Twirling Images In Photoshop – A Tutorial

BW-THU-0203201801-I000 - The Twirled Object of Our Desire

BW-THU-0203201801-I000 – The Twirled Object of Our Desire

Introduction:

So the Photoshop twirling craze is once again taking the photography world by storm. About two years ago this twirling thing was all the rage and droves of people were spinning their images out of control. Well, the look is back once again, and this time it would appear to be here with a vengeance.

I am sure there are countless tutorials out there and how to spin your images into submission, but I thought I’d throw my version into the mix. I suppose that each of these tutorials could approach twirling from a different perspective, but I would like to outline the techniques that I prefer.

Picking An Image:

While for many image selection seems to be an afterthought I like to carefully review my images and consider which ones I think would twirl best. In the following screenshot, you can see that I have selected the image shown from my Lightroom catalog:

BW-THU-0203201801-I001 - Picking out the right image in Lightroom

BW-THU-0203201801-I001 – Picking out the right image in Lightroom

In talking with many photographers who have tried the twirling effect on their images I have found that many of them feel that they have very little artistic control over the results. Often they think that they are at the whim of the Photoshop filters used and that the results are somewhat random. I find that nothing could be further from the truth and if I am careful in selecting my image I can have a pretty good idea of what my final resulting might be. Images that display a strong sense of symmetry or the very least very recognizable patterns tend to swirl very well. Working with pictures that have brighter and more vibrant colors, for example, those with complementary color sets, tend to yield the most colorful and aesthetically appealing twirled images. In short, a little bit of time spent carefully selecting your source image can dramatically affect the process in the output.

The image that I have selected for this article has very well defined symmetry in a mirror like representation from left to right in the frame. This display of balance, I feel will yield an ideal twirled result. Additionally, the image is very high key in nature with an almost entirely white background with the central portions of the image being made up of vivid bright colors that display in a very patterned way. As we work through the steps to take this picture from the way it looks now to a twirled result should make it clear to you how these starting elements in the image are affecting the outcome.

All The Heavy Lifting Is In Photoshop:

Now that I have my image selected in Lightroom it’s time to tell the application that I wish to have the file opened in Photoshop so I can edit it there.

BW-THU-0203201801-I002 - It's off to Photoshop we go

BW-THU-0203201801-I002 – It’s off to Photoshop we go

A Little Housekeeping:

Now that my image file has opened in Photoshop, I have a little bit of housekeeping work that I would like to do. I am a stickler for managing the layers in any Photoshop document upon which I am working. Taking the time to organize your layers before your Photoshop document becomes large and cumbersome is undoubtedly a wise investment of your time.

BW-THU-0203201801-I003 - Cleaning up names for later

BW-THU-0203201801-I003 – Cleaning up names for later

One of the things that I like to do is make sure that layers within my document have names that make sense to me when I look at them later. It is easy to rename a layer in Photoshop, merely double-click upon the name itself in the layer strip. The layer strip name will enter edit mode. Make the changes that you desire and then hit enter to commit them.

BW-THU-0203201801-I004 - Pick names that make sense

BW-THU-0203201801-I004 – Pick names that make sense

Once you are all finished with your layer names edits, you can confirm that the changes are correct in the Layers Panel.

BW-THU-0203201801-I005 - Name(s) are ready to go

BW-THU-0203201801-I005 – Name(s) are ready to go

Okay Bring On The Filters:

Now that we have our housekeeping done it’s time to begin applying filters to our image layer. At this point, I only have the one image layer, but that’s the perfect place to start for twirling an image.

We are going to begin by applying a Radial Blur filters. The Radial Blur filter, when set up correctly, will radially blur the image from the center to the outside. The Radial Blur command is accessed from the filter menu as shown in the next screenshot.

BW-THU-0203201801-I006 - The Filter/Blur/Radial Blur... command

BW-THU-0203201801-I006 – The Filter/Blur/Radial Blur… command

Once the radial blur dialog box appears, please confirm that your settings are as shown in the next screenshot.

