Photoshop Tutorial

Creating Virtuals in Photoshop

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By Will Heath, USA

virtual by Will Heath

Bonsai and virtual by Will Heath

In this tutorial I will show how I use Adobe Photoshop to help in deciding the direction to take when styling a bonsai. I have found that by using Photoshop to virtually change the tree while keeping in mind the placement of existing branches and the characteristics of the species, the styling process is much easier as I can actually "see" the possible changes before I make them.

Virtually styling a bonsai is an accepted practice among many bonsaists today and examples can be readily found not only on the web but also in such publications as Bonsai Today. Virtuals have become a useful tool for teaching on the web as well as it allows individuals to visually show a direction for the bonsai which is far easier than trying to describe it with words alone. Considering these assets, every person should have a basic working knowledge of how to create virtuals and I hope this tutorial helps in that sense.

Why Photoshop? I have found that Photoshop is the easiest program to use for image manipulation as the program is well laid out with an abundance of tools, many of which can not be found on any other programs. The program is a little more expensive than others but in my opinion, well worth the price.


Golden Gate Ficus (Ficus retusa microcarpa)

Golden Gate Ficus (Ficus retusa microcarpa)

In the first screen shot, I have loaded the original image of the stock that I want to do a virtual of. It makes it a lot easier for virtuals if the selection has a solid background, a point everyone should consider when taking pictures of a tree that they may want virtuals on. It is possible to also do virtuals on less than perfect backgrounds as well; but it takes a little more effort to either match the existing background or to replace it completely.


donor photograph

For the foliage that I will need to complete the virtual, I open up another picture of the same species of Ficus. I often keep pictures handy for virtuals of foliage, trunks, branches, soil, moss and containers. These come in handy as "donor photographs" for making virtuals as we will see below.


resizing 1 resizing 2

In order to virtually reduce the foliage size, I resize the donor image to 75%, reducing the foliage on the donor image by 25% with a click of a button.


"lasso tool."

I now select a portion of the foliage on my donor picture using the "lasso tool." The selection you make depends on the size and shape of the pieces you will be adding and the placement of such.


copy the selection

I then copy the selection, click on my virtual picture to bring it to the front and paste the new foliage onto it.


"move tool"

Using the "move tool" I can move the new foliage to where ever I desire. When selecting foliage from the donor picture, you can create any angle, size or shape that is needed.


fill in the foliage

I fill in the foliage in the silhouette that I have in mind for the future of this bonsai, using the same method outlined above. I also place the new "reduced" foliage over the existing foliage in order to maintain the same scale. I always try to keep the virtual as realistic and obtainable as possible; a 25% reduction in foliage size has proved to be an easily obtainable goal with this species.


"clone stamp tool"

I’ll now start touching up by using the "clone stamp tool" and select an area of the background by holding down the "Alt key" while clicking on the area I wish to clone and then start cloning over the old foliage and to better define and shape what I have added. I also use this method to remove any foliage that is not needed or to better shape the new foliage.


clone foliage

I also use the "clone stamp tool" to clone foliage where I need to by selecting an area of foliage and cloning it where needed.


one possible direction

I now have one possible direction to style for, but I do not particularly like it. Fortunately, I still see other possibilities that I would like to visualize.


"lasso tool"

Using the "lasso tool" I select an area around the top apex and copy it. I then paste it back onto the picture and use the "move tool’ to position it in another area.


flatten the image

I flatten the image so that I can use tools on it. If you paste onto an image the program will only allow you to work on the pasted section, an advantage in certain situations but one must remember to flatten the image in order to work on all the photo again.


"clone stamp tool" again

Then using the "clone stamp tool" again, I select the background and clone over the apex in it’s former position.


"clone stamp tool" once again

Using the "clone stamp tool" once again, I slightly change the shape of the foliage.


I change it once again.

I change it once again.


not completely happy

Still not completely happy with the virtual, I reopen the original picture and following the steps above, I create another possible direction.


And Another

And Another.


I now have a few possible directions

I now have a few possible directions to go with this Ficus, none of which completely satisfy me, but all of which serve a purpose. I have learned that I may well have to change the planting angle, reshape the trunk, or change the direction of movement. This was learned all without bending a branch or touching the cutters.,

I hope that this tutorial has helped you to understand the process of creating virtuals and that you take what you have learned and use it to better your bonsai.

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