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In this exercise, we're going to manually blend together the aligned images of my sons, Max and Sam. I've gone ahead and saved a more streamlined version of that composition as Two aligned layers.psd. Now this mask job here seems to present a really big problem. After all, if I were to take the Sam layer, which is currently on top, and set it to 50%, let's say, by pressing the 5 key, that is 50% Opacity. You'll see that the ribs along the slide do not match up at all. So I believe, if I turn this layer off and then on for a moment, I can see that this area here is the rib for the foreground slide, and this area right there is the rib for the background slide. And then we've got Max's feet, which aren't aligned with each other and Sam's hand. And this edge of the slide is not in alignment, and then down here at the bottom, we have an alignment problem as well.
This is the rib of the forward slide, and this is the rib of the backward slide. Meanwhile, everything about the background, that is the park in the background and the foliage and so on, that all aligns splendidly. The first time I approached this image I thought, okay, I'm going to have to basically distort the ribs of the slide in order to align with each other, because otherwise I don't stand a prayer of masking Sammy in place correctly, because I'd have to cut him off some place in the middle of the torso which isn't going to look right. And even then, it's going to take me a fair amount of painting in order to get these images to match.
Of course, the whole time I'm thinking, one of the images needs to contain Sam, and the other image needs to contain Max, and then we'll blend the two together. And I'm demonstrating this too just to show you how wrong-headed an approach to masking can be. Bear in mind as you're working through your own masking projects, and as you're trying to mask two images together in a group shot, for example, always look for the simplest solution. So let me show you an example to the contrary. It's called Elaborate mask.psd, and what I did in order to blend the best shots of my kids, and notice they are now blended - there is Max looking inquisitive at the camera, and there is Sammy looking hostile - what I ended up doing was I took the Sam layer right there, and I applied a puppet warp to it.
Notice, by the way, it's a Smart Object. I went ahead and converted the layer to a Smart Object. Then I applied Puppet Warp, and here are my pins. I only have a total of seven pins along the ribs of the slide and right there along that area that needed to be moved into alignment, so that the slides align to each other. But what ended up happening, as a result, is the background went wonky. It went out of alignment, which was just fine because then I just went ahead and masked the whole background in the place. So I'll zoom out a click here, so you can see the difference. I'll Shift+Click on that mask to turn it off for a moment.
So this is the warped version of the Sam image right there. Then I'll turn the mask back on, and this is the masked version of Sam blending in with Max. You might think, "Well, that's really great." If you take a look at the mask by itself, by Alt+Clicking on that layer mask thumbnail or Option+Clicking on the Mac, then you can see that I spent a fair amount of time brushing along Max's edges there. There is a fair amount of weird edginess going on. Here, I'm trying to account for the shadow underneath Sammy's leg.
This is approximately Sam's head right there, blending into the background. So I split the difference in the sky region, because the two images are now out of alignment with each other, where the park is concerned that is. I'm going to click on the layer thumbnail to make the image active once again, and I'll zoom in a little bit here so we can just see some of the problems. Even though it's a pretty darn good composition, in so far as things go, one of the problems is this rib melted a little bit here, thanks to the Puppet Warp command. So it got a little melty. And also, if you zoom in, we've got a double rib going right there, and Sam has what amounts to a partially translucent finger.
Then his fingers overlap Max's foot, and Max's toes don't really have enough room over at this location. Actually, it looks like Sam's knuckles might be a little bit translucent as well. But this is an unnatural transition between Max's foot and Sam's hand, and it looks like we've got some duplicate toes going on for Max there. Then I had to, very painstakingly - and I think it still needs more work, masked Max's knee into Sammy's shoulder. You know, a lot at work. It still needs a little more finessing. Some people might buy it, if I downsample the image, or if I zoom out enough, or if I print it small enough.
