In celebration of the upcoming Artfix event, I'm going to share with you how I created my piece for the auction, Orangefield Road. It's mostly just a combination of the right photos and blend modes.
Also, for whatever it's worth, I'm tossing out what I'm listening to while creating this tutorial. The mood is always so important for me when I'm working, and for this vintage-ish project, I've picked a favorite of mine that feels so deliciously vintage: Vignetting The Compost by Bibio.
Pfft... deliciously vintage. I'm such a douchebag. Oh well, here we go.
I started the background with a super contrasty image with some bold color, as the rest of our images will be a lot of fun to lay over this. You will notice I have my guides pulled in for bleed. You don't really need to worry about those for this tutorial, but since I'm working out of my original file, they're there. Deal with it.
Now we'll add our first overlay. I chose an image that would look like a treeline in the background, so before we start blending, we're going to mask out some of this using the background layer as a guide.
To make our selection, first click on the background layer, and then over to the channels palette. We'll use the Red layer to make our selection, since it has a ton of contrast.
Under the select menu, choose Color Range. This is going to make our selection really easy to grab.
Once the dialog is open, you will be able to use the eyedropper to select any color in your image and then you will use the slider to determine the 'fuzziness' of your selection, or more or less how soft it will be. In this case, we just want to select the black and drop the slider somewhere around 60-70. Click OK when you're done and you'll have a selection all ready to go.
Make sure you select the RGB layer in the channels palette before jumping back over to your layers.
Now, back on the layer with the second image (make sure that layer is selected now, not the background), click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette to turn your selection into a mask. You'll notice it's not 100% perfect, but for our purposes, a little 'dirt' is okay.
Now let's change the blend mode (the dropdown box at the top left of the layers palette) to Linear Light and you'll notice things are already looking better. The red background image is coloring our treeline from the second image really nicely, but there's not quite enough color showing through, so we'll just pull the opacity down on the second image.
By pulling the opacity down to around 25%, We've brought back some of the bold color and given the trees a bit of a 'foggy' look, actually adding some subtle realism. Not that realism is at all the final goal here, but it's good to keep reality in mind even when playing around with it. Generally, I aim to give a photo collage like this a strong anchor in reality, but make it overall very surreal. In fact, what we're doing here is juxtaposing several different vantage points and focal lengths to create one landscape where things feel real, but they're not quite.
Uhg, enough hair-brained theory.
For the third image, I selected one with some nice distant trees. That's really all we'll be using from this one, but the beauty of the blend mode magic is that all the colors and textures elsewhere on this layer will add to the rest in unpredictable ways. That's really the beauty of blend mode collages... set it to blend and see what happens. Sometimes it's a trainwreck, but sometimes it's inexplicably just art.
Set the third image to overlay and we're really starting to get somewhere now! Check out that crazy vintage-lookin' sky... and see how it's starting to feel like a cohesive image? This still needs something to make it work though, perhaps something with a little more warmth and some clouds. Mind you, when I'm working these kind of collages out, I often go through like 92 different options before finding the right combination... but I've streamlined it a bit here for you.
For our fourth image, I landed on something with some more contrast and yes, clouds. This should mix in there really nicely. Also, this image adds some great texture thanks to what looks like dust specks all over the image (it's actually snow... I took this picture while it was snowing).
For this particular image, the Pin Light blend mode seemed to have a particularly interesting effect, but I know that I need to turn that opacity down so we can get back the original elements to some extent. Once they mix in a little bit, the powerlines crossing through the shot should make a nice effect.
By turning the opacity down to around 50%, we've got a really great mix of everything going on now. The clouds are having a really great effect on the contrasty black areas on the background image and there's an interesting interplay happening between the black areas on this top layer and the background layer. In some spots, the line has started to blur a bit. This feels a touch dark still though... and I know just the answer.
By adding a black & white texture, such as this messy photo plate, we can help glue all of our pieces together better and brighten everything up a hair while we're at it. This should also help us achieve a more vintage look, which is what I'm going for. You onboard for that?
Just set that texture to overlay and lookie there... that's a crazy, surreal scene. Blend modes can also be used in very realistic, constructive ways obviously, but I thought it would be interesting to show how cool the results can be if you have some fun with the tools.
Let me remind you again that it took me hours and hours of toying to get to this point initially, trying all kinds of different blends and opacities on all different sorts of images before getting somewhere I liked. For you, I've just presented the actual process of gluing together the final pieces. The 'figuring things out' has to be done by you when you take something like this on yourself.
So this is the final image. I tweaked the colors on the final version a bit, to make it just a touch more magenta-filled, but that's it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Blend modes work differently in RGB and CMYK. This tutorial is working in RGB with the intentions of jumping to CMYK as a final step. Obviously, if you're planning to do this, constant CMYK checks are important... Option (Ctrl) + Y allows you to do a quick CMYK preview while working in RGB. There are other things to consider as well (when jumping from RGB to CMYK) but I'll save that for another day.
To close this one out, I've included the images I used so you can try it out for yourself. Enjoy, and good luck.