Category Archives: abstract

Scottish montage

I thought it might be of interest to pick one of my favourite images and explain what it means to me as well as something about how I created it.

Firstly, the title. I called this Scottish montage mainly because it is composed of elements that are distinctly Scottish. I don’t often do composites mainly because I can find myself constantly working on them and never getting to a point that I’m happy with. When they work though, as this one does for me, I find all the effort and tinkering worthwhile.

This image feels very Scottish to me and speaks of some of the things about Scotland that are very important to me. So, let’s take it apart and, in doing that, I will try to explain why it means so much to me.

There are four key images blended here to create the overall composite.

Background: This is Leven beach. Leven happens to be where I first lived and where I have now returned. Interestingly the shot was taken some years before the prospect of returning to Fife, let alone Leven, was even a vague idea. It therefore speaks to me of home but perhaps more importantly, it reminds me of the wide-open spaces of Scotland. Apart from the border with England, Scotland is surrounded by the sea and includes many islands so this also reminds me of the fishing heritage and that from these shores, throughout generations past, Scots have gone all over the world making a mostly positive impact. Although we feel attached to home, we Scots are instinctively curious and prone to exploration. The open spaces of Scotland appeal to me, so much more than the busy haste of city life, offering a sense of freedom and refreshment. Filling my lungs with either the sea breeze of the coast or the chill air of the mountains is simply exhilarating and life giving.

The overall image was built in Photoshop and the background is an unedited layer within the composite.

Foreground subject: This is a small sculpture found in Balbirnie Park at Markinch. It’s in the shape of a Celtic knot. In fact, it’s only the upper part of the sculpture and it is in the form of the Trinity Knot or Triquetra. The points on this three-fold knot are said to represent the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit but this can’t be verified as historically accurate. Most information relating to Celtic knots is dated after 450 A.D when Christian influence on the Celtic civilization began to take hold and these knots are complete loops with no start or finish and are generally said to represent eternity be that in the form of loyalty, faith, friendship or love.

The strong feature of the knot sculpture in the image reminds me of the deep cultural heritage of Scotland and of important values throughout Scottish history. We’ve always tended towards community as a people and been ready to welcome the stranger to our land. It also reminds me of the historical importance of faith in Scottish life.

The sculpture is a separate level in Photoshop. Because the sculpture itself is a consistent colour and has clear edges it was an easy job to cut it out from the background of its original photo and leave it on a transparent background. That was then placed above the background layer and I applied a mask to it. Working on the layer mask I was able to fade out the lower section of the sculpture to render it as a “faded shadow” which when added to the background makes it look like it is sitting on the sand.

Writing: The writing is from a photograph of a sculpture in the Scottish Parliament building called Travelling the Distance by Shauna McMullan. It features quotes from various women commenting on other women. The extracts shown in the composite are:

Selected on merit, she ended 450 years of an exclusively male High Court Bench. (Alison Closs on Hazel Cosgrove)

Best of Scotswomen, lifelong socialist, pacifist, grassroots activist, modest, eternally open-minded, an ordinary, extraordinary mother. (Liz Lochhead on Helen Kay)

A wee lady always loving caring, determined, and generous, devoted to her faith and family. (Morag Ross on Elizabeth Dyce & Jean Campbell)

Her passion for equalities shines through in her voice and in her eyes. (Ruth Black on Irene Graham)

Thanks to Scottish Women who made the difference. Always stay on the equality path (Jane McKay)

She makes me continue to believe that the fight for a more just world is the right road to be on…. (Elaine C. Smith on Helena Kennedy)

When her friends visited, you never knew whether to bring out the silver or lock it away. (Hilda Smith on Chris Grieve)

This element of the composite reminds me of the number of strong and influential women in Scottish history and in Scottish life. So much to be appreciated and valued.

The words are another layer in Photoshop. The layer is simply the original photograph of the sculpture but I reduced the layer opacity to 60% which diminished the background enough to allow the writing to stand clear and retain something of the natural shadow from the writing which is in relief on the sculpture.

Trees: This is the final image layer and it’s a rather more subtle one. Just above the centre of the image and to the left of the sculpture there is what appears to be some trees on a hillside. In fact, these are the branches of one tree. More on that shortly.

I included the trees to remind me that Scotland is not barren across its wilderness spaces. The “trees” are there to remind me of the productivity of the land be that through nature’s provision or agriculture. I wanted the “trees” to be bare – winter plumage – as that worked better with the overall feel of the composite image and also reminds me of the fragility of things in these days of climate change awareness. It reminds me of the responsibility we have to the place we call home – from our own locality where we live, up through our countries to plant Earth itself.

The “trees” layer is, as I mentioned, one tree which I rotated through ninety degrees to make the bare branches appear as trees themselves with the trunk standing in for the ground. Fortunately, the background on the original tree photo is nice and clear so it was a simple job of positioning the layer as I wanted it in the final composition and then applying a layer mask and gently removing all that I didn’t need. Within the final composition it has the effect of creating the impression of a landscape beyond the water which I quite like, and I think works reasonably well.

In summary, this composite image reminds me of at least some of the things about Scotland and being Scottish that I hold dear.

