Simplifying Images to Focus Attention on Details

I’ve recently been experimenting more with techniques that use simplification of some details in an image to better focus the viewer’s eye on the most important and interesting elements of the image.

I’ve been using a technique loosely based upon what I’ve observed from Chris Hilgert’s great images on Google+.

My current technique starts out in Photoshop by creating a new layer from the original background layer – and then using Topaz Simplify 4 to create a black and white simplified version of the image. Simplify 4 includes two black and white presets – one of them usually does the trick for me.

Next, I’ll duplicate the background layer and move the new layer to the top. I’ll change the blend mode to overlay and adjust the opacity until I like it. Once in a while, I may also add a layer mask to tweak the overlay blend just a bit.

Next, I’ll make another duplicate of the background layer and move the new layer again to the top. I’ll change the blend mode on this layer to color – and typically leave the opacity at 100%.

Then I’ll make a final duplicate of the background layer and move it to the top, the same process as before. I’ll leave the blend mode on this layer as normal – but will immediately add a layer mask and invert it so that it’s solid black. I will then paint with white at varying levels of opacity to reveal just those areas of the image where I want the original details to come through. I’ll leave the rest as simplified details.

Finally, I typically add a sharpening layer using a high pass filter with the blend mode set to vivid light and a mask where I paint with white just where I want the most intense details to be visible.

This is still very much a learning exercise for me – but I’m having fun experimenting with it. I’ve started a new set called Simplify on Flickr with the images I’ve played with so far.

Below is perhaps my favorite – another treatment of the F/V Point Reyes – aground at Inverness. You’ll find a high level of detail in the wood and paint of the boat itself – while the rest of the surroundings have been simplified – and their details don’t tend to pull your eyes away. That’s my one of goals with this technique. Click on the image for a larger view.

Hope you enjoy it!

Stricken Lady - Inverness - 2012

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