A parody of my ACEO Gypsy Cat listing on Etsy

I apologize in advance for a post that will probably come across as complaining at best, bitter at worst…. but I do have a message for you to hear, if you shop online. Or sell online for that matter. πŸ˜‰

There seems to be a great deal of “Photoshopping” going on with product photography.

It has probably been happening since the dawn of the internet, or the birth of Photoshop, whichever came first ~ hehehe …. but lately I’ve been noticing it quite a bit on Etsy, and it’s bugging the crap out of me.

I do want to defend Photoshop, which has an unfair bad rap.
It’s a very useful tool when used correctly (to edit out stray marks & unwanted objects, brighten under-exposed photos, correct ugly color tints from incandescent light, and more)….

Artists can also create stunning photomanipulations (“photo collages”) using various images blended together, and you can even digitally paint with Photoshop… although a program like Corel Painter has better tools for creating the look of realistic oil or watercolor paintings.

I love Photoshop and use it daily. I cringe whenever I hear people speak of something as “being photoshopped” in a negative connotation.

But I’ll be honest… Photoshop can cover a multitude of sins, and actually allow online sellers to create deceptive photo listings for products that do not exist and/or need to be seriously enhanced to attract customers.

Whenever I find an Etsy listing that is obviously a photomanipulated product, I have to question the quality of the item:
Why isn’t the seller comfortable taking a real photo of it?
Are the colors of the print inferior to the digital scan?
Are there flaws? Cracks?

I’m not a professional product photographer, and my earliest Etsy listings look like cat poop to me now.
I seriously wonder why my first customers ever purchased from me, except that they must have seen some potential, and were willing to give me a chance.
Thank you guys!!

But I spend a lot of time staging and taking photos of my artwork, framed on the wall and lying flat, so that customers can see the real prints and judge their quality.

Shopping online is hard enough, without a tangible product to examine… we don’t need to muddy the waters, confuse, and deceive our customers with smoke and mirrors.

Take for example: a listing for an 8″x10″ photo print. The accompanying image looks like this:

Parody listing, Photoshopping a digital file on the wall

(Using Anne Elliot Cat, I created this parody of an actual item listing I saw on Etsy… an enormous 8″x10″ photo hanging on the wall)

I will confess to having occasionally used an image I’ve taken of an 8″x10″ print for a 5″x7″ listing, and vise versa, if there was no obvious point of reference in the photo to compare sizes…
But I wouldn’t dream of listing an ACEO mini print using a poster sized image on the wall. πŸ˜‰

Another item that gets Photoshopped frequently is the infamous “art pendant”. Whether they are selling Scrabble tile pendants or “vintage” lockets, I’ll come across 130 copies of one generic photograph of a blank pendant with artwork digitally pasted onto it.

The trouble with this lazy habit is that the quality of the real printed image may not meet customers’ expectations; depending on the printer, paper, and type of resin/glue used, the print might not retain the beautiful, vivid colors and small details of the original digital file.

The only companies that might be able to get away with this are professional print-on-demand labs, and websites like who have a solid reputation and stellar customer service.

Otherwise, can you really trust a shop full of digital clones??

Using Photoshop to paste photos onto blank pendants.

And while you may be thinking that customer feedback would highlight the poor quality items being sold, thus separating the wheat from the chaff… remember that feedback can be deceptive, too. It’s always best to read the comments.

For instance, in the case of one faux-photo-happy pendant seller… with thousands of sales, and 100% positive feedback… there were some obvious incidents of poor quality and misrepresented photos, that actually inspired me to write this blog post.

Last night, I stumbled upon a beautiful pendant while browsing a friend’s recent Etsy favorites, and was tempted to buy one.
When I visited the seller’s shop, however, I noticed that ALL the product listings were created using Photoshop… which made me curious:
What do these pendants really look like?
With thousands of sales, people must be pleased with them. Right??

But did you realize that 100% feedback doesn’t mean every customer is happy…
that, in fact, a negative review on Etsy will be cancelled out by a couple hundred positives, restoring a seller’s ‘perfect’ score?

