Archive of ‘tutorial’ category

Create a wintery scene – Editing recipe

Since winter will be here today, I thought I’d share this quick and easy recipe to transform an image into a dreamy winter scene.  It started with this summer image of a church, taken with a Lensbaby.


I started by removing any indication that the image wasn’t taken in winter by some cloning work.


I then added one of my cloud files I keep for my compositing work, I chose a grey sky to make it kinda stormy.  Erased from unwanted areas with a layer mask and blended in normal mode at 70%. You can use any cloud you want, you might want to desaturate it to make it look more neutral. If your cloud overlay is too sharp, don’t forget, you can run a little gaussian blur on it so the DOF is consistent in your image.


Next step was making the overall image cooler and with a gentle falling snow, in order to do that, I played my FREE Ice Fairy touch action at 100%


Snow was too light so I added a falling snow overlay, blended in Screen mode.  There are many free on the web, and there’s one here too, just for you.

step 5

My next step was to add some drama by vignetting the image.  In order to do so, I merged all layers once I was satisfied with my masking and snow layers. I then duplicated my background.  I used the lasso tool on this second layer, to select an approximate vignette, It doesn’t have to be perfect so it looks natural. In order to have this effect blend in nicely, I feathered my selection to a 100 px radius. Then,  I inverted my selection to select the vignette and not the center of the image.  I went to Image > Adjustments > Curves and pulled down just enough to darken my edges.


This is the resulting image. You can repeat the Curves adjustment if you were too subtle at first or if you want more drama.  You can also use this same method and select other parts of the image you want brighter or darker, don’t forget to feather your selection to create a smooth transition.  That’s it!  Quick steps, major transformation!

Commercial use, you say?

On this day and age, where everything seems so readily available, images, graphics and digital content are often lifted from the web without people ever looking back on their actions and wondering, “Do I have the right to use this content?”.  It seems so easy, even elementary schools teach kids to right-click and add photos to their Powerpoint documents.  Without ever mentioning to these kids that the content belongs to someone and educating them about copyright.

There’s also another issue here, that goes beyond the right-click, where people want to use said content, or “stuff” as I like to call it, to create a derivative product with commercial purposes in mind.  That’s the tricky part, if you’ve been taught to use whatever you find on the web without enquiring about licenses or terms of use, we have a huge problem.  I have nothing against creatives who integrate “stuff” in their work.  Stuff like textures, backgrounds, stock images, vector graphics, etc.  Or use Photoshop brushes, gradients, patterns they found on the web to create artwork.  If it’s a flattened artwork and the license or terms of use allow you to sell it, that’s great!

If you are creating in order to re-sell digital content and are using “stuff” found on the web you better read the fine print!  Find that license or those terms of use and read them carefully!  Some designers will allow you to modify and re-sell, but you can’t take that for granted only because it’s free on the web!

Creative Commons?  Does that ring a bell?  The content you plan on using might be licensed under Creative Commons, but that doesn’t grant you the right to do whatever you want with the content.  There are many types of Creative Commons Licenses, did you know that?  Some require credit, some don’t.  Some allow you to modify the works, others don’t.  Public domain is also a source of content, but once again, read the fine print carefully.

To find out more about the types of licenses from Creative Commons, go here —> Creative

What if the content you find is not licensed under Creative Commons?  Then you absolutely need to find and read the terms of use.  Can’t find them in the files or on the owner’s website?  Does that mean it’s free to grab and use as you please?  Not at all!  Find the source and ask for terms of use.  Keep them in a folder with the content you plan to use,  protect the designers and protect yourselves.  With this advice in mind, show some ethics and keep on creating stunning content!

Find a copy of my Terms of use   HERE.  They apply to all resources available on this blog.

Here’s a graphic to help you decide if you can use the “stuff” or not, enjoy!


How to write your own Photoshop actions – A step by step tutorial

Photoshop actions are enjoyed by many, and are useful in so many ways.  Whether you want to speed up your workflow, or creatively edit photos, they do come in handy.  Press the Play button and there it goes!  A little miracle of it’s own!  All the layers are there, all you need is adjust a bit, here and there.

