In this tutorial we are going to demonstrate basic techniques for combining two different images as layers in Photoshop. When performing this task, there are always two things we try to avoid: 1) destructive editing and 2) time-consuming intricate selections or brushwork. Thankfully, Photoshop tools are advanced enough that almost everything overly tedious or destructive can be avoided!
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First, start in Lightroom with your workflow arranged similar to how we described in our previous tutorial: one folder that contains all your tool (like these clouds and other textures you may have) and other folders that contain your photos. Remember the five tips we discussed in the previous chapter. For this particular image, we are going to need the horizons to match since the photo was shot at a low angle and the sunset in the final image is going to need to remain in the same general place it is now.
STEP 1: OPEN BOTH IMAGES IN PHOTOSHOP
Each image here has already received good color correction so, go ahead and open them both in Photoshop as layers.
Remember: Photoshop can be a destructive editor if you’re not careful. To avoid over-editing either of these images, we’re going to try and always use layer masks and adjustment curve layers that can easily be reversed or deleted. It is best to never simply “erase” a layer, or try to cut and paste certain parts of it.
STEP 2: HIDE THE TOP (CLOUDS) LAYER
Since we are selecting the skies to be replaced from the image with our subjects, hide the layer with the clouds so that you only see the layer that includes the subjects.
STEP 3: USE THE QUICK SELECTION TOOL
Semi-automatic selection tools like the Magic Wand and the Quick Selection Tool work by selecting areas that have similar tones.
The Quick Selection Tool is often the best tool for selecting an empty, cloudless sky. If you have a more complicated image, i.e. an image in which the subjects and the background blend together, you may want to also use the Magic Wand tool and fine-tune the selection using the Magnetic Lasso. But we almost always start with the Quick Selection Tool first.
In the case of our sample image, the selection is almost perfect with a single brush stroke! Just click on the two additional spaces in between the couple. Every edge (except hair) should be nearly perfect, however watch out for the empty space in the sky that was caused by rotation correction.
STEP 4: FINE TUNE
To fine-tune the area around the subject’s hair, hold down Alt/Option so that the Quick Selection Tool changes from a plus sign to a minus sign. This means that any area clicked will be subtracted from the selection. Select areas of the hair to be de-selected until you’re satisfied with the blend.
STEP 5: CONSIDER A FEATHER
After fine-tuning the mask, if necessary, you may want to add a faint feather to the selection before turning it into a mask. A feather creates a more gradual, soft transition for that selection, instead of being an abrupt, hard edge. Usually no more than a 1-2 pixel feather is useful.
STEP 6: UNHIDE THE TOP (CLOUD) LAYER AND CREATE A LAYER MASK
Un-hide your top cloud layer by clicking the eye icon. Then select the top layer and click the “Add Layer Mask” Icon to see how the results look. The selection will automatically turn into a mask that reveals the correct areas. If the feathering and/or the mask looks “close but not quite”, you may want to expand the selection by 1-2 pixels before turning it into a mask.
STEP 7: ADJUST THE POSITION OF THE CLOUDS
Unlink the mask by clicking on the little chain icon between the cloud layer and its mask, select the cloud layer (instead of the mask!) and adjust the position of the clouds so that the sun is in (approximately) the same place in both images.
STEP 8: FINE TUNE THE MASK AROUND THE SUBJECTS
If needed, click on the mask and use a black or white brush to reveal or conceal more of the underlying image.
STEP 9: FINE TUNE THE MASK AROUND THE REST OF THE SCENE
Once the mask outline is good around the subjects, zoom out and look at the rest of the rest of the scene. Fine-tune the horizon and other edges using your black and white brushes directly on the layer mask. Work very gently with your Brush Tool’s Opacity or have the Flow set very low to 10-20%.
Also, consider some extremely large, very faint brush strokes over any dark areas that don’t quite match up to the brightness of the foreground and subject.
That’s it! You should see the final image!