Dispersion and Twirls in Photoshop

Set The Music Free 3

Dispersion and Twirls in Photoshop

With the current restrictions on going outdoors, many photographers are using this time to go through their back catalogues and learn new techniques. I am part of the fantastic SheClicks community for female photographers. Last week one member shared her experiments with the Twirl technique. I will add links to YouTube tutorials for both techniques at the end!

By the end of the week, we were all hooked! Between us all, I think we could fill a few galleries with these fun abstract pieces. You can also use the twirled images as overlays or textures. Some members used the effect to create an abstract background, revealing a part of the main image through masked layers. I loved some of the peacock twirls that others had done so I thought I’d have a go too! Here are my before and after images.

I decided this was the perfect time to finally learn a technique that I have wanted to do for years! The dispersion technique can be used to great effect to make your subject appear to be disintegrating, or exploding outwards. It’s a fun way to create a story for a portrait shoot. I went back to some images I made last year with my dear friend, singer-songwriter, Julia K. I’ll start with a simple edit where I have kept the background clean and simple. The act of singing appears to be reverent, a prayer to the gods.

Julia K

Initially we wanted to visualise sound through shapes and movement. It was a great opportunity to use long exposure and light-painting to frame a story within my images. We took inspiration from the name of her studios, Firespark, and brought in some indoor sparklers and fireworks. Yes, we did set off the fire alarm a couple of times! It’s such a joy to be able to work with a fellow creative, just exploring different ideas, even if they do sound a bit bonkers.


I wanted Julia to be static in the images, with the sound emanating from her and surrounding her. We tried a number of different poses that allowed me to create in-camera double-exposures, as well as single images that I could turn into composites within Photoshop. Both techniques are creatively satisfying with similar, yet distinctive results. In-camera multiple exposures always have a more organic feel to them. Creating a composite using Photoshop gives you a much crisper end result. In these three edits of my image of Julia, you can now see why I had her looking up into the space above her. The spirit of music is reaching out to her.

I think I was attracted to the dispersion technique because it brings back that organic feel to a digitally created composite! In addition to using dispersion, I also brought in some overlays of musical notes that I warped, to give them a sense of movement as they explode out from the microphone. Including a bit of texture, with an overlay to the background, added to the organic feel I was looking for. I made three final images for Julia to choose from; full colour, monochrome and selective colour, that revealed the vibrant red against the black and white. Selective colour is very much Julia’s signature look, her brand. I knew she’d choose that one, but which look do you prefer?

I have called this piece Set The Music Free. It’s given me inspiration for creating more stories from other images in my back catalogue, as well as some future projects that I really hope to be able to do with Julia in the future! I hope this has given some of you a bit of inspiration to learn some new techniques and keep creative during this turbulent time. You can learn how to do these two techniques in the following video tutorials. Have fun with them!




ShareMondays2020 – Happy To See You!

Common Lizard giving me a cheeky grin

ShareMondays2020 – Happy To See You!

I had an appointment at Guy’s Hospital last Friday and decided to drive as I’m in the at-risk category with regards to coronavirus. It was a morning appointment, so I decided to make the most of being up that way with the car and pay a visit to the wonderful WWT London Wetlands Centre at Barnes. It’s completely wheelchair accessible, including the various hides!

A fellow SheClicks member, Oddy, had tipped me off to the emergence of one of my favourite native British animals, the common or Viviparous lizard. These wonderful creatures love basking on sun-warmed wood and were coming out onto the sides of the bird hides to warm themselves. This is the earliest in the year that I have seen them!

Common Lizard scenting with it's tongue

Although I am following advice to socially distance myself, I am still meeting with friends and family in outdoor spaces. Going to Barnes enabled me to meet up with fellow nature and wildlife photographer, Andrew Wilson. Andrew has published a series of fabulous books, with his own photography, celebrating Wild London! It’s great getting out with other photographers who share the same passions for our wonderful wildlife.

I was absolutely thrilled to find one little lizard basking on the side of the WWF Hide! They are such great little characters. I managed to catch it scenting with it’s tongue and giving me the eye with that classic, smug looking smile. This individual was only about 6cm in length so probably a youngster from last year! They really are an absolute treat to see. I hope everyone is holding up ok in these troubled times. Stay as safe as you can and look out for anyone you know who is vulnerable and at risk.

Common Lizard on wooden slats