Bad Light, Great Subject? Use Photoshop to Create Stunning Images

Blend Modes Can Combine Layer and Background in Unique Ways

by Jim Zuckerman

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© Jim Zuckerman
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I recently photographed something that I had wanted to shoot for many years – tall ships. There was a gathering in Norfolk, Virginia, and instead of shooting them from the land I chartered a fishing boat so I could be completely maneuverable and capture them from any angle I wanted. I counted about 17 ships under full sail, although there could have been more.

The biggest challenge I faced was the lighting. It was pretty bad. The “Parade of Ships” took place between 9 am and noon, and they couldn't have chosen a worse time as far as photography goes. At nine o’clock, as the ships were raising their sails, the lighting was decent. It wasn’t great, but it was OK. Every minute that passed meant that the lighting got worse and worse, and by ten is was almost pointless.

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© Jim Zuckerman
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What I was looking for was graphic design – meaning beautiful angles on the classic ships that underscored the artistry of these timeless sailing vessels. Once I had that, I knew I could combine them with beautiful backgrounds from my files. Photoshop was my only option to make compelling images, and to suggest I had been really lucky to be in the right time at the right place. I would have preferred to have the magical lighting of sunrise or sunset, but that was out of my control.

In my Creative Techniques in Photoshop course, one of the techniques I discuss is blend modes. This is a technique where you can combine a layer and a background in unique ways. I knew that it would be impossible to select a tall ship from its background with all the rigging, so the only way I could combine a great sky and beautiful natural light with the ships was by blending the images using this technique in the layers palette.


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© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
The secret is choosing the right images to combine, because not all skies will work with any given subject. I was very pleased with what I got, but next time I shoot tall ships I’m going to charter one and arrange for it to sail past a sunrise or sunset so I get the real deal.


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Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.