Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Photoshop

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Creating the Composite

Now that we’ve got the portrait selected and the background created, the composite comes together pretty quickly. We’ll have to make some adjustments to carry over the atmosphere we added to the background in the final image. Plus, we’ll need to do some overall dodging and burning, so he’s not too bright for the background that we’ve placed him in.


Start out by opening the background image we created in the first part of the chapter. Don’t forget, if you skipped that part, I’ve got the completed background in the download images ready for you to start with. Since we don’t need all of the layers anymore, go to Layer>Flatten Image to flatten everything.


Now, open the photo of the basketball player that we worked on in the last tutorial. Again, the completed image is ready for you if you need something to start with. Use the Move tool (V) to drag the basketball player onto the background photo.


He’s a little too big for the background, right? So, press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to go into Free Transform mode. You probably can’t see the transform handles around him, so press Command-0 (zero; PC: Ctrl-0) to zoom out to where you can.


Press-and-hold the Shift key and drag one of the corner handles inward to make the basketball player smaller. You can also move your cursor outside the bounding box, and click-and-drag to rotate the image a little, as I did here. I deliberately left this image so the top of his head is cropped a little at the top of the image, but that’s more of a creative choice. I just felt it conveyed more depth with him in the photo this way. Feel free to make it a little smaller if you want to fit the subject’s entire head in the frame. Press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in the transformation when you’re done.


The next thing I noticed is that I’d rather have the basketball hoop be on the side of the image that Tyler is looking at (the left side). Not that I think he’s looking at the hoop, I just think it serves as a better focal point to have it on that side of him. Since I can’t flip Tyler (the writing on his shirt would be backwards), we’ll have to flip the background. So, click once on the Background layer and press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate it.


Go to Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal to flip the background the other way. Now, the basketball hoop is on the left side of the image, but Tyler stayed the same.


Okay, things are looking better, but we need to help the portrait fit into the background better. Part of what’s wrong here is that his skin tone has too much color compared to the muted background we’re using. This is why I love working with Smart Objects when doing my composites. Since we originally opened the basketball player photo as a Smart Object, it’s easy enough to adjust. Double-click on the Smart Object thumbnail to reopen the photo in Camera Raw. Drag the Vibrance slider to –40 and it’ll take some of the red out, and then increase the Temperature slider to 5250 to warm the photo up a little, too. Click OK when you’re done to go back to Photoshop.


It’s looking better, but we still need to add some contrast/edginess and a little more of that desaturated look. We’ll need a duplicate of the basketball player layer for this trick, but you can’t just duplicate the layer the way we’re used to doing it, because it’s a Smart Object. Instead, Right-click on the Smart Object layer and, from the pop-up menu, choose New Smart Object via Copy. That makes a duplicate that we can work with and not affect the original layer.


Double-click on the image thumbnail on the top copy layer to go into Camera Raw again. In order for this edgy trick to work, we need to have a black-and-white photo. So, click on the HSL/Grayscale icon (the fourth one from the left beneath the histogram) and turn on the Convert to Grayscale checkbox at the top of the panel. Go back to the Basic panel and increase the Fill Light setting to +30 to brighten the shadows a little, too. Click OK when you’re done.

STEP 10:

Change the blend mode of the top copy (the one we just converted to black and white) to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to around 80%. This adds a little more contrast, but also gives the photo more of that edgy and slightly desaturated look. You can always try the Overlay or Hard Light blend modes, too. Sometimes they work well, but they have a little more punch to them than Soft Light.

STEP 11:

Next, we’ll do some dodging and burning on Tyler’s skin. This is another finishing technique that helps add some depth and dimension to a person’s skin. Go to Layer>New>Layer. In the New Layer dialog (seen here), change the blend Mode pop-up menu to Soft Light, then turn on the Fill with Soft-Light-Neutral Color (50% Gray) checkbox, and click OK. This adds a new layer filled with 50% gray, but because it’s set to Soft Light, it appears transparent, which makes it perfect for dodging and burning, because it gives us an easier way to see our dodging and burning areas (by just changing the blend mode back to Normal).

STEP 12:

Now, grab the Brush tool (B), and choose a medium-sized, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker in the Options Bar. Also, lower the brush Opacity setting to 15%. This lets us build the amount of dodging and burning we do with each stroke.

