Special Effects

Sometimes you will want to play with an image after the photograph is taken. This is where digital really comes into its own. By learning the tools at your disposal and the effects that can be used with them will lift your photographs to a whole new level.

How to Make a Photo Look Like a Miniature Model

The picture below might look like a scale model from a train set. However it is a real shot of the village of Eton, with the bridge over the river Thames.

scale model effect of eton

This is known as the 'tilt shift' effect and can actually be achieved using special cameras. However, for most of us, a computer makes It is an easy effect to recreate. Just take an aerial photograph (aerial shots seem to work best because we look at models from above) and duplicate the photo on top of itself as a new layer.

original photo of Eton

Blur the duplicate layer (a gaussian blur of around 8 to 16pixels is good for an image of between 2000 and 3000 pixels wide) and then erase a thin horizontal strip (about 300 pixels) to reveal whatever bit you want to focus on. It is as simple as that. Make sure the eraser's hardness is set to between 30 and 50% so you don't get a hard line between blurred and unblurred parts of the shot. Even better effects can be had when you get a photo that has no sky in it.

from london eye

Here is a photo I took from the London Eye. As you can see this special effect has made the bridge in the foreground look just like a model.

tilt shift effect crete

Finally a hillside in Crete becomes a model. Not quite so effective as the others.

Although we live in a digital age, it is silly to forget that optical effects can still produce interesting images. This tree was photographed by Geoff Watson and later the photo was framed behind glass. The apparent sunrise is actually an accidental flash reflection off the glass from when this photo of a photo was taken.

tree with flash reflection

However, most of the time we cannot wait for happy accidents to occur. Tools such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro and others are nowadays key to a digital photographers arsenal.

butterfly photograph

after effects have been added

The second image of a butterfly above was altered in the following ways. Firstly a radial gradient was added. The gradient went from black at the outside to white in the middle. By setting the blend mode to 'overlay' this made the butterfly much more the focus of the shot. However, the gradient also discoloured the butterfly, so I then cloned the original butterfly back in place. By placing the clone on a new layer set to 50% transparency it is easy to get a pixel perfect line up with the original butterfly underneath. The end result is only marginally different from the original, but playing with techniques such as these is a great way to spend rainy afternoons.

Here is a high contrast effect which I like...

no fx

The original image above is copied as a layer and made momochrome. This layer is copied and layered on top blend mode set to 'screen' at 50% opacity.

A copy of the original colour layer is placed on top with blend mode set to 'layer' and opacity at 80%. Lastly the layers are merged and 'noise' is added at 10% for a grainy look.

desaturated high contrast effect

Another after effect which is commonly used to subtly brighten dull photos is to duplicate an image as a new layer with the blend mode set to overlay and the opacity set at around 40%. On top of this another duplicate of the original photo with blend mode set to soft light and opacity at around 15%. The resulting image is only marginally different from the original, but there is an added oomph that lifts the photo from dullness.

Then you can go crazy and start really mucking about . The image below is an hdr photo that has had its luminance, colours and contrast tweaked to excess. Lots of fun can be had with this special effect.

dartmoor trees hdr