Composite Workflow Techniques
So we're gonna do one of my favorite composites of my eldest son, Michael, so you know his name as you're working on this. You're free to download these as well. We're gonna take Michael off of his background and put him onto this background. A couple things to know about compositing. You wanna set yourself up for success. And setting yourself up for success, you wanna photograph whatever it is that you're going to put onto another background in a way that's gonna help you best. So if I were to photograph him on let's say that brick background it would be very difficult to separate some of the elements of his costume from the background. So I put the seamless down, I put the white down. It doesn't have to be perfect. Notice I like, even when I'm photographing this, you can even see the weights that are on my background. I'm kind of haphazard at best when it comes to it, but I'm just trying to get good lighting on him and get him on something that has a contrasting color to the rest of ...
the figure that I'm using. So could I have removed him from a background with trees all behind him? Quite possibly, but what I'm gonna tell you is if you wanna do these successfully the best thing to do is just set yourself up for success and put yourself in a position where it's not gonna be very difficult to separate those elements. Some of the other composites that I showed you were a series of images from all over the place that weren't done in studio lighting, but if you wanna do composites like this where you take a person from one place and put them into another place think about the background and how easy or how hard it's gonna be for you to separate those things. This is gonna be very easy for us to separate, 'cause I've already set us up for that success. The background that you choose, you should choose a background that's going to fit in with the individual that you're gonna put them on. So if we look at here I do have his feet cut off here and that's fine, because when I bring him into this background, because of the way I've shot this background I could probably very successfully crop it off right there at the shins and still have a pretty decent composite in the end, because I'm not restricting this to a sidewalk. If it was a sidewalk and trying to put him on there it would be like this, it just wouldn't look right. So you wanna try to choose a background that is gonna best be suited for your foreground. It's not always gonna be the easiest thing, but once we get him cut away from the foreground we can play with the different backgrounds that we're gonna put behind him. So sometimes don't get fixated on the place that you wanna put him in, don't get fixated on the places you wanna put him in, because you can always replace that with something else. The key thing to think about here is what I did first was I photographed him first and then I went out to the location, I found a location that would work. It can work both ways. You can either photograph the individual first to get the lighting the way you want it to and then find a place that has similar lighting, or you can photograph the background that you want and then come back and photograph them to get them to kind of fit into that background. So what we're gonna do is we're just gonna open both of these up in Photoshop. The first thing I'm gonna do on both of these is just get the overall settings looking pretty good. So for this I'm just gonna zoom in here and look at my Exposure, maybe bring that up a little bit. Maybe drop those Highlights. If I bring these Highlights up, if I were to bring this, I like the way this looks, especially with that big light that's gonna be blowing in behind him, but if I were to do this now and then go into Photoshop and try to separate him from the background, look at how similar these two areas are. It's gonna be very difficult to separate. So for now I might just wanna leave those Highlights alone or even drop them down just a slight bit. Look at the Shadows, maybe brighten those up a little bit. That looks pretty good. For now I'm just gonna call that good. The background here, let's just press the Auto button, see what we get. Maybe bring up those Highlights a little bit, 'cause I like how that light is beaming in from the back. Alt or Option to see if I'm blowing out here. And we'll do some more work on both of these, probably with Adobe Camera Raw as a filter. The thing about compositing is you don't wanna throw everything that you've learned out the window, you still wanna do things with good practices in mind. I could open both of these up as Smart Objects if I want to go back and to edit them later. I'm just gonna go ahead and open them up regularly and if I need to use a Smart Object I will. So I'm just gonna press Open Images. So the first thing I wanna do is I wanna separate him from his background and get all that set up before putting him onto another background. So to do that I'm just gonna fit him on screen, get a nice selection there. And we could use any selection tools that we've already talked about at this point. What I'm gonna use is I'm gonna use the Quick Selection Tool and I'm just gonna start dragging around the image. If I select a little bit too much that's OK. There's two thought processes here. You can either make the selection for the figure by selecting inside