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An Artistic Portrait Effect

One of the great things you can do with Adobe Photoshop or similar graphics programs is to “art up” a photograph. There are a plethora of filters you can use, but by themselves they can be a bit obvious. This month, I’ll show how you can layer multiple effects to create your own look. Our sample photo this month is courtesy of good friend and awesome photographer Frank Castillo at River City Silver.

The first things to do with any freshly scanned image are, as we have discussed in previous columns, make any color corrections needed, sharpen the image using the Unsharp Mask filter and crop out any unnecessary parts of the photo. Once this is done, use the Rubber Stamp or Clone tool to retouch out any dust spots or fingerprints that were picked up in the scan.

Now that the tedious parts are taken care of, we move on to the fun stuff. The image we will be creating will use several layers of the same image using different filter effects and transparency options. Be careful to preserve the original image layer for future use. Duplicate the background layer in the Layers palette by selecting the layer and dragging it to the New Layer button or selecting Duplicate Layer from the Layer menu. Name this new layer “Find Edges” and run the Find Edges filter on it (Filter: Stylize: Find Edges). This transforms the layer into a rough line drawing with a white background (Fig 1).

Fig. 1

Put this layer in Multiply mode using the Blending Modes pop-up menu on the Layers palette. Depending on your photo, this filter can create some unflattering artifacts on faces. To minimize this, use the Levels command (Image: Adjust: Levels) and pull down the white point to clear out some of the highlight detail (Fig 2). You may also want to add a Layer Mask or use the Eraser tool to paint out some unwanted detail on the face.

Fig. 2

Duplicate the Background Layer and pull it up to the top of the list on the Layers palette. Name this layer “Colored Pencil” and apply the Colored Pencil filter (Filter: Artistic: Colored Pencil) (Fig 3). This gives a nice, painterly look to the image, but adds a lot of white to the image. To counteract this, put the layer in Multiply mode and set the opacity to 50% using the Transparency slider on the Layers palette. Again, you may want to use a Layer Mask or the Eraser tool to minimize unwanted detail in the face or hands.

Fig. 3

Once again, duplicate the background layer and move it to the top of the Layers palette. Name this layer “Watercolor” and run the Watercolor filter on it (Filter: Artistic: Watercolor) (Fig 4). Set this layer to about 50% opacity. This will smooth out some unwanted detail.

Fig. 4

With all these layers multiplied on each other, the image may feel a little dark. One more application of the Levels to move the Grey Point slider (the little gray triangle in the middle) to the left to brighten up the image is in order (Fig 5).

Fig. 5

To finish the image, apply a vignette by creating a new layer, name it “Vignette,” Select All and Fill it with white (Edit: Fill). Next, Select an area inside the white area using the Rectangular Marquee tool and add a Layer Mask using the Add Layer Mask…Hide Selection option from the Layer menu. To complete the artistic look, use the Spatter filter (Filter: Brush Strokes: Spatter) on the Layer Mask (Fig 6). If you are using a program that does not support Layer Masks, you can Fill the selection area with black, put the layer in Screen mode and then apply the Spatter filter.

Fig. 6

This kind of effect can be created with many of the filters available in Adobe Photoshop and other programs. It is something you have to do be feel as much as by listed techniques, but by understanding how the tools in your programs work you can get effects that can really add a new dimension to your photography.

Final Image

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at If you are looking for great, creative photography call my buddy Frank Castillo at RCS. Photograph © Frank Castillo, used with permission. Color examples can be seen at

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