Photoshopping the Great Masters

dekePod Episode 016: Hello, friend. Let’s you and I get all collegiate and stuff and engage in some intellectually stimulating free-word association.

For example, I say High Renaissance. You say, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael. Very good!

But you’re not done. You say, an unrivaled time of creative energy and unabashedly accurate representation of the human form. Ooh, I like that, keep it coming. The advent of secular humanism, say you, The rebirth of Classical Ideas!

Damn, look at you go! But I have a few words for you, too: Ongoing feudal primacy. There’s a good one. Or how ‘bout Entrenched peasantry. Or my favorite: Nary an Olive Garden or Taco Bell on the entire planet. Your average person ingested precisely 0g of trans fat in an entire lifetime. And what few calories Jane or Joe Peasant did manage to devour went straight into fueling the engine of the body of the labor class.

In other words, your everyday average citizen was a hard-bodied hominid: a reedy, lithesome, agile quicksilver of sinewy homo sapien. Which might explain the fine art of the time. Michelangelo and his ilk rendered men as bulging, vein-popping, pumped-up hunks because, after all, the protein required to build large muscles was exceedingly rare. Only the ruling class could afford a lean cut of meat. Meanwhile, Leonardo and his brethren rendered women as pillowy plush, largely boned, generously fleshed dumplings because the milk, butter, and cheese went to the First Ladies of the Entitled Lords. Imagine yourself as an indulgently proportioned person in a world full of thinly skin-wrapped skeletons. You would naturally stand out as the ample belle of the ball!

And so it follows: There is no such thing as an objective standard of beauty. What we love at any given moment is the novelty of the ruling class. In an era of thinness, we worship the wellfed. In a time where the cheepest and fastest food is genetically engineered to force-feed calories into our ever-accepting intestinal tracks, we idolize the reedy quicksilver of our ancestors. And so, at the apex of our overconsumption, we so crave thinness that we judge each and every person by the slightness of his or her impression on this most fragile of all possible worlds.

Here’s the official marketing description:

They say you can’t be too rich or too thin. So how about getting rich by making others thin? Plenty of experienced retouchers make small but enviable fortunes shaving body fat off already lithe models. But rather than showing you a present-day example—honestly, how many times do we need to see underfed waifs made skinnier?—Deke takes us back to a time when ideas of beauty were very different: the High Renaissance. In those times of mean circumstances and manual labor, body fat was a thing to be envied. How best to take a well-fed model rendered by the likes of Raphael and turn her into a slim, trim, big-eyed beauty?

Conclusion: Beauty is an ephemeral quality, ever flirtering with its peers and embarrasing itself before its progeny. And as such, beauty is forever and always the paramount quality of the moment. Which is why I encourage you to explore these links:

  • For a high-quality QuickTime movie, right-click here and choose Save Target or Download Link or the equivalent.
  • For an M4V file that you can play on an iPod, right-click here and choose one of those same commands.
  • Or you can subscribe to dekePod via RSS or iTunes.

Oh, and if you want to follow along, click on this link to download the very image used in this dekePod along with my preferred Liquify filter settings. Then decompress the ensuing file, which will be called

And don’t forget, you can explore this very technique in exquisite, painstaking detail in Chapter 20, “Transform, Warp, and Liquify,” of my comprehensive video series “Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Advanced,” now available from

Next entry:I Found Cereal!

Previous entry:Martini Hour 014, In Which Deke and Mordy Teach Colleen to Draw a Yellow Hat

  • Hmm, never really used equalize command

    I felt I was thoroughly familiar with Photoshop, so it was a big surprise when I discovered a command I never even noticed! So I just checked the description, and it basically says it makes the lightest pixel white and the darkest black, while distributing everything else equally across the histogram.

    ...which soooort of works some of the times, but other times it just destroys the midtones (it clumps them together in clusters throughout histogram).

    So what’s the official explanation?


    Happy, happy, joy, joy!


  • Missing Alpha Channels

    Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One, Page 245.

    The problem I reported regarding the missing alpha channels in the file, ‘Matchgirl.tiff’ was not an error. Opening the file in Adobe Camera Raw before bringing it into Photoshop CS4 will cause the alpha channels to disappear but the alpha channels are present in the file when it is opened directly into Photoshop CS4.

    I had the Photoshop CS4 Preferences set to open jpg and tif files in Adobe Camera Raw.

    I should like to apologise to you Deke for my mistake in raising this as an error.


  • Actually, this is something I hadn’t considered

    Of course if you open a TIFF in Camera Raw, it’s going to strip out the alpha channel(s).

    Photoshop should by all rights generate a warning to this effect. But it also argues that if I include alpha channels in an image, I should save the file as a PSD doc to make things as absolutely fool-proof as possible.

    So thanks for bringing this up!

  • Equalize is pretty simple

    It really is an equalizier.

    First, it works on the composite image. Think Auto Contrast.

    As you say, the darkest color becomes black; the lightest white.

    The command then evenly distributes the colors in between across the histogram. If you imagine the bars in the histogram as little weights, the whole thing would exactly balance on the gamma triangle (the central fulcrum).

    It has its uses, one of which I demoed in the dekePod. But it’s no good for correcting images.

  • That’s how I understood it…

    ...when I looked it up yesterday.  But upon testing it, every once in a while I get clumpy histograms where evenly distributed ones should be:

    Clumpy Histogram

    Over the years I discovered that whenever Photoshop starts acting unexpectedly - it’s something I’m doing wrong.

    With exception to that weird error that takes place when you try adjusting a 32-bit HDR mask on a levels layer we spoke about before. But that’s HDR land; I don’t expect Photoshop to be fully debugged in a fringe environment like that anyway.

    This feature doesn’t quite do what it’s supposed to,however. Not every time, that is. And being a collector of all things quirky in Photoshop, I feel strange urge to delve into it till I get the “except in this scenario” case figured out.

    Thank you for the quick reply!


    Happy, happy, joy, joy!


  • The histogram is the proof

    Look at that histogram and imagine each vertical line is a stack of coins.

    The shadow stacks (left) are tall but spaced far apart. The highlight stacks (right) are shorter but packed tightly together. As a result, the actual number of coins are the same on the left and right sides of the triangular gray fulcrum.

    But it goes farther than that. The coins should be equivalent in any quarter block or eighth block as well.

    The histogram can be confusing. But that black area on left, the one in the middle, and the relatively large black area on right are some densely packed clusters that offset the big tall spread-out spikes.

  • Now I get it.

    I thought the coins were supposed to be evenly distributed throughout the histogram, but this actually explains it.

    Thank you!


    Happy, happy, joy, joy!


  • I hear what you say about ephemeral, but…

    ... holy exophthalmos Batman, you’d DATE that woman? Leaving aside that the mother of your children may kill you resulting in no further DekePods, and that the woman in the picture has been dead for several hundred years which makes the attraction a bit disturbing even by DekePod standards (though I do have a bit of a thing for the Venus of Urbino, so what the hey), if *I* were to date her I’d be too busy wondering if she had Graves’ disease to make the obligatory small talk.

    Mind you, that couldn’t be any worse than my last date.

    It’s a tough and highly subjective call, but I think that the eyes may have been a smidge overdone.

    Of course after episode 14 I’m more confused than ever about who “The Man” is or was, so that could be throwing off my perception.

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