While there are four images making up this composite, there are a total of eleven layers involved in creating the final image. In brief, and in order from bottom up, they are:

  • Background image – unaltered.
  • Celtic knot sculpture – transparent background and layer mask applied
  • Brightness/contrast adjustment layer
  • Trees – positionally adjusted and layer mask applied
  • Words – opacity reduced to 60%
  • Curves adjustment layer
  • Texture brush adjustment layer
  • Photo filter layer
  • Selective colour adjustment layer
  • Levels adjustment layer
  • Another Brightness/contrast adjustment layer

All of the adjustment layers were making individually minor and subtle changes, nothing heavy handed, so that the cumulative result is what I was happy with. It’s in those minor adjustments that you can get trapped in continual tweaking. I didn’t complete this work on one sitting. It took a good number of “visits” to work through interrupted with periods of leaving well alone. It’s an example of making sure you can see the wood for the trees!

This image is available to buy from my website as prints and wall products.

Logo in a light bulb

logo in a lightbulb
logo in a lightbulb

I posted this picture (well, not exactly this one, as you will discover) last week on a Facebook group for photographers and it proved to be very popular with 140 likes (as it stands). There were also lots of complimentary comments and one member said, “How did you do it, if you don’t mind telling. ”

I’m more than happy to tell, but I thought this might be better done by way of a blog as there are a few processes involved. In an ideal world I thought all I had to do was go back to Photoshop open the file and describe the process from there. It turns out this isn’t an ideal world. As I’d been experimenting with an idea I’d had, I hadn’t actually been alert enough to save the Photoshop file. In order to do this blog post, I had to go back an recreate the entire thing. That’ll teach me to be more alert about saving the experiments. In the end, I think this version is just a little more heavy-handed with the highlights but, as the main aim of this post is to explain the process, I wasn’t about to go back and re-edit.

So, here is how this image was created.

Stage 1 – electrifying the logo

This stage is all about making the logo look like an active filament in a light bulb.

I opened the white Hi-res version of my Photologo in Photoshop and, as usual, duplicated the layer. I do this to make sure that if anything goes wrong I can always get back to the original. I don’t work on the base layer.

Using the paint bucket tool, I filled the logo with orange (hex value f4a816). You need to be careful at this stage and make sure you only get the logo. I suggest zooming in for detail. Staying on the copy layer, I went down to the layer style (fx) and selected outer glow. In the layer style box I clicked on the solid colour box in the structure options and chose an orange colour. In this case the hex value is ff6c00. I then clicked OK on the colour. I set the opacity to 60% and made sure the blend mode was normal, set the size to 190 pixels then clicked OK on the layer style. The result is an orangey glow round the logo. I then duplicated the layer (CTRL+J). Then on the new duplicated layer, I edited the effect by double clicking it to open the dialogue box. I changed the colour to a lighter version (hex value f0962b), I increased the opacity to 100% and reduced the size to 65 pixels then clicked OK. The end result of those processes on the logo looks like this:

Next I wanted to add some highlights to the effect so opened a new layer and put that on top of all the others. I renamed that layer “highlights”. I find with multiple layers, it’s a good idea to rename them for ease of identification if I need to come back and re-edit. If you don’t know how to rename a layer simply roll your mouse onto the layer name and double click. That allows you to rename then confirm by hitting “enter”. On the new highlights layer, I set the blending mode to overlay. I selected a soft round brush and sized it to be just marginally thicker than the logo text. I reduced the opacity to 50% and then painted highlights where I thought they looked reasonable in giving the logo that electric activity. This stage is very much directed by eye and what you think looks “natural”.

Stage 2 – the bulb

Were I doing this other than experimentally, I’d have photographed a bulb myself but, in this instance, I chose a stock image. As my logo is wide, I wanted a bulb that was more oblong in shape.

Keeping the work on the logo open in Photoshop, I then opened the selected a photo of the light bulb. This opens as a new tab within Photoshop. The image I chose is pretty low res, so really wouldn’t stand up to enlargement and it also means the relative canvass sizes are very different between the bulb and my logo. I therefore checked the size of the bulb canvass which turned out to be 11.43 cm x 8.2 cm. This will become significant shortly. So, back to the logo tab in Photoshop. Selecting the top layer I made a new layer and then stamped visible into it by doing the following: hold down Shift, Ctrl, Alt, N to create the layer, then Shift, Ctrl, Alt, E to stamp the visible into it. This creates a new layer which has all the detail of the layers below and is the one I will copy to the light bulb image. First though, I changed the image size (please note NOT the canvas size) to 11.42cm x 8.2cm and in the dialogue box opted for auto resolution, which slightly changes the images dimensions.

Then I right clicked on the layer and select duplicate layer. This opens a dialogue box in which you choose the open file in which you want to open the duplicate layer and, for me, that’s the light bulb image. In the dialogue box there’s a drop down option for destination document. This is where I selected the light bulb image.

