Ideas for a Creepy Little Photo Book

comments (5) October 27th, 2008     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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A little digital magic is all thats required to turn a little girl into a little ghoul. When youre short on time but not on creativity, try putting your computer to work as a crafting tool.
If youre aiming for the truly odd, remember to keep a certain degree of familiarity. Here, what at first looks like a little makeup is, upon closer inspection, a much more extreme transformation.
Sometimes the best thing to do with an overly dark photograph is to make it darker still. (I suspect theres a a little George A. Romero in all of us.)
A little digital magic is all thats required to turn a little girl into a little ghoul. When youre short on time but not on creativity, try putting your computer to work as a crafting tool.

A little digital magic is all that's required to turn a little girl into a little "ghoul." When you're short on time but not on creativity, try putting your computer to work as a crafting tool.

Photo: Jeff Rudell

When it comes to taking pictures, most of us fall into one of two categories: the pseudo-professional who meters the scenes, checks the lighting, and minds the shadows or the avowed amateur who forgoes technical know-how and relies, instead, on simply opening the shutter as often as possible in the hopes that at least some of the pictures will be in focus. I fall into the latter of the two categories. As my fellow amateur shutterbugs will attest, this approach can yield the occasional work of art—along with piles and piles of out-of-focus, poorly lit, oddly cropped rejects. A more discerning artist would cull the best images from the crop and dispose of the rest, but I am a crafter and, as such, I can't help but hold out hope that even my lesser attempts might somehow be rescued and put to use as the raw material for some future project or other.

What I lack in skill as a photographer, however, I try to make up for with my slowly expanding knowledge of Adobe PhotoShop. This program (and similar photo editing software programs like it) are the dream of alchemy realized for poor photographers. Any blurry, off-kilter, poorly exposed shots can, with such a program, be shaded and pinched and puckered and bloated and lightened and recolored and otherwise improved immeasurably beyond what we started with. All hail, PhotoShop!

However, many long hours of exploration have taught me that the dangers of the overedited picture are somewhat akin to the dangers of too much plastic surgery. In practically no time at all, a digital nip or tuck can turn frightful. Much like those celebrities who have overdone it with surgery (Farrah Fawcett, Nick Nolte, Carole Burnett—I'm talking to you), overediting can quickly go wrong in the worst way.

However, once a year, I throw caution to the wind and give myself permission to indulge my Frankenstein fantasies. The results, while a little creepy, are all in good fun (and, unlike real surgery, completely reversible). This year, I have turned my attention to my five neices. Each of them a delight, mostly (and a terror, sometimes), and each of them well represented in my vast collection of unfortunate and ill-composed snapshots. While there isn't room to show you pictures of all five of them, I offer as a representative example, the book I put together for the five-year-old, Gabby.

I encourage you to take a page out of my book (literally) and put your computer to work as a crafting tool. With a little patience, you can transform yourself into a special-effects wizard, a makeup artist, and an illustrator all in one fell swoop. Not only will the children featured in your books love your work, but it's likely their parents will offer a chuckle of recognition, as well.

While I cannot hope to offer a complete PhotoShop tutorial in this limited space, I have tried to highlight the various tools I used and the the changes I made so you can explore similar techniques on your own. With a little time and a lot of imagination, you'll have a whole gallery of ghouls for yourself in no time.

The cover is simply an iPhoto template that I filled in with a title, a date, and a "Monster Child" image I made using the font "Nightmare 5."


I wanted to limit the text of my book, so I wrote a one-sentence explanation of the premise and left it at that. Each of the following pages imagines Gabby as a different monster.

As was almost all of the photos, this image was too dark. In PhotoShop, under IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>, I used the AUTO LEVELS, AUTO CONTRAST, and AUTO COLOR commands. I then used the BLOAT TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to increase the size of her eyes. Finally, I tinted her skin green using the IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION command.

This picture was taken on the street and the background was filled with lots of other people. I used the SELECT menu to grab everything except Gabby and then filled the background with a bright red color. Then I used the FOWARD WARP TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to pull her hair into the shape of two protruding horns.

Although it's a little difficult to see in this image, her curly hair was standing out from her head in this shot. Using only the PAINT BRUSH tool, and a dark brown color, I simply drew an indentation and some shading on her nose and some elongated pupils onto her eyes. The eyes, in particular, lend a ferocious look to her in this show.

As with the Imp image above, here I simply used the FOWARD WARP TOOL (Shift+Command+X) to exaggerate the pulled cheeks of her grimace. I tried not to go too far (it looks extreme but does it look impossible? I hope not).

Again, this photo was so dark I had given up hope of finding a use for it. After failing to successfully brighten it, I decided to work with what I had and instead, used the BURN TOOL to selectively darken the exposure in certain areas (around her eyes, under her chin, and the background) and the DODGE TOOL to lighten certain areas (the bridge of her nose, her forehead, and her cheeks). Her curled tongue (the reason I took the picture to begin with) suddenly went from looking funny to looking scary!

One of the great joys of photographing children is their utterly fearless way of gazing into the camera. This shot had too much flash and, as a result, was terribly washed out. I simply enhanced the color using IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION to increase the saturation of the reds and yellows. I then selectively blurred out the background.

This is one of my favorite shots. I happened to catch her mid-laugh, but her cousin—who was also in the picture on the right—had her eyes closed. A few strokes of the PAINT BRUSH and the color black removed the cousin. Then I enhanced the red by again using the IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE/SATURATION command. Lastly, I used the PAINT BRUSH to draw in two tiny canine teeth just peeking out from her upper lip.

Okay, not the most flattering picture. The other people in the picture (as frequently happens with me) had their eyes closed and were blurry. However, this expression was so strong that I thought it merited inclusion. I used the LASSO tool to select two long, triangular areas, which I then filled with a 20% opacity red.

Finally, a shot of the proud parents. The occasion was Gabby's birthday party and everyone was in the best spirits—everyone, it seems, except the birthday girl herself. This is the only picture I didn't modify or edit in the least. The viscious look on her face was better than anything I feel I could have created.

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Comments (5)

lexster08 writes: cute and scary at the same time. i will have odd dreams this evening.
Posted: 11:25 am on October 29th
Ruby2 writes: You are brilliant! Plus you make EVERYTHING you do seem so easy! I love reading your blogs, and I apologize that this is the first time I am commenting. I think you are incredibly talented. I can't wait to try photoshop now! I have been so intimidated by it, until you explained it in such a simple way. Thank you so much!
Posted: 11:19 am on October 28th
Peggy123 writes: I took a bunch of pictures of my kids the other day at their school Halloween party. I can't wait to try this out! What a brilliant idea! The work you did on your niece is truly amazing! You make it seem so easy, I hope my results are as good as yours! Thank you so much!
Posted: 11:12 am on October 28th
JenniferStern writes:
I have two little mind controllers!...I'm constantly working on the antidote!
Posted: 7:04 pm on October 27th
dany4bec writes: I rely so much on Photoshop to fix my photo imperfections, I love this idea! I have two "little monsters" and am gonna love playing with their pictures:) Thanks
Posted: 5:57 pm on October 27th
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