I didn’t think it was possible to claim something was 100% if it wasn’t entirely true. 99.99% maybe. πŸ˜‰

In addition to a few negatives ( 2>10 ), and neutral ratings in the double digits, many of their positive reviews weren’t entirely positive….
For whatever reason, these customers chose to give a good rating, but the accompanying written feedback tells a different story:

“….not as bright and vibrantly colored as what you see on website…”

“… I just expected something different from the picture…”

“…They are a bit darker than shown in the pictures…”

“…I thought they would be metallic and basically prettier, but they’re not.”

Sharing my opinion that feedback scores should accurately reflect the buyers’ experience doesn’t always make me popular in Etsy forums.
Sellers are happy to get ‘second chances’ to reclaim their 100% status, especially if they felt a negative was undeserved.

I get it. Really. Sometimes satisfaction is truly beyond a seller’s control.
A customer could potentially leave a negative because they waited until Dec. 22nd to order a custom gift, and were upset because it didn’t arrive in the mail the following day.

I’ve worked with the public enough to know that pleasing people is an art form all to itself, and very few of us have completely mastered it.
Mistakes happen, too.

In my first year on Etsy, I started selling journals with my artwork on the cover.
My friend and fellow Etsian, Lily, from TwoStrayCats, purchased one… and unfortunately I didn’t ensure its rigidity in the mailer.

The postal worker folded it in half, and shoved it into her mailbox.

Ouch. When she contacted me, I was horrified and embarrassed…. I offered a replacement and a refund, but she benevolently refused both, saying that after a bit of ironing, it was almost flat.
And the crease gave it character.
Bless her heart.

It would’ve been reasonable to chew me out, demand her money back, and perhaps even leave negative feedback.
Instead she wrote:
“The dashing Mr Darcy is now officially residing in Alberta ~ Canada
and I must say that I am very happy to have made his acquaintance…

(while ironing out his wrinkles)”

I added that last bit. heehee πŸ˜‰

However, the close encounter has stuck with me, and with each package that I carefully support with thick cardboard, conducting my various “Bend Tests”… I’m continually learning from my previous mistakes.

Apparently after a year’s worth of disappointed customers’ comments, this paper collage jewelry seller still uses Photoshop rather than taking accurate photographs of his/her real pendants. And obviously hasn’t learned a thing.

But I have. And hopefully you have as well.

When you’re shopping online, take a few extra minutes to read the entire listing – pay attention to size, color, and materials – and look carefully at the photos. All the photos. Are any of them unnecessarily duplicated?

Read the feedback comments, even the positive ones. Especially the positive ones.
Some of them may be negatives in disguise.

(And yes, you can typically tell which negatives are undeserved, too, if you read the whole story.
Or if they don’t bother to explain a poor rating at all.)

And lastly give props to those sellers who value integrity, and don’t use Photoshop as an excuse for laziness, or worse… blatant deception.

Artisans who spend hours ~ (hundreds of hours) ~ brushing up on their photography skills, or hiring a professional to shoot their products, to give you a faithful representation of their work.

So that “what you see is what you get”.
Even on the internet. πŸ™‚


birds flying to and from birdhouse

It’s always humbling (and often amusing) to check my blog stats, which admittedly don’t get checked as frequently as they should… I tend to rant and rave with little regard for whether or not anyone is listening.

In fact, I was beginning to grow complacent in the solitude… like the liberation one feels after moving to the country, miles away from civilization, unable to even see or hear one’s neighbors!

As if the entire world was your own – just you and nature – so you strip off your clothes, running naked through the field and singing to yourself.

Uninhibited and free! Rolling in the buttercups… La-de-dah …La la la….

Until the UPS truck pulls into the gravel driveway…

…with a belated Christmas package from your mother; one that requires your signature, because she’s obsessed with lost packages.
And you realize, with equal parts horror and sadness, that you aren’t alone on the planet after all. *blush*

Thanks to Google and a few followers, my solitary ramblings are occasionally chanced upon (usually in awkward moments)… such as when I’m having a bad hair month week: my experience using homemade shampoo bars has been my top-viewed blog post to date!
Other high-ranking posts included my infamous Question of Ethics, and Twitter’s humorous take on Super Bowl Madness.

bird feeder house on tall post

Ranked 5th on the list of Top Posts, and one that Google tends to favor with daily traffic, is my Anti-Tutorial for Photoshop. Despite the thousands upon thousands of PS tutorials running wild and mating out there in cyberspace, people can’t seem to get enough of them!

