Playing With Pixels
Experimenting Opens Up A New World Of Creativity

Photos © Rick Sammon, 2000

Someday, when you are sitting at your computer and have nothing to do, open a picture in your photo imaging program and try this: go to Filters and apply each and every filter to that picture. You may find that some filters make your picture look worse than the original; some may border on the ridiculous. However, while you are experimenting, you may find a filter that creates an unexpected and very pleasing effect. An effect that makes you say, "Wow!"

That's exactly what happened one day when I was playing with pixels in Adobe Photoshop: I applied the Twirl filter to a picture of clouds reflected on a calm sea. The effect turned the calm sea into a huge tidal wave. I liked it--and the image inspired one of my favorite Photoshop creations, one I call "Last Catch."

Here are the techniques I used--the same ones you can use to create interesting and original pictures.

I scanned an Elite Chrome 100 picture of a calm sea and clouds scene. I played around with Filters. I went to Filters>Distort>Twirl and turned (twirled) the calm sea and clouds into a crashing tidal wave.

Next, I got the idea of creating a mirror image of the tidal wave, which would look like the sea was parting. Creating mirror images in Adobe Photoshop, by the way, is easy. Here's how to do it:

1. Scan your picture and create a new file.

2. Copy the picture, paste it into another file (same size and resolution of your original picture), and go to Adjust>Rotate Canvas>Flip Horizontal.

3. Go back to your original file and double the width of the canvas area on one side of your picture by selecting Adjust>Canvas size.

4. Drag your reversed image into the blank area of the newly sized canvas and carefully line up the two pictures.

Presto, a perfect mirror image.

Naturally (for me), seeing the parting waves brought to mind the Biblical image of Charlton Heston as Moses parting the water in the Red Sea. So, I needed a man to walk through the parted waves.

I found just the right subject in my stock file: a conch fisherman walking along the beach. To place him in the scene, I used a basic cutting and pasting technique. You can use it, too. Here's how:

1. Trace the subject with the Lasso tool.

2. Select Copy.

3. Using the Move tool, drag the selected area (the man in this case) into the original picture and place it anywhere you want. This creates a new layer (man) on top of the original layer (the waves).

The new image--a montage--looked okay, but it was reminiscent of a poor cut and paste job. So, I played around some more.

In the man layer, I reduced the Opacity to 66 percent. This created somewhat of a ghost effect--making it possible to partially see through the man. This is a standard montage technique. Try it, you'll like it.

Next I went back to Filters>Sunburst and placed the sunburst near the top of the scene. (You can place the sunburst anywhere in the scene.) However, because I had reduced the exposure by about two stops, the sunburst looked more like a bright, shining moon. It was just the effect I wanted.

As you can see, experimenting in imaging programs opens up a whole new world of creativity, fun, and learning.