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Layer Composites, Part 1

  • "Seeing Digitally ". A term I have created to describe being able to visualize in the camera viewfinder (or even before if you are looking to create something specific), and see the finished piece in your mind.
  • You see what the image (or images) need to have corrected, perspective changes that are needed, etc. as you are shooting them.
  • This is essential if you are going to be a good digital photo/artist. This takes time and practice. As time goes on you will start to see scenes and images that you would have ignored before.
  • This will vastly expand your vision!
  • Creating a flawless edge for composites is one key to realism. Removing the fringe edge you get when you copy a piece and paste it in to another is key to this.

Layer Composites, Part 1

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • Seeing Digitally & Selecting Your Composite Elements 1:24
    • Seeing Digitally
    • Selecting Your Composite Elements: Size, Lighting, Perspective, and Color Match
  • Creating a Composite 10:10
    • Creating a Flawless Element Edge
    • Moving a Layer From One File to Another
    • Changing the Color
  • Lesson Summary 24:45

Transcription: Layer Composites, Part 1

Hi everybody, Mike Brown here again, welcome back to's Adobe Photoshop CS6 course.0000

So far in this course we've gone over selections, corrections, selections at length, corrections, exposure and color, your retouching tools and all about layers and layer masks and how they all relate.0007

So now we're going to put this all together, and in this lesson and a couple more, we're going to talk about composites.0023

Principally, photo composites, and how to take different photographic elements and combine them to make one finished image that is absolutely undetectably perfect.0031

There are some techniques in here to perfect the compositing of photos that don't necessarily have to be used with such precision in making graphic design composites, but the principles of compositing are exactly the same.0045

So let's get started, what we're going to talk about in this lesson is seeing digitally the art of being able to visualize how elements are going to fit to make a finished product.0065

In other words, when I was doing automotive compositing--let me just show you an example, here's a composite that I did for a Martin Chevrolet from scratch, and they wanted a Corvette in action.0079

So here's the Corvette going down the roadway, the sun is coming in, you can see it's flashing across the background, the background is blurred perfectly, the wheels of the car are spinning, the roadway's blurred, the car's crystal clear because effectively we're panning the camera with the car so that the car stays crisp.0095

But you can even see through the driver's side windows that the background is blurred, and even--it's kind of hard to see through here but it's blurred right over in there.0118

The edges are nice and clean on the cut out of the car, everything looks like a single image, but it's not.0128

There's the car--it was shot on the back parking lot of the dealership, just to make sure that the light was correct, the window's even open on the car, the gal is driving (supposedly) with the window open.0137

The background, this was the original background facing with the roadway going downhill--actually the actual original of this shot was in this direction--this was the way I shot it, but I saw that, and this is the seeing digitally.0151

I went "OK, the light here is coming just from the right and slightly backlit, maybe one o'clock, it's in the afternoon, if I flip the image (and this is what I was able to see).0170

Now I just look at the light and you can see it's backlit slightly--you can see that shadow up here is slightly down from the bush--it's almost noon time, but it could be later in the afternoon--a little shadowing out to the side, you can see that on the side rocks".0186

So that matches up with the Corvette.0203

Now we have the shadows a little longer in the back, but it could be about one or two o'clock, and also could be one or two o'clock and when we've blurred up a little bit, it's going to match, so I said "that's fine", so all we had to do was rotate the car uphill, rotate the roadway uphill and size everything in place, and low and behold, it's a flawless composite.0207

That's what I talk about, learning to see digitally, and the elements that you have to keep in mind; size, lighting, perspective and color matching.0233

Now in this case, for the Corvette, the background was the principle element.0247

The car is being moved into the background, not the background into the car, and so if we look at the size of this image, it's 150 DPI, 18 inches wide, and if we look at the original car...0256

It's 150 and 18 inches wide, so the car is actually larger than the background because you notice the car had to be reduced, and that's fine because as we squish it down when you reduce an image size, you don't really lose any detail--it does throw away some pixels, but it retains its sharpness.0276

If you have to go the other way and take something and size it up dramatically, then you degrade your image because it's always filling in the pixels--remember we talked about that before--let me show you a simple example here.0302

Here's a composite, this was the original shot and I composited in a sky, just to add a little oomph to it.0316