the figure, or make the selection for the background and then invert the selection. I always, and I don't know why, I end up selecting the background first. Maybe because I intuitively know that that's what I want to remove. But if you think the other way around you can start selecting the figure first rather than selecting the background. It selected a little bit too much of his head, 'cause now his head will get cut off and I don't want that. So I'm just gonna press Alt or Option and then start using that brush inside his face. Photoshop is pretty smart. At first Photoshop's calculation was just get rid of his head, it's too close to the white seamless, but now as I press Alt or Option and go back through it it's allowing me to pull that away from that, it's taking the pixels and the calculations that I'm saying based on what I'm selecting. Notice how I'm also selecting it with a very small brush. I'm not using a huge brush to select my background or to select my figure. And the reason why I do that I like a nice, slow buildup of my selection. If I chose a big brush when I click it's gonna do this whole thing and just select a bunch of stuff all at once. So I'm gonna keep pressing that, just (mumbling) that Alt or Option, just click around here, get rid of that background there. With a small brush it's gonna take me forever, so make it a little bit bigger. And then you see here, I still have the areas inside here and then also in right here between his feet. So I'll make my brush a little bit smaller, press Alt or Option, and click inside, and just press the regular, not Alt or Option, I wanna do a whole plus. It selected too much of his foot, Alt or Option to get that back. Looks good. Zoom in right here. A little bit smaller, there we go. A little bit smaller. This is my oldest son, he's my Guinea pig. He lets me do all kinds of fun photo shoots. Especially 'cause he just has this kind of look by default. Oh, looks like I unselected my area. That's OK. If I unselected my area, somehow I accidentally switched to the Elliptical Marquee Tool. Sometimes when I press hotkeys that happens. It's OK. If you realize you're getting the Elliptical Marquee Tool just go back in history or press Command or Option + Z or Control + Alt + Z to go back in history. So I'll zoom into that little one right there. Where's my brush? Quick Selection Tool, select that area. Come down here, select that area. Don't be afraid to take your time. Click in there, click in there. OK, that looks good. Look at his head here. Looks like his ear is missing. Alt or Option to click through there. OK, looks good. Get all that in. His hair is missing over here. Blonde hair on a white background can be difficult. Looks like everything else is pretty good. Something's going on here with these squigglies, so I'll get rid of that. That's all looking pretty good. So now that I've got that background selected I can go ahead and go into Select and Mask right up at the top. I'll click Select and Mask. That's gonna show me on different previews what this mask is gonna look like. Let's go ahead and go to something like On Black, On White. Now you see, it depends on what you like. For me, I ended up choosing to select the background and get rid of the background, so things are a little funky now. What's happening is I'm showing what's gonna happen to the cutout of this figure. And that's OK, because I can always invert that selection later. So I'm not too concerned with that. But what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go ahead and just zoom in here, bring that Opacity up, so I can see what this mask is gonna look like. You see it's got a very hard edge and a lot of his hair is not in there. The rest of it looks pretty good, but a hard edge around the hair. That's OK, because we can just bring this Radius up and as we bring that Radius slider up. There we go. It's gonna get pretty smart and start selecting the area around it. Make better selections around the whole area. I'm pressing the Spacebar key to move around to take a look at my mask. Looks pretty good. If I wanted to add more to that I would just press the plus sign right above here or the Alt or Option right here. And it's gonna try and find the best selection for his hair. If it doesn't work out Control + Alt + Z. Again, this is a tedious process. Gonna move my Radius up. See, when I put my Radius up to about 19 pixels there now it's starting to go out and it's starting to grab that hair a little bit better. And that's actually looking pretty good right there. But what it's doing is it's also grabbing a little bit of his ear, so I'll press Alt or Option to tell it not to take that part. And then really get fine-tune with this. And I'm being pretty tedious about this and being very picky about this. The thing about masking and masks in general is that they don't have to be perfect. They just have to be good enough to get the effect across. Especially when we start blending these together you'll see that. Here we even have some of the parts of the costume being selected there, so that's a pretty darn good mask at 19 pixels. Now is that 19 pixels in the Radius always gonna perfect for everybody? No, not at all. Sometimes you're gonna need to make that eight pixels, 20 pixels, whatever that might be. But that Radius is temporarily going outside of the mask selection that I've created and grabbing more area around it. So now if we go down to the bottom here we can smooth out that, we can further refine it by smoothing out the mask if we wanted to, or feathering it, or adding more contrast to it. If we add more contrast to it it's gonna get rid of that feathered edge that we have there and make it a more contrasting mask, which is gonna just make everything we did just kind of go for nothing. The Shift Edge, if we move this over to the right or to the left it's gonna shift the edge of the mask inward or outward. We can just leave that alone for now. Output Settings. We go ahead and select Decontaminate Colors that's a good idea. And we'll just make this, actually turn that off, 'cause we need to make this a new selection. I'll show you how to do some decontamination of the edge in a second. So once I have that all set I'll just press OK and that's gonna be a pretty darn good selection. So now I need to get him away from that background. All I did with Select and Mask was make that selection better, it just refines the edge. If anyone's familiar with CS5, CS6 days we didn't have Select and Mask, we had Refine Edge. That's essentially what this is doing. Select and Mask is just a new name for refining the edge. So if I were to make a mask on this right now we're gonna get the opposite, because I selected the background and not the foreground. And that's OK, I said that's OK, 'cause all I have to do, I don't have to freak out and redo all my settings. I made the mask, all I have to do is press Command or Control + I on that mask and now I've got him separated from his background. And now I'm ready to start the compositing process. So I'm gonna press V for the Move Tool and just click and drag and press and hold Shift while I do that and bring him over to this image here. So if I press Command or Control + T I can resize him, but what did we say about resizing things? That sometimes, especially if we're doing composites is might be a good idea to make this a Smart Object before I start resizing him. So I'll right-click and I'll say Convert to Smart Object. And the reason why I'm doing that is if I make him smaller and then say, you know what, I don't like that, but I already committed to it. And if I go to make him bigger I'm gonna be interpolating. But by making him a Smart Object now it's remembering all of the information that I started with before I do the resizing. Our mask is now gone though. So just keep that in mind that we lose our mask, but that's OK, because right here we still have all that set. So we can keep that just in case we ever need it. So if we wanted to save that the cool thing about masks is if I Control + click on that mask I can right-click on that selection and press Save Selection and I can save it as a channel. So that yeah, I'm gonna turn this into a Smart Object, but I don't have to lose that mask forever. If I turn this into a channel I can call this Figure Mask and then press OK. And then if I go to my Channels you'll see right here that I have a Figure Mask. So that if I press Command or Control + D, come back over here, and then convert this over to the Smart Object as we did before, if I want to, anytime I want that mask again I can just go back into my Channels and it's able to be selected there. 'Cause once we convert this to a Smart Object we're gonna lose that, so there's our Figure Mask, we always have that mask saved and selected. That way if I close this down I still have that mask available. So if I press Command or Control + T and then Control + zero to see outside the bounds of where he is I can press Shift and Alt, make him a little bit smaller. I'm gonna do that just a little bit more, 'cause I want the top of that mask of his costume to be in the frame, but I don't want the top of his head to be cut off from that frame. Now does that necessarily mean that you have to have it like that? No, if you wanted it to be like this you could. I don't think that that's a very good crop though. However, in some composites it is, you'll see that and it actually works, where the top of the head is just a little bit cut off and then the body is a little bit cut off at the feet. One of the most difficult things to do in your compositing decisions is to try to composite this figure in here with the feet and the full body. It is so difficult to get that shadow to look right that sometimes it's better to just cheat and not make sure that the feet are there. Remember, we're trying to set you up for success here. So we'll just commit to that and that will be good right there. And that looks pretty good. Now if we look at the edges of his hair it looks like we have like a fringe around there. If I go up to Layer and I go to, oh, I can't do it when it's a Smart Object. If I wanna defringe that I'm gonna have to take this out of Smart Object mode and rasterize it, so I'll right-click and then Rasterize. So just know that now that it's rasterized we aren't gonna have that data available to us as we resize and make things larger and smaller. So I'll go ahead and go up to Layer, go down to Matting, and then go to Defringe. And I wanna defringe this by let's say three pixels. Press OK. And it'll start to pull in the selection around his hair, so that you'll see, especially like right here along the edges everything looks good there. There is still a little bit of his hair