screenshot-toyon-extraction_11I have added another California native shrub to the extraction series, Toyon – Heteromeles arbutifolia.  Extractions are photobotanic illustrations that are inspired by classic botanic illustrations done in a studio, but have the feel of coming from the garden, of being extracted from a scene.

By extracting the illustration from a photograph, I feel as if I am giving specific context to the viewer and celebrating the real plant as found in nature.  Sometimes when we see a drawing of a plant we are not quite sure it is real – a photobotanic illustration leaves no doubt.

The process is tedious but a delight as the branch begins to emerge.  It can be broken down into sections and I will illustrate them with screen captures showing the evolution.

I begin with visualizing a branch within the shrub that can be isolated.  The image is then enhanced to bring out details, followed by creating a mask to separate it from the background.  After the background is faded and the branch is now extracted, I crop into the overall scene to create a dark border that makes the branch jump out with some 3 dimensional qualities.  Finally I add extra margins and type.

Toyon privacy hedgehedge by steps
Toyon privacy hedgehedge by steps

It starts with the plant in the garden, and this Toyon is planted by my front steps to be a hedge that hides the structure.  It is very happy in my garden, grows fast, and needs to be pruned twice a year.  I will have to prune it soon after flowering, though that removes the berries that form late in the summer.  Toyon is also known as Christmas Berry and this particular one has yellow berries, the cultivar ‘Davis Gold’.

I look for a branch that will silhouette itself with the extraction process.

Before and After Slider

Toyon branch extracted from the garden.

As part of the process, I enhanced some of the details, giving them an illustration filter. The filter I used here is from Topaz Labs and is called “Clean”.

Before and After Slider

 As with any filter that plugs into Photoshop, there are specific controls to get just the right effect without overdoing it.

If you look at the far right side of the next screen you will see the various sliders that are available.  Be sure to move the slider to see the different settings on the right. I did not want to make the affect too obvious and used the more subtle settings in the left side (before) image.

Before and After Slider

The “Clean” filter from Topaz Labs.

After enhancing the details I began the selection process of isolating the branch.  In Photoshop there are several very powerful and very specialized tools to select parts of an image.  The selected part looks like marching ants and you can the make a mask that allows selective changes to those areas not covered by the mask.

In this case, the mask covers up the branch so that I can make the background lighter, but not all the way to white which would resemble an illustration.  I want to leave some of the garden scene in the background so that the branch seems extracted.

Before and After Slider

PhotoShop selection tool for masking.

The mask selection process is very exacting.  There are many small openings between the flowers that need to be masked.  For those familiar with the selection tools, I began with Quick Selection Tool for the overall outline, then used the Magnetic Lasso tool to “stick” the marching ants to the edges.  Then, at 500% magnification, I use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to slice out the tiny curves that the Magnetic Lasso could not garb.

Next begins the process of putting the photo onto the paper with borders.  I expand the canvas size of the file, and when you do this, Photoshop gives you color choices to fill the new, larger area.  I use a very pale ivory to give the paper bit of tint. I like to give the extraction series a lot of extra room when I expand the canvas size because I will be adding type, and in the end, after printed on art paper, I will rip the edges to give it a deckled look.

To make the branch seem to jump off the page I add a dark border.

Before and After Slider

The process of creating the border requires making a new mask so that I can darken just the outer edge.  I am sure to cut the mask so that the leaves and small red branch are excluded from the mask and the darkening.

To make it go dark I take out 100% of the saturation and darken the rest by 50% (in this example the slider is 52%).


The image is now ready to have the type layers.  One layer right under the image is for the title, and one type layer is for the PhotoBotanic Press file identification and copyright.  I assume anyone wanting frame the image later will hide the lower line of type behind the mat.

Heteromeles arbutifolia 'Davis Gold' (Davis Gold Toyon) - A yellow-orange berried selection of the California native evergreen shrub

The original signed giclée print is a limited edition of 5; notecards and reproductions, unsigned, can be found in my store at Fine Art America.



  1. I love, love, love the way you do this. Thank you so much for sharing your process and artistic creativity. Thru you I found Topaz “Simplify” – now I’ll go look at Topaz “Clean” and have fun playing with that, too. Not sure I have the patience to replicate your process!

    • Jeri – The Topaz filters are a lot of fun and patience is not required if you are at all interested increating your own “look”. You will get lost in the possibilities. What does require a lot of patience is the selection tool to create the mask. I used to use the Topaz filter, Remask for this but find the Photoshop tools are easier to get exactly right – but I still need 500% magnification for pixel by pixel editing to get it right.

  2. I actually love doing that detail work – I can easily spend a whole day working on one shot. But I must admit I’ve never gone to your lengths to create the kind of beautiful art you create. You are an inspiration.

    I did indeed go ahead and buy the entire Topaz package and have been playing with Impression and Glow – just playing around, but having a great time with them Thanks again for sharing your process with us.

    • Jeri – I know well the feeling of getting lost in the detail and suddenly the day is done. That Toyon was two days of fussing, screwing up, and redoing.

  3. I just found Adobe Creative Suite 6 is not available for me and that Adobe prefers I download their Adobe Creative Cloud desktop app which contains Lightroom and of course it says at a cost of 9.99 or 10 dollars a month. Adobe is saying that is the way of the future. Of course right now as I signed up for it I notice it installs Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC. Is this going to allow me to try out what you do ? I’d like to fool around with the idea of extracting a flower or the subject from the rest of the photo if that is somewhat possible for me with little experience in Photoshop to do.

    • Kendric – I am still using PhotoShop 6 and have not upgraded to the newer cloud versions, which is the inevitable future. The extractions are done with the selection tools an masking which are on all versions. I recommend using the Lynda.con tutorials which cost $25/month but you only need to get started and understand and practice a few techniques.

  4. I also visited Filoli Gardens today and took many shots keeping in mind much of the lessons from the Workshops. Of course I admit there so much to juggle from paying attention to color, leading lines, focal point, balance, rule of thirds, composition, and now looking for the photo within the photo or looking for what my brain is telling my eyes. That’s a tough abstract concept for me but I hope I will get the idea from your many examples in the Photobotanic Learning Center or from your Facebook posts. I have also read Jay Maisel’s stuff along with others so I can develop my “seeing”. Even National Geographic Joel Sartore had a few things he contributed so I have a exploding head with all these ideas. However when I go out to shoot, sometimes “stage fright” takes over and feel frozen upstairs. Nevertheless I’m going out and using different lenses to shoot.


    • “stage fright” is quite common on an overwhelming garden like Filoli. Try to work on one concept at a time, leading lines, shape, etc. Force you reel into a lesson mode. over time many of the techniques ill become second nature so that when you get into an overwhelming garden you can tell yourself which tool to use (though all of them are part of most compositions). When you find your head full of lots of potential subjects, slow down, choose something YOU really notice and make that you story. Always have a story – something you want to communicate


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