Category 'Compositing'

The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots for advertising purposes or for landscape photographers wanting to embellish a scene. You can add a reflection to most scenes but unless you’ve photographed your subject straight on you *may* have trouble with perspective so just keep that in mind.

How to create a reflection in Photoshop

  1. Duplicate your image layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).
  1. Next you’ll need to add space to the bottom of your canvas to put the reflection. There’s a few ways to do this but I prefer the lazy option which is to activate the crop tool (c) and drag the bottom and edges out to reveal the checkerboard. This doesn’t have to be exact because we can crop it back in later.
[caption id="attachment_2313" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection[/caption]  
  1. Highlight the top copy of your image and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and then hold down shift and drag that layer into place below your main image. Recrop your image (c) by dragging the handles back to the sides.
[caption id="attachment_2314" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Drag the vertically flipped photo into place Drag the vertically flipped photo into place[/caption]  
  1. If you're using this method to reflect an object rather than an entire scene you can use a gradient on a layer mask to make the reflection gradually fade out. You can see what I mean in the image below. The layer marked in red shows the gradient applied to the mask.
[caption id="attachment_2315" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Gradient applied to reflection Gradient applied to reflection[/caption]  
  1. This step isn’t crucial but I wanted to distort my reflection a bit to give the illusion of water movement so, select the reflection layer and make it a smart object by going to Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. Then choose Filter>Distort>Wave and play around with the sliders to taste but you probably don’t want to add too much. Being a smart object you can go in and change the filter until you’re happy.
[caption id="attachment_2316" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement[/caption]  
  1. Now we’ll add some ripples which gets a little tricky but builds on techniques I’ve covered in the last few weeks. I mostly followed along with this tutorial to get the following steps but I simplified a few things on the way. Create a new layer and Edit>Fill with white. Then choose Filter>Noise>Add Noise, set the amount to 70% and choose Gaussian and Monochromatic. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2319" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add noise Add noise[/caption]  
  1. Add a little blur to the noise with Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose 5 pixels as the radius.
[caption id="attachment_2320" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add Gaussian blur to noise layer Add Gaussian blur to noise layer[/caption]  
  1. Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves and drag in your sliders as shown to the ends of the histogram spike. This gives more contrast to the noise because while noise is great for these sorts of techniques it’s far too fine and dense without some adjusting.
[caption id="attachment_2321" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Curves give contrast to noise Curves give contrast to noise[/caption]  
  1. Now we need to visit the Filter Gallery which you can only access in 8 bit so if you’re working on a 16 bit image you’ll need to convert to 8 bit by going to Image>Mode>8 Bits/Channel.
  1. Choose Filter>Filter Gallery>Sketch>Bas Relief. Set both Details and Smoothness to 2. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2322" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Apply bas relief filter Apply bas relief filter[/caption]  
  1. Apply a motion blur with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur. Make sure the angle is 0 and the distance is 35.
[caption id="attachment_2323" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add motion blur Add motion blur[/caption]  
  1. Press Ctrl/Cmd T to transform the size of the noise. Drag the top handle down to cover only the area of the reflection. Right click the image and choose Perspective and drag the bottom handles out to make the ripples larger towards the bottom. Press enter.
[caption id="attachment_2324" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place[/caption]  
  1. Right click on the noise layer in the layer’s palette, choose duplicate layer and in the dialogue box change Document to New. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2325" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Move your layer to a new document Move your layer to a new document[/caption]  
  1. To get rid of the empty space in the new document go to Image>Trim, select Transparent Pixels and hit OK. Save this document as a PSD.
[caption id="attachment_2326" align="aligncenter" width="284"]Trim transparent pixels Trim transparent pixels[/caption]  
  1. Back in your main document switch off the noise layer we were working with earlier. Highlight the reflection layer and go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Distort>Glass. You’ll see a little box on the far right where it says ‘Texture’. Click this, choose ‘Load Texture’ and then choose the PSD we saved in the last step. Play around with the Distort slider to give more or less of the effect. As you previously made this layer a smart object you can go back in and change the sliders if needed.
[caption id="attachment_2327" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use glass filter to give ripple texture Use glass filter to give ripple texture[/caption]  
  1. A cool tip from the aforementioned tutorial is to turn back on the noise layer we created earlier. Change the blend mode to soft light and drop the opacity way down to give the water a glassy reflective look. I also clipped a levels layer to this layer and dulled the whites to make them less severe.
[caption id="attachment_2328" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light[/caption]  
  1. The last step is optional but I studied a bunch of different images of reflections to see how they should look. I decided to desaturate the reflection a touch, add some bluish toning with a curves adjustment layer and applied some Gaussian blur. I made it slightly brighter and slightly less contrasty and I darkened the area where the water and land meet. Here’s a close up of the result.
[caption id="attachment_2329" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Close up of water seam Close up of water seam[/caption]   And that, dear readers, is how you make a watery reflection!  

About ‘The Return of the Sword’

Because I am a conceptual photographer and therefore cursed with needing to include a magical element in all my photos I decided to be a bit tricky and change my reflection slightly. The scene is composed of a photo I took at Palatine Hill in Rome and two pictures of me shot in my backyard. The sword is courtesy of FantasyStock on DeviantArt. I'm really taken with the idea of a normal person suddenly finding out they are special or chosen (as all the best characters are) and that's how the idea came about. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2332,2330,2331"]   I created the reflection of the background first and then, because the girl had been cut out from her background, I created her reflection separately. I copied the bottom of her dress exactly and then changed the top half to the girl holding the sword. (I used a stand-in wooden sword when posing which I changed to the stock sword in Photoshop). GIrl's reflection   After much colour toning I needed to draw the eye first to the top girl which I did by making her the sharpest and most saturated thing in the image. Then down to her reflection by making the sword glow and brightening the bottom of the image because the eye is drawn to light. I applied all the effects covered above to the water but I masked most of them off the reflected girl so she could still be clearly seen. But will she choose to take the sword?

Although this isn't a tutorial week I got a bit carried away with the underwater theme after last week's tutorial and wanted to try filling half a room with water which is how 'The Blue Girl' came about. I photographed myself against a blank wall in my living room with a floor to ceiling window diagonally to my left for light. Isn't window light beautiful? [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2296,2297"]   In Photoshop I duplicated photos of the blank wall and skewed them to make the wall look like a room. Room created in Photoshop   The water and water line came from this shot of otters (aw, otters!) that I shot at some zoo or other. Otters   The tears were eye drops applied by my assistant (Mum). The Blue Girl fake tears   The ship and the birds were from my own stock collection. The Blue Girl stock   The rain came from Jessica Drossin's 'Force of Nature' weather effects pack. Various textures were used to give the image a stormy feel. And that's how I became the saddest girl in the room!      

