Monday, April 24, 2017

Creating Dramatic Lighting in a Snap!

Hello again, LayerCake and StudioMagic friends! Here again is our own Harry Kerker with the 411 on how to take charge of the lighting in your scene with StudioMagic 2.

I’m reminded of how many times I’m driving on a fast moving highway and the sun breaks through the clouds creating a glorious array of light-beams and bursts. Or I’m in an old castle in Europe with light streaming through windows and my camera doesn’t see it, so I try the old nose grease trick where you rub upside your nose and smear it across your lens, but that only makes my lens dirty. The point is, most of these glorious moments we miss because they are unexpected and fleeting and we are just not ready.

I’m going to run you through the basics of creating streaming light with StudioMagic 2, it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. In this before and after example, you can see that there is strong light coming through the window and casting light on the floor. Unfortunately the beam itself is not visible, usually because there’s not enough dust in the air to be picked up by the light streaming in. StudioMagic to the rescue, I go to my LightingEffex module and choose “Rays, Beams & Bursts. 

You’ll have a choice of light to choose from in the thumbnail gallery, so pick one and click OK, the create button will place the selected light ray in your image.  Now you may not see a perfect fit for the window in your choices which is ok, you just want to get close enough to the kind of light ray you envisioned as a starting point.  

Once you place you light ray, you can now shape it to your window. From your layers pallet, select the new light ray layer. Under the “Edit” menu choose “Transform” then “Distort”. You will now be presented with a box around your light ray with a series of square anchor points. Pull any of the anchor points and you will be able to reshape and angle your light ray to the direction of the light in the example. But what about that rounded top on the light ray, that’ll never fit in a squared off window frame!

Not true… select your light ray layer again and right click on it. In the drop down menu that appears, choose the option to “Rasterize Layer”. By rasterizing the layer, you can now cut and trim the layer to fit the window frame. You may have to go back to your distort tool to get just the right fit for the window. You’ll notice that I have light coming through the second window as well, just duplicate the layer and size it down to fit. 

For landscapes adding dramatic lighting is created using the same techniques as with interiors. Of course thick cloud cover with intermittent openings works best for dramatic lighting effects. Once you have decided which openings you plan to beam light through, draw lines to where you think the sun is located. The lines should all go back to the same finishing point, which will determine the angle of your lighting as it shoots through the clouds. 

Choose the appropriate light beam for the situation; in this case the light would be broken into multiple beams as it filters through the clouds. Once the light beam is placed, you can resize and rotate it to fit your directional lines. 

In this example I have seven different light beams. Don’t be afraid to experiment. A good little trick is to lay a flat light beam over a broken one to give it a bright glow. Try breaking a light burst through an area where the light passes through the opening. Lets also not forget that light hits the surface of the water as well, so try placing a light burst on the water’s surface and distort it into a long oval at the bottom of your light ray.

Harry Kerker, is the president and co-founder of LayerCake inc.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Creating realistic reflections used to be something only Photoshop masters could do. All that has changed.

It wasn’t that long ago that making realistic reflections in Photoshop was quite the challenge. Sure you could copy your entire image and paste it upside down beneath the original, but it never looked quite believable. If you wanted a water reflection with ripples in the water, you may as well forget it, unless you were a Photoshop guru. StudioMagic changed all that with the introduction of StudioMagic 2’s reflection panel.

Let’s first take the mirror reflection, the easier of the two types of reflections. You’ll want to crop the bottom of your photo first, because you’re going to want your reflection to butt up against the bottom of your original. Choose “Reflections” in your StudioMagic 2 panel and select Mirror Reflection “entire image”. We’ll cover use of the “Select Subject” option later. Your adjustments are defaulted to height and intensity 100%, finally, select “Create”

You have now created an accurate mirror image, but rarely do reflections display at 100% or the same height as the subject above, this is where your height adjustment comes in. 

Move the height slider to the left, in this case 70%. Again, hit create and you will see your mirror reflection change to a more accurate representation of a mirror image. If you want to try a few different sizing attempts, use the “Undo” at the bottom of the panel to go back one step. To start from scratch, select “Start Over” As you get used to the outcome of adjustment sizes, you can make them at the beginning of the process. 

Instances where your subject is not exactly horizontal are handled a little bit differently. Below you can see the refection does not butt up correctly to the bottom of the scooter because of it’s slightly off angle position. There’s two ways to correct this.

After you create your reflection, select the mirror layer that was just created. Go to “File” “Transform” and choose “Distort”.  Pull your anchor points until the reflection matches up properly with the subject. In this case I created an entire image reflection, which means when I distort the mirror layer, the white background layer beneath may show on the sides. No problem, create a third layer, sample the color of the background and fill to match. Move this fill layer to the back and you won’t notice a thing. 

