Learn how to deal with shiny surfaces, refractions and curves, with some handy pointers from Photoshop guru Mark Mayers.
Although this image appears pretty simple at first glance, if you look a little closer you’ll see that it’s full of potential graphics stumbling points, such as the refraction of the hand and the buildings that appear upside-down when viewed through the glass ball – and that’s before you’ve even started trying to deal with the reflection of the sky on the curved surface of the ball.
In this tutorial, Mark Mayers guides you step-by-step through some ways to use Adobe Photoshop’s filters, distortion and polar coordinates – along with opacity and blending modes – to pull off this complicated effect.
01. Select some photographs to work with. Here, I’ve used iStock_000002415668Large.jpg, iStock_ 000005423976Large.jpg and iStock_000004222840Large.jpg, which I bought from istockphoto.com. Alternatively, use your own photography. Open the last of these three images in Photoshop and isolate the buildings with a closed path. Make a path-based selection and then copy to the clipboard.
02. In Photoshop, create a new A3 landscape document in RGB mode with a resolution of 300dpi. Paste the buildings into the document as a new layer and transform as shown. Next, open the two sky images and drag and drop both into your working file beneath the building, with the orange sky uppermost and the blending mode set to Screen. Transform each sky layer and create a dramatic central area of cloud formation.
03. Adjust the orange tones of the uppermost sky layer by selecting Image > Adjust > Replace Colour. Use the colour picker to select the orange tones, and adjust the saturation to -82. Next, hit Cmd/Ctrl + B to access the Color Balance dialog box; reduce the midtone red by -18 and increase the blue by +32.
04. Disable the visibility of the buildings, target the top sky layer and hit Cmd/Ctrl + Alt/Opt + Shift + E (this copies the visible elements to a new layer; see the Tip on the right). This will be refracted into the sphere later; having the original layers intact gives flexibility to redo a merged layer. Open Hand. jpg and Cmd/Ctrl + Click on the existing path thumbnail to generate a selection, then paste this into your working file at the top of the layer stack and re-size, rotate and position as shown. Adjust the midtone levels slider to 0.87.
05. Draw a circle with the Marquee tool, expand or contract the selection and nudge to fit snugly within the hand. Create a new channel and, with your foreground colour set to black, hit Delete, filling with white. Next, with the top composite RGB channel visible, draw a closed path around the little finger, and make a path-based selection. Now target the hand layer and hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to float a new layer; name it accordingly.
06. Target your merged sky layer and draw a square marquee extending just outside the circle area. Use your extra channel as a guide (by double-clicking the Channel icon you’ll be given the option of adjusting the opacity, which will make things easier). Expand or contract the selection as required. When you’re happy with your selection, copy it to the clipboard.
07. Create a new document using the clipboard as the preset. Ensure that the background content is set to transparent and paste in your selection. Now comes the fun part: select Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates and select the option Polar to Rectangular. This much under-used filter converts a selection from its rectangular to polar coordinates, and vice versa, according to the selected option.
08. Choose canvas size and uncheck the Relative option. Set the height to 200 per cent using the drop-down menu and anchor the image placement to top middle. Duplicate the layer, rotate by 180 degrees and flip it horizontally. Now hold down shift and drag to the bottom of the canvas, leaving a pixel or so of transparent canvas at the bottom.
09. Merge the layers and hit Alt/Opt + Cmd/Ctrl + F to access the last filter. Choose the Rectangular to Polar option, which gives you a squashed sphere. To remedy this, select Image > Image Size, uncheck Constrain Proportions and check Resample Image make its height the same as its width. Next, magnify the sphere using the Pinch filter, using a negative percentage to shift pixels away from the centre (I used -86 per cent).
10. You can now drag and drop the ball into your working document, at the transparent canvas area you created in Step 08. Position it between the hand and finger layers; use your Alpha channel again to help position it. Don’t worry about the sphere being slightly oversized – use an inverted Alpha channel selection to trim the overlap. In the real world, objects viewed through a solid glass sphere appear upside down – replicate this by simply rotating the sphere 180 degrees.
11. Polar coordinates work best with images with non-specific details, so use a different technique to distort the buildings. Target the buildings layer and draw a square selection, this time making it approximately 20 per cent larger than you did in Step 06. Float a new layer, rotate 180 degrees and select Edit > Transform > Warp. Use a custom warp to bend the buildings into shape. I also ran the Pinch and Spherize filters.
12. Move the layer above the sphere, set the blending mode to Hard Light and adjust the opacity to 35 per cent. Distort the fingers through the ball by duplicating the hand layer and using the Spherize filter. Use an inversed selection from your channel and hit delete to trim the excess. Invert the selection again, target the original hand layer and go Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.
13. Target the hand layer, make a rectangular marquee selection of the top portion and repeat the Polar functions as detailed in Steps 07 to 09. Drag and drop as a new layer underneath the small finger, position and rotate as shown setting the blending mode to Hard Light and the opacity to 50 per cent. Next, erase unwanted central areas and delete any overlaps as before, then add a layer mask and gently blend the inner edges.
14. Duplicate the original sphere layer, set the blending mode to Multiply and adjust the Opacity to 85 per cent. Add a layer mask and use a radial gradient to erase the central area. Next, add a mask to the warped building layer and mask areas, also using smaller radial gradients. Make the ball semi-transparent by adjusting the opacity of the original sphere layer to 83 per cent.
15. Reintroduce the fingers behind the ball by adding a mask to the original sphere layer, generating a selection from the hand warped layer and gently erasing. Next, with the selection still active, do the same on the warped buildings mask, then add a Gaussian Blur of two pixels to the layer. Finally, add a new layer at the top of the layer stack and add some specular glints using a soft-edged white brush.
16. Continue adding and duplicating layers and experimenting with different blending modes to give the ball a greater sense of depth. Next, add some shadows on the palm of the hand and around the small finger – use several layers in Multiply Mode and vary their opacities, then add layer masks to gently blend them together. Once you’re happy, copy the visible layers (as Step 04) and zoom right in and use the Blur and Smudge tools on this layer to fix any small flaws.
Mark Mayers – www.markmayers.co.uk