A popular technique to increase dynamism in your action photos is a pixel manipulation called by a variety of names: disintegration, dispersion, or fragmentation. I like the term FRAGMENT because it vividly describes the effect on the main subject of a photograph. The technique disperses the edges of your main subject into a cloud of shards, adding an explosive moment to the image and enhancing the movement inherent in the captured image. It is very effective when applied to action or sports photography.
The technique is simple and quick to do in Photoshop. Let me share a step by step tutorial on the fragmentation technique, using an action photo of a yorkie in full run. (“Isn’t he cute?” asks this proud Yorkie mom.)
- Open your image in photoshop and DUPLICATE the background layer.
- HIDE the new layer.
- Go back to your background layer and make a LOOSE SELECTION of the main subject using the lasso tool.
- RIGHT CLICK your selection and choose FILL and then CONTENT AWARE.
- DESELECT, then go to the new layer you created and SELECT AND MASK the main subject. (See my previous blog posting on selecting and masking).
- Once the main subject is selected, open in SELECT AND MASK and use the REFINE EDGE tool to highlight the edge you wish to disperse. Click the SHOW EDGE OPTION under view mode in the properties panel of the select and mask window. Output to LAYER MASK (Bottom dialogue in the select and mask panel).
- A LAYER MASK will then be applied to your layer.
- DUPLICATE the layer.
- RIGHT CLICK the layer mask on the layer duplicate and choose APPLY LAYER MASK.
- You now have a new layer with your subject isolated on a transparent background. Name this layer FRAGMENT.
- Turn off the middle layer.
- DUPLICATE the fragment layer and label it FOREGROUND.
- Go back to your fragment layer and apply the LIQUIFY filter. Use the FORWARD WARP tool (first tool in the left hand panel) to drag out the area of the image you want to see fragmented.
- ADD A MASK, fill with black, to hide the fragment layer.
- ADD A MASK, fill with white, to show the foreground layer.
- Now the fun part! And this is totally your vision of what you want your final product to look like. You will use the brush tool on both layers. On the foreground layer, you will use a brush tool in black to block out parts of the edge of your main subject and you will use the same brush in white to block out segments of the dispersion layer. You can get free scatter brushes (which work best to create the effect) from brusheezy.com
- Alter the brush sizes and direction to get a variety of effects. You may need to go back and block some of the effects by using a soft round brush.
- Once you are happy with the effect, I would suggest merging all layers to a new layer, convert that layer to a smart object, and apply unsharp mask to sharpen all the edges of your new fragmented effect.
Voila! A fragmented action shot!
You can apply the same effect to landscape photos but it gives an entirely different mood. I don’t think it works as well as it does for action or sports images.
Sometimes, in addition to the fragmented effect, I will add brush strokes to my image to help convey the idea of movement. You are only limited by your imagination!
Diana Davidson, August 2020