Fanwork Type: Iconing/Photoshop (using Photoshop 7, but should translate to other versions. Can also translate up from just icons)
Addtional Notes: A lot of this is trial and error, in my opinion. You can get different looks by experimenting and seeing what crops up. This touches (sorta) on some basic stuff like feathery selection, blending modes, adjustment levels, and exclusion layers.
Figured it couldn't hurt to do a mini tutorial on one of my icons. This tutorial is to show how I make this icon:
This to this .
First starting with the base image. This is a promo image of Smallville S4 Clark, from andrea_ri. I've cropped it to what I want and sized it down. I didn't want his chest or that cushion propping him up in it, so out that went.
So now we have the raw base. Normally I'd just leave it at that and mess around with the adjustment layers (more on those later), but it's too dark to me and he kind of blends in with the curtain/plastic behind him. So I remove it by using the lasso tool. What's important is you can change how much is sharply/softly selected with the "FEATHER" option. Higher makes it more soft. Having it at 0 makes it very sharply selected. If I'm working small, I leave it at 1-2 pixels, especially for icon shopping (2-3 if working bigger).
If you're selecting a large patch, make sure to go to the left of the FEATHER option and click the two squares joined together: it means you can select and unclick and then start selecting again - what you select will join the previous selection as one large group.
I duplicated this base and set it above a white layer to help me cut stuff out. I selected it with the lasso.
And then deleted/cleared what was inside. I usually do this by pressing Delete or being more precise and working around edges with the eraser. Depends what I want to do. You should get this.
Working all around, I made the edges less blurry by going in with an eraser. Then I sharpened with Filter->Sharpen->Sharpen. You can adjust how much you want it sharpened if it's too much by going then to Edit->Fade Sharpen. The entire image Clark is now the only part of the image up. The "white" behind it is actually transparent and is see-through (shown by the checkers).
This is kind of like a green screen but probably less awesome :( Anyway, this allows me to swap in a background and I want to use these sky bases I liked from marishna
What it looks like the cloud base layer under the Clark "cut out" layer.
I put the second cloud base on top of the first cloud base layer. Then I change the Blending Mode for that second layer to "Darken". You can find the blending more by going to here and clicking down, where it'll give you a series of effect options. Finding out what they do is a matter of testing things out. Setting the layer to Darken will have "dark" things effect only light areas (like white), ignoring stuff like black.
I then go back and click on the first sky base (the "normal" blended one, not the "Darken" one). I want to change how bright the blue is because it looks to me like it's too obviously copy-pasted. Now I go up to Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Selective Colors. This window will open up. Since it's the blue I'm concerned about, going to Cyans/Blues and mess around with the numbers there. For example, Cyans: -60%, +55%, -14%, -62%. Here is what's left.
Now going to try to change Clark himself. Adjustment levels=GOD. They're great because they will only affect one layer of the picture you've selected (make sure you select the "Group with Previous Layer") for it to do this. Clark is one layer, which means you can have other layers above and below him. What's over his layer order will cover him and what's under him won't. The point of adjustment levels is to make adjustments but have them be removable/able to be edited (instead of just going to Image->Adjustments and having it be permanent). Anyway, I go back to the Clark layer and make myself some adjustment levels. The first adjustment level is Image->New Adjustment Layer->Curves.
Curves are a more subtle way to change lighting than levels/brightness&contrast to me. For me, I like to use all of them just because. You can do multiple points on the line by clicking and dragging around, giving more control. But sometimes you can really get retarded results like this:
Next adjustment level is my Brightness/Contrast level. To do this, go to Image->New Adjustment Layer->Brightness/Contrast (make sure the "Group with Previous Layer" is selected). Having this selected means it'll show an arrow pointing down and you'll form a chain. This means all "grouped" adjustment levels are only hooked onto the Clark cut-out base. You can even cheat on icons and have the adjustment levels all done and just insert other bases into the "group base layer", in this case "Clark layer". OKAY ANYWAY. You get another window popping up, looking like this.
Here's what it looks like now:
Ignore the other adjustment layers (they were fixing up an arm I accidentally cropped off earlier and had to repast). Next I added some minor glow to make Clark now stand out too sharp. This is several layers just for certain sections. Color is #030662 and the layers are set to "Lighten". "Lighten" is the opposite of Darken: light colors will "fade" up dark colors and have no effect on light ones. Here's what the layers look like under "Normal" instead of "Lighten".
And now with all three layers changed to "Lighten". I used a mixture of feathered selecting with the lasso and gradient (gradient options are found by selecting the fill paint thing that looks like a tipping bucket and holding it until it shows "Gradient tool"). Gradients types and options can be found up in the top bar. The opacity on all three layers is changed until I think it's okay.
Next I had an Exclusion layer. Exclusion layers give neat effects so long as you keep the selected colors fairly dark. If I pick a light color, it'll end up looking weird.
So better to use darker colors for exclusion (I'm pretty gay for dark blue personally, but trying out different dark colors gets some neat results). I used #07092A for my exclusion layer, getting this. And pretty much done.
And that's how you get from to , more or less. Hopefully it helped. :D