Following the Folds

Using Photoshop’s Displace filter for scrapbooking

Even when I’m buying kits for scrap pages or art journaling, I often want to do some little something for the layout with my own elements. As I talked about in “My Own Things,” sometimes I photograph and extract  personal family mementos to add to a layout, whether or not I make them the main feature. Even more often I like to make layout elements using Photoshop and Illustrator, expanding on a purchased kit by creating or altering various scrap elements to go with it. Whether I’m creating, or simply altering an element, I’m going to remember making the page when I do that—it becomes a memory wrapped in a memory.

Adobe Photoshop’s Displace filter (found under Filter> Distort) is a very old filter that really needs renovation, but even though it’s ancient now, it still does something nothing else does: it distorts an image so it appears to fall into the folds, the cracks, the crevices of another image. You can make flags wave and “paint” signs on brick. The Displace filter uses the grayscale luminance in a file (called a displacement map) to shift some pixels up and left if the luminance is lighter than 50% gray, and down and right if the luminance is darker that 50% gray. The closer to pure black or white, the greater the shift.

Displace Filter dialog
The ancient Displace filter (default settings shown) doesn’t have a preview. You need to use trial and error to get the settings right. So long as you apply it to a Smart Object layer as a Smart Filter, you can re-edit the amount.

I used the Displace filter to bend papers from scrapbook kits around circle fans—the kind often used as one layer in a paper flower—a paper rose, and a curtain. Although you can create a displacement map from any file you create and/or save as a PSD, you’ll often want to use the folds, bumps, or cracks found in the original image. You don’t have to convert it to a grayscale image first, but you’ll often get better results if you do. Many images need more contrast in order to make the displacement obvious, or sometimes less contrast so the shift in pixels isn’t too extreme.

Low contrast displacement map
Too little contrast and the displacement map won’t have much of an effect on the pattern.
Strong contrast displacement map
Too much contrast and the displacement map will shift the pixels away from each other very harshly.
Gaussian Blur sofens a displacement map
If you have an image with sharp contrast causing too much distortion, Gaussian Blur can help.

On a copy of your original base image (the fan or flower or whatever you’re applying a pattern to), use a B&W adjustment layer or press Cmd/Ctrl-Shift-U (for Desaturate), then use adjustment layers to change the contrast. Save the file to disk as a PSD. When you run the filter, it expects you to locate the displacement map on your hard drive. The format has to be a PSD, but it doesn’t have to be a flattened file. You can keep your adjustment layers intact if you think you might want to alter the map.

I often use the grayscale conversion for both my displacement map and the base for the pattern I’m going to apply to it, but that’s not always desirable—you need to be aware of values for the actual image as well as for the displacement map. I next add the paper by dragging it from Bridge on top of the base image (or choose File> Open as Smart Object). After clipping the paper to the base image, I’m ready to run the Displace filter. When you first see the results, you won’t be impressed. In fact, with no preview, you won’t even know if you’ve displaced the pattern by the right amount.

I choose to duplicate the base image and place it above the clipped pattern layer. I then begin to try Blend modes to add back the luminosity of the original image.  Multiply, Overlay, Soft Light, and Hard Light are the most likely to produce results you’ll like. You could actually apply one of those modes to the pattern layer itself, and you might prefer that to keep your file simple. I find that using the duplicate layer simply gives me more options for adjusting the final results since I can lower the Opacity on the top layer without reducing the opacity of the pattern. And finally, I adjust the image overall by adding adjustment layers.

Layers used with Displace Filter
Sandwiching the pattern layer with the Displace filter between two copies of the base image makes it possible for me to use a Blend mode at reduced opacity without reducing the opacity of the pattern layer itself.
Results with and without the Displace filter
The image on the left shows adding a clipped pattern layer sandwiched between the base layers without running the Displace filter. While the blend mode alone makes the pattern appear to bend somewhat with the base image, it is much flatter than the image on the right with the Displace filter.

