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Ideas For A Creepy Little Photo Book


When it comes to taking pictures, most of us fall into one of two categories: the “pseudo-professional” (who meters the lighting, minds the shadows, and is always aware of the background) or the “hapless amateur” (who forgoes technical know-how and relies, instead, on blind luck whenever they open the shutter on their camera). I fall solidly into the latter category. Like many of my fellow amateurs out there, I rely heavily on quantity over quality in the belief that if I take 25 pictures of something there is bound to be at least one that will be usable.

As my fellow amateur shutterbugs will attest, this approach can yield the occasional work of art—along with piles and piles of out-of-focus, poorly lit, oddly cropped rejects. A more discerning artist would cull the best images from the crop and dispose of the rest, but usually hold on the even the bad photos in the hope that I’ll be able to use them as the raw material for some future project.

What I lack in skill as a photographer, however, I try to make up for with my modest skills using Adobe Photoshop. This program (and similar photo editing software programs like it) is the dream of alchemy realized for poor photographers everywhere. Dark, off-kilter, poorly composed and poorly exposed shots can, with such a program, be shaded and cropped and lightened and enhanced and recolored and improved in myriad ways beyond imaging. All hail, Photoshop!

However, many long hours of exploration have taught me that the dangers of the overedited picture are somewhat akin to the dangers of too much plastic surgery. In practically no time at all, a digital nip or tuck can turn frightful (Nick Nolte, Carole Burnett—I’m talking to you).

However, once a year, I like to throw caution to the wind and give myself permission to indulge my Frankenstein fantasies. The results, while a little creepy, are all in good fun. A few years ago I turned my attention to my then five-year-old niece Gabby. The project was first featured at but by popular demand I am reposting it here for your enjoyment.

I love paper and paste as well as the next person but I also like to encourage readers to put their computers to work as craft tools. With a little patience, you can transform yourself into a special-effects wizard, a makeup artist, and an illustrator all in one fell swoop. Not only will the children featured in your books love your work, but it’s likely their parents will offer a chuckle of recognition, as well.

While I cannot hope to offer a comprehensive Photoshop tutorial in this limited space, I have tried to highlight the various tools I used and the the changes I made so you can explore similar techniques on your own.

To begin, the cover (above) is simply an iPhoto photo book template that I filled in with a title, a date, and a “Monster Child” jpeg  image I made using the free font named Nightmare 5

Picture 2

I wanted to limit the use of text in the book, so I wrote a one-sentence explanation of the premise and left it at that. Each of the following pages imagines Gabby as a different monster.

Picture 3

As with almost all of the photos I used, this image was too dark. In PhotoShop, under IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>, I used the AUTO LEVELS, AUTO CONTRAST, and AUTO COLOR commands. I then used the BLOAT TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to increase the size of her eyes. Finally, I tinted her skin green using the IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION command.

Picture 4

This picture was taken on the street and the background was filled with lots of other people. I used the SELECT menu to grab everything except Gabby and then filled the background with a bright red color. Then I used the FOWARD WARP TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to pull her hair into the shape of two protruding horns.

Picture 5

Although it’s a little difficult to see in this image, her curly hair was standing out from her head in this shot. Using only the PAINT BRUSH tool, and a dark brown color, I simply drew an indentation and some shading on her nose and some elongated pupils onto her eyes. The eyes, in particular, lend a ferocious look to her in this picture.

Picture 6

As with the Imp image above, here I simply used the FOWARD WARP TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to exaggerate the pulled cheeks of her grimace. I tried not to go too far (it looks extreme but does it look impossible? I hope not).

Picture 7

Again, this photo was so dark I had given up hope of finding a use for it. After failing to successfully brighten it, I decided to work with what I had and instead, used the BURN TOOL to selectively darken the exposure in certain areas (around her eyes, under her chin, and the background) and the DODGE TOOL to lighten certain areas (the bridge of her nose, her forehead, and her cheeks). Her curled tongue (the reason I took the picture to begin with) suddenly went from looking funny to looking scary!

Picture 8

One of the great joys of photographing children is their utterly fearless way of gazing into the camera. This shot had too much flash and, as a result, was terribly washed out. I simply enhanced the color using IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION to increase the saturation of the reds and yellows. I then selectively blurred out the background.

Picture 9

This is one of my favorite shots. I happened to catch her mid-laugh, but her cousin—who was also in the picture on the right—had her eyes closed. A few strokes of the PAINT BRUSH and the color black removed the cousin. Then I enhanced the red by again using the IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION command. Lastly, I used the PAINT BRUSH to draw in two tiny canine teeth just peeking out from her upper lip.

Picture 10

Okay, not the most flattering picture. The other people in the picture (as frequently happens with me) had their eyes closed and were blurry. However, this expression was so strong that I thought it merited inclusion. I used the LASSO tool to select two long, triangular areas, which I then filled with a 20% opacity red.

Picture 11

Finally, a shot of the proud parents. The occasion was Gabby’s birthday party and everyone was in the best spirits—everyone, it seems, except the birthday girl herself. This is the only picture I didn’t modify or edit in the least. The viscious look on her face was better than anything I feel I could have created.

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