Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Bram the cowboy!

Showing my age a little with this title, if you don’t know the song, give it a listen – “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” by Waylon Jennings.

I posted the latest photo of my son on Facebook a few of days ago, and I’ve had a few questions since then…so here’s a not so quick “how to” tutorial for this image – It may be my longest post ever by the end!

Karen, my wife, wanted to do a cowboy photoshoot. I had an old cowboy hat, we had some overalls for Bram, and the neckerchew came in the mail a few days ago to finish out the outfit.

We had attempted the cowboy photoshoot a few days earlier, but the model was being tempermental and we didn’t get any great shots. But it did give me a few ideas for how to set up the next shoot.

The tempermental cowboy

On the day of the good shoot, Bram woke up from his nap happy and energetic, we figured it was now or never.

The setting for the photoshoot was on the master bed. Our headboard is the fence behind the baby. Only after the tempermental photoshoot, I added a green blanket for the grass.

While Karen was getting Bram ready, I quickly set up a tripod at the end of the bed to keep the angle consistent and started taking pictures of our stuffed lamb in different positions on the grass. I knew I was going to photoshop the area above “the fence” so I was all that concerned about the corner of the painting showing in the top right of the photo.

I wish I could say I planned this well enough that I only took the four photos of the lamb. Honestly I didn’t know how many photos I took at the time (14) I was just hoping I would have captured the right poses to work with the final image.

Then we brought Bram in, and sat him down beside Klaus (the lamb) and started snapping pictures (19). He was happy and cute and we actually got more good pictures than we could use on this round.

Next came the Photoshop fun. I used Photoshop CC for this, but I think every tool I used is available in the older versions as well.

1. I started with the photo of Bram I thought would work best (I used a different photo in the end, but this photo is still in the layers of my photoshop file)

2. I selected four of the photos of the lamb that would work with this pose, and copied them onto the picture of Bram as seperate layers.

3. Next I had to seperate Klaus from the background of each layer. Using the “Quick Selection Tool” I clicked on the lamb, and moved the cursor around until Klaus is totally surrounded. I wasn’t too concerned with the edges as the background is the same behind each lamb. Once the lamb is selected, clicking on the “Add Layer Mask” masks out everything outside the selection area, and I’m left with the lamb.

4. I repeated that for each of the stuffed toys, except the one in the picture with Bram.

5. Once I had each lamb on it’s own layer, I could move them around a bit and I realized I needed more space to add one more lamb on the right side of the image. With the newer versions of Photoshop, you can do this by grabbing the “Crop Tool” and crop the image bigger, I know that sounds wrong, but it works. Or you can do this by going into the Image menu at the top and select “Canvas Size”.

6. Now that I had the room, I had to extend the “fence” and the grass.

7. This sounds tricky, but it isn’t that hard. First, I duplicated a layer that had Klaus on the far left. Second set that layer to “Multiply”. This is just temporary as it allowed me to see through the top layer, and line up the shadows on the boards of the “fence”

8. Now that the fence is where I wanted it, the layer can be set to normal again. Then using a rectangular selection tool, I selected the area I wanted to see on the far right, and masked out the rest. Much the same way I masked out each version of Klaus. Most of the time it’s not a perfect match, and the division between the two images is easy to see.

9a. With our extended fence layer selected, clicking on the “Add Adjustment Layer” at the bottom of the Layers menu brings up a list of adjustment options. I chose “Brightness/Contrast” and lowered the brightness until the fence looked like it matched.

9b. There’s one important thing to know about adding an adjustment layer. That adjustment layer will affect every layer below it! Unless you right click on the adjustment layer, and select “Create Clipping Mask”. That locks all changes to the layer below it.

10. Now that our little cowboy is sitting happily with his flock, I wanted to make it feel a little more like they were sitting on grass.

11. For years now, I’ve taken pictures of all kinds of surfaces to use in instances like this. So I went into my photo resource folder and found a picture of a field of grass (from my backyard). I randomly selected a portion and copied it to Bram’s picture.