I spend a fair chunk of time using Photoshop… more time than I ought, considering I’ve changed my artistic direction in favor of traditional acrylics. But PS will always be my guilty pleasure – a chance to reinvent my world into something altogether surreal and magical.

Last weekend, Joe and I were both fascinated by this ginormously, tall birdhouseΒ at Carolyn’s farm. (This image wasn’t Photoshopped… it really is leaning!)

He captured a dozen really cool shots of birds in flight, making trips to and from the house…. as I scrolled through the nearly identical images, it occurred to me: these photographs would look even better if we incorporated more birds!

I decided to use these two:
two birdhouse images with flying birds, photos by Joe Teach

β€’ I decided my background image would be the photo on the left. I cropped out some of the excess to frame it better, which downsized it from an image measuring 10″ x 6″, to an image measuring 6″ x 8″ (at 300 dpi).

β€’ I used the Spot Healing tool to remove some dust orbs, and stray marks which came from the camera lens. Probably cat fur, LOL

Using Spot Healing tool in Photoshop to remove marks

β€’ Next, I adjusted the lighting with Levels. There is an excellent article here on the blog – Cambridge In Colour, that discusses Levels in-depth, if you’re interested in using the tool properly.
I just play around with the white, grey, and black sliders until I like what I see. πŸ˜‰

adjusting the grey value Level sliders in Photoshop

Now it’s time for the birds!

β€’ I opened the other photo, and dragged the rectangular Marquee Tool (with the dotted lines) across the flying bird to select and copy him.

Selecting the flying bird with Marquee Tool in Photoshop

β€’ I clicked Edit>Copy and toggled back to my working image. Edit>Paste plopped him down next to the birdhouse.
I opened up Levels again to adjust his color to match other photo… and then began erasing the block of sky around him with the Eraser tool, because there was foliage underneath.

Erasing part of a layer in Photoshop to reveal layer underneath.

When he looked indistinguishable from his surroundings, I right-clicked on his layer in the right column, and he “merged down” to join the sky.
Then I repeated the above steps to include the bird perched on the railing…

Adjusting image layers in Photoshop

Except in this case, I had a birdhouse to deal with as well….
In hindsight, I should’ve just erased everything else, save the bird, just as I did with the previous image… that would be the easiest thing to do. I don’t do things the easy way, however, so ignore the following steps….

β€’ I decided to line up the birdhouse with its counterpart underneath – choosing the Layer Screen Blending mode, and later Hard Light, so that I could see both layers together in order to match them.

Using Blending mode in Photoshop to line up images

I dragged the upper layer slowly back and forth, and even tugged at the corners to resize it, until the image underneath was directly in line with my birdie layer.
See how both images lined up appear darker and solid?

Then I reset the Blending mode of the layer back to “Normal”, and merged it down into place.

Birdhouse photograph with flying birds, by Tara Fly.

At this point, I could say the image of our birdhouse was finished. It looks realistic enough…. however, I wanted to play with it a bit more, adding some textures and lighting effects. So I saved it first, just in case I made a huge mess. LOL

At the moment, I’m obsessed with sparkles and bokeh…. and my favorite photographer for all-things sparkly and textured is Night-Fate-Stock on
One of these days, I’m gonna experiment with photographing my own sparkles… as Julia claims to create hers by pouring glitter onto the pavement (on a sunny day, with clear skies), and using an unfocused lens – the glitter reflects everywhere. πŸ™‚

Adding sparkle bokeh texture to birdhouse image in Photoshop

β€’ I used Night-Fate-Stock’s Texture 26, (which is stored in my Go-To stock folder), and set the Blending mode to Screen and Opacity to 97%.

I also removed a few of the sparkles because they were distracting from the birds…. I picked up some of the orange color from her background, and brushed it across the sparkles to “erase” them.

Using gradient tool to add color to image in Photoshop

β€’ Next, I created a gradient by selecting two colors – butter yellow and light pink – and using the Gradient tool on a new layer to create a diagonal sweep of color.
I set the Blending mode to Color Burn, at 100% Opacity.

This gradient gave the sky a warm, pinkish glow and increased the saturation of the leaves.

β€’ The last thing I do, after playing with textures: I create a duplicate layer of the background, drag it into the top position, and select “Multiply” from the Blending options. It softens the overall effect, tying everything together…

Using Multiply Blending mode to soften effects in Photoshop

And now you think I’m finished! Right?!

