Category Archives: tutorial

Tutorial ~ How To Use Textures On Your Photographs

Today I’m going to show you how to use textures on your images using the Cotton Candy texture from my Sugar & Spice collection.  I’m using Photoshop Elements 8 for this, but you can do it in any photo editing software that will allow you to use layers.
When I first started using textures I didn’t know very much about them, so my images tended to look overly processed and much too dark.

But I hope to give you some techniques that will help you avoid making the same mistakes as I did and show you how to apply them a little more skillfully!
So using the Cotton Candy texture we’re going to turn this image:

into this one: 

It’s not a huge difference, I know, but the point of the Sugar & Spice textures is just to add a subtle hint of something sweet to your shots.  So a little light and colour, but nothing too dramatic is the effect we’re aiming for.
So to start with we’ll open both images in Photoshop Elements (or whatever program you’re using).

The photo we want to use the texture on is in a portrait format, so we’ll need to rotate the texture into a portrait position by going to Image > Rotate > 90° Left

Next we want to open the texture as a new layer on the original image.  In Elements all you need to do is click the texture icon on the very bottom of the screen and drag it onto the original image.  You can also select the texture, copy it and then paste it onto the original image. 
You might find that the texture is too large for your original image.  So if you press Command + T together, or if you go to Image > Transform > Free Transform  you can change it to suit your particular image. 
If you look at your Layers dock (if it’s not visible go to Window > Layers) you’ll see that the texture has opened as a new layer over your original image.  Make sure your texture layer is selected by clicking on it and checking if it is highlighted. 
What we want to do next is play around with different blending modes and opacity percentages until we find the perfect one for the look we want to create. 
For this image we want a soft, light look, so modes likes ‘Overlay’, ‘Soft Light’ and ‘Screen’ will be quite successful.  But play around with all of them until you find the one you like best, different modes will suit different images!
To do this you use the drop down tools on the top of the layers palette: 

For this image I’ve selected the ‘Screen’ blending mode and an Opacity of 38%. 
At this point you’ll already see a marked different, the texture has added a very nice shade of pink and extra light into the original image:

Next we’re going to add an extra original layer on top of the textured layer, and then reduce its opacity.  This will ensure the image doesn’t get too softened by the texture and that there is still plenty of contrast left. 
So we’ll add an extra original layer by selecting the background layer in the layers dock and pressing Control + J together.  Drag the new layer to the very top, above the texture layer:

Now reduce its opacity until you are happy with it.  There’s no need to select a different blending mode, simply leave it on ‘Normal’.  For this image I’ve reduced the opacity to 10%

The result is subtle, but important, especially if you are using heavier textures that your original image might otherwise get lost behind. 
At this point the image looks pretty good, it’s probably perfect to use at it is, but we’re going to change one more tiny thing. 
In the bottom left corner you’ll see some dots of colour left from the sparkly section of the Cotton Candy texture.  We want to get rid of the spots, but keep the colour and effect of the texture. 
So to do this we need to open a new blank file, whatever size you like, and fill it with a light colour.  In this case I’ve filled it with a light pink:

Select the Healing Tool from the panel on your left and press Alt while clicking on any part of this new coloured image to make a selection. 
Now return to your textured image, specifically to the texture layer, and apply the Healing Tool to whatever parts of the texture you would like to blend away.  You’ll find that the Healing Tool allows you to keep the colour of the texture, but erases any marks it might leave on your image. 
This technique is especially helpful if you’re using texture on photos of people and want to get rid of any marks on their skin. 
Now we’re finished with our image, and the end result looks like this: 

To save the file you’ll need to go to Layer > Flatten Image first.  This will turn the photo into one single layer.  
And we’re done!

I hope you’ve found this helpful, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me: and I’ll help if I can! 
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10 Tips for Photographing Cupcakes ~ Have Your Cupcake Shot Featured On City Of Blackbirds!

if you’re a regular visitor here, or if you’ve spent some time going through old posts on city of blackbirds, you’ll know that i’m ever so slightly obsessed with cupcakes.  they are my number one thing to photograph, and not only because you can eat them afterwards!  they’re so pretty, come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colours and make for really sweet shots (pun intended!).  they are great fun to work with.  

so, to help spread the cupcake love, i’ve put together some tips on taking photographs of cupcakes that will hopefully inspire and help you to take some shots of your own.

if you decide to try your own cupcake shot please let me know and i will feature some of your photos in a ‘reader feature’ series of blog posts here on city of blackbirds! if you have any tips of your own please share them so i can include them in your feature.  you can contact me at

thank you so much to katrina of pugly pixel for the cute starburst shapes i’ve used on all my images in this post!  

tip #1 ~ try not to eat the cupcake before the shoot!  lol  ok seriously, i know it’s hard to resist how delicious they can look, but even just scooping off a tiny amount of icing for a taste can alter how the cupcake looks, especially if you are shooting up close.  try to get the cupcake home in one piece so that it looks perfect for your shot.  
tip #2 ~ regarding getting the cupcake home in one piece: make sure the bakery you buy from will give you the cupcake to take away in a box that will help it hold its shape.  here in dublin some bakeries will only put your cupcake in a paper bag with nothing to protect it!  obviously they’re ruined pretty quickly that way, sure you can still eat them, but the point of a cupcake is that they LOOK wonderful, like a little fantasty cake, and no one wants a fantasy that’s been smushed all over a paper bag.  these days i will only buy from bakeries that have prepared a proper protective box for me to carry my cupcake home in, it makes all the difference for photos.