The Exposing Illusions blog has always been an important part of my photography journey; so much so that I spent years researching and planning it before I even wrote a single word. Every one of my conceptual photos has been created to demonstrate the photography technique I am learning and teaching that week. But sometimes I just want to create photos without the constraints of the blog. And that’s what this week’s photo is. ‘In Bloom’ came about because I had an orange flower wall and a white dress. Nothing more. I just wanted to create a pretty picture that wasn’t driven by story. I’d planned to photograph it a year ago but the vine only flowers briefly in winter and by the time I went to shoot it the flowers had died. Being in my late thirties and unmarried I’m sure there’ll be those who’ll think this photo is a statement about my marital status but I love being single and much prefer it to an unfulfilling relationship. I’m just a character in this photo as I am in all my others. Point of interest … right behind this flower wall lives a dog called Panda who regularly hangs over the fence and barks at all who wander innocently by. I was very lucky this day that his owner had just came home so he was too distracted to bother with me. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2237,2236"]

While it’s currently the height of summer in the only hemisphere that (supposedly) matters, where I live in Australia it’s so cold that the state I live in saw snow for the first time in 30 years. When faced with the prospect of driving 2.5 hours to photograph said snow OR hibernating under blankets, I decided to stay in the warmth of my home and research how to make my own snow. Problem being that no two tutorials use the same method to add snow and some weren’t even convincing so after much experimentation I bring to you the Photoshop-snow-makin’-machine that I like best. Note: This was the exact workflow I used in my image this week but to demonstrate some of the steps for creating snow I’ve used a forest image from Graphic Stock so it’s easier to see the results.

How to add settled snow

Stock images:

For my image, 'Rest Stop in Winterglen' I needed to replace the floorboards and snow was the obvious choice to add to the winter wonderland scene so I downloaded a bunch of snow images from Graphic Stock to use as ground cover. I get that not everyone is comfortable using stock images, just as not everyone is comfortable driving over two hours to photograph their own stock so when you’re weighing up your options sometimes there’s no other alternative. When you’ve found snowy stock that fits your scene, you can mask it in and colour correct to make it fit. And if necessary use Edit>Transform>Perspective or Edit>Transform>Warp to make your stock match the angle of your scene. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2181,2185,2183,2184,2182,2180"]    


Channels are brilliant at creating selections and I personally need to use them more in my workflow. So here’s how to use them … Channels panel In your layer’s panel you should see a tab labelled ‘Channels’ but if you don’t you can access it with Window>Channels. Now you need to look at each of the colour channels to see which has the most white showing in the areas where you want your snow. Do this by clicking the eye next to Red and Green so only Blue is showing, then turn on Green and turn off Blue etc, etc. When you’ve chosen the channel you wish to work with drag it to the new layer button at the bottom of the layer’s panel to duplicate the channel. If you want to get fancy you can add a curves (Ctrl/Cmd M) or a levels (Ctrl/Cmd L) adjustment to the channel to create more or less white in your image. [gallery size="medium" ids="2190,2189,2187"]   Now stay with me here ... Ctrl/Cmd click on the channel to turn it into a selection and then switch back to your Layers tab. Create a new layer. Click on the top square of the colour swatch in your tools palette and choose a colour a little under white. Click OK. Go to Edit>Fill and choose Foreground Color. Ctrl/Cmd D to get rid of the selection. Pretty magical right? [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2194,2193,2192,2191"]   If you aren’t entirely happy with the result you can continue to create more snow by pressing Ctrl/Cmd J to duplicate the layer or follow this process again with different colour channels. You can also mask in some snow in areas that you feel need more. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2195,2197"]    

How to create falling snow

There’s two ways to create falling snow – the automated method and the brush method – and to get the best results I recommend a combination of the two.

Automated method

Create a new layer at the top of your layer stack and Edit>Fill with black. Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Make the amount somewhere between 80 and 100%. Choose Gaussian and Monochromatic and click OK. [caption id="attachment_2198" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add noise Add noise[/caption] Add a Threshold adjustment layer and drag the slider until you get a nice spacing between your snowflakes. Clip the threshold layer to the noise layer (by alt clicking between the two layers). [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2201,2200,2199"]     With the noise layer selected go to Filters>Pixelate>Crystallize and move the slider to 10. Press OK. Change the blending mode of the layer to Screen to get rid of the black background. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2203,2202,2204"]     Add some movement to the snowflakes with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur and adjust the angle and the amount to taste. Pull down the opacity of the layer a touch. Done! This gives a nice snowfall to use in the background of your image but it’s all the same size so we don’t want to stop there. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2206,2205"]  

Brush method

I created my own snowflake brush which I considered offering for download but what would you learn then? So let’s do it together! First you'll want to create two new layers. One will be for medium sized snowflakes and the other will be for large snowflakes to signify snow close to camera. Name your layers ‘medium snowflakes’ and ‘large snowflakes’. Highlight the medium snowflakes layer, hit b on your keyboard to activate the brush tool and select Photoshop’s standard soft round brush. Press F5 to bring up the brush settings. [caption id="attachment_2207" align="aligncenter" width="203"]Photoshop's soft brush in brush settings panel Photoshop's soft brush in brush settings panel[/caption]   Under Brush Tip Shape start off with a brush about the size of a grain of rice. Make your hardness 0 and your spacing around 230. Under Shape Dynamics, change your Size Jitter to 100%, your Angle Jitter to 10% and your Roundness Jitter to 35%. Under Scattering tick the Both Axes box and take your Scatter all the way up and make your Count about 10. Under Transfer take your Opacity and Flow Jitter sliders all the way up. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2211,2208,2209,2210"]   Now start to paint in your medium snow using a few clicks because it’s easier to control than dragging your mouse around. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2212,2213"]   On your large snowflake layer make your brush about the size of a small coin and just dot in some large snowflakes. Save this as a brush preset if you wish to use it for future use by clicking the menu icon at the top right of your brush settings panel and choosing ‘New Brush Preset’. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2214,2215,2216"]     If you have people in your scene spend some time brushing snow into their hair and clothes. Using the same brush we created, set the size to 25 pixels, scattering to 60 and with this you can draw little piles of snow. It’s time consuming but will really help make your scene convincing. Lastly, depending on the original colour of the image it might help to add some bluish toning. I chose to add a solid color layer filled with blue, set the blend mode to Hue and reduced the opacity slightly. Let it snow! Let it snow. Let it snoooow. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2218,2217"]   About 'Rest Stop in Winterglen' Every Christmas in Brisbane, Australia a magical world appears called Lollipop Land. The keepers of Lollipop Land, Jule Barten (visual designer) and Chris Boston (doll designer) were kind enough to let me photograph there after hours last January but I haven’t had the right project for the photos (until now). [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2226,2225"]   I chose to work with their gorgeous Enchanted Forest scene, posing myself on the unicorn (supplied by Natureworks) and taking a 25 shot panorama. I composited in snow and hedges to cover the wooden floor. I added icicles (from Graphic Stock) to the roof and and an ice cave (from DeviantArt) to cover the ceiling. The trees outside of the ice cave are also from Graphic Stock. The dragon was photographed in another area of Lollipop Land but moved into the scene. My favourite part is that the unicorn has a seat built into him so I had to composite in a real horse’s “ass” for realism. I added snow using all the methods above and spent days colour toning the image (only to later delete three-quarters of what I'd done). Lollipop Land is a magical place to spend time (their high teas are great fun) so do visit if you get the chance.   [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2220,2221,2222,2223,2224"]    

Using special effects can instantly transform an ordinary photo into a magical scene, and they’re not nearly as complex to create as it seems. Traditionally artists use bright, glowing light to signify magic or special powers but if you set off fireworks or bring out your glowsticks during the day you’re not going to impress anyone. That’s why when working with special effects you’ll ideally want a dark base photo. I’m not saying it’s impossible to use special effects on a light background but they’re probably not going to be super effective.

