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How to Create Special Effects in Photoshop

Aug 17, 2007
There are many ways to create all kinds of striking special effects using Photoshop. Digital art has been taken to a new level with Photoshop, and with every new version of Adobe Photoshop, the potential to produce even more eye catching images with just a few clicks of a button. With Photoshop, you can instantly create an aged effect, add motion lines, color effects, glows, blurs, or make a photograph look like a drawing. Photoshop can also help you create all kinds of cool text effects to a photo and even remove unwanted objects and figures from a scene. The following include some excellent ways to spice up a dull photograph, create special effects, or simulate motion and other ways of taking advantage of Photoshop.

One of the simplest effects you can use to alter a photo in Photoshop is colorization. This effect can be found under the Image tab, in the Adjustments menu, with the Hue and Saturation sliders. By clicking the small box at the bottom of the dialog, you can use to Hue slider to create a unified color over the whole image. This can be great for creating monotone backgrounds behind a central figure. It can also help with trying to match one image's color scheme to another.

To select an image from a white background and save the shadows underneath it (important for figures in motion, especially those who are jumping), use the luminosity of the image. In order to do this, use the magic lasso and QuickMask tools to roughly select the desired areas.

Next, use the Float command to create a new layer of your selection, leaving the old copy in place below it. You can then save this selection to the Channels palette. Then, turn off the floated copy and create a new layer. (Utilizing Layers in Photoshop is vital, so be sure to really take advantage of this feature). By pressing "Ctrl+Alt+tilde (~)", we can select the luminosity of the image, essentially its brightness. However, we wanted to select the shadows, the opposite of brightness.

To do this, use the Invert command under the Selection menu. Make the new layer the target of this by clicking it. Fill the blank layer with black, with the reverse luminosity selected. This will look ghostly, and the base layer will suddenly go very dark, but don't be confused by this. You can now turn your floated copy back on, and put whatever background you choose behind your figure on a lower layer. The figure and its shadows will appear above the new background.

Blurs are another Photoshop feature that has limitless potential. You can blur edges, create fog scenes, or simulate motion. To create a motion blur effect, select your figure and copy it onto a new layer. Now, on a layer below it, with the selection still in effect, fill your selection with black, or any other color. You can apply the Motion Blur filter from the Filters menu to this selection and create lines of movement without disturbing the figure on the layer above. Play with the distance and angle of the motion blur to see what kind of look you can create in your image. You can combine this filter with other effects for different kinds of motion lines.

You can create soft edges on rectangular or boxy images using blurs as well. In your vertical 'Tools' window in Photoshop, choose the top left tool called 'Rectangular Marquee Tool'. Then click and drag your mouse on your image to make a rectangle that is 5 to 10 pixels smaller than your actual image. Make sure that it is equidistant on all four sides. Then go to your menu bar and choose Select and then Inverse. This chooses (or selects) everything outside the rectangle you just made. Finally, go to your menu bar and choose Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur and type 1-15 pixels in the dialog box.

To add a shadow to a picture which does not already have one, simply apply a Layer Style to the desired layer of the image. This effect can be found under the Photoshop Layers menu in all recent versions of the program. Simply apply the drop shadow Layer Style to the image, and a small shadow in the chosen color will appear beneath your selection. You can change the size, transparency and color of the drop shadow in the Layer Style tab. You can also change the shadow's effect by using the choices in the Blend Mode drop down box.

Also, check out the various layer styles to choose from. Go to Layer in the menu bar, then choose Layer Style.

Two photos can be easily merged in Photoshop. Drag the smaller image into the larger by clicking and holding it. You can create space in one image using the Resize Canvas function under the Image menu if there is not enough room. The dragged image should appear as its own layer on top of the original image.

Next, turn on the Layer Mask function and make sure that the double lines appear around the icon for the mask to show that it is selected. Then, create a radial gradient (with your colors set to a white foreground and black background) to mask part of the new image, revealing the portions you wish to show. With the lasso tool and brush, you can adjust your mask to reveal and conceal the desired portions of the image. This effect is great for integrating images with two people, making them appear to interact.

Another good effect for creating a dramatic image is turning the image into text. To do this, move your selected image to a new layer. Then, create the text that you would like to mask into the image on a text layer. Heavy and bold type styles are best for this, as they provide the greatest amount of image area. This will make the text easier to see and read. Ctrl-click the type layer to select the area of the type, and then change to the original image layer.

It is then easy to Float or copy and paste the area covered by the type onto a new layer. Once the original photo layer is turned off, the picture-type can be easily seen. This effect is great when combined with drop shadows or other layer effects.

Lighting effects are in great demand for Photoshop images. These can be accessed through the Filters menu. One very popular lighting effect is the Lens Flare, which allows the user to create the look of a ball of light on their image. This effect, and the Spotlight effects can be used to add magical effects, new light sources, or other lighting changes to an image.

Layer transparency can be used to drop ghost images in behind a figure. To do this, simply paste the desired image into a layer below the main layer and set the transparency slider to whatever opacity you choose. This effect can be very useful when combined with the colorization effect listed above. Multiple transparent layers can be used with different images to create the impression of motion leading up to the main figure.

An old photo look can be created by colorizing a photo to a sepia color, then adding effects to imply damage. Careful application of the airbrush Eraser tool can create fading. The Noise filter, applied with monochrome turned on, causes the photo to look grainy and old. Using low opacity transparent layers above the image, with the layer set to Multiply, will darken the darkest areas of the image, creating a murky effect. It's worth it to play around with all the Filter options, especially Liquify, Render and Stylize.

These and many other tips and tricks allow the Photoshop user to make awesome changes to photos and digital art. Photoshop is also fantastic software to create new and different images from scratch. A great way to learn new techniques is to play with the software. Spend a few minutes every day trying different things and in different orders, you'll be surprised just how much you'll improve. And finally, if you want to achieve a specific effect but you have no idea how, do a search in Google Groups or Yahoo, you're bound to find what you need that way. And consider joining digital art and specifically Photoshop communities and forums. There's a wealth of information out there that rivals any college class.
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