Photoshop Composite Tutorial :: Brigham City Newborn Photographer

I have a little “To-Do” list sitting beside me on my desk as I work everyday.  The point of the list obviously is to keep me focused and to help me accomplish (as my sister would say) all the things. 🙂

Some days I feel like the to do list is a stark reminder that I put “all the things” that clients aren’t waiting for on a back burner.  For instance, this blog post has been on my list for weeks.  To sit down and take the time to update my blog – especially a tutorial post – takes hours.  Do you know how many emails I can get sent out in hours?  I can edit an entire session in an hour.  I never feel right about putting off a client’s work for something of my own.

So, here I sit at 11:20pm on a Sunday evening – the one day out of the week that I don’t work on editing – updating my blog.  Instead of sleeping, I’m going to put a check mark on my list!

Creating a Photoshop Composite image strikes fear in the hearts of many.  I admit my first dozen tries at the editing side of composites turned me into a person that drinks lots of Diet Coke and eats lots of Peanut Butter MMs (which is basically like normal, just with clenched teeth and angry thoughts).

Now, editing a composite image takes mere minutes (do I sound like an infomercial?) and if you read now, I’ll throw in an extra tutorial for free – you only pay shipping and handling ……

In all seriousness now, we need two images.  The composite I do most often is the infamous newborn pose so lovingly referred to as “The Froggy Pose”.

Using an assistant, I shoot two images like this:


Honestly, that’s the hardest part of this whole process!

It is important when shooting for the composite, that your camera settings remain the same.  It’s also important to shoot from the same angle.  Baby’s head shouldn’t move while shooting for this composite.

Step ONE:

Open both images in Photoshop.  While viewing the image with your assistant’s hand on baby’s head, select the entire image <ctr-a>  and then switch over to your other image of assistant holding baby’s hands and wrists.  Paste <ctr-v> the first image directly over the top of this image.   It will look like this:

Looking at the image, you wouldn’t know that there is one image over the top of the other image except for one tell tale sign.  In your layers pallet, you will see a layer for each image.  The bottom layer is the image of assistant holding baby’s wrist, top layer is assistant holding baby’s head.  You could rename your layers, but in this case I don’t usually.

Step TWO:

Add a layer mask to your top layer. By click on this button at the bottom of your layers panel:

In your layers pallet at the right of your thumbnail image, you’ll see a little white box.  Make sure your foreground color on your color pallet is set to black.



Decrease the opacity of your top layer so that you can see through to your bottom layer.  You can now see both images.  You can see that although I’m very close, the images aren’t aligned completely.  That leads us into the next step.


Step FOUR:

Select your move tool in the tool pallet (or press V) and using your mouse or your arrow keys on the keyboard, you can nudge your top image until it is in alignment with the bottom image.  It might be impossible to align the whole image, and that is just fine.  The part that is imperative to be aligned is the top of baby’s head down to baby’s eyes.

You can see that baby’s head is aligned perfectly even though her little legs and arms aren’t perfect.  They are close enough to still make a composite image where no one will know you did any work to the image.

Step FIVE:

Return the opacity of the top layer to 100%  I’m sure you noticed that as we nudged the image, part of the bottom image now shows at the bottom.  No problem, we’ll quickly fix that later.


Step SIX:

Now for the easy/fun part.  Select your brush tool out of the brush pallet (or press B to activate your brush tool from the keyboard).  Make your brush opacity 100%.  Again, make sure your foreground color pallet is black.  Now start painting over the parts of baby’s head where we see assistant’s hands.

As you paint, you’ll notice a few things.  You’ll notice the assistant’s hands start to disappear, and the baby’s head from the layer underneath starts to show through.  You’ll also notice over in your layers pallet, that everything you just painted black is showing black in the pallet.  In the white pallet, anything black will show the image from underneath.  What makes this so fantastic, is that if you go to far, switch your color pallet to white and paint over the part of the image that you want to correct.  White will cover the bottom layer so it doesn’t show through.  “White conceals, black reveals”.

Continue over baby’s head until all of the assistant’s hand is gone!  Voila!!!!!  Would you look at how easy that was???  Now why didn’t I use black over the arm of my assistant?  If you look closely at the layers, you’ll notice that if I paint black over the arm, the layer underneath just has another arm.  Either way we are going to need to edit out the arm.  We are also going to need to edit out the strip at the bottom.  Easy peasy!!

Then flatten the layer.

Here’s how I cleaned up the rest of the image for a final product.  It’s a great way to practice almost everything I covered up above!  This time I’m going quickly, if you need a little reminder of what I’m talking about, scroll back to the top where I described each of these steps in full.

Step ONE:  Select the left side of the picture and copy <ctr c> and paste <ctr v>.

Step TWO: Using the move tool, drag the pasted part of the image over to the right side covering the hand.

Step THREE:  Create a layer mask.

Step FOUR: Make sure your color pallet has black set as foreground color.

Step FIVE: Using a lower brush opacity (50%-60%) paint over the hard edge of the piece you just pasted over.  Play around with it.  In this case you don’t want to go overboard.  If you go to far, switch your foreground color to white in your brush pallet and go over that spot again.  “Black reveals, white conceals”

Step SIX:  When the hand is gone in and you can’t see a harsh line, flatten the image.  (This is found under the Layer Menu, or you can hit <ctr + shift E> to flatten the image.

Step SEVEN:  Now we just have that pesky little strip under baby’s elbows.  Using your marquee tool, select the entire bottom of the image from about half an inch above the little strip clear down to the bottom of the image.  Hit <ctr T> for transform.  Drag the bottom of the resulting transform boxes down until the strip is gone!  Hint:  You’ll be dragging it OFF the bottom of the image.  To apply the transformation, hit <Enter>.

Do some minor color correcting and skin softening using a combination of actions I created with actions I purchased from Little Pieces Photography by Kelly Brown (my very favorite newborn photographer) and you are done!

Any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them!!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *