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How to get creative with your old photographs in Photoshop

How to get creative with old photos
(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

The worst thing you can ask of an urban photographer is to stay locked inside. But such is life: it throws unexpected events and challenges at us, and it’s up to us to rise to them and adapt. After all, creativity needn’t end as soon as we step indoors. 

So when lockdown was imposed on us in 2020, I decided that it would not stifle my need to create. I would find a way to create an entirely new ‘London’ series without going out, using and recycling existing photos from my archive that had not previously been used or published.

What became obvious is that a photographer should never aggressively delete photos from their hard drives; I’ll admit I may have been guilty of this at times. Of course, you may think the photos you shot that day aren’t usable; they’re just a waste of space. But hard disk space doesn’t cost a lot, and who knows – a few years down the line, they could become useful.

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

This is what happened to me. It all began with an idea: I was playing around with an old photo I’d taken in the Italian Dolomites, with a sculpture of an astronaut in the middle of the landscape (pictured above).

This series was a great exercise for me. It taught me to make use of what I have available, and not spend my time obsessing about what I do not have. It was quite a challenge ‘wrapping those triangles’ around buildings in Photoshop.

• Read more: 100 Photoshop tips

There were many challenges, the biggest ones being perspective (to ensure the triangles fit within the image) and reflections over water or tiles. With enough trial and error, I think I eventually got that right.

I hope it will inspire you to step out of your comfort zone, explore your archive and maybe create something a little different from usual. The worst thing that can happen is that you may end up learning a new skill… and that’s not a bad thing if you ask me! You can see more of my work at www.nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk.

Getting creative with triangles

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

01: Getting ideas
Any new project requires an idea ‘seed’ to begin with. For me, it often comes from taking one or two photos and playing with them in Photoshop. Fun opens up creativity.

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

02: Creating shapes
Photoshop Layer Masks are essential in this type of work as they enable you to delete in a non-permanent manner, so if you delete too much you can retrieve it. Layer Masks helped me to precisely delete parts supposed to be hidden behind the landmarks.

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

03: Wrapping around buildings
Creating a triangular shape is easy. Blending it so that it seems part of the photo (and not just like you slapped a triangle in there) is another story. Perspective and reflections are key. At first I couldn’t get it right, but with enough trial and error, I eventually did, and I learnt a lot in the process too.

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

04: Shapes in the sky
Skies, and specifically clouds, are an important reference point. They define the scale and height of those objects – something an empty blue sky would have made more difficult. I added a motion blur effect to the triangles to simulate their speed and movement.

(Image credit: Nicholas Goodden)

05: Developing the idea
While this series mostly makes use of my London landscape photography, I decided to apply this theme to my street photography too, adding an extra dimension, as if people were under some magic spell or hypnosis, looking at these alien shapes of all sizes invading London. This idea allows me to keep growing this series in the future.

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