that doesn't look quite right, but there's something else I'm gonna do that might fix that all together, so I'm not too concerned about that right now. So I'll zoom out a little bit. One of the things I like to do on these types of composites is I wanna make him blend in with the background better, 'cause right now it just looks like somebody on top of a background. So one of the ways that I can do is use just a big brush and just add a big white spot right behind him, drop that opacity a little bit, and it looks like the light is just beaming in right on his back, and he'll fit in a little bit better. So if I click underneath this Figure layer, right here on the Background, I'll make a new layer and it'll be a really big white brush. I'll change that color. If I wanna change the color I don't have to click on this palette, all I have to do is press D to default my colors to black and white, X to switch back to white. And watch, just boom, just boom. There you go. Kind of makes him look like an epic movie poster type of thing. It's a little bright and that's OK, all I have to do is drop the Opacity on that a little bit. So now if we look at the top of his head his hair looks like a perfect blend into the rest of the image. And with that light being so bright behind him I'm setting myself up for success with the image that I'm trying to put him in. The image I'm trying to put him in has that big bright light behind him, so as it's coming across this way it almost looks like it is kind of spreading across the side of his face as well, it just matches really well, like light does. Light likes to wrap around things. But on that note, it's hitting really hard against that wall on the background. And that's OK. I'll just go ahead and get a smaller brush with a mask and then just lightly brush back here with black on that area. Whoops, not select that. Like brush right here, black. A little bit bigger of a brush and just play with that light as it spills in across both the side of his face and the side of the canvas. That way it doesn't look like I just used a big white brush and slapped it on the image. So now at this point this is where I'm free to start kind of playing around with things. I think I've got a pretty darn good looking composite now. The background looks good, the foreground looks good. I need to kind of push and pull them though and play with them. I want the background to be more gritty and more dingy and more dirty. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna click on the Background, I'm gonna turn this into a Smart Object, Convert to Smart Object, and one of the things I know I can use really well to push that Background all over the place is Adobe Camera Raw as a filter. So I'll press Control + Shift and A. Command + Shift + A on a Mac. I wanna make this look more dingy, all I gotta do is bump up that Clarity, starts to look pretty dirty. I also might wanna drop the Vibrance here a little bit to kind of get that comic book type of feel. If I drop the Saturation it's gonna drop all the colors down, that's not necessarily what I want. I want the colors to kind of taper themselves away and not just drop the saturation of those colors altogether. I wanna give it that graphic novel, comic book effect where the backgrounds already kind of separate themselves from the foreground, the foreground is already brighter and more lively than what's happening in the background. So I'll drop down that Vibrance. Boost up those Highlights to really make that light kind of blow out and beam in back there. Maybe boost those Shadows a little bit. Increase the Contrast to get a little bit more gritty. And see what that looks like, press OK. Before, after. Starting to blend in pretty well, huh? Pretty cool. So now what we can do is we can convert our Figure over to a Smart Object. Again, I like to use Adobe Camera Raw, there's nothing wrong with Adobe Camera Raw as a filter, because it keeps all of those settings inside the image. It can be difficult though, because we don't know what the background looks like and what the foreground looks like when we go to Adobe Camera Raw as a filter. So I'll convert this to a Smart Object, double-click on those settings, or actually Control + Shift + A, sorry. Control + Shift + A to go into Adobe Camera Raw as a filter. Right now I've got this toggled to full screen. If I wanna see what my background looks like I can just do this, get it out of full screen mode, and then I can grab the edges, make this a little bit smaller, so I can try to make some better informed decisions on how I want him to look inside that space. If I click this it's gonna bring me back into full screen mode. Hit that button, it's gonna take me out of full screen mode. So for him I might want to boost up those Highlights to get that spread of light on his face a little bit brighter, boost up the Contrast to make the costume come out a little bit more, increase those Shadows a little bit. Look at the White point and the Black point here, 'cause things are starting to blow out a little bit on that face. Drop that White point a little bit. See where my Blacks are here. Maybe even add some more Contrast to that suit. And I don't necessarily wanna do a global Clarity increase on him, so I might go and do something with my custom brushes here. So I might zoom in and use some brush work on him. So up