(Editor’s note: Photofocus author Jason Hahn introduces the core concepts of making textured composites in this article. Part 2 shows how to use them.)

In the digital darkroom, we can take two paths with our images. The first is to use your photo processing software to get your image looking as close to what you saw when you took it. This is your standard digital darkroom workflow, adjusting your exposure, getting rid of dust spots, cropping, etc., with more of a focus on realism.

The second path is to take that photo and transform it into something completely different. It may be combined with other photos as a composite, have various effects applied, and generally will look completely different from what you started with, but in a good way! Here the focus is on creating something new, using your original image only as the first ingredient. This is compositing, combining multiple images and effects to produce an original piece of art. In this article I’ll take you down the second path, introducing how to use Skylum’s new Luminar 2018 to start doing your own composites.  

Core Concepts for Composites

Before we dive into making a composite, there are some core concepts you should be comfortable with.  Not that they are difficult to master, compositing just requires you to think about your images and the creative process a little differently. If you have used Photoshop or other editors before, you may be familiar with the concepts of layers, masks, blending and opacity, the same concepts are used in Luminar. But a refresher is always a good idea!


Layers are your project’s building blocks, imagine them as sheets of glass we stack over each other. Your original image starts as the bottom layer. Over, this you stack other panes of glass, each with its own characteristics which you have complete control over. You choose whether it’s transparent or opaque, what parts of it are visible, how it interacts with the layers below it, and if it hides or reveals layers beneath it. You can add more images as layers, or add adjustment layers that are used only to apply effects to the layers below them.

The great thing about adjustment layers is they work by making changes on a transparent layer, separate from your original image. They change the appearance of pixels underneath without actually permanently changing or deleting any of them. Again, think of our layers of glass. If I lay a red piece of glass over a clear one, from above it will look like the clear one is also red. But it isn’t, it just appears that way because of the red layer above it. At any time I can throw out that red one, and have my original clear glass back, nothing has been permanently changed.


Opacity controls how visible a layer is, and how much the layer allows other layers below it to show through. Opacity can also be thought of as how “non-transparent” a layer is. The higher the opacity, the more it hides the layers beneath. The lower the opacity, the more transparent the layer becomes, revealing the layers below it.

Not only can layers have opacity, but so can effects and masks. Here, opacity then controls the visibility of the effect, or the density of the mask.


Masks show, conceal, and/or blend the current layer with the layers beneath it. In the example I am using above, I only wanted the horses to appear not the rest of the scene, so I used a mask to hide the background. I also placed other layers over this horse photo, using masks on each to control how they affected the horse layer.


The Blending settings compare your current layer with the layer(s) below it, and make changes to the appearance of the pixels from the combination of the two. Each blend mode makes a specific change, they are grouped together according to the type of change they make; normal, darken, lighten, contrast, etc. In this tutorial we will be using primarily “Multiply”, a darkening blend mode, and its opposite, “Screen”, which lightens.

This image was processed and transformed in Aurora HDR, using the same core concepts as above. Because many tools and features are shared between Aurora and Luminar, understanding them will help you create cool digital art in either.



Like this article? Follow this link to read more of my photo tips and techniques. Jason’s Articles at Photofocus