Well…. sorta….

I thought so, too. But I wasn’t quite satisfied, and kept looking at it, wondering: “Something’s missing…..”
What if…?

How about adding one final texture – a linen fabric weave – to give the entire photograph the “look” of a fine art painting on canvas. I found the perfect swatch of fabric – here in DameOdessaStock’s gallery. β™₯

Adding a linen fabric weave texture to a photograph in PS

I shared my finished image on my Facebook fanpage on Sunday, and sure enough, someone commented on the lovely details of my painting. *snicker* I did confess that it was a photograph… but see?! Fabric textures do make all the difference. πŸ˜‰

I also couldn’t wait to print this lovely creation on my Epson R2880 (I used matte photo paper)…. and with an inch border on each side, it looks gorgeous and can easily be framed with or without a mat.

birdhouse photo on matte paper with archival inks, TaraFly Art


I’ve been distracted and unfocused this past week, bouncing from one project to another… but I did manage to sneak in a photo shoot using my awesome new thrift store finds!

soft dreamy vintage photoshop filter tutorial

Gossip Girls 8x10 Archival print, shown in frame.

It happened to be an overcast day, when the children finally decided to behave themselves, so my lighting situation wasn’t perfect… but nothing a little Photoshop couldn’t solve, right? πŸ˜‰

I’ve also been excited to experiment with some vintage filter techniques, so I fired up Google and set off to find a great Photoshop tutorial.

This “breathtaking, dreamy, vintage” tutorial seemed to fit the bill at first glance, but after reading through it, I found myself disappointed by its rigid structure.

Use these (x,y,z) settings… download this (abc.jpg) texture… and this (etc.jpg) one… and this (blah.abr) brush…

I know.. I know… What the heck was I expecting with a tutorial?!
I dunno, perhaps a little wiggle room… the chance to stretch my own creative muscles.

Because you see, I don’t play by the rules.

I don’t follow recipes to the teaspoon, or sew using patterns…

I quit piano lessons at the age of six, after only two months, because I was frustrated with my teacher’s strict and seemingly limited Suzuki method.
Impatient to play any piece by sight, I begged my grandmother to “just teach me to read the treble and bass clefs, pulleeze?”

With that in mind, after getting the basic gist of this photoshop tutorial, I threw it out the window. My childish foot stomping: “Don’t tell me what to do! Let me do it myself!”

But I’d like to show you step-by-step what I did instead, using PS Elements 6 (as the original tutorial had different settings)… and encourage you to explore these steps on your own as well.
Just remember as we get started, no decision is right or wrong, as long as you enjoy how it looks!

Another Vintage Dreamy Photoshop Tutorial

I started with a few shots taken of my “Gossip Girls” Regency Cat art, framed and hanging on the wall.
You can see here that I had some issues with lighting contrast – bright sunny spots and deep shadows.
Hey, that’s okay – *deep breath* – we can fix that problem.

three photographs of TaraFly's art studio

Three photos of my framed artwork, taken from different angles...

I chose the photo on the left, because I liked the angle, and all the key elements (props, etc.) are relatively centered.

The reason why this matters?
Well, I want to upload the finished piece to my Etsy shop, where pics are recommended to be 1000×1000 square.
When I set up my photo shoots, I try to keep a cropped “square” in mind.

In this screenshot, I’m using Levels to fix the lighting problem, which can be done by sliding the arrows (left or right) to accentuate the light, shadows, or midtones.
In this case, I slid the right arrow over towards the center (where the wavy lines begin), causing the entire image to grow brighter.

adjusting light with photoshop levels

Brightening my photo with Levels

**Quick note – normally, you wouldn’t want to saturate a photo this much.
See how washed out my poor porcelain pitcher is? For a nice “realistic” photo, I might create a mask to ignore the basin, and lighten just the chair and wall.

Next, I cropped my image into a rough square for Etsy… it was actually 1000×960 but close enough.
Obviously, you can crop your picture however you please, or not at all.

Okay… here is where the real fun begins.

