The Vanishing Point Filter in Photoshop

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In this Photoshop tutuorial I'll discuss the many uses of the vanishing point filter. You can use this tool to place labels on bottles and jars, to add or remove windows and doors from buildings, and in general, to transform the perspective of an object to fit into your photo.

As an example I'll show you how to end up with a photo like this:

Vanishing point pic

Starting with this:

Flat labels

Table of contents:

  1. Preparing to use the filter
  2. Using the vanishing point filter - setting up the perspective plane
  3. Using the vanishing point filter - extending the original plane
  4. Adding content to the perspective plane
  5. Finishing touches with the Burn and Dodge tools

I'll go through the steps of how to add the middle label to the jar.

Preparing to use the filter

The first thing we have to do is make sure we have each of our labels in a separate individual layer or file. Before starting to use the vanishing point filter, you should copy the label you want to use into the clip board. To do this Ctr + Click on the thumbnail of the label layer you want to use. This will ensure that only the label is selected. Now hit Ctr + C to copy the label into your clip board. We have to do this, so we later can paste the label in the vanishing point tool.

Click labe;

The vanishing point filter will create a grid that represents the three dimensional shape of an object in the photo. We should put this grid on a new layer. Create a new empty layer directly above your photo. In my case, I clicked on the layer of the photo of my jars and hit Shift + Ctr + N. Hit Ctr+D to clear any selections. This will not clear your clipboard from your ability to paste, but it will ensure that you do not accidentally use the Vanishing Point Filter on just a limited area of your photo.

Now make all the layers except your main photo layer invisible. You can do this by Alt + clickinig on the eyeball in your main photo layer. This will show only that layer. It is easier to use the vanishing point filter without things obscuring your view.

New layer

Using the vanishing point filter - setting up the perspective plane

Now, while we have the new layer active, we'll begin using the vanishing point filter by clicking Filter » Vanishing Point... (Alt + Ctr + V). This will bring up a new window that is used for the vanishing point filter. Our aim is to draw a rectangle that is in the same perspective plane that the jars are in. Then we will work from this simple rectangle to define the more complicated shape of a jar.  To begin make sure the create plane tool is selected, and simply click on the four points that define the corners of your rectangle. You can move the rectangle later, but you'll run into problems if you have to scoot your rectangle too far left or right. While it is difficult to judge perspective on the jars, you can make use of the mosquito netting and window sill in the back ground. Once done you should have a rectangle in perspective. Remember to use the zoom tool (it's easier to use the keyboard shortcut of Space + Ctr and Space + Alt to zoom in and zoom out and Space to scoot the photo around) while working. Using existing straight lines in your photo will guarantee that you get the perspective exactly right. The bigger you make your rectangle, the more you reduce errors. Ideally you want your rectangle to touch the surface you are going to be putting your label on. In this case I'm working with the center jar, so I used its right edge, the window sill and frame, and the lines on the mosquito screen to create my perspective plane:

New plane 

Notice how the gird is blue. If the math for creating the perspective rendering would not work out the grid would be red, if the math is marginal, it'll be yellow. You should create grids that end up blue if at all possible. You can change the grid size using the dialog box in the top left. The grid size doesn't actually change anything, but a smaller grid size (more squares) will make it easier to create a curved shave in smaller increments, rendering a smoother end result.

Using the vanishing point filter - extending the original plane

This next step is probably the hardest one. We have to extend our perspective plane to wrap around the jar. To do this we'll Ctr + Click on the middle left bounding box of the perspective plane. Pull out about one grid square's worth. This will extend the plane perpendicular to its current position.

Pull out grid

Now we want to adjust the angle of the new portion to match the jar. Use the angle pull down box for this. I've found the easiest method is to click on the angle pull down, then use my left and right arrows keys to adjust the angle. I found using my mouse to be more difficult. Each time you Ctr + Click and create a new segment of the plane, you want to create the same amount. This is where the size of the grid you pick matters. The smaller the widths of the newly created segments, the smoother the end result will be. At certain angels, you'll have a hard time telling how much of the grid you created. You can always pull out an amount, rotate it for better view, and then adjust its lenght properly. This can sometimes cause some weird glitches, but if you keep at it, you should end up with something like this:

Jar plan wrapped

Adding content to the perspective plane

Now comes the fun part. Paste, Ctr + V your label into the Vanishing Point filter in Photoshop. Now just pull the label onto the blue plane to change it's perspective to fit that of the photo. If the label is too big or too small, click the Transform Tool ( T ), the 6th tool from the top on the left, to resize your label on the fly.  

Moving label

Label in place

Once you get the hang of how to use the tool, it is very powerfull. From putting labels on jars, text on book pages, and windows on walls, its uses are limitless. Getting back to our example. You'll notice several problems with the raspberry jam label. First it's covering the orange, second it's color is off, third the edges look artifically sharp. To dull the colors we can make use of the layer blend modes. By clicking on the curved raspberry jam label's layer, we can change the blend mode using the drop down dialog box on the top left of the Layers panel. In this case multiply works nicely. We can also add a little noise to the label to make it look like a photograph. Filter » Noise » Add Noise... A very small amout, like 1% of the Gaussian or even less will generally work nicely. Make sure you have monochromatic checked, so that the noise matches the color of the label.  

Finishing touches with the Burn and Dodge tools

After all of this, the edges probably still look too crisp. Additionally labels often darken or wear around the edges. A quick fix for this is the burn tool. We have to be carefull with the burn tool though, since it alters the pixels of the label. It's a good idea to make a copy of the label layer before we begin working with the burn tool ( Ctr + J or drag the layer to the Create New Layer icon toward the bottom right of the layers panel)... just to be safe.

For the burn tool, use a relatively large brush at 0% hardness to run of the corners and edges of the label. You can decrease the opacity option for the burn tool if it looks like you're over doing it. You can also use the dodge tool to make a line of lighter color on the label where you can see that the flash went off on the jar.

Where dodge burn

Of course there's multiple ways to make the label look more believable. The burn and dodge tools are just one example. You can also use gradients or different types of filters. What I like about the dodge and burn tools is that they are quick and easy. Additionally they are tools that are often used while retouching photos, so it's good to get familiar with them.

Now, on to the orange. The way I solved the problem was that I made two separate selections. One for the orange and one for it's shadow, and I placed these selections in two separate layers, both above the jam label layer. I lowered the opacity of the shadow layer, and I kept the opacity of the orange layer at 100:

Orange shadow

Here's a close up of the end result. I lightened the image a little, so you can see (well, sort of) that both the label and the shadow of the orange are present. 

Since the focus of this tutorial was the vanishing point filter, I only outlined the steps for putting the orange in front of the label.

Here is a photo with both the flat labels and the labels after the use of the vanishing point filter. You can see how much adjusting the blend modes and using the dodge and burn tools polished their appearance. For two of the labels, I trimed and edge off of them before using the vanishing point filter, so thtat it would appear that the wrapped around the jar or bottle. Staying creative with little touches like that can make your end photo much more believable:

Final image