Third Thursday Challenge: March

“A person might be able to play without being creative,
but he sure can’t be creative without playing.”

Kurt Hanks and Jay Parry

This month’s challenge delves into the post-processing world. Oh, yes – for me, any day spent playing with Photoshop is a good day indeed.

I know many of you do not have an interest in post-processing. But it has always been a key part of my photographic process, so I wanted to share with you my latest Photoshop experiments.

I tried my hand at two techniques: transforming my city scenes into graphic silhouettes and creating my own digital textures. The image above is a combination of both. Below is the starting point for this creation – a shot of the Pittsburgh skyline and an abstract macro:


Once I got started with the graphic silhouettes, I couldn’t stop. I now have a large collection of architectural images converted to black and white bitmaps. The process is fun and easy:

Graphic Silhouette – Photoshop CS6  

  • Image>Mode>Grayscale
  • Increase the overall contrast – Image>Adjustments>Levels. Pull the black stopper to the right and the white stopper to the left, using the histogram as your guide. Adjust the midtones slider as desired. More detail can usually be retained by moving the mid-tones slider to the left, lightening the image.
  • Image>Mode>Bitmap. Set the METHOD parameter to 50% Threshold and hit okay
  • Use the History Panel to undo the previous two steps and repeat, using different settings in the Levels Adjustment if the desired look is not achieved
  • Image>Mode>Grayscale. Click Okay
  • Image>Mode>RGB Color. Click Okay
  • Save the bitmap image to a new file name

Of course, this technique can be used with subjects other than architecture. Anything with a recognizable silhouette shape, such as a tree, a flower or a person, could be converted to a black and white bitmap image and combined with textures for a unique result.

As far as creating textures, the primary ingredient is a willingness to play. Generally, I begin with one of my abstract or texture photographs – such as a sandstone wall or stained concrete. I then make a copy of the background layer and convert the new layer to a Smart Object – working with Smart Objects provides the ability to adjust filter settings at any time.  Then I begin applying Filters (Filter>Filter Gallery) – some of my favorites include Spatter, Underpainting and Ocean Ripple – stacking them in various arrangements, experimenting with the settings.

I often add other images on top, adjusting blend modes and opacity. A levels adjustment brightens a muddy or dull result. I always save as a Photoshop file (.psd) with the layers intact so I can make future changes. In order to use the finished result, I create a Stamped Merged layer (Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E) at the top of the layer stack – this single merged layer is then copied into the image to be textured.

There is no standard recipe for creating digital textures. Many of my experiments were duds. In some cases, I came up with an interesting result – but it didn’t work as a texture. But it was all part of learning and experimenting and exploring and, yes, playing.

And in the spirit of play, I want to offer you one of my textures, available for download here.

And now I turn it over to you – what is your challenge for the month? What are you exploring? Add your link below – you can join up through the end of the month. I can’t wait to see what you take on.

Two Towers

 (Additional texture by Pixel Dust Photo Art – Vintage Craquelure)

Chicago Texture


Posted on March 21, 2013, in Third Thursday Challenge and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Wow — this is so cool, Brenda! I like both these images so much, but the second one is my fave. I definitely see this hanging on a wall. Thanks (again) for sharing the process with all the steps.

    • Gina – I’m glad you enjoyed my Photoshop experiiments. I hope I have encouraged you to “play” – in whatever form that is for you.

  2. For the first time ever I’m here on the right day. Ha! Love, love the technique you’ve shared above – ideas for your silhouette technique were popping in to my head as I was reading. And I use a lot of textures…can’t believe I’ve never made one of my own. Definitely time to have a go at that too. Love how you’ve used the textures in all of these to give completely different effects and feels. Thank you for the inspiration, sharing your process and the texture download. Happy third Thursday. 🙂

    • Becs – extra TTC challenge points for being first 🙂 You can’t know how happy it makes me that you are already thinking of ways to use the silhouette technique in your own work – there is nothing better than knowing you have inspired someone else. I must warn you that it is slightly addictive – for several days, it was all I did. Be sure to share your results with us and remember to have fun.

  3. These are amazing images! I love the color that the texture added to the first one! The last one looks like a historic drawing on a piece of parchment paper! Thanks for sharing your process and your texture. I will love seeing what it looks like on one of my photos!

    • Cathy – you are very welcome – a very small “giving back” to my online community. Would love to see your results if the texture proves useful.

  4. I spent the morning working on an image I started on a fee weeks ago. At first it was going to be a texture but ended up something completely different. It isn’t posted yet, but should be in my blog by the end if the day. Now I want to take the same original photo – as wells several others — and try this silhouette technique you’ve described. Can’t wait to get back to my laptop for another play session.

    • Anne – just what I like to hear – that you are eager to play! That is certainly what this post was all about – encouraging you to “give it a whirl”. And I completely understand the image that started out to be a texture and ended up being something completely different 🙂 Would love to see your results – be sure to share them with us.

    • Here is the piece I mentioned. I’ve titled it “Cityscape: Somewhere Else”.

      • Anne – thank you so much for jumping in this month. As the comment that I left on your blog says – I simply adore your finished piece. So unique and creative – you have inspired me!

