Building "The Bridge"

Several people have asked how I created my image for The Bridge, a new spiritual formation class Southeast is starting this fall. I'll walk through my process and then through my technique. It is my first tutorial, so bear with me, and let me know if I skip a step that you'd like to know more about.

The Bridge.

I thought this project would be pretty simple since our Easter message this year used the same title and I ended up with two different graphics for it. I could just use the one that hadn't been used at Easter.

But nooooo...the boss says that we need to use an image of a wooden bridge, not that great suspension bridge shot. I had a few on file, but none were dramatic enough to grab interest, and were used at Easter. Off to iStock where I found this:

It's a great angle, and my mind started running on what could be done with the title. It would be awesome if it were in the water, and with a few of the tips I picked up at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, I could actually picture how to do this.

The photo didn't need much treatment on it's own. It's high contrast and has some great color, but I wanted a more uplifting color, so I used a gradient adjustment layer (overlay at 50%) to make my blue a little brighter.

Then to Illustrator to build a title treatment. Penumbra Half Serif has a slight roman feel to add formality, but with the consistent weight and strength of a san serif typeface.


The bars on the side are just a letter that's been modified to taper off at the end. I think it's an "I". Now that title needs to look like it's in the water. Most people would probably prefer to do this step in Photoshop using distort, warp, or perspective. I have problems with those tools on most occasions, because the require me to rasterize the text, and make editing a pain, with the exception of warp, which uses a mesh and curves, and is a pain when I'm just trying to make straight lines. No, this is a job for the 3D>Rotate effect in Illustrator.

The tool is pretty simple to use. It puts your object on the green face of the box, then you move it around so the type is positioned correctly on the water. This is simply "eye-balled". If it looks good, it's probably right. I skipped the step of drawing out the vanishing points, and that would probably make this easier. The Rotate dialog also has a slider for perspective, which I love for adding more drama/visual interest. With this positioning, it couldn't be much, but a little was fine.

Once it felt right, I copied the object and moved back to Photoshop, pasting it as a Smart Object (in case I needed to make tweaks on that Rotate as I continued working; which I did). Now for those Photoshop World tricks. I love these because they weren't actually taught. They were just some steps the instructors were using on their way to their finished product.

The first was the Displacement Map. I duplicated the image, deleted all my layers except the photo, selected the blue channel (gave me the best contrast) and converted it to grayscale. Then a slight blur so my displacement would be smooth. I saved that out as a psd (important for displacement maps) so I could access it later.

Back to the original image. Filter>Distort>Displacement Map. Since the title treatment was a Smart Object, the displacement map was implemented as a Smart Filter, meaning it could adjusted later (PS World trick). I selected the black and white image I just made as my displacement and set the number on the lower side. I didn't need too much displacement because the ripples in the water aren't that big, and I needed to maintain readability.

My last steps were all in the Layer styles menu. I used the Blend If sliders (another PS World trick) to change what was visible. The sliders display or hide based on the intensity of what's below the layer, so I could make the title visible on the water highlights and hide it on the shadows.

The white of the title would be difficult to see in parts of the water, so I added a slight shadow using the Outer Glow settings (another PS World trick).

Finally, I wanted to see a little more water through the title, so I reduced the fill opacity slightly.

Did I skip a step or need to elaborate more? Just ask.