The Bas Relief Project

(Originally posted January 30, 2013)

The next project in the A to Z list that I tackled was for Bas Relief.  I’ve never been a classic arts person, so I had to look up online exactly what bas relief was to help wrap my head around it beyond that “it’s just another funky Photoshop trick”.  According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, bas relief is:

sculptural relief in which the projection from the surrounding surface is slight and no part of the modeled form is undercut.

(They had a picture too, so that helped… 😉 )

Reading that little bit more about the technique and seeing an example help me better understand what I was shooting for when it came to working with my photos.  Not that my projects had to look exactly like the classic approach, mind you.  It just helped me understand the look and feel that bas relief could give to an image.

As I think will be the case with most of these little projects, I dug through images from the past couple of years to find some candidates to play with.  I read that simple images with some good shapes work best.  Lucky for me, that describes a lot of the images I take when something in everyday life catches my eye, so there was plenty to choose from – maybe too much!

With the photos pulled, I set off to apply the technique.  The book that’s spawning these project ideas had two different methods for applying the bas relief look, each yielding very different results.  The first method just used the out-of-the-box Photoshop bas relief filter.  Really simple.  That filter popped out images that looked like this:

Penn State Whiskey Tumbler Bas Relief
Penn State Whiskey Tumbler Bas Relief

Or like this:

Zap! Car Logo - Spotted in Golden, CO
Zap! Car Logo – Spotted in Golden, CO

Sure, you can play around with a couple of settings to make the relief change directions based on lighting direction, hardness, and softness.  I didn’t find combinations (yet!) that provided super-exciting or drastically different results.  In some of the pictures I processed with this technique, I loved how it brought out some texture and detail in areas that didn’t catch your eye otherwise.  That could be a helpful thing to keep in mind for future projects.

The second method was a little more involved, using different layer effects and positioning them just a bit off to fake your eye into seeing the bas relief effect.  The results here were interesting in their own right, probably because there were elements of color alive and well in the final result:

Bryce Canyon US Geological Survey Marker - Utah
Bryce Canyon US Geological Survey Marker

For one of the last shots that I worked with, I simply couldn’t decide which outcome I liked more – the gray one from the Photoshop filter or the colorized one from the layering.  I think both were interesting in their own way:

Glass & Clay Art Work from Moab, UT

Glass & Clay Art Work from Moab, UT
Glass & Clay Art Work from Moab, UT

I only processed about 6 different pictures, so not yet enough to come up with a solid pattern or formula of what looks good in either method.  I think that’s part of the fun of digital photography though – you can just play with things (in a pretty forgiving way in most cases) until you come up with something that works for you!

I may have to put some different images through this process to see what happens when something like a flower image is treated with this effect.  Depending on the shot, maybe it could make a delicate flower tough and gritty or maybe even more soft and lovely?  That’s definitely something I’ll have to ponder and maybe get back to in a few days, or even in between upcoming projects.




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