The better way to do it would be to use the StudioMagic CutOut tool to remove the scooter. Add additional color canvas below the original.  Select the newly CutOut Scooter and in your StudioMagic Reflections panel choose “Selected Subject” This will make a mirror layer of just the scooter which will be much easier to distort and fit. 

As you’d expect, there are more variables with water reflections. Along with height and intensity, you now have “ripples”, “cooling” and “blur” It looks like a pretty calm day on the San Diego waterfront, so I’ll dial back my ripples to “2” height at 50% and 0% for both cooling and blur. Select “entire image”…

I hit a perfect match on the first try. We didn’t need the extra cooling because the subject image is already cool and it appears to be a bright day, which would give you sharp reflections rather than blurred. But I’d like to add a little more interest.

By simply dialing up “ripples” to “10” and selecting the update button it changes the whole look of the picture. Remember you can undo and as many times as you want until you get the right look. Just experiment, that’s the fun of it all. 

This is where the “selected subject” option comes into play. This is the original image, but I’d like to put a second subject into the same image. 

This is my studio shot of Kimberly, I first use the CutOut tool in StudioMagic 1 which simplifies Photoshop’s refine edge to easily remove Kim from her studio backdrop. StudioMagic’s CutOut is covered in earlier blogs and videos. 

I place Kimberly into the target image and choose the “select subject” option, then adjust my sliders to: Ripples 7, Height 93, Cooling 3 and for the first time, intensity at 95. Because our reflection is being applied over an existing image layer, this will give us additional latitude with the intensity adjustment.

Now hit “Create” It was that easy, and that’s not all, water reflections can be used to reflect clouds, birds even batman in the water if he happened to be flying over at the time.

Harry Kerker, is the president and co-founder of LayerCake inc.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The bright new future of compositing is just around the corner.

2017 will be the beginning of big things for LayerCake and StudioMagic. Up until now, StudioMagic’s Compositor library has been limited. The reason for this is the more elements like lightning bolts, birds and clouds that are added, the larger the application becomes, slowing it down, taking up users hard drive space and making for huge downloads. In 2017, all of that will be housed on a cloud.

An unlimited cloud-based library of cutout/masked accent images can be accessed through StudioMagic’s Photoshop interface and mouse-clicked into users photographic composites. StudioMagic can also simplify complicated Photoshop tasks like cutouts/masking, creating realistic shadows, creating water and mirror reflections, seasonal and weather changes, adding interior and exterior lighting effects and preset adjustments for light balance, tonal contrast and special color presets.

Al and I started LayerCake in 2009. We were spending our weekends shooting at arboretums, gardens, and on roadsides, picking up shots of trees, flowers, plants, animals, skies and clouds. We’d then go back to the studio and mask them out of their backgrounds. A small part of that library became the Master collection, some became the Compositior tool in StudioMagic 2 and the rest of the library was placed on the shelf until we could find an easier way to use and deliver them to our customers. Now we have!

In mid to late 2017, our element library will be accessible to our users via the cloud, easily downloaded and automatically installed into your new SM-2017 panel for Photoshop. All StudioMagic 1 and 2 tools will be upgraded and combined, plus some exciting new ones added. 

More big news, our new website will be launched in 2017 as well. It’ll be way faster, easier to navigate. We are also adding a social network of image compositors where you’ll be able to trade tricks with other members, show off your work, add links to your website, and get regular advice from the pros. 

We are creating an affordable subscription plan for members who want more in-depth training and special member discounts, on both StudioMagic products and our partners in the industry. Lets not forget our monthly newsletter and free webinars.

Harry Kerker is the president and a founding partner of LayerCake StudioMagic. 

He can be reached at or 818 542-3500

Friday, October 7, 2016

Creating Your Own Virtual Studios

Hey folks, Peter from LayerCake/StudioMagic. Have you ever wished you could instantly be transported to scenes that would make awesome environments for your subjects? Wait till you hear what Harry Kerker, President of LayerCake/StudioMagic has to share with us today. Here's Harry.

People ask me all the time, what’s the difference between virtual studios and backgrounds? Backgrounds have been around a long time; there are millions of them to choose from. They’re usually splashes of color, graphic designs or wallpaper patterns that were generally used as backdrops to spruce up portraits. Virtual studios are the product of the new compositing craze because the CutOut process has become so much easier with the advent of StudioMagic. I like to refer to them as little movie studios since they each tell a story about the subject that can’t be told with a tired old background.

Virtual Studios are everywhere!

If you walk out your front door right now, I guarantee you there’s a virtual studio out there waiting for you. All it takes is opening your eyes and to think a little bit differently about how you create images. There are hundreds of graffiti walls like this in every city. The Mission District in San Francisco has hundreds like this one. Remember to leave some foreground so you retain the image depth.

I recently visited Memphis, Tennessee, I parked my car and this wall was facing me. It took all of thirty seconds to add this alley to my collection. Some High-school senior will love this!

How about this wall covering a construction site?

Perfect for kids, look at how the ShadowCaster shadow anchors the kid’s feet to the street.

How many times have you walked into an ornamental garden like this and thought what a great place it would be to shoot a wedding? Unfortunately most weddings take place in sterile banquet halls so you have to drag the wedding party outside and grab what you can that’s green. Sometimes you get lucky; other times it’s dead and brown, or worse yet winter. If you had done a little creative thinking, you would have grabbed this shot like I did. Who cares if the sky is lifeless, I have StudioMagic and a great collection of LayerCake skies.

It took me longer to choose the right sky than it did to remove the old sky with my StudioMagic CutOut tool.

The bride? Photographed against the wall in the banquet hall kitchen! True story. So think outside the box… or in this case outside the kitchen. : )

How do I go about shooting my own virtual studios?

The most important thing to remember is to shoot promising locations at different heights, since you don’t know how they will be eventually used or what angle your subject will be shot at. So first shoot chest level, then low and high. Also remember it's nice to have some foreground in your shot, in the event that you want your subject to be full length from head to toe. Shooting your subjects should be the same, shoot multiple angels so you’ll have matching options that fit your virtual studios. By the way, remember not to worry about shadows, the ShadowCaster tool does an excellent job creating lifelike shadows that will tie the whole image together.

Sometimes you just have to leave it to us.

For those virtual studios that you just can’t grab on the street, check out our website for amazing virtual studios created by our imaginer Peter Hernandez!

Harry Kerker is the president and cofounder of LayerCake StudioMagic and can be reached at

Lean more about StudioMagic 1 & 2

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Giving Your Sports Images an Extra Edge

Here again with this month's blog is StudioMagic's President/Co-founder, Harry Kerker.

Team Sports photography has become a big business and perhaps the most competitive with the advent of the auto DSLR, which almost anyone can get a good exposure with. So what kind of edge can you get over these auto shooters that will make your images stand out? The newest look in sports is the edgy grunge style. You see it on sports magazine covers, on the web and in movie posters. Most times it goes a step further, when the subject is placed in a cool location like a locker room or an old sports stadium. We’re going to discuss the process of creating these cool new images along with some help from our favorite Photoshop extension, StudioMagic.

I’m starting out with my finished image. Pretty gritty huh? I created this image in about five minutes; most of the time was spent experimenting with the level of Grunge Boost I wanted to apply. 

Step #1. Although it’s a good idea to shoot your players on a solid background to make the selection easier, if there’s good separation between the subject and the background it doesn't matter that much. 

Step #2. Remember, there always needs to be a clear distinction between the edges of the player and the colors in the background. Obviously if the catcher’s chest protector is black and the background were black, there would be no edge to select. In this case the background is green so I have a clear edge to select. I have my StudioMagic 1 panel open and in this case, I’m using the quick select brush, if the background were solid, the magic wand tool, would make a faster selection. 

Step #3. Once you feel you have a good selection, just hit the “Q” key on your keyboard, which will take you back and forth between the mask and the selection. Work on adding to or subtracting from your selection until it’s as clean as you can get it, then hit “Q” to get back to the selection mode or as some people call it the dancing ants around the subject.

Step #4. Select “Detailed CutOut” in StudioMagic 1 and the red mask will appear again, do a swipe with a medium size brush around areas with small details that you weren’t able to select, like around his mask and the leather ties on his glove, them hit the Detailed “CutOut” button and your subject will be automatically cut out and placed against a gray background. Your original image will be behind it, in case you need it at a later date. 

Step #5. Choose a background from yours or LayerCake’s library of sports locations. Be sure you choose a background where the angle and point-of-view matches your subject’s as closely as possible. This ordinary high school dugout is photographed about chest high. 

Step #6. Open StudioMagic 2 and the HyperZap module. Select “Grunge Boost” select the “Entire Image” radio button and hit the “Create” Button. Apply more or less Intensity and saturation with the sliders and hit the update button to apply your latest changes until you get the look you are looking for.

Step #7. Open your cutout catcher in another window. If it’s stacked in tabs, pull the catcher tab out of the grouping so it creates it’s own window, then place it next to your background image. With your layers pallet open, drag the cutout catcher layer over into the background image. Resize your player the size you want it by hitting “Command T” on a Mac or “Option T” on a PC. A box will appear around the catcher, with the shift key held, grab and anchor point and slowly drag to resize. Holding the shift key keeps the image proportionate as you drag. Sometimes the box and anchors will be off the page, to see the entire box and four ancors, hit “Command O” on a Mac or “Option O” on a PC.