1. We’re going to create duplicate copies of this image: I made 2 copies (plus the original).
We will be adding a different color effect to each copy, and then blending them together.

creating duplicate layers in photoshop

Right click, and select duplicate background/layer

2. Make two of the copies invisible, by clicking the eyeball next to each thumbnail. That way, we can work with one layer at a time, and see the results. (Otherwise, the layers above would block our view)

3. Go under “Enhance > Adjust Color” …. we have multiple options here, and you’re free to try them all.
Our goal is to shift the color balance of each layer… making the photo appear redder, or greener, etc.

Adjusting Color Variations in Photoshop

Selecting Increase Red for this photo's midtone colors

I personally chose “Color Variations”, which allows me to alter the color values of the image’s shadows, midtones, and highlights.

4. I selected “Midtones”, set the sliding arrow about mid-way, then clicked on “Increase Red”.
And… Voila!

TaraFly's tutorial, increasing red with Color Variations in PS

Yes, that is definitely an increase in red!

I did the same thing for both of my duplicate layers, by making each one visible again, and increasing the blues and greens.

5. I chose to increase the blue shadows on one layer, and the green highlights on the other.
Resulting in this:

Altering the highlights and shadow colors in Photoshop

Looking at my green and blue layers, side by side

6. Now we blend the layers all together, using the Blending mode (located next to the Opacity level).
The two duplicate layers get blended, and you can experiment with different blending styles of course.

I chose Soft Light.

Adding soft light filter to blend layer in Photoshop

Selecting Soft Light from the list of blending options...

7. I also set the Opacity level of the Blue shadowed layer at 100% and the Green highlighted layer at 45%, which toned down the green somewhat.
If a particular color looks too strong for you, try a different blending mode (Overlay, Lighten, etc…) or even adjust the Opacity to a lower setting.
Everything is negotiable.

After you’ve finished blending and playing with the transparency, you’ll have a better idea of how your image is coming along…
Mine looks like this:

creating a soft dreamy vintage style image in Photoshop

It looks very warm, soft, and inviting, doesn't it?

8. At this point, I merged all the layers into one by selecting “Layer > Flatten Image” from the top menu.

This isn’t necessary, but neither is having a bunch of loose layers hanging around, since we’re basically done editing them… it just keeps things tidy. πŸ˜‰

Okay, now we’re ready to add some aged effects!

You know those spots and splotches of UV and acid damage commonly found on vintage photographs? We can re-create that appearance digitally using a photograph of clouds. Seriously!

You probably have pictures of clouds somewhere on your computer or photo albums; the shot doesn’t have to be award-winning, so don’t worry, but it helps if the clouds have a nice shape and strong outline.

If you don’t have any on hand, let me direct you to a great stock photographer for your fluffy cloud needs – Hatestock on
She’s an artist who also provides free-for-any-use stock photographs.

9. I took this cloud photo from her gallery and cropped it, resizing it to match my photo dimensions.

dark clouds with patch of sunlight, photo by Hatestock on Deviantart

Photograph courtesy of

10. Next, I added a new transparent layer above the cloud image, to experiment with gradients.

Yes, you can add gradients directly onto the photo, but I also like to play with blending modes.
I’m just a layer junkie, okay?! πŸ˜›

11. Choose two colors that you would like to create a hazy effect with… (I picked a pinkish violet and gold) and add a gradient over the transparent layer.

Create one by selecting the Gradient Tool, and click/drag your mouse over the transparent layer, to establish the direction with which one color will fade into the other.
Mine was a diamond-shaped gradient, beginning in one corner and expanding outward.

12. Then we can blend it into the clouds on the layer beneath, using various settings (Overlay, Vivid Light, Dodge, etc…)
until you find something interesting that you like.

I chose Color Dodge, and set the Opacity to 85%… creating a large burst of whitish yellow light and fluffy pink/purple clouds.

Using Photoshop gradients to add special effects to clouds and sky

My gradient in the corner, and my new pink cloud layer underneath

13. Merge the layer onto your clouds, then copy and paste this new creation onto your original image.
Again, adjust the blending mode to suit your tastes.

I used Vivid Light at 50% Opacity this time.

Creating a vintage style photo in photoshop, adding cloud texture

Clouds create a gorgeous deteriorated effect, don't they?

*Keep in mind, you DO want these colored clouds to be visible, even if the image looks really weird at this point. LOL

I also wanted to add another texture to age it even further, add a bit of graininess and a few tiny scratches… like this poor photo has been kicked around in a dresser for fifty-odd years.
The perfect thing to get a texture from, is a bit of rusty, scuffed up metal…. like an old, grimy cookie sheet.

an old rusty cookie sheet, used for a metal texture in Photoshop

Well, not truly grimy... it does get washed after every use.

