Skip to main content

Make a tropical composite in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo tutorial
(Image credit: James Paterson)

Watch video: Make a tropical composite in Affinity Photo

Replacing a backdrop is a fun way to transform your photos, and it’s a fairly straightforward task with Affinity Photo’s clever selection tools. Whether you want to transport your subject to a faraway place or simply make an accurate cutout, this technique will give you results in minutes. 

We’ll begin here by selecting the bird using the handy Selection Brush. This can lock on to the edges of the figure, enabling us to isolate it with a few clicks. Once done, we can improve our selection using the Refine control, which lets us knock out all the messy, fine bits of background that show through the bird’s feathers. 

Automated tools can only get us so far and, as such, we may need to finish off our cutout manually by painting on a layer mask to fine-tune what is hidden or revealed. Thankfully this shouldn’t take too long, as Affinity Photo’s intelligent selection tools will do most of the heavy lifting for us. Once done, we can simply drop in another image and transport our subject to a tropical paradise. 

Matching up the two images can take a little work, as we want the perspective and depth of field to fit with each. It helps to pick a background scene with areas that are out-of-focus like this as it makes the composite look much more realistic. It also helps if the lighting in each picture matches. Here both scenes are in sunlight, so they fit together that little bit more naturally.

Read more:

• Affinity Photo 1.8 review

Step 1: Select the bird

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)
(opens in new tab)

Open the bird shot into Affinity Photo then, ensuring you’re in the Photo Persona, grab the Selection Brush from the toolbar. Check ‘Snap to Edges’ in the options at the top and paint over the bird and perch to select it. If the tool picks up parts of the background, hold Alt and paint to subtract them.

Step 2: Use the Refine tool

(Image credit: James Paterson)
(opens in new tab)

Click Refine in the options at the top. Choose an overlay from the dropdown that gives you the best contrast between subject and background – we chose black. Increase the Border Width slider to expand the area of refinement, so that it covers the longer feathers and picks up all the fine detail.

Step 3:  Fine-tune the edges

(Image credit: James Paterson)
(opens in new tab)

The Adjustment Brush options in the Refine dialogue let you improve your cutout by painting over areas you want to include or exclude from the selection. Zoom in with Cmd/Ctrl and +, then check the edges and paint with the Foreground or Background brush to fine-tune the edges.

Step 4: The new backdrop

(Image credit: James Paterson)
(opens in new tab)

Choose Output: Mask and hit Apply. Open the image with the new background then Copy (Cmd/Ctrl+C) and Paste (Cmd/Ctrl+V) the new picture into the bird image. Drag the bird layer above the other one so it sits on top. If you need to resize or reposition the backdrop, highlight the layer, grab the Move tool and drag the bounding box.

Step 5: Perfect the mask

(Image credit: James Paterson)
(opens in new tab)

Highlight the mask thumbnail on the bird layer then zoom in close to check that the two images blend together seamlessly. You might see bright halos around some of the edges of the bird, if so grab the Brush tool, hit 5 for 50% brush opacity and paint with black to gradually remove them.

Step 6: Tone the composite

(Image credit: James Paterson)
(opens in new tab)

Click the Adjustment icon in the Layers panel and choose Vibrance. Increase vibrance and saturation to enhance the colours. Next, add a Curves adjustment layer. Boost the contrast by plotting an S-shaped curve line, then try adding a subtle colour shift by targeting and tweaking the individual colour channels as shown.  

Quick tip

The powerful Refine tool should be used on any cutout in Affinity Photo that needs precision. It works by seeking out details around the edge of a selected area that should be included or excluded, based on the surrounding pixels. The Border Width control lets you expand the search area for these details. The Adjustment Brush buttons let you manually paint over parts that you know should be excluded or included in the selection. Once done, you can output your selection as a mask to complete your cutout by hiding everything outside the selected area.

About N-Photo magazine

This tutorial originally appeared in N-Photo, the monthly newsstand magazine for Nikon photographers. Why not subscribe (opens in new tab) to a print edition, and have the magazine delivered direct to your door every month?

Alternatively, we have a number of different digital options available, including:

• Apple app (opens in new tab) (for iPad or iPhone)
• Zinio app (opens in new tab) (multi-platform app for desktop or smartphone)
• PocketMags (opens in new tab) (multi-platform app ideal for Android devices)
• Readly (opens in new tab) (all-you-can-eat digital magazine subscription service)

If you wanted a printed version of any of our most recent issues we have a selection of back issues (opens in new tab) to choose from in our online store.

Read more:
• Photography tips (opens in new tab) and tutorial videos
The best photo editing tools and accessories (opens in new tab)
• The best desktop computers for photo editing
• The best photo-editing laptops (opens in new tab) right now
The best photo editing software (opens in new tab) today

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

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.