Figuring out the right amount to use for displacing a pattern is pretty much trial and error, but the higher the amount, the greater the distortion in the pattern itself. With higher amounts, you’re likely to see some tearing in the pattern, which may or may not work. Further, unless the pattern you choose is fairly well defined or has clear vertical or horizontal lines, you probably won’t see very much benefit from using a displacement map over simply clipping the pattern to the base image and using a blend mode to merge the two.

Different types of patterns illustrated
The pattern on the left is simple and well defined, so works well with the Displace filter. The pattern on the right is very abstract and has almost no definition, but it does have some strong vertical and horizontal lines, so using the Displace filter adds a slight level of realism when merging the pattern with the base image. Credit for these paper fan patterns and the one above: Valentina Creations.
Different scale amounts with Displace
A strongly geometric pattern shows how the Displace filter works with different amounts: Left, none; Middle, 12; Right, 30. Using the higher amount distorts the pattern significantly compared to staying close to the default, but I think the higher amount works well with the kit “Paradise” from Valentina Creations, so trying different amounts can yield pleasing results.

Creating flowers isn’t the only reason to use the Displace filter when creating elements for scrap and art journaling. Designers have long used displacement maps when they’ve wanted to add patterns to draped fabrics for illustration. Whether you’re creating clothes for art journal dolls, or curtains for a fantasy scene, as I did, the Displace filter will add a touch of realism, and can even work well with sheer fabrics. After using the method I’ve described, I still thought the fabric was a bit too dark, so I loaded the transparency for the curtain layer, added a new layer at the bottom, and filled it with white—since the selection held transparency, the fabric remained sheer, only a bit less so. And since I wanted to show that the fabric is slightly sheer, I decided to show it against a background paper. Of course, at that point I couldn’t quit. . .

Layers for sheer curtains with Displace Filter
Even sheer fabrics with gentle folds make good candidates for adding pattern with the Displace Filter.
Image with patterned curtains
The Displace filter works well when adding pattern to draped fabrics. Credits: Valentina, Priss, itKuPiLLi, and Krysty

Restoring Trudie Ann Part 6

A Gradient Map adjustment layer in Photoshop

Continuing from Part 5 and finding ways to tint my restored B&W version of Trudie Ann, I moved on to methods that are probably less commonly used than tinting with Camera Raw or a B&W, Photo Filter, or Solid Color adjustment layer. But there are advantages sometimes to using methods that provide additional controls for how the color is applied, particularly when using more than one color. So my next foray into tinting involved the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

From what I’ve seen, people often forget to think about the Gradient Map when they want to colorize a photo. Effects can range from delicate to surreal, depending upon the colors you use, where they show up in the gradient, and how you blend the layer with the image. A Gradient Map applies the color on the left to the darkest tones of the image, progressing up to the right end where the color is applied to the lightest values. That means you can place a dark color on the right, a light color on the left, and effectively convert your photo into something resembling a negative.

Images of B&W and Negative coloration
A B&W gradient with the normal dark at the left, light at the right, and then reversed to create a “negative” of the image. Here the white color stop was moved to the right to extend the value range that white would be applied to before blending into the black.

A Gradient Map also lets you determine how great a range of values any given color is applied to, similar  to the Balance slider in Adobe Camera Raw’s Split Tone effect. Except with a Gradient Map, you can use as many colors as you like, of any  brightness or saturation, and let them blend together by moving the stops on the gradient, just the same as with any ordinary gradient. So the Gradient Map adjustment layer brings together in one place the best of split tones and gradients to control color. It’s not easier than split toning in Camera Raw, but it’s considerably more flexible—you can even use a Noise Gradient instead of one based on manually placed color stops, which can be very attractive when used with a Blend mode. Like any adjustment layer, you have the option to further modify the appearance of the gradient with Blend modes, layer Opacity, and with a layer mask.

