Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective and some creativity to find the remarkable hiding in the ordinary. In this project my daughter and I explore the idea of being insect-sized and what the world around us would look like.
This tutorial is intended to be a collaboration between parent and child. The first part of the project includes instructions on working together to produce the digital photos needed for the final result. Then there are instructions for the parent on how to set up the files so the little artist can have some fun in creating the scene, and that next portion's instructions are geared towards the child. Finally, the last portion is intended to be done together, with some slightly more complicated steps to finish off the project.
1. Get a New Perspective
First we'll need to find a good setting for our project.
There's a trail that runs through our neighborhood with a small footbridge that crosses a little creek. We've walked or biked past this happy little brook dozens of times without paying much attention to it. But this time we decided to take a closer look and see if we could get a new perspective.
First we climbed down to the stream to see if there was anything interesting we might have missed before. That's when we noticed this tiny little plant growing up from the rocks. It was so delicate and tiny... and beautiful!
We looked closer at the tiny little plant and found that if we put our camera on a rock right above the water line, we got a whole new perspective on the scene. It was the same plant, same rocks, same running water, but the low angle seemed to turn it into something almost magical.
After discovering the wonder of the tiny world, we just had to keep trying different shots, adjusting the camera position and the focus point. We ended up with this shot we decided to use for our Mini Me! project. We would encourage everybody to experience the joy of discovering a setting like this of their own, but this image is also available for you to download as the attachment of this tutorial too.
2. Little Models
Once we had the setting, my daughter and I started thinking of fun ways to put her into the scene as an ant-sized person. Those flat leaves over the running water just seemed like the perfect place for a tiny person to go fishing. Grab your camera and follow along with our amazing journey!
The background needs to be as nondescript as possible to make selections easy later on. So find someplace with a blank background and good lighting. We set up a backdrop and a few lights to stage our own little photo studio. My daughter hunted through the garage to put together the props and costume for the shot. The straw hat along with an old fishing rod was a perfect fit.
Now comes the fun part! Encourage your child to think of fun poses that will work with the scene. Let them be creative, and capture even the silly ideas, because it's all part of the fun! We decided to bring in a stool to get the shot of her sitting. We even tried putting an ottoman under the backdrop to get a pose of her napping!
Review the photos together, and keep looking back at the river scene to help decide which one will work the best for the project. Here's the one we chose to use. We love how it captures the simple joy and innocence of the scene.
3. Prepare the Project
Before turning the project over to the smallest and most creative member of the team, there are a few things you should put in order first. These steps will help their portion to go more smoothly so that they have more fun with it and end up with a better final image.
Open the shot you are going to use for the setting. If you are using ours, it's the DSC_0556.jpg that is attached to this tutorial.
As good as this image is, there are a few things we can do to make it even stronger. There's a thin line of spider web stretching across the rocks just behind the plant. Use the Spot Healing Brush (J) to trace along the web and remove it.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. In the Levels properties box, look right underneath the histogram chart for three little handles. Pull the outside handles slightly inwards to boost the contrast of the image.
Our little one will have to be extremely small to fit on the leaf of that plant. We want her to be seen, and not lost in the background, so we need to digitally"zoom in" more on the setting. Use the Crop Tool (C) to crop the image down to the central portion of the scene.
Don't close the scene image, but go to File >Open (Control-O) to open the shot of your child. Both images are represented as tabs along the top of your interface screen.
Grab the Quick Selection Tool (W) and take a look at the options bar. Make sure the mode is on Add to Selection, and the size of the brush should be roughly the same size as the child's nose in the image. In our image that worked out to be around 70 px. Also make sure the Hardness is set to 25%. These settings will make it easier for your child to use the tool in the next section.
4. Hey Kids!
Hey there kids! I hope you've had as much fun exploring tiny worlds as my daughter and I did. Did you come up with a fun costume to wear for the pictures? I bet it was awesome!
There should be a program open on your screen called Photoshop. Your photo should be showing right now. This is where we will start our Mini Me! project. Are you ready?
The Quick Selection Tool (W) should be the one ready to use. You will use this to create a selection around the picture of you. Think of it like a brush, and just "paint" over yourself in the picture. You will see a blinking dotted line surround the area you painted. This is called a selection.
Keep painting the selection until there is a blinking dotted line all the way around you. If the tool selects parts you don't want, like the stool, you will need to remove that from the selection. Holding down the Alt key turns the tool into a type of selection eraser, so do that to remove areas that shouldn't be selected. Be sure to catch the empty areas inside the elbow!
Look towards the top of the screen for a button that says Refine Edge. When you find it, push it!
When the Refine Edge box comes up, first put a checkmark in the Smart Radius box. Then make these settings:
- Radius: 3 px
- Smooth: 10
- Feather: 3 px
- Shift Edge: -25%
This should help the selected edge be nice and smooth! Don't press OK just yet!
Near the left of the box is a small icon that looks like a paint brush. This is the Refine Radius Tool. Make sure it is active and then paint over the hair areas that were hard to select before. This creates a soft selection around those hairs! Then click OK.
Now click on the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L). It's the tool that looks like a lasso with pointy corners... or a crown. Then at the top of the screen, click on the two boxes that are overlapping each other—this means the tool will Add to Selection.
Now use this tool to select the fishing pole. This works a little differently. Instead of trying to paint with this one, it's more like connect-the-dots. Click on corners to trace along the shape of the pole. When you get all the way back around, double click to finish the selection. Then you should see the selection now includes the fishing pole!
Now we need to copy the selection of you. Go up to Edit > Copy. You won't see anything change. The computer has copied the selected pixels into memory.
Look for a tab at the top of the screen that says"DSC_0556.JPG". Click on it to change to the river picture. Then go to Edit > Paste to put the copied image of you into the scene!
Before we go any further, let's change the copied image into a Smart Object. This helps to keep it looking sharp as we scale it down. Go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.
It's time to place the tiny fisher on the leaf! Go to Edit > Free Transform to get the Transform Cage around her. Drag on the corners of the cage to scale her down. Holding down the Shift key will keep her from getting squashed or stretched. Then move her over to look as if she's sitting on the leaf, and tap the Enter key to finish the change.
5. Photo Effects
Now that our tiny person has been added to the scene, it's time to finish off the project with some photo effects to make it all come together. Kids, ask your parents for a little help here, as these steps are a bit more complex than the others.
The colors of the two images don't fully match up. Let's use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to correct this. Hold down the Alt key while going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. In the New Layer dialogue box, click the check box for Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.
Reduce the Saturation setting until the child's image visually matches the color saturation of the background. For our images, -12 was a good fit.
The child is still visibly different due to the sharpness of her image. Compensate for this with a blur filter. Click on the child's layer in the Layers panel, and then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use a Radius of 1.7 pixels.
Add a New Layer under the child, and use a Soft Round Brush with black paint and a low Opacity setting to gently paint in a shadow between her legs and the leaf.
Go to the topmost layer (it should be the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer), and create a merged layer by holding down Alt while going to Layer > Merge Visible. Then turn the merged layer into a Smart Object.
Now it's time to give the piece a very surreal, almost dreamlike appearance. Go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter. In the Basic tab, increase the Clarity and Vibrance each to about +40.
Then switch to the Effects tab and set the Post Crop Vignette Amount to -70 to give the scene some nice deep, dark corners.
Click OK and you are done!
We enjoyed this project so much we wanted to share the experience with all our little girls. It was fun and easy to do. Plus we ended up with some great images!
How did your project turn out? We'd love to see your results in the comments below.