  5. I love these, particularly the last one. Looks like you had a lot of fun playing!

    • Leanne – Oh, yes. I definitely had fun – probably too much, as I couldn’t quit converting images. But then again, I suppose one can never have TOO much fun 🙂

  6. I’ve come here by chance more or less, and I’m glad I did. Your edit looks fantastic and I do have to try this out (I assume it also works in PSE).
    And for April I have to find the third Thursday and bookmark it! 🙂
    Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    • Rosie – welcome to my little corner of cyberspace. I do hope the processing steps will work in Elements and that you are able to give this technique a try. Remember – the link for this month’s Third Thursday Challenge will be open until March 31st – so you have plenty of time to participate this month if you like. We would love to have you join us in stepping outside your comfort zone.

  7. Brenda, I love your skyline silhouette and colorful textured processing. Beautiful! And thank you for the great concrete texture, too. I look forward to trying that one on something.

    • Lee – I have definitely had fun playing in my Photoshop sandbox these past couple of weeks. Enjoy the texture – I hope it will be useful to you. If you create something with it, be sure to let me know.

  8. The overwhelming impression I have of your images, Brenda, is “richness,” and this month’s TTC entries are no exception. You have a talent for seeing and capturing the unusual, and your post-processing expertise manages to amp up your already spectacular images. It is a treat to visit your site to see what you have on offer…

    • Wanda – what a wonderful compliment! Thank you. I know you understand what fun it can be to discover a new Photoshop technique and run with it (as your own TTC submission can attest). And that is what I hoped this monthly challenge would provide – a way for us to share with each other those “outside-our-box” experiments.

  9. This is great!! Such fun. Love the finished ‘effect’ and how you created it. So clever –!

    • Marcie – thanks! these experiments definitely qualified as fun. Of course, not all of them were successful – but it was all a great learning experience and a way to do something different with images that were languishing in the archives.

  10. When I saw the top photo, I could hardly believe it was by Brenda. Such a departure. Such a different look. Wonderful to see this new side of you.
    I especially like the second image. Excellent graphics, placement in the frame and texture use. Wow!
    I appreciate the description of how you create textures–I’ll have to give it a try. Also, thank you for the beautiful texture you shared with us!

    • Anita – It is good to be able to surprise ourselves and others creatively, don’t you think? To really step outside the box and see what we can create there. And that second image seems to be a popular one – funny because I added it at the last minute – just goes to show that I need continued practice at assessing my own images 🙂 You are very welcome for the texture – I hope it will prove useful in your post-processing toolbox.

  11. I do like to do a little post-processing and play around with textures, but it’s not been my thing lately. However, I am always happy to see someone who really knows what they’re doing and can create masterpieces. You are one of a few that comes to mind.

    My challenge this month is to discover how to master my 50mm lens.

    • Kim – I think we all have to explore what interests each of us. For me, post-processing is exquisite fun but I understand that is not the case with many photographers. And the world is better for the unique contribution we each make.

      As for your 50mm project – many photographers recommend such a project – saying that mastering this lens has a significant impact on one’s photographic abilities. I look forward to seeing your results.

  12. I appreciate the fact that you use your own images to create a texture. I’ve experimented with that by using PicMonkey and had some success, but will study your instructions in more detail and see what more I can learn. I really like that skyline of Pittsburgh! Great work!

    • Deb – this is the first time that I really worked at creating textures using my own images as starting points. It is usually just so much easier to pull something from my collection of free textures. And I still struggle with creating textures that replicate paper or paint. But it was fun to play and experiment. Pittsburgh is a great city – wonderful museums and great architecture.

  13. I love that top image. Way way cool. I like to play in layers too-sometimes adding in many on top of one another and watching the image become something totally different. I haven’t tried this silhouette techinque. With your awesome instructions I wil have to give that a go. I don’t have much architecture, so I’ll have to find somthing different…trees come to mind.
    I like using my own images as texture layers. It’s surprising how they make a scene look totally different-and how much trial and error is involved. I’ve done a lot with blending modes, but not filters. Smart object, here we come.
    BTW…I did try that method for mid tones yesterday and hope to play with it somemore. thanks for the super easy to follow directions.
    Happy day, keep playing. You’re totally rock star!

    • Susan – I am so glad to have provided you some additional techniques to try – and I look forward to seeing the “Susan” spin you will put on them. That is what is so fun about sharing in this way – you pass on what you have learned and the next person takes it, and through their own creativity, does something slightly different, and it continues to grow and evolve. How cool is that? Glad the directions were clear – because I have the mid-tone contrast process recorded as an action, it is merely a single button press for me – so I no longer pay any attention to the actual steps – I’m glad I was able to re-create them for you in an understandable way.You go girl! And be sure to share your results.

  14. Nice! Love the way you play! 🙂 My fav – the one with the pink tones, and what almost looks like a line drawing. Spectacular! Happy Third Thursday to you!

    • Juli – there have been so many days when it has been easier to stay inside and play in my Photoshop sandbox than to bundle up and head out into the wind and cold. But I have enjoyed this exploration into graphic creations. I had to smile – the image that seems to be the most popular is the one that only made it in at the very last minute.

  15. Love these images and the reminder to keep playing.

    • Lisa – once I got started, I had a hard time stopping. A good reminder that giving oneself over to play is a joyous thing.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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