Thank you so much to Chris Mills, a British artist represented by Suzanne Cruise. He offered to share these Photoshop tips with everyone and I was happy to oblige! Without further ado – here is what Chris has to teach us:
For your artworks to stand the best chances of success, art professionals need to see their quality even at low resolution. If your work is very colourful, they need to see those wonderful hues. If your work relies heavily upon textural relief, this also needs to be shown by the image. If your art is very graphic and linear, a blurry image will fail to deliver those crisp edges that characterise your style. All these factors could mean the difference between getting your art accepted or not!
If your photographic skills are limited and you use a non-professional digital camera, you may find that your snaps are poor relatives compared to the richness of the originals. Unless you can hire the services of a professional photographer to make publication quality shots of your art, your photos may not do any justice to your hard work. Home desktop scanners can also present a big disappointment compared to the original art.
Submitting the raw results of amateur digital photos or from desktop scans will not make a good impression, but all is not lost! These images can be edited to look far better. For this you’ll need Photoshop or similar image manipulation software. It’s worth the investment! This guide is based on use of a recent version of Photoshop.
The familiar problems
1) Unwanted details around the picture – the artwork does not fill the entire frame.
2) Mis-alignment – tilt of the camera fails to capture the picture head-on.
3) Poor Contrast – image may appear too dark/light.
4) Poor Colour – tones may appear too strong/weak.
5) Uneven lighting – Part of the picture os lighter/darker than the other.
6) Blurring – painting looks flat, untextured and lifeless.
7) Specular reflections – light bounces off the paint relief and washes out the picture.
Of course, if you want to produce photos of your large-scale art for publication quality, you are best advised to use a professional photographer, but the issue for most artists is that it’s not financially realistic to hire professional photography for every piece in the folio.
The good news is that Photoshop techniques can get your snaps to sufficient quality for initial email viewing, or for posting to your website. You can then save the serious photography or professional scanning costs for those pieces which have been accepted for publication.
Of course, everyone has different ways of working and the order of procedures described below is not gospel. It can be changed depending on how you like to work and the problems you’re experiencing. Furthermore, I don’t claim to be a world authority on digital image manipulation, so I’ve tried to write this from my artist’s viewpoint, for the benefit of other artists who are not necessarily tech-heads and visual software experts. The methods here are an essential fistful that I have found to work well.
Before we start:
Get the photo right!
- The higher the camera’s image resolution the better!
- Use a tripod or any fixed surface to stablize the camera. Hand-tremor creates blurring.
- Take the shot head-on. Ensure all picture sides are of the same length.
- Light the picture as evenly across as possible. ‘Bounce’ the light onto your picture using a couple of desk lamps and big pieces of white card. The card ( not the lamps ) should be the light source for the pictures because reflected light will be more dispersed.
- If the relief of the paintwork is picking up too much light and scattering across the picture, ( known as specular light ) adjust the lighting until this problem has gone. Specular light problems can look terrible and are tough to resolve on your computer, so it’s best to stop this from happening right from the start.
- Note: a little specular light can be a good thing as it shows off the paint relief, which you DO want if your work relies heavily on texture. It’s just a matter of not letting this aspect dominate and wash out the image.
Work in Layers!
When doing something to an image, always create a Duplicate Layer to work on. If your changes don’t look right you can always delete the Duplicate Layer and start again.
To make a Duplicate Layer:
- From Window, click on [ Layers ].
- You will now see the Layers drop-down menu.
- Select the Layer which shows your digital image.
- Within this Layer box, right mouse-click to bring up a menu.
- From this menu, select [ Duplicate Layer ].
- If you have made this new Duplicate Layer from the first Background Layer, it will automatically be named ‘Background copy’.
- Performing the same operation on ‘Background copy’ will then create ‘Background copy 2’ e.t.c. You can rename Layers with your own titles.
Use the Layer Opacity feature!
The Layer Opacity feature allows you to adjust the comparative visibility of your Layers. You’ll find this feature at the top of the Layers drop-down menu.
- Select your new Duplicate Layer.
- Make an obvious change to the Duplicate Layer – darken it for example.
- In Duplicate Layer: in the Opacity box, slide between 0 and 100%.
- 100% Opacity makes your Duplicate Layer fully visible – fully darkened image.
- 0% Opacity makes your Duplicate Layer invisible – no darkened image.
- 50% Opacity gives a ‘halfway house’ between your original and Duplicate Layer.
- You can use this feature all the time to modify the relative visibility of your Layers ( and the changes you have made in them ) to very subtle degrees.
- When you’re happy, ‘flatten’ the Layers back to a single Layer. To do this: from Layer, select [ Flatten Image ].
Now to the image!
1) Unwanted details around the picture
- In your main image window, select the area you wish to preserve.
- From Image, select [ Crop ].
- The image will now be reduced to the selected area.
- From Image, select [ Transform ] then [ Perspective ].
- Drag corners inwards or outwards to make sides equal length.
- Alternatively, select [ Transform ] then [ Distort ] for more precise manipulation.
3) Poor Contrast
- From Enhance, select [ Auto Smart Fix ]. This will give a basic correction which may look too raw compared to your original.
- Alternatively, from Enhance, select [ Adjust Lighting ] then [ Brightness/Contrast ].
- Move the Brightness and Contrast sliders until you’re happy with the light levels.
- You’d be advised to confine these changes to their own Layers, then use Layer Opacity for subtle manipulation.
4) Poor Colour
- From Enhance, select [ Adjust Colour ] then [ Adjust Hue Saturation ].
- In the Hue Saturation Edit box: select [ Master ] so that all colours will be affected.
- Sliding on the Saturation bar to the right increases the general ‘colourfulness’ of the image.
