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Photoelasticity Birefringence Photography Tutorial



Photoelasticity Birefringence is a visual phenomenon that occurs when placing transparent plastic between polarizing material. The effect shows the stress contained in the plastic.

In order to take pictures like this, you will need to place a hard transparent plastic object between two polarizers. Make sure your object is backlit as well. Fortunately, LCD computer monitors are backlit AND have a linear polarizing material in front of the backlight, so this takes care of everything. If you go this route, all you need to do is find some cool looking plastic and stick a polarizer filter on your lens and you are set to go. If you don't want to use a laptop computer screen or just want to to get rid of the ugly RGB pixels, use a light table with polarizing paper on top of it instead.

You'll also want a polarizing filter to place on your lens. This can be circular or linear, it doesn't matter. Things that work well are cheap transparent plastic cups, forks, spoons, and knifes. Prisms, plastic wrap, and cheap packaging material work good as well. Things that unfortunately don't work are water, glass, and anything that isn't a transparent plastic (crystals might be the only exception, although this is unconfirmed). Water can sometimes look okay-looking, but not nearly as cool as plastic.

Additional Resources:


How To Make A Photorealistic Pixelated Animated GIF in Photoshop

These animations are great for avatars and ID's for websites.

Ok, so here is how you make these things.

  1. Open up your image in photoshop.
  2. Resize the image (Image > Image Size) to something similar to the examples. Animated GIFs aren't supposed to be huge. I'd say no more than 500x500 pixels.
  3. Crop the image if necessary.
  4. Sharpen the image if you want to (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen)
  5. Here is the fun part. In order to get the pixelated look, go up to Image > Mode > Indexed Color. Select Local (Adaptive) for the pallet. 3 for the Colors. Then set your Dither setting and the dither amount: DSC_3308
  6. Now, change the color back to RGB mode. Image > Mode > RGB Color
  7. If you want to make the image have a transparent background,  erase the background to be completely white. Then  Select the Magic Wand Tool, set the Tolerance to 0, and untick Anti-Aliasing and Contagious. Click on the background and hit the DELETE key.
  8. If you want the dissolving animation look, go up to Window > Animation. Duplicate your frame by clicking the little page icon on the bottom right of the Animation window.
  9. Select the FIRST FRAME, make it invisible by unticking the little eye icon by the layer in the Layers window.
  10. Now select just the SECOND FRAME, and make sure the eye icon is activated.
  11. Now, select both frames by holding down the CTRL key while clicking on both of them. They should both be highlighted.
  12. Next, click the Tween button Twine on the bottom of the animation window.
  13. Depending on how long you want the dissolve effect to last, a short number amount of frames (like 10) will dissolve the image quickly. A larger number (like 30) will make the dissolving effect last longer. Set the frame rate by selecting all the frames and then there is a button in the lower right.
  14. Select the second frame, then, while holding down the SHIFT key, select your last frame (this will select all your frames except the 1st one)
  15. In the layers window, set the blending mode to Dissolve.
  16. You're pretty much done! You can add other things as well, like multiple frames.
  17. To save the animation properly, click File > Save For Web... Make sure "GIF" is selected in the second drop down box in the top right.
  18. Save it.


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