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Creating Dream-like Composites with Photoshop

Every Sunday night, we take a family adventure. Most of the photos that you see on my website are from different hikes or walks throughout the state of Utah. We take a camera, we stay in our Sunday best and go out to document a few moments together. We look at scenery, take advantage of the weather and my husband and I sometimes use it as an excuse to to get myself in a few photos to prove my existence for future generations. Plus, every now and again, my daughter will pick up the camera…which I LOVE.

This time, we had something fun in mind that needed the magic of Photoshop to carry out the final vision. The final photo would end up being a number of different photos composited together. In other words, this type of photo is called a “composite”. And I want to teach you how to do it.

The Tripod

When you composite photos together, it’s absolutely best if you keep the camera in the same position when making the numerous layers of your composite. This helps for objects, lighting and perspective to line up properly in photoshop.

Usually when you create a composite, the “pros” tell you to make sure you are using a tripod. Well this “pro” is telling you that there are ways around it if you don’t have a tripod. Since I didn’t pack a tripod, I had to go with a plan B. It was either set my camera on the ground or on a rock and use a timer or use a reliable human tripod . I usually just use my humans….aka my 9-year-old daughter.

The photo she takes usually ends up all over the place but when I set up the lighting, the camera settings and then show her what the plan of attack is, she actually does pretty well.

The Background Layer

Just like a cartoon or Disney movie, you must have the background layer to place your characters on. So when you set up your “tripod” and adjust your camera settings, you must keep them on the same settings through every photo layer you take and keep the camera in the same spot to the very best you can. Here’s my background.

The Body

The general theme that I was hoping for with this “self portrait” was a shot of a falling woman. So unless I actually fell for the camera, multiple times, bruised up my body and fought through the pain, it would be hard without something to hold my body up at an angle. And that’s when my big handsome fella comes in handy.

I held up my hair so I could throw in more movement in the hair later in photoshop. From here, I utilized the “Quick Selection” tool in photoshop to cut out on the parts that I wanted to paste onto my background layer.

I then hit “Command C” on my Mac to copy and then paste it onto the original background layer.

The Arms, Face & Hair

I’m armless and I need some good flowing hair. So I made sure to have my daughter take a few frames of me flailing my arms and hair into the air. We thought this one would work well.

Obviously, because I was going to cut out the parts that i wanted from this frame, it didn’t matter if a little bear cub was searching for bugs in the background.

I then hit “Command C” to copy and then paste it on my original background layer as well. I also had to utilize very detailed masking and cloning in Photoshop to be sure everything blended and looked as natural as possible.

The Flare

I appreciate a little dramatic lighting every now and then. So I exported this photo onto my phone and utilized an iPhone app called LensDistortions. This app gives me the ability to add fog or different lighting affects for my photos directly from my phone. I dig it. But let me warn you, don’t overdo it. Use it with moderation or else it gets a little too dramatic.

Something that is very important to remember is that you need to place the flare in a place that it would make sense. The sun was coming from the direction behind me over the mountain but the camera wasn’t set to capture the light that way. But my goal was to make the observer think that it was ;)

Creating this photo was quite the family/team effort. Sometimes it takes vision to really pull off a composite due to all the necessary layers that are needed for photoshop. And utilizing my 9-year-old’s shutter-pushing skills and my husband’s superhero strength were both a crucial piece to the emotional fall. And be sure to practice up on your photoshop skills, that makes a huge difference as well.

Have questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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