Many actions are available for you to choose (Psst!  Right sidebar, easy peasy!), but sometimes, you have that recipe you like, one you created and the one that works for your editing style the best.  How do you record it in order to save it for future use, and also, to save some time?  I’ll walk you through it.  We’ll start by a step-by-step guide on how to actually record the actions.  You have that amazing tool at your fingertips, it’s time you put it to good use!  Then, I’ll add my tips on how to build your own creative actions.  Sounds good?

First, you have to keep in mind that at this time, you can only record actions in PS.  Not PSE.  You can run actions written in PS in PSE, given they were recorded with commands that PSE will recognize.

Actions will record every command given to them, you can see all the steps within the action when you use the develop button.  You will see commands appear while you record, and that’s where you go back and delete if you mess up.

Okay, let’s get started!  If you want to record your own actions, you will need to have your actions panel open  (Window > Actions).  Open a photo, any photo.  We need to have a file opened in order for the commands to run as we record them.  Look at the bottom of the actions panel, you will recognize three buttons, square, circle and triangle.  Square is Stop, circle is Record, and of course, triangle is Play.

For the sake of this exercise, we will write and record together a basic enhancing action.  Once recorded, you get to keep it, nice hey?

Go to your actions panel, and find the drop-down menu at the top right and select New Set.

Actions need to be recorded in sets, not as stand-alone.  You can have only one action, but it needs to be in a set.  Now, name this new set.  I named it My First Ever Action Set.

With that set created, make sure it’s selected,  go back to the drop-down menu and select New Action.  A new action will be added to the selected set.  Name this action.  I decided to name it WOW.  In order to save it you will be required to press RECORD.


Once done, be extra careful, because PS is now recording your every move!! You will have confirmation by looking at the Record button, it’s now red, meaning it’s active and recording.  In order to be able to take your time and try the adjustments you want before actually recording them, go press the Stop button.  And breathe.

Now is the time to record every adjustment you want to include in your action.  Press the Record button when you’re ready to go.  I strongly suggest you press Stop after every adjustment.  That way PS will not record everything you click, slide or adjust in between recording commands.  Believe me, if you forget, and you will!  You will end up with a pretty funky and lengthy action.  But it’s part of the learning process, so don’t worry.

If you already have your own recipe, go ahead and record it!  The rest of us are going to go on with our WOW action.

Ready?  Sure?  Press Record.  Go to your layers palette and select a Curves adjustment layer.  We will start by a simple midtones lift curve.  I worked on the RGB curve and didn’t went too strong, a soft lift.  Output value at 142 and Input value at 112.  Once done, I can name my new adjustment layer, while still recording.  I went with “Curves”.  Press the Stop button.

Next step is adding a little color boost.  Press Record and make a Hue/Saturation adjustment.  I went with a +12 value in Saturation, and named the layer “Color Boost”.  Press Stop.

Moving on with a little Contrast Boost, press Record again, and add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer.  Up the Contrast to 25.  Name your layer, press Stop.

My final step when creating an action, is to group the layers, and name the group after the name of the action.  Press Record, select all adjustment layers, and press Ctrl+G (Or click on the folder icon at the bottom of the layers palette). Name your group, and press Stop for one last time.

It’s a pretty basic action, I’ll give you that, but it serves it’s purpose.  And after three recorded adjustments, I think you can handle the rest on your own.

Things to remember when recording your own actions:

-Press Record and Stop!

-Name and group your layers, avoid clutter.

-If you messed up, press Stop.  Go within your action and delete the last command you recorded, as well as it’s layer and start over again.

-Save your actions on a folder or on a hard drive, you never know!

-Try new effects, experiment and have fun.   That’s how you learn.


Useful tips on designing creative actions:

-Go mid-range opacity on your layers, or go subtle on your adjustments.  Keep in mind that not one image is the same.  If you record your actions for your own personal use, and you shoot consistently, do as you please.  But if you plan on sharing…  Go subtle!  You may tend to underexpose, while others tend to overexpose, a too strong adjustment will create chaos!!  If you want more people to benefit from your work, make sure it works for THEM as well.

 -Adjust every layer opacity to customize the effect, while recording.  Opacity changes gets recorded just like any other command, and it’s pretty useful.

-Add layer masks on every layer (while recording).  It will allow fine tuning.

-Make sure your actions never flatten the image!  I hate that!  I want to be able to customize every. single. effect.

