One of the great joys of Photoshop is the ability it gives you to take a person from one scene and put them somewhere entirely different. This enables you to make fantastical composite images. But while it’s a fairly simple matter to cut someone out and drop them on a different background, it’s slightly trickier to make the scene look convincing.
Success depends on two main factors. First, photograph the images that make up your composite under similar lighting conditions. Our books were lit from the left to emphasise their shape and texture. The girl was also lit from the left and the camera was positioned above her to mimic the perspective of the book scene.
The second factor is a successful cutout. We need to isolate the girl from her original background so we can add a new one, and the best way to do this is with a Layer Mask. In this Photoshop tutorial you’ll learn how to make a perfect mask with the Quick Selection and Brush tools.
How to make a fantasy Photoshop composite
01 Make a selection
Open your start image – in this case we started with the picture of the young woman.
Then press Cmd/Ctrl+J to duplicate the background layer. Grab the Quick Selection tool from the Tools panel and paint over the girl to make a selection. Use the ] and [ keys to resize the brush, and hold Alt to remove background areas you’ve selected accidentally.
02 Use Refine Edge
Click on the Refine Edge button at the top of the screen. Press F to cycle through the different views. Set Smooth to 10, Feather to 1.5 and Contract/Expand to -2, then hit OK. Next, click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to turn the selection into a mask.
03 Combine the images
Open your second image – for us, this was the image fo the books.
Now go back to the girl image and select the Move tool. Make sure Auto Select and Show Bounding Box are checked in the Options bar. Now drag the girl up to the mini_books image tab, then down into the image to drop her into the scene.
04 Position the girl
Lower the Opacity of the girl layer to 60% so you can see where to position her. Use the Move tool to drag her over the flat book, then drag the corner of the bounding box to resize her (with Constrain Proportions checked). When you’re happy, hit Enter and push Opacity back to 100%.
05 Perfect the mask
Grab the Brush tool, choose a soft-edged circular brush and hit D to reset your colours to black and white. Zoom in close by holding Cmd/Ctrl and + and carefully inspect the edges of the girl. We need to get a precise edge, so paint with black to hide parts of the layer and white to reveal them.
06 Add some shadows
Highlight the background layer and click the Create New Layer icon. Go to Edit > Fill and choose 50% Gray. In the Layers panel, change the Blend Mode to Overlay. Select the Burn tool from the Tools panel and use it to paint shadows under and behind the girl.
Using the Photoshop Quick Selection Tool
You can use the Quick Selection tool like a brush, painting a selection. It’s a clever tool that seeks out and snaps onto edge areas so you can choose shapes in images quickly and let the tool do the work for you.
It doesn’t always find the edge you’re after, but if this happens, hold Alt and paint over the area you don’t want – this will subtract it from the selection. You can alter the brush tip size just as you can any other tool – use the ] and [ bracket keys as you work.