Learn how to create a composite image in Photoshop CC with this tutorial! You can download both of the RAW images by signing up for my newsletter using the form below. You will be redirected to the download page. We’re going to learn how to expand a background, use the new Select and Mask to cut our model out, match the color of our image using adjustment layers, adding flares, cleaning up the edges and removing halos, sharpening and also the finishing grain layers that will help you smooth out and clean up your image and make them better than ever.
Grabbing a Background and Foreground Image
This whole process begins with at least two images and you can download both the finished PSD and the two RAW images that I’ll be using by dropping your email in my form above and you’ll get a link to download the files for this tutorial. Open both of these RAW files in Photoshop.
Widen Background and Mask Together New Background
We need the background image to be a bit wider so double click on the locked background layer to unlock it (if it’s locked) and then go Image>Canvas Size and move the anchor dot to the center-right spot and set the width to 7000 pixels to really widen things up. I duplicated and flipped the background image and masked the edge to blend both background layers together.
Soft Light a Reduce Noise Black and White Layer
Merge both background layers together by selecting the top layer and hitting Cmd/Ctrl + E. Duplicate the background layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J and hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U to desaturate the layer and go Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise and apply a bunch of this to smooth out this black and white layer. Set this layer to the blend mode of Soft Light and reduce opacity until the contrast of the image looks good.
Group Background Layers. Duplicate. Merge.
Select both layers in the Layers panel and hit Cmd/Ctrl + G to group these layers together and then hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to duplicate this layer group. We now have a single layer copy of our background.
Convert to Smart Object and Field Blur to Create Depth
Right-click on the layer and hit “Convert to Smart Object”. Next, go Filter>Blur Gallery>Field Blur and line up a series of dots on the image along the edge of the model standing in the image. The dots over the model I set to around 20px of blur and the dots over the cityscape behind the model set to no blur at all. This is to build false depth of field in our finished composite image.
Convert Model to Smart Object and Select & Mask
Jump over to the image of the model and right-click on the layer and convert it to a smart object and then go Select>Select and Mask. In the dialog box that pops up choose the Quick Selection Tool over on the left and paint over what you would like to select. Check out the video to really see how I use this tool to get and refine my selection. It’s a pretty deep tool and takes some time to dive into it.
Drag Smart Object Into New Background Image
After you commit the selection that you have created in Select and Mask you will have a new layer with a mask applied to it. Drag this up to the tabs and hold it over the background image and then drop it into the background image once it pops up. Use Cmd/Ctrl + T to free transform the model to get her into the right place.
Clean Up Mask Edges With Brush
Once you have the model in place, select the mask again and grab your brush tool and paint over the edges that need to be cleaned up until you have a better looking edge over this new background. TIP: You can also use the Brush tool to paint white in the mask to bring back areas that may be missing or semi-opaque.
Cover Up the Paintball Gun Logo
Create a new layer above the model and grab the Brush tool and sample the colors right around the paintball gun logo and being painting over it. Sample multiple times to get a good mix of colors. Blur this together by going Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and blur this by 2-5px depending on what looks good. Also go Filter>Noise>Add Noise and add about 2% noise and tick on “Monochromatic” to complete the blended color effect.
Create Bokeh Highlights (and headlight glow!)
Create another new layer and grab the Brush tool and sample the bright yellow or green color near the end of the rifle’s barrel and paint a large, soft-edged dab of color over a couple little spots near the end of the barrel and then change the blend mode of this layer to Linear Dodge (Add) and reduce the Fill Opacity until the blob of color looks more like a flare. TIP: You can use this method to create an extra brightness/glow coming off the headlight as well.
Adding Some Color Balance
Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and use these sliders to start adding blue and cyan and magenta to the highlights, midtones, and shadows as is needed to start colorizing this model so she looks like she belongs in the scene.
Create Curves to Reduce Contrast
Add a new Curves adjustment layer and drag the black point at the bottom left upward a little and the white point at the top right downward a little bit to reduce contrast. We can also use the color channels in this adjustment layer to continue tweaking the colors of the model as well.
Add a Vibrance adjustment layer and reduce the vibrance to further blend the colors and saturation of the model with the background.
Darken Model With Contrast-Killing Curves
Cmd/Ctrl + click the mask that we have on the model layer to load it as a selection and then add a new Curves adjustment layer (selection will automatically be converted into a mask) and drag the middle of the Curves line downward a little to darken up our model to further make her look to belong in this scene. TIP: Use a large, soft-edged brush and paint with black to take away some of the darkening effect if you think it needs to be faded up the model a little bit.
Gradient Map to add color/Contrast
Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer and create a gradient that goes from 2e1e44 to c8fba5 and then set the Gradient Map adjustment layer to the blend mode Soft Light. Reduce the opacity if the contrast or color is too intense. TIP: You can also “prep” your image for this effect by reducing the contrast of the image with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and reduce the contrast with that slider. This layer should be underneath the Gradient Map adjustment layer.
Channel Mixer, Multiply, Reduce Opacity
Next, create a Channel Mixer adjustment layer and tick on “Monochrome” and set this layer to the blend mode of Multiply and reduce the layer opacity until it looks good and moody.
BONUS: Sharpening with High Pass (link to action)
You can check out my tutorial on sharpening images to learn about sharpening. I merged all my layers to a new layer and used the High Pass filter set to about 2px and a blend mode of Overlay to create this sharpening effect. Reduce opacity if you think it’s too sharp.
BONUS: GrainxGrain Create Smoothing Retoucher’s Grain
I did a whole tutorial on creating a retoucher’s best friend, some amazing finishing grain. The key is creating grain that looks raw and organic and not like a computer generated it. Check out my tutorial!