The art of dissection

I like to dissect things. It probably started way back as a kid, because I have always been the one to ask why and how. Besides the formaldehyde smell, my high school Anatomy and Physiology class was one of my all time favorite classes. It was amazing to be able to slice something open and see how every intricate part of an animal worked together. 

One of my favorite past-times is to find a delectable dish at a restaurant, and then to eat it enough to dissect how they made it by taste alone. Then I reproduce it at home. I have fond memories of my mom and I sitting at little quaint restaurants with the conversation always leading to, "I taste a little thyme, how about you?"

Art is no different for me. I am obsessed with "how to" art videos and "how I did it" social media posts. Even if an artist doesn't share their tiny tricks of the trade, it is fun to sit and examine a piece long enough to try to figure out how they created it, what techniques they used, and then try to replicate it. 

Lately, I have been working on relighting scenes. Lighting is so very important in photography, and it can make or break a composite piece as well. Often times when you see a composite piece that seems a bit off, it is the lighting. {You can thank me later for that knowledge when you begin to notice it all the time. Insert big smiley face.} Your eye, and brain, will naturally tell you if something looks off in a photo, and if you look at it long enough you can figure it out. 

Dancing Diva ©2017 Lisa Kerner - Digital Artist

Dancing Diva ©2017 Lisa Kerner - Digital Artist

You know me, I am all about sharing my secrets. So, HOW DID I DO IT???

First, I found the following two photos. The columned corridor is from the ShiftArt June challenge. The dancer is from Colby Files. The hanging lights struck me first. I knew I would want to light them. And then, the lighting on the dancer was already at a great state to make it look as though the sun was setting through the pillars. 

Then, I did the following steps...

~Edited out the sun spot on the cobblestone, cloned in the top of the pillars.  Hint... Matt Kloskowski gave the best advice when he said, "to pay attention to your sides." He always cleans up the sides of his landscape photos, leaving no bits of white showing through trees, or blotches of things (i.e. flowers, twigs, clouds) on the edges. It is amazing how this one tiny process can go a long way to producing a professional image. Now I always clean up my edges. 

~Extracted the girl by using the lasso tool and cutting her out roughly, and placed her in the columned shot. Hint... I used a Brook Shaden trick by using the eraser tool to clean up the rest of the background around the dancer. This doesn't always work though, I find it to be successful when there is a distinct color difference between the object and the background, which I had here with the dancer. 

~Resized the dancer to fit the scene. I purposely placed her higher because I wanted it to look like she was leaping off the ground.  Hint... pay attention to size and placement in composite pieces. If an object is too large or small for the scene the eye and brain will notice that right away. 

~Used the warp and skew tool to sit the dancer in the scene. Hint... these two tools are my absolute favorite tools to use to push an object into a scene. 

~I used the liquify tool to pull her feet down a bit to make the leap seem a bit more real. Hint... a little goes a long way. Work in tiny short strokes, or nudges, and do not overly change something.  I use the liquify tool in almost every piece of mine now, in some way or fashion. It can be used to change the face of a subject, or to bloat the butts on insects to make them seem more 3 dimensional. The uses for the liquify tool are endless. 

~Created her shadow. Hint... shadows are super important in a composite shot. Even in the best studio light you are always going to have a bit of a shadow to ground the subject. 

~Changed the lighting using Greater Than Gatsby Actions. I have mentioned GTB more than once and I LOVE their actions. I have a few favorites, such as the lighting actions from the Innocence Workflow. Hint... the key to realistic lightening it to pay attention to the light source... mine was obviously from the right, and masking. Light travels around things, so I couldn't just plop the light in, I had to mask off the columns to make it look like the light was flowing around them. Light is not one distinct color either so I overlap the GTB actions to create depth of color in the light

~My final touches were a few hand adjustments using curves, levels, contrast, and color balance so that the entire piece had unity. 

~Lastly, I used the burn and dodge tool in specific areas to give more movement to the dancer's dress. Hint... I tend to be a bit destructive with this, not using a separate layer, so I always complete this as one of my final steps. If I am going to use this in the middle of a composite piece I most definitely do it with a new layer so that I can adjust it at a later point. 

There you have it, my quick and dirty how I did it. This piece was just an exercise in lightening, so it is not perfect. I look at it like a kindergartener who colors for the joy of coloring. If I could give you one pice of advice it would be, create things for the joy of it, not the perfection of it. You can learn a lot by merely playing with your art. 


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