Blending for Composites in Photoshop

What do you think of when you hear the term "composite"? Lots of hours with the Pen tool cutting out elements or fiddling around with the Refine Edge tool?

Well, one of the ways I sometimes like to create composite images is by blending instead of cutting out. Many of the photographers I follow use this technique, and it is quite straightforward; all you need to do is make sure you plan ahead and have a tripod. Without a tripod, you cannot shoot to blend.

So, how do you shoot to blend? Usually, if you are shooting to blend, this technique will be used when you are shooting on location. You set a point for your tripod, set up the camera, and it stays in that position for the whole shoot. It never moves. Only the elements in your image do.

Take, for example, this image of a classic car I shot. Beforehand, I knew the idea I had in my mind. But to get all the elements in one shot could be challenging. I wanted the owner of the car to be lit from the left by a flash, but I also wanted some fog to look like exhaust fumes at the back of the car for depth, and to also catch some of the light coming from the headlights. To get all this in one shot is not impossible, but it would take time and challenge the sync on my portable flash. An easier way is to focus on the separate elements, shoot each one, and then composite them together in Photoshop. This way, you have far more creative control. You are not capturing a photo, but creating an image. Photography purists probably hate this way of thinking, but our job is to create art with the best composition possible. And we can do this when we have the most control of a situation. And that is when we control each element separately.

 First off, in this image, I started with the background template of the owner, standing with his car, lit by the flash.

I then brought in another image without my assistant. I added a layer mask and inverted it to hide the image. Then, with a brush on medium opacity set to white, I could paint away my assistant.

I then repeated the process for the other elements. Next, I wanted smoke for depth and to enhance the little smoke coming from the exhaust. I added the image with the smoke, inverted the mask, and then painted it in selectively where I wanted it. Again, the process was repeated for the headlight on the left.

And then the headlight on the right.

Here is how the layer masks looked once the composition was how I wanted it.

Blending is a very easy way to composite certain elements. But as I mentioned at the beginning, you have to shoot locked to a tripod with your focus locked in. You cannot change the height or angle of your camera, or blending will not work correctly.

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1 Comment

John Dawson's picture

Nice work!