Posts Tagged With: Photoshop

Out of Bounds and Outside of the Box

Release those images from the restraints of a 4 sided box. With some simple masking tools and making your own frame, turn  a 2 dimensional image confined by 4 sides into one that appears more 3D and defies the limitation of normal photography. This effect which is often refered to as “Out-of-Bounds”, is easy to achieve. All that you need is a couple of layers in Photoshop, a little creativity and somewhat of an idea about perspective.

I first came across this style of art about 10 years ago from a site which held weekly photo shopping contests. It looked so complicated at the time, I had to know how it was done. Luckily, on the same site, someone was gracious enough to share their techniques. Turns out, that it really isn’t a time-consuming task at all. I have finished several images over the years with this effect and have always received positive feedback and inquiries on how it’s done.

After receiving many requests on “how it’s done”, I put together the following video demonstrating the basic techniques that I use.

The key is to begin with an image that portrays a strong element of perspective. Then analyze the portion of the photo that you would like to have extend beyond the new bounding box or area that you will be applying. Careful placement of exactly where the new border, or frame will go can mean the difference between a lot or a short amount of time spent masking and making shadow layers.

The same technique can be applied to and image where your new ‘bounding box’ is text or shapes. The concepts are the same.

Good Luck and Happy “Shopping”. Remember: Think “Outside the Box”.

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A look back 15 years into my early Photoshop days

Photoshop turned 20 years old back in Feb of 2010. I remember back to the mid 1990’s, when I was introduced to Photoshop  either thru software that came with a scanner that I bought or maybe it came bundled with a computer that I bought back then. I remember doodling around with some painting and drawing on some solid color backgrounds and thinking, “this is cool”! Then I evolved to manipulating images and the floodgates opened up. I bought a book on how to  use the tools and read and reread it for the next 2 weeks. Shortly after that, I put the book down and began to improve, and develop my own usage of the tools. The concepts were presented to me, but my artistic side and my programming background and understanding of how computers work allowed my creative side to “run with it”.

My introduction to computers began in 1978, when as a high school freshman at a trade school, I was placed into the computer programming shop and graduated in 1982 with a certificate of proficiency in data processing. Everything came so  easy to me, I understood the intricacies of how pixels came to be on the screen. My true passion was in the graphic arts, but due to pressure from family to pursue a lucrative career, they persuaded me to jump on the computer path rather than the art path. Years later, the 2 paths connected and brought me to where I am today.

I had to Search back into my files to find some of my early work, Since I was mostly hobbying back then, most of the older images are lost. Here’s some from the early part of the 2000’s that I have always liked and wanted to share with the group.

This Mosquito was on my arm, I thought it would look cool on my eye. So I took a photo of my eye and after making an extraction from the arm shot, positioned it in the eye shot, I added a drop shadow and came up with this result.

I was really impressed by effect in the Gatorade commercials at the time. I know it’s been done, but I wanted to do it any way. I remember spending quite a bit of time (or back then I thought was quite a bit of time), painting each bead of sweat blue. My goal was to keep it as realistic as possible.

I thought they looked better without their heads. The content aware tool was not available back then, so all of the replacement work had to be done manually. Using the clone tools opened up some whole new avenues.

This was my first attempt at making an “Out-of-Bounds” style manipulation. Check through my tutorial Videos section in this blog, I will be posting a “How to” video of how to apply this technique to your own images.

The cloning tool was the main tool used in this transition from bullfrog to Mutant Frog. Combined with some dodge and burn techniques, the “Mutant Frog” came to be.

“The Fairy” was another evolutionary step for me, as I began to incorporate compositing different elements .

I loved using Layers and masks. To this day, I use layers and masks on pretty much every image that I work on.

So you can see, I was off and running. So much to learn, So much to create.

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How to Mask Hair or anything with Texture from a Dark or Black Background

The key to Masking anything in Photoshop to make an extraction or to replace the background or just change the color of the background is to begin in the channels section. You want to find the channel which gives the most amount of contrast between the subject and the background. If either of the red, blue or green channels don’t offer the most amount of contrast, then creating a new Alpha channel is your best bet.

Every image is different, so naturally a technique which works for one image, may not necessarily work for another. In most situations, though, it’s just a case of modifying your available tools and techniques to get the best results for your specific needs. The important part is to be able to understand why and what each technique is best used for.
Layer masks are best made from a layer or channel which offers the most amount of contrast between the subject that you are extracting or masking, and the background that you are changing or replacing.

In this example I take an image which was shot on a black background of a model with light-colored hair which did provide a fair amount of contrast. Although some of the light spilled onto the background causing an unwanted gradient of black to dark grey. I wanted to replace the background with a solid color. Keep in mind whenever you change the background, it is best to choose a replacement which has a similar luminosity to your original, as the further you get from being similar, the more apparent the extraction or masking will be. For example, if I had replaced this black background with white, the mask edge would have been visible. It is possible to switch from light to dark or dark to light, however, that requires much more time spent refining your mask edge.

After looking in the channels pallet at my Red, Blue and Green channels, and after looking at the RGB channel, I knew that I could make a new Alpha channel combining 2 channels and using a blend mode which would give me a new channel that had a far more extreme contrast than what was available. I decided to duplicate my background layer, convert it to black and white, and boost the contrast between the black and the white before I used an image adjustment of calculations to produce a new Alpha channel, which was the final channel that I used to make a mask from. Sounds complicated? It’s not. Just keep in mind that masks are black and white, with no color, so making a new layer and converting to black and white seemed like a logical solution to boosting my contrast. The native Dodge and Burn tools available in the Photoshop toolbox, combined with some Level’s adjustment was the only tools I needed to work with black and white.

Watch this 10 min video of how I created a near perfect mask in under 5 minutes


The exact same technique can be applied with a few modifications to just about any image that has a good foundation of contrast, whether the background is black, white, patterned or colored. The concepts are the same, the key is utilizing the toolbox to be the most effective for your situation. If you can understand how the tools work, then you can easily modify the technique that I used in your own workflow. I have used the exact technique on an image with a middle color background on a dark-haired model and replaced the background with white and the mask edge was completely undetectable to the point where zoomed at 300% the mask edge was undetectable.

There will be more videos coming in the future dealing with similar masking solutions for various situations, so Please Subscribe to my blog if you’d like to be informed as they become available. Feel free to ask any questions or comment as well. Thanks for the read…Happy Masking!

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A Fantastic Image needs a time-consuming Finish!

A High End Retouch usually involves many hours of fine tuning, tweaking, color adjustments, dodge and burning, sharpening, hair fixing and much, much more.


The process to finish this image was well over 4 hours. Check out the video at the bottom of this post as I cram it all into a slam-bang presentation of under 2 minutes.


I find that symmetry is very appealing to me. As much as I tried to focus most of the work to be captured on camera, There’s always lots of unexpected details that I missed. Unfortunately that translates to more time in post processing. I was slightly hurried during the shoot and failed to notice the most obvious error of her hair not being behind her shoulders. Just that one element alone could have saved me about a half hour worth of work. The key is to take your time shooting and try to notice all of the details that you would be fixing later on.

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5 Minute Quick Photoshop Tutorial Video about Making Beautiful Eyes

You Have the most Beautiful eyes…”How do you get them so clean and sharp?” It’s a question that I am asked on a frequent basis.

One of the most overlooked facts about a good capture of an eye is that it contains color noise. So it makes sense to me to try to smooth out some of the apparent speckles that are causing color shifting and cloudiness over the iris and pupil. Although the eyes may look fine at 100%, If your finished image is going to be presented at a huge size, it is imperative to have the clarity which best simulates what your eyes see in the natural world. There are varieties of plug-ins which will give fast, fantastic results, however the manual control of the already available tools in Photoshop give you much better results because you can fine tune the balance between smoothing the colors and sharpening the details.
Watch this 5 Min demonstration of one of the many techniques I use.

Before any noise removal is performed, it is highly recommended to correct any color changes that need to be done first as well as removing color casts. (Subscribe to my blog and keep a look out for upcoming videos and posts about color correcting and color cast removal techniques.)

The key to having the eyes look their best is to have the finished product looking as close to real life as possible. There is no “Magic” one step, to this or any finish. Photoshop is all about taking 2 steps forward, one step back. And the day you realize that Photoshop is not software designed to correct images but rather a toolbox for changing the color of pixels, that is the day that you are liberated from the mindset and you are well on your way to becoming a retouch artist. The face is already an exquisite subject to photograph. To alter its shape or any part of its shapes such as the eyes and nose, cheeks, chins, necks or mouths, should be kept down to minimum if not at all. Instead, fine tuning what is already there most often gives the best results as far as realism goes.

I plan on updating this blog on a regular basis with more “how it’s done” videos covering a variety of subjects related to high-end photo finishing techniques. Skin smoothing, texture retaining, how to fix fly away hair, wrinkled clothes, and many more subjects. So please subscribe and you will be notified every time that a new blog post is published. Feel free to share and comment as well as request a subject which you have questions about. Thanks for reading and “Happy Photoshopping”!

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TraeLee Costello and Micah Kahil Queja Retouch Work

Model’s TraeLee Costello and Micah Kahil Queja Recently posed for us in this Native American inspired theme. The concept shoot was organized by San Diego Make up Artist Chaya Mua and Pavithra Ramasubramanian. On Scene for Stylist was Katherine Maggie Skibbe Kragel and The image was Captured by Jonathan Medel.

Click Here For Flash Gallery For Full Size Viewing Or just click the image
When asked to retouch some images, The original scene, (as seen below), had some unpleasing elements of distraction in the background and I decided to replace it. After review this couple shot on the horse was the best choice for extraction.
While on a Recent Landscape Photo Shoot of America’s National Parks, I captured this Panorama above. 4 Vertical Frames of 3 exposures each for a total of 12 images were used to produce a 4 hour HDR retouch workload on this Hi-Res scene looking south into the Grand Canyon. Our stop at that location was cut short when a member of our crew fell and sustained injures that required medical attention. however, I was able to get about 200 Raw Files on my card before we left.
Here’s the Original
I could see right away that this was going to be a time-consuming retouch but it had many great qualities that made it an appealing image. The first area I take care of in any image is to dial in my exposure and how I want the contrasts to look, so after many layers and luminosity masks, I had arrived at the point where I could begin an extensive Dodge & Burn on 50% Softlight Layers.
Leg before:
Leg After: 
Leg – 50% Grey Softlight D&B Layer:
The Entire Dodge and Burn process alone went well over 3 hours, as the more that I got involved the more corrections I’d see. Even the horse received a compete D&B.
 – The extraction was a definite challenge. Most of the extraction edge was slightly blown out from the sunset’s exposure, and compile that with white feather’s texture, and horse hair, I knew I had to take my time and be careful brushing my mask edge to blend. Every finish that I work on, I always anticipate the Printed image being viewed at an extreme size and really pushing the limits of the file size. So below you can see at 200% magnification, all of the texture and flyaway hairs are intact and the mask is a perfect undetectable edge.
The last challenge would be the final color and lighting adjustments to bring 2 entirely different images together that would appear as 1 originally as shot scene.
Below is the finished product which if you CLICK HERE or on the image you can view a Flash Gallery of some variations at full screen.
 The end result is a high resolution High Dynamic Range best printed at 24 inches high and 48 inches wide. although, would look well at larger sizes also. If you are a publisher and have an interest for usage of this image, please feel free to email me.
Congrats to everyone involved in this creation. Please check out all of their individual works and websites. (to be updated, I will provide links to all of their sites.)
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Are Magazine Images Too Unrealistic?

This Topic of debate has been popping up a lot more recently and as a High End Retoucher and Photographer, I’m going to try to shed some light on the subject.


