Lesson B: Transforms – Adobe Photoshop

Lesson B: Transforms

Photoshop has a great many ways to bend and twist imagery. In this lesson, we’ll look at two. In the Compendium, the chapter “Filters & Transforms” has much more to explore.

Free Transform

Free Transform is flexible and powerful. It can perform both precise geometric transformations as well as more sculptural warps.

  • Open “B1 Free Transform.psd,” a photo of a drinking glass.
  • Right-click near the “glass” layer’s name and select Convert to Smart Object. This will allow us to revisit the transformation any time to reverse or continue it.
  • Choose Edit > Free Transform, or use the shortcut -T/Ctrl-T. You now have transform handles around the perimeter of the Smart Object and many options to use in the Options Bar. When we’re done, we’ll click the check mark or press the Enter key, but that’s later.

We’ll start with simple alterations to shape.

  • Disable the constraint on transforms by clicking on the chain between the W and H scaling fields.
  • Drag either the top or bottom center transform handle to shorten the glass. Note the scaling in the H field. Try scrubbing the letter H itself. Then type a value in the field.
  • With the cursor outside the transform box, drag to rotate, noting the value in the angle field. Reset the rotation by typing 0 in that field.
  • Click the check mark to commit the transform.
  • Now let’s change our minds: Use the shortcut -T/Ctrl-T to get back to where you left off. Reset the H field to 100% to restore the glass’s height. If necessary, drag the box itself to snap it back into the document boundaries.
  • Click the Warp mode button. Engage!

This mode can be used in several different ways: completely freeform, with a grid, or using Warp presets.

  • Let’s start with a preset. Use the Warp menu in the Options Bar and choose Shell Upper.
  • You now have only one transform handle. To see it, you may have to zoom out a bit: --/Ctrl-- (that second dash is a minus sign).
  • Drag that transform handle a bit to customize the flaring of the top of the glass.
  • Try different presets in the Warp menu. Dragging the Wave preset’s handle is entertaining—the glass is dancing. The button to the right of the Warp menu changes the orientation of the warp. So if you had been distorting vertically, you’ll now be distorting horizontally.
  • When you’ve had enough fun, click the Reset Warp button.
  • Now let’s warp in a freeform way: simply drag parts of the glass around like the image is made of something pliable.

This can be a powerful way to sculpt an image. Or it can make a mess of one.

  • Reset again. Now to try a grid-based transformation.
  • We’ll start with a very simple grid. Hover your cursor over the Split the Warp Horizontally button to see a small animation indicating what you’re to do.
  • Give the button a single click then move the cursor over the image. You’ll find a line stuck to the cursor until you click to release it. Do so roughly in the center of the glass.

You may drag any one of the several handles to affect the warp. However, I want you to select two handles so we can alter them at once.

  • Click a handle on one side of the line you just made, then shift-click the other end. A box appears around both. It’s like a (limited) transform box for those two transform handles! Resize it to narrow the midsection of the glass.

If a particular transform would benefit from several grid lines, both horizontal and vertical, use the Grid menu to quickly generate a 3 x 3 to 5 x 5 grid.

  • Warp the glass as you like, then click the check mark to commit it. Save and close the document.

Content-Aware Scale

I hope you noticed that when you initially shortened the glass, you distorted its details. There is a form of scaling that will alter the aspect ratio of an image but can have minimal impact on its content. Sadly, it cannot be applied to a Smart Object. When we’re done, you’ll choose File > Save As… to have a distorted version while retaining the original.

  • Open “B2 CAS.psd.” “CAS” stands for Content-Aware Scale.
  • Choose Edit > Content-Aware Scale. Disable the constraint chain icon in the Options Bar.
  • Drag a side handle inward and note how the round moon remains round. Or grab a corner and make the image resemble a panoramic image. Again, details remain less affected.

This tool carves away what the engineers call low-frequency areas, like the sky and water, respecting high-frequency details. Unless you push too far, of course.

  • Commit the transform and select File > Save As…, choosing a new name.