Please don’t tell me that your cookie sheets look nothing like this, or I’ll accuse you of sounding like my mother. πŸ˜›
Hey, I line them with aluminum foil.
And…. they’ve been scrubbed a million times.
They’re clean, I swear!!

But I digress.

You can snap a picture of some old, dirty metal object in your home… or scan it…
OR …for those of you with pristine, immaculate homes … *cough* yeahright *cough* …you can surf the web (i.e. Deviantart) for “rusty metal textures”.

14. One way or another, grab an image of a rusty, nasty looking scrap of metal… preferably scratched or dented… then crop and resize it to fit your project.

15. Copy and paste the metal image over your cloud layer, and set the blending mode to Overlay, with 100% Opacity.

A photo with two textures applied for vintage look in Photoshop

Now THIS looks like a beaten-up, weathered photograph.

Using Overlay eliminates the majority of its color, and leaves you with just the texture of scratches and scuff marks.
You could’ve also converted it to black and white scale first, but it isn’t necessary.
If a bit of the metal color comes through, it just adds to the effect, right?

So, by now you’re probably thinking “What the frak have you done to this picture?!”
It does look pretty rough! LOL

But wait! Here’s the best part:

16. Take your bottom layer (with your color-altered image on it) and duplicate it.

17. Drag this new copy up to the top of your layer heap, above all the textured stuff….

Now of course, all the textures are hidden under this new layer, which matches the bottom layer, like a rainbow sandwich.
But not for long.

18. Set the blending mode on the duplicate layer for Multiply, and leave the Opacity at 100% by default.

The result is that your duplicate image now softens the effects of the cloud and metal texture, while still allowing them to bleed through.

dreamy, soft, vintage aged photoshop tutorial by TaraFly

At last, a soft and romantic vintage inspired photo.

At this point, I’m calling it quits! LOL I like my picture just the way it is.

19. When you’re finished, click “Layer > Flatten Image” and save it as a .jpg file.

However, you might want to continue making small adjustments…
Perhaps it’s still a bit dark, and you want to brighten it? Go ahead.
Add a sepia filter? Sure, why not!

One thing I’ve noticed with my product photos:
** The clouds or metal texture sometimes will encroach on key elements that you want undisturbed. **

I could’ve easily wound up with my framed artwork of “Gossip Girls” covered in purple clouds or rusty black spots.
Not exactly flattering when I’m trying to sell reproduction prints, eh?

In that case, I would need to take the Eraser Tool, and erase the cloud or metal texture layer just inside the framed area, or whatever object needs to remain free from clutter… like the faces of people, for example.

Experimenting with Photoshop is an ongoing process, and as I said, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to use it.
If someone tells you otherwise, bite them. Not too hard, though. πŸ˜‰

You should feel free to take this tutorial as a starting point, and make improvements, or completely throw it out and start fresh…. but I’d love to see what you create!

If you did this project, please show me your results!
If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. πŸ™‚

photo manipulated piece "Gazing upon Pemberley"

Gazing Upon Pemberley - prints available on Etsy.

I would love to think that someday my name will be synonymous with Regency Cats, as my heart truly lies with my anthropomorphic cat drawings. However, when studying the press and attention I’ve received in the last year (barring Regretsy of course), I have to concede that my most popular piece to date has been “Gazing On Pemberley”, a photomanipulation featuring myself.        

Austenites around the globe chuckle over “Mr. Darcy Cat”, but drool over “Pemberley”. She’s been featured in multiple blogs and Etsy treasuries recently, which is a great deal of exposure for me, and my relatively unknown body of work.
I find myself, time and time again, trying to describe what “photomanipulation” is… what differentiates this piece from an actual photograph. As obviously I wasn’t standing there, in that field, overlooking Pemberley. πŸ˜‰        

I decided the best way to explain how a photomanip is created, is by showing a few screenshots of a work-in-progress, to explain the process in steps as I did earlier with “Mr. Bennet Cat”.        

