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Combining Splash Layers in Photoshop

Lesson 19 from: Capturing Food in Motion

Steve Hansen

Combining Splash Layers in Photoshop

Lesson 19 from: Capturing Food in Motion

Steve Hansen

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Lesson Info

19. Combining Splash Layers in Photoshop

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is about combining splash layers in Photoshop to create realistic and visually appealing food images.


  • How can you load files into a stack in Photoshop?
  • What is the instructor's approach to working in Photoshop?
  • Why is it important to think about the placement and direction of the food when shooting?
  • How can you flip a layer in Photoshop without flipping all other layers?
  • What are some valuable Photoshop tools and techniques for working with layers and blending modes?
  • How can you mask and blend layers together to create a seamless effect?
  • What can be done to fix discrepancies in color or texture between different layers?
  • How can you create a transparent effect for a splash layer?
  • What is the importance of working with as few layers as possible in Photoshop?
  • How can you refine the edges of a selection in Photoshop to create a more natural look?
  • What is the instructor's approach to creating realistic food images in Photoshop?

Lesson Info

Combining Splash Layers in Photoshop

What I can do is go to Load Files Into Stack in File, Scripts, Load Files Into Stack, and then, I'm gonna browse to those files that I know I just created, so, I've got my list of which files I want to use, and I will just quickly select them. This is a very personal, everybody works, everybody's post production process is a little bit different. Photoshop is one of those things where there's a hundred different ways to do one thing, so, this is part of your style, the style I talked about yesterday and today, and that I'll cover even more today, is partly how you handle your Photoshop work. Everybody works in a different way. I work very, I like to do as little as possible in Photoshop and when I need to, I will dive in and really take the time, but it takes me a long time, so I really like to avoid it if I can, especially with this stuff where it doesn't look as natural. You'll see, we'll run into some issues where we have to really finesse the attachments we make for different sho...

