Match 5: "Contamination"
Audrey Mantey vs. Joen Asmussen - Volley 1 and 2

Adapted from Photoshop Secrets of the Pros
By Mark Clarkson

Dateline: December 20, 2003
Volume 1, Number 1

In the process of setting up a schedule, Audrey Mantey and Joen Asmussen took advantage of the opportunity to agree on a loose game plan. First, they agreed to view the match not as a competition, but rather as a collaboration. And they also agreed on a theme to guide their compositions: pollution. The result is a match full of dark, disturbing imagery, compositions full of smoke and ragged edges, and pictures with a sense of tension and suspense.

Digital imagery abounds in a collaborative journey in which photos of everyday things-children, abandoned buildings, window frames-are juxtaposed in unexpected ways and imbued with a haunting, other-world quality. Submitted for your approval...

Volley 1: Audrey Mantey

"Joen and I decided on pollution as a theme," says Audrey Mantey. "Living in Detroit, I knew I had some decent photos of smog and general squalor, so I was quite happy about that; with the timeframe of a tennis match, there's no time to go out on a photo binge."

Mantey decided to produce an image on the theme of air and lungs, one with the feel of a medical illustration, in the style of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, superimposed over smog. "I liked the idea of contrasting the old classical reference with modern industrial sludge."

Browsing her photo archive, she stumbled across a building with an unusual circular mural painted on the side. She brought the photo into Photoshop, placed it on a new layer, and began skewing it to compensate for the building's perspective. She slid the photo around a bit. "I knew I didn't want the circle dead center," she says.

"The more I looked at it," says Mantey, "the more I liked the distorted lines in the chain-link fence in front of the building. But the bright blue sky wasn't screaming pollution to me." She copied the building to a new layer and began playing with the colors, hue, and saturation to achieve a browner, dingier hue.

Next, she placed an old photo of her daughter, Claire, spread-eagled on the lawn like a snow angel, on a new layer above the building. She set the layer in Difference mode and distorted it to fit within the circle. She had to rotate the limbs individually, as the photo's perspective made it impossible to simply stretch the girl while keeping her limbs in proper proportion. She used the Eraser and Clone Stamp to eliminate the wide sleeves and dress and to make the proportions look more adult. The final composition uses two layers containing the spread figure, one in Screen mode at 60% opacity and the other above it in Multiply at 53%.

She eventually obscured the face of the building with a solid texture, but she retained the circular mural, on a new layer above the texture. Mantey began adding richer colors on the right to balance the detail on the left. Those colors come courtesy of a photo of a plume of smoke rising from a burning building, on a layer set to Hard Light. "I loved the blue colors on the right," she says. "That part looked like a painting to me."

"I had the idea to put a pair of lungs on the person, like little headphones," says Mantey, "playing with the concept that we are ruining our lungs with the air we're breathing, but oblivious to the damage, hence the earphones."

She drew lungs by hand in a new layer, using the touchpad on her Apple iBook and Photoshop's Pencil tool. She duplicated the layer, blurred it, and set the new layer in Multiply mode. She duplicated the lungs again and filled them with black-stained brown, in Color mode. Finally she painted spots on a new layer, in Color Burn mode.

She labeled the lungs and trachea in AdineKirnberg Regular at 75% opacity and dropped in some arrows drawn with the Line tool. She added the text We Are Oblivious in the DirtyEgo font, in Soft Light mode above the smoke.

Finally, she laid down some simple lines on the right and left borders, and at the interface between the two halves of the image, and cut rectangular sections out of the Screened Figure layer, to produce a checkerboard effect at the far left. At the end, she darkened the whole image to give a more polluted feel.

Volley 2: Joen Asmussen

"Nice serve," says Joen Asmussen, "but I had a hard time putting things together. So I decided to start with an almost clean slate and add Audrey's imagery as I went. It's important to have a good 'bottom' to build off."

Asmussen started with two different images of cloudy skies, dropping them onto two new layers over a pure black background and cropping out unwanted elements. The lower cloud image included a dark, silhouetted landscape at the bottom.

Asmussen brought a digital photo of a building in Copenhagen into a new layer, selected the building shape minus the background, and, on a new layer, filled that selection with a yellow color sampled from the background.

"This world needs a better outlook on things," says Asmussen. "As such, I added a window frame." The window's simple geometric shape made it a simple to select and delete everything but the frame using the polygonal Lasso tool.

Rough layout in place, Asmussen began work on the final composition. He desaturated the two cloud layers and then tinted them green. "There are a ton of ways to color imagery in Photoshop," he says. "I like the fast-and-easy way, and I love monochromatic colors, so I find myself using Adjust > Hue/Saturation all the time." Using the Eraser with a big, soft brush, he blended the upper cloud layer with the clouds beneath. Then he merged the cloud layers with the building silhouette, tweaked the color, and darkened the shadows.

He created his text in Illustrator, using the Caslon typeface, skewed slightly to fit his image's perspective. He also used Illustrator to create a vector windmill and then pasted both text and windmill into Photoshop. "When pasting directly from Illustrator, you get the option to scale and skew with vector-y precision," says Asmussen. "This makes for a great way to preview the end result as you scale, rotate, skew, and place [your elements]."

Next came the window frame. For a grainier look, he duplicated the Window Frame layer and pumped in lots of noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). "I always add lots of noise," says Asmussen. "One can easily turn it down later by turning down the layer transparency."

A Gaussian Blur on the noisy window frame transformed the noise into dark speckles, which blended better with the background. He set the layer to Overlay mode at 53% opacity, satisfied that it darkened the colors and added the graininess he needed.

Using the same method as for the building silhouette, he isolated various elements from Mantey's volley, such as the body and the fence, and filled them with a flat color.

He filled a new layer with a sandstone texture (Filter > Texture > Texturizer) in Color Burn mode, at 14% opacity. "The texture wasn't really obvious," he says, "but I liked the way it saturated the image."

"As a final step in my images," says Asmussen, "I usually add a Dodge layer and a Color layer. Dodge is probably the coolest thing in Photoshop. It's the trick if one knows how to use it properly."

He created a new layer, filled it with black, and set its mode to Dodge, which overexposes areas of the layers beneath it based on the lightness of the dodging layer. Asmussen drew white highlights over the clouds, with a big soft brush.

To spice things up, he added a final new layer on top, painted some shapes in, and set the layer in Multiply mode. This adds some subtle color to the final composition.

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This article is excerpted from Photoshop Secrets of the Pros and is reprinted here by permission. Copyright ©2004, SYBEX, all rights reserved.