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

A frustrated and confused TaraFly.

Perhaps I should invest in a brain upgrade...

I am 99.7% sure that I will be using for my new website home.
I like their Zen-Cart integration, the WordPress plug-in, the ability to host PHP files (for my Zazzle shop-builder!), the survey and mailing list features, even a phpBB style message board …reminiscent of my former life chatting away on Lady Morraine’s Hall of TorqueΒ and The Elder Scrolls forums (circa 2003), under the alias of “Pemberley” – or “Pemmie” as I was affectionately nicknamed. My “LadyPem” Hotmail account was a throw-back to those days.

Ahh, I was such a Morrowind geek. Actually, my first real photo-manipulations were gaming related: I attached my head to my character’s body, and I cut-n-pasted Dominic’s father and brother into a screenshot of Balmora at dusk. I wanted to create a shot of Dominic attacking a cliff racer, but I never finished it.
They were reeeeeally baaaad attempts, and fortunately I don’t have the files anymore. πŸ˜‰ hehe

Anyway, if we turn our attention back to BlueHost:
I’m not a bells-and-whistles person, so many of their claims were actually turn-offs… So they offer 2,500 POP/imap e-mail accounts?! Who needs 2,500 email accounts?
To put that into perspective, our local Wal-Mart – which does over $150 million worth of business annually and was awarded “Supercenter of the Year” twice – staffed a mere 800 associates during their peak holiday season.
So, I repeat, who the hell needs 2,500 email accounts?!
FYI: Pop/imap basically means downloaded-to-your-computer e-mail vs stored-on-their-server email – like Hotmail. Either way, it’s waaay too much e-mail! πŸ˜›

Which can only make me wonder: are they using their “unlimited disk storage” and infinite domains as a smoke and mirror effect to disguise a fatal flaw? Hence the .3% of uncertainty.

I checked Google for customer reviews, which are always good for a laugh if nothing else. The majority of the comments were favorable… i.e. you get what you pay for, no serious complaints.
One man, however, trashed BlueHost mercilessly, and although he made a valid point in one instance, I couldn’t help but chuckle at his stupidity throughout the rant. It reminded me of last summer, when I was shopping for my printer, and found that bad review written by someone who obviously hadn’t read the manual first.

First of all, his grammar was terrible! Grammar is a pet-peeve of mine, although I’m by no means an expert. WordPress and I battle constantly over my use of passive voice and complex expressions.
This guy, seriously, was a flake. Immediately, I checked his name and location,
because I give allowances to foreigners who deal with translation issues. He was from the States and had a red-blooded American-sounding name to me. Therefore… a flake, with poor writing skills.
He apparently hosts his e-commerce business on multiple websites, all sharing the same script… what he actually sells isn’t mentioned, but I’m conjuring up an infomercial about striking it rich with real estate investments. Who else would host a business on multiple servers?? He probably used all 2,500 email accounts!
(If he’s smart, he’ll hire a ghost-writer, or he won’t sell much of anything. hehe)

So first he complains that his script isn’t working on BlueHost, although the exact same script runs perfectly on GoDaddy. The techs explained that it was a coding error on his part, and he naturally disagrees.

Then he makes his one valid point… in one instance, his entire site vanished… all his files had disappeared. Now that IS a serious concern for an e-commerce site!

It took me a few minutes to understand what happened exactly, as I initially thought perhaps the server went down. This wasn’t the case. I discovered that BlueHost offers HTML-editing of your site from an online dashboard… similar to a blog dashboard. You make the changes in their editing program, hit some form of “update” button, and your site now sports the new look! Okay, so that is pretty cool… especially for those minor tweaks that I make to my site, whenever I’m hosting a Zazzle sale or auctioning a painting on eBay.Β  They will also do a periodic back-up of all the site files, so if you screw something up while editing, you can rely on a previously saved version.
Ironically, the site did its back-up AFTER his files were mysteriously erased, and before he caught the problem. So his archived files were also blank. Bwahahaha!

Okay… at this point, I’m laughing my ass off at his stupidity.. as he rants about customer service’s inability to retrieve the old files: they explained to him that their back-up is a “courtesy” and shouldn’t be solely relied upon. Everyone knows to keep copies, except this poor schmuck. (…and he’s been in e-commerce for years…)

Personally, I’m an old-school web-designer, if I can even call myself a designer with my limited HTML skills. I created my first site – titled “The Ghost of the Pot Roast” – in 1998, a mixture of cheesy poetry, pictures, and inside jokes shared with my friend, Carolyn. It was supposed to be a joint effort, but she was too busy advancing her career and getting college degrees, that I wound up running it myself and threatening her (for over a year) with torture just to get an updated Bio from her.
Anyway, I’m from the FTP Class (a proud graduate of FileZilla), and was taught to save all my files offline, simply make edits whenever necessary, and re-upload them. It would never occur to me to keep my entire script saved on my host’s dashboard, without a back-up or four. Well, except for that one time with Blogspot…

Perhaps the techs were right about his scripting errors, and he did something to wipe his own files clean. LOL With my Blogspot disaster, a simple html edit to include the “Stumble” button wiped out the entire posting function! I must’ve deleted one or two essential characters by accident. *oops* But in that one instance, I hadn’t saved their original script first, and I had no way to fix it.

Anyhow… this is the direction I’m planning to take, and anyone with a personal experience working with BlueHost, Zen Cart, etc. is welcome to comment here. If you happen to think another web host is more reliable than BlueHost for my needs, feel free to make a recommendation and I’ll go check them out. πŸ™‚

Note of caution, hehe: If you suffer from gross grammar and an enlarged ego, your comments may become the subject of humor in my next blog. πŸ˜‰