Silly, but Simple, Composites

By Roger (18 October 2015)

My kids and grandkids have been photographed since birth. I have thousands of photos of these people. Our family loves having photos of them growing and changing, but, eventually,  the kids all go through a stage in which they're reluctant models.

They ignore me when I'm shooting candids, but getting them to pose for "nice" photos becomes more difficult as they get older. There are times I need to cajole and bribe them to sit for yet another photo. What do you do? You need to come up with some new ideas that they think are fun to keep them engaged.

Luckily, they've seen me working in Photoshop, so they've seen me changing pixels. Why does this matter? Well, now they can think up ideas for goofy photos that they'll enjoy being part of. That's the method I used to get them into these demonstration photos.

Long intro, I know, but let's get into the very basic steps of making some very simple composites, using two or more merged photos.

If you look online, you can find many great examples of composite photography. The information is in all the usual place: online and some good books. The latest book I've been reading is from Glyn Dewis -  Glyn's book, The Photoshop Workbook, is comprehensive and highly recommended, but we're not talking about that high-end stuff today. I'm going to keep this very simple.

That fall looks bad.

You need to do a little prior planning before you start your session. Think about what you want the final photo to look like. Find your background and point of view before you begin. You want to keep the lighting and lens' focal length consistent for the best results. You'll need to align your photos in post-processing, so I strongly recommend a tripod.

I started with the background photo of the steps leading up from our basement. When we had that photo in the can, we threw in a chair; a grandkid who knew how to fake a frightened look; and pushed the self-timer on the camera. We did it in only three takes.

Behind the scenes

Now, we get to the computer for a little (very little) magic in Photoshop. Open the two photos, as separate layers. Although the camera was on a tripod and didn't move, I aligned the layers (Edit > Auto Align Layers) to be sure.

You have to hide all those unnecessary objects in the stairway. If you're never going to use the model's in any other photos, put the empty stairs as the bottom layer; add a black mask to the top photo with your model; and, with a white brush on the black layer mask, reveal the falling girl. Simple.

You don't want to overdo these kinds of photos, but, if you ever intend to make several others, I'd use a better method to isolate your model. You would extract the model from the background, and save it for another day, another scene. The next time you want to put the model into another composite, you won't have to redo all that work. You never know when it might come in handy.

All you need to do to make this happen is take a single photo. For this one, let's use a Darth Vader look-alike, holding balloons that will carry him away.

Standing on a stool to keep the cape straight

Duplicate the background layer. Use your selection and masking techniques to conceal the background. When you have the mask complete, right-click on the layer mask and choose Apply Layer Mask. The mask will disappear and leave only the part of the photo you wanted. Turn off the bottom background layer, and you'll see an image with transparency, like this:

Now, you have the ability to put your model into any photo you wish, even if it makes no sense. In fact, it's probably more fun for them if it is just plain silly. We're just goofing off here.

What a strange bird

The kids can have fun, thinking up poses and looking for just the right background in your photo database. You get to have fun making photos and learning new Photoshop techniques. And, the next time you ask them to pose for a regular photo, they'll be much more cooperative.

Fairy Tale Huntress