Natalie Maddon will teach you how to go "Out on a Limb" with this tutorial using Snapseed, Art Studio, VSCO Cam and Lens Light.

Natalie Maddon is a Phoenix, Arizona based mobile artist and a member of the mobile photography collaborative We Are Juxt. She uses masking techniques to transform ordinary scenes into fantastical escapes from reality. Follow her 13-step process to see if you can acheive the same look.

You can also read Maddon's exploration of the theme "Out on a Limb" on the We Are Juxt site. 

Device used: 

iPhone 4S

Apps used:

Snapseed by Nik Software, Inc. for $4.99

Art Studio by Lucky Clan for $2.99

VSCO Cam by Visual Supply Company for $0.99

Lens Light by BrainFeverMedia for $0.99

Apps used:

Approximately one hour.

Step 1

I always begin each image with a solid base in Art Studio. For the best quality, select the custom option and make the canvas 1024 x 1024, which is the biggest size most apps will support.

Step 2

Hold down the layers button to view layering options. I like to create a solid colored layer to build from. Red is generally the easiest for me to use as a fill color as I can see if I miss any pieces when I am masking layers. When the photo I am masking is nearly cut out, I will switch the fill color to more closely resemble the tones of the image.

Step 3

This is the picture that I started out with.  The background is obviously not ideal, but I know that all I need is the model in the right pose. Everything else can be easily manipulated.

Step 4

When completely replacing the background I can get pretty particular and I like to have multiple options. I cut the main image out of the background using a hard eraser for the most part. I leave some of the old background because I will go back in and use a soft eraser for more detailed work. I like the cutout to blend with the background that I chose, using a soft blur on the edges so that it doesn’t look like a 5-year-old's art project.

In this step, I make a few extra layers and try out different options until I find one I like. You can hide a layer in order to view others by tapping the eye icon. Tap the eye icon again to make the layer visible.

Step 5

Once I get the background and the main image situated, I start working to blend components of the image further.  I use the blur tool with the opacity reduced about half way and pixel sensitivity reduced to around 15. I blur the edges only on the layer with the main image I am adding to the picture. This softens the edges and makes it look more realistic.

Step 6

I use the smudge tool to blend some of the smaller elements together. It is softer than using a pencil and you don’t need to match the colors. I adjust the pixel size and always turn the opacity down a touch, otherwise the tool is very similar to the pencil tool.

The smudge tool feels like finger painting; it creates a soft line without getting sloppy. You can use it to manipulate lines already in the image, but if you are drawing from scratch, try the pencil and spray paint tools. 

Adjust the pixel size and always turn the opacity down a touch when using the smudge tool.
Notice the effect of the smudge tool on the leaves.

Step 7

I wanted my subject's hair to be blowing in the wind, but as you can see in the original shot, it was just not happening. Hair is tricky and has had me cussing up a storm on numerous occasions. Achieving the look I like often takes me a few rounds of trial and error.

I started by using the smudge tool as I did on step six. On the layer with the original photo, I drew small, twirling strands by manipulating the hair that was already there.

It drives me crazy when my subject's hair ends up looking like a helmet after I've cut the figure out. But it's impossible to cut around each hair, so I draw it on after. For the hair I'm adding, I work on a separate layer. This adds depth and dimension in the coloring. I go back and forth between the spray paint, smudge and pencil tools.

Remember to start with the opacity low, then go back in and add darker shadows with higher opacity. Hair looks much more realistic if there is range in the color as well as the size of the strands. Practice until your fingers hurt. Mine hurt just thinking about it.

Step 8 

Next, I added the peach to the tree using the spray paint, smudge and blur tools. I wanted to add bright light behind that area, so I made it appear blown out with the light landing on the curves.

Step 9

I decided that I wanted more clouds. Thankfully, I hadn’t already flattened the image, so I just made a new layer, masked out the clouds from another image using the eraser, and then moved it behind the girl. To move layers forward or behind, you just hold down on the image in the layer bar and drag it to where you want it to be.

Step 10

Once all of the elements of the photos are the photo are in place, I use the pallet tool and then adjust the hue, saturation and lightness of the image to create a more uniform look. This was my last step in Art Studio, so I saved the image and exported it by sending to my email as a PNG. (I've been told emailing, rather than saving to camera roll  helps retain image quality.)

Step 11

Next, I opened the image in Snapseed. The center focus tool allows you to select the size of the focus area as well as the inner and outer brightness. The photo looks more realistic with the main subject in focus and the background more blurred. I saved the result to my camera roll.

Step 12

VSCO Cam is one of my go to apps for different filter effects. It creates a soft sheen to the picture. There are 10 different paint pallets that you can chose from that all have different effects. Number 5 and 6 tend to be my favorites. Some of them make the picture look matte; use whatever floats your boat.

Step 13

Lighting is always my last step and Lens Light is definitely my favorite app for this purpose, with different light effects, textures and colors to choose from. You can adjust the size of the light source as well as the brightness. Lighting could be its own 100-page tutorial, but the key is to pick a light source and make sure the shadows and highlights all make sense with the placement. By doing this last, the light will really shine. 

Final Image

Natalie Maddon is a mobile photographer from Phoenix, Arizona. You can find more of her work on her Instagram feed @natmaddon and on the We Are Juxt website.