20 April 2010

Create a burlesque photo montage using pro-level masking skills

Flirty, fancy, and defiantly old-school: burlesque is big news at the moment. It relies on teasing and subtle details for its sexiness, rather than resorting to acres of exposed flesh – meaning that you can be seductive without having to go all-out raunchy.

In this tutorial, Radim Malinic lets his imagination go for a wander, creating a unique image by blending a burlesque-style central figure with other exuberant, whimsical elements – including a dream catcher and a merry-go-round.

Malinic says: “It’s imperative that you learn how to make your workflow as intuitive as possible. The software should be an extension of your thoughts, rather than making you into a slave and telling you to use this or that filter. We will explore simple techniques that emphasise colour shifts, quick masking, and adjustment layers.”

The images that Radim has used can be bought for a small cost from iStockphoto.com, or you can use similar images of your own. Download the images from: bit.ly/cxAvcv (the model), bit.ly/9JNckm (the feathers) and bit.ly/cl4l4C (the lipstick).

Step 1
You’ve been here before and you may not like this part at all. Separating an image from its background can be a chore, but it’s worth doing properly – and you’ll always find new ways to improve your cut-outs.

Open your model shot – we need to get rid of the bike stand and lose the white reflections on the model’s body and bike frame. Add a new layer with a clipping mask, sample and brush colour around the edges. It will make the final layer look more ‘natural’ in the final composition.

Step 2
The spokes will be far too fiddly to cut out – it will be quicker to ignore them and then draw new spokes on the bike. When your cut-out is complete, hit U and set the line thickness to 3px. Using the model image as a reference, draw from the outside in. Group all the spokes (Cmd/Ctrl + G) to save space in the Layers palette.

Step 3
Open your feathers image. Take a shortcut in the form of Magic Eraser (E) to separate the feathers from the background. Inevitably it won’t be perfect. Hit L for the Levels palette, select the Black channel and drag the slider to the left. Then (using an adjustment layer and a clipping mask) tweak the hue and saturation, and lighten up corners of the feathers.

Step 4
We’re aiming for a strong contrast in our image we and need to introduce as many burlesque elements as possible. Open the lipstick image. We’re going to extract the colourful, feather-like leaves. Cut them out with the Pen tool (P) and put on separate layers. Create a new layer with a clipping mask and use the Clone Stamp (hold down Alt/Opt to copy an area, then click to stamp it) to build up a nice, smooth and even texture – as if they had never overlapped.

Step 5
Although the previous few steps may feel tedious and time-consuming, getting them right is crucial to the success of the piece. Now, the fun part begins. Create a new document, setting the background colour to C – 32, M – 29, Y – 29, K – 0. Hit G and build up a gradient colour by setting the blending mode to Multiply.

Step 6
Bring your burlesque cyclist into the main document as a flattened single layer, with a Levels adjustment layer attached using a clipping mask. Place it in the middle of your document, add an orange gradient from the bottom of the bike, and draw simple shadows to give the right perspective. Scale the girl down to about a third of the size of the canvas.

Step 7
Bring in the feathers, placing each on a separate layer with its Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. You’ll be able to tweak any dark edges by brushing on an extra white mask. For easy navigation, create a group for each layer, then group all the groups together, copy them for back-up and flatten each feather when you’re happy with the colour and white balance.

Step 8
Drag over the leaves from the lipstick image. You can flatten the extra retouch layers in the original document for an easier workflow. To change the leaves’ colour, use a Solid Colour adjustment layer set to Hard Light. Select a leaf, hold downAlt/Opt and click New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of our Layers palette. Select Solid Colour and sample a basic orange from the Swatches. Set it to Hard Light and you will see how all of the original texture remains with vibrant result. Repeat for all the separate leaf layers.

Step 9
Now group the original leaves to make them quicker to work with, flattening each individual group (Shift +E). Distribute them around the model and between the feathers. To make colour tweaks, hit Cmd/Ctrl + U to bring up the Hue/Saturation palette, then adjust the colour as you like.

Step 10
Now let’s add some vectors. Many creatives store a bank of vector elements they’ve previously created – or you might prefer to draw new vectors for each image, as I do. I’ve worked up some simple shapes that will add extra depth to the image, and give it a more intriguing look – the images are on the cover CD and in the Zip file opposite, saved as Shapes.ai.

Step 11
Although the vectors have nice gradient colours in Illustrator, here we’ll use them as basic shapes in single colours in the main Photoshop window. Paste each object onto the canvas as a Shape Layer and fill with red or maroon. Setting some objects’ blending modes to Multiply and Overlay builds up vibrancy in your image.

Step 12
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above your Background layer. You can move sliders to get the right tone, which is more brown, more in line with our other elements – I’ve set the Hue to -180, the Saturation to -25 and the Lightness to -3.

Step 13
Depending on the size of your monitor, zoom out (Cmd/Ctrl + 0) to see the whole image and to figure out what it’s lacking. Add simple shapes to the top and bottom of the image (drawn with a U set to Ellipse) to give the piece a carousel-type look.

Add extra vector elements for each edge and quickly mask out the excess by selecting from the round layers.

Step 14
Sometimes it’s nice to give an illustration an overall texture. You could find an image and overlay it on the top of your Background layer, but we’ll do it a different way. Open a new document the same size as the main canvas, but in Grayscale mode. Set a gradient (G) so that the colour builds up nicely at the top and bottom. Go to Edit > Mode > Bitmap and select Halftone screen (Diamond 25 / 42).

The outcome will be an uneven dotty texture, which seems just ideal for the piece. Cmd/Ctrl + A > Cmd/Ctrl + C > Cmd/Ctrl + V to copy-and-paste it into the main piece, setting the blending mode to Overlay.

Step 15
Your piece is pretty much done. Feel free to copy some more vector elements and use them more around the cycling model, to give the eye more to devour. One last tweak would be to add Levels (again as an adjustment layer) on the very top of our layers stack to get the colour just right.

Radim Malinic

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