ts, so when you're shooting, I think looking at what we're doing now, if I were to change what we were doing and if we had more time, I would set up some shots where we were able to capture stuff on the right part of the frame, so we didn't have to do the flip, so that we could actually go through here and then realistically just seamlessly grab stuff into the upper right hand, and add stuff to the upper right hand side of the frame, seamlessly. We don't have that luxury and I think it's good that we're able to show some of the adversity that we're gonna face when we shoot this. Yeah, so, here I've got our image that we wanted to flip, so I just quickly flipped it. This would be different maybe than you would work. What I would do is I would go down, what I tend to do is go to 50% opacity, which is I think maybe where you were going with it, and then we can actually align this. Now, because this was coming in from out of frame, we can't move it, so we are stuck, so will this work? We will know very soon. So, what I had just done is to go to Edit, Image Flip, doesn't work because it flips all of your layers in the stack, so I went in just to my Move tool, turned on transform controls, and flipped, just sort of squished that image across to negative 100% width, and that flips just the one layer instead of flipping all of your layers. Are you guys comfortable with the transform tools in Photoshop? It's some really valuable, valuable assets to learn, I mean, learning your layers and how layers blend like screen modes, and different layer blending modes are really important. I use Screen all the time and I use Soft Light a lot, especially, I use Soft Light when I'm doing the color cast by myself, I'll select with the eyedropper the color of the color cast I want to do and Soft Light tends to really, I'll brush on another layer but it tends to adhere to milk or adhere to, it really, it's almost like you're adding makeup, so it's a really good, it's a good, you won't use every layer style, but... So we've got this to the layer at about 50% opacity which lets us see where it is in relation to our main layer. So Steve, what are you wanting to do with this layer here now that we've got sort of... I want to delete it. Actually, I don't. What are your thoughts, what do you like? I think we can use, I think we can use it. I wouldn't change, I would use the whole layer, though. I wouldn't be shy, because they actually do attach really well, because there's a little bit, click out of that. There's a little piece of rosemary. There's a little chunk of something right there. I don't know if it's rosemary, I don't think it is, but it does at least, we got a little bit lucky on this because we don't have dozens of files to choose from. I have, when I shoot, I shoot for a long time and we have a lot of material to use. I think this actually adheres nicely, considering. It adds sort of a dual splash, if you will, so it's more dramatic, and I think now we can even go and add some of those other splash, not right now, but, I think it justifies, because it has, it looks like it has more power. I think it justifies the splashes that we created on the copper as well. We'll see. You don't know until you really get it in there. You just don't. Yeah, so I know that... This is really important, if we, especially on the Internet, if we go over something or you don't know why we do something the way we do it which is kind of interesting to learn, I always watch other photographers and how they approach Photoshop. We're kind of on the, I'm very in left field in that. He's a very much more, right on the money, but if we go over something that doesn't make sense, please chime in and we'll cover it for sure and we'll tell you why we do it that way. So, right now, I'm sticking to a fairly soft brush and masking the two layers together so that I have semi, I can pull this one, the new layer we added, back up to 100% and see how it's interacting with the layer we started with, with our hero, so, I went through and I knocked down this layer, so this is where we were at, and then I reduced it down so it's just, just this stuff in the upper edge, and now, I'm drawing in the wrong color. Now we've got the two layers pretty well softly, roughly combined, and can see how they're interacting. The interaction is really crucial. We're not doing surgery here, yet. We're doing, will this work? And sometimes, what I like to do is, sometimes what you can do is have the layer that you're combining on 50% opacity and start to work the Liquefy tool, and you can start to, if there are splashes that look like they combine really well, you can start to see that, you can edge it towards each other and it's really easy if you have two streams of things, you can liquefy one to be thinner and then seamlessly grab it and then use the brush. I approach Photoshop literally as if I have a canvas and a soft paintbrush. That's exactly how I do it. Sometimes I really go in and edge stuff out where it needs to be edged out, but it's easier to find mistakes when you do that. Also, when you see the background, I'm not too concerned about the crosshatching you're seeing in the background. You can go, what you can do is actually, when I get a lot of that in a background that's really edgy and it's not helping the image, I'll actually create a general surface blur layer. I'll do a filter and a very mild surface blur, and then I'll go in and I'll paint areas around, very softly, to kind of just tone it down a little bit so it's not so obvious. I love texture in backgrounds, but some of these backgrounds have been used a lot and they have gashes in them and they have, and that may not be appealing and it might take away and say what is that? Really I just want sort of a soft textured background, so it might come, it might be that it comes to that, so right now, Jack's blending in the splash layer and we'll kind of see, does that work? So we get all the pieces working, and then we'll come back and we'll do any surgery where there's inaccuracies in their mask. So I've pulled the edge of the splash layer in, being very careful where I'm around the main layer, our hero layer, to only work with very low opacity so that I'm not pulling in too much of it and knocking out the original, original splashes. So we now, you know, we've added this extra splash up in the top, and we wanted to bring in that extra power that that shows, so we brought this additional layer into the bottom. And so these splashes in here look a little whiter than the splashes we were seeing with other things so I'm gonna turn that layer opacity down just a little bit to bring them back, a little more translucent, a little more towards the gray and copper colors. Okay. Now, let me know when I need to get more technical as far as direction, too. Yeah, just tell me what you want. I think the lower left, there's some splashes in the lower left that wouldn't necessarily be there if you thrust it, however, these are accurate because you do see, in the middle of the image, you're seeing a lot of downward drips of the liquid that would result in potentially some splashes, so you always have to think, what would really happen? And when you're blending two layers, you're blending two different things that happened in two different ways, so anything you blend in has to at least add to and/or make sense and if it doesn't, you get rid of it. So I feel like that's better, where at least there's a little bit coming off where it's coming out, but you don't want, you have to actually think about physics. How fast would this be going in real life? And now that we added a whole other upper right element, obviously there was more force involved to create that amount of volume coming out of that pot, so we have to be very careful about anything that's just casually dripping downward because that wouldn't necessarily occur if it were going that fast. So as I'm going, I'm making sure to rename my layers to something that makes sense, so that later, I've got these eight layers in here and I don't want to come back and have to toggle visibility on and off a bunch to find what layer I need to edit. I want to just be able to read my layer names and say, okay, this layer here is the bottom splash. I can turn it on, turn it off, right away, and know, okay, yeah, that's what that's doing. So I'm just looking at people's reactions in the chatroom, and Tina from Milwaukee has pointed out, and I can't really tell from where I'm looking, is there a bit of the pan on the top right hand side, from that particular shot, or of the stock pot? Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, there's some. There definitely is. We just, this is our rough. Right. Blocking in, so we're trying to figure out, are these gonna work with each other? And we'll come back and spend probably a couple hours going through this at 100% zoom, bit by bit, to find all of the little extra drips that we don't want, the stock pot in the upper right that we probably don't want. But if, for instance, there is a nice, the good thing is there's a clean edge around that shrimp and the water that is easy to allow us to cut it out. Sometimes it gets a little messy and it really is, it takes a lot of time to get rid of. This is a very clean edge, a very easy thing to get rid of, so we would just use, you know. I tend to work a lot by hand. I don't do a lot of cutouts, I do a lot of soft, soft cutout work. You can see when we flip that, that it really is. Another thing you can do if, since we flipped it, you'll see the mismatch in the background, but sometimes you can sample, you can take a sample if not use the clone tool, you can use a solid color, you can take a sample with your eyedropper tool and just paint that color back into it, with a very soft brush, but it gets to be tedious, that's the reason. One of the reasons I warned everybody about not flipping your image, is because of this, because of the way we work, is very natural, and this forces us into being very technical, which I don't like to do always, but because we don't have the number of shots to go through and say, this will definitely fit, that's why I suggest when you're at home, take the time to just shoot and shoot and shoot, but get enough valuable images, and when you go into Photoshop, come armed with, take longer than we had, but get a lot of different images that you will definitely, we backed ourself into a corner because we only had, we had no shots of food on the right hand side and that's usually something we'll notice and fix, but it is nice that we're having to struggle with that a little bit and see what we can do because I've had numerous times where it was, especially when you're starting out and you don't have all of your ducks in a row and you're getting overwhelmed by just the act of actually producing these images, that you can forget to capture things in the right places, and if you're a Photoshop guru, you might not even work that way and flipping this won't even be an issue, and for Jack, it's really not. We can make pretty much anything happen. I just don't like to put the effort into Photoshop that doesn't need to be put into Photoshop. So I just threw a quick Curves layer on a clipping mask and adjusting primarily grays, because I noticed that the gray of that corner was much darker when we flipped it, so I sort of lightened those grays up a little bit which helps balance out the difference between the two, the two corner lights, so that as we're looking at it, we're not seeing quite such a big difference. So let's look at some of these other layers that we had. Hmm. That, you know. Let's try something, let's just mess around. We have the time to do it, and I feel like we should just... Can this be, can we cut this out or blend it or do something? I like this. Yeah, where do you want it to go? I want it in the lower right hand quadrant kind of going off of... Coming out like that? Let's rotate, though. This one will have to rotate a bit and I'll tell you when it's too far and it would look ridiculous. That's about as far as you can go right there. If I were to actually rotate that all the way, you know that with cross lighting, you can get away with a lot more, but let's say you don't want to, I still feel like the stream that's coming in, the smaller part of the stream, could be liquified upwards a little bit. You know how it comes in, it seems to come down and I feel like we could actually create another arc if we just liquefy a little bit. Do you want to edge that up? Yeah, so, let's pull it into liquefy. Kind of create up, and then up again so it blends better, because right now that looks like it's originating from a lower source. So we'll pull all this up. And with the Liquefy tool, it's important to remember to start, I tend to start large and get smaller if I need to, and just nudge it, really gently. This is one thing where you're damaging pixels every time you do this, so every time, unless it's a smart object, you're starting to damage the pixels and so it's important to just kind of keep mindful. You're also, every time you warp, especially with the Puppet warp, you're stretching and it's obvious. When you blow this up, when we do an ad, we're blowing this up to a massive size so that sometimes people will look at it from very close. There is no hiding, just like in landscape photography, you can't put, you can't take a tree out and then stick it somewhere else, and have somebody be convinced that that happened in front of you. It's just that detailed, so when you're doing stuff in a smaller format, there's so much more leeway, and so much more, there will be images that I worked on a long time ago that I thought were great. I zoomed into a hundred and I just, ugh. So. (laughing) It's a process of learning. That's good, that looks like it fits, and so we'll drag it over an existing kind of clump of... Yeah, so we got that existing stream right here, so when we put this in here, it looks like it has a reason to originate from that spot, rather than being just totally random, like if we had just tossed it there. Although it doesn't look bad. I actually kind of like it maybe coming through here. Can that be, what are your thoughts on that? No, I mean, we can pull it, if we pull it in here, then it comes out from behind this splash right here, and that, again, you know, it has something anchoring it. Let's do that. Yeah, so. Let's try it. This is always an interesting thing to try to mask in. So for now we're gonna rough it, rough it in. Now, what I do, this is my technique. What I do when I have a splash that has certain areas that are really flat and opaque, you can see through them or they're translucent, anything that's behind it will obviously show, so what I tend to do is, I'll brush in the inside area of the splash with about a 40% opacity or something like that to create the illusion of transparency. You can't take that to the outer edges. You need those to remain sharp, so what I'll do is I'll just add little specks here and there, of some speculars of any intense color that happens to fall behind. So if a lemon were behind this by any chance, I would. You can see that when we zoom in on this lemon area, there's a little streak of yellow where that splash is occurring. That needs to happen, you need to allow for that, and that can be brushed in later, so I'm very painterly in my approach. This may not be for everyone. Everyone might be shaking their heads going, my god. Use the pen tool, for the love of god. (laughing) Just the way I approach it is, I actually photograph for how I Photoshop, which is very... and he'll come in and do some heavy lifting too, and if I have the time, I can do it. Yeah, so you can see how we've been working with some lower opacity brushes and a little bit of precision to work this edge where it, you've got that hard edge coming through off of the splash, but then you can still see your piece of corn through it, because you know that this is a transparent liquid. Yeah, this takes some finessing, for sure. There's also a method that people will use called luminosity based layers, or luminosity based masks, and it's where you take certain portions of the highlights and the brighter portions, and start to stack. You just stack those layers over and over again, and it allows you, it creates a convincing look, but it tends to be with soft linens and things that you can see through that are brighter. With liquids, it's just a lot of grunt work. This is just painstaking, we're almost painting our image and sometimes it doesn't work, so we have to back off and say, just can't do that. Or we could go behind the lemon, or we could go behind, it tends to be when I do layers, I'll actually drop in splashes, additional ones behind stuff, to conceal it. Yeah, and so, you know, I'm looking at this now and it just, it feels a little weird, how it is, so if we go back, zoom back in, and let's decide that it's going behind the existing stuff, so we're gonna... Now, we can make this happen, but it would take at least two hours, maybe an hour in Photoshop to really make it convincing. You would have to actually add material to this. We