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This Photoshop Compositing How-to Gets a Little Sticky

By Charles Purdy

Barcelona-based Alex Palazzi Corella is a graphic designer, motion graphics animator, and self-described “art toy maker” whose work frequently straddles the line between 2D and 3D, as well as the line between digital and handcrafted. In this tutorial, he demonstrates several techniques for combining multiple photos into one cohesive image.

Alex employed multiple Adobe Photoshop CC techniques to lend a believable, cohesive look to this image, which was created from several photographs sourced from Adobe Stock, along with his own photos of a sticky substance he made out of some items in his pantry. Although the overall process may seem complex, each individual technique that Alex employed is easy to understand. You can watch an hour-long time-lapse video of his process at the bottom of this page, or try some of the techniques outlined in the steps below. 

An image of crows in a sticky substance, by Alex Palazzi Corella

Alex says that he wanted this image to represent loyalty in the face of tragedy. “I like crows despite their bad reputation in some cultures,” he says. “They are the most intelligent birds out there, and it has been demonstrated that they show empathy for others.”

Do you want to try compositing photos? You can download 10 images from Adobe Stock for free.

STEP ONE

Click on the image to watch a brief video snippet of Alex combining three photos to create the image background.

After Alex had found the images he wanted to use in Adobe Stock, he began preparing the scene. In his first image, he masked out the sky (using Photoshop’s Pen tool). Then he added a second photo, one with more dramatic clouds, behind the foreground of the first image. He used the Brush tool to add some brightness to the background (for a more seamless blend).

He then added another cloud photo and, using Curves (applied to all layers) and the Brush tool, he intensified shadows, bringing more drama to the scene.

(Need a refresher on Photoshop brush basics? Check out this six-minute video tutorial.)

STEP TWO

Sticky ingredients included cheese, honey, and squid ink—click on the image to watch the substance’s preparation and see how it was incorporated into the final image. 

Then it was time for Alex to add photos of the sticky substance he’d created. And you may not want to try that part at home! Alex says that the sticky substance he created didn’t smell too good, though the texture was just what he was after.

He combined two photos of the sticky substance for the central image. First he opened one photo and used the Lasso tool to cut out a piece of it. Then he pasted that piece into a second photo. To blend the addition seamlessly, he used Photoshop’s Warp tool on it (Edit > Transform > Warp); this “molded” it into the background image. Then he cleaned up the image with the Brush and Eraser tools, matching colors between the two photos.

He also adjusted levels and brightness and contrast settings.

These are just a few of the photos that were used to create the final composite.

STEP THREE

Alex brought his black sticky substance into his main image, positioning it with the Transform tool and darkening the water to match its color, using the Color blending mode (learn more about blending modes here).

He also cut out some textures from previously unused photos of his sticky substance and used Transform and Warp tools to add them to the water. He masked out some elements of the image that he didn’t want and used the Curves tool to adjust tones.

STEP FOUR

Multiple images were combined to make the birds as they appear in the final image.

The primary bird’s face and body are from different pictures. Alex cut out the bird’s face from one image, using the Pen tool; he masked the fine whiskery feathers using channel masking (watch a helpful tutorial about this process here)—in this case with the Green channel. He also adjusted levels and inverted the head before adding it to the body.

STEP FIVE

Click on the image to watch a brief video snippet of Alex combining the head from one bird photo and the body from another, into one bird.

After cutting a bird body from another image and flipping it horizontally (using the Transform tool), Alex used the Clone Stamp tool to extend the wings past the neck. He duplicated and copied some plumage, using the Lasso, Eraser, and Transform tools. Then he pasted the head and blended it into the body, using the Transform tool and the Smudge tool.

Next, it was time to add the image’s central bird and more pieces from sticky images to the background image, using many of the techniques he’d already employed—channel masking, adjusting levels, and using the Transform and Warp tools. He also composited more sticky textures into the image, as he had done before.

 

STEP SIX

After Alex had the image’s central bird placed, he added more birds—masking them out of their original photos with the Pen tool (in most cases) or by using channel masking (in one case). He cleaned up some birds with the Healing Brush, and he used the Color Balance and Curve tools to color-correct them, in addition to hue and saturation settings. (At this point, he also replaced some parts of some birds, using techniques he had already employed, and he continued to adjust the look of the sticky substance.)

STEP SEVEN

Click to watch a brief video snippet of Alex using multiple techniques to make the birds seem to be in motion.

Alex created a movement effect in the wings of the birds by duplicating each bird layer and applying radial blur or directional blur (Filter > Blur) to the duplicate. He masked out the head in the duplicate, so the head would always look crisp. He also used the Smudge tool on the first bird layer, to maximize the sensation of movement.

STEP EIGHT

To finish the image (which takes place over the course of the last nine minutes of the full video, below), Alex pushed up the white levels in the image for more contrast, and he added “fog” in the background with the Transform tool (masking the fog out where it caused detail to be lost in the bird figures and the sticky substance). He incorporated a photo of smoke for additional fog, and an image of particles for texture (he blurred the particles for additional noise).

He created an angled light ray with the brush tool and the Skew command (Edit > Transform > Skew) and then duplicated it for multiple light sources in the image. Lastly, he applied the High Pass filter (Filter > Other > High Pass—learn more about the High Pass filter here) and added noise to the image.

Watch the entire image come together in this hour-long time-lapse video: