Girls Horse Club Blog

Making of Moonlight Mirage Part 2: The Photo Illustrations

Published by • Jan 16th, 2008 • Category: How It's Made, International Horse, LeadMare Tales

With a great story for inspiration, creating the photo illustrations for Moonlight Mirage was a fun project. The process is similar to creating the images you see throughout this blog. It’s pretty geeky so I tried to summarize details. For those of you interested in digital art/photography, feel free to ask questions if you want more info.

The first step in creating any GHC photo illustration is to find one or more source photos suited to the content. I typically start by visiting favorite sites for inexpensive and free images. For Mirage, I wanted a background showing the colorful caravans associated with Gypsies. I found the photo below at iStockphoto and thought it was perfect, so purchased the image rights. Although the photo was taken in England, I decided it would do within the realm of ‘artistic license’…

Gypsy Caravan

Next I needed a source for Mirage. I didn’t find anything at iStockphoto so started looking elsewhere. I went to Flickr Creative Commons and eventually landed on a great photo taken by lgvanners. Since it was “© All Rights Reserved” I sent them a link to the story asking permission to use the photo. They kindly responded…

“You’re welcome to use this photo of Gracie to illustrate this story. That photo is at one week old on her first outing, so it is appropriate and also very cute if I may say so.”

Gracie and lgvanners, thanks for helping us bring Moonlight Mirage to virtual life!


OK, now for the Photoshop magic. First step was to separate Mirage from her background. To do this, I used the polygonal lasso tool. It allows me to trace around the outside of Mirage and remove her from the background. Eventually I ended up with this.


Next I combined the background, the image of Mirage, and the Int*l Horse border together. I pasted each image into a Photoshop layer then used various transformation tools (scale, rotate, flip) on Mirage and the background until I had the beginnings of a composition.


As you can see, when I moved the background up so it didn’t compete with the image of Mirage, I didn’t have enough background for the frame. No problem, thanks to the clone stamp tool, which allows me to duplicate some of the grass and flowers to create more background. I also blurred the background for more emphasis on the subject.


Now for the details that make Mirage feel like she’s part of the scenery, like adding a shadow so she’s anchored on the ground. To do this, I roughly painted the shadow in solid black. Notice it’s painted in the same direction as the shadows in the background. When compositing photos, it will look more realistic if the light source is the same throughout the image.


Then I blurred the shadow and adjusted the transparency so it looks more natural. Finally, I re-painted the ears so they’re perked forward, tweaked the color and contrast, and sharpened Mirage so you see the detail of her baby fur. Voila!

Moonlight Mirage
Moonlight Mirage

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  1. LeadMare, this is so cool! I’ve been experimenting with Photoshop and I havn’t gotten to far with it yet. I use Premiere Elements 4, so I was wondering which program you use?

    Thanks, all the pictures you create for the blogs are fabulous. I don’t think they would be the same without them. :)

  2. Wow she’s so cute!!!

  3. Wow, LeadMare this is cool! I was wondering how the picture was made. I am very glad the people let you use Gracie to make Mirage! ;)

  4. This is amazing thanks for telling us about this!

  5. Wow LeadMare, that is amazing! I’ve always wondered how you can make pictures so well! Thanks a lot for this blog, now maybe my attempts at making horse photo manipulation would improve. But I’ve got some questions: How do you add the border? And where do you go to rotate and scale the image so the background can be moved upwards and cut off from the picture like that? Thanks LeadMare! :D

  6. That’s very informative and helpful!

  7. Thanks everyone–glad you like this behind the scenes series. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, let me know. ;)
    Julia, I’m currently using Photoshop CS2, although CS3 is the latest version. Don’t know how Photoshop CS compares to Photoshop Elements, but it’s great you have a photo editing program to experiment with. Have fun!

    Madelaina, great questions. I created the border in Photoshop a while back using various painting tools (if you want to know how the border was created, that’s probably another blog). For Mirage, I simply copied the border into the file. Photoshop has a feature that allows you to have multiple layers in an image, almost like working with pieces of a collage. Each of the elements in this image–the background, shadows, Mirage, the border–are on a layer, which allows me to manipulate each one separately. The border is on the top layer so it masks anything behind it. For the background, I used the ‘hand tool’ to move that layer around on the digital canvas until I was happy with the position of the caravans relative to Mirage. Photoshop has many transformation tools (rotate, scale, skew, distort, perspective, etc.) under the ‘edit’ menu that can be applied to each layer individually, or multiple layers at the same time. You can also select part of a layer and apply a transformation.

    PhotoshopCAFE has a good tutorial that explains the basics of layers:

    And many more free tutorials here:

    Hope this answers your questions!

  8. Thanks heaps LeadMare, your answer really helped,and the sites you’ve provided can come in really handy too. Thanks so much for that too.

  9. That is amazing how you did that! I’ve always wanted to be able to do that! Question: How do you get photoshop on your computer? Do you have to download it?

  10. Stargazer, unfortunately Photoshop is an expensive program, but I believe you can download a copy and try it free for 30 days. Here’s the link: