Beagle puppy sitting on gravel path

Puppy Composite Photograph

I am getting questions about my process for putting together a composite photograph so here is a quick post to explain my process.

I begin by choosing a subject that I feel could benefit from a more interesting background. If I am taking the photograph myself I would use a plain black or white background and a studio to take the photograph. Once I have my subject selected, I begin cutting them out of their background using Photoshop’s color selection tools and the brush tool or background eraser.

After my subject is nicely cut out, I try to find a background where the subject will fit. I either take a photograph myself or look for stock photographs that do not require attribution.  Two things I consider when choosing a photograph are the perspective and light direction in the background. For the photograph to look natural these two things must match the perspective and lighting on the subject.

I begin building my layers, starting with the background image. I duplicate the background layer and convert it to a smart object, then apply a tilt-shift blur. This filter lets me control where my plane of focus is going to be based on where I think I will put my subject. Remember that your camera’s focus tends to be a little more shallow in front of the focus point than it does behind.

Once I have the tilt-shift blur in place, I drop my subject into the photograph and reposition him to the point of focus I set earlier. He still looks out of place and not natural.

At this point, I create a new layer and add shadows under my subject based upon where the light is coming from. Using a soft brush set to a low flow I select a shadow color from the existing shadows in the background image. I begin brushing the color lightly under the subject and increase the darkness to a small area directly under my subject’s body. In this image, I also added some overhead light rays to make my subject look like he is sitting in a spot of light.

Next, I wanted to add a little more interest to the foreground, so I found an image of some leaves. I cut them out the same as I did the subject and added them into the project with a new layer. As leaves are slightly transparent when close to the camera I set the layer to the overlay blending mode and added a slight gaussian blur.

Finally, I added a color balance layer to the image and altered the highlights to be warmer and the shadows to be cooler. This adjustment is applied to the entire image to give it a more cohesive appearance. I also added some sharpening to the front of my subject and used the blur tool (on the subject layer) to blur the back edge of my subject slightly. Sharpen and blur help the subject match the depth of field I created on the background using the tilt-shift effect.

Beagle puppy sitting on gravel path
All images in this post were selected from free no attribution stock sites.