Monday, April 18, 2016

Guest Blogger: Harry Kerker - "Location Shoots On Your Desktop"

Hello LayerCake/StudioMagic community!

Peter again with another StudioMagic blog. As you've noticed, we've changed the name of this blog to "Clicks, Tips & Compositing Tricks". We feel that the new name better encompasses what we set out to share here. And speaking of sharing, Harry Kerker, President of LayerCake/StudioMagic is back again this time talking to us about StudioMagic's Picture Windows. Prepare for new possibilities for your creations. Once again, here's Harry.

Location shoots on your desktop

Remember location shoots? I do so maybe that dates me, but it wasn’t so long ago that we were dragging a van full of lights and assistants to some ungodly location at 5 am. Also the cost involved became prohibitive, few clients wanted to spend the extra money asking if maybe it could be done in a studio… which it couldn’t.  Compositing in Photoshop changed all that. Now you can do that location work from the comfort of your computer desk and have a sandwich at the same time. 

In this article we’ll discuss creating virtual window studios. Window portraits have always been popular, but depending where you live you’re limited to what’s in the neighborhood. Many clients, especially high school seniors, are always looking for something different - “Put me in the Old West!”, “Put me in something edgy” - and brides may want something more sophisticated… hopefully. 

If you have a list of things in your head to look for like me, shooting cool windows is second nature. 
I snap them off on all my trips from San Francisco to San Gimignano. 
I try to shoot windows as straight on as I can, otherwise you may limit the subject you can place in it because of an odd angle.

Now you have to start thinking layers. Remember understanding layers is the key to compositing. 
I named the company LayerCake because that’s what compositing is, making a cake of image layers. If you think of your image in a three-dimensional sense, and turned it sideways, it would be a layer cake. Once you visualize this, the whole process is much easier to understand.

Building your own PictureWindows
Start by creating a new layer for your window image. Select it, cut it and paste it on a new layer of its own. Fill the blank background layer behind it with black, you can always change it later if you want. Select your lasso tool and change the feathering to “0” so it’s a hard edge. You want to remove the glass from each windowpane. Click with your lasso in a corner and click around all four sides until fully selected and hit delete. You’ll now see the black background we created showing through where the windowpane once was. Continue removing the glass until all panes are removed and save this new file as a PSD. 

Look through your portraits for subjects that you can at least see to their waistline. Now you probably have a strategy for doing the extracting from the original background, and there are many applications on the market for masking out people that tout ease of use, but few live up to that promise. In all honesty, Photoshop is still the best tool for masking, however if you’re not an experienced user it can seem complicated. 
The CutOut tool in StudioMagic 1was created to simplify Photoshop’s refine edge, by defaulting all the settings to those recommended to us by a panel of industry experts. It also gives you simple options like Auto CutOut for hard-edged objects and Detailed CutOut for things like flying hair on your model. 

Once your subject is removed you can now drag the layer into your window composite. It’s a good idea to have the layer pallet open so you can see all your layers. Now lets think layer cake. Select the layer with the window on it, then drag your subject from the other image on to the window composite. If you selected the right layer in the window composite, your subject should be inside the window with the black background behind. If not, look at your layers pallet and slide the subject between the window and the background and voilĂ .

If your subject looks a little strange, ask yourself these questions. Is he or she photographed at the same angle as the window? Is the direction of the light on the subject coming from the same direction as outside the window? Is the subject sized correctly relative to the window? 

If the subject’s angle is incorrect, find a different outtake, a different window or reshoot the subject angle to match the window. If the direction of the light is incorrect, flip the subject direction in transform and use your dodge and burn tools to accentuate the highlights and shadows, which will fool the eye. StudioMagic 1 has a cool LightBrush tool which makes this easy, but you want to be sure that the layer mask it creates is behind the window and in front of the subject in your layer structure, otherwise you’ll have dark over the entire image. You just want the Light Brush Tool layer over the model. Relative size is a bit easier; try to determine the size of one pane of glass. An adult’s head is 8” to 10” high depending on age and gender. Size the subject’s head relative to windowpane size and it should now start looking more realistic size wise.

