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Monday, August 20, 2007

Creative Photo Projects

Fun ways to put your photography to good use, from classic to high tech

Composite CreativelyComposite Creatively
By Wes Pitts

Compositing—combining parts of multiple photos to make one new image—doesn't have to be theatrical or even particularly imaginative. Sometimes compositing can be used simply to save an image from the dustbin.

Take this shot of my nephew Skyelar. It's not good. I really like his expression and gesture, but it's totally out of focus, the exposure is bad and the background is worse. Still, to me, it's worth keeping, so I'm going to try to make it as awesome as possible by tweaking a few things and replacing the background.

I want to get rid of the background first. It's the biggest distraction, and I want to have my new background in place before I adjust Skyelar's exposure, so I can be sure they match well enough to blend nicely.

Removing a background can be really tough, especially if you do it manually with traditional selection tools. I'm going to cheat and use onOne's Mask Pro 4.1, a Photoshop plug-in that makes this otherwise difficult task effortless. Caveat: Mask Pro works great when you have a fairly decent exposure, with good contrast and sharp edges. This image has neither, so I used Mask Pro for half of the job. I also manually selected my subject with the Lasso tool and copied and pasted the selection as a new layer, which I then blended with the layer created by Mask Pro.

The process actually got a little complicated to detail here. The takeaway is that a lot of experimentation, selection feathering and layer blending is part of the process. Get familiar with the selection tools in Photoshop and be willing to spend some time smoothing layer edges with a feathered eraser.

After getting a fairly clean selection of my subject, I invert the selection and remove the background. Next, I add the new background, taken at a local beach. Then, I spend some time with Levels, adjusting the subject and background layers until the exposures look well matched.

The composite is getting close, but I still need to deal with the fact that my subject is out of focus. One way to escape this problem is to apply an artistic filter to the whole image. The Stylize filter in Alien Skin's Snap Art plug-in let me create a final image that looks more like a hand-drawn illustration than a photo. To control the intensity, I have the filter create this effect on a duplicate layer, then adjust the opacity of that new layer to allow some of the original image to show through and add detail.

The final image is a big improvement from where I started. It would have been better to capture a sharp, well-lit exposure from the start, but switching out the background and adding some creative effects have helped rescue the shot from certain demise.


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