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Photoshop Compositing Secrets: Senior Portrait

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It’s become a really hot trend to take seniors out to a cool, fun, or dramatic location for their graduation photo shoot. But, with compositing, you don’t have to take them anywhere. In this chapter, Matt Kloskowski shows you how to create a great school portrait.
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Another great use of compositing is for high school senior portraits. It’s become a really hot trend to take seniors out to a cool, fun, or dramatic location for their graduation photo shoot. But, with compositing, you don’t have to take them anywhere. It really has a ton of uses for this style of photo: maybe the weather didn’t cooperate on the day of a location shoot, maybe you don’t have the location that works for your subject, etc.

Prepping the Background

The background for this one is an outdoor basketball court. It’s got a nice blue sky behind it, along with a city skyline. It’s cool, but doesn’t do much if we’re looking for something edgy here. Once we add some dramatic clouds and a few effects, it’ll look totally different, though.


The subject we’ll be placing in this background is wearing a basketball uniform, so while we’re going to go with a basketball-themed background here, we’ll take it in a very dramatic direction. First, open the main image for the background. It’s pretty simple at this point: a basketball court with a city skyline in the background.


Since we’re going in a dramatic direction for this one, let’s add some really dramatic clouds in place of the blue sky. We’ll need to make a selection first, though. Now, I know I’ve been touting the Quick Selection tool with Refine Edge as the best selection tools around, but for this one, we’re going to use another selection tool called Color Range. Since the sky is all blue, it’ll be the fastest way to select it. So, go to Select>Color Range to open the dialog.


The way Color Range works is that, with the Select pop-up menu set to Sampled Colors, you click on the color in your image you want to select. In this case, it’s the blue sky, so just click with the eyedropper on the blue sky. If you have the Selection option turned on (below the preview window), you’re going to see a black-and-white preview of your selection. Everything that’s white is now selected, and everything that’s black isn’t. You’ll see just a small area of the sky shows up in white at this point.


There’s obviously more than one shade of blue in the sky, so we’ll need to add to our selection. To add to it, press-and-hold the Shift key and click in other areas of the blue sky. Each time you Shift-click, you’ll add more blue to the selected area. Don’t forget to Shift-click inside those areas in the fence right above the skyline.


You’ll also notice a Fuzziness slider near the top of the Color Range dialog. Fuzziness pretty much loosens the edges of your selection. At 0, the selection remains very tight and only the colors you clicked on will be selected. As you increase the Fuzziness amount, the edges loosen a little and become softer, so more areas around what you clicked on become part of the selection. I found 15 works pretty well for this photo. When you’re done, click OK to lock in the selection and close the Color Range dialog. If the selection looks like it bleeds over into other parts of the image, don’t worry about it for now. You’ll see, later, that we’ll hide a lot of those imperfections and you’ll never even see them.


Now, let’s add some clouds. Go ahead and open the photo of the clouds for this example. I took this photo on a rooftop on a really cloudy day. Overcast days work well for this, too, but shadowed, puffy clouds work best, since they give a lot more detail.


Let’s add to the drama by adding an HDR effect to the clouds. Even though it’s not a bracketed photo with several different exposures, we can fake it with Photoshop. Go to Image>Adjustments>HDR Toning. The main thing here is to bring the Radius and Strength sliders way up. Take Radius to 230 px and Strength to 3.25. I brought the Exposure down to –0.50, Detail to +60%, and both Shadow and Highlight to –80%.


Click on Toning Curve and Histogram at the very bottom of the dialog to open the Curve for the photo. Click on the Curve to add two points, drag the bottom one down, and then drag the top one up, like you see here. This will add some nice contrast to the clouds. When you’re done, click OK.


Okay, now our clouds are nice and dramatic. Let’s add them to the basketball court image. Go to Select>All (or press Command-A [PC: Ctrl-A]) to select the entire cloud image. Then go to Edit>Copy (or press Command-C [PC: Ctrl-C]) to copy it. Switch over to the basketball court photo (where we should still have a live selection from Step Five) and go to Edit>Paste Special>Paste Into. This pastes the clouds into the selection that we created earlier. The best part about doing it this way is that Photoshop automatically creates a mask for us, so we can adjust where the clouds appear if we need to.

STEP 10:

Press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to go into Free Transform mode. Notice how you can’t see all of the handles around the Free Transform box? Here’s a little tip: Press Command-0 (zero; PC: Ctrl-0) and Photoshop will zoom your image out, so that all of the handles fit in view. Then, press-and-hold the Shift key and drag the bottom-right corner handle inward until the transform box is closer to the size of the basketball court image. Press Return (PC: Enter) when you’re done to lock in the transformation.

STEP 11:

Grab the Move tool from the Toolbox (or just press the V key) and move the clouds up so the horizon line from the clouds image falls just behind the buildings in the city skyline.

STEP 12:

There’s one last thing we’ll do to the background. See, compositing has a lot to do with the background, but at the same time, you don’t want the background to overpower the photo. In this example, there’s a lot going on with the background, so we’ll use a little trick to help tone it down a bit. Press G to select the Gradient tool from the Toolbox. Click on the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar to open the Gradient Picker, and choose the second gradient from the top left (circled here), which is Foreground to Transparent. Immediately to the right of the gradient thumbnail are the gradient type icons. Click on the Reflected one (the second from the right) and then set your Foreground color to white by pressing D, then X.

STEP 13:

Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer. Then, position your cursor in the middle of the image and drag downward to the bottom to add the gradient on this layer. It creates a white gradient in the middle, and the gradient appears to fall off as it gets further away from the middle. What we’ve done here is give the appearance of adding a lot of light to the background. It’s this light wash that lets us pull off the composite more easily and keep focus on the subject that we’ll eventually be adding. When you’re done, go to File>Save (or press Command-S [PC: Ctrl-S]) and save this as a PSD file.

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