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Creative shadows using Adobe Elements

Creative shadows using Adobe Elements - Add a halo shadow effect around your still life subject to make it more three dimensional and appear to leap off the background. It's just like using a ring flash.

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Studio Lighting and Flash

Words and Pictures Peter Bargh
If you've ever seen the work of some of the great still life professionals you may have noticed a subtle shadow that appears all around the subject, acting like a dark halo. This shadow is created by the photographer using ringflash - a special flash that has a circular doughnut style tube that the lens shoots through. The normal ringflash you get for macro photography is not suitable because it doesn't have high enough power and you can't produce the effect if you are more than a few centimetres away from the subject.
The flash the pros tend to use is studio lighting from the likes of Norman, but it costs an arm and a leg! Fortunately digital photographers can create a similar effect by manipulating their originals and here's how.

I placed this pomegranate on a sheet of glass with black velvet material below. The lighting was set using a budget studio kit from Zenon fitted with softboxes, using the modelling lamps rather than the flash as the light source. I moved the two heads around to get the best illumination and took the picture on an Olympus C-4040Zoom digital camera.

1 The first job is to make the background more interesting. Click on the black area with the magic wand tool set to a tolerance of 25. This should pick up most of the black. In this example there are a couple of reflections in the glass background that are lighter so you need to hold down the shift key while you click which adds to the selection. Holding down the alt key will show a minus which takes away from the selection.

2 When you're happy you have all the black selected you'll see the familiar marching ant dotted line around the subject and the edge of the frame. Go to Select>Inverse to make the selection change so that just the fruit is selected.

3 Now go to Select > Modify > Contract and set 1 or 2 pixels which will take the marching ants inwards and ensure when you cut you don't carry any of the background with the pomegranate.


4 Cut and Paste the selection. This takes it from the background layer and automatically creates a new layer (Layer 1) with the selection in place. The selection may appear in a slightly different position and you may see the one or two pixel outline on the background image. Select the move tool and adjust the position so it fits in the exact spot that it came from. It's almost like matching up a two piece jigsaw. You can also use the arrow keys to move the item which is often easier than trying to control it with the mouse.

5 We need to remove the thin one to two pixel outline from the background layer. To make this easier turn off Layer 1 by clicking on the eye icon to the left of the layer in the layers palette.

6 Using the clone tool go around the outer edge of the outline picking up detail and cloning it over the outline to extend the background into the space where the cut out was.

Pomi57 Now lets' make the background a more interesting colour. Make Layer 1 active by turning the eye icon back on, but keep the background layer selected. Go to Enhance > Colour > Hue/Saturation click on Colorize and play around with the three controls to get a brighter colour. I settled for a green which sets the reds of a treat and gives the fruit a real autumnal feel.
Pomi68 Click on Layer 1 in the palette to make it active and drag it to the new layer icon to duplicate it.
Pomi79 Click back on layer 1 and select Gaussian Blur from the menu. Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
Adjust the slider so that the layer is very blurred - a radius of around 30 pixels will do. What we are doing is blurring the middle layer so it spreads out beyond the top sharp layer and becomes visible as a bright halo.

9 To make it even more prominent adjust the brightness and contrast. Enhance > Brightness/Contrast > Brightness/Contrast.

Pomi8 Pomi9

10 You could leave it at that but it's not a true ringflash effect yet. By playing with the blend modes from the menu at the top of the layers palette we can alter how Layer 1 reacts to the background. Above shows the screen mode which has brightened the halo - good but still not a ringflash effect.

Pomi1011 A true ringflash effect is like a dark shadow around the subject and by setting Colour Burn as the blend mode we get as close we can to a natural ringflash effect. One that your pro studio photographer would be proud of!.
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