How to shoot a photo for special effects

You can add special effects to any image you like but if you’re shooting specifically with special effects in mind there’s a few tricks you can do to really sell the effect.
  • Shoot against a dark backdrop – even if you’re going to replace the background later you’ll probably be replacing it with a dark scene so you want the tone of the scenes to match. (This was the first time I’ve shot against a black background cos I was under the mistaken impression that it’s easier to cut out brown hair from a white background. N.B. It’s not. Just try and match the tone of your “studio background” to the tone of your replacement background and everything becomes much easier.)
  • Try and replicate the light your effect will create. For example, I was shooting with a top hat and I knew I wanted light coming from the hat so I put a small torch inside the hat shining out and then lit the top of the hat with a lamp so the rim was lit up. What I didn’t do but should have was to remove the hat from the scene and position the lamp so the light was shining upwards roughly where the hat would be and then photographed myself next to that spill of light so my face was properly lit. You can recreate this lighting in Photoshop but light and shadow are always going to be more accurate if you shoot them for real. You should also colour the light to match the final effect if you're comfortable working with gels.
Hat with lighting

How to add special effects in Photoshop

There’s a tonne of different way to add special effects so I’ll go over a few of them.

Using stock

This can be stock you’ve shot yourself (light painting, sparklers, smoke – all techniques I will cover in future) or stock from an agency. I’m no graphic designer and I don’t have the talent or the know how to create graphics from scratch so I prefer to use a stock agency for graphic art. I signed up for a 7 day trial with Graphic Stock and searched for images using search terms like galaxies, rays, flare, glow, bokeh and fractal. Images on a dark background are best. Open up your chosen stock as layers above your main image, and working through them one by one choose the move tool (v) and cycle through your blend modes using Shift + or – until you find one that gets rid of the dark background (I used Screen, Soft Light and Lighter Color the most). If you can’t entirely get rid of the black background add a levels adjustment layer (clip it to your stock layer by alt clicking between the two layers) and move the sliders until the background disappears. Then just move your stock into place and mask parts out if necessary. Remember you can also use warp (Edit>Transform>Warp)and liquify (Filter>Liquify) to shape the stock to fit your image. So easy! [gallery link="none" ids="2151,2152,2153,2154,2155,2156,2157,2158,2159"]

Flame Painter

Flame Painter is a nifty little tool that creates light effects. You can have some control with the free version or full control with the paid version. Play around with the settings and draw! Then just download the result and use a blend mode to make it fit your scene. So cool! [caption id="attachment_2149" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Light effect from Flame Painter Light effect from Flame Painter[/caption]

Layer Styles

To make it look like my top hat was glowing I used a couple of layer styles. To access the layer style menu double click on the layer of the object you wish to give a glow to (this will have to be cut out and on its own layer). Click on outer glow (make sure the check box is ticked to apply it to the image) and play around with the sliders until you’re happy. Photoshop defaults to a glowing yellow colour but you can change the colour by clicking on the colour swatch. This gave my hat a glowing outline but for realism I wanted it to have some inner glow too so I also ticked the Inner Glow checkbox and making sure the name was highlighted I played around with the settings in here too. Layer styles can sometimes behave in odd ways but I learnt some super useful tips from Phlearn on how to manage these. So glowy! [gallery size="medium" ids="2163,2161,2160"]

Brush tool

Which brings us back to our old friend the brush tool. Using a soft brush and a bright colour you can paint in glows wherever you like. If you need to light a lamp / lantern a great trick is to create a new layer set to Color Dodge, choose a medium hardness small brush with a yellow colour loaded and dot it once on the lamp. Then make the brush softer and larger and dot it again. Do this a few more times until you have a realistic effect. I also created the smoke in my image using a smoke shaped brush and a bright lavender colour, painting some on a layer under the girl and some on a layer above her to make it look like it was wafting around. So handy! Photoshop brush glow If you expect to use special effects a lot in your work the designer sevenstyles creates and sells amazing actions designed to add special effects with a couple of clicks.

About ‘The Magic Show’

Photo 26-07-2015 8 31 56Photo 26-07-2015 8 30 46Because magic is the underlying theme of my blog I decided that turning myself into a magician would be a good way to illustrate how to use special effects. Coincidentally, I recently realised that the bird on my business card (created for me by a designer in the UK) is almost the same bird on the cover of the book I'm currently reading, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which just happens to be a book about two magicians. I photographed myself in my garage against a black sheet using a household lamp and Speedlite for lighting. It took forever to get a flattering light set-up. The girl is made up of different photos of parts of my body while the hat and flying hair were shot separately. The rabbit came from a Graphic Stock image that I turned into a Photoshop brush and added a glow to. The background curtain and all light effects are from Graphic Stock. I was thinking about Donnie Darko while conceiving this image which might be how I ended up with a Frank-like light flare over my eye. This is why it's important to ingest as much culture as you can if you're a creative person so all this stuff can swirl around in your psyche and manifest itself in interesting ways. Hey presto! [gallery link="none" columns="4" size="medium" ids="2167,2168,2166,2165"]

Photoshop brushes are a brilliant way to add interest to your photos but did you know you can use brushes on layer masks? Say, for example, you want to create a bird made of fire, you could take a picture of fire, add a black layer mask to it and then using a bird-shaped brush paint with white on the mask to reveal the fire in just the shape of the bird. Here, let me show you what I mean … [gallery columns="2" link="none" size="medium" ids="2112,2113"]

* Fire stock and bird brush courtesy of DeviantArt.

Yeah, phoenix baby! Using brushes on layer masks you can create a fun dispersion effect that makes your subject look like they're breaking into pieces and scattering away. Perfect for those moments when something really awkward has happened and you wish you could dissolve away into nothing.  

How to photograph for the dispersion effect

If you Google dispersion effect you’ll notice that 90% of the results show subjects against plain backgrounds, which is most likely because the effect would get lost against a busy background. So if you’re shooting a subject specifically for this technique I recommend shooting them against a plain wall or a seamless backdrop (since I can’t afford a seamless I use a bedsheet hung over a clothes rack. Fancy.). Then to save yourself a bit of work take a second exposure of the same scene without your subject in it. But really, you can do this technique with any subject you please. To show you how this is done I’ll use a single photo example for this tutorial. For interest's sake the photo I've chosen also shows the background and lighting I used to shoot my main image.

