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Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! - Takui Neko discovers a way to recreate those Polaroid Image Lifts using Photoshop.

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Category : Adobe Photoshop
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In “real world” a Polaroid lift is basically a film emulsion that can be separated from its backing material and then transferred to a new surface. The emulsion can then be manipulated, distorted and shaped in countless ways, giving the very particular look a Polaroid Lift has. Make a quick web search and you will see the countless and amazing possibilities of this technique.

On this tutorial we will learn how to recreate this effect digitally and for that we will concentrate on the features that make a Polaroid lift so unique, namely, distortion, creases, folds and textures.

1 Basic Layout
So, let’s start with our base image. I've picked waterdroplets on a petal. You can use one similar from your files to practice on or pick something completely different - the process is the same.

I cropped this image at 6.9x7.2 ratio since that is the standard Polaroid format. (8.3x 8.6cm, image area: 6.9x7.2cm.)

Create a new image (Ctrl+N) with a larger canvas area, making sure the background colour is white. Copy (Ctrl+C) and paste (Ctrl+V) the petal photo onto this new image so that the petal is a new layer and centred with a transparent border.
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Now, we need to create our image for a “Displacement Map” to distort randomly our Polaroid, first we make a new image the same size as the previous including the white frame and apply a Filter>Render>Clouds. (Note that is a new image, not a new layer) Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!
Then apply some Gaussian Blur to it; the amount of Blur your apply here will affect how much distortion the image will have later, more blur equals less distortion. Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!
Save this new blurred image as a PSD file and close it for now.
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!Now, lets go back to our Polaroid and select the image on second layer using the rectangle marquee and go to Select>Modify> Contract” and contract by a few pixels, so you that you get a thin line of “marching ants” inside the image.
Now go to “Select” and choose “Inverse” Then go to “Edit>Copy” and then “Edit>Paste” and you will have now a thin
frame in a new layer. Change this layer to Multiply. This frame will become your material for folds.
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

2 Distortion
Now we start the basic distortion process, it is important to note that since Polaroid Lifts are so unique, there is no rule on
how much distortion to apply, However, the Displace we will use is so random that it’s important to not overdo it, just go by taste and remember that the final shaping will be done later with the Liquify tool

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!
Make the “Main Image” active and go to “Filter>Distort>Displace”, choose the parameters of “3, 3, Stretch to fit, Wrap Around” click OK and a browser window will appear, look for the blurred image you made before with format PSD and apply.

Not much change right? Don’t worry we want to go slow on the distortion to have it somehow under control. Now go to “Filter” and you will see that the “Displace” appears first at the top. Click and that will apply the filter again with the same settings, do so couple of times or until you get a distorted shape without affecting to much your main image area.

This is the result of applying the filter 4 times, the result is very random so don’t worry if yours comes up different. Also note how the thin border is visible now, showing darker in the places where it goes over the distorted image.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

3 Creases and Folds
Now create a use the button “Create New Set” at the bottom of your layers palette, and place you “Thin Border” layer inside it. We do this so we can have an organized randomness.

Now, duplicate your “Thin Border” layer, the duplicated layers will be the folds or creases once we apply a “Displace” filter; you can also duplicate the layer many times now if you wish, just make sure you will always have a non modified layer of the “Thin Border”.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

With the duplicated layer active go to “Filter” and do the same as you did for your main image (if you haven’t used any filter you will still have the “Displace” one on top as first option). Apply the same number of time you did with your main image so it fits the main image shape.

You will notice that the line gets blurred as you apply the filter and by the time you make it coincide with your main image it looks very faint. If that happens, once it’s fitted, just duplicate the layer you just distorted that will make it darker since it is set to Multiply, then you can play with the amount of opacity of that layer to fine tune the darkness of the line.

Once you have the correct shade, merge the duplicated layers (but do not merge your original one!!!), duplicate the original again and repeat the process but this time not aiming at making it fit to your main image, just play.

Also, to add more randomness use the “Free Transform Tool” on the layer to make the border smaller or crooked, do so before applying the distortion.

After playing for about three minutes with this technique I ended up with this.

Note that I haven’t merged the layers yet and they will stay that way until we finish the fine tuning.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Once you are happy with the overall aspect of your distortion lets fine tune it with the “Liquify” filter. Go to “Filter>Liquify” and choose a brush size not too big, just a size that fits the roundness of the distorted parts of the perimeter, with the default parameters. Click on the “Forward Warp Tool”.
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Now, work you way from the outer perimeter inward and from the inner perimeter outward, this will make the lines to contract and appear more defined, also change the size of the brush to do some fine tuning, click OK when you are done and see the results, if you are not happy go to “Edit>Undo” (Ctrl+Z for Windows users) and start over.

This is pretty much a “try and see” kind of thing, but as you do it you will acquire a feel for it and later it will probably will be just right at first intent. Just don’t give up! Also if you need more lines, just duplicate layers and Liquify, you can do one by one, or like in this case, all together, or duplicate the “all together” layer and work on that one, the possibilities are endless, and so are the shapes of Polaroid Lifts.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way! Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Once you have fine tuned the lines Alt+Click your main image, go to “Select>Invert” then click on your folds layer and press “Del” on your Keyboard; with that you will get rid of the extra bits around the main image. If you like it with the extra bits, skip this step. Now that everything looks like you want you can merge everything together (except your Background layer) and do a last “Liquify” to shape you whole image.

Mine looked like this after those steps.

I kept the extra bits for this one.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

4 Textures and area creases
This part is easier and not so random using Layer Overlays. There is other ways too, but this one is very simple and works well most of the time, the other ones are more complex and involve some 1 or 2 pixel drawing, maybe on an update of this tutorial I can add the other techniques. So…

Layer Overlays
A very straight forward technique where you use a texture layer set the blending mode to overlay and weak the opacity to taste.

I used this texture I found doing a quick Google image search.
This one work very well since it will give me a texture similar to watercolor paper plus the creases of the image area, also set to overlay will give me the particular washed out look some Polaroid lifts have.

So I add this image as a layer on top of the Main Image and set the Blending Mode To Overlay and tweaked the opacity to 54%.

Here is the result, fast and simple

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

5 Final Touches
Now we can add a “Curves Adjustment Layer” or a “Levels Adjustment Layer” whatever you feel more comfortable with (but I prefer the Curves one) to tweak the contrast and color.
Look at different Polaroid lifts and see which kind of contrast and color tone you like and try to emulate it using the adjustment layers. I used this:
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

With this result
Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!Then I add some noise to a Channel or couple of them at different settings. In this case I used the Blue Channel that was the cleanest and added noise with settings: Gaussian and Monochromatic. Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

Thus looking like this. The difference is subtle, but so are Polaroid lifts.

Polaroid Image Lift - the digital way!

And to finish the image I did some Dodge/Burn brushing to lighten or darken some areas or lines, applied some Sharpening and voila!

Now you know the secrets of Digital Polaroid Lifts, go tell everyone!
A special thanks to: John Horne, Frank Thomas and Peter Bargh.who gave me important feedback for the making of this tutorial. ©Takui Neko 2004-2005.

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