Building composites

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Building composites

In the last movie I showed you how to use a layer mask to combine two images into a composite. I'd like to show you another example in this movie one that presents a couple of more challenges and the opportunity to show you how to solve these challenges. What I'd like to do is to take this large image of my friend John and combine it with this image of a lake. There are two problems; one is that the lake image is smaller than the photo of John and I can confirm that by looking at the Document information field at the bottom of each image.

This photo is 697 x 463 pixels and this photo is larger, it's 800 pixels x 536 pixels. So a mismatch in size can be the result of different dimensions or of different resolutions. The second problem is that when I try to mask away part of the John image, it's going to be difficult to select or even paint away these fine hairs. To solve that problem I'll show you how to use a gradient on a layer mask.

But first let's combine the two images. I'll make the lake the active image by double-clicking it in the Project Bin and then I'll click on the John photo in the Project Bin, and I'll drag up and into the document window for the lake. I want to be sure that my cursor is all the way inside the document window and then I'll release my mouse. Now in the layers panel, the lake photo has a second layer which was made automatically and contains the photo of John. Notice that in the document window, I can't see the entire photo of John and that's because as I said, it is bigger than the lake image.

So I'm going to use a command called Free Transform to reduce the size of the John photo. With the John layer selected in the layers panel, I'll go up to the Image menu, and I'll choose Transform, and Free Transform. That creates a bounding box around the John photo and you can see that there are anchor points on that bounding box. Unfortunately, I can't get to the anchor points at the bottom of the bounding box because the John photo is so big that it goes beyond the limits of my screen. So here's a little trick when you get into this situation.

I'm going to press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+0, that's Command+0 on a Mac and that zooms the combined image out just enough that I can reach the anchor points on the bounding box. Before I use those anchor points to make the image smaller, I want to make sure that I'm not going to distort the image. So I'll take a look at the options bar for the Transform command to make sure that there is a check mark next to Constrain Proportions. Then I'm going to go down to the anchor point on the bottom-right corner of the bounding box.

I'll move my mouse over that anchor point and I'll click and drag towards the center of the image. That makes the photo of John smaller without distorting its proportions. If I want to move the photo around, I can do that too by putting my cursor inside of the photo and dragging. So once I've got it just what I wanted and it's the right size, I'll click the green check mark and that commits the transform. The next step is to add a layer mask to the John layer. In the layers panel, I make sure that the John layer is selected and then I'll go down to the bottom of the layers panel and I'll click the Add layer Mask icon, the second from the left.

That adds a white layer mask and as you know where a layer mask is white, it reveals everything on the layer to which it's attached. So we can still see everything on the John layer. But as you heard in the last movie, where a layer mask is black it will hide the content of the layer to which it's attached and where layer mask is gray it will partially hide those contents. So what I'd like to do is to hide the area of the sky so we can see down through that area to the lake on the background below. But the problem is that if I try to make a selection around John's hairs or I try to use black paint around the hair, I am going to have trouble isolating those thin wispy hairs.

So instead, I'm going to use a gradient on this layer mask that goes from black on the left to white on the right, with graduating levels of gray in between and this will make a nice soft gradual transition between the two photos in this composite. I go over to the toolbar and I am going to click on the Gradient tool to select it. I will take a look at the foreground and background color box. I'd like to have black in the foreground color box and white in the background color box and as you know on a layer mask, the only colors you can have are black white or gray.

In this case I have the opposite. So I'm going to switch the foreground and background color boxes either by pressing the X key on my keyboard or clicking this double-pointed arrow. Now if you look in the first field in the options bar for the Gradient tool, you will see that there is a black-to- white gradient with black on the left and white on the right. I also have the first gradient shape icon selected to create a Linear Gradient, which I think is going to be the best shape in this image. You can always try these other shapes out if you want.

Now I am going to come into the image and I'm going to click somewhere near the left side of the image, the exact spot doesn't really matter, and I'm going to drag to the right. The length and direction of the line that I drag will affect the results that I get. I don't have to be too careful here because I can give this more than one try. So I'll release my mouse and as you can see, I've added a black-to-white gradient on the layer mask. Where that gradient is black over on the left, we can see down through the John layer to the lake on the layer below.

In this area, there are graduating levels of gray, allowing us to partially see down through to the lake below. Then over on the right there is white on the layer mask which is revealing the content of the John layer to which this mask is attached so that you can see the mask. I'm going to hold down the Alt key on the PC or the Option key on the Mac and click right on that layer mask thumbnail so that you can confirm that this mask is black and then gray and then white. So it has that gradual fading effect on the john layer.

I will Alt+Click or Option+Click again on that layer mask thumbnail to go back to the image. Now at this point, I can fine tune the results by using the Brush tool with black, white or gray paint. So I'll select the Brush tool here in the toolbox and first I'd like to reveal more of the face on the john layer. Now remember that white reveals and black conceals. So I want my foreground color to be white. I click this double-pointed arrow or I press X on my keyboard to switch the colors so that white is the foreground color.

Then I come into the image, I am going to make my Brush bigger by pressing the Right Bracket key and I want the brush to have a very soft edge so that I don't see a clear line where I am painting here. So I hold the Shift key and I'll press the Left Bracket key that makes the brush soft although you may not see a difference in the brush tip diagram on the image. Then with this white paint, I'm going to paint over the face bringing back more of the detail and clarity in the face.

If you take a look at the layer mask thumbnail, you can see where I painted with white, red over here. You remember that there is gray in this area of the background. If I want to see the background a little more clearly I can add some more gray here. To do that I'll switch back to black paint by clicking the double-pointed arrow or pressing X on the keyboard. Then I am going to go up to the options bar for the Brush tool and I'm going to lower the Opacity of the brush and that will allow me to paint now with black but rather with a medium shade of gray. I'll click and drag to the left to somewhere around 50 and then I'll move into the image and with a soft brush, I'll paint in this area hiding a little more of the john layer so that I can see the background a little more clearly.

Each time I paint with gray, I make that area of the layer mask a little bit darker so the effect is cumulative. That combination of using a black-to- white gradient and then fine tuning with a soft edge brush gives me a nice soft transition between the image of John on the top layer and background on the lower layer. Now you can't achieve a gradual transition like this by selecting and deleting part of a layer. But a layer mask with a black-to-white gradient allows you to combine images softly and gradually like I've done here and do so in a nondestructive editable way.

Building composites
Video duration: 8m 16s 11h 20m Beginner


Building composites provides you with in-depth training on Photography. Taught by Jan Kabili as part of the Photoshop Elements 9 Essential Training

Photoshop Elements
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