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From the author of Beginning the Detail Work

Beginning the Detail Work

The next part of the process is placing the Smart Object Layers in the appropriate area of the scene so you can begin your detail work. Since you won't yet have masks in place to hide the extraneous subject background (in this example, the white area around the Buddha statue and the nature scene surrounding the woman), you can reduce their opacity by 40–50% to allow some of the background to show through as we're roughing out our scene (see Figure 4). Once you've got the final masks created for your layers, you'll make pixel-precise placements, so again just get close when starting out.

Figure 4 While you will eventually mask away the parts of your subjects you don't want to see, a quicker way to get started is to reduce their opacity temporarily to find the proper image placements.

Another placement choice involves depth. Sometimes that means deciding whether you want to create the appearance that one of your subjects is "between" two other elements in the background scene. The alternative is to place one or more of your subjects directly "onto" a surface in your scene that's not hidden by other parts of the scene (such as the rocks along the river plateaus in this example). This placement only requires that you mask your subject so that it appears to be naturally at rest on the surface in question.

To place a subject "between" areas of your scene, you have two options:

  • Zoom in closely and precisely mask away the areas of the subject that must be hidden for any given placement.
  • Mask out the background of your subject (once), and then sandwich that layer between two copies of the background image. From there, you can mask away the top background layer to reveal your subject. To demonstrate this trick, I "floated" the statue of Buddha between the vegetation in the middle of the scene and the falls in the background (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Using two copies of your background layer to "sandwich" a subject allows you to mask away parts of the scene quickly, revealing your subject.

I generally prefer the "sandwich" technique, as it allows me to make a precise mask of my placed subject one time and then move it from place to place, masking and unmasking things more quickly than I could otherwise. So, for this example, I first masked the exact shape of the Buddha statue, placed the statue in the right spot, and then masked away the top background layer to reveal the statue "ascending" toward the top of the vegetation.

It's important to get the brush hardness correct in these situations. If you mask with too soft a brush, you can end up with an unnatural "glow" or haloing effect where the placed subject is revealed, instead of slightly crisp edge details as you would expect to see in the real world.

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