If you’ve ever read an old detective novel, or seen The Maltese Falcon, or even played the video game Max Payne, you’re familiar with the dark, gritty style of noir films. In recent years, the noir film style has become popular again with the soon to be released Max Payne film, and of course Frank Miller’s Sin City. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how you can use Photoshop to add the Sin City effect to your images. There are many different ways to do this, but this is the method that I like best. One thing to keep in mind is that this effect doesn’t look good with every image. As a matter of fact, in the example I’m going to show you, I actually created an image from a few separate images in order to get one that would look good with this effect. So in a sense you’ll be getting a two for one tutorial on how to create a photo montage as well. Keep reading to find out how I turned these:
1. Preparing The Images
The first thing we need to do is put our images together into one image that we will be using to add the Sin City effect to. Let’s get started.
1a. Extracting The Woman
If you followed the tutorial on Converting a Photo to Black and White, then you’re one step ahead of the game. We will need our image to be in black and white before we can start adding the Sin City effects to it. First let’s start with piecing together the images we have into one cool looking montage.
The first thing I want to do is cut the woman out of the image with the trees. You could go about this any way you like. This time around, I decided to use the Quick Selection Tool. Note that the Quick Selection tool is new to Photoshop CS3, so if you have an older version of Photoshop, you can just use a Quick Mask, or the Pen Tool, or whatever your favorite method of extracting someone from a background is.
The Quick Selection tool, if you’re not familiar with it, allows you to “paint” your selection over an image. You can change the brush size just like with the brush tool, and you can add or subtract from your selection by alternating between holding down and releasing the Alt key. The tool can be found under the Magic Wand tool.
After I selected the entire woman with the Quick Select Tool, I clicked the Refine Edge button and selected a Radius of 1px and a Feather of 1px as in the example below:
This ensures that the selection will be smooth and not have harsh and sharp edges. This will help maintain a consistent look when we put the images all together. The idea is to remove her completely from the background. If we omitted this step, then she would appear flat and separate. I also went in real close with the zoom tool and used the Eraser to remove any remaining artifacts, like some green from the trees between her fingers, and near her hair.
The next thing we have to do is convert the woman to black and white. If you haven’t already, check out the tutorial on Converting a Photo to Black and White, because we’ll be using the techniques in that lesson now. If you’re already familiar with ways to convert a photo to black and white, then feel free to skip that lesson and continue reading.
The particular method I used to convert the girl to black and white was CS3’s new Black & White image adjustment function. If you have CS3, I highly recommend you use it. It’s an incredibly versatile tool and does the best job at converting an image to black and white. If you don’t have CS3, you can use the Channel Mixer, or even Hue and Saturation image adjustment in a pinch. This is what we’re going for:
I wound up using settings similar to below. Because we’ve already extracted the woman from the trees, there really isn’t any green or blue in the image, so I just turned them all down. Skin tones are made up of reds, yellows, and such. I basically just adjusted them by eye until I found something I liked. Just keep playing around until you get a nice contrast between the hair and skin tones. Be careful not to lose too much detail in the dress, and don’t lose the light on her arms and shoulders.
We’re finished with the woman image for the time being, so just set it aside. You can use this image as your main one later on or you can just create a new document. It’s entirely up to you. For now, though, we’ll move on to the streetlamp photo.
1b. Extracting and Modifying the Streetlamp
Now that we have the woman extracted from the background, it’s time to add the streetlamp. This part is probably the most difficult out of all of the steps in this tutorial, because the streetlamp in the source image, although big enough, it wasn’t long enough for what I had in mind. Not to worry, with some creative use of the Clone Stamp tool and the Vanishing Point filter, we can fix this.
The first thing I did was cut the streetlamp away from the background and converted it to black and white as I did with the woman. I wanted a kind of gritty feel to it, so I tweaked the levels a bit as well to really make the black and white tones stand out. The reason I converted it to black and white first is that it will make it easier to use the clone stamp to elongate the pole section. Otherwise it would be easier to tell that the streetlamp wasn’t that tall and that it was altered.
So after extracting it and converting it to black and white, this is what we have:
Now we get to the Vanishing Point filter. This feature is perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs Adobe has made in recent years. It allows you to make perspective accurate edits to your images by specifying different planes. So for example, you could click on the four corners of a wall and then draw out an adjacent wall in perspective to the first and then clone, paint, copy, paste, whatever onto this new wall. In our example, we’re going to use the Vanishing Point filter to keep the lines of the pole on the streetlamp in perspective and then clone the upper portion so that we can lengthen the pole.