BW-THU-0203201801-I007 - The Radial Blur Settings

BW-THU-0203201801-I007 – The Radial Blur Settings

Once your settings match the ones you see above, go ahead and run the Filter on your image. As you can see in the next screenshot, this is not the fastest filter in the world, so have a little patience while it is running.

BW-THU-0203201801-I008 - The command takes a while, don't lose faith...

BW-THU-0203201801-I008 – The command takes a while, don’t lose faith…

Once the command is finished running, your image should look something like what you see in the next screenshot. Obviously you won’t have the same image that I have here, but the general idea is that the Radial Filter is abstractly stretching the image from the center to the edges of the frame.

BW-THU-0203201801-I009 - A blurred image...

BW-THU-0203201801-I009 – A blurred image…

Step 02

One thing worth considering here, is the possibility of extending the Radial Blur even further to extend the look of the filter. This is easy to accomplish in Photoshop, as the program has a feature that allows you to rerun the last Filter command with the same settings you just used. Simply use the Cmd+F (MAC) / Ctrl+F (WIN) shortcut to run the command again. In addition to seeing the Filter status bar again, you will also notice that the Filter command will be listed a second time in the History Panel as seen in the next screen shot.

BW-THU-0203201801-I010 - Cmd + F (MAC) / Ctrl + F (WIN) command repeats the last filter

BW-THU-0203201801-I010 – Cmd + F (MAC) / Ctrl + F (WIN) command repeats the last filter

Step 03

Now that we have finished the desired blurring effect on our image layer, it’s time to duplicate that layer, so that we end up with two copies of the image. You may have noted, when looking at of twirled images, that there is a sense of repetition to them, that they are somewhat symmetrical from side to side and top to bottom. That look, if you will, comes from duplicate the one layer and then eventually having those two layers interact with one another. Well get to that interaction a bit later, but for now, we need to make sure we get our second layer created.

Photoshop has a convenient shortcut that allows us to quickly duplicate the layer we are on to a new one. Now hold on a second before you do this shortcut because I am going to tell you about two versions.

The first version, of the Duplicate Layer shortcut (Cmd+J (MAC) / Ctrl+J (WIN)), simply creates a layer and gives it a default layer name. If you already have, for example, a Layer 1, your new layer will become Layer 2, and so on. That’s hand and all, but there’s a better way to do it, that fits my compulsive nature and keeps everything nicely named.

The second version of the Duplicate Layer shortcut (Cmd+Opt+J (MAC) / Ctrl+Alt+J (WIN)) not only creates the copy of the layer that you are currently on, but it stops and provides a dialog box that allows you to provide the name you want for that layer. The next screenshot shows the dialog box that pops up when we use the second Duplicate Layer shortcut.

BW-THU-0203201801-I011 - Duplicating our first layer and the work we have done so far

BW-THU-0203201801-I011 – Duplicating our first layer and the work we have done so far

Again, I like to keep my layers organized, so I provided a name that I knew would be helpful later when looking through my layers. Might seem like a bit much for a two-layer document, but get 20, 30, or more layers going and things get confusing real quick.

Step 04:

Now that I have successfully made a secondary copy of my initial layer I am ready to do some actual twirling of my images.

Before we get too far into this step, I do want to offer one caveat to which we should pay attention. We are about to twirl both layers in our Photoshop document, one at a time. After we are finished twirling our first layer, it is not going to look like we have accomplished anything at all. We, in fact, have, however, our efforts are going to be covered by the layer above it. See the interaction of the twirled layers won’t happen for another two (2) steps in the tutorial.