Results of Noise gradient and blend mode
The original flower is on the left. A noise gradient applied in Overlay mode alters the colors without distorting the relationship between the values, allowing for naturalistic results.
Results using Solid gradient and different blend modes
A solid gradient with three colors is applied to the flower at left in Normal mode, but applied in Overlay mode on the flower to the right for very different results.

Note that while the Gradient Editor allows you to set Opacity stops in the gradient you create, the Gradient Map adjustment layer ignores the transparency.

For Trudie Ann, I recalled a Nik Color Efex filter, Photo Stylizer’s Copper variation. I wondered if I might like this photo with a gradient that mimicked the effect, ranging from a deep russet to a strong yellow. After adding the adjustment layer, I clicked on the gradient in the Properties panel to open the Gradient Editor. This is the same Gradient Editor you see when you select the Gradient tool and click on the gradient in the Options bar, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the image since it is blended with it even before you change the layer’s blend mode.  After clicking on the color stop at the far left, I clicked on the Color Swatch and chose a new color in the Color Picker. I repeated the process for the far right stop, then clicked directly beneath the gradient bar to add new colors stops and chose a color for each of them.Gradient Map Properties panel

Results from first gradient
I’ve spaced the color stops fairly evenly along the bar to start. Because the Gradient Editor has a modal dialog (you have to close it to work outside of it), I adjusted the Gradient Map adjustment layer’s Opacity before adjusting the color stops.

Since the Gradient Map automatically colorizes the image, I was able to use the live preview while I dragged the color stops right and left, deciding how far a color should extend into a color range. I choose to move the darkest color to the right to encompass more of the dark values, and also moved the second lightest color stop to the right to have those darker tones reach further into the highlights. However, I could have moved the stops in a different direction in order to lighten the image instead. After I was happy with the results, I named the gradient and clicked New. The Gradient is saved in the Gradient dialog, but to save it permanently to disk, you can either choose Save in the dialog to save all the gradients in the Editor to a file, or after you’ve closed the Gradient Editor, use the Preset Manager to save a subset of those gradients.

Using color stop position to lighten
Moving the medium yellow color stop further to the left extends the range of the lightest yellow to even darker tones, lightening much of the image. The medium brown color stop was also moved left, lightening the shadow areas, but not the deepest values.
Using Color Stops to darken
Dark tones were adjusted, while the medium yellow was moved to the right, darkening and bringing back more detail into the lighter areas.
Name and save gradients
By naming and clicking New in the Editor, I could return at any time to apply it after experimenting with other gradients. But like all presets you might want to use later on, you should also save it to disk for safekeeping.

Whether or not I took extra steps to save the gradient, I wanted to keep the gradient in the Editor so I could try other gradients, or other versions of the same gradient, and easily return to any version I decided I liked best. All it takes to later clean up the unwanted gradients in the Editor is to hold down the Option/Alt key and hover over a swatch to see the icon change to scissors, then click to delete.

The Gradient Editor makes it easy to try out different color schemes, and to change the colors in an image using as many colors as you like. Because you’re using an adjustment layer, you can change your mind days, even years later, or use your current gradient as a “template” to a new version of the image. Once you get used to experimenting with it, the Gradient Map adjustment layer will become one of your best friends when you go to stylize photos or recolor the elements you use in your scrap and photo art.

Final Gradient Map applied 2 ways
The final image with the Gradient Map at 100%, left, and 50%, right. Because I’m using an adjustment layer, I can change my mind about how colorful I want the image to be later on when I use it on a scrap page or place it in a photo album.

Chipped Crystal

Celebrating another family treasure

Continuing with my new series of still life images that incorporate at least one family “treasure,” I created another bouquet still life with a water glass that used to be my Grandmother’s. She had two like this. I suppose she had one special glass each for herself and my grandfather, who died when my mother was still a very young girl. This one is chipped and I have never drunk from it, but it’s so precious to me, I’ll never willingly part with it.

