Crafting Animal Composites with Photoshop CC (Grade 3)

This is my first big regret of the year. Not that the idea behind the project wasn’t a good one, but that the expectation was perhaps too great for my Grade 3 students, who are still very new to Photoshop.

The genesis of this project started with a conversation with the teachers in the Grade 3 team. Something I do regularly is to check in with the teams to see what they are covering in the upcoming term to see if I can those themes to my lessons. In this case, they told me that the students would soon be doing a unit on animal adaptations. They further told me that in the past they have done a fun engagement activity with the kids where they can design their own animal, using different animal bodyparts. I got the impression this was usually done as a sketch. Could this be done in Photoshop they asked?

The answer, of course, is yes – it can. The more important question is, are the students up for it? That, I was not so sure about. It usually takes some practise with a variety of tools (such as the quick selection tool, the magic wand, quick mask, etc) to make a good selection that you can then remove a background.

I planned this lesson to come right after the one they did on selecting and removing the background from superhero pictures (which is covered in a post last year here). In that case, the images were chosen by me, and had varying levels of difficulty in selecting the background correctly.

In this activity, students were to choose three animals. They were to find the pictures on Google and save them to import into Photoshop. But – there were some guidelines first. Each animal needed to be facing the same direction to make it easier. I wanted the students to visualise how they wanted the creature to look in their heads, before they finalised which pictures they were going to use. Most students followed this, but some still had some problematic choices. It says something about the kind of teacher I am, in that there were cases where I let the students choose difficult pictures so they could see where the problems would lie when they brought them into Photoshop.

In any case, the project was simple enough in concept. Bring in three pictures to Photoshop – each on a seperate layer. Choose one animal for the head, one for the body (including legs) and one for the tail. Cut out the background as best you can, and make any transformations needed to put together the animal.

The results were fairly mixed, it’s fair to say. This is perhaps one for a Grade 4 class who have a little more experience in using Photoshop. Nevertheless, the students were all pretty happy with how their menagerie came out.

Below is a video describing the workflow in Photoshop, and under that are some student examples.

Harnessing the Power of the Creative Cloud (Grade 4)

I had in my head for a long time an idea to have a project that starts from a photo, worked on with an iPad, and finished off using a desktop computer – and using a variety of Adobe tools to show the power of the Creative Cloud.

The lynchpin to all of this is the app Adobe Capture. This recent app is an amalgamation of various Adobe mobile apps like Adobe Color, Adobe Brush, Adobe Hue and Adobe Shape. Essentially it’s a way to capture a photo and create a shape, a pattern, colours or even a look (essentially a colour graded filter) to apply to other images.

Ok, so here’s what I asked the kids to do. I told them to go out and take two photos. One photo that you will use to create your own custom brush, and one photo to create their own custom pattern. Although I had showed them what a custom brush and pattern looked like before they went out, I saved showing them how to do it on the app until they all came back in. By the end of the first session, they had all saved their brushes in a creative cloud library on the iPad.

The second session was using the app Adobe Sketch and choosing their custom brush from the creative cloud library. Using that brush, they were free to draw whatever picture they wanted. Those pictures were then saved into their creative cloud libraries.

The third session they got on the computers in Photoshop to open up a template I created. The template (see below) basically has a transparent background and a lower third on top with some text to write over with their names. They needed to access the creative cloud library and bring in their sketch and then their pattern and put that as their background. Finally, they needed to put their names on the lower third.

So, you can see, plenty of fun to be had, and lots of creative choices along the way. I should say, there are a couple of issues using creative cloud libraries. Let’s go through them and what I did about them.

1) You need to have an Adobe ID to login to creative cloud, and you need to be 13 years or over to have one.

Ok, so my kids are younger than that. So I do what every other teacher does, and that’s create class accounts. I have 13 iPads and 13 computers. Each computer and iPad (say # 1) are linked to the same account. So you can create an Adobe account like and link the iPad and computer to that. Not 100% kosher, but not illegal by any means. I know plenty of educators that do this for their classes.

2) You need to have a license at your school that supports Creative Cloud libraries.

Check to see what your license includes, because many do not allow connections to the creative cloud.

Having said that, this was a fantastic project and I loved what the kids came up with. Below are three videos (one for each session) that goes into the workflow, and below that are a few examples from the students.

** Apologies for the sound. I wasn’t at my usual recording locations **

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Faking Depth of Field in Photoshop CC (Grade 6)

Since all year levels from Grade 3-Grade 6 last year did my Photography 101, I thought that I would get the older students ready for Photography 102. Now they know a little bit about how Photoshop works, I wanted to teach them the principals of depth of field and how it’s used.

Simply, the depth of field in a photo is the area that is in focus. A shallow depth of field means a small amount in focus, a wide (or deep) depth of field has most of the area in focus. I explain to the students that a camera lens can only focus on one single point. The area that stretches in front and behind that focus is the depth of field.

We look at some portraiture examples of how a shallow depth of field can help bring the subject to sharp focus. We look at examples of macro photography that does the same thing.

Now a camera in automatic mode will likely try to bring the photo into as much focus as possible. When you want to play around with that, on a SLR camera, you could be adjusting the focal length of your lens or adjusting the size of your aperture, which is measured in f-stops. The wider the aperture, the smaller the f-stop value. This greatly depends on the lens of your camera.

Now, remember, we are currently using iPads to take photos, so unless you use a specialised app, you can’t play with the aperture. Even with those apps, it’s essentially faking the effect. I would rather discuss aperture when we eventually get some SLRs in, so what we are doing is faking the effect inside Photoshop.