tip #3 ~ try making your own cupcakes!  nothing will look as unique as the cupcake you make yourself.  plus it’s incredibly easy and fun to make them, even if you’re baking shy.  when i make them i use a recipe from the hummingbird bakery cookbook, it’s easy to follow and there are lots of variations on the basic recipe to try out.  if you make them yourself you also have the option of doing a ‘the making of the cupcakes’ type post.

tip #4 ~ before setting up for a shoot look around for inspiration.  check out cooking blogs, magazines and bakery websites to learn about what looks good, how best to compose a shot and what you think will work for you.  i don’t mean copy another shot completely, but be inspired by the huge variety of beautiful images out there and create your own ideas for your unique shot.  i’ve put together a pinboard here with lots of cupcake shots that i love, including the links to their original sites so you can have a further look, i hope you find it helpful! 
tip #5 ~ use a tripod.  you’ll need something to help you keep your camera still while you make small alterations to shots or as you take time to perfect the composition when you’re looking through the lens.  if you don’t have a tripod try to keep your camera still by balancing it on a solid surface like a pile of books (but make sure not to block out any light). 
tip #6 ~ lighting is important.  i don’t know anything about professional lighting, i just use the light that comes in the window!  but having shot in both natural and artificial lighting i find natural light the best, it looks much softer and more pleasing to the eye.  but by all means, introduce some artificial lighting if you think it will look good in your shot, sometimes i like to add in fairy lights for some extra sparkle!  whatever you choose make sure you think about how the lighting will make your cupcake look, it can make a huge difference.

tip #7 ~ if you need to boost the lighting use a reflector.  i use a home made one that consists of tinfoil wrapped around a large piece of card, it’s not amazing but it does what i need it to.

tip #8 ~ don’t be afraid to get up close with the lens and fill the frame with your cupcake!

tip #9 ~ be inventive.  add some simple props or put the cupcakes on a coloured surface.  i sometimes use sheets of tissue paper underneath to add a spash of colour.  if you’re making your own cupcakes be creative with the icing colour or maybe try making rainbow sponge for something really special!  you can also try setting a theme, since it’s halloween this month you could make some spooky (yet tasty!) cupcakes.  last halloween i made some spooky cookies with soft teeth sweets and red food dye, it would be pretty easy to replicate on a cupcake:  

tip #10 ~ don’t forget you can also be inventive with post processing techniques on your computer.  i love to alter colour or sometimes to add texture, it can completely change how your image looks (in both good and bad ways!).  if there is any desire for it i will post some tutorials on colour and texture techniques :)

ok now you’re armed with lots of hints, go out there brainstorm, bake and shoot some cupcakes!  just make sure to let me know so i can feature your shots on here, you can contact me at
don’t forget at the end of your shoot to have someone nearby with a cup of tea so you can enjoy the fruits of your labour!  
Posted in Photography, tutorial | Tagged | 9 Comments

Winter & Weather ~

this icy weather is really proving to be a challenge for ireland, we haven’t had a prolonged cold spell like this in over two decades and we’re really not prepared for it.  usually our winters are mild and wet, we don’t get much snow or severe cold temperatures, but at this stage it’s been three weeks and we still haven’t thawed out!
terrible stories are emerging such as elderly people afraid to keep their heating on so that their bills wont be more than they can afford, and people being stranded in their homes for up to ten days running out of food and sanity too i would imagine.  it’s getting desperate and there is not much hope in sight as this weekend is supposed to bring further snow and ice.  
i’m fortunate enough to live in the city where i can’t be stranded due to snowfall or treacherous driving conditions, but regardless life has slowed down as all the footpaths are literally like ice rinks, people are breaking and fracturing bones in large numbers.  snow showers cause traffic chaos and travel panic as everyone rushes to get home before conditions become too difficult.  our bus services have withdrawn all their busses throughout the city several times this week, even going as far as to pull over and make all passengers disembark and make their way home through some other method! 
as much as i love the snow i hope that it comes to an end soon, for the sake of all those who are worse off than me in such conditions.  also despite the beautiful snow all over dublin at the moment i haven’t been able to go out and take photos due to being sick, so i’m pretty miffed!
ok snow rant over! :)  how have you guys been surviving the winter?  i know england is having worse conditions than us at the moment, they’re getting the worst of the current cold weather!
one or two of you asked how i made the heart shaped light patches on this photo:
it’s not difficult at all, any one can do it :) it’s just two photos layered on top of each other.  i opened the original shot in photoshop and then also opened this photo which i took with my lensbaby (with the heart shaped aperture in it) of a shop window:
i just copied a little section of the hearts photo and layered it over the original photo, then adjusted the opacity until i was happy with it!  simple :)
i keep a couple of shots like the lensbaby hearts on file to use them as textures on other photos, they can often add a dreamy effect that i quite like.  the lensbaby is great fun to use, especially with the heart shaped aperture in.  here’s another one i really like that i took of a chandelier in the same shop window:

for those of you who aren’t aware of what the lensbaby is you can take a look here at their website here.  daniel gave me the lensbaby composer and the shaped apertures as a gift for christmas in 2008 and i love it so very much!    
however you don’t need to have a lensbaby to create heart shaped lights in photos, you can also cut a heart shape out of some black card and attach it to the front of your lens like this.  give it a try! 

Posted in Photography, tutorial | Tagged | 5 Comments