Wednesday, 16 June 2010

My (Big) Africa Book

Although I was quite happy producing a simple Blurb photo book with white pages and basic templates, I ended up producing a second book because I wanted something more 'Photoshop' and 'scrapbooking' than the clean lines and off-the-shelf production look a straight Blurb book produces.

All the pages in this A3-sized book (printed by are multi-layered Photoshop files containing one or more photographs superimposed onto several textured layers over specially prepared, textured, background layers (with different backgrounds for the different book sections).
To get these visual effects I've used my own texture layers - these are nothing more than photos of ripped and crinkled bits of watercolour paper that have been cleaned up in Photoshop, converted to black-and-white and used as masks/overlays to create rough edges and textured picture surfaces.

Technique Number One: Breaking up the photo edge
The idea behind this is to create a rough-edged shape that can be used as a basis for a selection. Once the selection is made it's then applied to the actual picture on the layer above (or below) it. Press the Delete key to remove the outer parts of the photo which leaves an irregular (ripped paper) edge that you see in these examples.


Take a piece of watercolour paper, hand rip/tear off the edges all round, then screw the middle bit into a nice tight ball, then straighten it out on a flat surface as best you can. Then photograph it, sitting it on black card or velvet using nothing more sophisticated than an angled table lamp, so that you pick up some of the 3D qualities of the crinkled paper. Open the file in Photoshop, increase the highlight and shadow contrast (with Levels) to get a real black-and-white tone with some texture in the (white) middle part of the paper. Doing this makes it easy to select the crinkled paper only, usually with one click from the Magic Wand tool. A quick selection like this gives you an irregular-shaped selection line (because it follows the ripped paper edges). Open the mask image, select it all (Ctrl + A) and paste it into your 'master' page background (Ctrl + C, then Ctrl + V) and use the Move tool to shift it into place so that none of the rough edges bleed over the outside the picture layer.  You might have to Transform the mask to get it to fit (Ctrl +T). With your mask in position above the photo layer, use the Magic Wand to select the black outer part of the mask. Once the selection is running, make your photo layer the active layer and press Delete. This removes all the pixels on the outside of the selection leaving you with an irregular shaped picture edge. I then added a drop shadow to the (now) ragged-edged photo layer to lift it off the master page background.

Technique Number Two: Adding Surface Texture
Because you used a piece of crumpled paper as a mask for selecting, then deleting the edges of your picture layer, don't forget that the white part of the mask layer has a texture across its surface. If we leave this mask layer in position (after deleting the irregular outer edges of the photo layer) we can change the Blend Mode (of that texture layer) so that the texture from the paper surface merges into the digital photo layer. In this example, the Multiply setting worked effectively, giving substantial texture on top of the photo layer. This might initially look a bit harsh to the eye, so reduce the opacity of your mask/texture layer (I'd try 30% but it could be anything depending on the image being used). You can also change the contrast of the mask/texture layer using Levels. Making the shadows blacker increases the contrast and gives you the appearance of more texture. Once you've done this you may have to go back and reduce the layer opacity further so the texture doesn't become overpowering.

The cool thing about using bits of ripped up paper as masks/textures is that you can resize them using a Transform action (Ctrl + T) at any time without fear of losing quality. In fact the whole point is that the process remains a bit random - to escape the predicable rectilinear edge we are so used to in photos.

Above: Here's another ripped paper 'mask', set to Multiply or to Hard Light modes - these seem to work well with this sort of image. I erased out the middle parts here leaving the textures around the edge of the shot only. In fact I did this on all the five texture layers so the main part of the real photo is not obscured at all - only the edges get roughed up and textured.

Here's the video, hosted at, explaining, I hope in clear English, how to add textures into your page designs. It's a bit long so bear with me. Press the four-arrowed symbol at the bottom of this video window to see it in the resolution it was saved in...

To see Robin's amateur video shot in Africa, see below...

East Africa Photo Tour from Robin Nichols on Vimeo.

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