The first thing that I want to do is make sure that all of us are twirling the same layer. If you look at the next screenshot provided, you will note that I am about to twirl the bottom layer of the two (2) layers in the Layers Control panel. I know that the twirl operation will get applied to this bottom layer because I can see that it is currently the active layer in the document. Determining which layer is active is as simple as looking for the layer that has the light gray layer strip. If a layer other than the one you wish to work on is active merely click on the desired layer and when it switches to light gray you will then know that it is the active layer. If you are not already, you will want to become familiar with confirming which layer is the active layer. When working with multi-layered Photoshop documents, you’ll be switching layers on a regular basis.

Now we are going to initiate another Photoshop filter command. This time we are going to use the Distort\Twirl… command. The next screenshot indicates where the Distort\Twirl… command can be found in Photoshop’s menu system.

BW-THU-0203201801-I012 - Exploring the Filters Menu

BW-THU-0203201801-I012 – Exploring the Filters Menu

Once you have found and selected the command, you should see a dialog like the one in the next screenshot.

BW-THU-0203201801-I013 - Our first Twirl Filter

BW-THU-0203201801-I013 – Our first Twirl Filter

What you see in the previous screenshot is the Twirl dialog box. The Twirl dialog box offers a simple interface for setting and executing the Distort\Twirl… command.

The most critical setting in the twirl dialog box is the angle slider. The Twirl filter rotates the image on the active layer or the contents of a selection around a central point. This rotation occurs sharply in the center and falls off at the edges. The angle slider supports values between -999 and 999. With negative values rotating the Twirl counterclockwise and positive values rotating the Twirl clockwise. The further the number is away from zero in a negative or positive direction, the more pronounced the swirl.

Here is a step in the process where you may want to experiment and see how it affects your outcome. As you are doing more and more twirling on your own, this is a setting that can have a dramatic impact on the result. Feel free to play here and always remember you can undo steps in the History Panel if you are at any point not happy.

The Twirl dialog box also provides a zoomed view of the effect, which you can zoom in and out on as you desire, and black-and-white line art representation of how the selected angle setting affects the twirl about to be performed.

For our tutorial let’s go ahead and set a twirl angle value of 180. You’ll want to remember this value because we are going to recall and reuse this number going in the opposite direction when we twirl our remaining layer. The next screenshot shows you the result of the Twirl filter.

As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t look like the Twirl filter had any effect on our image. However, if you look at the layer thumbnail on the bottom layer in the Layers Control panel, you will see that in fact that layer was twirled as requested. The duplicate image that we created earlier is sitting on top of the layer stack and is blocking the view of the layer below it.

BW-THU-0203201801-I015 - Twirl one done, but hidden, for now

BW-THU-0203201801-I015 – Twirl one done, but hidden, for now

Step 05:

Our next step is relatively easy. First, we are going to switch our active layer to our duplicated image that we made earlier. Again changing the active layer is as simple as clicking on the layer strip that you wish to be active. You can confirm the active layer by looking at the layer strip displayed in light gray. For this next step, we want to make sure that our top layer or duplicated image layer is the active layer.

We are then going to run the Distort\Twirl… command a second time. Refer to the screenshot below to ensure that you have correctly set the active layer and that you are accessing the Distort\Twirl… command from the Filter menu just as we did before.

BW-THU-0203201801-I016 - Getting ready for twirl number two, make sure the right layer is active

BW-THU-0203201801-I016 – Getting ready for twirl number two, make sure the right layer is active

Once again the Twirl dialog box is displayed, and once more the most critical setting is that of the angle slider control. If you recall in our first twirl, we set the angle slider to 180. For this twirl we would like the effect to have the same magnitude yet, we want it to be going in the opposite direction. If we take the value that we used for the previous twirl and we put a minus sign in front of it we will get the same amount of rotation but in the opposite direction.

BW-THU-0203201801-I017 - Twirl number two, going the other direction

BW-THU-0203201801-I017 – Twirl number two, going the other direction

Here we can see the result of our most recent Twirl command…

BW-THU-0203201801-I018 - Twirl number two, a little more impressive

BW-THU-0203201801-I018 – Twirl number two, a little more impressive

Step 06:

Well, at least this time we can see the results of our most recent Twirl command. It is a beautiful twirl to be sure, but it is not the final hoped-for outcome. In this our last step in this tutorial we will explore a variety of ways by which we can make these two twirl layers interact with one another to create a final composition.

