Building an Image – portrait deconstruction

I spent a few minutes chatting to this very friendly man in the Gypsy encampment at the Appleby Horse Fair. He told me that he was from Northern France, the area known as Pas de Calais. He loved his life but said it could be very hard. He had a lovely strong French accent and a twinkle in his eye and was very happy for me to take a snap of him!

Original Photograph

Behind him were some traditional caravans. I opened up my aperture to create some depth of field, but unfortunately the caravans were surrounded by fencing and there were some bags of rubbish alongside…not the view I really wanted! The original shot looked like this:

I needed to extract him from the background and put in a new one.  That presented some challenges…mostly with his fine hair, especially on the left side of his head (right side on the picture), where there was too little difference between the hair and background features.

Photoshop’s “select and mask” feature is pretty good but it rarely does a perfect job, so, over the years, I have made various hair brushes. You can also begin with Nagel brushes from his free series, brush sets, 19, 21 and 23 are for hair (just Google them)…though, as I have progressed in my editing, I prefer to use my own brushes now.

Once I had extracted the subject, I added a layer mask to reveal my new background layer, then inserted an empty layer on top and painted  individual hairs in, at various opacities, to build up the texture where the extraction wasn’t perfect (The tutorials on this feature always pick the ideal image to demonstrate a perfect extraction, but that rarely happens). We now have:

Turning to monochrome and a vignette gave:

Some things start to stand out for me, like the horse nibbling his hat. I can see smoke under the brim of his hat but most of the cigarette smoke has blown away. The horizontal edge of the bunk bed against the face bothers me too. Cigarette smoke would cure all these ills.

You can make smoke using a tutorial from the internet…such as this one. This is the smoke that I created. :

After adding in the smoke and performing some burning, dodging and sharpening, the image has reached this stage. It may be finished, but sometimes I come back and fix more small problems before it is truly finalised. Just needs a title.

© Christine Widdall