Low-poly portrait in Photoshop

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When we talk about Low Poly graphics we have first to define what a low poly is: it is a polygon mesh generated in 3D computer graphics that has a relatively small number of polygons. Low poly meshes can be found in real-time applications (e.g. games like Minecraft) and contrast with high poly meshes of animated movies. The term low poly is commonly used by users when trying to reach an optimal display of elements but without affecting too much the overall quality; the lesser the polygons, faster the display will be (and without lag on the same result).

But where does it apply to photography? Polygons can, in theory, have any number of sides but are commonly broken down into triangles for easier display. The more triangles in a mesh the more detailed the object is, therefore translated in increasing the requirements for display. Low poly objects have a very peculiar way of display in which we see the mesh as a quite notorious group of triangles, and this look has become that much appealing to some people that they even decided to incursion with this technique on the Photography world.

Many ads and posters nowadays have a low poly effect, especially those designed for techno music concerts. And since as designers we have to be up-to-date with new trends, today we are going to learn how to create a low poly portrait in Photoshop.

For this tutorial purpose I am going to use this photo of Simon Baker. Notice that the effect will be easier to achieve if we use full front pictures, since we only have to create half of the image and then mirror it to create the other side, although this won’t apply to my image, then, I have to take a long time to fully create the effect myself.

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After opening the image, go to the View menu and activate the options for displaying Rulers, Show Grid and Snap. The viewport will now display as this.

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And also before starting to edit I will change the preferences for grid display with the values shown below.

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Start by drawing the outline of certain areas that show huge color tone changes; and by doing so, try to keep working with triangles if possible. The smaller the area, the best it will be if you work with triangles instead of other geometrical shapes. For this task we are going to use the Polygonal Lasso to create the outlines, then use the Filter under the Blur options named Average: simply takes a look at everything in your layer (in this case, everything we have selected) and averages the colors together. The resulting color is intended to be uniform to smooth things out, therefore, no texture will remain at the image.

Some considerations prior seeing a step by step process on low poly portraits:

  • Always work with a duplicate layer
  • For small areas, use several small triangles
  • The smaller the triangle, the more amount it will require to fill an area, therefore is more detail loaded at the image
  • Use CTRL+F to quickly reapply the filter on new selections
  • DON’T use Anti-Aliasing

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As you can see, I start working on the skin, since it will be the most complex part of the image due all tone changes. Start creating triangles or polygons as they suit your needs.

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For eyes, do try to do several triangles in order to not lose detail. If you want to add some highlight on it, you can apply it later on by using the Polygonal Lasso to create a selection and paint it with white.

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Notice that I keep the hair to become another element on the scene to “pixelate”

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Forget about such details like the motives of the tie. The point here is to create something not really detailed.

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The hair may become an engaging part, especially if you are using a blonde subject given the changes on the tone. Just as always, apply the effect  considering large areas instead of tiny small ones.

In the end, you will have something like this:

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The effect speaks on its own. In my opinion, even if it takes quite the time and requires too much patience, it is worth knowing it for every photographer or designer. Keep in mind that as easier the model is, the faster you can manage it,. And just as always, practice will make you ace this effect. Have fun!

 

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