This article is the first in a series that will detail useful techniques for creating surreal composite images in Photoshop CS4. We all have our own definition of what it means for something to be "surreal," but the idea is to bring elements together seamlessly that you traditionally don't associate with one another.
For this example, I utilized a series of three stock images from iStockphotothe amazing Iguaçu Falls in South America (Figure 1.a), a woman taking in her surroundings (Figure 1.b), and a statue of Buddha (Figure 1.c).
Figure 1c In this series, I'll show you how to blend these three stock images into one finished landscape.
Aside from the context provided by the subjects themselves, the lighting and the coloring of those subjects are also important. I made sure that the shot of the woman and the statue were captured in something approximating cloudy, diffuse light (similar to the shot of the falls), and that the colors of the subjects would blend well with the background scene. For example, the off-white coloring of the Buddha status could blend well with the water in the falls or the clouds; the woman's dark clothing could blend well with the rocks or grassy areas in the waterfall shot.
Artistically, the goal of this composite was to bridge the plausible and implausible in a single scene, while providing some message to the viewer. Here the message is left to the imagination. It could be environmental, spiritual, or a mix of the two. It's up to you as the artist to decide what you want your scenes to mean.
I used the falls as the starting point. This provided areas in the foreground, middle-ground, and background for placing my other images into the scene, effectively widening the scope of creative options. A photograph of a woman with her back to the camera gives us an opportunity to add a human element, similar to what we might imagine in the real world at an eco-tourist location like this. Granted, she's not necessarily dressed for the occasion, but sometimes details like this can bring the viewer in to really examine things; everything doesn't have to be perfectly logical. Finally, the statue of Buddha provides the surreal element to this scene.