Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Full Blown Tutorial In Adobe Photoshop CS5

Got an email the other day from a reader saying they liked the tutorial portion of the posts, but could do without the anecdotal stories in the first paragraph.  So, we're going to try something new.  A highly expanded tutorial focus, with lots of pictures showing exactly what's going on in each step of building an image.  To kick it off I'm going to "rebuild" the scene of the Baltimore Inner Harbor and explain the thoughts behind each step.  To get to the end result may actually take a couple of posts, so hang in there.
These five shots will be used to make the final image.
We'll start with the general scene by taking the four vertical shots and making a panorama from them.  The shots were taken "hand held".  If you have enough light, a firm stance, a steady hand and a good eye, hand held panorama component shots aren't really a big problem.  Naturally, the lower the light the more the need to put the camera on a tripod.  I think most people's first thought about making a hand held pano is to stand in place and twist around you waist.  Actually, (I learned this after shooting this set of images) if you keep your eye in the viewfinder, composite your next shot and then shuffle your feet to get straighter toward the subject, you'll end up with a better series of images to use for the panorama.  You won't get as much of a bow to the final composite. 
Hit the "read more" to follow along with the building of the final image.
Here's an image of Adobe Photoshop CS5's Photo Merge dialog box.  The images were open before opening the dialog (File/Automatic/Photomerge).  The "Add Open Files" box was checked, as was the "Blend Images Together" and "Vignette Removal" boxes.  As far as which "Layout" to choose, "Auto" seems to work just fine.  I've looked at other selections and, again, "Auto" works fine. 

This image is the result of the photomerge.  You can see the "wings" flaring up on each end.  Depending on the composite image, the wings will either need to be trimmed or, thanks to CS5's Content Aware Fill, filled in.  (We'll work another image where we'll fill the missing information rather than trimming it.  In today's image we really don't need as much water as is available.  First things first, let's make sure we have "something" that's straight.  Today, that happens to be the "shoreline".  Nested with the Eye Dropper Tool (i) is a Ruler Tool.  Select the Ruler.  Click on a convenient starting point and drag to an end point of what you feel needs to be straight.  It can be horizontal or vertical, either will work as long as it's something that should be on the "X" or "Y" axis.  In CS5, on the content aware options bar, there's a "Straighten" button.  Clicking it will rotate whatever you selected to whatever axis is closer and crop off any blank areas.  Adding the Alt Key will straighten and leave the blank areas. 
The next step is to make your crop selection.  For today's image most of the water was lopped off.  On the left side, the two tour boats were eliminated.  They didn't add to the atmosphere of the image, so they would have been an unnecessary distraction.  Most of the sky was also not needed to tell the story of the inner harbor.  If the shot was taken as one frame, cropping so drastically would have resulted in a very low pixel count.  Probably too low to make a 30" print.  By starting with a four shot pano we have plenty of pixels we can carve away and still have a ton of information left to make a print. 
The sky looks pretty sucky.  It has no drama and this scene cries out for drama.  I keep a database of clouds.  Any time the clouds look "interesting" I'll grab a camera and shoot a dozen (at least) variations of the sky.  Bracket a little bit, shoot left, right and center, include a little land, no land, vertical, and horizontal.  File 'em away, ready to be used to jazz up a bland sky.  For today's image one of the more dramatic skies was chosen and brought into the Layer stack above the merged panorama.  Just to get a quick idea of what will work and what slice of the sky looks best, the Blend Mode was changed to Darker Color.  This overlaid the sky above the scene.  Because there are light (white) areas in the scene there was some bleed through in parts of the scene.  This is "no big deal" because the Darker Color blend mode is only used for positioning.  Once the sky looks good the Blend Mode can be switched back to Normal.  The best position, in this case, left a sliver on the left side that had to be dealt with.  The sky didn't reach the edge of the image.  With the sky Layer selected, the Free Transform Tool (Ctrl T) was activated and the left side of the sky pulled over to cover the missing area. 
In this image you can see that the sky is much larger than the panorama scene.  It won't be seen, but it does add to the file size unnecessarily.  Once you got the sky in its final position the excess sky can be cropped off to reduce the file size.

Turn off the visibility (click on the eyeball) of the sky revealing the scene.  Use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to select the sky in the original scene.  Use the Refine Edge button to bring up the dialog box to adjust the selection.  Once a good selection is made, right click within the selection and choose Save Selection.  This will create an Alpha Channel that can be used wherever needed to make a Mask.  Because masking the sky from the scene portion of the image is the next step we can leave the selection active and click on the sky Layer.  At the bottom of the Layers Panel the Layer Mask icon should be selected.  The result will be that a Layer mask will be applied with the sky and the scene both visible.
So, here's where we at right now.  There's quite a bit more to do to get to the final image, but that's probably enough for today.  Stop back on Friday and we'll continue building the image.