Feathers are beautiful to behold and always interesting to photograph. Unfortunately, they are also one of nature's most complicated objects, and are therefore very difficult to create from scratch. This tutorial provides a detailed walkthrough for the creation of a simple feather, the basics of which can be further expanded upon to produce feathers of any depth and complexity.
So, lets get started! Firstly, open a new document - size and background color aren't important, but a dark color is preferable since the feather's color is light.
Now, the first thing we'll work on is the shaft of the feather, so take the Pen Tool and draw something resembling the shape in the picture:
Fill the path with a solid soft yellow-grey color (#A8A48F) & name the layer Shaft.
Now we have to create the light points for a 3D effect. On a new layer take a small and soft brush, and brush with white or another light color in the middle of the shaft near the tip, then on the upper part. Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set a low amount, just to make it smooth. Experiment with opacity and blendings until you get a good effect. Merge these two layers.
Ctrl+click on the thumbnail of the layer, take the Burn Tool, set a low amount (about 14% or less) and brush a bit in the lower part of the shaft. It is important to rely on your own judgement so that you get something looking like this:
Now to give it a bit more realism. Feathers aren't simply white things... they also have brown, light blue and ivory colors, so, with the shape still selected, create a new layer, and with a soft brush, brush the lower part and the nearby tip with a dull brown color (e.g. #5E4F27). Lower the opacity and change the blending mode to Soft Light or another interesting option. If the contrast of the darker strip is too much, use a touch of the Blur Tool to smooth it. Name it Dark Stripe. Don't deselect.
Create another layer, take a light blue color, choose a small, irregular brush (like chalk) and make a few little spots all over the length of the shaft. Change the Blending Mode to Color. Name it Blue Spots.
Create another layer, and with the same small and irregular brush, make a few white spots, especially in the larger part. Lower the opacity to 66% and change Blending Mode to Screen. Name it Ivory Spots.
As you can see the most of the spots are almost "invisible", but they give realism to the feather's shaft.
Now let's start with the feather itself.
Deselect the shaft, create a new layer and drag it BELOW the Shaft layer, in order to give the impression that the feather starts from the middle of the shaft thickness as in the real thing.
Take the Brush Tool with a low diameter (I chose 5), then set the following options in the Brush Palette:
At a certain distance from the tip (at about half the length of my picture, which just represents a part of the feather), brush in opposite directions with a light yellow-grey color (#E0DECD), starting from the shaft. Make longer and shorter strokes depending on the position, and fix the whole thing with the Smudge Tool, small brush (4 or 3) and low setting (28% or less). Name this layer Little Feathers, to distinguish it from the larger part we'll make soon.
On a new layer, take a darker color (#BAB6A2), brush a little in the middle part, mostly covered by the shaft, and then start with the Smudge Tool, with a brush diameter of 3 and 20% intensity. This will take a while...
Now create a new layer, drag it above all the other layers you have. With a brush diameter of 5 and a darker color (#837B65) create the shadow of the shaft on the feathers. Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with low settings (1.7 - 2). Lower opacity to 85% and set Blending Mode to Multiply.
In two new layers (this is just more convenient than a single layer) draw the big parts of the feather with the Pen Tool, then fill them with the color #E1DDCD. Notice that one part is smaller than the other. Name one Left Side and the other Right Side. Use the Smudge Tool (with the same settings you had in the previous step) to soften the edges and give them a more realistic effect.
Now, with exactly the same process used for the Little Feathers, create the shadow of the shaft and the darker stripes with a grey (#99947F) and a light brown color (#B3AC8D). Remember that dark stripes in this case don't just start from the shaft, but are also on the external parts a little, from outside to inside. This will actually take a lot of time, but the more time you'll spend, the more realistic the end result!
Add more dark zones this way:
Add a new layer, then Ctrl+click on the Right Side layer, take the Lasso Tool and holding ALT on the keyboard, exclude the middle part from the selection. Repeat this step for the Left Side layer.
Feel free to reduce the zone for a lighter effect.
Fill it with a grey (like #99947F or darker). Select Filter > Noise > Add noise, and choose Gaussian, Monochromatic and set amount to 100. Then select Filter > Blur > Motion blur, set Distance to 35 and choose a good angle (in this case -48°) which follows the direction of the feathers.
Lower opacity to 50% and set Blending Mode to Darken. Work with the Smudge Tool and the Eraser Tool (large brush size and low opacity - less than 30%) to adjust shadow and luminosity for the "wave" effect.
This could be finished, but if you want give it a last touch, make a new layer and drag it above all the other layers. Set the foreground color to a dull, dark brown, then set the Gradient Tool to Foreground to Transparent. Ctrl+click the thumbnail of the Left Side layer (in this case it is the side more "distant") then click out of the selection and drag a little into it, to create shading on the external contour. Lower opacity to 45%, set Blending Mode to Color Burn, then move it a few pixels down, to create the bend effect.
Experiment with new shadows, blending modes, and adding layers, & you could have something like this:
And here we go! I hope this tutorial was clear and that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Feel free to ask me questions if you don't understand something. ^_^
- Tutorial written by In Tenebris