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Top 10 Photoshops of the Pandemic

Now that we've hit a year of pandemic madness, I've been reflecting on how I've spent the last twelve months. Mostly, I've eaten salt and vinegar chips while watching Law and Order: SVU, but every now and then I would crawl off the couch to "accomplish something."

Those "somethings" often happened to include photos and Photoshop. In the past, I generally used Photoshop for basic edits and touchups, as I was focused more on photojournalism and representing real life. But real life didn't exist anymore, so I had to start representing my (at that time) current state of being. Which required learning more about what I could do with Photoshop, and how to actually do it.

So here we have, in vaguely chronological order, my ten favourite creations of the past twelve months.

1. Jen X

Jen Read, AKA Jenazelle, AKA Wrenchifer, is the backup vocalist and keyboard player for Elsie Binx. Shortly before shutdown the band and I got together for some new promo photos, so these were obvious fodder for my creative needs.

This one was done pretty early on in the year, so it's not too outrageous in terms of surrealism, but was my first go at digitally enhanced makeup, which at the time it felt like a lot. The original white backdrop was also replaced with a stock photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

Nothing too intense yet, but I was just getting started.

2. Multi-Me

I've always loved the homemade Christmas cards I see on Reddit where someone makes a "family photo" of themselves, and decided to give it a go. It also helped with the crippling loneliness and boredom.

3. Elsie Binx Star Wars Poster

There was never really a good reason for this one, aside from the fact that I was bored one day.

It was all inspired by Phil (top left - fro and purple shirt). This picture of him, from the promo shoot mentioned earlier, was just too ridiculous to go to waste. Plus, he loves Star Wars, and I love Star Wars, and something about his photo just made me think he should be holding a blaster.

Somehow that idea turned into a full-on (low-res) band poster, that I'm actually quite proud of. Even more-so because its creation lead to the commission of....

4. My Son The Hurricane Star Wars Poster

After posting the EBX version on my Instagram page, My Son The Hurricane, a brass/funk/hip-hop band from the Toronto/Niagara region of Ontario reached out to get their own. Dope! Even doper was when some of the images they provided for the project were ones that I had taken of them in Windsor a few years before.

The band would go on to sell prints of this on their social media, continuing the dopeness of the entire thing. I now have my own print of this, sitting on my dresser, waiting for a frame, where I'm sure it will sit for ages while I procrastinate by Photoshopping other strange and unnecessary things.

5. GTA Phil

I don't remember how this one came to be. Did he request it? Did I just do it? Both are possible, but the truth is lost to history.

Either way, this 'Shop has probably been the most influential to my overall work. The concepts and effects that I learned while making this Grand Theft Auto-inspired waiting screen have been used - on a slightly less intense level - on many of my more recent photos.

The background image of Detroit's Fox Theatre came from Josh Hammond on Unsplash, and I learned how to create the GTA effect from Spoon Graphics on Youtube.

6. Jonny Whales

If this list were organized according to "nonsense that makes me laugh," this one would be at the top.

I thought of this one while listening to an Elsie Binx Twitch stream (#shill), and someone mentioned how Jonny, the band's guitar player, "wails." My brain, doing what it does, obviously took things in a different - but related! - direction, and this monstrosity was born.

Is it amazing from a technical perspective? Not at all. But it makes me laugh, so it makes the list.

7. Pets as Paintings: Blue Trevor

The original and best.

I had this idea in my head for ages, and COVID gave me time to bring it to life.

It's hard to write too much about this one, though. I miss my best buddy. RIP Trevor ♥️

Original painting: Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

8. Old Lady Ozzie

Since Trevor was getting his own portrait, it only seemed fair for my cat to get one, too.

But Ozzie has a very particular face. She's a loving, grumpy old woman who is actually only 6. She would require just the right portrait.

I ended up using an antique daguerreotype, which brought in a unique set of challenges. The oil painting effects I applied to Trevor's photos wouldn't suit here. I after lots of trial and error (and cursing the kitten for being so damn fluffy), I ended up with a result that I am reasonably happy with. It required many different fur-textures brushes, far too much masking, and a strange combination of smoothing and adding grain.

9. Pets as Paintings: Aglaia's Cat

After the success of the previous pet portraits, I was commissioned to do one for a friend that she could give away as a birthday gift. Having never met the cat, I wasn't able to choose a portrait based on personality. Instead, I tried to find a pose that would suit one of the supplied images.

Turns out I chose well! I was sent a video of the framed print being opened by the birthday girl, and her astonished "Is that Piper!? Oh my god this is the best thing I've ever seen!" absolutely made my day.

Looking back, I'd adjust the colour and lighting on the fur a touch more, but I don't think I've ever re-visited a finished piece and not noticed something to change.

Original painting: John William Godward, Reverie, 1904

10. Terry Potter

As our second lockdown came to a close in early 2021, a friend reached out to request some portraits be taken for an upcoming publication. For many reasons, I was more than willing to be involved.

Terrance is a pyro specialist, with experience travelling the world to work concerts and play with fire. So of course he had excellent toys to incorporate into his shoot, including a bunch of cold spark machines. Designed for indoor use, these beautiful effects are skin-safe, even if not exactly comfortable to handle. Terrance is a professional though, and didn't mind sticking his hands right in there.

The actual Photoshoppery on this one is minimal - the photo itself is enough, really. But I like how it made me think more about practical effects that can be combined with digital ones - a practice that I plan to bring into more of my future work.


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