Get creative with composites in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo tutorial
(Image credit: James Paterson)

Watch video: Get creative with composites in Affinity Photo

One of the things Affinity Photo does best is enable you to combine two or more photos in creative ways. Like its pricier forebear Photoshop, Affinity Photo utilizes layers for editing. This means you can cut out different parts of photos and layer them on top of one another, in order to create a composite image like this.

In this tutorial we’ll explain how to make a simple but grand-looking composite. There are three key stages to making a natural-looking composite like the above. First we use selections to isolate the subject and a mask to remove the background. Next we copy in and position the subject against its new backdrop. Finally we use tonal tools and add shadows to match the two images, so that it looks like they belong together. 

This last part is where composites often fall down. It can be tricky to match the images, but it helps if you master a few tonal tools. Shadows can help to sell the effect by grounding the subject in their new scene. It helps too if both images share a similar feel in terms of the lighting. Here, the giraffe and the road scene are softly backlit from behind, giving both a moody feel that helps them to gel together.

Throughout this technique we’ll use several key compositing skills that can be replicated on any images you choose. We’ve used a free image from for our backdrop, but why not try a different scene?

Read more:

• Affinity Photo 1.8 review

Step 1: Select the giraffe

You can click on the gadget in the top right corner of these screenshots to zoom in on a full size version. (Image credit: James Paterson)
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Open the giraffe and background images in Affinity (we used a image – road-2616728). Go to the giraffe shot, then get the Selection brush. Check ‘Snap to Edges’ in the options and paint over the giraffe to select it. Hold Alt and paint to subtract if the selection goes wrong.

Step 2: Improve the cutout

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Click Refine in the options, then use the Refine box to improve the selection edge. Increase Border Width to 10%, click Background and paint over any parts of the edge that show the backdrop, such as the gap in the giraffe’s tail here. Once happy, set Output: New Layer with Mask and hit Apply.

Step 3:  Position the giraffe

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Hit Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy the giraffe, then go to the other photo (or your choice of image) and hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste it in. Grab the Move tool and use it to position the giraffe on the road, so that it looks as if it’s walking along the path. If you need to resize then drag the corners of the bounding box.

Step 4: Brush the edges

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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The edges of the mask may need tidying. Click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, then grab the Brush tool. Zoom in close and paint black to hide parts of the giraffe layer where the backdrop shows through, or paint with white to reveal parts of the giraffe that may be hidden.

Step 5: Paint shadows

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Grab the Brush tool, hit 1 for 10% opacity and set the colour to black. Highlight the bottom layer, then make a new layer. Brush to add gentle shadows below the giraffe’s feet. Next, make a new layer above the giraffe layer. Grab the Clone tool, set ‘Current and Below`~’ in the options, then clone to tidy up any other messy areas.

Step 6: Finish the tones

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Click the Create Adjustment Layer icon and choose Colour Balance. Drag the new layer on top of the giraffe layer and shift the colours to cyan and green to match it with the backdrop. Finally, make an HSL adjustment layer at the top of the stack and reduce the saturation.  

Quick tip

It can help a composite look more natural if you add effects and tonal shifts on top of everything, so it looks like the separate images contained within belong together. We’ve added a touch of mist in front of and behind the giraffe by making two layers, one underneath, one above. We painted on these layers with the Brush tool set to white at a low opacity to add a gentle haze.

About N-Photo magazine

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James Paterson

The lead technique writer on Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab) and N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine (opens in new tab), James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. 

Whether it's flash photography techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astrophotography projects like photographing the Northern Lights, or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. 

As the editor of Practical Photoshop magazine, he's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom, making him one of the leading authorities on photo editing software and techniques.