Urban Fantasy: A Voyage over Sunset Boulevard (plus mini-tutorial)

So I’m supposed to think of something called “urban fantasy”.

1 photoshoot, 14 different photos, 14 hours later, I end up with this,
A Voyage over Sunset Boulevard
(click on the image to go to my flickr, where it’s bigger!)

The astute amongst you would have realised I’m a little anachronistic here – merging both Noir elements (the city, the period clothes) with Steampunk technology. You be the judge if this little experiment worked. I really love those two genres! Also, some people have said I cannot possibly pull off the 50s era noir look, I’ll wager I didn’t do too badly here did I. 🙂

It’s not perfect. Had I the time I would have loved to work on the city until it really popped as a Noir/Steampunk aesthetic city. But I’ve already spent quite a bit of time on this and a backlog of unedited photos from a photoshoot beckon. At least this time I didn’t take as long as that infamous castle picture (that took upwards of 20 hours).

At the bottom of the post I’ve pasted thumbnails of the source images. Some are mine, some are taken from flickr, sxc, used under creative commons(non-commercial). Just to give a sense of scale of how much editing’s involved in something like that. It isn’t hard, just time-consuming. But the ‘fun’ of seeing building fantasy should drive the tedium away. Here’s some techniques I’ve used that you can try out. (WARNING – This assumes knowledge of basic photoshop techniques. You’ll at least need to know what is Masking.)

Understanding Light

Any good Photographer would tell you that light is one of the most (if not THE most) important aspect of Photography. Just because in compositions such as these you can place light wherever you want, doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Light needs to react reasonably with its surroundings. Shadows need to be cast in the right places, and rim lighting is needed to add depth to the image.

If you look at the buildings and the airships – I tried as much as possible to let sunlight fall in the right place. You can use the Burn tool to control your shadows, and the Dodge tool to lift the shadows.

In this example, the sun is coming from behind the airship. A wrong placement of shadows will make the airship look odd to be there, while a right placement of Shadows will really help with blending the images together.

(click to embiggen!)

If Burn tool doesn’t work for you, painting in shadows with the humble paintbrush tool (0% hardness) at about 30-50% opacity often does. If you do it on a separate layer you can find tune it the layer opacity!

Rim Light/Highlights
Highlights, or “adding rim light” as photographers know it, is absolutely essential to give your images the ‘3D’ blend. This is especially important for dark objects against a bright background.

What is this light? Well, because the Sun is such a huge & bright light source, light doesn’t exactly stop cleanly at the edges of objects, it “wraps around” them. In the following example you’ll see that without this highlighting “rim” the subject has that pasted onto the background look. With it, the subject blends much better!

(click to embiggen!)

You can easily achieve this effect by painting the light it with a paintbrush (again 0% hardness) set to SOFT LIGHT, and about 20-50% opacity, depending on the object that is highlighted.

Behold the Power of Adjustment Layers

How do you blend so many objects of various colours harmoniously? Here’s where CS4 & 5’s adjustment layers come in REALLY handy. Better yet, because each adjustment layer has it’s own layer mask, you can REALLY fine tune which parts of the image you want the adjustment to affect. Don’t worry about making mistakes, you can always dive back in and adjust the adjustments 😛

Here’s the before and after of applying a combination of adjustment layers.

(click to embiggen!)

Hope these few tips will inspire you to create your own fantasy scene!

Source Photos