How to edit the dispersion effect

  1. Open your image and duplicate your layer twice using Ctrl/Cmd J so you have three copies. Make an optional fourth copy if you want to change the background. (If your background is already separate place it below the subject layer and duplicate the subject once).
[caption id="attachment_2114" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Dispersion effect base image My base image[/caption]
  1. Highlight the top layer and go to Filter>Liquify. Keep the default settings and use the Forward Warp Tool in a largish size start to push the edges of your subject in the direction you want the scatter to go. Press OK when you’re done. (It’s weird to me that Photoshop has misspelt Liquefy, but whatever). (Also weird that my spell check thinks misspelt is misspelt.)
[caption id="attachment_2115" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Pretty Pretty[/caption]
  1. Add a layer mask and invert it (Ctrl/Cmd i) and using the brush you wish to scatter with (I used Photoshop’s default maple leaf brush) paint white on the layer mask to reveal the liquify layer. If you’re not getting random scattering with your brush please refer to my previous tutorial on how to change your brush properties. I usually have to scatter a few times until I’m happy with the result.
[caption id="attachment_2116" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Dispersion effect on liquify layer[/caption]
  1. Now we’ll work on the background (bottom layer). Just skip this step if you have your background already separate. You need to have background behind your subject so that when you start scattering them there’s something behind them to see through to. I roughly selected my subject using the Quick Selection Tool and then chose Edit>Fill and selected Content-Aware in the ‘Use’ box. This replaced my subject but left a yucky outline, so then I created a new layer (Layer>New>Layer) and selected the clone stamp tool (s) making sure the sample was set to ‘Current & Below’. Holding down ‘Alt’ I clicked to select a blank piece of wall and then painted over the messy area. It doesn’t have to be perfect as you’ll only see small snippets.
[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="medium" ids="2118,2117"]
  1. With the middle layer selected, add a layer mask and paint black with your chosen brush around the edges of your subject to make some holes.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2119,2120"]
  1. And that’s the answer my friends! But if you want to take it a step further and give your subject a new background highlight the fourth layer and select your subject using the selection tool(s) of your choice. You may want to turn off the other layers so you can see what you’re doing. Go to Select>Inverse and then press delete to remove the background. Then add in your new background which can be as simple as a layer filled with a colour. You can even add a texture to give it some interest.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2121,2122"]   There is ANOTHER way to achieve this effect by using the clone stamp tool and it can be done on one layer. Press s to select the clone stamp tool, choose your brush and go to Window>Brush to change its size and scatter amount. Alt click to sample inside your subject and then paint the scatter around them. Alt click to sample your background and paint over your subject. This technique is not as easy to control but it’s handy if you only want your subject to scatter a little.  

About ‘Under the cloak of night’

I’ve seen a few people use the dispersion technique with bird brushes and I always look at their photos and think ‘that would’ve been better with bats’. With a bat theme in mind I set out to photograph a cave, settling on Kweebani Cave at Binna Burra National Park (which turned out to be more of a rock formation than a cave). I photographed myself in costume in my garage and Frankenstein-ed different body parts, hair, dress and cape flicks to make the final girl. I replaced the sky and composited in a moon from photos I’d shot separately and added the bats using the method above. The only difference is that my subject became all streaky when I liquified her and I didn't like how this made the bats looked so I used a black solid colour layer instead. Always better with bats! [gallery size="large" link="file" columns="2" ids="2123,2131,2129,2130,2126,2127,2125,2132"] [caption id="attachment_2124" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Bats added Bats added[/caption]  

One of Photoshop’s coolest features is the ability to customise and import different brushes. Until now you might only have used Photoshop’s standard round brush to paint masks that hide and reveal layers. But if you spend some time with the brush panels you’ll discover that using different brushes not only makes your work easier but will give life to your photography in ways you’d never dreamed were possible. And the best part is you don’t even have to be able to paint or draw! Hooray!Example of Photoshop brushes Here are some examples of Photoshop brushes. With a single mouse click I created grass, smoke, the moon, scattered leaves, hair, birds, blood and ink spatters, clouds, stars, fire trees and snow. And that’s just a small sample of the brushes available. You can then customise these further by playing around in the brush options, adding colour, and using the transform tool to move and warp the brush as you desire.

How to find and install Photoshop brushes

Photoshop comes with some brushes of its own but to get the really interesting ones you have to do a little hunting. If you just want to browse through the types of brushes available Brusheezy is a good place to start. But if you know the kind of brush you want, head to Deviantart or even just Google and type in (for example) “birds Photoshop brush”. And guess what? The majority of brushes are FREE! Just keep in mind that the more brushes you have, the longer your brush panel takes to load. Once you’ve found and downloaded your brushes you’ll need to install them. Firstly, if they come as a zipped file make sure you unzip them, then in Photoshop load your brush tool (b) and on the brush options bar click the drop-down arrow next to the brush size to load the Brush Preset Picker. In here click the cog icon on the right hand side and select Load Brushes. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2065,2066"] Navigate to the downloaded brush you wish to add (it will have the extension .abr). This adds your new brush(es) to the bottom of the brush list. If you get a message asking if you want to replace or append the brushes choose 'append' to add the brushes to the list rather than replacing the current ones. There’s other ways to install brushes but this is the method I like best. You can remove a brush by right clicking and deleting. This only deletes the reference in Photoshop and not the brush itself from your hard drive. To save Photoshop from getting bloated with too many brushes I like to load only the brushes I need for a project and then I’ll remove them afterwards. They can be loaded again if needed. You can change the brush for every Photoshop tool that uses a brush, so for example, the eraser and clone stamp brushes can be customised to give a more organic result than you’d get with a round brush. I find the brushes really hard to see in the brush preset picker but you can customise this by again clicking on the cog icon and selecting ‘Large Thumbnail’ or any other option you like.

How to use Photoshop brushes

When using brushes here’s a few shortcuts to help you work quickly:
  • If you have the brush tool loaded you can access the Brush Preset Picker by right clicking inside your canvas.
  • The [ bracket decreases the brush diameter
  • The ] bracket increases the brush diameter
  • If you hold down shift with these same brackets it changes the brush’s hardness (you can only change the hardness of Photoshop’s round brushes)
  • On a PC if you hold down Alt + right click + drag your mouse up and down this changes the brush’s hardness. Dragging right or left changes the brush’s size.
  • On a Mac hold down Control + Option and drag.
  • Command + option + control and holding down your mouse on a Mac brings up the colour picker. Alt + shift and right clicking on a PC does the same.
  • F5 (or fn + F5 on a Mac) shows and hides the brush panel (more on this later).

How to create your own brush (it’s easy!)

Create a new document using File>New set both the Width and Height to 300. Document for new brush     Edit>Fill the canvas with white (if it isn't already). Using black, draw the shape you wish to turn into a brush. Vary the opacity of your brush to give areas of transparency for depth. If you don't like to draw an easier way is to make a selection from another photo and drag that onto your blank canvas. Use Edit>Transform to resize the selection to fit your canvas and then Image>Adjustments>Desaturate. Whatever is white becomes invisible so you may need to go to Image>Adjustments>Invert to swap white to black (and vice versa) and then play around with Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast to get your tones as desired. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2073,2078,2076"]   Then go to Edit>Define Brush Preset, name your brush, press OK and your brush will now be at the bottom of the Brush Preset Picker ready to use! [caption id="attachment_2079" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Define new brush preset Define new brush preset[/caption]   If you have Photoshop CC you can also download the Adobe Brush CC app on your phone or tablet to create brushes that sync with Photoshop (although I found it I bit hard to create anything usable).  

