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Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Lesson 8 of 12

Create Photoshop Libraries, Brushes And Overlays From Your Photographs

Karen Alsop

Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Karen Alsop

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Lesson Info

8. Create Photoshop Libraries, Brushes And Overlays From Your Photographs
Transform your photographs of water, smoke and mist into Photoshop Brushes and Overlays and keep them in your Photoshop Library for easy access. Learn about overlays and blending modes and how to choose the best blending mode for your image.

Lesson Info

Create Photoshop Libraries, Brushes And Overlays From Your Photographs

I love atmosphere working with atmosphere and adding it to my composites. Really takes the image from Blitt Amazing. Now I am going to show you how to use atmosphere in a few different ways. So the first will be how to convert or make your atmosphere as an overlay and how to use that in Photoshop in using blending modes to bring out just the atmosphere and drop out that black background that we shot on. I'm also going to show you how to create a Photoshop brush from an atmosphere shot and I've included the images that I'm using to demonstrate with for your practice and also that brush that we're creating right now. Finally, I'm going to show you how to use photoshopped libraries so that you can access your atmosphere shots anytime on any device and you can pull them in from your library while they've been trying to search for them and exporting them out again. They'll be ready for you. We photographed atmosphere spray and steam. But this method also works with other elements that are s...

imilar. So rain, you know, water spray droplets. So I'll show you how to use those as well from previous images that I've photographed and those are included in your library of materials to use. Now we photographed a lot of different atmospheric elements here. So the first thing I'm going to do is scroll through until I find one that I'd like to use as an overlay. Now they'll all have different looks and so what I'm looking for here is one that's pretty much surrounded by the black. So this one here because it's got black around the edges and it can very easily be masked so that you can't see anyway. Strong square edges when you create the overlap. So I am going to double click this and that is going to take me into Photoshop camera raw. Now like I shared before whenever I can I keep these elements as raw files. So just to go over that again, I've got the settings set up as open in Photoshop as a smart object And 16 bits. So stay like that. Open the object. Now before we do that, let's crop it in. So we get rid of as much as we can in camera. Now I do want to leave a little bit of the edge there. This there's a bit of light coming from the light there and there's obviously this area here which we need to get rid of. We can do this in camera raw pretty quickly. So I'm going to use the healing brush tool in this section here just to get rid of this light and we'll have that pool from the very dark area there And rather than hell we wanted to clone. So that's good. We've gotten rid of the light. Now we also want to blend this light down so we'll go to our brush where in camera raw and what we're doing with the brush is where bringing down the exposure around the edges, we can make the brush a bit bigger because we really don't want any very rough edges showing up without overlap. If there is a bit of a gray edge, not completely black, it will create an issue with the overlay or with the brush. Now, we're ready to open this in photo shop. Now at the moment there's a lot of detail in this and we could in fact bring that whites up. But that's the flexibility of working in camera raw because we can always go back and change it. But what we want to first do is see how this looks just as an overlay in and of itself. So we're going to drag that across to the image that we created earlier. Now when you first place it is going to have everything there, it's got the black there as well. Now, obviously we want to be able to get rid of that black. But keep the white blending modes are really, really powerful. There's a bunch of different ones that you can try out, but when you have a look, they're actually sectioned so you can see the sections and what they do where dark and we'll get rid of the white and the lights. So this this these areas here, get rid of the lights and the whites and this section here, lighten screen color dodge linear dodge lighter color or get rid of the blacks in the middle here that gets rid of the greys. So overlay, soft, light, hard light. So let's use this section here and have a look at what it does. Lighten looks. Okay. Screen brings in some of the whites that are over the lighter areas. So whereas Lighten only brings those lights over the dark areas and color dodge. Well in this case, color dodge really is not showing up. So we bring it up to the sky and we placed over those brighter areas in the clouds and those lighter areas, you can see what sort of effect it has. But over the darker areas, it doesn't have as much of an effect. And then linear dodge. So just have a play with that. Put the movie images and see what it does because I find that every image requires a different approach and knowing what each of these do really helps you to choose the right one. Okay, now, most often than not, I do go with screen because I find it gives them the most natural result and it's really sort of looking like a fog or a mist or a smoke pays their it's as easy as that. Now, if you want really quick access to your overlays that you create. I highly recommend using libraries. Now I have so many libraries set up and they give me access to things like skies and overlays. So I often use clouds as overlays. They give me access to brushes that I've created. And also images and brushes and overlays that I've created in my iphone app in adobe capture. There are things like animal overlays which are all different for textures. So these are things that I reference all the time. That is what you want to use this for. I've got a free sky set that I give away on my story, our education site and I've actually added these two my libraries so that I can very quickly just add them to an image by placing it like that. To create the overlays, you need to make sure that it's not a raw file because you will come up with an alert could not create elaborate graphic because camera raw files and files with camera settings cannot be added. So what I recommend you doing is creating a rest arised version and pulling that in once that's in there. You could actually undo that pasteurization and go back in and create a new version of this overlay. Maybe one that has more whites. So really boost the contrast press Ok. Restaurant, is that? And add that in as well. Of course you can rename all of these in your library too. Now we've got both of those in there and they're ready to add anywhere at any time. So I can then drag that in place