Here I’ll briefly outline a few of the tools I use to composite with Photoshop. These are the tools I use mostly: layers, blending layers, layer adjustments, hue saturation, levels, curves, free transform, liquefy, sharpening, masks, painting and selection tools. Obviously with this outline I can’t teach PS in all it’s great detail and depth, but if you already have some basics, this may just put you over the top and get you on your way.
Compositing is done in the Layers Palette (LP). If you don’t see it on the right side of your screen go to your menu bar under WINDOW and select LAYERS. When you open an image in PS you will see a small thumbnail of your image in the layers palette. It will say Background to the right of the image. Images can be stacked in this pallet and tools can be added as new layers called ‘adjustment layers’ that will alter the tones and colors of the layers below it. Layers can be reordered by dragging a layer above or below another layer. To move the background layer, it has to be ‘unlocked’ by clicking on the lock picture that’s to the right of the word background. Remember, when you want to do something to a layer, you first must have it selected. Any layer will effect only the layers below it. It can be similar to sheets of images on acetate stacked on top of each other.
To stack 2 or more images on top of each other in the layers palette, first open your images, then just hit the V key (short cut) or go to the tool palette and select the Move Tool. Click on your image and drag it over the image you want to add it to. You will now see it in the layers palette above the original image. If you hold the shift key while you drag an image over another image, it will center the image.
Free transform allows you to resize, rotate, move and alter an image on a selected layer. On your menu bar in PS go to EDIT / TRANSFORM (the transform option gives you many more options for ways to transform). The short cut is command T (mac) or go to EDIT / TRANSFORM. You can grab the corners and expand, contract or rotate the image. If you hold the Shift Key, the proportions will stay the same as you resize. If you hold the Option/Alt Key as you pull on a corner, the image will expand out from it’s center equally in all directions. This will only resize the image on the selected layer. Once you are done with your resizing hit ‘enter/return’ to apply your change.
EDIT / FREE TRANSFORM will give you several transformative options: skew, perspective, distort, warp, scale, rotate. When you are using the Transform tool, if you hold down the Control(mac)/alt(PC) you will get the range of transform options to choose from, you can switch back and forth among them.
There are several ways you can have a layer interact with the layers below it.
The Opacity Slider, changes the transparency of the whole layer. It can be found to the right of Blending Modes on the top right of the LP. The intensity of an effect, adjustment tool or layer can be controlled with the opacity slider.
Layer Masks are a great way to selectively reveal part of the image/images below. When you paint with black it’s like you are cutting a hole in the selected layer to view what is below it. Another way of saying it is, when you use a layer mask, you are masking or hiding the part of a layer you paint black and allowing the layer below to show through.
To use a layer mask select a layer by clicking on it. Then, on the bottom of your LP, click on the rectangle with the circle in the middle. A white box will show up on to the right of the thumbnail image of the layer you have selected in the LP. Make sure you activate the layer mask by selecting the white box by clicking on it.
Use the brush tool to paint on the layer you want to mask. Hit the ‘B’ key to get to your brush tool, or select it in the tool bar. You can size the brush with the bracket keys. Also when you select the brush in your tool bar, you will get various options on the top of your screen for sizing your brush and making your brush softer or harder edged.
In your Color Palette, found on the bottom of your Tool Palette, the top color should be black, the bottom white. If you don’t have black and white as your foreground and background colors, hit the ‘d’ key to default to black and white. Hit the x key and the foreground and background colors will switch. All White gives 100% visible, while all Black means 100% transparent. Gray gives some level of transparency, depending on how dark.
Black reveals what’s below, while hiding what’s on that layer. White reverses the masking you’ve done by painting with black. Layer Masks allow selective transparency, targeting a part of a layer to be fully or partially transparent.
Layer Masks are an easy way to select out an image. For example, if you had an image with an airplane where you just wanted the airplane and not the rest of the image, you can erase all around the airplane, using the brush tool set on black. Then you can reposition the plane by hitting the V key and moving it. If the plane is too big, you can hit command T and resize the plane. Remember, when you want to do something with a layer mask, you first must have it selected.
The Blending Modes. They are located on the top left of the LP. The default position is Normal, as you click on it you will get a couple dozen options, each one changing the way the layer selected interacts with the layers below it. Any layer set to normal is opaque and will not show the layers below.
On the bottom of the LP is the Adjustment Tools. These can be accessed by clicking on the circle that’s half black and white. You will get an assortment of tools that can be added to your stack of layers. Adjustment tools are good because if you save them with your image, you can always go back and readjust the image at any time. They are ‘reversible and non destructive’, ie you can always go back and change them without harming the pixels in your file, as long as you keep the file with the adjustment layers. I use hue saturation, levels and curves the most.
There are a million little things to know and learn in PS, so if you are a total beginner, this may well leave you lost and frustrated. Youtube has hundreds of free videos. Google any question you have.
A great source of examples of compositing is http://Flickr.com Flickr is free and has over 25,000 groups to join. Compositing is extremely popular and many groups exhibit a range of fantastic images of every genera: portraiture, landscape, nudes, surreal, horror and fantasy, to name a few. Here’s a couple of my favorites (warning-nudity and sexuality may be found in some):
emBODYment: atmosphere, soul, essence http://www.flickr.com/groups/903702@N24/
Shards of Light on a Dark Sill http://www.flickr.com/groups/896984@N21/
das kabinett http://www.flickr.com/groups/93139346@N00/
Visual Poetry https://www.flickr.com/groups/paint-it-with-blur/
It’s Kafkaesque https://www.flickr.com/groups/itskafkaesque/
Beyond Click https://www.flickr.com/groups/beyond_click/