So for all you Pemberley fans, bear with me as I attempt to re-create “Gazing On Pemberley” from the beginning. πŸ™‚        

It starts with an idea, of course. I wanted to use one of my own stock photos from my Regency photo shoot, taken at the local City Park, in the summer of 2008.        

See, for a brief time before I devoted all my spare hours to painting and experimenting in Photoshop, I modeled as a hobby. It began in 2006, when a friend of mine suggested that I visit his Deviantart gallery… I had no clue what Deviantart was, or how photomanips were created, but I was instantly hooked.
Not believing I had any talent to manipulate photos myself (I hadn’t actually tried).. I decided to dig out my old theatre costumes, and scoured eBay to invest in some new pieces, to go traipsing about the countryside as a stock model with my boyfriend/husband in tow as my photographer.        

Stock photography can be used As Is, for reference, and for digital collage (a.k.a photomanipulation). I guess at that time in my life, I needed reassurance that I was desirable and attractive… and my weakening self-esteem (from the collapse of a bad marriage) needed a major vanity boost, which I received tenfold as artists across the world began using my likeness in their work.
(If you’re interested to learn more about my amateur modeling days, click here to see the gallery of artwork featuring me).        

I was inspired to create “Gazing on Pemberley” when I found this image among my photos. I think this was overlooked by others as potential material because of the harsh shadows.
We photomanipulators sometimes get lazy and want everything to be clear, in-focus, and evenly lit. πŸ˜‰    

Regency Jane Austen woman lake park

Portrait of TaraFly taken at the City Park, circa 2008

The key to a good photomanip is even lighting among the photos… getting the light source, the shadows, and the intensity to match. The individual images need to work together as a whole, and it’s always best if they are taken with the same camera, or during the similar hours of the day.
Warm afternoon sun, long shadows, etc…        

While browsing Deviantart for English countryside themes, I stumbled across VisualJenna-stock’s gallery… and this piece in particular.
The rolling hills, late afternoon sunlight, and summertime feeling were exactly what I had in mind for this piece.        

Rolling English countryside by VisualJenna-stock

Beautiful rolling hills by VisualJenna-Stock (click to view)

The only downside, albeit a minor one, was the nondescript sky. I was hoping to find a photo with a few fluffy clouds… but for a photo collage artist, a lack of interesting sky poses no problem! Simply grab another sky. πŸ˜‰        

When digging up stock photography for a new piece, I have a few Go-To artists: Night-Fate-Stock (a.k.a Julia Starr) is one of them. Her gallery stands alone as beautiful photography in its own right. Her photos rarely, if ever, need improvement. And she graciously shares a portion of her collection with us.
I keep coming back to her skies as they are the best I’ve ever seen… I used a sunset of hers in my Regency manipulation “The Letter”, and I chose this one for “Pemberley”.        

Field and cloudy sky by Night-Fate-stock on

An awesome sky full of clouds (click to view larger)

Now, if you’ll notice… the foreground of Jenna’s stock is lit by the sun… and my model was standing in the shade. So I needed to find another photograph with a shady patch of grass in the foreground. I chose one of my own, from the same City Park shoot:        

Grassy hillside in summer at the park

A grassy hillside photo taken during the Regency shoot.

Lastly, but certainly not “leastly”, we need a grand estate to pose as Pemberley. I searched for English manors, and uncovered this gem by MacKenzie’sPride.
Notice the full sun is shining against the manor from the same direction as in Jenna’s hillside… that was serendipitous!        

My Pemberley a.k.a. Smithills Hall by MacKenziesPride on Deviantart

Smithills Hall by MacKenziesPride (click to view)

So, where do we begin?
I open a new file, with a basic white background, and roughly the width of my widest photo…
Starting from the horizon, I’ll work forward, so the sky gets placed first.
Cut-and-paste the sky onto the white background layer.        

Sky by Night-Fate-Stock on white background

Night-Fate-Stock's sky placed onto the bottom layer.

Then using the “Magic Extractor” tool, I remove the boring sky from VisualJenna’s hillside.
Squiggle the plus (+) brush onto the areas I’d like to keep, and the negative (-) brush onto the area I’d like erased.
This tool has its limitations, and some areas will need to be manually corrected before hitting “Okay”.    

Using Magic Extractor Tool in Photoshop

Using Magic Extractor to remove the sky from the field.

