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This chapter is from the book

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 permanently erasing away parts of a layer isn’t a good thing. 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. In fact, we’re going to use the same example to see how it should be done. 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. CREATE A NEW DOCUMENT

Go to File>New to create a new document. Enter 5 inches for the Width, 7 inches for the Height, and 72 ppi for the Resolution, and click OK. Now you’ve got a blank image. Go to the photo of the large half-basketball, choose Select>All, then go ahead and copy-and-paste it into your blank image. Use the Move tool (V) to position it toward the bottom. You should now have two layers—the Background layer with the basketball layer on top of it.

Step 3. SELECT THE GRADIENT TOOL AND USE THE BLACK, WHITE GRADIENT

This time around we’re going to blend the large half-basketball into the background but in a much easier (and non-destructive) way. 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 us a nice, smooth blend. Select the Gradient tool from the Toolbox (or just press G). Then click on the down-facing arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar, and choose the third gradient from the left in the Gradient Picker. It’s the default Black, White gradient. Also make sure you click on the Linear Gradient (leftmost) icon in the Options Bar and turn on the Reverse checkbox.

Step 4. ADD A LAYER MASK AND CLICK-AND-DRAG ON IT TO BLEND THE TOP

Now that you’ve got your gradient selected, let’s use it on a layer mask. Select the large basketball layer and click on the Add Layer Mask icon to add a layer mask to it. Then, click near the bottom of the ball and drag upward to the top of it. 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 ball now 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 5. BRING ANOTHER PHOTO INTO THE MAIN IMAGE

Now let’s bring in the photo of the basketball player. Copy-and-paste it into our main collage document that we’ve been working on. Use the Move tool to position it in the middle. Now you should have three layers in the collage document: Background, the large basketball, and the basketball player. Go ahead and add a layer mask to this layer, as well, just like the other one.

Step 6. USE THE GRADIENT TOOL AGAIN TO HIDE PART OF THAT PHOTO

You’ll notice the photo of the basketball player totally covers up the large basketball below it. Let’s use the same Black, White gradient on the basketball player’s layer mask, but turn off the Reverse checkbox, and click-and-drag from the bottom to the top to fade the bottom part of the basketball player away, and reveal the large basketball below it. Once you do this, you’ll be able to see part of the white Background layer, so click on it, make sure your Foreground color is set to black, and press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill it with black.

Step 7. BRING THE LAST PHOTO INTO THE MAIN IMAGE

Copy-and-paste the last photo (the fiery basketball) into the main image. Make sure it’s the topmost layer in the Layers panel. Use the Move tool to position it toward the top left of the image, over the basketball net. Now, add a layer mask to this layer.

Step 8. USE THE BRUSH TOOL TO FADE THE PHOTO

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 mom and daughter from the Curves adjustment. So select the Brush tool (B). Click on the brush thumbnail in the Options Bar and set the Size to something fairly large, like 150 pixels. Then set the Hardness to 0% so the edges are very soft and feathered.

Step 9. 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 around the basketball to hide its black background, so it fades nicely into the net. As you paint, that area of the photo will disappear. Use the Right and Left Bracket keys to change the size of your brush, if needed.

Step 10. 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 11. ADD THE FINISHING TOUCHES

Lastly, I’ve added the same graphic and text to finish things off.

Is it pretty much the same final image we came away with in Chapter 1? Yep. But we accomplished the same thing, with just about the same amount of work, in a non-destructive way. Now we can change the image if we ever need to. If you had erased those areas away, like we did in Chapter 1, you wouldn’t have the flexibility to move and change the layers—you’d have to start all over again.

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