would have to add white highlights. It would be very... There's nothing you can't do, it's just how, what does our time allow, especially if it's personal work. How much time do you want to spend on it? And is there a solution that would make it better just by doing this? So now that it's going behind, the whole thing has to go behind, obviously, but... So we've got to sort of look at where stuff is, so we've got this that's already interacting with this splash, so we're gonna pull it, pull that away, turn the layer off for a second, look, okay, we've got this splash right in here. And I can't tell you how important it is to work in as few layers as possible because you all have already seen how complex just two interacting together is. When you have three and you miss, let's say there's a chunk of a mask that you miss, so there's like a chunk of lemon somewhere that you just, because you got sloppy. You can go through layers just trying to find that chunk that you missed, so it's important to work slowly and build it layer by layer with the most, the volume, the most value of volume of objects for that particular layer going first, and then if there's a layer that has just one little component, you can do that last, no problem. So now, we've, let's pull some brightness back into this because we had transparentized it earlier, and I don't think that's an actual word, but... Transparentized? Yeah. Yeah. Is it? No. (laughing) Internet, is that a word? (laughing) Transparentized. So now we've gotten it blended so that it's still a pretty rough blend, but, it looks much more realistic now that we're putting it entirely behind the existing splash. Yeah, I'm just noticing a little bit on that layer that you've been working on, the slight difference in cloudiness, in the liquids. Is there anything that can be done for that in this situation? I think maybe it just was the broth that was mixing with all of the food and then when you went back to do the later shot, it was clear, totally clear, and I see a little bit of that in the striations. In the upper right of the image? Yeah, yeah. The bigger band that you see. Oh, the bigger band, yeah, yeah. And that one seems really clear to you? It's almost like stretching out, I mean, anything that's in a paper, that's a paper-thin layer. That's like blowing a bubble. Any color in that will vanish, even if you spray, if you throw red wine, it will get a little bit of a tint, but it's way brighter. We saw yesterday, there was an image where we had jelly and the jelly in the jar was almost, really dark, it was really dark, and the stuff spread out on the toast was bright and really colorful. The same thing happens, but it's gonna help, it's gonna help the image, I think, when we're gonna do a little dodging kind of in the upper right to bring some vibrance back into it. It's gonna match a little bit more, but anytime that you have a really strong stream of something that's spread out further, it's just gonna be, appear, as the color of the background, essentially. There's no way around that. And do you find that pleasing, or awkward? What's your take on it, artistically? Maybe it's, oh. (laughing) I'm not sure, maybe it was just because I saw it beforehand, you know, the process of it, that I'm noticing it. I might not even pay attention to it if I were just seeing it. The funniest thing about Photoshop is that you see, when you see somebody produce the image in Photoshop, you see all the errors, and even if you're really good at Photoshop and you just walk by a billboard that maybe we've done, you won't see them. It's a weird thing, when you see it in action, you can see the method, but we try and work really hard to make sure it does blow up to 100%. You can even get stuck in this. That's why we work on big monitors typically in the studio, it's because, you could zoom in to 50%, but it really gives you a dramatic look at the actual, how the actual print would look. If you work on a laptop, you can get sucked into a false sense of security, and it's important to zoom in a lot and zoom out and zoom in, but it gets a little tiring after a while working that way. It just depends on your end use. If this is for your website and only for your website, and maybe, but I would suggest selling this stuff to stock or your own stock or, these have, these images have value if they're interesting to people, so I wouldn't just discard them as just, so you want to create images that are gonna be 100% whether you think they are or not, and really work the detail, that's why we hand paint every single mask that we do. We don't use a lot of cutouts because it forces us to slow down and think about the image and what we're doing. We're not doing catalog work here where we have to know every shortcut and do it. We're creating a piece of, single piece of art or maybe a series of four, so we have the time to be really finessed and slow it down and be really strong, but yeah, anything that we see, there's not much we can do in regards to the translucency. We are gonna brighten some of this because it looks a little muddy, and especially on that monitor, it does, so we're gonna add a little dodging to that to brighten it, later on, but that's a very final step where we start to really get into the details. We'll actually go in and we'll do some healing brush work and making everything look really perfect because I feel like when you have a splash image, every piece of produce has to be 100% perfect, no blemishes, just in my opinion, because there's so much going on that your eye doesn't have time to take it in and really enjoy the fact that it's a different style tomato to a point, I really feel like you don't want it to be a mess, and we found that out when we were doing the vegetable splash with the, you know, the milk cascading down. We were designing all these really gorgeously seared products. We wanted it to look like soup was going into a pot, and they loved, the client loved the raw vegetables way better. They were clean cut, they looked clean, and so when the milk went over it, it wasn't distracting you, it didn't look like a mess. It could look like a disaster in a hurry, so you want the products in there, so we go in and clone and heal everything to perfection, usually, so. So we'll keep working our way through the different layers we've added, so, we know that this one is our additional chunks so we're gonna save that til we've blended other layers in, but we can go up to this one and sort of say, well, is there anything that's gonna add now that we know we're layering them on top? I think we're, I mean, well, hold on. So those are, that's a 50/50? This is, yeah. This is about 50/50. And go back to the non hero. All right, yeah. Those mussels are, let's put those mussels in. Do you think? Yeah. Yeah. So we'll just throw a quick mask on. I held down Alt while I created that mask, so that we could see just the, we creat a black mask instead of a white mask because instead of needing to brush everything out, I can just turn my mask off real quick, say okay, there's where my mussels are, and go brush them back in really quickly. Look at those mussels. (laughing) And so I did a real rough mask. And this might be one where we do, I mean, I wouldn't mind using the magic wand on this, or a pencil or something. This might be one where I... But I don't think the background's too much different. No, the background's not too much different, so I'm gonna go with sort of a medium hardness brush. I roughed it in, zoom back in, and sort of just close it up on these. Get a, get my mask pretty tight. So if you are someone who really loves using the pen tool or is very much into selections and it's its own can of worms, it's important to remember that even though we are capturing sharp images here from front to back, or attempting to do so, it's important that when you refine the edge of any sort of selection that you make, that you do add a little bit of buffer or softness to the edge, just a little bit. You can't, if you have an image with perfectly sharped edges, it's going to stand out like a sore thumb. That's one of the reasons that I don't work that way, but, it's just as easy to create a selection and then just to use a little bit of softness on the edge and refine edge tool, so. Let's finish it up, I mean, so we obviously, you know, if you know Photoshop, you'll know where to take this. You'll know how to clean it up. You'll know to create really clean interfaces between the different layers.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Food In Motion Lighting Setups