I’ll wind up with a Photoshop layer like this:    

Field from VisualJenna-Stock with sky removed

VisualJenna-Stock's field with the sky removed

Next, I paste the hillside layer over the sky and position it just so.
Later on, in the touch-up process, I will blur the harsh line between the trees and the horizon…
but don’t those two photographs already look made for each other?! πŸ˜€        

Night-Fate-Stock (sky) and VisualJenna-Stock (field)

Combining the field and sky images...

I used Magic Extractor again, to separate the hill in my park photo from the sky (and power lines).
I also had to rotate the image horizontally, so the shadows and light source would match Jenna’s hillside.
Cut-and-paste on top of her layer.        

Now this was an obvious example of the limitations of the Magic Extractor tool.
When images are clearly defined shapes, like houses and people, it does an excellent job removing them from a background… with only a few minor touch-ups with the eraser needed. (Unless the background is cluttered, of course, which will confuse the program).
But when we are dealing with grass, this tool stinks.
Grass, leaves, hair, lace… these complex images need to be painstakingly edited after the initial extraction. Zooming in reeeeally close, and using a tiny eraser to remove bits of the unwanted background.     

Splicing two photographs together in Photoshop

Adding another hill to the foreground...

So now you can see the seam between the photos, where part of the original sky is exposed.
I will need to work with my eraser tool to remove the sky, and then I’ll paint some grass blades and Smudge some grass as well (like we did with Mr. Bennet’s fur) to stitch these two photos together.        

Seam between two separate photographs

You can see the sky from my original photo, peeking out!

I use Magic Extractor once again, to eliminate the background from MacKenzie’s manor photograph, which just leaves us with the manor here.
I paste it into my work-in-progress, and must adjust the size, and also erase the portion that will be hidden behind the hillside.
To do that, I’ll temporarily reduce the Opacity of the manor’s layer to 50% or less, so that the curves of the hillside will show through, allowing me to trace along the edge of the hill with my eraser.        

Smithills Hall being used as Pemberley in TaraFly's artwork

Smithills Hall pasted into the scene... it needs to be resized.

Smithills Hall used for Jane Austen's Pemberley owned by Mr Darcy

The manor has been adjusted and tucked away behind a hill.

To add Elizabeth Bennet to the scene, I extract “myself” from the park background and paste the layer above the hill… erasing bits of my dress at the bottom to reveal the tall grass underneath.        

TaraFly in Regency dress models as Elizabeth Bennet

Including myself in this artwork; a close-up of my dress hem.

Now it has finally dawned on me that I needed a source for those shadows on my back…
so I look through my computer folder of saved stock files, and find another charming photograph by Night-Fate-Stock.        

Trees by Night-Fate-Stock on

A grove of trees by Night-Fate-Stock

If you thought the Magic Extracting tool had difficulty with grass… it fails miserably with trees.
I almost hesitate to use trees in my work at all, because branches and leaves are very time-consuming to cut out. πŸ˜›
Here was the initial extraction:        

Pasting trees into a photomanipulation

Cutting and pasting the trees...

So now would be a good time to pop in your copy of A&E’s “Pride and Prejudice”, the 6-hour miniseries, and watch the entire thing.
Pop some corn, brew some tea, pick up your knitting project…
It’s over already? Rewind and watch it again….
I’ll still be here, zooming in 500%, erasing the pieces of bright blue sky from the branches of these blasted trees.        

But finally, when I’m done with them…
and I’ve gone back to blend, smudge, blur, and tweak the edges of each photo until my eyes are sore.
I will merge the many layers of this almost-finished piece into one layer and save it as a jpg file.        

Gazing on Pemberley by TaraFlyPhotos digital photomanipulation

Gazing on Pemberley is almost complete!

The only thing left to do is experiment with the color balance and filters to make the image warmer and more saturated.        

The finished art is ready to upload and share – “Gazing On Pemberley”, a Regency-inspired photomanipulation starring myself as Elizabeth Bennet. πŸ™‚        

Photomanipulation is a lot like sewing, I suppose, without getting your fingers stabbed and dripping blood everywhere.
The quality of the stock photography really makes the difference, and my job is to envision the finished quilt and stitch everything into place.
I owe the success of this piece to the wonderful stock artists out there in Deviantart-ville.    

Gazing on Pemberley Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice TaraFly Art

"Gazing On Pemberley" ... Behind the Scenes