until now we've talked about using the adjustment brush, but we've only really used the adjustment brush for one thing at a time instead of multiple things. In the last landscape workflow, in the landscape workflow we did use two radial filters. But I wanna take this brush, make this brush really small, and I'm gonna focus on his eyes. He has got his mother's eyes, they just kill me. So I'm gonna turn on my Mask on, and I'm gonna start brushing inside his eye right here and inside his eye over here. Just to get a selection for his eyes. And then I will turn that mask off. It's got all my last settings saved in there, which just does not look good. So I'm gonna go ahead and drop all those settings. If you double-click on a triangle it'll take them back to zero. Get all those settings back to zero. I will boost the Saturation in his eyes to brighten them up. I'm also gonna make them a little bit more blue. I know his eyes are blue. Again, like I said in the portrait, natural portrait retouching lesson, when you are looking at your models make sure you pay attention to how blue their eyes are, how green their eyes are, where the embellishments are on their faces, things that are uniquely them, that make them them. His eyes are not this color. They're actually like an ice blue that will just stare right through your soul. He can get whatever he wants from me. So we'll just boost up the Highlights here a little bit too. Maybe boost up the Contrast here. And then open up those Shadows. And this is all just for his eyes. Even increase the Exposure. Now just like we talked about in the natural portrait retouching by using Luminosity masking, we might not have Luminosity mask, we have a range mask here that's kind of a little bit like those Luminosity masks, so if I turn my mask on and then press the Luminance mask I can bring that Range down in the dark areas. So then this effect is only gonna be happening in the light areas of his eyes and preserving a lot of those darker areas. Bring this down and look at the difference there. It starts to add some real nice life to his eyes just by going into those eyes individually, allowing those black areas to still shine through all of the lighter things that I'm doing there. And then I'll zoom out and see what that looks like. Looks pretty good. Especially for an image like this, kind of have that magical kind of glow like he's about to put his mask on and put the hurting on somebody. So now we're gonna use a new brush and with this new brush I am gonna start just by bumping up the Clarity and I'm just gonna start brushing on his costume. Auto Mask is selected, so you notice how it's trying to select certain pixels, it's trying to select just those dark areas on the costume. If I keep going over that it's gonna keep selecting more within the constraints of the costume there. It's OK, 'cause we aren't going outside there, that's good. If we use a bigger brush it'll make a bigger selection. And because it's transparent it won't select anything outside of there and that's pretty cool, so we don't have to worry about too much. I'm just gonna keep brushing on here. These kids have more costumes than I have pairs of jeans I think, they're crazy. OK, that's good enough. Turn that mask off. So notice how when I brush that on that bump up of Clarity, look at that. So we can make his costume kind of match the grittiness of what's happening with the background. If I wanna use even something like Dehaze that might actually work out pretty well to add some more contrast within there. And while it's adding that contrast also bring about some more of that blue. So now what it's doing is we're drawing the focus away from the costume toward his face and you're gonna see that once we build this composite back together you'll see that. This lights and darks here, the Whites and the Blacks are only gonna be for that individual area that I painted in. Bring up those Shadows a little bit. Bump up that Contrast. And then maybe even add a little bit more Saturation here. Just like that graphic novel type look. What's happening now though is my reds are becoming like a pinkish color, a lot more on the magenta side. So I'm gonna go back to my Hue Saturation adjustments and in that color Red there I'm gonna make them more along the lines of red rather than the magenta that they were starting to go towards just by bumping that up. That looks pretty good. And we'll press OK. Um, yeah, looks good, press OK. So why I like using Adobe Camera Raw as filter, especially for those two actions is that if I ever need to go back into that to lessen the setting I've got it on a Smart Filter, so I can always go back into those Camera Raw settings if I needed to. We're getting pretty good on this composite. I think I like where it's going and the direction it's going, but one thing that I wanna do is I wanna make them look like they're together. So this is kind of an advanced trick to make everything in the image unified with one color grade. So we're gonna color grade this image, but what we're gonna do is we're going to take all the colors in this image, blend them together, like basically throw them into a giant blender, blend them together to give me what the one color is that this whole image would be if we put it all together in one big mixing bowl. So what I need to do is press Control + Shift + Alt and E and