Now if you don’t like the black background behind your model, change it using your bucket tool and pour in a new color or shoot a wallpapered wall to slip behind your subject. Remember this new wall should always be darker than the subject since it’s farther away from the window. If you want to cast a shadow on it, use the excellent ShadowCaster tool in StudioMagic 1, place a “Wall Back“ shadow on your subject and play with the angle slider until it looks correct. 

Lastly, every window needs glass. Make a new layer behind the window and in front of the subject. Fill the new layer with white. Add a layer mask to the new layer by clicking on the small icon that looks like a Japanese flag at the bottom of the layers pallet. You’ll see that a mask has been added to the right of the layer. Select the mask and reduce the opacity to about 20%. Now select your brush tool and make soft brush strokes at a 45 degree angle across the glass so you can see the subject’s face clearly. Repeat it in different areas of the glass. Now play with the opacity so you can see your work. If you want to paint glass back in, hit the X key on your keyboard and it’ll reverse the mask brush to paint back in. When you get it just right, play with the opacity until it looks like a reflection across the glass. Try making masks with gray and black as well, all do different things. 

There’s great satisfaction making your own virtual windows, but you can get a great collection of PictureWindows right in our store, already composited with lots of fun layer options in summer and winter scenes,  ready to drop your subjects into. 
Add StudioMagic 1 & 2 and you have a virtual window-making machine!

Harry Kerker
President LayerCake StudioMagic

Monday, April 4, 2016

Guest Blogger: Harry Kerker - "Always Have Beautiful Skies"

Hello LayerCake StudioMagic community! It's been a while since my last blog and I still intend to hit the next point in the realistic composition series: Color and Saturation. But before we resume that journey, today we have a guest blogger. Harry Kerker, president of LayerCake StudioMagic is going to be sharing how to make the skies in our composites always looks great. So without further ado, here's Harry...

Always have beautiful skies

We work so hard at perfecting our photos, but many times the most important part gets overlooked. Some think skies are secondary to the photo’s story, but a poor sky can detract from the overall impact of a photo particularly in print competitions. Sky replacement used to be time-consuming and tedious even for advanced Photoshop users. 

There are many applications on the market for masking out skies that tout ease of use, but few live up to that promise. In all honesty, Photoshop is still the best tool for masking, however if you’re not an experienced user it can seem complicated. 

The CutOut tool in StudioMagic 1 was created to simplify Photoshop’s refine edge, by defaulting all the settings to those recommended to us by a panel of industry experts. It also gives you simple options like Auto CutOut for hard-edged objects and Detailed CutOut for things like trees. Once the sky removal has been completed, the new CutOut image with the sky removed is automatically placed on a simple gray layer which makes it easy to see. Drag the sky of your choice behind the landscape layer you just removed the old sky from. The original image you started with is always saved behind the gray layer as the background. I’d save this PSD as a master in case you decide you’d like to go back and try a different sky at a later date. Do a “save as” and save the new version with a new file name. To see tutorials on sky replacement, click here.

Tips for better replacements

A few clouds may be just what the doctor ordered!

Not all skies need full replacements; they may just need a little help. Let’s say you captured a brilliant blue sky, but it’s cloudless and boring. StudioMagic 2’s Compositor tool includes Cloud Creator. Cloud Creator gives you access to a library of masked clouds that with a click can be automatically placed into your photo, resized, and adjusted for intensity. The cloud is placed with an automatic mask so you can brush away what you don’t need. 

    StudioMagic 2’s Cloud Creator is a quick and easy way to put life in an ordinary blue sky. 

