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Combining Multiple Images

LAYER MASKS LET YOU COMBINE MULTIPLE IMAGES WITHOUT ERASING PARTS OF THE IMAGE

If you think back to Chapter 1, we combined several images together in “Using Multiple Layers” by bringing them all into the same document and erasing parts of each layer away. That example was great for showing how layers work with each other and how you can see through part of one layer to the layer under it. However, when it comes to real life, it’s not that easy. You change your mind, the client changes his mind, or something just changes about the project, and you realize that erasing away parts of a layer is a pain. Mainly because you can’t bring those erased pixels back. You’d have to start all over again if you want to change something. Well, now we’re going to take a look at doing the same thing with layer masks. Trust me, this stuff rocks! Once you see how easy it is, I promise you that you’ll never go back to that Eraser tool again.

Step 1: Open the Photos that You’d Like to Blend Together

For starters, open the photos that you’d like to blend together.

Step 2: Copy-and-Paste One of the Photos into the Background Image

First, decide which image you want to use as your background. Click on one of the other photos, press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to select the image, then press Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) and Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to copy-and-paste it into the first image, so they’re both in the same document. Here, I’ll use the photo of the man running as the background and copy the city buildings into it. I’ll position the city, using the Move tool (V), in the general area I want it to be in the collage. The top works well here. When you’re done, you should have two layers in the same file.

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask to the Top Layer

Click on the city buildings layer to select it. Then click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask to it.

Step 4: Select the Gradient Tool and Use the Black, White Gradient

In this example, I’m going to blend the city buildings into the photo of the man running. If you recall, layer masks see only in black and white, and they don’t care how you actually get black and white on them. So, let’s try using a gradient to give a nice smooth blend. Select the Gradient tool from the Toolbox (or just press G). Then click on the gradient thumbnail in the top Options Bar, and choose the third gradient from the left in the Gradient Editor. It’s the default Black, White gradient. Also make sure you click on the Linear Gradient (leftmost) icon in the Options Bar.

Step 5: Click-and-Drag on the Layer Mask to Blend the City into the Photo of the Man

Now that you’ve got your gradient selected, we’re going to use it on the layer mask. Click once on the layer mask on the city layer to make sure it’s selected. Then click on the bottom of the buildings and drag upward. When you release your mouse button, you’ll have created a gradient on the layer mask. More than that, though, look at your image. The city image blends nicely into the Background layer. If yours looks off, it’s probably because of the way you dragged your gradient. Sometimes it takes a few tries, so feel free to drag over it again to adjust the gradient, as well as the overall blend.

Step 6: Bring the Other Photo into the Main Image

Now that we’ve got two photos in this collage, let’s bring in the third. Copy-and-paste another photo into our main collage document that we’ve been working on. Use the Move tool to position it in the general area that you want it (at the bottom here). Now you should have three layers in the collage document. Go ahead and add a layer mask to this layer, as well, just like the other one.

Step 7: Select the Brush Tool to Paint on the Layer Mask

Now we need to blend the new layer into the image. We could use the Gradient tool again, but that’s no fun. That’s old news, right? Instead, let’s try using the Brush tool because we can be a lot more precise in the areas we blend. Remember, we did this with our adjustment layer back in Chapter 3 when we had to hide the background around the couple from the Curves adjustment. So select the Brush tool (B). Click on the brush thumbnail in the Options Bar and set the diameter to something fairly large, like 200 pixels. Then set the Hardness to 0% so the edges are very soft and feathered.

Step 8: Paint with Black on the Layer Mask

Now, click once on the layer mask thumbnail to select it. Press D, then X to set your Foreground color to black. Start painting on the area of the knife and fork that you want to hide (mainly over the man, so you can now see him running again). As you paint, that area of the photo will disappear.

Step 9: If You Hide an Area that You didn’t Want to, Paint it with White to Bring it Back

Let’s say, for example, you hide an area of your photo that you didn’t want to. Just switch your Foreground color to white (press the X key) and paint over it again. Wherever you paint with white, you’ll start to bring back the original photo. This means you can get very creative and experiment with different degrees of blending your photos with each other.

Step 10: Add the Finishing Touches

Lastly, I’ve added some movie elements to the design, since I always see this collaging effect used in movie posters.

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