it and change my settings as I need to. Let's take a look at turning this overlay into a Photoshop brush once it's a Photoshop brush, you can add a whole lot of different settings so that you can basically paint in a cloud or fog and have it so that it changes as it moves like that other brush that I showed you that was the read we've got now are file it's rast arised and it's ready to turn into a brush. Now if you've ever done this before, you may notice that it currently has this great out D phone brush preset. Great out. The reason for this is that you can't have a file that is bigger than 2000 pixels on the longest side. So all we need to do is actually change our image size to 2000 impress. Okay now when we go to edit, define brush preset it shows us that this is fine, this is going to work. Now can you see though that there's a big white box and there's a black fog area in the middle. We need to invert this so that we're when we're painting with it or masking with it, we're not masking a black box. I'm going to show you what happens when we do it this way. So we're going to edit, define brush preset. We'll save it as overlay test. Now I have a square brush and if I paint with that, that's what I get that's not what you want. So you need to remember to invert and command I is invert and now you can see that it is going to paint like this. Now that problem we've got is if there's any sort of gray, not fully white area on that top section there, it's going to show up on our brush. So really want to clean this up. And one great trick to test that to make sure the edges are completely white is to go to filter other and offset. And if you move that offset, you can see where the edges are right now. You can fix those by editing them and then going back. So if we press Ok, what we want to actually do is make this area whiter. So you could simply paint with white because we're just creating a brush. We're not really worried about destructive editing as such, but I would use a soft brush here and a low flow so you can build up on it. So this is something that you won't really see if you're just working up onto the edge of your canvas. Now, if we go back to filter offset we can keep doing it until we don't see any weird edges. So then we go back to other offset. So we're just really moving this around and move it back to the center and then we can clean up these very last areas. Now that we've done that we can go to edit, define brush preset. Now you can see this is going to be a fantastic brush. We'll call it fog cl So creative live and press OK. Now if we go back into here and we create a new layer I can paint with that, I can mask with it. I can do whatever I want with that brush, but it's all going the same direction. So if I start painting it just does this big lobby thing. So the next thing that you do with brushes is you alter them. So you go to window brush settings. We want to space this out so that when we're painting with fog, it's not all one on top of the other. So we space this out there almost touching and then we go to shape dynamics. Now we could have size genesis that means some of them are big, some of them are small. So I'd pull that one up for this one angle. Jeter rotates each time you press it or as you draw it it's moves it around a little bit around this Jeddah changes the whether it's squished or full size. So you could try all of these and then what you need to do is save that as a new brush. Those settings won't hold on that brush that you created. So to save this new setting, we go plus and then that's the one that I'm providing to you in the class. So if I now go down to my new brush settings, you can see this folk cl and fog cl final. So don't get confused. Delete the first one. It is a two step process, prayed in a layout. So now you can see the kind of effect it moves, it rotates and it changes size so it creates this fog, this atmosphere wherever you want it. You can use this to paint, you can use it to mask, you can use it to add in adjustment layers. So brushes have a lot of flexibility. So the steps to creating a r make a black and white image, make sure there's no edges that you can see. So no slightly great areas have it inverted. If you've photographed something on black and you're wanting the white to be the brush, you need to invert it so that it's black on white, Make sure that your pixels, the widest length is under 2000 pixels. And then turn it into a brush and then make your adjustments. Save that as your new brush. That new and final brushes, the one you keep in my homeless penguins piece, I added rain. Rain can be one of those things that are hard to photograph outside, but you can really replicate that when you photograph that inside against the black backdrop in very much the same way that I photographed the steam and the atmosphere spray spray the water bottle, capture the water droplets going through the air with that black background and the lights that really results in a whole lot of different effects. Now, sometimes you'll find that if you photograph on a fast shutter speed, those droplets are not moving there frozen. So I'm gonna show you how to use a shot like that and then use motion blur to change the direction of the droplets to match the look that you're going for. So over here in my homeless penguins piece, you might be able to see the rain that is cascading down from the side. It's, it's a, it's rough season, there's a lot of rain there. So if I go into my library, my Photoshop library and I go to photograph of the rain that I've got here and I dropped that in and I'll provide this file for you as well. I would then want to make it look like it's actually moving rather than frozen. So the first thing I do is hold down shift so it changes the shape of that overlay and then I make sure it's over the whole thing. Now at the moment, if I change this to be a blending mode, like I showed you before screen color dodge, linear dodge, They all work except that it looks like a splash instead of the rain coming down. So you can use an adjustment like filter blair and motion blair to change the angle of the rain. So I'm going to make it look like it's coming down from that angle and the distance is really how fast that reigns traveling or even how slow the shutter speed was. So now I have rain and I can put it in any direction I want and it really looks like that reigns cascading down. Of course I would paint it off certain areas and make it probably not as overpowering. And in my final file I've done a whole lot of work to it, but that is the method that you can use to create a bit of movement in your atmosphere. Over lace in the next segment, we'll take some of the other elements that we photographed outside earlier, like the cracks in the concrete, and I'll show you how to turn them into textures and use them as overlays as well. So there's a few different ways we can approach that because they're not white on black. They are different in their tones. And so I'm gonna show you how you can use those in your composites.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 


