Photo Fun

By Janean S. Thompson

Ever have a photo that is wonderful but includes clutter or unwanted or unimportant items in the background? Have a desire to experiment with a photo image to see what you can do to make it more personal or unusual? Want to enjoy creative photo alterations similar to those the ad agencies are doing without high collar computer equipment? Well, consider the versatility of altering a photo image with airbrush embellishment. It is easy, fun and can yield results that are unique and interesting. Not only can you remove distracting backgrounds, soften less desirable background items, and add unique and bizarre details around a subject, but you can also draw the subject forward in a near three-dimensional effect. It is easier than you think.


For best results, the experimental photo you choose to alter should be printed on a matte finish paper. Slick, glossy papers tend to resist the colors. Computer-generated prints are ideal subject matter, since you can print them on satin, flat and even canvas textures for a wide range of options and effects. Any size photo can be altered, but initially 4" x 6" is a good starting point--big enough for proper experimentation and small enough to give you time to do several at a sitting.

If background blocking is your goal, begin by photo copying (or scanning) the picture you wish to change in the exact size you will be adjusting. Black and white copies from a copier are perfect, since this image will be used as mask material. Using a stencil knife on a cutting mat or other protective surface, cut out the subject you wish to highlight. Carefully lay the exact cutout (copier image) over the photo image. Hold in place with fingertip, caliper or carefully placed tabs of Scotch Removable Magic Tape. (Note: Photo damage can occur if tape is removed without care. Do not burnish tape tabs onto photo, and remove with a gentle, sideways pulling action.)


Select a tone of airbrush acrylic paint that complements the subject matter. A soft shadow tone is an excellent choice to start. With the subject masked off using your cutout black and white copy, fill the cup of your airbrush with the paint. Begin application with very light passes of color. You can always add more tone, so take it slow and easy on the buildup. The heaviest application of color should be around the cutout, with the tone feathering out to the edges of the photo.

If total blockout of background is the goal, simply use the cutout mask to protect the subject, then feather in layers to obliterate everything behind the subject. It might be interesting to add topical designs over the blocked background. Something unusual or unique will make your "adjusted" photo even more personal and will surely garner comments. Shapes can be cut from paper or Mylar, but commercial stencils originally designed for nail artists work great, too. The designs are varied and the size is perfect for photo backgrounds.


Two archival tips: Never alter a "one-of-a-kind" or heirloom photo. In those cases, work with a copy of the original. Minor restoration of sight tears or frays on photos is possible with airbrush as well. Use a high quality copy of the original photo, lightly misting color over the damaged areas. Use a very narrow spread of color and a very light touch. Adding more color is always easier than trying to remove or cover excess application. The results are quick, easy and often blend in perfectly with the original photo. Try it and see.

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