Photoshop has long been the industry standard for compositing images to make a single cohesive shot. A typical example, for instance, might be taking a portrait photographed against a studio backdrop and compositing it with a background image photographed elsewhere—an outdoor shot of a sky at dusk, for instance.
For as long as compositing has been possible, photographers have employed certain techniques to ensure the images look as natural as possible when combined. This may include matching lens and camera angle, as well as ensuring the lighting position is similar as well. Any discrepancy tends to make the subject stick out from the background.
One of the most obvious giveaways that a subject wasn’t photographed in situ is when the colors in the two elements don’t match. For instance, a person photographed with strobe in a studio setting may have a slightly more neutral white balance than a landscape photographed at sunset. If the background image is filled with deep blues and purples, for instance, our eyes would expect some of that tonality to be reflected in the subject. When it’s not, our brains begin to think the image is unbelievable.
Photoshop’s new Harmonization neural filter helps address this challenge by more accurately blending two images together to make them, well, more harmonious.
The Harmonization neural filter takes the colors and luminosity of one image and blends them into the colors of another image. In this way, a sterile studio portrait can begin to take on the warm orange glow of an autumn sunset and make for a more believable composite.
To start, create a composite in Photoshop such that the subject layer is separate from the background layer. Then with the top layer active, open the Neural Filters controls via the Photoshop Filter menu. From here, Photoshop presents you with all of the different Neural Filters you’ve already installed, as well as new options available for download. After downloading the Harmonization neural filter, simply click on it in the Neural Filters menu to start the process. The Harmonization controls will appear along with an image preview in the right side of the Neural Filters window.
The first thing to do is click the dropdown menu immediately below the preview image to select the layer you’d like to copy the tonality from. That’s typically going to be the background layer, so when you’ve clicked that and watched Photoshop analyze the image, it will enable a series of sliders to become active, and the image preview will now show the colors from the background have been applied to the foreground subject layer. It’s by adjusting the sliders in the Harmonization neural filter that the intensity and quality of those tones are altered.
Like so many things, a little goes a long way. So the goal here isn’t to make the foreground subject completely merge with the background but rather to pick up some of the colors from the background to make the images look better together—more harmonious. Think of it like color grading in the movies; a cool blue hue reinforces one vibe, while a warm red or orange glow creates another. With the Harmonization neural filter, the two image elements can share the same grading.
The Strength slider defaults to a value of 75, and dialing it down is likely to help make the color a bit more subtle. Below that you’ll find sliders for Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, which can be dialed up or down to fine-tune the background colors as applied to the subject, and then Saturation and Brightness sliders for further control. The Output dropdown menu at the bottom of the window allows you to choose whether the results should be delivered to the original layer, to a new layer or to a smart filter. The new layer isn’t a composite of the below layers but rather just the newly colored result of the Harmonization filter on a duplicate of the foreground/subject layer. Outputting to a smart filter simply maintains the existing subject layer but adds a smart filter layer atop it. Unlike the original layer option, both ways leave the original layer unmodified so you can make subsequent adjustments to the intensity and quality of the Harmonization neural filter without starting over from scratch.
For those who regularly composite images together, the Harmonization neural filter should take a primary place in the workflow and become standard operating procedure to help make more natural looking composites of multiple images.