STEP 13:

Here’s how dodging and burning will work on this new layer: We’re going to paint in black over the dark shadow areas and anything we want to darken to make them darker. Then, we’ll paint with white over the brighter highlight areas to make them brighter. Start by pressing D to set your Foreground color to black, then paint with black along the outside edges of his arms where the natural shadows are falling to darken them a little. I don’t think we have to darken all the shadows, though, just the ones on his arms and maybe even his shoulder to make it a little darker.

STEP 14:

Press X to switch your Foreground color to white to brighten the highlight areas. I painted along the inside of the forearms, his shoulders and upper arms, and his face. Don’t forget, since you’re working with a low-opacity brush, the more you brush, the more you’ll build up the brightening or darkening effect. This one is hard to see, but if you turn the layer visibility on and off, you’ll definitely see the results. You might even try pressing Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate the dodge/burn layer to see what it looks like if you intensify it more.

STEP 15:

Part of finishing this image off will be to add some more light to the photo. Since we have this large, bright wash of light behind the subject, we’re going to work with that and even add to it. Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer, then double-click on the layer name and rename the layer “Light.” Then, with the Brush tool still selected, make sure your Foreground color is still white and your brush Opacity is still set to 15%.

STEP 16:

Using a fairly large, soft-edged brush, paint a few brush strokes over the shoulder near the basketball hoop on the left. Since there’s a light source back there (you can see from the clouds), we’d expect more light to be pouring in from that direction. I also painted some brush strokes, using a slightly smaller brush, in between his arms and the basketball and above his other arm on the right.

STEP 17:

We’re almost done. Merge all of the layers into a new one by pressing Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E), and rename it “Edge Darkening.” Change the blend mode of the layer to Multiply. Now, everything will be darkened. Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask. Then, with the Brush tool still active (don’t forget to change the Opacity back to 100%), set your Foreground color to black, and use a large, soft-edged brush to paint away the Multiply effect from the middle of the photo, so just the edges and bottom are darker (as seen here).

STEP 18:

One more thing: I’d like to add some overall extra-edginess to the photo. I’m going to show you two ways to do this: one is free and comes with Photoshop, and one isn’t (but it’s the method I actually use, because I can’t get the same results in Photoshop). First, we’ll look at the free way. Press Command-Option-Shift-E, again, to combine all of the layers into a newly merged layer on top, and rename it “Edgy Effect.”

STEP 19:

Then, go to Filter>Other>High Pass and use a Radius setting of 9 px. Click OK when you’re done, and the image will now look gray.

STEP 20:

Change the blend mode of the layer to Hard Light to hide the gray. Now you’re left with a sharpened and gritty effect on the photo. It’s a perfect (free) way to finish off images like this.

STEP 21:

Now for the not-free way. It’s a plug-in called Topaz Adjust from Topaz Labs ( I cover this plug-in, and the entire plug-in topic, in the “10 Things You Need to Know About Compositing” section at the beginning of the book. I wanted to show you the way I’d really finish off this photo to get the best effect, and Topaz Adjust is one of my best-kept secrets. Once you install it, you can delete the High Pass layer we just created, merge your layers to a new layer again, and name it “Edgy Effect,” again. Then, go to Filter>Topaz Labs>Topaz Adjust. Note: Topaz Adjust is available as a free trial in case you want to try it out.

STEP 22:

The filter I like for most of my portrait composites is called Portrait Drama. It has the effect of doing what we did with the High Pass filter, and then some. It sharpens the entire photo, but it also adds this contrasty/edgy look and some color that, well, I just can’t seem to add any other way in Photoshop without adding a bunch of layers, filters, and blend modes (and I’m still not usually that happy with it). So, click on Portrait Drama in the Presets panel on the left and leave the settings at their defaults. Click OK when you’re done. Now, you know the way I really finish off most of my composites.

STEP 23:

Sometimes, the effect is too heavy (which I think it is here). The skin will tend to get overly gritty, and any dramatic clouds get really contrasty. If that happens, then add a layer mask and paint it away from those areas. Here, I painted with a 30% opacity black brush on the layer mask to remove some grit from his face, arms, and the clouds.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account