  • Photograph textures, atmosphere and elements that you can use in composites.
  • Easily manage your own photo stock library.
  • Shoot miniatures and focus stack.
  • Supersize phone photos and use them in your composites.
  • Create photoshop patterns and brushes.
  • Photograph costumes and dress your subjects in Photoshop.
  • Find creative ways to make anything possible.


There is nothing like the feeling of creating art from your own images. Purchased stock can be a valuable resource, but it shouldn’t be the first solution when you are working on a creative composite.

Learn how to creatively photograph elements that become other elements in a composite. Turn miniatures into life sized elements. Photograph incredible costumes and dress your subjects in Photoshop. Create brushes, textures and patterns from photos that you can use over and over again. Be resourceful and creative in your hunt for elements, and take your compositing to the next level.

These techniques will open up a world of possibilities for your image creation, where anything is possible.


  • Composite Photographers who would like to expand their creativity
  • Photographers that would like to take a leap into the compositing world
  • Anyone that is looking for fresh and unique ways to bring their imaginations to life


Adobe Photoshop 2021 (22.5.0)
Lightroom CC (4.4)
Adobe Bridge 2021


Karen Alsop is an internationally acclaimed Melbourne, Australia-based photographic digital artist. Expanding on two decades of photographic and graphic design experience, Karen brings photography and art together to create stunning artworks that tell a story and take the viewer into another world.

Specializing in Portrait Art, her digital portraiture captures the personality and character of her subjects by placing them within a visual story highlighting their interests. Karen uses the power of Photoshop to composite multiple captures together, making the impossible possible within her art.

Karen's latest project sees her using her compositing skills to give children with severe disabilities the wings to fly. The Heart Project, a joint partnership between Story Art and The Sebastian Foundation is bringing hope worldwide to children and families through the power of photography.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Story Art Education Offer

Actions and Brushes

Camera Files


Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Charlene Mitchell

WOW! I'm not familiar with Karen's work so this was a wonderful surprise! Loved the detail she included in her instruction and her passion shows through in every topic! So many tips and tricks to help 'sell' the finished piece as believable - details I wouldn't have thought of. Going to check out her other class on CL and also her website!

Melissa Helland

Can’t tell you how much I appreciate all I’ve learned from this teacher. Wonderful classes here on Creative Live and her site has even more learning opportunities. Worth every penny of my Creative Live membership just for this class alone!

Cristina Menor

Karen is an excellent teacher. Her lessons are always very well explained and very easy to understand and to follow. You will learn lots of valuable tips. I absolutely recommend this class if you want to learn how to create incredible compositions very near to reality.