How I Created a Liquid Black Dress

"Petals Yet To Fall" featuring Steph Pez

It doesn't take long to create something spectacular ... well at least it doesn't take too long to shoot it. This image took about 4 minutes to photograph - meanwhile I've been editing it for what feels like forever. It was taken during the Watkins Glen Flickr Gathering on the second day, about an hour before sundown. We had just arrived at Clute Park on Seneca Lake, and I knew I wanted to make use of the lake via a panoramic shot with someone on the rocks in the center of the frame. That's about as much planning as I did. I decided to let this be one of those, "I'll take a few photos and figure it out later," sorta pictures.

I asked Steph what she had on under her big fluffy coat (note that is was about 30 degrees out ... if that), and she just so happened to have on a simple, elegant, long sleeved black dress. At any point during a photography meet up it's a pretty safe bet that someone near you is wearing something photo-worthy at all times. I've said before that when attending a photo gathering, if you want people to take your picture and you're a girl (or not I guess), just put on a dress and a line will form. "Oh hey when they are done shooting you can I borrow you for a second?"

Despite the frigid wind creepin' off the lake, Steph was totally game to hop out on the rocks and pose for me. She really is an incredible model. Like seriously. Whether or not you know it, you've probably seen many images of this lovely girl scattered about the fine art photography world. (In case you are new to how the internet works, each of those blue words is a separate link to someone's beautiful art featuring Steph .... So click them ... But please come back; I'll miss you.) Steph just understands how to hold herself in order to look fantastic, and to really convey whatever it is you're hoping to have your character emote. Even if perhaps you have no idea what the character is doing or why, she still manages to tell a beautiful visual story. 

Also, she is just super duper splendid to spend time with. Steph can light up a room with her quick wit and contagious giggling smile. Not to mention I know from experience that if she is left alone in the kitchen at a photo gathering, she will just start doing the dishes like a total boss. To top it off, she might even start singing to herself and it sounds flippin amazing. Girl's got skills all over the dang place.

"The Petals Yet to Fall" was a particularly fun one to edit because I basically had a blank canvas to start with. Well ... a blank canvas that already had an epic backdrop, but what I mean is that the dress was black so I knew I could easily add onto it in some interesting way with Photoshop ... because black. Sure - intricately detailed/patterned/interesting dresses are great, but every once in a while it's so nice to have a very simple solid garment that I can play with in post! I mean, who am I kidding - I can have fun playing with ANYTHING in post, but the freedom of not having to match up patterns or something was quite nice.

I originally thought I'd be adding parts of the dress that were billowing in the wind, but I really liked the slender silhouette of the gown and couldn't seem to add flowing fabric in a way that didn't disturb it. I eventually decided to just have it flair out at the bottom and that's where things really got interesting. I'm not sure where the thought came from exactly, but while I was trying to figure out how to shape the bottom of the dress I thought to myself, "Hey self, wouldn't it be pretty stinkin' cool if this dress were melting and flowing into all the cracks between the rocks?" ...  "Why yes self, yes that's quite a brilliant idea. Now you get a cookie." (Guys I totally had a cookie. One of these ... and by one, I mean several ... #MyWifeIsAfoodBlogger

So I set off on a liquidy-pen-tooling-adventure across the rocky bottom of the image, and it was jolly good fun. I just kept tracing around areas I thought the black liquid would flow through, adding one piece at a time by filling the selection with the paint bucket. I even put in some extra cracks where I thought it would look cool and kinda balanced it out as needed, because I'm in charge and there will be cracks were I want them. That's what I always say. (Lie. That's the first time I said it ... and I didn't even say it, I typed it ... K moving on.)

The edit was looking pretty saweet, but it wasn't until I started to use the smudge and blur tools to blend the liquid in with the focus of the image that things really started to fall into place. Obviously the closer rocks were not as crisp (because depth of field), so it really helped sell the effect to match the blurriness of the actual image to convince your eye that the black-dress-runoff was actually in that environment. Also, taking the time to carefully mask away some of the grass and plants that would be overlapping the black stuff really helped to sell the effect even further. Side note: maybe no one else will see it like this, but I think it's kinda cool that the dress could be melting, or possibly she is assembling herself. Like she travels around Alex Max puddle style (was I the only one obsessed with that show?) and she is just flowing back into a human form.

One other little tidbit that was interesting to play around with that added some nice detail to the bottom of the dress and all the little black rivers was the "Bevel & Emboss" layer style. (You can get to the layer styles palette by double clicking on a layer or right-clicking a layer and going to "Blending Options" at the top of that pop up menu.) After messing around with the different settings in "Bevel & Emboss," I was able to add a nice subtle liquid-y texture with all the little reflections as if it had some ripples and movement. I also added a very slight drop shadow to all of the tiny streams that helped to ground them a little and make the bottom edge not quite as sharp-looking. There is a surprising amount of fun ways to use the layer styles if you just try turning different things on and seeing what they can do! 

Well thanks for tuning in - I hope some of that nonsense I just wrote made sense and was helpful, if even in the tiniest of ways. Now I'm off to start deciding what picture to edit next! (and TBH eating another cookie....)

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