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Create a fiery photo composition with digital artist Chris Patterson

Photographer and workshop leader Chris Patterson has been waxing lyrical about Affinity Photo for iPad, so we asked her to share her process for bringing flames and haunting beauty to your images…
A timelapse of the image being created.

I am not going to lie, being able to do high-end editing and retouching on a mobile device is a game-changer for me and my business. Being able to edit on the go or while my Frenchie puppy is asleep on me makes this workflow an absolute go-to. It is so good I may even sell my laptop! It also helps that using an app-based workflow is not only educational and great for new skills, it’s also fun.

I tend to do a lot of photo manipulation work, this piece is one of my absolute favourites and incredibly simple to achieve. The steps are laid out below.

Step 1—Process your RAW file

  • I do small tweaks, just to make sure I can see details in both the shadows and lights.
  • Here I’ve made note of the general edits I want to apply to the image, I always do a quick doodle over a photo so I don’t waste too much time in the post-processing experimenting (although experimentation can be very fun and educational at times).

Step 2—Compositing

  • I decided I wanted to use the head and flowing hair from different images. To do this I open these images and go to Selection Persona to select the area I want to paste into my image. I compile the images by jumping between Selection Persona and Photo Persona, then using layer masks and the Erase Brush Tool to blend the cut-outs seamlessly.

Step 3—Retouching

  • Next step is cleaning up the skin, removing any blemishes or marks left behind from the first step or on the image. I use a different method for beauty retouching, but since this is a manipulation I am not going to worry about minor blemishes, and I will just remove them. Blemish Removal Tool and Clone Brush Tool are my first choice.

  • Frequency Separation is then used to give the skin a more seamless appearance, there are several ways to use this filter, with the method I am using I am painting below the high frequency layer (which contains the details) to make the skin tone more uniform and seamless.

Step 4—Colour adjustments

  • I use a Black and White Adjustment layer to give the skin a ghostly look, I change the blend mode to ‘screen’ to really give impact, then adjust the opacity of the layer until I am happy.

  • For the lips, a new pixel layer is created, and I apply a nice intense red with the Paint Brush Tool to make them stand out more.

  • I use Curves Adjustment layers for dodging and burning the image, this is the dodge and burn technique I feel most comfortable working with.

Step 4—Creating the flame

  • The flame is created by using Smoke and Cloud brushes by Xresch. Layer up your colours, blend them using the Smudge Brush Tool, as flames are moving you get a beautiful blur motion with this technique. Flames should never be perfectly in focus, but add a couple of elements that are sharp to add a little bit of depth.

Step 6—Finishing touches

  • Finally, play around with the tone of the image with Curves and Colour Balance adjustments and by tweaking the saturation according to your preference. This will help to bring the overall image together.
The final image.

About the creator

Chris Patterson is a photographer based in Newcastle (UK). By day she teaches creative software and oversees photography studios at an educational facility and gets students excited about software and photographic technology. She is also a freelance photographer, obsessed with image manipulation and experiments with Affinity Photo for iPad. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram and Facebook.