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Are you a realist or a pictorialist? Do you prefer the straightforward appeal of photographs straight out of a camera or do you indulge yourself in extensive editing of your images in Photoshop? Do you see yourself as a recorder or more of a creator when it comes to making photographs? There always seems to be a split in the photographic schism when it comes to “how much is too much” editing. Personally, I have always chosen to post-process many of my images up to the point of bending, not breaking, reality. Until recently….
Through some slight experimentation, I began creating photographs which occupy a weirdly comfortable space somewhere between conventional photography and digital art. The images present themselves both as representations of nature and my own visualization. My photographs of forest and nature scenes became something more than simply “trees”.
Sure the photos are obviously manipulated, but there also remains non-manipulated areas within the frame which bring harmony to the scene. The viewer may feel as if they have strayed onto the floor of a waking dream where the beauty of nature merges effortlessly with digital indulgences of photographic alchemy.
The best part? The effect is forehead-slappingly easy to achieve in Adobe Photoshop. You’re about to learn how right now! Let’s get started with a photo that I’ve applied some basic edits to in Adobe Lightroom before importing into Photoshop to apply the “dream trees” effect.
Here is the RAW file we will use to make the dream trees effect in Photoshop.
Here it is after some basic edits have been applied to correct exposure and color in Lightroom.
Next, let’s bring the photo into Photoshop to quickly apply the streaking to the trees and make the photo more than the sum of its parts.
First, duplicate the base layer by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD+J. You can also right-click the layer and select “duplicate layer”.
The next thing we need to do is actually apply the streaking effect to this new duplicate layer. To do this, select: Filter > Blur Motion Blur.
This will bring up the motion blur dialog box where you can control the streaking effect.
There are a couple things that you will select here. The first is the amount of blur that you want to apply. You control this using the Distance slider which ranges from 0-2,000, with 2,000 applying the most streaking. The amount of blur you apply is up to you and your image but generally, I use 1,000-2,000. In the case of this photo, I will crank it all the way to 2,000.
The direction of blur is also very important. The angle of the blur is controlled but the little circle that resembles a clock.
You can manually turn the angle line within the circle or type the angle (in degrees) into the selector space. Since trees grow vertically, a streaking angle of somewhere around 90 degrees is almost always ideal. Again, use the angle that is best for your photo. I will use 90 degrees for this photo. Click OK to apply the streaking.
Now it’s time to have the real fun! Let’s become photographic artists and blend in our effect using a layer mask. Don’t let that phrase “layer mask” scare you – masks are your best friends in Photoshop. They allow you to take full control over where and how your edits are applied.
To add a mask, simply click the little mask icon at the bottom of the layer panel…
This adds a mask that you can then use to paint in or out your blurring effect. This is the part where you truly become the master of your image and transition into being a digital artist. Be sure the brush tool (B) is selected from the toolbox and that your layers colors are black on white (hit D to reset the default colors) to begin.
You can also control the flow and opacity of the blending with the brush tool options at the top of the screen. Be sure the blend mode is set to “normal”.
Begin by removing the blur from the areas of the image where you know it doesn’t belong; in this case, mainly the bottom of the frame and in the small leaves to the right. Don’t worry, you can paint the effect back in case you remove too much! If you want to add the effect back in, simply toggle the mask color selection so that white is on top of black (hit X on your keyboard to switch them).
Then move onto the trees. Work with different brush sizes and opacity until you reach the just right point.
And that’s it!
Now that the blur has been applied, the image is ready for final editing back in Lightroom. I darkened the blacks to add a little contrast and applied a few radial filters for some localized adjustments. A final vignette was also added.
Which results in this….
In just a few quick steps, the original RAW file has been transformed into something completely unique.
If you prefer to see the whole process demonstrated, watch the video below:
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? The effect applied is obvious, but at the same time compliments the mood and natural structure of the scene. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but the important thing to remember is that you will never know until you try.
Use this tutorial to easily add a little dreaminess to your forest and tree photos and bring a little otherworldly charm into your images. Share your resulting images in the comments below.