Now the sky shot itself is this image here, which is 84 megabytes, and the image of the couple is only 18 megabytes--it's 240 DPI, and the width is only 9 inches whereas the clouds...0324

The width is 20 at 300 which means probably about 40 inches wide compared to it but that's OK, because in the composite the people are the primary image.0348

And at 240 DPI, we could even go down to 150 and your image is almost 16x20, so you can make a 16x20 print very easily without even resizing of this image right here.0362

And so we bring in the sky and squeezed it down and that was no problem.0378

Even in this case, even if the sky had been smaller and we had to size it up to fill, and it would be degraded and a little bit soft, that's fine because it's a background element, and we could blur that background down so it could be a lesser resolution image.0383

But you have to keep this in mind; just replay this recording and hear what I said, you have to be careful about your lighting.0400

If the lighting is opposite, it'll be a dead giveaway so you have to match your lighting, you have to match your sizing, and be aware of the finished product, whether it's the element or the main shot, you have to make sure that you don't have to size it up a whole lot to get your end product image and degrade it--match them up.0410

Perspective is absolutely vital.0436

If you mismatch your perspective, the image will not work.0441

We'll go back to the Corvette again.0446

This shot right here, if you can tell by the roadway, it may be a little bit hard to tell, but I was standing up and this was shot at about chest height which would be about four feet off the ground.0448

You can see that it's down--the horizon line runs right about the top of those rocks, the bottom of that bush, somewhere in there, so when I shot the car, you notice that the height is about four feet off the ground so that when the two of them went together...0464

There's where the horizon falls--you've seen the top of the car, there's the horizon, and the horizon's about there on the image and you can tell from the perspective of the ground that it matches up.0486

If I had shot the car from a very high angle down and put it on this roadway, it would've looked very distorted because the car--you'd see a lot of the top and the roadway--you don't see much roadway, so it's low and high.0498

So you always have to keep that in mind, whether you're using stock elements that you're getting from a stock library or you're shooting the elements yourself, make sure that the perspective matches.0513

Now, height is not the only perspective.0524

The focal length of the lens--if you try to put a wide angle distorted shot into a long telephoto shot, it will look just as bad as if the height differential was there as well, so keep in mind that the two images should be of the same perspective--that is focal length and height.0528

OK, and color match is a good idea if you have a heavy differential, but you can correct that in Photoshop but it's best to try to match them up closely so that you don't have to heavily shift and get something that looks a little bit odd, OK?0549

Those are your four principle things and it's more size, lighting and perspective that matters, and that's whether you're getting them from a stock house or shooting them yourself, keep that in mind.0567

And as you do that, you will begin to be able to see digitally, in other words looking around you, you'll be able to see "ah, that element will fit in something, I'm shooting it" when you go ahead and take the pictures.0578

It takes a while, it took me about 7 or 8 months of travelling around shooting for car composites until I became totally aware of exactly what I needed perspective-wise and lighting-wise.0593 let's create a composite, utilizing what I've talked about here and showing you the easiest way to do things, alright?0609

Here's a basic shot that I took of some flowers; we have a group in the lower right, a smaller group in the upper left--it's actually two parts.0621

Now technically, a composite with three elements usually balances, in this case the fact that these redder flowers are so small, and there's dead space over here even though that balances the dead space at the bottom, this is a little bit off.0630

It would be really nice if there was a little more stuff right up in this corner, so I said "alright, what I'll do is I'll go find a flower that I can composite into this image".0647

Now, the first thing I was aware of--I shot both of these by the way with the same camera, but I'll show you that.0660

The lighting; the lighting is not at sunset where it's straight across, it's not at noon straight down, you can see the shadow down here indicates that the light's at about maybe 2 o'clock on the clock face coming down into the image like this, so I would like, of course, to shoot a flower roughly with that same light.0666

Sorry, in this arboretum...there was this rose, and the light is the same angle but the opposite direction; high right to low left, high left to low right, but I immediately recognized that I could very simply shoot this flower and flip it...0689

And low and behold, notice that the light here, and the light here, now match up--this was what I saw when I shot the image.0717

