Last week I created my latest entry for The Dark Realm Collective’s Winter ArtPack. Go check out the amazing other creations the talented artists made for this pack.

I want to talk about how I created the image in photoshop.

As a digital artist I use a plethora of different stock images (like the fine images ofRAWexchange) to accompany the images I photograph and combine it all into my pieces. As most of my colleagues, we’re always looking at the best quality stock, which usually means large pixel image sizes. The more pixels we have the better we can do our magic.

Since last year I’m a proud owner of an iPhone 7+ and its dual camera setup. Sporting both a 12MP sensor and a 2x optical zoom. Which is nothing compared to a real camera and an excellent set of lenses, but nonetheless it is getting close to being a useful tool for digital image creations. The image sizes that the iPhone 7+ produces are close to 3000×4000 pixels in size, which are a good size to work with.

So, last December I went on a trip with my family, and for the first time, I decided to leave my already small M43 Olympus at home and just take my iPhone 7+ as my tool to document the weekend and snap some awesome images.

While out in the woods of Germany I had a great time snapping images of tree trunks, rocks, sand, and a few landscapes. With the 2x zoom it allowed me to get really close into some textures.

Fungi growing on wood

The only thing I missed while gathering my textures was a good way to hold and grip my iPhone 7+.  Back home I uploaded all my textures onto my texture drive for later usage.

The Image Process

So back to my DRC image. This was the perfect image to test if I could put my iPhone 7+ shot textures to work.

I had the idea of creating a portrait where the face was missing/distorted (don’t ask me where the idea came from, it just popped into my mind, from some dark corner most probably)

I drew the black hole on the face using a standard black brush. Keeping an eye for an interesting form, and trying to stay within the shape of the face.

And to make the hole look believable, I wanted to make the edges sort of gritty, but not exploded, or too damaged, more of a natural organic shape. For this, I used most of the bark textures I shot with my iPhone 7+. Looking for interesting cracks and lines in the texture to transplant over the face-hole-edge.

This is where experimenting comes a long way. I lasso a part of the texture I find interesting, copy it over to my composition image and paste it in.

  • I desaturate the texture (CMD-Shift-U) and set the layer blending mode to overlay. This will blend the texture into the image keeping the structure and contrast. You can use soft-light for a more subtle effect.
  • I then move the texture around to see where it fits best on the composite, and then remove all the unwanted parts from the texture, using a layer-mask. (using the layer mask, keeps it non-destructive)
  • I then repeat the whole process again and again until I’m satisfied. Having a lot of different shots as texture helps avoid repetitions this way.

I also shot some amazing orange fungi on a tree, and really wanted to use this in the image. So I copied them over the composite and added them at different places on the face. Again using a layer mask I painted out everything except the little orange dots. Blending it all in.

A note on the iPhone 7+ images. I’m confident to use the shots for compositing. I wouldn’t use it for complete background replacements yet. But its a great tool for capturing textures for overlays or small elements in composite images. The small size and the fact you have it with you allows for quick and easy capture. But the small sensor does bring its disadvantages to the image quality. As long as you don’t enlarge the textures too much you’d be alright.

The Color Process

As for coloring, I wanted a cold look, but keep the orange fungi pop and have some red spill out from the face-hole.

When I’m color-grading my main tool is the Gradient-Map adjustment layer. This allows me to precisely specify what colors my darks, my mid tones, and my lights need to be. And adjust everything if necessary.  So for the overall tone, I used a gradient that ran from black to a cold-deep blue (67b0ff).

And for the red parts, I used a gradient that ran from black to red (821717) to orange (b97534) and to yellow-ish (f3ffc2). This red was then painted in with a layer mask.

The reason this gradient had some yellows and orange in it was to add some highlight colors to the subtle eyes.

I also kept the orange from the fungi. All these warm tones set against the cold blue’s add a nice color composite as the two colors are complementary to each other.

If you want to learn more about colors and how colors work, do check out this amazing tutorial by RAWexchange here

Finishing off with some Nik Tools for further enhancements the image is finished.

Watch the creation video below (I forgot to resume recording during the grading process, so sorry for that)

Tools and stock used:

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