If, for example, your image looks too much on the blue spectrum and lacks the warmth of the original, you can solve this:
- From Enhance, select [ Adjust Colour ] then [ Adjust Hue Saturation ].
- In the Hue Saturation Edit box: select [ Master ].
- In the Hue bar, slide into the negative numbers ( left ) a few points.
- In the Saturation bar, slide into the positive numbers ( right ) a few points.
- What did we do here? We created a ‘bias’ towards the reds ( Hue ) and then increased the red intensity ( Saturation ).
5) Uneven lighting
- Create a seperate Duplicate Layer of the image.
- In Duplicate Layer: from Filter, select [ Render ] then [ Lighting Effects ].
- In the Style box select [ Default ].
- In the Light type box select [ Spotlight ].
- Adjust the lighting area so that the brighter part falls over the darker part of the image.
- If necessary, drag out the circular lighting area to make it big enough to cover the image properly. What you want to avoid is seeing the rounded perimeter of the spotlight area.
- Slide across the Intensity and Focus slider bars to adjust the light level and coverage.
- Use Layer Opacity to complete complete your lighting change. Around 50% is usually needed to get a good blend between the two Layers.
- You’ll find that the extra light you’ve made in the Duplicate Layer brightens up the darker portion of the image in the original Layer. There is now more equalised light across the whole picture.
- Flatten the image back to a sigle Layer.
The solution to this problem is the Sharpen tool, but this feature needs to be used carefully.
Over-sharpening can create a grainy, noisy looking image which won’t look good!
It’s best to confine your sharpening changes to a separate Duplicate Layer and use Layer Opacity for final adjustment. The Sharpening result can then be manipulated with more subtlety.
- From Enhance, select [ Adjust Sharpness ].
- Use the sliders to alter the strength of the sharpness ( Amount ) and extent of the sharpness ( Radius ).
- The [ More Refined ] option will offer more subtle results.
- You will find that any painterly relief in your original will become more noticeable by using the Sharpen feature. The extent of relief you want to be made evident is up to your artistic judgement. If you’re really into the textural value and it’s an important part of your style, the Sharpen feature is very useful and important.
7) Specular reflections
Hey! Now I told you, this should not have happened! Smack wrists! Really, if there’s a lot of specular light ‘ghosting’ all over your picture and ruining it ( due to reflections from the paintwork relief ) your best option is to take another photo and use the light bouncing technique mentioned above. This can be a horrible problem to resolve digitally, but if you’re determined to use software it can be addressed to variable success. You will get the best result if the specular ghosting is confined to a limited and well defined area, and where there are no specific details.
- Use the Lasso Tool to select the area affected by specular reflection.
- Save and Paste this selection as a New Layer. Shortcut: [ Ctrl + S ] then [ Ctrl + V ].
- In New Layer: From Enhance, select [ Adjust Lighting ] then [ Brightness and Contrast ].
- Slide across the Brightness and Contrast bars until the selection looks the same as the rest of the picture.
- From Enhance, you can also use [ Adjust Lighting ] then [ Shadows/Highlights ] in a similar way as above.
Even after correcting the brightness and contrast, the selected area may have a visible edge around it, which you don’t want. This is because the area you made for correction is a result of your Lasso selection, which has a defined edge. There is a method of reducing this:
- Make a second Duplicate Layer of the same selection you made.
- Go back to your first Duplicate Layer: From Filter, select [ Blur ] then [ Gaussian Blur ].
- In the Gaussian blur panel, slide across the Radius bar to blur out the selection.
- This may help blur the edge, without affecting the selection’s texture. Remember, it’s the topmost Layer in the stack that you see, and the blurring of the selection edge is taking place in the Layer underneath. The underlying blur will bleed out beyond the selection edge and will help to hide it.
If the specular ghosting is occuring in a general area ( blank sky, for example ) there is a final tactic available:
- Use the Lasso Tool to select an area similar to and close to the ghosted part, but which is unaffected. Create a selection shape similar to ( and slightly larger than ) the ghosted part.
- Copy and Paste this selection to a New Layer. Shortcut: [ Ctrl + S ] then [ Ctrl + V ].
- In New Layer: move the selection until it sits over the ghosted area exactly.
- In New Layer: use the Layer Opacity feature to blend in the selection.
- The setback here is that the digital image will not be exactly the same as your original.
When submitting your images:
- Avoid large borders – this takes up unnecessary space and memory.
- The usual submission format is Jpeg – it compresses the visual data to take up less bytes.
- For submitting as attachments to email or for posting online: 150dpi, approx 600 pixel width, and Medium jpeg quality should be sufficient.
- Remember, there are pirates out there on the digital ocean who would love to scuttle your high resolution files for unlicensed reproductions. ALWAYS keep your images at low resolution in the public domain so they can’t make proper use of them.
ABOUT CHRIS MILLS
Chris Mills lives and works in the English county of Leicestershire. He remembers being able to draw and paint from a very young age, owing early inspiration to Reg Cartwright, author and illustrator of ‘Mr. Potter’s Pigeon’ ( a children’s book classic ). With his large canvas illustrations exhibited behind him, Reg shared his creative experience and enthusiasm for painting with Chris’ junior school. From that point Chris knew that he’d been well and truly bitten by the art-bug!
After attaining a Combined Honours Degree in Art and English with Liverpool University in 1990, he worked as a digital artist for a number of computer game development studios and cut his teeth on concept art and 2D/3D graphics software. Chris no longer works in the games industry but it taught him valuable skills which he now uses in combination with traditional media for many of his designs.
See more designs by Chris at www.chrismills-artworks.co.uk
Thank you for this great information Chris!
Here’s to your creative success!
– Tara Reed