But it's really nothing to be all that proud of. Compare that to what we're about to do. So, let's think about this for a second. What is the easiest thing to align inside of this image? What do we care about? We care about the kids heads. We don't care about how they're lounging, or how Max is sitting, or anything along those lines. We just care about their faces. So, maybe I should just pay attention to the heads. Maybe, in fact, I shouldn't worry about the park, or the slide, or this little sort of structure in the background. Maybe I should just focus on Max's head against the sky.
So that's what I ended up doing. I'll go ahead and Ctrl+Drag the two Max's heads. I'm dragging this Sam layer around until Max's head aligns with the other Max's head. So the two necks basically align with each other. I'm really trying to get that collar to align, and the Opacity of the layer is set to 50%. Now I'll raise it to 100% by pressing the 0 key, and let's go ahead and add a layer mask. We mostly want the contents of this layer, so let's make in an empty layer mask by clicking on the Add layer Mask icon, like so.
Then I'll switch to the Brush tool by pressing the B key, and I'm going to with a hard brush this time around just so that I can see my edges as I'm working. I've got the Size set to 80 pixels, although you can vary that if you like. I'm going to escape out of there and make sure that my foreground color is set to black so that I'm painting a hole in this layer. So I'm painting through the top Max head down to the bottom Max head, like so. Already, even though I have done very little work, and there are some obvious edges up here, already, this amounts to a more successful mask, quite frankly, because I don't have any weird knees poking in the things, I've got plenty of room for the toes and the hands, and they merge fine, the slide isn't melting.
None of that stuff. In fact, I can imagine someone looking at this after two seconds of work, really, and not noticing that Max's shoulder is sort of slipping right there. Anyway, let's go and zoom in. I'm going to soften the brush ever so slightly, so I press Shift+Left Bracket, just once, and now I'll reduce the size of my brush. Press the X key to switch the foreground color to white and go ahead and paint this collar back in. That's not quite doing it, because I'm bringing back in Max's face. So that's not the approach I want. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to undo that modification.
Let's press the X key to bring back black as a foreground color, and let's go ahead and paint down to Max's knee, like so, and a little bit into his shirt, to about there perhaps. Actually, I'll paint into his leg a little bit, too. Now I'll press X key in order to switch my foreground color to white, and I'm going to increase the hardness by pressing Shift+Right Bracket, and I'll go ahead and just click along the leg a couple of times, like so, in order to finish that off, in order to bring it back, that is. We need a little sharpness in the knee territory right there, so I'll just click.
I'm not dragging, because if you start dragging with the hard brush you'll get that kind of lumpy effect, because of the Spacing value being set to 25%. But if you just click along the knee here, then you'll find nice, round places that are exactly suited to this brush. Let's go ahead and zoom out. Now I'm going to right-click inside my image window and reduce the Hardness value all the way to 0, and then press the Enter or Return key a couple of times in order to accept that modification. Increase the size of my brush, and I want to be painting with white.
White's my foreground color, and I'm just kind of paint this area right there to make sure that this edge goes away, that edge that was appearing in the sky. That does present me with a problem, however. I'm bringing back a little bit of Max's head. So I'll press the X key in order to switch the foreground and background colors, just some incremental back-and-forth-ing here. I'll press Shift+Right Bracket a couple of times to increase the hardness of my brush to 50%. Then finally I'll paint inside this region of head that kind of came back there so that we have that dual head effect, and that looks pretty darn good to me.
Of course, we need to crop the image. So I'll zoom out. I'll grab my Crap tool. I'll drag around the image like so, down into about here. I kind of want to take advantage of the rule of thirds here, and keep the boys over on the left-hand two- thirds of the composition. So I'll move this left edge over a little bit, just the left edge, actually. The bottom edge is pretty much exactly where I want it. I just want to get rid of this little sliver of slide underneath here, and maybe expand the top a little bit just to give the boys a little more head room, since there's very little room below Sam's toes.
Make sure Cropped Area is set to Hide, and then press the Enter key, or the Return key on the Mac, in order to apply that modification. So despite the length of this exercise, the net result is a very quick and simple approach to layer masking here inside Photoshop.
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