What is Warp?
The Warp command was introduced in Photoshop CS2 along with Vanishing point feature. This meant an image, or part of one, could now be distorted or transformed into a new shape. You may have seen popular online tutorials where the warp command was used to create a realistic page curl in Photoshop?
How useful is the Warp Command as a photographer?
Honestly, to answer this question it will depend on the type of photography you specialize in, and to what degree you post-process your images. For a lot of photographers, the less time in front of the computer editing the better. I include myself in this group. That said, I rarely get that perfect in-camera shot that requires minimal processing after the fact. If you composite images together, do a lot of retouching, or you just simply want to know what this command does in Photoshop, then read on. I’ve put together five tips that you may find useful.
How do you access the Warp Command?
To access the Warp Command, you need to first have a selection or a layer selected (you cannot use your background layer, you must duplicate it first). Go up to Edit>Transform>Warp.
Alternatively, CMD+T on a Mac or CTRL+T on a PC. This brings up the Free Transform command. Click on the Warp mode button in the tool Options bar or right click within the Free Transform bounding box.
A grid with nine boxes appears with control points on the perimeter. The four corner square control points are similar to the bezier handles when using the pen tool. As you drag on those points, the handles appear. You can drag on the other points, and within the boxes to change the shape of the selection in any direction. There are also a number of built-in presets (see below).
Are the Puppet Tool or Liquify Filter alternatives to the Warp Command?
Well not exactly. Both have their merits when it comes to distortion but each have their own characteristics and differ again to the Warp Command. The Puppet Warp tool allows you to place points or pins systematically around a displayed mesh (polygons) which will create bending or warping points. The object or subject selected must be isolated from the background first. Puppet Warp can also be applied to a Smart Object.
The Liquify Filter will work on ordinary layers but If you convert your layer to a Smart Object, then the Liquify Filter won’t work in Photoshop versions up to CS6. However, Liquify does work with Smart Objects in Photoshop CC. The Liquify filter takes a bit of getting used to. When you open it, a separate dialog box appears, like a plug-in of sorts with its own set of warp tools. It works on pushing and pulling the pixels around, similar to a smear effect.
4 Ways of using the Warp Command
The Warp Command is great for wrapping text, logos, or even textures around cylindrical objects such as bottles to give it that 3-D look. For example, a bike has a lot of cylindrical shapes on it, the front forks, frame, etc. So any logos on a bike will look bendy to fit the shape it sits on. In the photo of the BMX bike which I deliberately shot wide(focal length-10mm) to emphasize the cylindrical shape of the tube. I removed part of the existing logo to illustrate how I wrapped some text around the front tube. Type ‘BMX’ on a separate later and convert this to a smart object. You will need to do this to access the custom mode of the Warp Command. By using the existing Logo as a guide, I was able to warp ‘BMX’ in place. I then applied the Blend-if layer style to the underlying layer to give it a more authentic look.
The Warp Command can also be used to wrap texture around an object.
2. Duplicating a similar element in an image and distorting it to make it look different
When you use the Clone Tool to replicate a similar object or element in an image, it does a fantastic job. However, if you don’t want the cloned look, this is where the Warp Command is great for changing the shape of a duplicated element in an image, to give the appearance of a completely different one. I found this particularly useful when I used the same heron claw to replicate four Owl’s talons.
3. Retouching – adding elements
Retouching an image can mean many things. Usually, it means removing or taking away parts of a photo so that the final image looks better. This includes removing imperfections and blemishes from a model or subject’s skin. It could also mean removing distracting elements from a photo, and the list goes on.
But what about adding to an image to enhance it? For example, you have a shot of a subject but you want to add volume to his or her hair. You can do this using the Warp Command by selecting part of their existing hair. Put the selection on a separate layer, make sure you convert that layer to a Smart Object (working non-destructively). You will then need to apply a layer mask to hide hard seams or obvious cloned areas.
4. Retouching – removing things
The Liquify Filter is a choice for many retouchers. It is very powerful, but as I mentioned before, it does take a bit of mastering and Smart Objects cannot be applied to this filter, unless of course you use Photoshop CC. I find the Warp Command quick and easy to use. It does a great job of slimming areas on the body. Sometimes due to the angle of how a model or subject was photographed, it might require that you raise or lower a shoulder, for example to give symmetry or balance to the shot.
Take the Love Handles for example in the photo below. Make a quick selection using the Marquee Tool. Use CMD+J on a Mac or CTRL+J on a PC. This puts the selection on its own layer. Right click on the layer and convert it to a Smart Object. Hit CMD+T/CTRL+T, to bring up the Free Transform Tool, then click on the Warp mode button in the Options bar. Distort just enough to keep it real. Add a layer mask to hide any hard seams.
When using any of the distortion tools or commands in Photoshop, do so with restraint. A slight adjustment is often all that is required. It is this small change that can sometimes add a big difference to your image.
Just for a bit of fun, I produced the animated cow.gif to illustrate a slight adjustment where I made the nose smaller. I then went on to show no restraint by enlarging the eyes and making the jowls slimmer!