How to customise Photoshop brushes

Some brushes just need to be stamped once to create the image you want. However for any that require some painting you can customise how the brush behaves. You need to do this in the brush panel which can be accessed by pressing F5 (Fn f5 on a Mac) or going to the Window menu and choosing Brush. On the left hand side are a bunch of options for customising your brush.
  • Brush Tip Shape – in here you can control the size, angle and perspective (play around with the round icon on the right) as well as the spacing of your brush. You can see how these changes will look by using the preview pane at the bottom.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2082,2081"]  
  • Shape dynamics – play around with the size, angle and roundness jitters to vary how each brush stroke will look. These make your brush look more natural. [caption id="attachment_2083" align="aligncenter" width="135"]Shape dynamics Shape dynamics[/caption]
  • Scattering – scatter and count control the spread of your brush and how often strokes occur
[caption id="attachment_2084" align="aligncenter" width="133"]Scattering Scattering[/caption]    
  • Color dynamics allows you to change the colour of your brush as it paints
[caption id="attachment_2085" align="aligncenter" width="133"]Color dynamics Color dynamics[/caption]  
  • Transfer allows you to vary the opacity of each brush stroke
[caption id="attachment_2086" align="aligncenter" width="132"]Transfer Transfer[/caption]   These are the options you’ll probably use the most but there are other options in the menu you may wish to play around with such as adding texture, noise and wet edges to your brush. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2088,2087"]   If you use a tablet with Photoshop you can use the brush panel to control how your pen pressure affects the brush tool so it will mimic your drawing. (I highly recommend using a tablet by the way – I have a small Wacom Intuos Pro which I love but sadly no desk to put it on! So I usually get by without it *sad face*)  

How to add colour to stamp brushes

Brushes that behave like stamps are usually designed to be painted with black (sometimes white) and have colour added later, otherwise if you choose the colour first they can end up looking flat. There are three ways to add colour to a stamp brush:
  • Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Click colorise and play with the sliders. You may need to clip this layer to your brush’s layer.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2089,2090"]    
  • Add a new layer and change its blending mode to ‘Color’ then using the round brush choose a colour from your Color panel or click on the foreground colour square in your tool panel to bring up the Color Picker. Hand paint your colour(s) as desired.
[caption id="attachment_2091" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use a Color blending mode to add colour by hand Use a Color blending mode to add colour by hand[/caption]    
  • Add a Gradient Map adjustment (advanced). Click on the colour bar to bring up your settings and then click on each of the handles under the colour bar to choose your colours. Add more handles (by clicking under the bar) to add in extra colour stops.
[caption id="attachment_2092" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use gradient map to add a range of colour tones. Use gradient map to add a range of colour tones.[/caption]   And that's it for my round up on brushes! Brushes are brilliant in compositing for tasks like drawing hair (because selecting real hair is too difficult), for drawing grass in front of your subject to make them look like they were really in a scene or drawing trees along a horizon line to hide a seam between your foreground layer and a replaced sky. Endless possibilities!   About ‘The Endless Delight of Delirium’ This week’s image is based on the character ‘Delirium’ from the greatest graphic novel series ever written, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’ve always wanted to create a photo around Delirium because she’s so visually interesting, often surrounded by fish and butterflies (and sometimes frogs and bubbles). Because each of the Sandman comics was illustrated by a different artist the appearance of the characters change, so in researching this image I looked at many different interpretations of Delirium and designed my costume around the common elements. For example she has red hair, sometimes shaved on one side, sometimes with stripes of colour. She has one green and one blue eye. She is always wearing fishnets, and sometimes mismatched socks and a tutu. Watercolour and swirls are used to allude to her delirious mental state. I shot the images of myself and the bubbles in my garage with a Speedlite. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2094,2093,2095"]   The brushes I found in various places on the Internet but after they were added I felt the image lacked depth so I composited in some real photos of fish I photographed at Underwater World, Mooloolaba and butterflies photographed at Penang Butterfly Farm in Malaysia. The background is a paper texture from Lost & Taken. [caption id="attachment_2096" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Composited fish and butterflies Composited fish and butterflies[/caption]   Working on this image was a joy from start to finish. Let me know what you think!

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignright" width="300"]Oh god, MY EYES! Oh god, MY EYES![/caption]   HDR is photography’s most controversial technique because when overused it produces garish results capable of making your eyes bleed. Cameras are limited in the tones they can capture, meaning if you expose to get detail in the shadows, your highlights will blow out, or if you expose to get detail in the highlights, the shadows go very dark. HDR, short for high dynamic range, is a processing technique that gives photographers the ability to create images with a higher range of detail from lights to darks, giving a sort of hyper-real effect. Used in moderation it’s a really effective technique that brings detail into every portion of your image, more in line with how our eyes actually see a scene. For three years I eagerly processed ALL of my images this way because I liked the look of it so much, even when it was probably overkill. HDR is traditionally created by taking a number of photos of the same scene with different camera settings and then blending those images together with post processing software. But using Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom you can also give a single image the HDR look, which is how I usually do it. I’ll touch on both methods today. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1957,1956"]  

How to photograph HDR (Canon instructions)

  1. Because you’re taking more than one exposure of the same scene you’ll ideally need a tripod to hold your camera. [caption id="attachment_1958" align="alignright" width="182"]Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon. Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon.[/caption]
  1. Press the AF-DRIVE button on the top of your camera and using the main back dial make sure you’re in a continuous shooting mode. This means the camera will take all the exposures for you. If you have a ‘single shooting mode’ selected you will need to press the shutter yourself for each of the three shots.
  1. In your camera’s menu, locate and highlight the auto exposure bracketing function called ‘Expo.comp./AEB’ and press the SET button. Using the dial on the top right of your camera move it to the right to set up bracket instructions. What you’re doing here is telling your camera to take a standard exposure (0) and then choosing how much darker and how much brighter you want your other exposures to be. The brighter exposure will expose for dark areas and the darker exposure will expose for the sky. The typical amount of exposures is three but your camera may allow you to do more. Press SET again when you’re done.[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="full" ids="1959,1960"]
  1. With the shooting modes dial (big button on the top left of your camera) choose aperture priority (AV).
  1. Choose the aperture you wish to use with your top right scroll wheel. The camera will automatically vary the shutter speed with each exposure. If you don’t want the exposure of your bright image to take too long (eg. for a moving subject) you can always boost your ISO.
  1. Set your camera on the tripod, find focus and press the shutter button. Step back and let the camera take all three exposures, starting with the standard, the underexposed and then the overexposed (which will take the longest – so don’t touch the camera until you hear all three clicks).
  1. The camera should stay in bracketing mode until you switch it off or deactivate it.
  1. While HDR is great for landscape scenes to bring detail into the sky, it’s also really wonderful at bringing out the texture in rusty metals or brickwork.

