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Mark Beckelman's Image Manipulation Technique

Producing an effective photo illustration takes a little imagination, and a lot of experimentation. By combining well-known symbols, objects and people, a single image can be produced for use in advertising, editorial or the walls of an art gallery. Following are the steps to create the image to the left, titled "Global Perspective". An expanded version can be seen at www.imaginginfo.com.

©Mark Beckelman

1. Develop a Concept & Start Shooting

In brainstorming a concept for this illustration, I didn't need to go any further than the front page of my daily newspaper. Given the world's current state, I thought a child sitting on top of a crumbling globe might make for a thought provoking image. It was important at this stage to firmly establish the visual feel of the final illustration, which includes light direction, shadows, and the overall layout.

The sky background was chosen from my stock archive because it fit in well with the coloration of the other elements. It was upsized about 25% to a 68MB RGB file, which is a good file size for most editorial or advertising uses. I then began by photographing the globe (below), which dictated the lighting for the other elements.

©Mark Beckelman

To emphasize the roundness of the globe, one Dyna-Lite 2040 flash head was aimed from the upper right toward the front of the globe, with minimal fill on the opposite side. The flash head was fitted with a Chimera Small Silver Lightbank, and power came from a Dyna-Lite 1000 XR power pack. A 2x3 foot white foam reflector was placed to the left of the set to provide fill light. All images that make up the illustration were shot with a Canon EOS-20D with an EF 28-70mm Canon f/2.8 L lens. Files were shot in RAW mode, then processed to 16-bit PSD files in Adobe Camera Raw. Pixel Genuis' PhotoKit Sharpener (www.pixelgenius.com) was then run on every image, and its Capture Sharpening option was selected, with Digital High-Res, Medium Edge Sharpen menu options. Files were then sized for the composite. All retouching and assembly was done using Adobe Photoshop CS on a Dual 1.8 Ghz Power Mac G5 with 3.5GB of RAM and a Wacom Intous 2 6x8 Tablet.

©Mark Beckelman

In order to get a believable cracked effect, half of an egg shell was shot, and it was lit so that it would look natural when composited with the globe. The image was then flipped in Photoshop to create the composite.

2. Start Compositing

First, mask out the globe by creating a path around it with Photoshop's Pen tool. Make sure the globe's path is selected in the Paths palette, then turn it into a selection by choosing"Make Selection" in the Path tool's flyout menu, which is accessible by clicking on the black triangle to the right of the word Paths. Under Rendering, choose a Feather Radius of 0 pixels and click OK. Then choose Quick Mask mode at the bottom of the tool palette (circled below), or just press the letter Q, and then apply a .8 pixel Gaussian Blur to the mask (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur). The amount of Gaussian Blur needed to soften a selection's edge will vary depending on the resolution of the file. Next, exit Quick Mask mode by clicking on the box to the left of the icon circled above, or by pressing the letter Q. Then double click on the background layer in the Layers palette, name it and click OK. Next, create a Layer Mask from the resulting selection by clicking on the Layer Mask icon on the bottom of the Layers palette.

Next, mask out the whole cracked eggshell using the same process as the globe. Then drag the eggshell layer with its layer mask from the Layers palette onto the open globe file, and transform the eggshell using Edit>Free Transform to match the size, shape and position of the globe. Then make a selection on the interior portion of the eggshell and press Cmd/Ctrl J to copy the selected area to its own layer. You now have three layers. Cmd/Ctrl click on the cracked egg layer mask ; This will turn the mask into a selection. Then choose Select>Inverse. Next, click on the globe layer's layer mask , and paint out the bottom of the globe with black to achieve the above image.

The cracked egg fragments could take hours to individually mask, so the best way to handle it is to shoot the small egg pieces on black velvet, and use Select> Color Range to select the background (Tolerance level of about 135). Expand the selection by 2 pixels (Select>Modify>Expand), then choose Select>Inverse, and create a layer mask (Layer>New Layer via Copy).

3. Get Cracking!

To give the egg shells the color and texture of the globe, place a copy of the shells on a layer above the globe layer, and change its blending mode to"Soft Light." By choosing parts from a few different files, and resizing and rotating as needed using the Free Transform tool, the illusion of falling pieces was created. See the online version for additional screen shots and expanded text.

4. Add the Human Element & background

The girl was photographed from a low camera angle to simulate the globe's camera position. A white background was used to aid in the silhouetting process later on, and some of the natural shadowing that fell onto the background was also brought into the image. To silhouette the girl's body, use the pen tool to create a mask the same way as the globe and egg. Viewing at a 200% zoom level is recommended for optimum accuracy. To isolate her head and hair, use Color Range , selecting the white background with a tolerance level of 135. Then fine-tune the layer mask with a small brush (about 3 pixels) set to black. Copy and paste the girl onto the composite file, use Free Transform, and add shadows.

Then drag the sky background file into the layered file and size it with the Free Transform Tool. It should be placed at the bottom of the layer stack so the other layers will be visible.

5. Add Motion Blurs and Voilà!

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