Over the last year or so I’ve been touched by the compliments I’ve received for my artistic takes on photography whether it has been texturally enhanced still life work or more surreal composite work. I’ve also been asked several times if I’d consider doing a ‘masterclass’ on my methods and share my knowledge on how I put such pieces together. While in theory it would be beneficial to others to know these techniques so they may apply them to their own work in practice there is no set formula to my processes as every image is unique and demands a different approach to achieve the desired effect. There is also the reality that if you get tied down to one style you limit your chances of personal creative growth and the tendency to experiment and leave your comfort zone.
I’m an artist and a photographer and so many of my digital photography projects involve some crossover with actual physical art techniques and tools. While many of my texture layers come from photography outings and things I’ve gathered on my travels some are physically painted on canvases using acrylic paint, palette knives, splatter effects using an old nail brush, dry brush techniques and more, other textures are built up on plywood board using texture paste or crackle paste or tissue paper etc and then toned lightly with a thin wash of acrylic ink to enhance the textures. I have a huge library of photographic textures which I’m always adding to and putting to the test and I have a lot of physical textures I’ve hand made too. So, it’s not all done in Photoshop. Sometimes you must get your hands dirty too and for plain backdrops I often use some uncut mount board underneath and behind my photo set which allows me to layer digital textures on top of a clean uncluttered backdrop and often white is a good colour for this purpose rather than darker tones.
For composite works I utilise my own collection of what I call my stock images for example I have a folder for different skies, a folder for different concrete textures, a folder of windows, one of doors, one of peeled paint, cobwebs, bricks, cobbles and so on. So, the first step to all things composite is to go out and collect objects, textures and scenes that are suitable for that purpose even if not stunning photographs on their own terms by way of composition i.e. I may have a beach with a lot of dead space and no foreground interest, but a flat sea, sky and sandy foreground and it might be a boring photo on its own, but this could form a perfect backdrop for a composite image. If not all the image, parts of it may be usable. So again, the first step to composite works is going out and getting a good library of photographs to work with before you even open Photoshop.
A lot of this is done in preparation. Then you need to learn about the tools in Photoshop and yes, sometimes I also use Nik software to enhance the lighting a little further in my photo art. Then you need to think about your concept, and this is or should be very personal to the author. In the case of still life set ups, you will need to gather props for the subject matter; again, preparation is key. You need to decide on the colour theme or effect you want to achieve and that should come from the author also I cannot teach you how to produce a unique work of art by teaching you how I produce mine and I don’t have a set formula to my workflow. Like you, I was once somewhat a novice Photoshop user I began in the early years using Corel Paintshop Pro and them later moved onto Photoshop elements and now of course Photoshop CC. Then I began taking my photography more seriously and my point and shoot was replaced by a DSLR and my photos were all shot in raw and I started to read photography magazines and watch many tutorials that came with their accompanying ‘free’ lessons discs. As You Tube channels got more popular over the year’s tutorial started popping up on there for all manner of different creative outlets and Photoshop skills could be looked up for free in seconds. So I picked up some skills from all these areas and I learned to use Photoshop Camera Raw to my advantage for my base images to get the best out of my start files which my old point and shoot cameras were so basic and old hat that I never had played with raw till my DSLR days began.
I could show you how I tackle any one of my Photoshop projects but because I treat every project as an experiment and am always looking to learn new tricks and skills the next image, I would produce would follow a very different creative path. Every time I try to reproduce an image exactly, there will be something I will end up doing differently too because every step and move is an endless learning curve.
If you want to produce your own style you need to experiment and follow your own learning path. There are no shortcuts. You must learn how to use your tools by watching tutorials and you must go forth and gather your props, textures, photos and inspiration. You need to let your own imagination tell you what you’re aiming for and have a concept in mind to work towards.
Skills and learning how to use PS tools mean lots of time spent watching the multitude of tutorials online and yes, YouTube is your friend. Then, practicing in your own time until you have figured out which tools you feel most comfortable with, how to use them to your advantage in different artistic situations and finding out as much as possible about their strengths and limitations. I mean there are many uses for the lasso tool, the quick selection tool, the polygonal selection tool and the pen tool but their best uses depend on your subject and what you need to select. And they take time to master. Practice is important and so is experimentation. Everything I do I see as a trial and error process it’s not bound by rigid rules of thumb. If you learn about blend modes and you’ll soon find out that what works for one image may not be the same for another, where multiply may work in one image the blend mode for another might look better with hard light, soft light or overlay for example. You need to find your happy place in Photoshop. You need to go out and do research, practice, look up and seek out the skills you need to produce the images that you want to produce.
I could show you how I produce my images and it may give you some pointers; but you’d do far better to teach yourself and practice and experiment and find your own path. What works for me may not work for you. What works for my eyes may not be what you are looking for yourself. I don’t need to give you Photoshop lessons or art lessons because they’re already out there and what you decide to do with that information out there should be entirely up to you. You don’t need to copy me or anyone to be successful in your Photoshop endeavours. You can be inspired, but you should always put your own spin on your projects. Make them yours. My skills were not handed to me on a plate or figured out overnight I looked them up and I took on board the lessons and I practiced and experimented, and I still do. I take my time over my projects and I can’t fit them into a member’s night lesson. I spend time tweaking and shaping and toning and playing with them until I’m happy. Often even when I think I’m happy, something in there I look at afterwards I might choose to change later. Working in layers and saving as a PSD file means I can adjust the different elements in the piece until I finally flatten those layers and call it done. Layers take time to master too. There’s still a lot I don’t know! I’m still learning. I cannot produce a masterclass because I’m not a master. I’m a student, just like you. So, go out there and find the skills you need and practice them like mad! That’s all I do!