that's gonna give me a stamp of everything in here. And then if I go to Filter, and I go to Blur, and I go to Average that Average is taking all the colors in that stamp and blending them together. And that would be the color that we would get if we had this composite in a milkshake or a protein shake if that's your thing. I like milkshakes, so. If I wanna apply that to the whole image I would just change this blend mode to Color and then drop this Opacity a little bit and you start to see that we're using the one color in the entire image to unify all the parts and pieces that are happening here. This it might be harder to see, 'cause there's not a whole lot going on back here, but if you've got two images that are wildly different from the foreground and the background with a lot of different colors going on this right here, what this is doing is it's applying the Color blend mode to this one color with the lowered Opacity, so if you can imagine, we're taking the blend of all the colors and just washing the whole image with it to unify all those colors and pull them together. 'Cause the Color blend mode applies the color here, but allows the luminance values to show through, so it's just the color of all of that. And we can call this Unified Color Grade. Turn it off, there's the before, there's the after. It starts to pull a lot of those colors together. If we look at it just on that background, before, after, before, after. On the flip side of that if we wanted to add, instead of unifying the whole color of the image and blending it all together we could press Command + I or Control + I on that and get the inverse of that color and actually start adding more saturation to the image. So that would add a little bit more, this would start to make it more subtle. We're just using the inverse of that one color. So it looks like it's looking pretty good here. One thing that I might add to this just to finish it all off would be something like a vignette. Move that vignette about right there, press OK. That vignette goes right on the top and it starts to unify it, pull us right into that one center spot. The cool part about this is that these two are basically our finishing effects, this area is our figure, and this area is the splash behind it. So if we were to grab these and press Control + G, put them in a group, and double-click this, we could call this Figure. So now I could move this around if I didn't like it being far over here, I could put it right about here and move it independently. The other cool thing about this is because our effects are on the top, our figure's right here, if at any time I wanna replace this background that's a really easy thing for me to do. And because it's already got the Camera Raw settings in there, if I double-click this it's gonna open up that PSB file for that background, just like we talked about in Smart Objects and replacing layouts for images, I could put him into any background I want now. If I went into my different images that I have here. Let's just go to some of my favorite images. Let's see here. See, I total you I have a folder called best photos ever. Let's just go ahead and put him on, he likes to play a lot of roles for me, this one, just for grins, see what happens. He's now in Yosemite. So I'll move this onto this PDB file over here, Control + T, Control + zero. Make this a little bit smaller. If I commit to this and say Yes. It might take a little bit. This is a pretty fast machine and if this is going this slow we're building a pretty big document here. (laughs) It's updating that Smart Object and it's even bringing in the Camera Raw defaults that I had selected onto that background. That's why it's always really nice to put your Camera Raw defaults into that Smart Object, so that any background that we replace this with it'll take on the same role as those Camera Raw defaults that we had before. If we turn off those Camera Raw defaults that's what it would look like there. If we didn't like that background, just double-click it, the Smart Object, and just get rid of it. Go back to what we had before. But that's a way that you can experiment with different backgrounds. You could very, instead of making this a Smart Object, you could just pull in backgrounds and put them right behind him with no problems too, but the Smart Object route is really cool, because it's gonna take on all of those Camera Raw settings that we're gonna put there as well. And that would be a pretty darn good final image. You know, I could, the thing that I could do to really push this a little bit more is to do some dodging and burning. So maybe I'll go into the tools here, click the dodge and burn, and just use this as an opportunity for me to really push and pull that light. I'm dodging, I'm dodging, dodging on his hair a little bit here. And then maybe I'll burn right along here. Burn along this area, burn down here a little bit more. Dodge here, dodge behind his head a little bit more. Dodge down here a little bit more. And then burn along this side, I'll push that away a little bit more. And then if we look at our before and after with the dodging and burning, again, it's just shaping the light, sculpting the light. If it's too much just drop the Opacity, drop that Opacity down a little bit to unify it all together. Really just shaping that light, sculpting the light around him.