Yes, it should be no surprise that we are in the digital era. And that means the entertainment and advertising industries have a toolbox of computer technology which is used to transform digital negatives into highly polished images of perfection for the best presentation. You wouldn’t expect to purchase a new vehicle without a beautiful finished paint job or a cake without frosting, so it should be obvious that a digital image has been tuned up and polished using the tools of the trade. As human beings, we learn from an early age to always present our best and to expect others to do the same. So why is there so much debate about these images being presented as the best.

I’d like to break this all the way down to a primal simple level. It’s all reflective of the learning curve in life. The moments that we as human beings realize or discover or learn something which should have been obvious. In most cases, these revelations embarrasses us, anger us, or just make us feel amused. In this case I’m referring to the day that we find out that mostly all magazine and entertainment images have been altered or retouched in some way or another. To most people these times of discovery are neatly filed away as lessons learned and the person goes about their life happy to have obtained some new information. To others, they may feel as though they have been wronged or duped and feel a need to stand on a soap box to announce to the world their disapproval of the newly enlightened information in a way of processing the information. These are the ones that invoke topics of debate in their struggles to be heard while others are quick to jump on board while reflecting on their own associations.

The problem lies in the fact that this world constantly balances between quantity verses quality. There are many fantastic retouchers who know their toolbox so thoroughly that every image they work on is stellar. But there are also some paid retouchers who misuse or are unable to use the tools correctly or completely and the results produced are unrealistic images. When a person looks at an image, the brain instantly can interpret whether or not something looks off. when an image is perfect the brain files it away as a great shot. But when something is off, even though the brain might not realize exactly what, it is filed under the questionable category. In the case of beauty and fashion, I’m referring to elongated limbs and extremities, oversized eyes and lips and unrealistic body shapes. Somehow these ‘finished’ images make their way into the public’s eye, mostly for reasons of time or budget restrictions, poor management or lack of technical ability. Most of society has been bred to produce more quantity and to compromise quality.

But what about the images that are perfect? Where the skin is perfect and all the features of the face and body fall within the golden ratio of phi. The images that are raising expectations of the public to achieve perfection in their own appearance. This is a sensitive area which really deals with underlying issues that go much deeper. I will always have empathy for anyone who has an obsession or compulsion. whether it’s alcohol, money, appearance, knowledge or any form of obsession or addiction, There are many deep-rooted issues associated with each one. Unfortunately, it’s the loved ones of those victims who are quick to seek blame where ever they can. In the case of the strive for the perfect face and body, The industry is the target of that blame.

So the question arises, “Should there be warning labels for retouched images. My feelings are no, as retouched images are a standard for the industry and it is imperative to present a visually impacting image. Although it is not common knowledge that almost all digital files have been processed to one extent or another, we as retouchers must strive to hold a certain level of excellence in the anticipation that others will follow to meet and exceed the standards. The effect and repercussions on the public opinions will always be apparent and the industry will always be the target of blame. I find it curious that so many food advertisements are falsely presenting their products, as what you get is not actually what is Advertised. Yet somehow, fewer complaints are voiced because most of the population has become so tuned to accept mediocre products and purchase convenience items.  The beauty and fashion industry is no different. We all want the expensive home on the coast and the fancy sports cars in the driveways but for most, that is not realistically obtainable. Most people are okay with that fact and don’t dwell on the fact. But there will always be some who will become obsessed with obtaining those items with no regard to themselves or others.  Should money also have a warning label? how about the elite multi-million  dollar dreamhomes? Alcohol? Knowledge? power? the list is infinite.

As the population grows, the industry grows, and the need for finishers also will grow. My advice to anyone in the industry is to step up your game, hone your skills and become one with your tools. Set a standard of excellence for yourself and others to follow. Find the best team possible to work with and learn to walk away from the situations where quantity prevails over quality.

Bottom line: It’s the less skilled and hurried retouchers who are contributing to the stirring pot of controversy and providing evidence of unbelievable expectations.

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