Persistence of Editing: Creating Surreal Photos - Enlight Leak
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Persistence of Editing: Creating Surreal Photos

June 11, 2015

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

– Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was a master surrealist painter and sculptor who created iconic works of art during the early 20th century. One of his most famous works, The Persistence of Memory, featured pocket watches softly melting against a surreal landscape. Dali’s explorations into Surrealism became iconic well after his passing. Today, Dali would certainly be right at home with an iPhone and Enlight – especially since Enlight has several cool tools that literally let you “bend” reality into unique, artistic creations.

One of the key things to keep in mind when using Enlight is the creative freedom you have to make adjustments via its built-in presets and masking tools. Almost every preset has a tools tab that allows you to make precision adjustments like saturation, contrast, sharpness or brightness – just to name a few. Furthermore, nearly every tool in Enlight has a mask layer, or an eraser or brush tool, which allows you to selectively show or hide your edit. The combined power of these features gives you almost limitless control over your edits.

The goal of this quick tutorial is to show you how easy it is to create a surrealistic edit with Enlight.

To begin, find a photo of interest, one that you think might make a great surreal image. A good place to start is with an image that contains leading lines, a common tool artists and photographers employ to lead their viewers’ eyes to specific points in their compositions. Some photographic examples include fences, railroad tracks, rivers, roads, telephone wires, buildings, etc. With leading lines, the mind naturally follows the beginning and ending points. However, distorting those lines challenges that logic and often leads the mind in new directions.

For this example, I chose an image of a streetcar that I shot on my old iPhone 4s in San Francisco. Original

Next, I selected Tools > Reshape and began to distort my image into a surreal work of art using the Reshape tool. It should be noted that one cool feature of the Reshape filter is the Freeze masking panel, which essentially allows you to protect (or freeze) areas of your image from distortion when you apply any of the Reshape tools. The Freeze option is also available in the Canvas > Refit filter, which comes in handy when cropping portrait or landscape images down to square formats. However, for this example, I did not use the Freeze option.


Next, I selected Artistic > Painting and selected the Goldenrod preset. Every preset’s strength in Enlight can be manually adjusted by sliding your finger left (to decrease) or right (to increase). In this case, I adjusted the setting to 40 percent. There are also further adjustments that you might want to explore under the Tools tab, including Basic adjustments like Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Hue; Lighting; Styles; and Surface textures. For this example, I stuck with the default adjustment presets.


From this point, I wanted to make sure my subject, the San Francisco streetcar, was emphasized. To accomplish this task, while still in the Painting mode, I tapped on the Mask option. As I mentioned earlier, almost every Enlight option has a masking and/or brush/eraser option, which allows you to creatively apply your edits to specific parts of your image. In the Mask mode, you can select the Clear button to remove your effect from your enitre image, or, the Fill option to apply your effect to the entire image. The Wipe and Apply tools erase or “paint” your effect onto your image. It should be noted that the default Strength setting is 75, which in my opinion is a bit too high for subtle edits. Thus, I almost always change it to a lower value (in this case, a value of 30) by tapping Strength, then sliding my finger to the left.


By choosing a lower value, you can gently Apply or Wipe your effect on your image while you paint.

Once I was happy with my artistic edits, I moved on to adding an Analog film filter to my image via the Filters > Analog option, and selected the Brigue preset, applying it with a 60 percent strength. 


From this point, I wanted to make a few more adjustments from within the Analog preset, so I tapped on Tools Tab > Light Leaks and chose the red streak leak, (the 11th one from the left), then applied a 60 percent strength. Another cool thing to keep in mind is the fact that you can rotate your light leaks 45 degrees by tapping the right pointing arrow. In this case, I left the rotation at the default since I wanted to add color to the building on the left.


Next, I chose Tools tab > Vignette and adjusted the amount of vignette on my image. Again, the level of customization is excellent, giving you the ability to adjust your vignette’s Intensity, Spread, Transition, and Corner to your heart’s desire. Here I applied a 61 percent Intensity along with a 47 percent Spread.


Finally, before I accepted the custom changes I made to the Brigue preset, I selected Tools tab > Basic and made further adjustments to the Contrast, applying a 35 percent adjustment to slightly darken my image.


I was pretty much satisfied with my edits at this point; however, I soon realized that my subject, the streetcar, was a bit washed out from my series of edits. I really wanted it to pop a bit more. No worries! There is another powerful tool in Enlight’s arsenal – the Target adjustment. The Target tool allows you to apply key photo processing elements like Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, and Hue to “targeted” areas of your image. To activate the Target adjustment, select Image > Target adjustment and tap on the area you want to target. The target area will turn red, which is actually the adjustment mask that will be applied to the specific area when you make your adjustments.


Once I had tapped on my target area, I could now adjust the Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation of the street car (see my values below), making it “pop out” more from my original edit.


My final edited photo now has a bright, surrealistic, artsy feeling. Dali would be proud.


Some more examples of surreal imagery via Enlight:



Written by: Michael Clawson of

All photos used in this article were edited with Enlight.



Michael Clawson
Michael Clawson

Michael is ‘Chief Fish’ at Big Fish Creations. His career began in Silicon Valley when Apple Computer and Adobe Systems first made their mark in Desktop Publishing. He was introduced to interactive media early in his career, transitioned to production artist, and later, creator and lead principal of an Interactive Department at a major advertising agency. Specializing in branding across multiple media platforms, his diverse repertoire includes a hybrid combination of designer & developer with emphasis on graphic design, photography, iPhoneography, and communication.

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