Photoshop Master Remakes a Masterpiece
Pity Mike Campau. When we first approached him about re-creating a lost painting using only Adobe Stock images, we showed him a Rembrandt portrait as an example project. Campau agreed. Then we sent him Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Cathedral Towering Over a Town, which includes the titular cathedral, plus a village, a harbor, a few boats, dozens of people, and a dramatic sky. But Campau pulled it off with panache, thanks to his compositing skills in Adobe Photoshop CC.
Before he could begin to re-create the painting (completed in 1813 but destroyed by fire in 1931), he first had to find appropriate images. After building up the sky (“Easy!” says Campau) he turned to the cathedral, the focal point of the painting. “Adobe Stock has a lot of photos,” he explains, “so when I used the search terms church and cathedral, the results were too broad. I quickly researched Schinkel and learned that the kind of architecture he specialized in is called Gothic. When I entered gothic architecture into the search field, the results were more similar to what’s in the painting.”
A few Adobe Stock steeples resembled the painting so closely that they needed only a bit of modification in Photoshop: for example, Campau cloned arches and copied existing windows and pasted them into other locations. To match the lacey look of the original towers, he added layer masks to conceal parts of the structures so the sky could peek through. Because the architecture has squared-off lines, he could quickly make selections with Photoshop’s Pen tool. When he required a more organic mask, he made selections using either Channels or Color Range combined with the Refine Edge tool.
Campau says that the people in the painting’s foreground were the toughest challenge. “Schinkel was an expert in painting architecture, not people. His people had goofy poses, like someone sitting on the ground with their back to the viewer. You don’t normally take pictures of that for stock photography. It got down to where I was looking for an arm, a sleeve, a hand—pieces that could make up a pose.”
To better understand the way Campau re-created the people in the painting, let’s break down the figure of the woman on the harbor steps. “The face, dress, and boots are all from separate stock photos,” he says. “The arms I found weren’t in the right position, so I modified them in Puppet Warp. I used Liquify on the bonnet to get the right shape.”
THE SUBTLE TOUCHES
Campau used bits and pieces of more than 150 Adobe Stock assets to re-create the scene from Cathedral Towering Over a Town. After he had finished the compositing, it was time to make the texture, tone, and lighting of the pieces look as cohesive as the original painting.
He merged the layers, slightly blurred the resulting image, and added a layer of brush strokes. “It’s very subtle, but it adds blotchiness and texture,” says Campau. To bring back some detail and contrast after the blurring, he applied Photoshop’s High Pass filter (Filter > Other > High Pass).
The final step was to age the image. “Everyone’s used to seeing classic paintings,” notes Campau. “Their blacks are a little faded, their whites are a little dingy. I achieved that with color tones and overlays, like bringing violets into the shadows.”
To give the appearance of old paint, he found a cracked plaster image in Adobe Stock. “I duplicated the plaster image, inversed it, and nudged it off a bit to give the cracks some depth.” Campau used a delicate touch, always keeping the transparency levels of the final effects low.