Processing the main image

Subject extraction

Hi art friends. Welcome back to the Creative Photography Basics, where I take you through the process for recreating one of my art journal pages as a composite photo image featuring one of my dolls. In the previous post, Setting up the shot, I selected my image. Today, I’ll process the subject and prepare it for background. I am using the Creative Cloud versions of Bridge, Light Room and Photoshop. The key takeaway for this stage is to get a good extraction. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but take the time now to clean up or heal any distracting parts of the image.

The main subject

Camera Raw process

The chosen image is in Canon RAW format. From Bridge, I double-clicked to open it in Photoshop, which brings up the Camera Raw settings. The day of the shoot was a bright day and the subject was about 7 feet from the window.

I always test the Auto basic setting (contract, brightness, etc). Auto works about 50% of the time for me but I check the settings. If I undo the Auto, I might make the other adjustments manually. Today, Auto worked nicely.

I also changed the Noise Reduction and Color Noise Reduction to 100%. These settings are personal preference that developed while I worked on Takashima. I found that dialing up the 2 noise reduction settings to 100% gave the best results for running my Takashima composite images through 2 PhotographyBB actions.

Clean up the subject

If you look closely at the hands, you’ll see I used clear hair bands to hold the bouquet and tote back in the doll’s hands. First, I zoomed into the hands and used the Heal tool to erase the hair bands. The tool can be hit and miss when used on very small areas, across patterns, and between bright/dark areas.

It did ok with the hair bands but had trouble with the shadows between the fingers. I added a new blank layer, used the Eye Dropper tool to select the shadow color and used the Soft Round brush set to 100% and very small to paint in the shadow. Across the top of the fingers, the Heal tool had trouble at the edges of the fingers. I selected the skin tone in that area using the Eye Dropper tool and the Soft Round brush to paint over any stray hair band remnants.

Yes, this is tiny, fiddly work, but it is worth it in the end, particularly because I will be running PhotographyBB Illustrated over the final image. Illustrated will pick up on those anomalies and magnify them. However, by adding a blank layer and painting over unwanted patterns or other image noise, increases the painterly effect of the action.

I also zoomed in and went around the subject, using the Heal tool on any stray fluff or hairs that would be distracting later. Anything that bugs me at this stage will be annoyingly visible later.

I made a point to dress the subject so as to cover all her joints. For this image, I have no joint corrections to make.

Zoom in and take one last look at the subject. I noted there are a lot of stray hairs on the left hand side of the images and many are out of focus. These will mostly be removed during extraction and I made a note to paint in flyaway hair later in the process.

New layer from visible

Satisfied with this stage, I created a new layer from visible. The new layer will be created above the active layer. In this case, I want the new layer at the top of the stack, so I single clicked on the top layer then ran The Move (which is so much catchier, don’t you think?) On the Mac, the keyboard command is Command + Option + Shift + E.

To avoid confusion later, I turn off all the other layers. Looking at the new image, I noted the doll’s head and hands are lighter than the body. Normally, the head and hands are darker because they are more exposed to sun. I’m not going to address this right now but I made a note to look at it again after extracting the main figure.

Subject Extraction

I find the Photoshop extraction tool works quite well for short focus subjects and pretty well for soft focus subjects. When I started working on Takashima, I would run Photoshop’s Subject Extraction, add a layer filled with a bright pink color and moved it to the bottom of the stack. The bright color helps you see the results of the extraction.

After extracting 2 or 3 dolls, I realized I will be extracting over 200 images for the story, so I created a custom action called Doll Extraction. I ran the Doll Extraction on the top layer and here are the results.

Overall, it’s a pretty good extraction. It almost always has trouble fully removing the metal doll stand. It removed that distracting thread hanging from the left side hem of the skirt. It did it’s best with the hair but there are areas to refine.

The refined extraction

I used the Hard Round brush set very small, zoomed in and worked my way around the image to mask unwanted areas. I masked the soft focus hair strands on the left as well as the bright area on the right side of the doll.

That bridge edge is a result of light bouncing off the edges of the subject. For this canvas, my subject will be in a forest, so I will add my own light and shadows to the canvas. I also plan to run the PhotographyBB Illustrated action to the final canvas. At this stage, I think the bright edge will be distracting. We’ll know for sure later in the process.

The notes I’m taking at this stage:

  • The shoe straps are sticking out a bit.
  • I also note the highlight on the toe of the shoes. It’s pretty bright now and draws the eyes to it.
  • Take a few photos of the wig
  • Extract the wig strands to paste into the image later and create the look of the wind blowing her hair around – in an organized, artistic manner.

Here is what the subject alone looks like.

That, my friends, is how I extract the main subject. Close is good enough at this stage for my particular style. I know I’ll be adding more artistic elements to the subject, adding her to the composite background then running the final image through the PhotographyBB Illustrated action.

Creating the background is the next step in the process. I love trees and have lots of wooded images in my photo library. The next post will be compositing my chosen images into my own forest scene.

Link to the series

To follow along at home and set up your own shoot, click the link for all the posts in the Creative Photography Basics series.

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