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Photoshop Fine Art Effects Cookbook
"How To Create A Scraped Polaroid Picture Effect"
(Pages 100 and 101 from the Photographers section of Photoshop Fine Art Effects Cookbook - courtesy of O'Reilly Media.)
In the 1970s, the photographer Les Krims produced a set of images on Polaroid instant film on which the wet emulsion had been scraped and distorted. First known as the Krimsograph, and widely known after its use on the album cover of Peter Gabriel’s 3, the technique is now more commonly called “SX-70 manipulation,” after the camera favored by many enthusiasts. After using a camera, enlarger, or printer to expose the film, you have a few hours to use all sorts of sticks, spikes, and scrapers to push the wet chemicals around to produce striking results.
When you look closely at a scraped or manipulated Polaroid, you will usually notice strong, colorful patterns where the artist has drawn and dragged the emulsion layers. To mimic this effect, you’ll have to imitate this physical and highly individual process in addition to adding an uneven, light-colored mottling where the film’s background sometimes shows through. The film’s blues can be especially vivid and its yellows somewhat weak, so portraits tend to be less popular than bright scenes with skies and fluffy clouds. But anything goes. Scraped Polaroids also tend to be small, glossy, and borderless.
This image was chosen because it contained strong blues and plenty of background detail that lends itself well to smearing into patterns.
Start by creating a copy of the image layer using Ctrl/Cmd + J. Name it “Manipulation.” I also cropped my picture, holding down the Shift key to make a square format typical of SX-70 manipulations.
From the Filters menu, choose Liquify. Select any tool from the top left and drag the image around as if it were a chemical soup.
I prefer the Forward Warp tool, as it pushes pixels in front of the cursor. Here, I dragged at each pole with short strokes. Other tools produce different effects. Try clicking one image area and then holding the Shift key as you click elsewhere Photoshop repeats distortions between those points (though, to my eye, they’re a bit too regular). When you’re done, click OK.
Scraping the chemicals distorts the surface and allows the base material to show through. While Photoshop’s Plastic Wrap filter is ideal for mimicking this, you may want to apply it only to those areas you manipulated. To identify them, temporarily switch the Manipulation layer’s blending mode to Difference. You will see that unchanged pixels appear black.
Reset Photoshop’s foreground color to black (shortcut D), and choose Select > Color Range. It detects the foreground color and selects the matching “black” or unchanged pixels. Check the Invert checkbox and drag the Fuzziness slider to a low value so the manipulated areas show clearly. Click OK, return the Manipulation layer’s blending mode to Normal, and you should see that only the manipulated areas are selected.
Expand the selection using Select > Expand and then feather the selection using Select > Feather. Expand the selection by 10 pixels, and feather it by 5.
Rather than distort the liquified layer, it’s safer to copy your selection into a new layer. Use Alt/Opt+ Ctrl/Cmd + J and call the layer “Plastic Wrap.”
The Plastic Wrap filter can be found via Filters > Artistic. Drag the sliders until you have the impression of crumpled plastic, and click OK.
Switch the Plastic Wrap layer’s blending mode to either Soft or Hard Light modes that increase contrast and adjust its opacity until you’re happy with the result.
Finishing touches include varying the Manipulation layer’s opacity, and possibly enhancing the colors. To reflect Polaroid film’s color bias, here I added a Color Balance adjustment layer to boost the blue.
Artists’ scraped Polaroids tend to be borderless, but you could add the familiar white Polaroid frame to your Photoshop facsimile if you wish.
See more Sample Recipes from the Photoshop Cookbook Series.
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