The first step is to mark off your plane with the Vanishing Point filter. You get to it by going to your menu and selecting Filter->Vanishing Point. A new window will open up with your image in it. You may need to use the Zoom tool that can be found at the lower left. Once you are zoomed in enough to see the lower portion of the pole, click on the Create Plane tool (Second from the top). Now click on four points on the pole section of the streetlamp. You will have something similar to what you see here:
Now click and drag on the bottom center handle and pull downward. You’ll see the red plane lines stretch in perspective to where you are dragging. Keep dragging down until you the plane covers the length you want the pole to be. Once you’ve done that, it’s just a matter of using the clone stamp tool to fill in the plane you just created. When you’re finished, you should have something that looks like this:
Keep this image aside. We’re finished with it for now, but we’ll need it later to copy/paste into our main image.
1c. Editing The Skyscraper
Now that we have our woman and our streetlamp, the last image we have to prepare before we start putting them all together is the skyscraper image.
Because the skyscraper shot was taken in daylight, we first want to give it the appearance of night. For that we’re going to have to change the sky. This will be easier if you convert the image to black and white, but before we do that, we’re going to isolate the sky from the image. Make a selection using whatever tool you prefer. I’m just going to use the Magic Wand in this case with a Tolerance set to 25. Keep holding down shift to add to the selection if you don’t get it in one shot until you end up with something like this:
Now before you do anything else, right-click on the image somewhere within the selection and choose Save Selection. A box will pop up prompting you to save a new channel. Just make sure that New is selected under the channel dropdown, and then name it something appropriate like “sky.” Now our selection is saved under a new channel named whatever you selected in the previous step. You can view it in the Channels palette on the right if you like, though for now let’s just remember that it’s there because we will be using it again shortly.
After making sure that you’ve cleared all selections (that’s why we saved the one of the sky), continue on to convert the image to black and white. Again I’m going to use the Black & White image adjustment function for this. If you decided to take a peek at the selection you made in the Channels palette, make sure that you click the eyeball icon next to the channel to hide it and click on the RGB channel to select it. If you don’t, the Black & White function will not be available.
Because I want everything to be darker, I adjusted most of the individual channels all the way to the left. Be careful with the blue and cyan channels, because there is a lot of that color in this image. If you adjust them down too much, you will start to see some major artifacting. The sky won’t matter because we will be replacing it shortly, just make sure that the building itself doesn’t have any.
So now that you’ve converted the skyscraper to black and white, you should be left with something that looks like this:
Now, back to that selection you saved earlier. Go over to the Channels palette over on your right hand side (If it’s not visible, go to your menu and select Windows->Channels). Now on the bottom of the list, you should see the sky channel that you created.
Now what you’re going to do is Control-click on the thumbnail for that channel. This will load up the selection in that channel into your image. Now we can go about changing the sky and not have to worry about reselecting it. This step wasn’t absolutely necessary, but I find it to be a nice little shortcut.
Make sure that you click the eyeball icon next to the sky channel so that the channel is now visible. Afterwards, click on the RGB channel and then click back on your Layers palette. You should have noticed that the buildings all turned red. Don’t be alarmed, that’s just a Quick Mask to signify what is masked. Everything else in the image not red is what is currently selected. Simply hit the Delete key to remove the sky. Leave the sky selected, as we’re going to be filling it in next.
Now comes one of the really cool parts. Make sure that your background and foreground colors are set to the default black and white (you can hit D on the keyboard for Default). Now with the sky section still selected, go to Filter->Render->Clouds. After that, go to Filter->Render->Difference Clouds. This will create a nice ominous black sky with subdued white clouds. If you don’t get a result that you like, simply go to your History and undo both filters. Both of the filters render the clouds randomly by using the colors that you have set as your background and foreground colors. However, the Difference Clouds also blends the cloud data with the existing data that’s in the image.
Another method that isn’t always as effective for making a dark clouded sky is to invert the existing sky. After you load your selection that you saved as a channel, instead of deleting the contents and then using the cloud render filters, just go to Image->Adjustments->Invert (Control-I for the keyboard shortcut). This will take the existing sky and reverse its colors. Being that we’re working in black and white, it will take the mostly white and light grays and turn them to mostly black and dark grays. It doesn’t always give the best results and really depends on the image, but I wanted to offer it as an alternative to completely fabricating the sky.
