Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating a simple blend-mode composite, part of Photographing for Compositing in Photoshop.
- Now that we've identified some of the different types of composite images as well as discussed the all important concept of imagining how an image might be transformed into something else, let's create a simple composite based on blend modes and a gradient layer mask, two of the most useful techniques for building a composite image. In this file, I have three layers set up, and if you look at the layers panel, you can see those. We have the background shot of the interior of the room. We have a scan of an old letter, and then we also have a scan of an old snapshot.
We're going to use blend modes and gradient masks to blend all these together to create what I call a nostalgia composite. This is my own term. I refer to these as nostalgia composites because they use elements that invoke feelings or thoughts of nostalgia for me, so old snapshot photos, old letters, things like that. Most of us have, you know, these items in our possession, you know, whether old letters from our parents or grandparents, certainly old snapshots, and it's really easy to create these nostalgia composites using layers and blend modes, and you can put them together very, very fast.
So let's just check this out. So the first thing I'm going to do is start with the letter layer. I'm going to turn that on, and I'm going to set the blend mode for that layer to overlay, and as you can see, that creates the basic layer blending where we can see parts of the letter and parts of the room. We can see the nice texture of the paper, and it's all blending together very, very well. Let's take a look at a couple of other blend modes that might be a possibility here.
In addition to overlay, we could try soft light. That's kind of a kinder gentler version of overlay. Hard light is going to be really contrasty. In this one, we're seeing mainly the letter, although we can see the window and the bright area showing through. That one's not too effective. Let's go up and try multiply. So that one is also interesting, a little bit darker and more moody. So the blend mode that you choose really just depends on the story of the image that you're creating and the mood that you want to convey.
Now, one thing I want to point out is that if you look at the blend mode menu, you'll see that they're divided into different sections. So, in general, the blend modes that start with darken will create an overall darker result than either of the two layers individually. Lighten blend modes will create a lighter result, and the overlay blend modes will combine aspects of both of the layers, or the active layer and everything below it, as well as create a general contrast boost.
Now, instead of just choosing the different blend modes from the menu like this, there's a really useful shortcut you can use by holding down the Shift key and then tapping the Plus key to cycle downward through the blend mode list. So you can do this and see if any of these blend modes just sort of strike a chord with you and seem like they would work well for the image. If you hold down Shift and then tap the Minus key, you'll go back upwards through the blend mode list.
So very useful shortcut there. I'm just going to actually set this back to overlay because I think that's the blend mode I want to use for the photograph. Next, I'm going to turn the old photo layer on, and I'm going to set its blend mode to multiply, which really blends in the image of these three people having a good time here into the wall there. The one problem that we have now is that the bottom and right edge of that old photo is really distinct, and it creates kind of a jarring transition there.
So I want to soften that down a little bit. The way I'm going to do that is by using a gradient layer mask. So I'm going to come down to the bottom of the layers panel, and I'll click the add layer mask button here and add a blank layer mask to my layer. Next, I'm going to go get the gradient tool, and I'm going to open up the gradient picker, up in the Options bar, and I'm going to click on the third swatch in from the left side. That is always going to be a black to white gradient.
The first two swatches here are based on whatever your foreground and background color is and whatever your foreground color is. Then, it fades to transparent. But I just want to have that black to white gradient. I'll select that, press Enter. I'll make sure my mode is normal and my opacity is 100%. Next, what I will do is I will come down here a little bit above the bottom of that photograph, and I'll drag upward. And what's going to happen here is that where I've started my drag is going to be black.
Where I end my drag is going to be white. And everything in between those two points is going to be the gradient, that gradual transition from black to white. And you can see how that creates this nice, soft, faded transition there. I'm going to maybe pull it up a little bit higher there. There we go. Something like that looks good. So, now, I just need to fix what's happening here on the right side of the image. Well, if I drag in the gradient on this side, it's going to obliterate the previous gradient. So I have the gradient on the right side, but, now, I no longer have it on the bottom.
Let me do undo that, Edit, undo gradient. Fortunately, there's a trick that I can use to allow me to add a gradient on this side as well, and it involves something we've already used in this image, a blend mode, but instead of setting the blend mode in the layers panel like we did earlier to create most of the effects that we're seeing here. I'm going to come out to the Options bar for the gradient tool, and I'll choose darken for the blend mode there. What this will do is it will preserve anything in the layer mask that is already darker than what I'm adding.
If I hold down the Option key and click on the layer mask, you can see the gradient that I've already added. I'm going to add a new one that comes in from the right side, and all the darker elements will be preserved. I'll click on the layer mask to return to view the image, and I'll place my cursor right here kind of near the end of the window and drag inward, and since I had the blend mode set to darken, I'm able to get a nice gradient that looks just like that.
And that gives me a nice even blend of that old photo into the main composite. Both layer blend modes and gradient masks are incredibly useful for creating composite images, and I count these as two very essential tools for blending images together.
- Types of composites
- Using blend modes to create composites
- Creating an image library for compositing
- Photographing location elements
- Using props
- Photographing in the studio
- Composite projects