Monday, September 2, 2013

Digital opalotype

The opalotype was an early photographic technique where images were made on a 'milky' or 'opal' glass plate. Very often, after development, the plates were hand painted to make a photograph which had a quality similar to that of a water colour painting. I started experimenting with a digital form of opalotype in 2011 and have refined the process using a variety of tools including Lightroom, Photoshop (or substitute) and Topaz filters. This 'street' shot from Sunday's Farmers Market is an example of what the process can produce.
The steps involved are not difficult but can be time consuming:
  1. Develop your image in Lightroom to create a good quality, natural, colour image
  2. Take the image into PhotoShop or equivalent (layer 1)
  3. Create a duplicate layer and make it into a black and white image (layer 2). I usually use Topaz Black and White Effects.
  4. Duplicate layer 1 again and move it to the top of the stack (layer 3)
  5. Take layer 3 and reduce it to splashes of colour only (no outlines). I do this in Topaz Simplify, using a variation of the Buz Sim preset.
  6. Change the blending mode of layer 3 to 'color' and reduce the opacity to taste (30%is a good stating point)
  7. Duplicate layer 1 again and move it to the top of the stack (layer 4)
  8. Take layer 4 and reduce it to outlines on a white background (no colour). I also do this in Topaz Simplify using the same Buz Sim preset, but set to generate black outlines only.
  9. Remove unwanted outlines (usually in the background and sky) by painting them out with white on layer 4 (try to outline only the main subjects)
  10. Change the blending mode of layer 4 to 'Linear Burn" and reduce the opacity to taste (30%-50% is usually good). Then examine it critically and paint out any outlines which don't look natural (the edges of shadows are an example)
  11. Flatten the image and return it to Lightroom
  12. In Lightroom make any final adjustments to colour and tone and then create a radial gradient (LR5) to fill the image (Ctrl+double click) then lighten and reduce contrast, saturation, clarity and sharpness at the outer edge of the gradient.
  13. Finally create a narrow white border around the image with feathered edges - this should blend with the lightening you did in step 12 to produce the milky white edges and corners of the final image.
And that, is that. It's not a recipe, as such, because every picture is different but, following this approach and using your own judgement, will give you some very interesting results that look as though they fall somewhere between a photograph and a water colour painting. As you practice on different pictures you will soon get to know what works and what doesn't and adjust settings as appropriate. Good luck and have fun with digital opalotypes.

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