The trick is to place a few clouds from the library at different sizes to give you depth and perspective. You can also transform the clouds by flipping them with the flip horizontal selection tool, and then they can be overlapped and erased from the mask to build a realistic looking grouping.  If your sky is approaching sunset yellow and red, use the Color Match tool under LightingEffex to adjust the cloud’s color to match the overall sky. 

LayerCake has stand-alone collections of drag & drop clouds and cloudbanks as well, but for ease of use and saving time, the StudioMagic 2 is the best option.

To see tutorials on sky replacement click here

Don’t be afraid of the ultimate makeover!
Sometimes there’s no getting around it. You shot a beautiful landscape, but the sky is white and blown out. It’s just a fact of photography, when you expose for the landscape the sky will be overexposed, expose for the sky, the landscape will be underexposed. So what’s the solution? A smart solution would be to put your camera on a tripod, shoot one exposure for the landscape, shoot a second for the sky and marry them in Photoshop. Unfortunately, few of us think of that when we are trying to get the perfect framing and we left the tripod in the car. 

StudioMagic 1’s CutOut tool and LayerCake’s sky collections fix all that pretty quickly. In this example you’ll be using the Detailed CutOut tool because of the delicate tree branches intruding into the sky that we intend to replace. Notice that the image has a pond with the blown out sky reflecting in it as well. In order to make this replacement look realistic, we’ll need to select both the sky and the pond area for removal.

Next we need a sky. Now if you have a collection of your own skies, by all means use those. But if you don’t, LayerCake has beautiful collections of skies that include all types, from sunsets to stormy. Once the sky and the pond has been removed, place the new sky on the layer behind the CutOut landscape. The sky will look great, but the pond will look funny. That’s because the pond is a mirror so the reflection needs to be upside down and reflecting the new sky above it. Which means you need to make a duplicate layer of your sky, flip it upside down and roughly reposition it to match the sky above. Now turn off your landscape layer, and with your rectangle selection tool, select the area from just below the horizon up to the top of the image and hit delete. Turn your landscape layer on again and you’ll see that the sky and the pond reflection are now correctly matched.

   Original sky and pond area removed with StudioMagic 1 and replaced with a LayerCake Sky.

Picking the right sky is critical 
We all go for the most dramatic, but it may not match the light in your image. First off, if it’s bright daylight, a sunset will never match. If you place a sky but the horizon of your landscape appears to be lighter than the sky, that’s an indication that the sky doesn’t match the landscape’s lighting. Now there are a few things you can try, first a lighter sky; most times that will fix the problem. If your sky is still too dark at the horizon, use a broad soft eraser tool to lighten the sky from the horizon up about a third of the way until the bottom of the sky blends with the horizon. Another trick is you use your burn tool to darken the horizon to match the sky. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two techniques.

You can’t fool Mother Nature
Another thing that gets overlooked is direction of light. How often have you seen composites that look a little strange but you can’t quite put your finger on it? Unfortunately, good print competition judges pick up incorrect lighting right away, and once they see that, they start looking for more Photoshop tricks that have gone awry. Stand back and view your entire image for a minute, look for the direction of shadows and the angle the light is coming from. If shadows go right to left, the position of the bright area in the sky needs to be coming from the right. Flip the sky if need be. If the shadows are short, it’s closer to midday and the sun angle is higher in the sky. If the shadows are long, the sun’s angle is lower and an afternoon sky or sunset may be more appropriate. 

   Original sky removed with StudioMagic 1 and replaced with a LayerCake sky. Light beam added
   with StudioMagic 2, balanced with ColorMatch and LightBrush.

Yes, you can fool Mother Nature
StudioMagic 2’s LightingEffex tool offers a library of Rays, Beams and Bursts that are easily placed with a click of your mouse. On most skies you can place a burst with a light ray where you want the direction of the light coming from. In many cases, by placing this new light source in a convincing position based on shadows and overall angle of light, you can fool almost any eye, even those pesky print comp judges!

To see tutorials on sky replacement, click here.

Harry Kerker
President LayerCake StudioMagic