Friday, 19 November 2010

Digital Manipulation: Sepia

Cuttlefish! I know what you're thinking. He's talking about marine life in a photography blog, he's finally stepped off that precipice and in to the sweet embrace of insanity. Well you'd be wrong. I actually have a very good reason for talking about this humble little cephalopod. Anyone who's read a little about the history of photography (or watches QI), will know that the original source of sepia ink was the cuttlefish. In fact that's where the name comes from. Sepia is the name of the genus the cuttlefish belongs to. Sepia is a dark Brown ink secreted by the cuttlefish when it gets scared. The ink has been used for a number of things over the centuries, from dye to paint. Photographers quickly worked out though that it could be used to enhance the warm tones of a picture and improve the longevity of the photo, by making it more resistant to damaging elements it might be exposed to. Luckily these days there's a far easier way of getting the sepia look...photoshop!

As part of the digital manipulation section of the course Marie has asked us to create a sepia photograph using photoshop. It's actually a fairly simple process to use.

Crazy as it might sound, you can't do a lot without a photo. That then is the first step. Picking the photo you want to manipulate. Obviously you can use any photo you want, but it works best with one that could make a convincingly old picture. After flicking through my photo's I settled on this  image:

Shutter Speed 1/100, F/4.8, ISO: 100

Taken at Shugborough hall (the home of Lord Lichfield, fitting for a photography blog), It's not a great picture, the exposure of the sky is off and it's not that sharp, but I thought it would look quite good after being converted to Sepia. After opening the image in photoshop:

You then desaturate the image, by going to: image-adjustments-desaturate, which creates a monochrome picture.

You then open a new colour balance adjustment layer and increase the value of the cyan/red bar, and reduce the value of the yellow/blue bar. It's a matter of personal taste, just how much you adjust the level, but if you have another sepia photograph for comparison it makes it a lot easier. Being the shy retiring type, I prefer mine a little more on the muted side.

There you have it, ye olde sepia photograph. It doesn't look too bad, but, if we continue to mess around with it. We can improve it a bit.

To start, go to filter-noise-add noise. Then select the level of noise you want to create, I went for 6%, but it's up to you:

Opening a new layer and making sure you have the foreground and background colours set to the default black & white. Select the gradient tool and create a radial gradient covering the far corners of the picture. Switch the blending mode to multiply, and this creates a vignette. I then lowered the opacity of the gradient layer to make it a little less harsh.:

It looks a little better, but we can still improve it I think. If you go to they have some free resources for people to use on their photo's. One of those resources is a selection of 50 grungy frames. We'll add one of those and see how it looks. Although most of the frames are great, I decided to go with this one:

This will not only frame the picture, but also add some extra texture to the image. The problem is, that at the minute all it would do would be to cover the existing picture. Open the file and then go to image-adjustments-invert. As the name suggests, this will invert the colours in the picture:

Copy and paste the image on to the top of the existing photo, you'll need to rotate the frame by 90 degrees and adjust the size, so it fits completely over the photo. Once the frame is where you want it, switch the blending mode to multiply again.

That's a bit more interesting. Obviously this is just playing around to illustrate the principal, but if you were to take some time, add some more textures and scratches. Plus use a photo with a better overall contrast, (or adjust the levels.) I'm sure you could make a really good picture.

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