COMPOSITING SECRETS

Professional image editors give the breakdown on how to improve your creative production skills 1 SHARPEN RAW IMAGES Photographer Dean Bradshaw discusses the importance of this conversion in preproduction 001 I sharpen in three stages: capture sharpening in my RAW converter, creative sharpening to accentuate details and output sharpening, which is dependent on output size and format 002 Maximising dynamic range is an important aspect of the RAW conversion process. For this I use the Shadows and Black Point sliders, and to some extent the Highlights slider 003 Capture sharpening is particularly important for 35mm systems, as most have an anti-aliasing filter that reduces overall sharpness 004 Maintaining shadow detail is very important during the retouching process. Start out with as much as possible without adversely affecting overall contrast 005 To reverse the effects of this filter use deconvolution sharpening, which is engaged automatically in Camera Raw at certain settings gradually —as you approach a Detail value of 50 in the Sharpening module 2 CUT OUT HAIR WITH CALCULATIONS The Calculations option is a hidden gem, unknown to many Photoshop users, that helps to remove models more easily from backgrounds for composite images. This can be found in the Image options and effectively combines two channels into a new Alpha channel. Once inside the Calculations dialog box there are some familiar settings you should activate and you ll discover there are two sources. In nearly all cases set the first Source 1 Channel to Red and the Source 2 Channel to Blue. Inverting the Blue channel will clearly define the hair from the backdrop, which is what you want. Applying either Add or Subtract blending modes complements this effect; in our case Add worked best. In some cases youdiscover all of the hair, or most of it, has been selected. It s not always perfect though, so tweak your Offset value to suit —we ve set ours to-200 in this image. Clicking OK will create your Alpha channel and you can now perfect the hair selection by applying a soft white brush set to Overlay to bring out more highlights, and a soft black brush, again set to Overlay, to fill in the black background. Of course, further Pen Path selection and brushwork will fill in the rest of your model. 3 WORK WITH RAW SMART OBJECTS One of the major factors in professional creative compositing is making the most of a shoot in a controlled environment. However, this doesnmean making sure that every light value is matched over multiple shots. Digital software always finds a way to compensate your light-matching issues, which is great and cost-effective for those of us who just don t have the time or equipment to control an entire setting on a shoot. Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), working in tandem with Smart Objects, is highly useful. When shooting a model against a neutral background you can open your photo in ACR, using native options to achieve a greater exposure and create contrast between the model and the backdrop. Simply hold the Shift key, selecting Open Object. In Photoshop, with your photo as a Smart Object, proceed to make your model selection and apply masks to cut away the original backdrop. Now you can place your model into multiple settings, taking it back into ACR to make further lighting edits. This is a great building block for further effects. 4 COMP IN NEW SKYLINES Master Transform and Clone tools to build the heavens WARPING On most standard landscape photos the sky is way too boring. When placing additional clouds you have to transform them. Warp, under Transform, gives you a lot of avenues to adapt new clouds into the scene. CLONING For improved composition, use the Clone Stamp (S) and Healing Brush (J) tools to erase undesired elements, extending yourclouds over their original size. Opt/Alt-cLick the area you want to copy. Now paint over the edges and objects that don t fit. TRANSFORM Keep an eye on the overall composition and transform the added clouds again, using Transform>Warp or Distort. It s important that the clouds have a common light source in order to make them fit together, otherwise the final image looks faked. 5 WORK WITH SCALE AND BLURS When creating a composite it s always important to maintain as much flexibility as possible, so masks are the best option. First mask out all the people to be placed and move them into the new image document. When placing subjects into a background it s vital to think about how you would have shot the photo. For instance, consider the angles and proportions you would be shooting from and then begin to place people and scale according to what best suits. It s a good idea to create a vanishing point and use it for scaling your subjects. When you feel good about the mask, duplicate the layer, flatten it to remove the mask and just leave the subject as it is. Once you have all of the subjects placed and set, begin to apply the Blur tool, with the Mode set to Normal, Strength at 25%, and blur the edges of the subjects. In a photograph there are rarely hard edges and a soft edge is much more believable. 6 LAYER VINTAGE COLOURS ADD EDGE LIGHT Opt/Alt-click the New Layer icon, adding a clipping mask to your subject. Cmd/Ctrl-click your subject layer, creating a selection then inverting it. Fill the selection with white and deselect. Using arrow keys, nudge the light into view. Blur, mask or lower the opacity of unwanted edges. COLOUR EFFECTS Apply vintage colour by applying an adjustment layer and selecting Gradient Map. Choose the gradient colours shown here and apply a Color blending mode. Add texture to the piece by placing a grunge effect over your composite and set a Soft Light blending mode. ADD IN GLOBAL NEUTRALISE COLOUR Isolate your subject with the Pen tool and place it into the composition. Opt/Alt-click the adjustment layer icon from the Layers palette, choosing Hue/Saturation. Activate the Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask option and lower the saturation of your subject. 7 CREATE CONTENT-AWARE CUTOUTS One of the major principles in compositing is achieving the cleanest cutouts possible. But not every case will need you to then place these into a new backdrop. Sometimes, usually within creative retouching, you need to rescale and reposition a model in an existing background. This is made easy with the Transform and Content-Aware Fill options. In this case we have a model against a grungy background. This is a great example to see how well Content-Aware Fill handles. First, make a selection of your model using whatever feels most precise, in this case the Magic Wand set to a tolerance of 10. Invert your selection (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+I) and duplicate your model to a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl+J). Reactivate your model selection by holding Cmd/Ctrl and clicking your duplicate layer thumbnail. Activate your original image layer and press Shift+F5 or choose Edit>Fill. Now set Content Use to Content-Aware. Once this option has been automated it will have filled in the backdrop by pulling in and cloning details from surrounding areas, and in most cases wonneed retouching. All you now have to do is select your model layer, rescale, position and even warp with the Puppet Warp tool. You can easily fix any background artefacts with feathered selections and more Content-Aware Fill commands. This is a great way to reposition models before traditional retouching and photo editing in your personal projects. 8 BUILD COMPLEX PANORAMAS When I m putting my large-format panoramic images together, I never use any auto-stitching software. I much prefer to take the time to slowly combine the many shots manually. I copy and paste new images at a 50% Opacity to my main canvas, then carefully position them to join with the main image using the Free Transform tool. When in place I add a layer mask and use a white brush to paint through the detail I need from this new image. Working this way enables me to do much more than just capture the scene as it was in front of me; I can also rebuild it in the shape I want. By being creative with the Free Transform tool and careful with my layer masks I can construct a flow that leads viewers’eyes around the image. I can also make good decisions about the composition and shape of the image while working on the postproduction back at my studio. This way of working can also be extended to creating entirely imagined views and landscapes. By bringing shots together from many shoots I can use the real world to create completely fictional views and scenes, almost like remixing reality. 09 9 BUILD EXPOSURE WITH BLENDING MODES Julien Morel explains the creation of this commissioned image for Fotolia s Ten Collection 001 I lay a grey colour layer over the cat, setting an Overlay blending mode, then hollowing the ribs using the Dodge and Burn tools 002 After cleaning some image elements, I duplicate a layer and blur it to eliminate the flaws. I then add a Noise layer set to Soft Light to integrate the elements 003 To simulate a Flemish-inspired look, I ve applied several adjustment layers with different blending modes, such as a blue-to-yellow gradient in Color mode 004 To lift the design from the black background, I use three different dark blue layers set to Screen mode with varying opacity levels and an overall texture 10 LEVITATION EFFECTS WITH PHOTOSHOP MASKING Levitation photos usually consist of two simple layered photographs, one of the subject on a stool or ladder, and one of an empty background. With the subject layer arranged in the palette stack on top of the background, add a layer mask to the subject and then use the Pen tool to select the area around the stool. Delete the selected area with Select>Modify> Feather set to 2px. You may notice in your image that there are discrepancies in toning or shading between the subject and background layers, made apparent by the hole you just created. To fix this, lightly apply the Dodge and Burn tools to the background layer at around 15% Exposure, using a large brush at 0 Hardness. The goal is to create a seamless transition between the two layers so that no evidence of the stool remains in the final image. Any additional blemishes can be cleaned up using the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush tools. To add realism, incorporate a shadow by flattening the layers and using the Burn tool set to Midtones at around 25% Exposure and brushing in the area underneath the subject. At this point, the image can be edited like any photograph, and any additional toning or effects are up to you. 11 COMPOSITE FIRE EFFECTS When applying fire to a subject, itbest practice to gather a variety of fire images —the more images the better. A lot of the time youonly need a small section of the image, but itgood to have more options with various heights, colours and lengths. Once you ve chosen the burning object, you need to drop the fire images in above the subject. To get the fire to blend, apply either the Overlay, Screen or Lighten blending modes to the image layer, which will make it seem transparent and fit nicely with the subject below. It also helps to brush sections of the fire back in or out using a layer mask. You can duplicate the background layer, apply the Distort>Glass Filter and brush it in behind the subject subtly using a layer mask. This will simulate heat haze, the shimmering effect you see above fire. You can also add smoke as well as lighting and colour effects to create authenticity. Make sure these effects are above the fire images and the subject in the layer stack so everything blends together nicely. 12 CONSTRUCT GLOBAL LIGHTING Use Photoshop to unite individual images into believable composites 001 Shadows are created using two layers. One is black with an Overlay blending mode set to retain highlights, while a duplicate layer is set to Normal with a low Opacity value to control brightness 002 Each element is carefully cut out with the Pen tool combined with Refine Edge for the more complicated parts. Clip by 2px within the subject lines to avoid any unwanted background spill 003 Global changes include a warm Photo Filter adjustment layer and a grungy texture set to Overlay. Scattered dust created with the Clouds filter and some layer masking unites the image into a solid composite 004 The model, tanks and ground all have a similar light source. The helicopter and explosion were flipped horizontally —one reason why sourcing unevenly lit images makes them more versatile 005 You can always try and plan similar lighting, but when sourcing and shooting images for compositing, expect to at least have some uneven lighting. Perfectly even lighting can sometimes look artificial 13 LAYER SYNTHETIC SKIN Many Photoshop professionals snub the use of filters in CG artwork but, as this page shows, when used creatively they can be a huge asset. Combined with masks and the right source photos filters can help you create artwork with real impact. One filter that is particularly useful is Gaussian Blur, especially effective for Photoshop techniques that require smoothing. Using this option to smooth skin has long been frowned upon because of the plastic look that it can give to photographs. However, if ityour intention to create synthetic skin on your model, it s the perfect tool. Start by doing as much standard retouching as possible to remove any obvious rough spots. Now make selections of large areas of skin and paste those onto a separate layer. Apply the Gaussian Blur filter at a radius that makes the uneven areas look smooth. Select more detailed areas of skin that the previous selection didn t cover and repeat blurring at a smaller Radius value. This process can be done over and over until all of the original pixels are replaced with smooth gradients. Many layer merges and selections will be required. Finish up with the Dodge tool set to Highlights to finish off the plastic look. 14 COMPOSITE A SNOWSTORM I started with a very basic image of a girl running through the snow. In order to achieve the required atmosphere of a blizzard, I had to add a lot of haze. With blue and grey set as my image colours, I applied a Gradient Map adjustment layer. In the resulting attached layer mask, certain areas were painted out so that they wouldn t be affected as much, such as the model and the city. To create the sky, the Clouds filter (under the Render options) was used on a solid white layer set to the Screen blending mode. I then applied Edit>Transform>Perspective to make the sky look more three-dimensional. The last step was to add falling snowflakes. 1 did this by creating a solid black layer and applying the Add Noise filter with Amount set to 150% and Gaussian and Monochromatic ticked. I blurred the layer slightly then applied Levels to reduce the noise so that it resembled a starry night sky. I scaled the layer up and applied a Motion Blur filter set to 45 degrees and 10px. The Crystallize filter was added at a Cell Size of 10 to give the snow more shape, then finally I set the layer to Screen so only the white showed through. You could also experiment with enlarging and shrinking duplicate snow layers to add variation to the snowflakes. DRAMATIC DOF WITH DYNAMIC LIGHTING Fakhoury explains how he applied dramatic lighting to create perspective in his image for Desktopography2011 exhibition 01 FLAT IMAGE This image is half finished and you can see that the piece looks quite flat because it is too dark —a common issue that many digital artists encounter and must overcome. The next two steps will solve this problem and bring the image to life. 02 REPLACE THE SKY The previous sky was murky so the best option was to replace it. The overall composition works better with a brighter backdrop, letting you apply and bounce off new elements. I incorporated the mountains in the background and the rocks in the foreground to enhance perspective. 03 DYNAMIC LIGHTING A strong dynamic lighting effect is fundamental to achieve a sense of depth in your artwork. To get similar results, apply a white Soft Round brush that is set to either a Soft Light or Overlay blending mode, or vary between the two. This separates the foreground and background distinctly. 