Alright, with the theme for Monthly Makers being “Saga” (check out the presentation here) I thought I would teach you all one of my special techniques to make pictures dreamier – and more fairytale-like. It’s REALLY easy, and just requires some kind of editing software where you can use layers, change opacity and use a gradient tool.
It works best on pictures that are shot facing towards a light source, but can work when you had the light source from the side as well. The secret to this is actually looking at the picture a little bit and see where it would make sense for there to be more light.
So I started with this picture of a horse! If you look at the shadows and the faint halo on the horses mane you can figure out that the light is coming from the side/slightly behind the horse. Also, if you took the picture recently (this one is like 6 years old haha) you can just think about where the sun was. Keep that in mind when doing this.
Step 1: Make a layer
Make an empty new layer. In Photoshop it’s this little paper icon in the bottom right corner of the Layer panel or Ctrl + Shift + N.
Step 2: Select gradient tool
When you have your new layer, just go over to the left bar and pick Gradient Tool. (Or press G.)
Step 3: Select gradient
Select the second option of the different gradients, foreground to transparent, and select the circular gradient.
Step 4: Set forground colour
Set foreground colour to white by clicking the top square and selecting white. (Or pressing the tiny black and white squares above the bigger squares and then pressing the arrows to the right of them, making them black and white and then swapping places between them.)
Step 5: Place Gradient
With your Gradient Tool active, press down in the middle of the light source/where you want the middle of your gradient and drag the mouse out to where you want it to end. You could say that it’s finished here really, but I think it’s a bit odd looking still.
Step 6: Transform!
Press Ctrl + T or Edit > Free Transform and change the shape of the gradient a little bit. In this case I prefer it to be a bit taller and a little bit wider, so that’s what I change and then proceed to move it a bit further up in the picture (using your keyboard arrows or pressing “V” to get the Moving Tool – the first one in the toolbar to the left).
Remember that the gradient only reaches as far as your canvas, so if you want to move it around it will cut off abruptly where the canvas did. If you want one that’s free to move around as you want, create a smaller gradient circle that fits on the canvas and then transform it however you want.
And then it looks something like this.
Step 7: Change opacity! (Optional)
Sometimes you don’t have to do this, but I’m gonna explain how to do it anyway. In Photoshop you do that at the top right of the Layer panel, and I suppose Gimp and similar programs look pretty much the same. How much you want to decrease the opacity really depends on the picture, so play around with it. I actually liked it at full opacity on this one.
Step 8: Add a Curve layer (Optional)
To enhance it further we’re gonna adjust the picture with Curves. You can create a Curve layer in a few different ways, and if you don’t have an adjustment panel you can just go Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves in the top bar.
Step 8.1: Adjust the Curves layer
This is really a question of personal preference, but I like to add a little bit of contrast to the picture and lighten the light parts even more to blend the gradient into the picture.
To adjust curves you only press the location of the “straight curve” you want to move around and drag it to where you want it. The top right corner controls the light parts and the bottom left controls the dark parts. I mostly add and adjust points that are a quarter from the ends and not the actual ends of the curve. To make the dark darker you pull it downwards, and to make the light lighter you drag it upwards! Pretty simple!
Here’s how it looks after that.
Another thing that increases that dreamy feel for me is making the light warmer. I do this using the same curve, but switch to the curve controlling blue. When you decrease the blue in this curve, you make it more yellow. I’ve known exactly why this is at one point but I don’t anymore, so you’re just gonna have to trust me!
So in the second picture here you can see that I’ve dragged the blue down at the top of the curve, but changed it back to “normal” in the darker parts to make them less yellow. This means only the light parts of the picture are warmer, but the darker parts are kind of the same.
It looks something like that and I would say that you’re done!
Here’s before and after!
I’ve used this so much – and overused it a million times haha. It’s better to keep it soft and barely there than overdone really, even if I didn’t in this example… But yeah, that’s my little tutorial! I hope it wasn’t too confusing!
Other pictures where I’ve used this technique: