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Photo Compositing Tips and Tricks

By Terri Stone

Kervin Brisseaux is a renaissance man. He holds architecture degrees, runs a freelance illustration and design business, and works full-time as an associate design director at Vault49. He can write code, design clothes, and build models by hand. And, as you’ll see, he can also build a retro digital illustration using three Adobe Stock images and considerable Photoshop skills.

Watch the clips below to find out how he did it, and then download 10 images from Adobe Stock for free to make your own photo composite.

After purchasing the three images, Brisseaux opened the photo of the woman in Adobe Photoshop CC.  He converted it to a Smart Object by right-clicking on the layer and selecting Convert to Smart Object. He double-clicked on the Smart Object to open a new .psb file. Using the Pen tool, he cut out the image from the background.

Brisseaux built his retro illustration (large top image) out of these three photos.

Brisseaux removed strands of hair using the Clone Stamp tool and the Healing brush. He also cut out parts of the original image with the Lasso and Marquee tools and hid parts that he knew wouldn’t appear in the final image with layer masks.

He worked quickly, often saving time by duplicating bits from one side of the goggles and flipping them to cover troublesome bits on the other side. (Later, he even used that same trick for an entire half of the model’s face.) When he was satisfied, he closed the Smart Object .psb file. Photoshop immediately updated the corresponding Smart Object layer in the main file.

Click to watch Kervin Brisseaux quickly clean up hair using several Photoshop tools.

With the Smart Object layer still selected, Brisseaux went to Filter > Camera Raw Filter and used the feature to adjust color, highlights, shadows, sharpness, and more. 

In this video clip, Brisseaux uses the non-destructive Camera Raw filter to adjust the image.

The goggles in the original photo didn’t match the aesthetic Brisseaux wanted, so he replaced the lenses with his own creation. First, he selected the Ellipse tool, set it to Shape mode, and made a few circles on top of the existing lenses. From the Layers panel, he went to fx to experiment with outer glow, inner glow, and color overlay layer styles.

Be sure to watch the full clip below to see some of the more extreme effects Brisseaux tried out, including color and contrast enhancements he applied with Adjustment Layers and Gradient Maps. 

In this clip, Brisseaux turns the original specs into retronaut goggles.

Brisseaux next added the desert photo as a background image. He removed the moon by selecting it with the Lasso Tool, right-clicking and selecting Fill, and setting the Contents in the drop-down menu to Content Aware. Then, he used a combination of tools to mesh the two images, including Adjustment Layers (Gradients, Gradient Maps, and so on), the Camera Raw filter, Layer Styles, and masking.

Click to see two videos in which Brisseaux first adds a desert photo and then meshes the foreground and background images.

To add a sense of motion to the relatively static composition, Brisseaux made random marks with the Brush tool, then went to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. He set the blur method to Zoom, then repeated the steps a few time until he liked what he saw. To adjust how the zoomed brush marks blended with the background, he played with layer opacity settings.

Watch Brisseaux create a zoom effect in Photoshop.

Brisseaux switched to Adobe illustrator CC to make a grid. The video below goes by quickly, so here’s a recap: He created lines with the Line tool, and then used the Blend tool to add steps between the lines. He then double-clicked the Blend tool icon and chose Specify Distance or Steps to control the number of iterations. He then repeated the entire process to create blends going in the opposite direction. He selected the grid, copied it, and switched back to Photoshop, where he pasted the grid into a new layer.  

He converted the layer to a Smart Object so he had flexibility when skewing the grid with the Transform tool. He clicked and dragged the corner anchor points of the Transform box while holding Shift+Alt+Cmd to create a perspective grid. 

In this clip, Brisseaux adds depth with a perspective grid that he begins in Illustrator.

Brisseaux then selected the grid layer, switched to the Magic Wand tool, and clicked on a few random boxes across the grid. (If you try this, be sure that Sample all Layers is not on.) On a new layer, he filled the selections with color and applied an outer glow. The result enhances the 1980s feeling of the illustration.

Click to watch Brisseaux color random sections of the grid. 

Brisseaux was ready to add the third Adobe Stock image, the seagull. He cut out the bird from the original file and used the Camera Raw filter to adjust the gull’s color and clarity. He gave the gull a spacey glow by selecting it and adding a white Stroke, then enhancing that outline with an outer glow Layer Style.  

In this clip, Brisseaux adds a photo of a seagull and makes it glow. 

Brisseaux flipped back to illustrator, selected the Ellipse tool, and made a circle within a circle. (Notice that the inner circle is significantly smaller.) He again used the Blend tool to create the steps between the two circles, and again copied and pasted the results back into Photoshop. Using layer masks, he revealed the concentric circles only in certain areas of the composition. 

Watch Brisseaux make concentric circles in Illustrator, and later incorporate that graphic element into the Photoshop composition.

Finally, Brisseaux was happy with the overall composition. All that was left was to push the retro aesthetic a bit. He saved a JPG of the image and opened it as a new file in Photoshop. He began by applying a High Pass filter, and then went to Filter > Lens Correction. He clicked on the Custom tab and intentionally added color fringing by adjusting the Chromatic Aberration sliders. As a last touch, he roughed things up with a little noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). 

In his final touches, Kervin Brisseaux enhanced the retro feel of the photo-composite.