Now, as far as image size goes, I shot them both with the same camera; this is 20.3 megapixels, and the flower itself is also 20.3, and I'm going to have to size the flower down here which is fine, because it's going to be a principal part of the composition, it will not degrade the image.0727

No problem at all, so we're in good stead on sizing, we're in good stead on lighting, and the perspective, I made sure that I left the camera at the same zoom ratio that I shot this when I shot the flower so that it wouldn't be distorted.0750

So everything seems to be good, so now we have our two elements, what we need to do is get the flower selected, and get it over into the main image.0770

So, let's zoom up here, and I'm going to show you an easy way to make sure this flower is selected--everything is efficiency.0785

We could take the Quick Selection tool and work our way around, but we have edges and places where it didn't get the flower because it was indistinct--we'll then have to fix it.0794

We're going to solve that problem right off the bat--we're going to duplicate the background; Command or Control+J, we're going to go, and it doesn't matter what I'm going to do to this background because I'm only doing this for selection purposes; I'm going to delete the background.0806

Image, Adjust, curves, and we're just going to really distort it, because all I'm concerned with is getting distinct edging around the flower, and there we've got it.0822

So I click OK, now we'll take that Quick Selection tool in this layer and just drag it around, and it will snap right out to those flower edges, and you notice that that area where we had it run over before, doesn't happen this time because we have distinct edges.0837

So now we've got the selection, let's save it...and trash this layer, so now we're back to the flower, but we need to do a couple of things.0861

We need to feather the edge--let's look at it under Quick Mask, let's change the opacity up, so that we really see this well.0875

Let's zoom it up, and you see when it made the edge, you see the little black fringing, the dark fringing--what that really is, is the background of the image--it did not find the edges exactly, you know it's a little in here, a little out there.0885

As we go around, you see that fringe--now if we copied and pasted this image into the other picture, we're going to have an edging that gives away the fact that this has been composited, so we need to clean that up.0905

So we've got this--let's go to refine edge...and we're going to feather it a little bit more than I normally do--I tell you one pixel is normally a good, clean edge.0919

We're going to up it to two pixels, and the reason is that the way to get this edge clean, is to take our flower selection, invert it, and delete the edge and that will push that dark edge in, and it has to be soft enough to do that.0932

OK, so rather than one, we'll feather two--see how it got soft, you can see that?0949

Now we're going to use the shift edge in the refine edge dialog box and move the selection back in enough--let's view this on the overlay.0955

We're going to come inside enough that we get that black fringe out of there, watch.0966

Take the shift edge, and move it in--look, you can see it already--we're going to move it all the way.0973

Notice, as we go around, here's where it was, see the dark edge?0980

As we come back, it gradually moves inside of the OK, we'll go to Quick Mask and I'm going to reduce the opacity this time so that you can see it (let's go down to about 45) hit the Quick Mask again, and there...0985

See that faint edge?1008

That's the flower edge--you can actually see it right there, you can see actually see it right there, you can see it well right up here--we've pulled the selection inside, so you go "why are you doing that?"1011

Now I'm going to save that as a new selection because I want to show you...let's go to the alpha channels, zoom it up, and quickly, you see it's harsh and it's out, and you see now it's soft and it's in, notice the difference?1020

There it is, we soften the edge, we moved it in which will give us a clean cut on this flower when we take it and move it over, so now that we've got that let's load up that good selection, and we're going to copy the flower.1040

Now, in this case, we're just going to plain copy it out--Command or Control+C which is under the Edit menu, copy, and I'm going to do one more thing just to show you, I'm going to go Command or Control+N for a new document which will automatically take the size of the object that's in the clipboard which is the rose, I'm going to paste the rose in--Command or Control+V.1057

And let's zoom it up a little, and we still have just a little fringing left...we could've gone even a little more, so we know what it's going to look like, I can close this out.1081

So now we're going to go ahead and paste it into the image, it's in the paste board, we'll go over here; Edit, paste, Command or Control+V, there's the flower.1095

Now, let's take a look at that edge if we can--let's move it up to the top and turn off everything else, and yes we can see just a little edging, so what we're going to do; Command or Control, click the thumbnail, load the selection, highlight any selection tool, go to refine edge.1107