In either case, once you’re done rendering your clouds, deselect the sky and flatten the image if it’s on multiple layers. You should end up with something similar to the following:
At this point we are finished with the skyscraper image, so you can set it aside. Now we’re ready to start putting them together and then applying that Sin City effect.
2. Piecing The Images Together
Now that we have all of our separate elements prepared, it’s time to start putting them together into one image. Then we’ll be applying some more effects to give it that Sin City look.
Open up a new document and make it 1000×1000 pixels. Double click on the background layer to convert it into a normal layer.
Now go to the woman image and Select All (Select->All or Control-A), Copy (Control-C), and Paste (Control-V) into the new document. Make sure that you select the layer with only the woman if you have a background layer. We want just her and the transparent pixels surrounding her.
As a personal choice, I thought she looked better coming from the bottom left to upper right, so what I did was flip her horizontally (Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal). Obviously we can’t have her sitting in the middle of the image with no hand, so use the Move tool and move her to the bottom left of the image so that her wrist and the bottom of her dress line up with the left and bottom sides of the image like this:
Note that if you have Snap active (View->Snap), it makes it much easier to move her into the proper place. When you reach the left hand side, she will “snap” to it. The same goes for the bottom edge of her.
Okay, leave her for now and go to the image of the streetlamp. Again, Select All, Copy, then Paste that into the new document. Immediately you will notice that the streetlamp is HUGE! This is not a problem, though. Simply go to Edit->Free Transform (Control-T) and drag one of the corner handles in to resize it. Remember to hold down Shift while dragging to make sure that it resized in proportion. Alternatively, you can click on the Maintain Aspect Ratio button in the transform settings toolbar as indicated below:
I wanted the woman to have the appearance that she was running down the street in the rain. However, the streetlamp didn’t look to be at the right angle, so what I did was flip it horizontally the same as I did with the woman (Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal). After resizing and moving the streetlamp, your image should now look something like this:
Now it’s time to drop in that skyscraper that we worked on. By now you should be familiar with the first step – Select All, Copy, and then Paste it into the new document. Now as a rule of thumb, you should only use source images that are larger than your final image. This is because enlarging an image will always degrade the quality of the image, whereas when you make an image smaller, you maintain the quality of the image. Unfortunately in this case, the skyscraper image is much smaller than our main image. However, this is not going to matter all that much, as most of the imperfections will be hidden once we start applying our effects. Remember earlier when I said to be careful when converting it to black and white? This was because I wanted to minimize the artifacts because they would only be more noticeable in this stage when we have to enlarge the image.
In either case, at this point go to Edit->Free Transform (Control-T) and hold down the Shift key to constrain proportions while dragging a corner handle out so we can enlarge the skyscraper. The goal here is to match the height of the image. Don’t be concerned about the width because all we really care about is the main skyscraper in the image. Once you’ve resized the skyscraper to match the height of the image, move it so that the left edge matches up with the left edge of the new document. What you should end up with is something like this:
If you haven’t already, or if the building is covering everything, make sure that you have all of your layers correct. The topmost layer should contain the image of the woman, the next layer should contain the streetlamp, and the third layer should contain the skyscraper like this:
Now it’s actually starting to shape up into a real image! Okay, so we’re done with creating our little montage. Now it’s time to start adding that Sin City effect to it.
3. Creating the Rain
With the nice contrast between the blacks and whites, the image is already starting to look like it jumped out of the pages of a graphic novel. But although it’s dark, it’s still not quite gritty enough. To help it along, we’re going to be adding some rain.
Create a new layer and drag it on top of all the other layers. Next use the Paint Bucket tool and fill the new layer with black. Go over to the Filter menu and choose Noise->Add Noise. Now depending upon how much rain you want, adjust the Amount slider to the left or right, keeping in mind that less is more. I like to keep it around 20-25%. Make sure that the Distribution is set to Gaussian and that the Monochromatic box is checked. These are the settings that I used for the image:
I know what you’re thinking, we just made a bunch of random dots and it doesn’t look like rain at all. Don’t worry, I’m getting to it. The first thing we need to do is make it look like it’s falling. So again head on over to the Filter menu and choose Filter->Blur->Motion Blur. We want the rain to look natural and rain never falls straight up and down, so set your angle to something like 70 degrees, and set the distance to somewhere around 12 pixels.
You could leave it as is but it’s a little too smooth for my tastes, so I’m going to add some extra steps. Go back to your menu and choose Image->Threshold. Pull the slider to the left towards the right side of the hump in the histogram. The more towards the left the slider is, the more rain you’ll have. Use your own judgment, but I find that it starts to look fake if you pull it past the middle area. If you keep it somewhere around 30, it should be fine.
