Using Brushes to Make Crazy Smoke Effects

"Eternity in an Hour" 

WHY HELLOOO, and welcome back to my crazy corner of the internet.  Today I'm going to talk about my "Dust to Dust" series. The original picture that sparked the series lands the most questions in my lap, like, "how the heck did you achieve that effect?" Well, my fine feathered friends (I imagine you don't actually have feathers, but if you did...they'd be fine), the time has finally come to release unto the vastness of the interwebs all that is the majesty of my process for creating an image in this series. Really it's not all that difficult, but it does take a lot of time and a keen (obsessive) eye for detail. Here are some tricks I used to make this image happen.


Ok so, I'm a huge fan of brushes. Huge. They are yet another of the many ways that I like to "cheat". (Yes we've been over this; I'm a cheater and Photoshop is my best friend, we get it...but I'll probably remind you in the next post).  My "Dust to Dust" series would literally (figuratively?...stupid English haunting my brain all the time), not exist without an awesome set of smoke brushes. In the case of brushes like the ones I used, I guess the word brush could be a tad confusing. If you were to make a normal stroke with one of them it definitely wouldn't look like smoke. I like to think of brushes like these more as "stamps." You only really need one click and you're good to go. So what I do is select a color from wherever it is on the subject that I'm going to have the smoke coming off of (as in a skin color if it's coming off the skin, or a blue color if it's coming off a blue dress), and then on a fresh layer I stamp the smoke once. Then I start to move it around and morph it into place until I like it. Also, I use the smoke brushes on a layer mask to eat away at the parts of the body that I want to be disappearing.


One of the most important attributes to pay attention to when creating an image like this is the...wait for it...motion and movement! (Yup you guessed it, how ever did you know!? You're so smart.) As always, even with such a crazy surreal subject matter, I want to convince my gullible viewers (that's you...sorry) that it's real. Ok so you know it's not real, but I want to leave you no reason to doubt its possible realness. I pay extra attention to the motion and position of the body and do my best to play the smoke off of that. For example, if you would kindly look at the feet in this image above, you'll see that he is clearly starting to tuck them up; so I had the smoke coming off of his feet curling downward. This tells your eyes that his feet were down lower and they've moved, so the smoke is reacting and moving due to the motion of his movement.....move. In the image that started the series, I wanted it to look like he was just floating in place, and the smoke was rising off of him. The smoke in that image isn't showing a lot of movement, this tells the viewer that he is very still.  So you also have pay attention to detail if you want to convey a lack of motion as well.     


The final touch that goes onto all of the images in this series is the dust. If you look through my portfolio, you might notice that I'm a sucker for tiny, detailed, gritty, texture-y, floaty particles. Whether they are small bitty dust particles or larger bokeh-ish spherical bits, I just can't seem to post an image without dirtying it up some. I guess that's part of my "style," so get used to it. I'm not going to lie here people, every single one of my "Dust to Dust" images in some way includes the same two pictures of dust. I just love the quality and variety of sizes of the particles and the....motion of them (really? Again with the motion thing, this guy is just a broken record sometimes). Plus I feel by using the same images it really ties the series together nicely and gives it a cohesive look.  
What I do is put the dust image on top, and then set it to "screen" in the blending mode. (top left drop-down of your layer palette that says "normal") Then I darken that layer and increase the contrast. This makes each particle more prominent and the overall image less bright. I usually have to turn that layer's opacity down some because it's still too bright and I want the images to end up dark and moody. I also add on a layer mask, and with a big soft brush I paint the dust away from some of the lower corners and areas I want to be a bit darker. After that I just play around with duplicating the dust layer and changing the blending mode, most often to "overlay," and then turn that layer opacity down till it looks nice. The built up variety of blending modes of the same layer (as long as you don't move any of them), can get you some really nice effects. However, you have to be careful. If you get too carried away and don't turn the layers down enough, it can get way too contrasty and dark (unless you're into that sorta thing, then by all means DO IT!)


Sometimes in life you make a friend on the internet and the time comes when you decide to meet the person FOR REALZIES. (IRL) This person is essentially a total stranger, but after employing some carefully trained internet stalking skills (that we all inherited the minute Facebook was invented), you come to the conclusion that this stranger probably won't kill you with a dull fork. This is exactly what happened with my internet photography friend Nathan Worden. The meeting part, not the slaughtered with a fork bit. (Duh, I'm not dead people, I'm typing right now.)  Alright, let me just tell you that this Nathan fellow is my kind of people. Even though he totally had the offer on the table for yours truly to pick him up from the train station in my shiny blue car (insert jealousy for Robert's shiny blue car here), the adventurer in him was calling and he decided to answer. Nathan got on an earlier train and arrived well before I would get out of work. THEN, this wonderfully crazy guy ran/jogged/walked (crawled maybe?) 22 miles from the train station. Like a total boss. We had left it at, "well I'll see how far I get and you can come get me from wherever I am when you get out of work." By the time work ended he was roughly 4 miles away, so I decided to slap on my running shoes and head in his direction. (Note that he was on a nice trail through the woods this whole time that used to be railroad tracks). Let me just tell you, if you ever have the pleasure of sharing a conversation with Nathan it is not a taxing event. Immediately upon finding him on the trail I could tell we were in for an easy, fun, fulfilling evening of laughing, talking and creating. I could write an entire blog post about all the wonderful conversations we had - everything from relationships, to jobs, to leading the kind of life you want to lead, and obviously a whole lot about inspiration and photography! Oh right and like the kind host that I am, after he had been on his feet for 22 miles I casually requested that he jump up and down over and over and over again for a photo shoot. Hahaha classy move, am I right? I believe his words at the end of the night were, "My body is empty but my spirit if full." We had so much fun and I can't wait to hang out again! 

EPIC INTERNET HIGH FIVE IN YO FACE!! Yeah, we're shirtless, deal with it, it's not weird.....

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