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Color and tone in composites

A lot of times when I see ebook covers that don't work for me, my issue is that the models don't look like they go together. Their lighting is coming from different sources, some are direct while others are diffuse, and usually the warm/cool temperature of the lighting is different as well. Stick two differently-lit guys on a cover and it looks bad.

Even though I'm doing single-model covers for Turbulence, I still want all the covers to look like they belong together when you line them all up, so I want to give the impression that my lighting is all the same. Even though it really, really, really isn't.

Initially I was working in an OnOne plugin called Perfect Photo Suite to tone my pictures. But then I upgraded my Photoshop and my OnOne no longer works without me opening up an older version of Photoshop, so I decided to just bite the bullet and do some initial toning of my photo in Camera Raw (which is a function of Adobe Bridge). I had awesome results! I'm going to start opening all my stock in Raw to get it closer to my final result before I even bring it into Photoshop.
Here's an existing cover I'm trying to match. Some of the things I'm considering are the overall temperature of the light, the intensity of the shadows, the overall saturation of the color and the level of contrast, which is fairly high, but without blown out highlights.

Here's the stock photo as shot. The highlights are really pale, the quality of the light is very cool, and it's natural light. All the other shots I've used so far were studio shots...but I really loved the expression on his face. There's a scene in the next story where Paul is in DC out on the street listening to his voicemail and I thought this really captured it...but that scene takes place at night, and this is really bright! However, I forge ahead...

I was able to get the shot this far in Camera Raw. It might not seem like a big deal to have it be "just a little darker" but I've actually tweaked the temperature of the lighting to make his skin more peachy and I've enhanced a lot of detail to the midtones that were starting to look blown out in the original.

And here it is composited with my street scene, my typography and my ghost orbs. I used a few additional photo filters both to darken him further and to give the illusion that it's night and he's actually being lit by that streetlamp. (I tried about fifty gradiated filters on a few different blend modes...it took a while. I really wanted to sell that it was night time.) When I use toning filters like that, I usually mask them away here and there. I find it makes the image less flat. Here, I tapped the filtering off Paul's chin and knuckles. I think it looks more dimensional that way, to have color casts emerging and receding rather than just being applied to the whole image.

Now I just need to finish writing the last chapter!

Additional links:
There's a great course on Camera Raw on Lynda.com. Some chapters are free. I'll confess I didn't watch the whole 6 hour course, but probably 90 minutes, enough to feel confident about getting in there and making some adjustments.

And you can find the Turbulence series free at JCPbooks.com


Jul. 26th, 2012 09:06 am (UTC)
I know just what you mean about two guys on a cover not looking as if they go together. Some of the best covers seem to be ones where the models were actually in the same picture. I suppose there just aren't as many male/male as male/female couple on the stick photo sites though. Must be why my Stowaway cover (by Anne Cain) is the favourite of the three I've had so far. They're definitely in the same space! :D

The Turbulance covers are really effective and striking, with their rich colours in unusual cmnbinations.

That reminds me, better get number 3 read! Waiting on my Kindle now.
Jul. 26th, 2012 09:33 am (UTC)
There's definitely a lot to consider when putting together a photo montage. No amount of Photoshop savvy will help you if you don't have the right sensibility to begin with, and that sort of thing is difficult to teach. Rather than showing a how-to, I suppose I'm really talking about the sensibility I try to bring to the project in these posts.

There are almost NO stock photos with male/male couples in them, and usually the ones that do exist crop up on so many book covers I wouldn't even want to use them. But I think it's just as satisfying to see a great shot of the protagonist alone, so that's what I go for when I make my covers. Much better than a guy with a differently-lit headless torso behind him, for instance. Or two guys cut out from two different shots.

The Stowaway cover is absolutely luscious. I haven't seen that shot elsewhere either, which is always a bonus, but she really did a lot with ambiance, color, and gorgeous typography too. Anne Cain, Kanaxa, and Reese Dante are really the gold standard cover artists for me in the genre.

Edited at 2012-07-26 01:36 pm (UTC)
Jul. 26th, 2012 10:36 am (UTC)
I have seen the two guys on three other covers (I'm primed to spot them! I had the cover as my phone wallpaper for a while, so it's engaved on my brain.

The great thing about the two Anne Cain has done for for mine is the level of background detail too and the layers of that detail. I can look at the high def version and still spot things I hadn't seen before.
Jul. 26th, 2012 11:12 am (UTC)
Once I use a model I think of him as "mine." (Good luck with that, I know.)

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