Photo Art Compositing For Fun
Keeping with my “photo art” theme, one my favorite things to do in Photoshop is to create composites so I decided to share some of my workflow and some of my experiences when creating one. I have created several composites that now hang in my home as canvas art. When I do a composite, it takes several iterations and a few days to get the exact feel I want in the image. This one above, which is named “Sisters,” has taken me a good part of three days and eight iterations before it was finalized. I try to create what I consider “relevant composites” or ones that convey a theme – not just slapping a bunch of unrelated images together. I have found that most of my Photoshop skills are put to test when creating a good composite. This image contains five objects – the floral background and bee photos are my shots, the beautiful young ladies are from an artist at Deviant Art that was willing to share his lovely image, and two clip art butterflies.
So lets talk about how to get this final result.
1. FIND A BACKGROUND. First you need to select a good background image to place your other objects into. I knew I really liked this photo of Moss Rose flowers that grow in my front yard. I also know that it was a very blurry image (I do have some nice ones of them) but the color was beautiful in this image. It got me thinking this would give a nice background for a dreamy fairy tale look. Below is the image used for the background – it had been processed as a 3 image HDR and some texture added – only the basic HDR layer was used for the image. You can see how flurry everything but the front flowers were but the colors are very pretty.
2. ADD IN OBJECTS. The next step was to find something that would fit the “dreamy theme” I was going after. If you go up on Deviant Art (here is a link to my page), you can search for beautiful images of people dressed up in Victorian and all kinds of costumes and most are readily shared for your use. The artists at DeviantART are usually very willing to share their expertise and it is a wonderful community of people. That is how I got this wonderful image of the two young ladies in this image – it is called Split Personalities by J Hicks at Deviant Art. Oddly enough, he used two images from another person, Eirian Stock, at Deviant Art.
From Adobe Bridge, place your selected image into your background layer image (or you can start with a totally New Document and add the background image in first) so it becomes the top layer. Add a layer mask to the image and paint out what parts you do not like showing. Free Transform the layer and change the size or distort it to fit – anything you want to do. Sometimes warping does the trick. In this case, the ladies were placed among the flowers and the whole background around the girls was painted out except for a small part of the bench they were on.
I decided that I would like to add some butterflies and a bee to the image – it seems like these objects have a fairy tale feel to them. Since I had the bee image, but it was only a small part of a bigger image, it was first opened into Photoshop and the bee was loosely selected and placed on its own layer (CTRL+J) – then this layer was copied (CTRL+A to select and CTRL+C to copy) and placed (CTRL+V) into the composite document. Using the same procedure as in Step 3, a layer mask was added to the bee layer and painting with black only the bee was left in white on the mask. If you do not have object images, try some of the free stock photos places – I like stock.xchng.
Be aware of the composition you are creating – the image should be balanced and have a focus point. First I tried one of my butterfly images but the colors in the butterfly were too dark and it just did not blend in correctly into the total image. The two butterfly objects are from an old clip art book I purchased called Decorative Butterfly Illustrations by Dover Publications – they look rather authentic. They were on a white background so the white was removed using the Magic Wand Tool and CTRL+BACKSPACE to remove the white. Then Free Transform (CTRL+T) using Warp was applied to adjust them in the image.
3. CLEAN UP. Once you get all your objects assembled, then the clean up begins. In my image I did not add the bee until I realized that one of the girls was looking at something where there was nothing to look at in the image. First the upper left yellow flower was added – this was cloned on a separate layer from the yellow flower on the bottom right and warped to look unique. Then the bee was added. I tried to adjust the objects so the eye stays toward the center of the image – with no bee, the eye tends to follow the girls gaze off to the left. The butterflies on the right also keep the eye from roaming too far right.
Another big issue was that the butterflies and bee were too sharp edged to match the soft edged flowers they were near. Therefore, a Gaussian Blur filter was applied to each at a fairly low amount, roughly a 4 radius, to give a soft feel and out-of-focus look to them. Some petal clean up was done where the petals looked overexposed. (See my Getting Rid of Those Blown Out Areas in Your Image blog.) Using a similar technique, little areas of the skin were smoothed out and hair and dress color was adjusted by adding New Layers and sampling color near the areas to be cleaned up – then with the brush tool set to a low opacity of 20% or less, painting back in to smooth rough areas of image. Below is what my image looked like at iteration 4. I decided I did not like the lighter colors – a little flat for the effect I wanted. Also it seemed the girls and their dresses did not stand out and I wanted them to be the focal point of the image. Using a Curves Adjustment Layer, they were lightened just slightly to make them stand out more from the colorful floral background. You can always clean up an effect anytime during the workflow if it just does not look right.
4. ADDING TEXTURES AND FILTERS. Now I could not resist the temptation to try some textures on this image. Several were tried but I decided to use one that created by using the Smudge Tool and Watercolor brushes in Photoshop – see texture below. I will be blogging on how to create your own background textures in the next couple of weeks and this is one of the examples. Use Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel to try out different textures and blend modes. You can always paint out areas on the layer mask and create some very localized texture effects. For the final image, the texture was set to Multiply blend mode at 55% opacity, and it was painted out of the skin areas using a white layer mask and painting with black. The yellow and oranges really brightened up the image and gave me some colors I liked.
Thinking I was done I decided to try just one more thing – Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in. (Use Smart Objects for this so you can go back and adjust the sliders if needed – Filter -> Convert for Smart Objects.) Maybe it would do something really interesting. (If this had not worked, I would probably have gone into OnOne PhotoEffects 3 or Topaz photoFXlab’s InstaTone – for website links, see my Tidbits Blog). The new Film Efex: Nostalgic and used Film Type 4 filter was selected – it just softened up everything and created almost hyper-pastel colors but I really liked the effect. The Overall Strength of this filter was set to 86% to tone it down just a little. Also Brilliance and Warmth was applied adding just warmth at 29%.
5. FINAL STEPS. It now feels like the image is almost done so I used my favorite clean up plug-in, Nik Viveza 2, to lighten up the whole image. Also the middle area of the image was softened and more detail was added to the pillow flower. You can do all kinds of subtle changes with this plug-in that can really enhance the composition and direct the eye.
Last steps involved brightening up the dresses more using a Curves Adjustment Layer whose layer mask was filled with black and just the dresses painted back in with low opacity brushes.
A final texture is added for framing, one of my favorites – ShadowHouse Creations Old Photo2 which gives an very old vintage feel to the image. It was set to Darker Color blend mode at 55% opacity and a layer mask was used to paint out the center and just leave the texture details around the edges. Below is how my Layers Palette looked after completing this image.
This is a decent example of what goes into a good composite. In this image alone, there were 5 Curves Adjustment Layers, 5 clean up layers, and 5 paint layers where I sampled colors and painted over areas. My original file is 955 megs and 11 X 17 inches so this is a pretty large file by my standards. A composite lends itself nicely to large canvas images. There are many other composite techniques not used here in this example but on others such as using the Gradient Tool and Color Fill Adjustments layers for unique effects and blending. This is definitely where you get a chance to experiment. Give a composite a try – it is very rewarding to create one that represents your own personal expression……Digital Lady Syd