t always easy.

Next step was to use CS5s HDR Toning to give a little painterly look to the image, which screwed up the sky. That meant a new Mask for the sky and a Gradient Layer (darker Blue to lighter Blue) with an Overlay Blend Mode to maintain some definition and I was pretty close.

All this was coupled with the normal workflow of saturating each color, using High Pass Sharpening and putting a vignette around to finish. What started as a goof at about nine in the evening ended up as today’s image at one in the morning. Boy, I hope you like it.