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Capturing Food In Motion Gear List

Ratings and Reviews


This course is so fun to watch! I love how hands-on this course is even while watching it 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. I love how Steve Hansen is like a mad scientist just throwing food everywhere just to capture the "right moment". It's great to watch a professional at work especially the behind-the-scenes that we normally won't ever know just by look at the final product. It's amazing how much work goes into this and actually gets me excited to try my hands on capturing food in motion as well - first need to find a place that allows me to get it messy :D I do prefer this type of course set up than the lecture-style some of the other courses are.

Christy cwood56

This course will NOT disappoint! So much quality info that can really help a photographer move to the next level. To see the actual shoots with food flying everywhere and how to capture all of it and turn it into an incredibly stunning image is worth every penny of the price tag. To spend an afternoon with Steve on a one to one basis would cost more than most of us could afford but that is exactly what this class offers! We see into the mind of an incredible artist and his creative process. This class has been invaluable to my personal education as a photographer. There is so much here and I will continually come back to it again and again to learn and refine my techniques and images. You opened up a world of possibilities to me with this class! Thanks Steve!!!

a Creativelive Student

I attended this class in person and I found it to be wonderful. Steve is awesome at what he does and he is great at explaining what he is doing and why he is doing it. This course will lay out all the steps needed to help you create awesome splash and crash photography. I highly recommend it.

Student Work