How to make a digital background.
Words & Pictures Peter Bargh
Many studio accessory manufacturers have, for years, supplied portrait photographers with cloth, canvas or paper backgrounds. These days' many of those photographers have moved to digital and could create unlimited backgrounds for free using their image editing software. For those of you who haven't yet worked out how and have been searching for the answer here it is.
There are many ways to create backgrounds and one of the most popular is the canvas Old Master style. Photoshop has a quick and easy way to create one of these using the Render Clouds filter Filter>Render>Clouds.
First create a new canvas (Ctrl+N) and set it to a suitable size. I've gone for A4 and selected a 240dpi resolution. In Photoshop 7 the A4 option can be selected from the Preset Sizes drop down menu. If you are using a different program Key in 210mm and 297mm in the height and width boxes, which way depends on whether you want horizontal or landscape format. You may want to name the file too.
Now select a foreground and background colour that you would like to use. I've gone for a medium bluey grey with white as the background. Neutral colours are best, with Brown, Grey or Blue being the most popular choices in the canvas world. But, virtually, we can have any number of colours and you only have to use them once, so be creative if you like. Just make sure the background colour you choose doesn't class with the subject.
When you have selected your two colours go to Filter>Render>Clouds and the canvas will turn like this. Now at this state I feel the pattern is too tight and fussy. The easiest way around this is to stretch the clouds over the canvas making them larger.
Go to Select>All (shortcut Ctrl + A) and then to Image>Transform>Skew.
This puts a frame around the picture with squares in each corner and centre of each edge. Drag these outwards to make the picture bigger than the canvas. So you can see what you are doing reduce the photo on the Photoshop desktop by clicking on the minus (-) key while holding down the Ctrl key. Then as you drag you can still see the corners of the transform box. If you skew to an irregular shape (as seen above) you'll see the cloud pattern change. Mine has a diagonal wave to it now. You can use this tip to create clouds when you need to improve a boring landscape sky.
You may want to add a studio lighting style. The common one is a flash head guided at the centre making that area lighter than the darker surround. This then gives a highlight around the head of the model you are photographing. Draw a circle using the circular marquee. The go to Select>Inverse, followed by Select>Feather choosing a large feather and then adjust Curves Image>Adjustments> Curves, dragging the curve down in the middle to darken the surround.
Well that's another simple technique finished. Just one last thing. You don't have to stick with the colour you selected in the first stage. If you like your cloud pattern and would prefer a different colour simple go to Hue/Saturation and adjust the hue slider until you get what you want (right).
You can also make the background smoother by blurring. In the example far right I've applied Filter>Blur>Radial Blur set to zoom mode.