12. Of course that doesn’t work as it is. A simple changing the layer properties to “Overlay” does most of the work for us in this instance. It gives the green blanket a little texture, but still has a blanket feel to it. For me, that’s all I’m looking for. There’s still one obvious problem, this has changed all the lamb’s lower bits and Bram’s legs and feet, yellow.

13. To make the next step easier, I could have moved the grass layer below most of  the stuffed lambs’ layers, but honestly masking all of them out only took a few seconds.

With the grass layer selected, I clicked on the “Add Layer Mask” button. This time because nothing was selected beforehand, there will be no change to the image. In the Layers menu, I now have a white mask area next to the grass icon. To activate the mask, I have to paint with black to hide what I don’t want to see.

14. Next comes the background. A new layer, A quick rectangular selection filled with white and I have the base area to work with.

15. I knew what I wanted in the background, but I didn’t have the image. I had to email my sister to see if she had photos of the barn I needed, so in the meantime I threw in a sky, just so I wasn’t working against the stark white rectangle.

The sky was even easier to add than the grass. I picked a photo from my resource folder, copied it to a new layer immediately above the white rectangle, right clicked on that layer and selected “Create Clipping Mask”.

This was only a temporary layer, but it started to look like a finished photo.

16. One of Bram’s favourite little toys is “Floppy Donkey”, and seeing as how he fits in with the farm theme, I figured he should be added to the picture.

I actually took the toy into the bedroom, perched him on the headboard and took picture, thinking it would help keep the lighting and shadows more consistent.

17. Now to mask out Floppy! With the newer versions of Photoshop, this is easier than you think.

First we create our layer mask.

18. On that layer mask we paint around the donkey using black to mask out the background. I don’t have to worry about every little piece of fluff, Photoshop will help me with that, but the more accurate you are this stage, the less you have to rely on the computer to do.

19. When Floppy is totally masked out, I went to “Select” in the top menu, and selected “Load Selection”. By clicking “OK” on the pop up menu, we see that Floppy now has a “marching ant” selection around him. AND we can now “Refine Edge” of this selection. (Photoshop CS3 and later). If you do not see the “Refine Edge” option, you may have to click on one of the masking tools in your toolbar.

20. Refine Edge: We now see a new pop up. My first change for this demo is in “View Mode”. I select “On Black” so that I can see the changes easier.

21. Next I check “Smart Radius”, then trace the outside of Floppy where the fuzziness is important to capture. (I dont refine the straight edge below his body)

In the image below you can see the white line as I traced around the ear and neck. You can also see the top of the head where I have already finished tracing between the ears.

22. Once I’m happy with the edges, I can click “OK” and I have my Floppy donkey seperated from the background and ready to paste into my original image.

23. Even then, we’re not done with Floppy. There was some resizing to fit him in where I was happy with his position, and then adding a little shadow under his chin to make him look like he belongs.

To do this I created a new layer below Floppy’s layer, used the colour picker to select the darkest colour of the wood, and then painted in an organic feeling shadow.

Of course, at this point it’s way too dark. So I changed the layer mode to “Multiply” and turned the opacity down to where I felt the shadow looked like it fit. (33% opacity)

24. Shortly after I finished the picture to this point, my sister Barb replied to my email request for a picture of the barn. I could have found a better barn image online, or even in other photos that my sis had, but it had to be this barn. This is the barn I used to play in as a child. I wanted to be able to show Bram when he’s old enough and tell him stories about me and my brother’s adventures here.

Adding the barn to the image was super easy. I copied the barn and pasted it as a new layer above the “sky” layer from step 15. Then right clicked on that layer and selected “Create Clipping Mask”. Now I could freely move and position the image as I wanted it.

25. I wasn’t totally happy with the angle that the barn was sitting at, so there was some adjusting and a little distorting to get it look like it belonged. But at this point it was taking away from the focal point of the image…aka the baby. So I added a little “Guassian Blur” to let the focus come back to the front.

And that’s the story behind the making of this image, I hope you enjoyed!  🙂










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