Next I selected the light bulb image tab in Photoshop to switch to it which now showed my copied logo layer above the light bulb. Having adjusted the image size in the logo, it is now an easier job to set about aligning it. The imported layer comes in as layer 1 which I renamed to logo. Making sure I had the logo layer selected I used the move tool to align the logo across the centre and in line with the existing bulb filament like this:

Lining up the logo and bulb

Still on the logo layer, I went to edit and selected free transform. To see the handles I hit Ctrl 0 on the keyboard (see below). Now the task is to align the logo within the bulb so that it connects to the ends where the actual filaments connect. I did this by adjusting the handles on the free transform box but held down the shift key to retain perspectives and prevent skewing the logo.

free transform handles

Next I made a copy of the background layer and moved it to the top of the layers stack. I then created a new fill layer (filling it with black) and put that below the logo layer. Then I applied a mask to the background copy layer (top) and with the foreground colour set to black and background to white, I selected a soft brush and painted to reveal the logo. This then needed some adjustments back and forth setting different brush opacities to  get to a final look that I was happy with.

final layers

I hope you’ve found this interesting and helpful in terms of Photoshop technique. There may well be better ways to achieve this effect, but this is how I ended up doing it. I think it’s a technique I might employ again at some time.

Before I close, let me give a shout out to Photologo. I got my logo from them and am using it not only as a watermark on photos that I publish online, but also as my business logo. They’ve not asked me to give them and mention and have certainly not paid me for doing so. I just think they are worth knowing about if you are a photographer who wants to do something to help protect your images and add a stylish signature to your work.

Tree of knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

There’s a story behind this one.

It begins in October 2014 when I visited Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire. The plan was to get some photographs of trees in autumnal colours and during the visit I took a number of photographs, some of which were OK but none were real stand-outs. Some months later I was experimenting with masking in Photoshop and had the idea of shaping a tree in a human profile. Among the shots from Westonbirt was the one below.

Tree, leaves, shadows, bark, tree, textures, colours, nature


I felt this offered an opportunity to be creative with a profile mask so set about working in Photoshop with two profiles I had sourced. One was clearly male and the other clearly female. I tried edits with both and, for some reason, I found the female profile worked better in aligning with the tree. I worked with it and cropped in to make the effect more evident and saved the work in a folder along with other experiments gathering e-dust, you might say.

Recently I was working on some other creative effects and adaptations and recalled this one so was keen to revisit it. Coming back to it after a reasonably lengthy absence was quite refreshing and I decided that I rather liked it but felt it needed a title. As I’d shaped it into the profile of a human head I got to thinking about what we contain in there – everything we know, our feelings, thoughts and memories. I was leaning towards the title of Tree of Knowledge which, of course, has direct resonance in the story in Genesis: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then later, So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. At this point I found it curious that I had chosen the female silhouette for the profile shape as, in the Genesis story, it was the woman who first ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

If there’s a moral to this little tale of mine it’s that we, as human beings, know the difference between good and evil and we have a choice as to how we behave in the light of that knowledge and that just about anything can be used for good or harm.

I find this image of the Tree of Knowledge, to be a reminder to use my photography for good.

If you wish, you can buy a print of the Tree of Knowledge here and have it on your wall as a reminder to yourself.

Thanks for reading and for following this blog.

Shadows and textures

It’s amazing what sometimes catches the eye making you stop and look closer. This morning when out walking the dog on a favourite route among the trees, I was enjoying once again the way light filtered through the leaves when I spotted strong light falling on a tree trunk casting clear leaf shadows onto the bark. I had to stop and take a closer look and became captivated by the number of textures I was seeing: light and shade, colour, contour, shape, rough and smooth.

The only camera I had in my possession was on my smart-phone, so I took the chance to take a shot and see what I could do with it. This shot was processed firstly in my phone using Lightroom CC then I picked it up back at base in Lightroom Classic on my computer where I made some fine tuning adjustments I just could not do on the phone.

leaves, shadows, bark, tree, textures, colours, nature

I love images with texture and, for me, that’s the main feature of this shot. Compositionally, it could be argued that the photo lacks a clear subject so there’s no natural place for the eye to settle and therefore you end up scanning round the image. Well, for me, that’s just fine as it hopefully helps you to appreciate the textures which are, in a sense, the subject of this image.

In any event, I like it and I hope you do too. If you like enough, you can buy a fine art print here.


Seizing the moment

fallen tree - patterns and colours


This is one of those opportunistic shots. I was out walking the dog when I passed a fallen tree and was immediately struck with the lines, patterns and colours in the bark of this dead wood.

I was armed only with my iPhone but wanted to capture this image. The more I look at it, the more I am drawn in to it and the more I see. It simply intrigues me and makes me think that even in decay there is beauty.

I shot it in a square format as my original thought was to post it on Instagram, which I have done, but I also wanted to say something about it, hence this blog post.

There’s a lesson here about always being interested in one’s surroundings as sometimes compositions or images just make themselves available to you. This is one such example of seizing the moment. And it really doesn’t matter all that much if you don’t have your “proper” camera with you – the photographer is more important – though a camera of some sort is still essential!

I like this one so much, I’ve added to my website so it’s available as a print. So, if you fancy having this on your wall, feel free to go and place an order.