Step #8. Select your catcher layer and go back to Grunge Boost. This time activate the “Selected Subject” radio button. Match the player to the look of the background by sliding the sliders and hitting update until you like it. Now you could have applied Grunge Boost to the entire image in one application, but I like to apply them separately so I can get the perfect balance. Lastly use the LightBrush tool in StudioMagic 1 to make the player stand out, and maybe add a little LightBurst from StudioMagic 2 for some extra drama!

Harry Kerker is the president and cofounder of LayerCake StudioMagic

Lean more about StudioMagic 1 & 2

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Power of Light!

Hello StudioMagic Peeps. I hope you're enjoying the summer and that you're making lots of cool digital art. Here again for this month's blog is Harry Kerker, StudioMagic's President.

Creating dramatic images is all about light. Light can create power, inspiration and spiritual moments. Light creates focus, attention and drama. Needless to say without the power of light, your images can be flat and lacking of visual impact. But how do you do that when your capture is as flat as a pancake? Let’s create some light of our own!

Let’s start with a landscape. I remember pulling my car over when I saw this, then climbing over a barbed wire fence and down a hill into the field. Off to the right of the image there was an amazing sky approaching and so were loud thunderclaps and lightning. I was not going to wait for the sky standing in the middle of a field like a lightning rod. I knew if I got back to my car and waited, I’d find a safe time to get out and shoot the dramatic sky without being electrocuted. Once back at my studio, the first thing I did was pull up StudioMagic 1 with it’s CutOut feature to remove the old sky.

The CutOut feature does a wonderful job of simplifying Photoshop’s refine edge settings so I don’t have decipher the myriad of options for removing something as detailed as trees from a sky. There are a lot of good applications on the market for sky removal, but I found many to be complicated. I like the CutOut tool because it works hand and hand with the best one, Photoshop’s refine edge, it just simplifies it down to something we can all understand.

Now with my sky removed, I can replace it with the one that I actually saw. Interestingly enough, summer thunderstorms in Pennsylvania come and go quick, so it’s not unusual to see the storm pass and sun breaking through in the distance. However I was not able to capture fully what I saw, the sun bursting through the treetops and spilling into the field.

This is where StudioMagic 2 comes in handy. It was created as a full compositing tool for adding important accents to your images with a few clicks of the mouse. The LightingEffex tool has a full selection of light bursts and light rays to choose from that are automatically placed into your image. In this case I chose the burst that was as close to what I saw when I photographed the sky. You can make your own light bursts if you have the time and ability, but these are a fantastic starting place and you can reshape and color them to fit your image without much problem.

Once the burst was placed, I resized and rotated it to fit the placement I desired. The original burst was too white for the overall coloration of the image, so I used the ColorMatch (local) tool in LightingEffex to warm it up to match the ambient light. It was still missing the bright center light I saw, so I selected the burst layer and duplicated it which brightened the whole burst which I didn’t want. I wanted only the hot spot to be bright and the tailing streaks to be lighter and transparent. So I rasterized the duplicate layer and erased off the streaks which reveled the lighter streaks on the layer below. If you look back now at the top original image, you can see now what a difference light can make.

I’m always looking for locations like this to place models. However without the light streaming through the window and hitting the floor as it is, it wouldn’t be much but a room full of rubble. When you shoot images like this you also want to capture that dramatic shaft of light from the window to the floor but it doesn’t always happen. Light does not have color, what you see in a light shaft is the dust in the air being lit.

Honestly being a compositor and not having the light shaft is a blessing in disguise. I want to have the option to place a light shaft on the layer behind the subject and a shaft on the layer in front to create depth. In this case I started by using StudioMagic-1 to CutOut my subject and add a shadow using ShadowCaster to match the long light cast by the window. Once I placed the shadow, I used transform to stretch it even further to match the direction and length of the light.

Using StudioMagic 2, I chose the “Smokey Dust Window light preset, which was automatically placed behind the subject. You do this by choosing the subject layer before you place the light shaft.

Light shafts and rays are starting points; rarely in interior situations like this do they fit perfectly. You will need to use the transform and distort tools to pull, stretch and distort a light shaft to fit the window shape and the length of the light. Once your shaft is sized correctly, open the light ray folder in your layer pallet, select the light ray layer and right click on it. Choose the option to rasterize it, which will give you the ability to trim the light shaft with your lasso tool to fit the shape of the window frame. 

Finish off your composition by placing the same light shaft preset on the layer above the subject and using the same steps above to make it fit the window. Amazing what StudioMagic and the power of light can do for an image.

StudioMagic 1 & 2 for Photoshop are compatible with Photoshop CS 5 through CC 2015.5