When you want to know how to composite photos there are a couple of things you need to know. After that it’s easy and most of all fun! When you finished with these tips I suggest you read Photoshop Compositing Tutorials, next.
I compiled a list of 5 tips on how to composite photos these tips are all it takes to get you going without getting frustrated on your first couple of tries. Start simple and work your way up to more advanced composites.
1. When selecting images for compositing think of you horizon line
You can’t always just select elements of one image and paste them in your background. When selecting material for your new compositing ideas always check the horizon line (when applicable). When they’re completely different safe yourself the trouble and just look for something else or shoot something that fits the horizon line of your background. Here’s an example of 2 images with completely different horizon lines.
It would be very hard indeed to use elements from one image into the other. Even with images taken inside a building you can guesstimate the horizon accurate enough to makes decisions based on it.
2. Keep selections simple when compositing
There are a lot of tools in Photoshop these days that can make selections. The most advanced tools is undoubtedly the Pen Tool, but just because it’s the most advanced tool doesn’t mean it’s always the best tool. Use the right tool for the job, if your subject is on a seamless background the Magic Wand tool is great for selections! Just use it in combination with the Shift key and click away. Every click with the Magic Wand tool goes into your History so undo works when you make a mistake. Refine your selection with Refine Edge,
- Shrink your selection a little (so when you feather you wont have the background coming through)
- Feather until your edge is nice and soft.
- Add contrast until you are happy with the sharpness of your edge.
Compositing works best when you can work fast and try a lot of things. When you need to use the Pen Tool for every element in your composite it can take way too long. When later on you thing a specific element could benefit from a precise selection with the Pen Tool you can always redo it.
3. Compositing is about Perspective, perspective, perspective
This is by far the most tricky thing to get right. You have this wonderful model which you want to place into a beautiful background. You decide where you want to have her but then comes the tricky part, how tall/big should she be within the background in order for her to look her right height? With some images you might get lucky, you’ll find around the same line you want to place your model there is a nice reference point to determine size (a door, a bench or something like that). Other images are more difficult, but luckily there is the Vanishing Point tool to help you out!
The Vanishing Point tool is a difficult tool to get the hang of but it’s invaluable in some situation and definitely worth the effort. With a good instruction video it really isn’t too hard but there are very few of them out there. Explaining the Vanishing Point tool or making a complete instruction video is out of the scope of this article, so I’ve did some research and found a very good tutorial which explains it very well in the context of compositing in Photoshop. Checkout the link below.
4. Use a black and white adjustment layer to check your luminosity levels
This is an easy tip but certainly useful. When viewing your composite in color it sometimes gets very hard to see if the different elements in your composite have the correct light levels. To make your composite look even remotely realistic it absolutely essential to get this right. To filter out all color problems and just focus on your luminosity levels (light levels) just add a Black And White adjustment layer. You should see right away which elements in your composite have a problem and need adjusting.
5. The color of light
Just as with your Luminosity Levels you should also keep an eye on the Color Balance of the different elements in your composites. When your background is very warm of color and your subject is cool (blue or cyan for instance) then your composite will never look natural. So as with Luminosity we need to color correct the different elements in our composites. This gets a bit more tricky then with correcting Luminosity Levels, but with a couple of help layers it doesn’t have to be very hard.
What we need to do is strongly exaggerate the problem so we can easily see the problem arias and use Curves adjustment layers to correct them. Color is made up out of Hue and Saturation, both need to match for all elements in your composite in order for them to look right. I’m assuming here that you used Photoshop before so here are the steps to create these checking layers.
- Add a new layer and fill with red and switch the blending mode to Hue.
- Add a new layer and fill with red and switch the blending mode to Luminosity.
- Add a Heu/Saturation adjustment layer and increase saturation to about +60.
You should end up with something like this. I always add these checks in a layer group so I can easily switch them all on or off.
As you can see in the screenshot above I have only the Saturation layer switched on together with the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. You will see a very red image. The image should look have equal looking red hue’s through out, you will easily see over saturated aria’s as coming of as way to bright red. Use a hue saturation layer clipped to your specific element layer to adjust until it all looks right.
More important then Saturation is Hue. Switch of the Saturation layer and switch on the Hue layer, leave the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer switched on. You’ll see that here it’s much easier to see the differences between your composition elements, when an element isn’t as it should be it should come off as having a wildly different color as your background.
So how do we go about adjusting this. Actually also this is really easy. Clip a new Curves adjustment layer to the element in your composite you want to adjust. From the drop down in the Curves menu pick the color you want to have altered (removed and/or added). Now click the hand tool and the area you want to adjust and just drag up and down to adjust. Do that for every color until it matches the background. When you’re done you should just be able to switch the color check layers off and get presented with perfectly color matched composite.
I know this last step is a lot to take in. If you don’t have a lot of experience using photoshop you might be completely lost now. Luckily the video course I suggested above also discusses using these types of checking layers and even provides a downloadable action for it so you don’t have to make them yourself.
When you’re just started compositing or already made a couple of composites I would strongly suggest getting the tutorial mentioned above. It will address all the things discussed here and a lot more in great detail. It’s definitely worth it when compositing is something your enjoy doing.
That concludes this article on how to composite photos