We grandkids got jelly glasses for our  “crystal.” Growing up, I thought everyone drank either from jelly glasses or the “free with fill-up” glasses that ensured your parents would go back week after week to the same gas station in order to collect enough for each person in the family. It seemed everyone back then got their everyday glasses when they bought jelly or gas. No going to Pier 1 or Crate & Barrel so long as there was a way to get serviceable glasses free.

We got a lot of other things the same way. I don’t think my mother ever bought an iron or toaster with cash—she paid with Green Stamps. Almost every retail store gave out Green Stamps; the amount you got depended upon how much you had spent. We all pasted them into books and then redeemed them for something special. It was a lot more fun than using coupons. Green Stamps were a kind of savings account that always meant getting a treat for the house eventually. When my mother died, I found she still had Green Stamps in her wallet, even though I doubt Green Stamps had been used anywhere in decades. But to throw them out was to throw out money—my mom, the optimist, could hope that some day Green Stamps would enjoy a comeback. So of course, I still have them. One of these days, I’ll have to make a scrap art page with them.

Image of Green Stamps
Instead of cutting coupons, we pasted Green Stamps into booklets and redeemed them for common household items.

For this still life, I photographed the water glass on its side. I had learned that an empty glass tipped over symbolizes the transience of material things, as does so much else in Vanitas paintings, which have always been a favorite genre. To use the glass, I needed to extract it and decided to create a path with the Pen tool. I don’t use the Pen tool often in Photoshop since there are so many good ways to make quick selections. However, it’s worth learning to use that tool for times when the colors and tones of subject and background are close and the shape is reasonably simple. After I had a tight-fitting path, I converted it to a selection and jumped the shape (Cmd/Ctrl-J) to its own layer.

2 ways to turn a path into a selection
Convert a path to a selection either through the Paths panel menu, using Make A Selection, or by clicking on the dotted circle icon at the bottom of the panel.

I wanted the goblet to be partially transparent against whatever I put in the still life, so I added a layer mask and used a brush with low opacity to partially mask much of the glass. I usually paint at 100% opacity and then use the Masks section in the Properties panel to reduce the Density setting, but in this case, I didn’t want the same amount of transparency over the entire glass. I also just wanted to hint at glass since I planned to use Topaz’s Impression filter to make it look even more like a painting.

Thumbnails for the goblet and layer mask
You can use a mask painted with a brush set to low opacity to create partial transparency in a glass.

I worked with lighting and texture until I had a painting I thought was suitably vintage, made a flattened duplicate of the layered PSD file, expanded the canvas a bit (because I didn’t think ahead enough on this project) and added the frame. Now, even if an earthquake or a bit of carelessness destroys Gram’s glass, I have the still life painting preserving my memories.

The final image
The final image: credits go to the usual suspects, including Lorie Davison, Booland, Valentina, G&T Designs, Paprika, Feli, and many, many more, along with Adobe Photoshop, of course.

Lightroom CC Fun With Faces

The new facial recognition feature in Adobe Lightroom

The past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get up to speed with the Lightroom CC release. I’m still fairly new to using Lightroom, so like most people who have seen facial recognition in Photoshop Elements, but not in Lightroom or Photoshop, I was ready to oooh and awww over getting this feature in Lightroom. Having heard from a truly intrepid user who had just tried to run it on his entire 5000+ image catalog, I decided to try it out on a smallish folder first. The results, I have to say, were interesting.

The first time you launch Lightroom CC and click on the face icon in the toolbar, you should see a preference dialog allowing you to choose between running it on an entire catalog, or just as needed. I chose as needed. It runs in the background once set up, but will take a very long time on even an average sized catalog.

Catalog Preferences Dialog
If you first tell Lightroom not to auto detect faces, you can change that preference in the Catalog Settings dialog.

Even though my folder held fewer than 200 pictures, it was a folder that spanned several decades of holidays packed with people aging more or less gracefully, and few pictures had just one person in them. They were casual snapshots I’d acquired from various members of the family, many of poor quality, and even more where the subjects weren’t looking straight at the camera at all. I figured the software would have a difficult time with profiles, heads bowed, blurry, or underexposed images, but I didn’t expect a lot of the difficulties that the software actually had. In fact, it did a lot better with blurred and bad exposures than with some images that were pretty good. I still haven’t figured out why.

To run Facial Recognition, select a folder in the Library module and choose the face icon from the toolbar (T) or from View> People (O). Then wait. There’s really no progress bar or sign that I could find indicating LR has finished thinking about the pictures, but you should see at least some pictures placed in virtual stacks in the Unnamed area. At any time, you can click on the ? below the picture and type in a name, and after identifying some of them, you can give Lightroom a chance to guess at others for you.

Face Icon enabled in Toolbar
Turning on the Face icon in the Library toolbar makes Lightroom start searching the selected folder for people.
Image of Named and Unnamed People areas
Lightroom takes identified people from the Unnamed People area and places them in the Named People area.

Lightroom finds people by drawing regions around what it thinks are faces in a photo. It may draw one or several. Here are a few fun faces Lightroom found when searching my folder of ancient images—on the plus side, you can identify your cat as the family member you know s/he is:

Images Lightroom misidentified as people
Some “people” Lightroom found among the photos.

Lightroom also found several matches of actual people and once I named them, it guessed others. I could click the checkmark in the naming field if Lightroom guessed correctly, or click the “No” icon  when wrong, then add the correct name. The “X” allows me to remove an image from consideration as a named person. I could also—and this is often easier—attempt to drag an unidentified photo into the proper stack. I say attempt to, because unfortunately Lightroom sometimes feels free to disagree with me. There were instances when I dragged a photo from the Unnamed section into a stack in the Named area and Lightroom presented me with the big NO icon. My only recourse was to add the correct name manually.

Icons for identifying or removing "people" Lightroom found.
If Lightroom guesses at a name, clicking on the “No” icon lets you decide to add a name or delete the photo. If Lightroom hasn’t guessed a name, you can click on the “X” icon to remove the photo from consideration.

On a second very small catalog, Lightroom couldn’t find half the faces to even put them in the Unnamed region. They were pictures of a baby lying down, and sideways faces aren’t recognizable to the software. Think about that if you do portrait photography with subjects who are prone.  The face needs to be upright. When Lightroom can’t find a face in the photo, you have a solution: Turn off the face icon, select the photo in the filmstrip, and you’ll see a marquee icon in the toolbar that lets you manually draw face regions. You can identify the person (or persons) and LR will then place this photo in the correct stack.

The Draw Face Region Icon
The Draw Face Region marquee enabled in the toolbar.
Images manually selected with the Draw Face Region marqee
By selecting a photo in the filmstrip with the Face icon disabled, you can select the Draw Face Region icon and manually choose to identify faces, even pet faces, in your photos.

On a small number of photos, it wasn’t too tedious to get all the faces identified in one sitting. I did have some problems typing names in the ? field. Lightroom remembers your names and will suggest a name as soon as you start typing, but when you click in the field and press the Shift key to start typing a name, Lightroom often closes the field and you’re staring at the ? all over again. Sometimes the next keystroke is a command that will change the interface. I got dumped into the Develop module, entered Lights Out mode or Compare mode, etc., more times than I care to count. It pays to be slow and careful when you start to input a name.

All in all, this isn’t exactly a speed demon when identifying faces. However, Lightroom is very good at recognizing faces that haven’t changed much and are fairly directly aimed at the camera, even if blurry or badly exposed. For any event photographer, including those of us who take pictures at family events, this should really aid productivity in marking a shoot. And very importantly, not only will the names automatically show up under the new People filter in Keywords, but a Person tag is also added to your photos. This lets you export images with all your metadata intact while excluding the Person and Location metadata. You don’t want to inadvertently share that kind of information with the whole world, so this is a more secure way to identify the people in your photos than ordinary keywords.

Export Metadata Options
Protect the privacy of the people in your photos that you share with outsiders by excluding their Person and Location Info in the Export dialog.