This last step is, as they say, where the rubber meets the road. All of our efforts up to this point have prepared us to mix these two twirled layers artistically. Photoshop’s Blend Mode is where that art is about to happen.

BW-THU-0203201801-I019 - Taking a look at Blend Modes

BW-THU-0203201801-I019 – Taking a look at Blend Modes

The Blend Mode in Photoshop lives at the top of the Layers Control panel. A Blend Mode controls the pixel by pixel interaction between two layers. Each layer has a Blend Mode, independent of any other layer’s setting. The Blend Mode of a specific layer will interact with the pixels displayed in the layer below it. The default Blend Mode for any new layer is the Normal mode. If a layer has its Blend Mode set to Normal, then that layer’s pixels are blocking the pixels of the layer below it, depending upon the opacity setting of the upper of the two layers. If a layer has its Blend Mode set to Normal and its Opacity set to 100%, any contents of that layer will block the layer below it. Precisely what we see so far in our tutorial here.

While blend modes are a class in and of themselves, we are going to quickly explore a couple of the more popular modes here now. The next screenshot shows the blend mode drop-down and all of the modes that are available there.

BW-THU-0203201801-I020 - The Lighten Blend Mode

BW-THU-0203201801-I020 – The Lighten Blend Mode

For now, let’s go ahead and select the Lighten Blend Mode. In our next screenshot, you can observe the effect of picking this blend mode on our upper layer.

BW-THU-0203201801-I021 - And the results of our first Blend Mode change

BW-THU-0203201801-I021 – And the results of our first Blend Mode change

That’s more like it finally a twirl that goes both directions and has some interaction between the two layers in the document. All of this twirled goodness brought to you, courtesy of the Lighten Blend Mode.

It is not our intention to go deeply into Blend Modes in this article, but I do want to explain what you see here. The Lighten Blend Mode performs a pixel by pixel mathematical comparison between the two layers. When looking at two pixels, aligned on top of one another, the Lighten Blend Mode formula says whichever pixel is lightest wins. In simple terms between these two layers, the light pixels are winning out over the dark pixels wherever they sit on top of each other.

Now let’s explore one more blend mode in the screenshot below you’ll see that we are getting prepared to use the Darken Blend Mode. Based on our previous experience with the Lighten Blend Mode it should be easy to predict what the Darken Blend Mode will do.

BW-THU-0203201801-I022 - Thinking about the Darken Blend Mode

BW-THU-0203201801-I022 – Thinking about the Darken Blend Mode

Our twirl now takes on an entirely different look and has leanings more towards a darker version of the lighter twirl. As you might have suspected the Darken Blend Mode again performs a mathematical comparison on a pixel by pixel basis, between the two layers and in each case the darker pixel wins.

BW-THU-0203201801-I023 - And the verdict is one, I seem to like the Darken Blend mode better

BW-THU-0203201801-I023 – And the verdict is one, I seem to like the Darken Blend mode better

As you probably noted, there are a lot of Blend Modes available, and a reasonable amount of experimentation will have you seeing all sorts of different results between your two twirled layers. Twirling images in Photoshop is one of those things that you can play with for hours and hours and generate new and unique versions every time.

Well, this concludes our introduction into twirling images in Photoshop. We hope you have enjoyed this article and found just a little bit of unexpected fun in Photoshop Layers, Filters and Blend Modes. In an upcoming article, we will explore some additional techniques applied to twirling images in Photoshop. We hope you had fun.

This tutorial has been brought to you by soft light studios and our workshop guides Tim Neumann and Lorie McQuirt. Check out our upcoming workshop schedule, full of destinations where we will expand your nature, photographic, and post-processing horizons.