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Photography/Photoshop Article: Guide The Eye
by Dave McQueen
When creating an image in our camera (or on our computer screens) a large part of the goal is to guide the eye to where we want the attention of the viewer to be. Imagine trying to draw the eye of the viewer to the wedding rings on the fingers of a couple of newly-weds.
I've long felt that a gentle, subtle approach is key when making (as opposed to taking) a photograph. If we can make it look like we have done nothing to the image then we have succeeded.
In this example, I want to show you how to use one of my favourite tools (and less well recognized), Quick Mask, to draw the eye to where you want the focal point of the image to be.
Download the project image.
Figure 1: the original photograph
This is a supplied photograph of a crowd of people looking at some musicians on a stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The image looks rather flat, it is lacking in contrast and there is no obvious focal point. There is nothing that stands out as being the most important part of this image. We know, it should of course, be the stage.
Firstly, let us boost the contrast of the stage and speakers. I choose the quick mask, this allows me to paint a selection; I will make a large, soft selection of the stage and speakers.
I will use the Quick Mask. The settings for Quick Mask are at the bottom of the vertical tool bar on the left of your screen.
If you double click on the icon you will see a pop-up box where you can choose to make a colour indicate the selected area and which colour to use. I typically prefer to paint a selection rather than paint the mask, so I chose "Colour Indicates: Selected Areas". I left the default colour of red.
You don’t have to use red as the colour for your selection. Sometimes it is better to use a different colour. For example, if I am painting a red dress in order to select it, using red to indicate the areas where I have painted doesn't help as much as a different colour might be, such as green or blue.
I chose a large soft brush and painted where I wanted the selection to be. Even though the foreground colour is black, the result of my painting will be red (or whatever colour you have chosen in the settings) because I am painting using the Quick Mask and not the regular paint brush. As a side-note, for the larger areas, I like to click and then shift-click to paint a series of straight lines to paint the areas in as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Figure 4: red coloured selected area
When I am happy with the painting I come out of quick mask mode by clicking Quick Mask button again or by the pressing the Q key on the keyboard. The area that was painted is now the selection.
Figure 5: detail of selection based on painted quick mask
Now to increase the contrast in the stage area. I suggest using a curves adjustment layer because of the degree of control that it offers, especially with its Targeted Adjustment Tool.
Figure 6: Targeted Adjustment Tool
From the bottom edge of the layers palette add a Curves Adjustment Layer. Then use the Targeted Adjustment Tool to "Eyedropper" areas of the selection and click and drag to make them lighter or darker.
When the Curves Adjustment Layer is made you will see a layer mask corresponding to the selection that was made. This will prevent any changes from being made to the rest of the image.
When you are happy with the changes, reselect the selection. You can do this either by choosing Select->Reselect, or by Command (PC: Cntrl) clicking on the layer mask on the Curves Adjustment Layer.
Then perform an Unsharp Mask on the stage area. Be sure the select the image layer and not the Curves Adjustment layer, then try low settings: 80, 1.3, 5
Figure 7: Unsharp Mask Panel
Figure 8: Unsharp Mask on the selection makes it pop
Press D for the default foreground and background colour button. That will ensure that the foreground colour is black and the background colour is white.
Now deselect the selection and go back into Quick Mask mode and select the radial gradient tool with the second colour option from the pull down. This will give us a black to transparent gradient. Choose the reverse option with the otherwise default settings of normal blending mode and 100% opacity.
Drag the gradient from the stage to the lower left hand corner. This will result in a large circular gradient emanating from the centre and reaching its darkest at the edge of the image. The transparent portion is not selected, and so will not be blurred, and the outermost part is fully selected and will be the most blurred.
Figure 9: radial gradient applied
Before you leave quick mask mode choose a large soft brush and paint the sky and cityscape to select that area as well. You might find that a size of 250 pixels with an opacity setting of 50% and a flow of 50%. I hit 5 on the numeric keypad to change the opacity to 50% and shift 5 to change the flow to 50%. You will find that the cityscape will fade nicely into the background. Remember that the goal is to gradually blur the entire image except the stage.
When you come out of quick mask mode you will see the marching ants around the outer edge of the image and a flattened circular shape in the middle of the image. This shows the edge of the selection. Photoshop shows the fully selected edge and the 50% selected edge, it cannot show the "not" selected edge. That is the reason the flattened circular shape is where it is.
Figure 10: circular selection around stage
Go to Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur and apply the a blur, try a setting of around 3.0. That will be a nice subtle, gentle blurring effect leading from the edges to the centre where the stage is.
Figure 11: apply gaussian blur
Now the image has a very distinct focal point, the stage. As with all things, these steps will improve with practice.
Figure 12: finished project
A popular effect is using Photoshop to reproduce the effects of a Tilt-Shift camera lens. This will give the illusion of a miniature world surrounded by blurred elements. Follow these steps with an image, but instead of the Gaussian Blur, use the lens blur to created the blur and sharpening effect. Experiment with a medium size soft rectangle surrounding where you want the miniaturized world to be.
Keep practising and remember pixels are your friends.
Dave McQueen has been teaching Photoshop since it was a baby. He is a member of the core faculty at Guru Digital Arts College and an avid photographer.
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