We're going to feather it...two again...and what we're going to do is we're going to contract it about halfway, there you see the blue line.1127

We're going to click OK.1139

Now, let's zoom out, that is the selection of the flower, we're going to invert it, so it's the selection of everything else--Quick Mask shows you that.1141

And you can see that we have a little bit of pink edge showing and the fringing, so now we come out, remember the selection is everything but the flower so if I hit delete, it's going to delete that edge back into the soft, two pixel feather, and it will push it in a little bit, and it will still be soft because it's only two pixels and it won't go all the way to hard, watch.1154

Command or Control+H, let's find a definitive edge, right there, hit delete, and look...Command+Z, Command+Z.1184

It cleaned the edge and it's still soft--if I can do it one more time, it starts to get a little hard, and so now, if we look around the flower, see how beautifully clean the edge is--no fringing give away.1193

That little dark spot but we can live with that at the moment.1209

Turn the background back on, we can clean that out right now...let's go Lasso tool, feather of one, and we'll just make a little selection round the flower and delete that piece out of there.1212

Now if we move the flower you will see that the edge is now perfectly clean, and it matches up in the same type of edging as everything in the photograph, OK?1230

That's how you ensure that the object that you paste in is flawlessly matching.1243

Now, let's get to the composite...we wanted to put this flower in the image and I want to make it smaller, put it over here and I'm going to put it behind these red flowers--drop it in the background.1249

You go "how you going to do that?"1263

First of all, we're going to load the selection, Command or Control+T to transform, Shift to hold the aspect ratio, and we're going to pull the flower down in size.1264

Stay inside we can move the whole thing, and I see right now I'd like to rotate it a little bit, get that light a little bit more correct--there we go, and the size is a little too large still--Shift and pull it down, that looks about right.1276

We'll click OK--we can always change it later, Command or Control+D.1293

Now, the flower is in position but you're going "how are you going to put that behind the other ones?"1298

Nice little trick here.1303

Turn it off, go to the copied layer, Quick Selection tool, and we'll select a group of these red flower petals, enough of them that we are significantly--see the overlap right there?1305

And so what we're going to do is we're going to copy them; Command or Control+C, highlight the rose layer, because when we paste an object remember it always comes in, in a layer above the highlighted layer, so it's going to come right in (Command or Control+V) into its selection, right above the rose.1325

Now let's check out the edge on's got a little fringe on it, notice right in here?1347

Sam thing happened there, so we'll Command or Control click that, feather at one...I think one will be adequate here, and we're going to contract it just a little bit, click OK, invert the selection again just like we did with the rose...1354

Hide them--Command or Control+H and hit delete.1379

Notice that it cleaned out the edge--we'll come in back, there's that little fringe, and when we delete it--actually delete it twice this time, and now it's perfect, and the rose is now behind.1382

It's still a little bit too large so we'll go back to the rose, Command or Control+T--that's the whole image, sorry, you've got to have the layer...1400

Load the selection--Command or Control, now Command+T, Shift, and we'll make it a little bit smaller, and move it right there, that's good.1410

Alright, one final thing to do here; Command or Control, select the flower, we're going to go...let's go hue saturation, click colorize, up the saturation, change the hue--we'll make it yellow.1420

It's a little flat compared to the lighting, so Command or Control click the selection--either the flower or the mask, either one...go to curves, and pull it down just a little bit and snap the contrast...and there!1439

You now have a composite where we started here, pasted in a rose, put it behind the flowers, changed the color, and adjusted that, and we made a composite that's absolutely flawless on its edging, and looks like an original image by using another object.1458

So in this lesson so far, we have looked at the concept of...seeing digitally, being very careful to visualize how things are going to match up from the stand point of sizing, image quality, lighting--make sure the lighting matches, perspective...1485

Everything is shot at the same perspective, height, focal length, color matching--in this case we altered the color to match things up, and showed you how to create a flawless element edge.1512

Remember, this is absolutely vital.1525

Size, lighting, perspective and getting that edge flawless so that you don't see any fringing, and then we just very simply copied and pasted into another layer, to create a final flower composite that is undetectably a singular image made up of two different images and some modifications within it.1529

All done in Photoshop CS6.1556

In the next lesson, we will explore compositing even further.1560