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Over the past several months the most popular question posed to Letters have been related to creating chrome or polished metals like silver and brass. These inquiries have been so inspiring that we have now pulled together several "chrome" articles that we've published over the years for our online readers.

Chrome? In reality the most important aspect of creating chrome is not in the drawing of it but more the ability to see it. Many people now utilize various tutorials in books or online that walk you through techniques with no regards to what it is you're actually painting. I've seen dozens of "'s my tip for chrome" websites where the artist drew something - it looked like chrome - so they called it chrome.

Then there are the hoards of PS users reading the how-to books. Many claim to, but few deliver.
      In The Photoshop Bible, Deke McClelland skirts around the issue altogether yet agrees that "...filters turn an image into a melted pile of metallic goo... I've never been satisfied with the results." (in reference to the Chrome filter) Then he goes ahead and tells you how to do it with "find edges" effect and proceeds to completely miss the point again. His section on the "Curves" function, however, is the best in the industry (pages 698 through 706) and provided me with the knowhow to bring off the chrome effects you'll see in the second part of our series "Chrome Layers, Levels & Curves" article.

Since the "Chrome" article became so large, it has been split it into several parts. Today's PART ONE talks about actually "seeing" the visual nuances of any polished surface. In PART TWO: "Tubular Chrome" we'll give you a step-by-step walk through drawing chrome from scratch using your head. Then in PART THREE "Chrome Layers, Levels & Curves" we'll walk you through the process of using built-in Photoshop functions to simulate chrome, soft aluminum, and brass just like we did in our header above.

Another related article is posted in our new &FOTOgraphic wing. "Photo Shoots" where we deal with photographing various objects, including one situation where we met the challenge of building 'perfect' reflections into shots of chrome.

Let's talk about metallic surfaces and polished objects.
See first. Then paint.


The whole thing about painting or drawing whether it's on a computer or not -- really has nothing to do with painting or drawing. It has to do with seeing.

To achieve an image the artist must do one of three things: mimic the work of others, or mimic reality, or mimic what they see in their mind's eye. And really that just boils down to being able to see -- clearly -- what the vision looks like and what the finished work of art will look like. All else is accident. Of course you disagree with that. Right?

Seeing is the most important phase of any creative act. (Or hearing when it comes to sound creation.) Seeing and interpreting.

polished surfacesJP Giraud wrote the following letter:

"I'm french, so please be indulgent with my trial english expression. Well, i'm looking for the technic to create a silver metallic object with photoshop. For an example, could you see the man at the MCM's Homepage. I'd like to realize exactly the same effect. Thanks looking for my need, GiPi."

... We "looked for" GiPi's "need" and indeed found a very nicely designed website. Isn't that a wonderful image? (shown at left) Do you suppose those things on the head grew there? (Too bad it's all in French, I'd love to know what they're talking about! )

But you see GiPi's question is a perfect example of looking but not seeing. The silver metallic object turns out to be a severely lighted, high-contrast model shot converted to grayscale and then colorized (Image > Adjust > Hue/Saturation = colorize) slightly with a steel blue version of the background blue. (Actually could easily also be a duotone.) What makes it a hit is the right photograph... not the technique used to achieve the effect.

First see what you're looking at... or see what's in your mind.

Polished surfaces

Polished surfaces always see something. (Fancy that!) If it's the hubcap of a car outside on a sunny day, the surface is going to see the landscape. (Open picture: #1, 2 and 6, keep open) If it's the grill of an antique auto, it could very well see the back-side of the headlight bulb. (#5) If it's a brass fire hydrant on a brick wall, it's going to see the ground, bricks, surrounding buildings and even the sky. (#4) The sugar bowl in the silver service (#3) above is reflected in the smooth side of the teapot.

reflectionLooking closely you can just make out the photographer as he aims the camera at this flashlight. On convex chrome shapes, what�s up becomes down, and here, is wrapped to the inside of the sphere. (Inverted spherize)

In the hub caps above the image is right-side-up, spherized. In the flashlight reflector, we see whatever it sees, which happens to be the photographer taking the picture. Yes, distorted, and up-side-down, but there none the less.

In all of these cases the polished metal is seeing something and then displaying it to us in the form of a reflection. The reflection is almost always indistinguishable unless the surface is a smooth, regular shape.

Severely shaped surfaces distort the reflections beyond recognition. (Like the fire hydrant, #4, above.) In the same respect, if the finish of the surface is not highly polished then there will probably be no reflection. (Like in the aluminum portions of the top, left photo #1.)

The key to drawing or rendering a polished surface is being able to see what it should look like. If you don't have the actual object, then you need to do sufficient research so that you can guess what it should look like. The Trophy was 'drawn' in Illustrator not from an actual trophy, but several objects which had similar shapes. Magazines are great idea sources.

Build reality, or build from reality

The remainder of the "Chrome" series was published in the subscriber version of Photoshop Tips & Tricks.


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