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  • Katelin Kinney

Playing With Fire

Adding special effects is always a fun way to achieve some extra drama in your photos. Fire and water are my two favorite effects to work with. Last week my foreign exchange sister came back for a visit and luckily for me the weather was great for taking some photos with her!

So, after stitching together the scene, I had a large resolution image and then came the fun part! Adding fire! First off I needed images of fire. Thankfully, my pyro-ish boyfriend found a dumped couch on the side of the road last summer and decided he wanted to torch it. I, of course, took hundreds of photos throughout the burning and now have a pretty good stock pile of fire images.

Now the tricky part- realistically blending fire into a new scene. Below is a list of some of the most important parts of this process (in my opinion).

1. Selecting the fire: I use the color selection tool to make sure I'm only selecting the fire colors. This way I am not including the greens, blacks, or couch colors. These edges will be rough, but it is a good start.

2. Cleaning up the edges: This really can be done many ways, but I usually just use a standard brush and start blending in the edges of my selection with the scene. The key is to ZOOM IN. Zoom way in. Get down to the individual pixels and make sure your edge and your shape makes sense with what is going on. It's better to mask off more of the fire rather than leave an awkward outline of the background. Is there grass in front of your fire? Then make sure you mask out those blades the pop up in front!

3. Focus: As with any element you're compositing into a new scene it's important to pay attention to the focus clarity. If my grass is sharp and in focus in the middle-ground area then my fire had better be just as sharp. In this particular image my focal range was pretty short so the foreground was very soft and out of focus. I had to make sure the close-up fire matched that same amount of defocus. This can easily be achieved with a guassian blur filter.

4. Smoke: With smaller amounts of fire this may not be an element you feel is necessary. However, with larger amounts of fire, like in this photo, smoke is going to happen. You can use photos of smoke to blend in or you can paint smoke pretty easily. For this image I used a smoke brush I created and blended in various dark shades of gray. I used that same smoke brush to mask out certain areas and just conitnued to shape the plumes until I got the direction and thickness I wanted for my smoke stacks. For creating your own brush start around 12:30 in this video!

So go have some slightly irresponsible fun and set stuff on fire! It's a quick and easy way to push the drama in your photos to a 10!

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