Now change the layer mode to Screen, and drop the Opacity down to somewhere between 35 to 40%. Better, but just to add a bit more realism, let’s blur it a bit more. Go to Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur and choose a small radius of something like .3 pixels. Perfect! If you want, you can even duplicate the rain layer and then resize it, tilt it, or even just leave it as is to make the rain stand out more. I think mine looks good as is, so I’m just going to leave it alone.
At this point your image should look something like below:
If you’re satisfied with the way it looks, Flatten (Layer->Flatten Image) the image down to one layer (be sure to save a copy with your layers intact first.) If you like, you can even adjust the Levels and boost up some of those blacks too. The Levels adjustment can be found under Image->Adjustments->Levels (Control-L).
4. Finishing Touches
We’re almost there, but at this point the image could use a few subtle touches just to give it a bit more life. For example, in order to make the rain look a little more realistic, we need to show its effects on some of the things in the image.
Take the Brush tool, set your foreground color to white and set the Opacity to 50%. Then with a small hard edged brush, start drawing in little details like splashes of rain here and there, or little rivulets on the woman’s arms. Here you can see some of what I mean:
Little details like that go a long way to making your image look more realistic.
The next thing I did was add some light coming from the streetlamp. To do this, I used the selection tool and drew in a rough cone:
Then I added an Inner Glow layer effect with the following settings:
Finally I set the layer mode to Soft Light, and dropped the opacity down to about 53%. This gave the light a nice soft glow, and made it look more natural. However it didn’t fall on the woman right and looked kind of painted on top of her. No worries, though. One quick Layer Mask fixed that up nicely. I basically masked out the woman, and then went back and removed some of the mask on her arm to make some shadows. Below is what the mask looks like to give you a general idea:
So at this point, you should have the streetlamp light with the layer mask and the Inner Glow layer effect on the top layer, and then the flattened layer with everything else in it below that. I could have probably put the light in its own layer before I flattened it, but doing it this way results in the same thing. Besides, Layer Masks are great things to use, and it’s always good to practice.
So this is what our image looks like now:
We are just two steps away from completing this image! I hope you’re still with me. It’s been rough, but we’re about to see the payoff.
5. Text And Framing And Finished!
Now no Sin City image would be complete without some comic book type text, right? Okay, before I show you how to add that in, you need to make sure that you have an appropriate font installed. There are some great free fonts available all over the internet, but one of my personal favorites is from the guys over at blambot.com. If you haven’t already, jump on over there and pick up their WebLetterer font (it’s completely free). Once you’ve downloaded and installed that, come back here and I’ll show you how to put it to good use.
Making comic book text is probably one of the easiest things you will ever do in Photoshop. Go to your Text tool, select the WebLetterer font at about 18pt size, make sure the color is set to black, and start typing out your text. This will create a new layer with your text on it. Now create another layer beneath the text layer and using the rectangular marquee tool, draw a rectangle around your text. Next go to Edit->Stroke and choose an appropriate width (I find 3 pixels works well with images this size), choose black for the color, and Inside for the Location. Then grab the Paint Bucket tool, set your foreground color to white, and click in the box you just created. Done! This is what we end up with:
If you want, for a different look, you could even skip the box step and just type your text in white for a different kind of feel. In either case, get ready because we’re almost there.
The next thing we’re going to do is add a frame around the image. Create a new blank layer above all the other layers. Now take your Brush tool and using the Rough Ink brush with the color set to white and the size around 39 pixels, draw in a border around the entire frame of the picture. This is just to give it a bit of a painted feel, more like the graphic novel that it came from. If you find that you’re can’t keep your edges straight, don’t worry. For this kind of image, it actually looks better if the edges are a bit rough. You should have something that looks like this when you’re done:
The last step is to add in the Sin City logo. Just open it, make sure you’re in RGB image mode (Image->Mode->RGB, then go to Select->Color Range and click on any of the black area. Click OK and this will have selected all of the black in the image. Hit delete to get rid of it, and then just copy and paste it into the image. I like to use the Free Transform tool to put it on an angle as well. That’s it, we’re done! This is the final product:
At this point you could tweak the levels a bit to bring out the blacks a little more, but that’s really all there is to it. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. I know it was a long one, but hopefully after reading this, you can now say that you know how to create a cool photo montage and add a Sin City effect to your images. Thanks for reading!