How to combine your HDR exposures

Because HDR was so popular a few years back there are a number of different products and methods to combine your exposures, but for the sake of this post I’ve experimented with only the most common. [caption id="attachment_1961" align="alignright" width="300"]Photomatix Pro using Enhanced Photomatix Pro using Enhanced[/caption] The most lauded HDR software is Photomatix Pro which retails for about $100 -  although you can play around with a trial version first to see if you like it. It’s easy to use and will walk you through the process of combining your HDRs. But while Photomatix offers the most options, the majority of them are way over the top. However you can customise the sliders to your own taste. The ‘Enhanced’ preset was the most natural looking option for me but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way Photomatix combined my exposures. It’s worth the investment if you’re serious about HDR but if you prefer subtle results I’d personally look elsewhere. [caption id="attachment_1962" align="alignright" width="300"]Photoshop HDR Photoshop HDR[/caption] Photoshop has its own HDR function which you can access with File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro. Open the files you wish to use and check the box to align them if there was some movement between exposures. In the next dialogue box, play around with the presets and sliders. Tone mapping HDR images is very much about personal taste so I won’t spend time explaining all the options as plenty of other bloggers already have. But I will mention that if you find an element in your images has moved, check the ‘Remove ghosts’ box and Photoshop will attempt to fix it. Because subtlety is key for me I found the results from Photoshop were still a bit too strong. Lightroom has recently added an HDR function to its workflow with version 6. Highlight the images you wish to merge and go to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR. On the next screen click to ‘Auto Tone’ and choose ‘Auto Align’ if your camera moved between exposures. Choose a deghost amount if necessary. The resulting image won't look typically HDR but it will throw you into your Develop dialogue box with the sliders moved to best enhance your photo, which you can adjust to taste. I was really not expecting to like this new feature considering it was added as an afterthought but I really love that I can play around with sliders I’m already familiar with, so this is the method I chose for this week’s image. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1964,1963,1965,1966"]   There’s one other method I experimented with this week which isn’t really HDR but it’s a good option for selectively combining your exposures … so if I only want my underexposed photo to show up in the sky and my overexposed photo to show up  in the shadows. This method involves ‘Luminosity masks’ which use Photoshop masks to obscure and reveal various light values. So I could use a ‘Brights Mask’ to select all the bright values in my image and have my underexposed photo show through in  just those areas. Now the guru in luminosity masks is a chap named Jimmy McIntyre so if you’re interested in this technique, please visit his website and download the free action panel which creates all the masks for you at a click of a button! You can then refine the masks as necessary. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1968,1967"]

How to create HDR from a single image

[caption id="attachment_1969" align="alignright" width="300"]Create three exposures from one image Create three exposures from one image[/caption] The most well-known way for creating HDR out of a single image is to duplicate the image three times and then raise the exposure of one and lower the exposure of the other and then combine these together using the methods covered above. This is completely unnecessary and just adds noise to your image. The way I do it, which I was so overly fond of for so many years is by opening your image in Lightroom and copying these sliders. As each image is different you’ll need to fine-tune the sliders to taste but I have these sliders set as a Lightroom preset so I can apply it quickly and at least see if an image has potential. This is my biggest editing secret! It's also a technique that photographers like John Wilhelm and Adrian Sommerling use to achieve their almost cartoon-like effect (I think). [caption id="attachment_1985" align="aligncenter" width="197"]Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste. Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste.[/caption]  

About 'Siren's Sorrow'

Siren's Sorrow was photographed on location at the Gayundah Wreck in Woody Point, Brisbane. Considering it's a large rusty structure it's been on my mind as the perfect HDR location for some time. I didn't realise until I came to photograph it that you have to ignore 'trespassing' and 'danger' signs and climb down a large wall of rocks to get to the wreck itself so I had to leave my assistant (Mum) behind. I was losing light quickly, the tides were coming in and the area is overlooked by afternoon walkers and a busy construction site (if I'd moved the camera 1cm to the the right you'd be able to see it) and so I was feeling both rushed and self-conscious. The image was expanded so I shot four different angles (main, left twice, and up) with three exposures each. These each had to be converted to HDR (using Lightroom), combined into one using Photoshop's Photomerge and then edited to taste. The mermaid tail is courtesy of DeviantRoze on Deviant Art. To be honest I really didn't like this image for most of the editing process but I'm quite fond of it now it's finished. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1986"]   So if you’re of the opinion that HDR is a horribly overrated technique then you’re just not using it properly. :)

Compositing gives photographers the magical power to change the weather. Most people crave a sunny sky but for conceptual and landscape photographers the more colour and cloud in the sky the better. We go to so much effort to make a scene beautiful and interesting and are often let down by those bright, washed out skies. This is why photographers like to be up at the crack of dawn capturing sunrises. It’s also why photographers who don’t use Photoshop buy expensive filters, why photographers who do use Photoshop take two exposures—one exposing for the land and one exposing for the sky—and blends them together. And then there’s the third camp who are perfectly comfortable messing with reality and swap their skies for entirely different ones. This is the sleeper-inners method so stick with me to learn how to replace a sky if you’re not a morning person. [gallery size="medium" link="none" ids="1925,1926,1927"]   If all horizons were straight and not covered by mountains and trees then replacing a sky would be a breeze but things just aren’t that simple. Because of this there’s more than one way to replace a sky in Photoshop and it can take some experimenting to find the one that works best for your image.

Choosing your new sky

In last week’s lesson I talked about collecting photos of clouds and skies for the purpose of swapping them into new scenes. So when looking for a sky image there’s a few things to keep in mind:
  • You’ll want to find a sky lit the same way as your foreground. If your subject is side lit from the left you should look for skies where the sun is also on the left. You can always flip your sky image to get the lighting in the right spot.
  • To save on colour work it also helps if your sky is a similar colour to the foreground. A dark overcast sky probably won’t work with a sunrise lit landscape.
  • If you want your image to look realistic try and line up the horizon lines in both images or the sky may look unnatural. Skies look different near the horizon than they do in the middle of the sky. If you’re a conceptual photographer you have some leeway with this because you’re building an ‘otherworldy’ scene anyway.
  • To save on work make sure your sky image is free from distractions like light poles or power lines, though you can always clone these out if there’s a sky you particularly like. Or you can hide them by dragging your sky layer lower behind your subject image.
  • Keep in mind that skies are pretty flexible and can usually be stretched and resized a fair bit before they start to look weird.
[caption id="attachment_1928" align="aligncenter" width="300"]In desperate need of a new sky In desperate need of a new sky[/caption]

How to replace a sky in Photoshop

[caption id="attachment_1933" align="alignright" width="300"]Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to[/caption] I personally like to experiment with a few sky options rather than limiting myself to one. So in Lightroom highlight all your chosen skies and go to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop and then one by one, use the move tool (V) to drag each sky up to the document tab of the foreground image and then down onto the canvas. Lower the opacity of your sky image using the Opacity setting in your layers palette and move your sky into place. Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal if you think the sky will work better flipped. If you want to scale or stretch your sky image press Ctrl/Cmd T and drag the corners of the bounding box to resize. Hold down shift if you want to resize with the same proportions. In no particular order here’s all the different methods I know of for adding a new sky.