-Use adjustment layers most of the time, it doesn’t apply to your background image, but on it’s own layer instead, and it comes with a mask.  Do not destroy my background!!

-If you need to use an image adjustment that runs on the background, duplicate it first!  Remember, do not alter my original, never!

-There are many different ways to achieve one creative result, try to select the one that is easier to customize for the user, but still effective enough to give good-looking results.   For example, Haze or Matte.  Many ways to add it to a photo,  carefully select the one that will give the user the most control over it.

-Be pixel-gentle.  Take care of that background, make sure your actions do not destroy pixels!

-Be careful of the radial gradient.  Why?  Don’t you hate to see a halo in your image?  I see it on many images.  Yes, it’s great to add fill light, but make sure your radial gradient blends softly enough it won’t leave a halo (my pet peeve, sorry for that!).  I hate having to run a blur over it to smooth it out, take some extra time I don’t have much of…

-That said, make sure your actions do not give the user extra work apart from opacity adjustments or mask painting.  It has to run without me having to correct it by running another action on top.

-Be wary of color casts, doesn’t look to great on delicate skin, just sayin’

-Build your actions by covering bases first, like exposure fix and stuff, then add creative adjustments on top.  Like icing on the cake, but don’t go too sweet.

-Be creative!  Be your own kind of unique!  Experiment first, take notes to be able to replicate the effect later.

-Educate yourself!  I could never say this enough. Many tutorials by professionals are out there, use them.  Then when you’re comfortable with the process, personalize the effects so it fits who you are and who you want to share your actions with.  The web is a treasure trove for amazing resources, start there.  Connect with others and be inspired (it’s a treasure trove for LEGAL sources folks!  ETHICS will always get you further.  It’s the GOLDEN RULE!  ALWAYS!).

-Try to be cohesive when creating a set.  My art teacher used to compare some artwork to pizza.  Too much of everything leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Keep pizza on your plate, not in your work.

-I guess the hardest part is coming up with THE idea that will make your set want to be used by others.  What will make it different than the others?  How will your style set you apart?


Enjoy and start recording new recipes of your own!  And share the love!



Texture work – The basics

The basics.

The first thing you have to remember when working with textures, is that the results will vary depending on your photo, the texture you choose, and the blending mode you select.  You have to play with them a couple of times to determine the effect you like best.

First step is to open both your photo and the texture you want in an editing software that allows layering (PS, PSE, Gimp.  But not Lightroom unless you add a plug-in for it, and that’s a whole other story…).

Then you slide the texture over the photo with the move tool or by copypaste.  You will have to adjust it’s size with the Move tool or the Free Transform tool so it fits perfectly your document.

Next you play with different opacity and blending modes on your texture layer.

The most commonly used are Soft light & Overlay, sometimes Vivid light.

Note that Darken and Multiply modes will give you a darker result. And that Lighten and Screen modes a brighter result.

An opacity ranging in the 20 to 35% will give you really subtle texture, if you want to lose part of a disturbing background, go higher.  From 50 to 80% is a safe opacity, unless the texture has very strong details.

Don’t hesitate to duplicate your texture layer (once you’ve removed it from the unwanted areas if you need to do so,  see below…) and vary blending modes.  Let’s say you start with one texture layer in Soft Light mode, add one in Multiply mode to get some stronger texture back.   Adding extra layers and blending them all at a different opacity will get you that custom look you’re after.


To remove the texture from some areas of your photo, like a face, three easy ways.

The first and the one I recommend is painting over the texture layer with a soft brush with a color you picked from within the texture itself.  With your texture in Normal mode and at 100% opacity, use the Dropper tool to pick a color from the texture, a mid-range one, not too light, not too dark.  Reduce the opacity of your layer so you can see what is underneath in order to be able to paint over the surface where you want the texture to be smoother.  With a soft brush at a reduced opacity, between 35-60%, paint over the face, skin, or other areas where you want the texture to lose it’s details.  This method is my fave because it allows you to keep the tint of the texture in the painted areas.

Second method is using the Magnetic Lasso tool. Use it to determine the area. Then run a Gaussian Blur Filter to clear the texture from the selected area.  The higher blur value you set, the clearer it gets. So, go for a 250 value.  This is method also allows the skin to retain some of the texture tint, so it looks naturally blended. But it’s a longer process than simply painting.