The workflow is pretty easy to understand. Load up a photo in Photoshop, select the background, and soften the focus. For our purposes, that’s all there is to it. Of course, professionals would go to great pains to make the effect look as natural as possible by perhaps feathering the effect, and so on. But the students are really only looking at blurring out the background.

So we go back to the techniques we learned last year about selecting an area in a photo using the quick selection tool and brushing a selection using the Quick Mask tool. Those two are the best ways, but I also showed them the lasso tool as a way to start of making a selection and then refining it with the tools they know.

Here is a before and after of the image of my daughter that I used for the example.

The students had to go out and quickly take their portrait shots. Each pair partnered up with another and their partner group took a photo of them. The photo of themselves is what they used for the work. I told them that they needed a photo that had some distance behind them otherwise it wouldn’t be as effective.

The lesson was understood very easily, but students are still at varying degrees of getting their selections perfect. But for this project, accuracy wasn’t so important, as we wanted it to look more or less like a realistic area not an absolute exact measured out area. In other words, we were trying to make it look imperfect so you can’t tell it’s photoshopped.

Here is the video where I explain the techniques in creating the effect inside Photoshop:

And here are a few of the students’ examples:

Tilt Shift Photography (Grade 5)

Tilt Shift photography is a cool effect where you blur the top and bottom of an photo that is taken from a fair distance away. As your brain is used to seeing backgrounds blurred when looking at a close up macro photo, it tricks your brain into thinking that what you are seeing is a scale model. Here are some cool examples of the technique.

There are attachments you can buy for an SLR camera that makes your lens a little flexible and lets you physically tilt the lens to create the effect in camera. Otherwise, you can just fake it using Photoshop.

So, I started by showing my students some examples and how the technique works. I then took them step by (small) step to achieve the same result in Photoshop by first converting to a smart object, and then applying the Tilt Shift Blur filter in the Blur Gallery.

From there, the students learned how to paint in the layer mask to reveal or conceal the tilt shift blur as they needed. Please watch my video tutorial below.

Here are some of the better examples my students came up with.

Textured Word Art (Grade 5)

This is a simple little project students can do to start learning how layer masks in Photoshop work.

Essentially, the project asks them to take a photo of textured material and to create a new file in Photoshop, type in the name of that texture “ie: Bricks” and have the photo of the bricks come through the text.

This is made possible by putting a layer mask on the type layer that has “BRICKS” written on it, and pasting the photo of the bricks on to the layer mask itself.

This is not typically the way we use layer masks. Usually, as you will see later in the post on the Tilt Shift effect in Photoshop, a layer mask is used to paint in (or paint away) an adjustment, effect or filter. Layer masking allows you to hide or use as much of any one layer as you like. It is a black and white image that cuts out a layer, allowing it to show though wherever the pixels are white, and holds out or hides a layer wherever the mask is black. The common adage to layer masking is that “white reveals, black conceals”. This will be more evident when watching my video tutorial below:

So – quite a simple little project. I started off by sending them out of the classroom for 5-10 minutes to photograph on the iPads a texture they want to use. They then uploaded the photo to the class’ Google Drive folder. Once the project was completed in Photoshop, I asked them to substitute the black background for another image that another group used that was in start contrast to the texture they had used for their type. I also showed the students how to use layer styles to highlight the type more.

Here are some examples:

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Twirl Art using Photoshop CC (Grade 6)

Ideas come from many places. Some come directly from your own imagination, some are inspired by what others done, and some come from ripping off paying homage to others who have done exceptional work.

I had never heard of Twirl Art before. Apparently such a thing has existed before. Where I found about it from was from the exceptional Photoshop/Illustrator instructor Deke McClelland over at I will admit, and give proper credit, to Deke in that this project was virtually followed word for word, step for step the way he did it.

Twirl Art can start from virtually any photograph. Personally, I find a photo that has a nice mixture of bright and vibrant colours work best. Then, following the steps, you go from this:

to this:

Pretty amazing huh? It takes a lot of work, using a combination of various filters and blending modes in Photoshop to create the final result.

This is an advanced class, but I was really impressed how well the students were able to follow the instructions so well.

The video I have below does go through the steps quickly, I’ll admit. You may need to stop and start to take notes. As I said, it takes a lot of work, but I think the end result is something you could proudly print out professionally and have hanging on your wall.

At least I think so.

Here is the video that explains the process. And again, thanks to Deke for his wonderful project. You can find all of Deke’s videos over at at

Creating a Planet in a Galaxy in Photoshop CC (Grade 5)

Sometimes I feel like teaching Photoshop (or another big program) is like learning how to cook. When it comes to a big project like this, it’s a matter of following the steps one after the other to get the desired result. In the case of primary school students learning Photoshop, I’ve learned the best way is to model a couple of steps at a time, get them to go off and do it, come back to the screen, and going through the next couple.

This project had it’s genesis in the Grade 5 students studying space later in the year. I had this idea to create an engagement for them by getting them to design their own planet in their own galaxy. With that, they could take their finished image to class and then write up a report about their planet. The name, the kind of atmosphere, what kind of ecosystem, habitats and life their planet would have.

This project goes over two lessons. The first one, creating the galaxy, is relatively short. The second one where they create their planet takes a little longer, but is definitely achieveable in two lessons. Most steps must be done as is, but there is a little flexibility with colours and textures to make it their own.

I will credit upfront the video on YouTube I got most of my “recipe” for this was from Blue Lightning Photoshop TV . My steps are mostly the same, but updated for Photoshop 2017 with a few small tweaks.

The videos below are in two parts: the galaxy and then the planet.

Here are a few examples from the students.