Method one for replacing a sky – selection tools: Color Range

[caption id="attachment_1929" align="alignright" width="300"]Color range selection Color range selection[/caption] This method works best if your original sky is primarily one flat colour. Drag your sky layer below your subject layer. With the subject layer highlighted go to Select->Color Range. I prefer to use ‘Sampled Colors’ and then use the eyedropper to sample the original sky’s colour but you can also try choosing ‘Blues’ in the dropdown menu. In your preview box you can see what will be selected (areas of white) and what won’t be selected (areas of black). Play around with your fuzziness slider to refine the selection and use the + and – eyedropper tools to add and remove from your selection. Click OK when you’re happy. If the selection has missed any bits you can choose the lasso tool and holding down Shift draw around any bits of the sky you want to get rid of. Press the add layer mask button which might apply the new sky to your foreground. Obviously this is not what you want! So press Ctrl/Cmd i to swap your mask’s colours. And there you have it—a new sky! [gallery link="none" size="medium" ids="1931,1932,1930"]  

Method two for replacing a sky – selection tools: Magic Wand

I find the magic wand tool a little more flexible than Color Range as you can use it on skies that vary in colour. Grab your magic wand tool (W) and click on your original sky. Play around with the tolerance settings in your options bar if it’s not selecting enough or too much. Shift click any others areas you wish to add to the selection and Alt/Opt click any you wish to remove. Your aim here is to make sure the horizon line is properly selected. If the magic wand tool has also selected some of your foreground you can activate the lasso tool (l), hold down Alt/Opt and just draw around an areas you don’t want included in the selection to remove them. Then, as above, hit your add layer mask button and invert the selection if necessary. [gallery size="medium" ids="1935,1937,1934"]   If you find the magic wand tool has given you jagged edges you can click on your mask and go to Select->Refine Edge. Play around with the sliders, particularly ‘Smooth’ and ‘Feather’ until the edges look better. With these first two methods if you find you’re getting haloing around leaves on trees I recommend watching Glyn Dewis’s video for advanced tips on how to fix this.

Method three for replacing a sky – Blend If

'Blend If' is a cool little feature that's useful for many things. It doesn’t really matter what order your layers are in but for this example I’ve placed the sky layer below the subject layer. Now with your subject layer selected, double click it to open the ‘Layer Style’ dialogue box. Make sure Blending Options: Default is selected on the left hand side and down the bottom you will see two sliders. Your aim here is to 'Blend if the underlying layer is darker'—so the washed out sky of your subject layer will disappear in the areas where your replacement sky layer is darker (this works best if your original sky is very pale and your new sky is darker). It’s trickier than it sounds. Alt click the left hand triangle on the ‘Underlying Layer’ slider and drag it to the right until your new sky begins to show up. Refine this by dragging the second half of your black slider to the right. Play around until you like how it looks. If this method messes with your foreground, place a layer mask on the new sky layer and brush it away from where it's not wanted. * This method left horrible white fringing around my subject layer that I couldn’t get rid of so if you’re finding this too I’d try another method. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1939,1938"]

Method four for replacing a sky – blend modes

[caption id="attachment_1773" align="alignright" width="234"]Blending-modes-with-arrow Blend modes[/caption] For this method I’d drag your sky layer above your subject layer. With the move tool selected (V) press Shift and + or – to cycle through your blend modes which can be found in the layer’s palette under the drop down menu that says ‘Normal’. If your sky is close to pure white you might find ‘Multiply’ works best. When you find one you like, add a white layer mask to your top layer and with this mask selected choose a big soft brush set to around 50% opacity and brush the new sky away from your subject and foreground. You may have to switch between black and white brushes to refine the mask until you’re happy. Be sure to erase the seam of the new sky image at 100% to get rid of any harsh lines. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1941,1942"]  

Method five for replacing a sky - gradient

[caption id="attachment_1943" align="alignright" width="150"]Gradient bar Gradient bar[/caption] This method is my favourite for replacing skies although if you’re looking for a very exact horizon line you won’t find it here. I like this method because it brings some of the sky over your image which adds atmosphere. It was particularly great for my image this week to mask out the distracting trees in the background (see my final image for the result!) Place your sky layer above your foreground layer. Add a mask to the sky layer and grab the gradient tool (G). In your options bar at the top, click on the drop down arrow next to the gradient bar and select the third Gradient optionsoption along the top which is black->white. Also make sure that the linear gradient is selected (the first box to the right of the gradient bar). With the sky’s mask selected drag your gradient tool from the bottom of your image towards the top. This creates a smooth gradient mask that makes your new sky fully visible at the top, tapering off to reveal the foreground underneath. If you didn’t get the gradient quite right keep redrawing it until you're happy. Vary the position where you start drawing the gradient and the length of the gradient you draw. With your mask still selected you may then have to use a soft brush tool loaded with black to erase the effect fully from your subject. Time Flies wm If you’re experimenting with different skies and you're working with one of the above methods that uses a mask you can Alt-click and drag your mask from one layer to another without having to create it again each time. When your new sky is in place I’d suggest playing around with the colours of the overall image (a selective colour adjustment layer is my go-to method) to make your sky and your foreground look like they belong together. A texture or noise layer may also help.

About 'Time Flies'

I chose a location to shoot this image which put the girl on a hill so I could shoot from below and see the sky behind. But I just wasn’t able to get back to the location to photograph it. Instead I cheated and shot myself in my backyard against a white sheet with the camera on the ground pointing up. So I’ve actually already replaced the background in this image once by painting a white mask around her. I then flattened her layer with a white solid colour layer and the lavender image for the purpose of this week’s example, however sometimes cutting out your person and sticking them on a new background might be the best (although not the easiest) solution to replace a sky. The lavender was photographed at Maleny Botanic Gardens, while the clouds were shot from my front yard. Three textures were used. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1945,1946"]   Let me know which method works best for you and if you know of any others please add them to the comments!  

The word compositing has a boring textbook definition that in a nutshell means “how the magic happens”. Compositing made it possible for Harry Potter to fly around a Quidditch pitch, for Spider-Man to swing between buildings, and for men to walk on the moon. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?) By combining elements from different pictures into one, compositing allows photographers to trick you in more ways than you could possibly fathom . It's used by wedding and school photographers to remove blinking faces in group shots, by newborn photographers to create those baby sleeping with head on hands shots, by landscape photographers to switch a boring blue sky with a moody cloud-filled one. So how does compositing work? Let's say I want a photo of me climbing the Eiffel Tower. I take a picture of me pretending to climb something, use Photoshop to cut myself out and paste me onto a picture of the Eiffel Tower and voila, there I am climbing the Eiffel Tower. However without following the rules of good compositing there’s no guarantee it’ll look convincing. Admittedly compositing TERRIFIES me, not only because it offers unlimited possibilities—the indecisive person’s worst nightmare—but also because there’s a lot to get right for a composite to look real. I’ve done compositing in previous tutorials but in most cases all the components were shot in the same location with the same lighting and camera position so the chances that something wouldn’t fit were low. The stakes are much higher when you’re trying to piece together images from entirely different situations.