The third is by creating a layer mask.  Remember that where it’s white the texture shows, where it’s black it doesn’t show.  Paint with a black brush over the layer mask and the texture will be erased from the areas where you painted.  You can adjust the opacity of the brush to fade the texture along the edges of the area.


The best way to use textures is to get to know them by playing with them.  Some might be brighter some darker, that’s when your knowledge of blending modes is useful.  Everyone has a different taste, so whether you like strongly textured images or lightly enhanced ones,  the secret is how you will blend them!

Have fun working with your textures!

Using Gradients in your Photo Editing

I have to admit I love gradients in PS (or PSE).  I think it’s one of the neglected tools in your panel.  With gradients you can easily add fill light, contrast, haze, vignette, etc.  It’s easy to use, but you have to select the right gradient and the right blending modes to get the most out of them.

For this tutorial I’ll use a macro of a flower I did, on which I wanted to softly enhance the center.  Please keep in mind that my photo has it’s own color and exposure, yours will obviously be different,  so layer opacity and angle values (we’ll see it soon…) might need to be adjusted to your own image.  This serves only as a reference to make you want to use Gradients in your editing.

First off,  I had to make sure I had my color swatch set to white on black,  I’ll need it later.

Gradients can be found in two places in PS, on the side bar or under your layers palette, in the adjustment layer menu.  I use the ones in the adjustment layer menu the most because, as with every adjustment in the menu, it adds a layer mask for fine tuning and it’s also easily customizable, just click on the gradient icon and you can change the color and every value you had set, so it fits your image.  The Gradients you find in the side panel also offer many features, but you need to work on a new layer every time and you need to start again if you don’t like the effect.  Though it can be useful because you decide where you want the effect by dragging your mouse on the image, we won’t use it at this time.  Feel free to try both methods though, that’s the best way to learn new things!

So, I clicked on the adjustment layers icon and selected Gradient (Not Gradient Map!).   I started by adding a little haze so I chose a blue gradient, I made sure I had a Radial Gradient to get the fill light/halo effect and changed the scale to 150%.  I checked the Reverse box, to switch the lighter part to the center.  I also changed the angle that is by default set to 90 to 150 to fit my flower’s center the best.  That’s where you need to play with the values, the scale widens the fill light effect and the angle changes where it’s applied.  I then blended that layer in Exclusion mode at 25% to get me some haze.

My next step was adding another Gradient layer, same steps as before, but this time I went with a Sandy colored gradient to add light to my center. Once again a scale of 150% and I kept the 90 degree angle.  This layer was then blended in Hard Light mode at 10% (use hard light mode in low opacity otherwise the light will be too harsh!). 

My flower was hazy, but now I wanted more light and definition, so I added a white to black gradient  (It’s going to pop up by default if your swatch is set to white on black).  Scale at 150%  angle at 135.  This layer will be blended in Overlay mode at 50%.

I could have stopped right there but I wanted more punch to my image.   So, I duplicated this last gradient layer and blended it in Screen mode at 10% to light up the lovely bud even more.

Lastly, I added a Levels adjustment layer to darken my edges so the attention was brought even more on the center.  All I did is bring in the black slider a little, until I was happy with my edges.

And that’s it for this edit!  Writing it seems like a very long edit, but doing it once you get the hang of it will actually take you less than two minutes 🙂

The fun about using gradients is that the possibilities are endless, you can use any color your heart wishes for!  As I said, use blue to create haze, use white or grey to create fill light.  Use light yellow to mimic sunlight, orange to create sunset color.  In this tutorial I used only the Radial gradient, but if you use a linear gradient you can add tone to a landscape, let’s  imagine blue on top and green at the bottom…  I tell you, possibilities are endless!  You can create your own and save them in your gradient editor, just click on the color slider and replace the colors, give your gradient a name and click “NEW”, it will then be added to your palette.  You can find many free gradients online also, and to install them, it’s just like actions, open the gradient editor and click on “LOAD” to add new gradients to your palette.  I’m going to provide you the three gradients I used for this tutorial, they are pretty handy since they’re basic colors 🙂  Get them HERE and have fun! 

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