16 COMP CG ELEMENTS Mike Campau reveals his effects for making CG elements more authentic in a photo CREATE SHADOWS When compositing 3D objects into your scene, never use pure black to create shadows. Instead, eyedrop the area that the shadow will be applied to and use this colour on a new layer set to Multiply. You might need to desaturate the hues lightly for a convincing effect. blur shadows Applying the Motion Blur filter to your shadow will give the illusion of the light bending and disturbing the edges, especially if a large soft box or fill light was used on the original shot. Make sure to follow the direction of the light in the main scene so that it feels more natural. no colour When stripping in any component whether CG or photographic, adding subtle colour influence into the light makes a huge difference. Apply the Eyedropper tool to an area from the background directly behind the object and airbrush in some of this colour on top, on a new layer set to Soft Light. 17 MANAGE FOCAL LENGTHS FOR BETTER RESULTS At first glance, the original of this colourful image looked cool, but upon further inspection the perspective of the foreground subject didnmatch that of the background shot. The stock background image was taken with a very wide focal length, around 16-20mm. The photo of my model subject, however, was taken with a longer lens at a 125mm focal length, from a greater distance. Taking the photo from a distance is what caused the perspective to change. If you want to place a subject in the foreground of your composite, photograph them up close with a wider lens. If you want to place a subject in the distance, then photograph them further away at a longer focal length on a longer lens. If you want to get it spot on, then take into consideration the camera height and angle when taking both your subject and background photos, and you can even measure the camera-to-subject distance for real precision. Perspective is even more important if you wanted, for example, to include the subject s feet when compositing them into a scene. I avoided this, but instead positioned my subject further in the distance of my background and cropped the image. By doing this I was able to match the perspectives more accurately for a realistically scaled composite. 18 CREATE GLASS SHATTER EFFECTS This image was created for Masters of Illusion duo Adam and Selina (www.adamandselina.com), so suspending disbelief in this composite image was important, hence the commercial and contemporary shatter-glass effect applied. This was created using mainly masks and the Pen tool to layer shattered effects. The Pen tool was applied to make selections that mimicked a large shard of glass, which was then cut, pasted and rotated out of place and away from the main body. This process was repeated time and again for the whole composition. Once each glass section was in place I then needed to create a 3D effect. Each shard layer was duplicated then moved underneath the current layer. I locked the pixels of the layer (using the / key shortcut), adding a Reflected Gradient style, set to dark to light blue, to show depth on the glass and catch highlights. On top of the image I cut out more glass sections, scaled them down to around 50% and duplicated throughout. This helped to create a more chaotic, random feel. As a final effect, light flares generated in After Effects and photos of airborne sand were added as particle effects. 19 MATCH SHADOWS WITH PERSPECTIVE At Onelab I often work one by one with elements in a composite, when creating shadows. As a basic rule I follow a two-step process, where the first step is to create the natural shadow governed by the light direction and the second is to create what I call the invisible shadow, which is actually the weight of an object on the surface. It s my usual practise to create the shadow on a separate layer underneath the subject. This is what we did with our elephants, positioning the shadow to conform to perspective. I created a new layer underneath the elephants and filled it with solid black. An inverted layer mask was applied and I painted the shadow back in with the Brush tool set to Hardness 10% and Opacity 20% (for harder edges alter to 40% Opacity). In the Brush palette under Dynamics> Transfer I kept it at the default, painting the shadows smoothly, then fading it. To create what I call the invisible shadow, we repeated the application of a painted-in solid black layer, but set the brush s Hardness to 50%, Opacity to 100% and the layerOpacity to 10%. I painted roughly on an area below the elephants and applied a Gaussian Blur filter to the mask. 20 COMPOSITE AUTHENTIC GARMENTS Larry Rostant shows you how to master the Puppet Warp and Curve tools 001 I created a mask of the cloth element and, using a Curves adjustment layer, I made changes to the individual RGB colour curves, enhancing the red values 002 I used a second Curves layer to enhance the highlight and shadow areas in order to bring out the silk texture of the cloth. I then painted on the attached layer mask over the areas that I needed to adjust 003 I used the Transform options to rotate and scale the individual elements. In this case several pieces of cloth were used to compose the basic image 004 I used the Puppet Warp tool to fine-tune the cloth, shaping it to enhance the composition. There is a lot of trial and error at this stage

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