How to photograph for a composite

To work through the process of compositing I'm going to use the image I created this week, 'Dream's Quest' as an example. It wasn't until I finished the piece that I realised it vaguely resembled the painting 'The Lady of Shalott'. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1871,1863"]   The first thing you need to do when creating a composite is to choose / take the photo that you want all your other elements to match. I have hundreds of photos of locations that I’ve photographed over the years specifically for the purpose of one day compositing a person into because it’s rarely practical to have the costumes, equipment and time needed to create a conceptual image whenever you see a pretty scene. This base photo becomes the one you have the least control over because it’s probably too difficult or costly to go back and shoot it again. So you need to assess this photo so you can make all your other elements match. Dream's Quest composite base imageFor Dream's Quest my base image was a photograph of a lovely painterly garden I took in Pitlochry in Scotland. I wanted to ease into compositing with the simple aim of shooting myself separately and making myself fit into the garden scene. When shooting your composite components you’ll need to consider the following:
  • The location – Where was your base image shot? In a grassy field? In a desert? In water? To make your components fit their new location it helps to shoot them in a similar situation - on grass, on sand, in water. Also, what colour was the original background? If the base image is a green field you might want to shoot your subject on a green background so their skin reflects the right colour. Alternatively, consider shooting your components on a contrasting background (ie pale skin on black, dark skin on white) or using a chroma key style blue or green backdrop to make it easy for you to cut them from the background.
Dream's Quest composite postBecause my base image was an overgrown garden I shot myself sitting in grass in my backyard so the foliage and the colour would match between scenes. Had I not been wearing a green dress, shooting on green would also have made it easy to select myself out of my background by using Select->Color Range, selecting the greens and them adding a layer mask that hides the selection.
  • The lighting – Where is the scene lit from? Is the light hard or soft? What is the colour balance of the light—white 12pm daylight or tungsten 6pm sunset? When shooting/sourcing other elements to composite into your base image you have to ensure this lighting matches in each shot so you’ll need to recreate the lighting using natural or studio lights or attempt to fake the light quality in Photoshop.
My background image was shot on a very overcast day close to dusk so I made sure to also photograph myself on a cloudy day. I noticed the light in my backyard was bluer than my base image so I changed my camera’s white balance to make it warmer although I could also have achieved this in Photoshop. The two birds were photographed on sunnier days and I couldn’t quite get them dark enough in Photoshop to fit my scene so I decided to paint in some motivated light on the right of the image to make their lighting look realistic. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1866,1867"]  
  • Perspective / Angle – If your scene is shot front on then all other elements also need to be photographed front on. If I tried to make an overhead shot fit a front on scene the perspective would be wrong and it would look ridiculous.
I don’t know what height I shot my garden image from (which is why it’s handy to use a tape measure when shooting for composites) but I made a fairly safe assumption that it was from eye height. So I set my tripod to eye height to match. Because the boat was the feature of my original image I also guessed that I’d angled the camera down slightly, so I did the same with my tripod. The boat was lower than camera height and was positioned facing slightly towards camera so I sat on the ground and angled my body to match.
  • Dream's Quest composite oarPosing – Be sure to position your person, prop or scene so it will fit your base image. If you’re compositing a prop onto a person make sure they’re posed in a way to accommodate this prop by giving them something of a similar size or shape to hold.
I didn’t have an oar, however I remembered I’d shot one while staying at a friend’s house so I played around with that oar photo to see if I could make it fit. When I posed myself I held a rake as a stand in for the oar so that my hands realistically looked like they were holding something. I also had to be mindful to pose my hands so they’d roughly cover the original hands in the oar photo.
  • Distance – It helps to shoot all your elements from roughly the same distance and with the same lens set at the same focal length to ensure consistent perspective and scale. This isn’t always crucial (although it would be if you shot your scene with a very wide angle lens and your subject with a zoomed telephoto lens because of the distortion and compression the different lenses create) but it will mean that your components are less likely to look ‘off’.
This one scared me a bit because I wasn’t shooting with the same camera or lens. The original scene was shot at 15mm on a cropped frame while I shot myself at 50mm on a full frame. I tried to position myself in the same rough area as the boat so that the area of contact between my body and the new ground would meet (although weeds ended up covering this spot anyway). You can always paint in shadows or place something over the area of contact to stop your person look as if they're floating. I had some trouble resizing myself accurately which is where replication of distance would've come in handy.
  • Focus / Aperture – If you shoot your subject so their eyes are in focus and everything else is blurred [caption id="attachment_1869" align="alignright" width="300"]A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus.[/caption] and yet the background is shot so everything is in focus, as soon as you put that blurry person into that sharp background it’s going to look horrible and fake. You also need to ensure that the area you focus on in the second image matches the focal point in your base image.
I shot my original scene at 1/200, f/5.6 so I made sure to shoot myself with the same settings. Because I’d focused on the boat originally I knew that if I sat in the boat then I should shoot myself in focus also. It’s best to shoot all your components as sharp as possible because it’s easy to blur things in Photoshop. Much harder to make something sharp.
  • Image quality – If I shoot my person in RAW with a full frame camera and then composite them into a background photo that’s a low quality JPEG, there’ll be a mismatch in resolution and noise.
I always shoot RAW which avoids these issues but if you're working with a purchased stock image it might be lower quality. So while it’s not ideal you could always add noise to the RAW image to make the two match. If you’re worried your composite won’t work you can try doing a test shoot and a rough composite first to see if there’s anything to it. Learn to make peace with the fact that sometimes you’ll need to shoot your components more than once to get them to fit. As frustrating as this may seem it’s all part of the learning process.

How to edit a composite

Once you’ve shot all your elements you’ll need to cut them out so they fit into your scene. Which selection tool you use for this task is personal choice. They’re either wildly inaccurate or time consuming so I personally use either hand painted masks or the pen tool. Obviously the more accurate your masks are, the more convincing your end product will be so don't take shortcuts here. Also remember to feather your selections a little using the 'Refine Edge' or 'Refine Mask' commands so your cut out pieces don't look too sharp. Dream's Quest close up detailIn Photoshop I placed the girl layer underneath the garden layer and then masked out the garden to see through to the girl below. It didn’t occur to me when I was creating this composite how difficult it was going to be masking through all the flowers, plants and the structure of the boat to see through to the girl so I zoomed in as close as I could get and painted a black mask on my background image using a square brush. Seriously guys, using a square brush for fine masking has CHANGED MY LIFE. Pixels are square so why use a round brush! Now THE most important thing in making your components match is to assess their saturation, colour and contrast. You don’t want one element too bright or too green because they’re going to stand out so use clipped adjustment layers to get each element to match. For this I use Phlearn’s fantastic ‘Checks’ method which is available as an action when you purchase a Phlearn Pro compositing tutorial and is a handy tool if you’re serious about compositing. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1878,1877,1879"]   When you’ve cut out your subjects and placed them on their new background you need to think about how to make them look like they belong there instead of just slapped on. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Shadows – Giving your subject a shadow will connect them to the ground. Study the other shadows in your base photo and try to replicate them in Photoshop for your subject.
For my image I was lucky that the contact point between myself and the ground was hidden by weeds so I didn’t have do any work here. It was also very soft diffuse light so shadows would be unlikely. However, I did draw some grass in front of the pelican’s feet and the oar to make them fit.
  • Blur – Adding blur to your background image will give some depth to your scene and pull focus to your subject.
I added a little blur to the front left of my image and some to the sky so the busy plants weren’t so distracting.
  • Depth – Adding depth to your photo so it has a foreground, middle ground and background helps pull everything together. Composite something from the scene in front of your subject. Maybe part of a tree or plant can cross over their body. Adding mountains into the background gives dimension and draws the eye through the scene.
My scene already had its own depth with the path and the hedge but as mentioned above I did use weeds and grass from the background to cover parts of my subjects. When you’re done there’s a couple of other tricks that will help sell your composite. First, add a little of the same colour to your entire image to tie the pieces together. I like to add a Selective Colour adjustment layer to the top of the layer stack and play around with the colours. Also try adding a small amount of overall noise with a noise filter or a texture as discussed previously to give your components a common element. So yes, compositing is one scary beast! But after dipping my toe into the waters this week I discovered that it’s not nearly as frightening or exact as I thought it would be. And considering compositing makes ANYTHING possible then it’s surely worth the work to get it right.


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