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In this installment of his popular Masking & Compositing series, Photoshop guru Deke McClelland shows how to select hair—down to the individual strands—and composite portraits against new backgrounds. The course covers how to mask out hair, paint in detail, blend hair, merge channels, and match light sources. Deke also explores special techniques for working with both dark and light hair, as well as extracting hair from complex backgrounds.
In this exercise we are going to fix the one remaining problem with this composition, it's beautifully masked; we have these nice hairs over here on the right-hand side. We've got these highlight bounces around the left-hand side. In terms of the masking and compositing, I would say this image is nigh on impeccable. However, compositionally, it's totally messed up. And here's the problem. Notice the light sources, where she is concerned the light is coming in from the upper left side, because it's reflecting off the upper left side of her cheeks and her shoulder and so forth, whereas in the background, the light source is coming in from the upper right-hand side.
Check out the shadows over here that are being cast by the grass, also the highlights over on the building and so forth. That is bad. You may not have noticed this problem at first, as soon as we reconcile it, their overall composition ends up looking much better. And here's what we are going to do. We are going to go ahead and take this future city layer. The layer in the background and we are going to flip it, by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Free Transform or pressing Ctrl+T or Command+T on a Mac, and then right-click inside the image window and choose Flip Horizontal, in order to flip that image.
So now that light is coming in from the upper left-hand side, the shadows are being cast in the proper direction from the grass. And I am going to reposition this image a little bit. I am going to turn off that delta up there in the Options bar, and I am going to press Shift+Right Arrow several times here, until that X value reads 986.5 pixels, as it does in my case right now. If you're working along with me, that's what you want. You want your image at this location right there. And then go ahead and press the Enter key or the Return key on a Mac in order to accept that modification.
Now we need to move her into a better position so she is not blocking the City of the Future. So I am going to go ahead and click on the filler layer and Shift+Click on that group right there at the top of the stack. We are going to remove all these layers to the left 300 pixels. And the easiest way to do that is to go up to the Edit menu and choose the Free Transform command once again, and then turn on that little delta symbol up there in the Options bar and change the X value to -300, and then press the Enter key or the Return key on a Mac a couple of times in order to accept that modification.
And now you can see that both the foreground and the background appear to share a common light source, which is very important, because the only possible light source in this case is the sun. All right, just a couple of more tweaks that I want to make here. I am going to click on the layer Mask Thumbnail for the model layer to make it active. I'm going to switch to my Brush tool. I am going to press the D key in order to instate white is a foreground color. Notice that my Blend mode is set to Overlay, which is important here. And I will right-click inside the image window, my Hardness value is set to 0%, and I will paint with white inside of this layer Mask in order to bring out some additional highlights inside of this left portion of the hair.
So it appears to be reflecting that light source. Now I'll go ahead and click on the layer Mask Thumbnails for the filler layer. Notice that that we have a little bit of darkening showing up here, that's the function of that multiplied later there. And I don't want that dark blue showing up. So I am going to press the X key in order to switch my foreground color to black, and then I will paint up into this region of the head and down a little bit as well. And let's see if that made the difference I am looking for. This is before and this is after, pretty subtle modification, but I need a little more, so I am going to darken this is up with a couple of additional clicks up there toward the top of the head.
And this is the final version of the composition. I will go ahead and press the F key a couple times and zoom on in. And that friends, is at least one way to masking composite dark hair that was formerly set against the complex background, here inside Photoshop.
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