Monday, November 10, 2008
All-Digital Polaroid Transfers - 11/10/08
Emulate the Look of Polaroid Transfers…without all the fuss and muss!
In the digital darkroom there’s no simple solution to recreate the look of a Polaroid transfer, but with a little work (and the original process certainly involves some) you can create a digital stand-in for this artful process.
To begin choose a photograph that lends itself to the ethereal feel of a Polaroid transfer. I like classic portraits, landscapes, or even sculptures and decorative objects. Then create a new document in Photoshop that will become your base of operations. I like to scan a piece of fine watercolor or drawing paper that provides both a rich color and texture, but you can start by simply filling the background with a creamy paper color.The next step is to apply your image to the paper. Create a 3x4-proportioned selection in the center of the document leaving the paper edges to provide a border—the same way it’s done with real Polaroid’s and paper. After copying the original image file, use the Paste Into function to place the image within the constraints of the selection. This will allow you to scale the image up and down as needed, all the while maintaining the 3x4-proportion of an authentic Polaroid transfer. (Alternatively, you can simply paste your photo without a selection, and later adjust the Polaroid edges to match.)
Next it’s time to desaturate the layer with the photo to emulate the softer hues of a Polaroid transfer. In the Image menu, choose Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and drag the saturation slider to the left to reduce the vividness of the colors in the photo. I then like to use the Shadow/Highlight controls to bring up detail from the darkest shadows, because it also helps to emulate the slightly less contrasty look of a Polaroid transfer.
To further tweak the photo’s color, open the Color Balance dialog in the Image>Adjustments menu, and with the highlights option checked, drag the color balance slider to increase the yellow in the highlights. Then choose the shadows selection (in both cases, “Preserve luminosity” should not be checked) and drag the sliders to increase the magenta and cyan in the shadows. The photo should now look more like what is expected from a Polaroid transfer, but it still needs more work.
Using any number of the Artistic filters (such as paint daubs, dry brush, palette knife and smudge stick) adjust the photograph to lessen some of the finest details in the image, but not so much as to completely eliminate them. Your goal is simply to deemphasize details, not to destroy them. Continue by adding a new layer above the image layer filled with the background paper color. Changing this layer’s properties to “darken” will fill in the bright white highlight areas in the photo with the paper base—again mimicking the real deal.
At this point I like to add the Polaroid border to the image. You can scan your own Polaroid edges, or look around online for the countless options available. So many people love the unpredictable edges of Polaroid’s that there are many Web resources for using the edges as borders and frames. Either way, paste the border over the photo and adjust the layer properties to “overlay” or “darken” to show only the black parts of the border. Then using the Transform tool, drag the Polaroid edges to fit your photograph perfectly, and feel free to erase any errant parts of the border that you’re not happy with.
If you didn’t start this process with a textured paper scan, or if the texture isn’t showing quite enough, now is the time to add that touch of authenticity via the Texturizer filter. Though the canvas and burlap options in the Texturizer look great, I think the sandstone option is perfect for creating the texture of a rough watercolor paper. Adjust the sliders and experiment until you’re happy with the amount, and render it to watch the photo come together.
The photo now looks great, and a lot like a Polaroid transfer. You can quit now happily, or feel free to continue “distressing” the image to give it even more of the peculiarities of the analog process. Duplicate the layer with your photo in it, and double-click the layer icon in the Layers Palette to open the Layer Style menu. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, and at the bottom of the window drag the “Blend If” sliders to adjust the amount of this layer that will show in the finished photo. Experimenting with these sliders is a great way to include only the darkest or only the lightest parts of this layer, without obscuring the layer below completely, and without a global opacity adjustment. Don’t hesitate to selectively mask or erase this layer to further refine the results.
To continue modifying the shadows and highlights, you can repeat the process and use the Magic Wand tool with the Contiguous selection option unchecked to select the darkest values in the image. Inverse the selection and delete to leave only the darkest areas of the photo, and further darken (or lighten) with variations to levels, contrast, brightness, noise, etc. Repeating this step with selective erasing/masking is a phenomenal way to add those last bits of splotches that are the hallmarks of actual Polaroid transfers. It was such random imperfection that made the process so appealing in the first place.
When you’re satisfied that you’ve effectively ruined the photo enough to make it look like a real Polaroid transfer, all that’s left is to make a print. I suggest printing on a thick matte paper. As involved as the process is, it’s still easier than the real thing—and not nearly as messy and unpredictable!