Friday, April 12, 2013

Would Rockwell Use Photoshop To Do His Stockbridge Main Street?

Norman Rockwell was (is) one of America’s greatest visual story tellers.  A flat out statement.  That’s my opinion of his value to the interpretation of American life in the twentieth century.  One of his most famous works is titled “Home for Christmas” or, alternately “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas”.  There are several differences between today’s image and Rockwell’s masterpiece.  The most obvious is probably the fact that his truly is a “masterpiece” and mine is not.  Take a look at today’s image and Rockwell’s painting and you will see the same buildings.  They’re really there (at least they’re somewhere) along Main Street in Stockbridge Massachusetts.  Today’s image doesn’t carry as far down the street and doesn’t include the venerable Red Lion Inn, but it captures (I think) the spirit of his painting.  There is one thing the two do have in common.  You can’t see the scene as presented in either the painting or today’s image.  The backdrop of Main Street Stockbridge is the neighborhood behind the stores, not a vista of the hills to the south.  Basically, there are no hills behind the buildings.  It just falls off looking like many Main Streets.  In the image you’re looking south.  The hills (they ain’t mountains by any stretch of the imagination) run north south, with one set not too far to the east and the western set being a good distance away.  To learn where those mountains are and how they got into today’s image, hit the “Read More”.

You can find the hills in the back of the scene about 180 miles northeast of Stockbridge (about 250 road miles).  The hills are a panorama taken at a scenic overlook along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.  The pano had the interesting clouds and the street scene had pale blue skies. 
The easiest method of capturing the sky of the street scene was using Adobe Photoshop’s Color Range (Select/Color Range) dialog to pick the sky and add to the Selection by holding down the Shift Key.  Once most of the sky was selected the Fuzziness and Range sliders were adjusted to get the maximum separation.  After the Selection was made the sky was right clicked on and Save Selection (Select/Save Selection) picked to save the Selection as an Alpha Channel.  The Alpha Channel was then opened (Channels Panel/ Alpha 1) and the Levels dialog box opened (Image/Adjustments Levels)  (Adjustment Layers won’t help on an Alpha Channel.)  Anything in the buildings or street was painted black using the Brush Tool (B).  Anything in the sky was painted white. 
When the Alpha Channel was complete it was used to produce a Layer Mask (holding the CTRL key down, click on the Alpha Channel thumbnail.  Once the selection is active, create a New Layer Mask.  The Selection will become the masked area.)
The Mask had some fringe to it.  To take it down a Brush (B) was used on the Mask.  The Brush Blend Mode (not the Layer Blend Mode) was set to Overlay and alternated between Black and White.  The Brush Opacity (again, not the Layer Opacity) was set to 41% and several brush strokes were used to remove any fringing)
At that point it was still a color image.  It was converted to B&W using Nik Software’s Sliver Efex Pro 2.  The Antique Plate II Preset was used as a starting point.  The Vignette that Preset puts on an image was removed and Structure adjusted to taste.
Once back in CS6 a crosshatch filter (Filter/Brush Strokes/Crosshatch) was applied to get a “sketch” look.  The image was then saved (File/Save – File/Close) back to Adobe Lightroom 4.
I LR4 a Vignette (Effects Panel/Post Crop Vignette) was applied to finish the image.