Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bokeh in Black and White

When I was brand new to Photoshop, I discovered plug-ins -- also known as "filters." For those of you who are not yet privy to these marvellous things, they are software packages designed to work with Photoshop to create specific effects.

One of the first ones I discovered was by Flaming Pear. It had the unlikely name of "Melancholytron." It created a heavy blur around the bottom of the image and built in a sepia tone. I loved it. Lens blur adds such a wonderful atmosphere to an image, making it moodier. The blur also allows you to draw the viewer's eye to a specific aspect of the image. (I still use Melancholytron on occasion. It's available through Flaming Pear http://www.flamingpear.com/ for about twenty bucks.)

But since I started working with Alien Skin's Bokeh plug in (http://www.alienskin.com/ for $199.00) I haven't looked back. Read the full review a few blogs back.

I started thinking about combining the Bokeh effect with that other great conveyer of emotion and atmosphere: Black and White photography. I've been working with this idea for several days now (or at least as much spare time as a magician at Christmas can muster) and have been delighted with the results.

Have a look at the old couple at the top of this blog. I saw them one afternoon at Coney Island. It's called "A Little Off Center" because this couple seemed just a little out of step with the rest of the world. His arm is draped around his bride and the way they are sitting together watching the world go by makes me smile. But the image is about them...and the relationship they share. Everything else is a distraction.

Come to think of it, the initial image was full of distractions. (You can see the intial "finished picture" here: http://photoshopbasicsin6hours.blogspot.com/2008/11/taking-great-candid-people-shots.html -- like any image is ever finished.) Using Bokeh, I blurred them out and brought tight focus back onto the subjects. It made a better picture.

Cropping, and the whole processing of any final image, is a lot like writing a story. When you get into the fine tuning, you start cutting everything that doesn't fit smoothly with the tone or the story. There were a lot of people on the beach...and some litter as well. None of this added to my subject. So with the application of the Clone Stamp Tool and some specific blur, I was ready. The LAST step is the application of Bokeh -- so the effect is uniform.

Here's an image taken in July. It went from raw format to finished in less than five minutes. These two sisters were in a playground. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the little sister raced across the playground and ran to her big sister for a hug. Then she went back to playing. I have no idea what pushed the "I need a hug" meter into the red zone. But I find the whole idea of an urgently needed hug very charming.

The post processing was very simple: using CS4's new-and-improved Black and White Adjustment Layer, I was able to create a punchy high contrast Black and White image. I sharpened it a little with Sharpen> Smart Sharpen to bring up the highlights in the younger girl's hair. Then I added a very light Bokeh and a drop shadow frame and the image was finished.

Bokeh isn't for every image. But when it fits, it's perfect.

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